In a world where the way we shop, cook and eat is changing a growing number of innovative farmers are looking at unusual crops which can be grown in our climate. The Wasabi Company, based in Dorset, is a fascinating example of this.
Wasabi has been grown and eaten in Japan for thousands of years but it has only really come to our attention in Britain as the popularity of sushi has grown. It’s a member of the Brassica family with a flavour similar to horseradish, although the two are not related. In fact, most people in Britain who think they have tried wasabi probably haven’t. Many of the ‘wasabi’ products for sale or those used in pre-prepared foods contain only a very tiny amount of wasabi and are actually made up of horseradish and mustard powder. I had never tasted wasabi, real or otherwise, in fact I’ve never even eaten horseradish, so when I was asked if I would like to try some from The Wasabi Company I thought, why not!
It’s the chunky rhizomes which the plant forms just above ground that are grated to make the wasabi paste. I’ll admit I was a little dubious. I had heard of its reputation to be quite potent and for someone who is a self-confessed chilli wimp I was a little trepidatious. Well, it turns out it’s not as hot as I thought it would be, which in my opinion is a good thing. I’ve never really understood why people love super hot chillies which overwhelm your taste buds and render the rest of a meal virtually tasteless. The heat of wasabi is much more akin to a mustard rather than a chilli and I really liked it.
Would it be actually be a useful product was my next question? I love to cook but I’m becoming a little weary of recipes which require a whole gamut of weird and wonderful ingredients. They are all generally very tasty, but once opened they often have such a short shelf-life which means you need to eat the same ingredients every other night for a month to use them up, or gain an increasingly eclectic bunch of jars, bottles and tubs in the fridge which are never finished. I imagined it only working with sushi but it turns out it’s actually very versatile. We had it mixed into puréed peas with crème fraîche served with scallops which was delicious, but I was intrigued as to whether it could be used in more day-to-day food. I loved it added to mayonnaise which tasted fantastic with cray fish and it even worked in my humble egg mayo sandwiches. So rather than the rhizomes festering in the fridge they were actually a quick and easy way to add flavour. Apparently you can add it to mashed potato too.
Fresh wasabi needs to be finely grated into a paste to release the flavour (this is not the time to use the cheese grater). The Wasabi Company sell special wasabi graters, (although a microplane would be fine) and a little brush is used to remove the paste from the grater. The flavour lessens within 15 to 20 minutes so it’s best to prepare wasabi just before you want to eat it rather than in advance. It’ll look much paler in colour – a pale green – than any shop-bought wasabi which has colourings added to it.
As for growing my own. Well it’ll take some time to tell whether it’s a suitable plant for home-growing. It seems it can be a tricky plant to cultivate, particularly on a large-scale. In Japan it grows beside cool mountain streams where it is flushed with clear, nutrient-rich water, similar to watercress. This type of growing is known as sawa wasabi and is the most sought after. It’s taken several years of research and trials for The Wasabi Company to get the growing conditions right and as they have over 120 years of experience growing watercress they are certainly well-placed to make commercial cultivation a success. These aren’t conditions I can replicate at home, so I’ll have to make do with growing oka wasabi (soil-grown). It needs lots of shade, doesn’t like extremes in temperature and is hardy down to -5°C. The young wasabi plant came wrapped in hessian and was the size of a good-sized plug plant. Advice is to pot up into a 9cm pot initially so that it can establish a healthy root system. I’m in garden limbo at the moment so mine will have to live in a large pot for the foreseeable future but I’ll have to make sure it’s kept moist and given a regular feed.
An attractive plant in its own right with pretty heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers (apparently they’re scented) it could make an excellent addition to a forest garden where shade-loving crops are hard to find. Wasabi will grow to about 60cm tall and it’ll take a few years at least for the plant to form good-sized rhizomes which are ready to lift and eat, but the leaves and stems are also edible. Sounds like a fantastic crop for cooks and growers. Fingers crossed it’s happy growing in Wales.
Thank you to Sophie at Pam LLoyd PR.
For more information, recipes, how to buy the rhizomes and your own wasabi plants go to The Wasabi Company.
Fascinating thank you for the tip. You should try horseradish too, the real thing (a rhizome you grate) is far nice than the stuff sold in jars. It’s easy to grow too, but it can be a thug so it need sticking in an out of the way corner.
Thank you!. Yes, I know I should try horseradish. I saw some in the supermarket yesterday but the rhizome was so enormous I would have been eating it for months to come. 😉
Fascinating, I’ll look forward to seeing how it gets on. I’m interested to know that lots of shop bought wasabi is actually horseradish.
Thank you CJ. It’ll be interesting to see how the wasabi does, particularly if kept in a pot.
An enjoyable, and informative post. It’ll be interesting to see how you get on. xx
Thanks Flighty. It was very tasty so I hope I keep the wasabi happy. 🙂
This would be interesting grated into a sous vide bag with some beef. I would imagine the infusion would be lovely. Maybe try it out next time we see you?!
That would be interesting to try. It was very tasty. Fingers crossed I can keep mine alive. ;0
Beware. Wasabi is a slug magnet 😦
Oh no! Not slugs!! You’d think the heat would mean it wasn’t palatable to them. Oh well! Fingers crossed I can keep them away from my plant.
Very interesting, Louise! I’m not a fan of sushi but I do like hot, spicy foods and have enjoyed tasting what passes for wasabi. I’m intrigued by growing our own, as I’m on the look out for herbs or veg that we could grow in shadier parts of our “Allotment”. You culinary tips have got my tastebuds going. Must discuss with Mr. Chef!
It surprised me because it was so versatile and worked with so many other foods. Certainly worth a try.
Spade & Dagger said:
The first wasabi I ever tasted in a Japanese restaurant (near the Japanese embassy) in the 1980’s was so fierce in taste that the merest smudge of green paste was enough to make your eyes water, nose burn and throat constrict. I think modern varieties have been selected, certainly in Britain, to offer a less robust experience.
Ah! Well this certainly made my eyes water when I was grating it and the burn is most definitely in the nose, unlike chillies which burn the mouth. I think the impact does wane over time too, so perhaps when the rhizomes are first lifted the flavour is at its most potent. 🙂
Scallops, pureed peas, crayfish? Can I pop in for lunch sometime, Louise?! What an interesting post, as I know very little about wasabi and have not yet experienced sushi either – but I did see a clip once about growing wasabi in this country so it might have been when this company started to grow it commercially. Thanks for expanding my education – and I look forward to hearing how you get on with your little plant.
Ha ha! 🙂 We don’t eat like that all the time. 😉 I haven’t tried sushi which is why I was a little dubious about the wasabi and how well it would work with other foods. It turns out it’s like a strong mustard so I could see it working with lots of different foods. Fingers crossed I can keep the slugs off this plant.
Wasabi–a little bit of horseradish for those who can not take the full-on horseradish–isn’t that so?
I guess I’ll have to taste-test horseradish against wasabi and put that theory to the test.
Like you, I am a wuss when it comes to super strong chillies and the like. But wasabi does have an intriguing taste. A couple of years ago I bought a plant, it grew well until it was completely demolished by the slugs. So I’d recommend good slug deterrents around your pot.
Thanks for the tip on slugs. You would think the heat of the leaves would put them off it. I’m just about to ditch my hostas after years of watching them be nibbled to pieces so I’m nervous now that my wasabi won’t survive. I think I might experiment with garlic spray this year in a bid to outwit the slugs. Fingers crossed! 😉
I rashly planted horseradish into the veg patch before properly researching it and can confirm it is totally invasive. Wasabi sounds like a gentler and more decorative plant to grow, although supposedly quite challenging to grow successfully. (Maybe because of the slugs!) I’ve found that wool pellets worked really well at deterring slugs around my beans last year, although they smell truly awful (think wet sheep). At least they’re organic and decompose over the season to improve the soil plus I comfort myself that I’ve left some nice tasty morsels of slug for the birds here! 🙂
Hi Caro, Wasabi does seem to have a reputation for being difficult to grow and this was before I discovered that slugs loved it too. Thanks for the tip about the wool pellets. I have seen them but never tried them. Sounds like I should get some. Mmmm … wet sheep, well anything is better than the stress of slugs. 😉 I’ve decided I’m giving up on my hostas this year. I’ve had them for about 15 years in pots and they’ve travelled with us every time we’ve moved but I’ve had enough of them looking like doillies. I tried the copper tape last year and it was rubbish.So I’ve decided to free myself of them and focus on something less appealing to the enemy!!!
Oh pity about the copper not working because that I what I have decided to try this year. I tried the garlic spray two years ago and it was rubbish, sorry. “My” slugs love garlic, when I go out in the evening with the torch and scissors they are all over them. I wonder where this story about slugs not liking garlic comes from.
Oh no! I’ve disappointed you about copper and now my hopes for garlic being the panacea for my slugs problems have been dashed. 😦 I heard the garlic spray suggestion on Gardeners Question Time on Radio 4 from an expert on the panel. He used it on his hostas. Have you heard about sheep wool pellets? Take a look at this if not http://www.sluggone.com/. A friend recommended them so I’m going to give them a try. To be honest, I’m in Wales and surrounded by sheep so I should probably try to find a farmer and get some fleece, but I’ll give the pellets a try first.
I have heard about the sheep wool pellets and would love to give them a try, but they cannot be bought here and I forgot to buy some last when we were in the UK. Maybe the garlic spray worked for the expert, it just didn’t for me. I tried the garlic and chili spray recommended on the Fennel and Fern blog, and it just really didn’t do anything. But then, maybe the slugs here have different tastes :-))
I’m going to give the wool pellets a try and I’l let you know how I get on. I’ll also try the garlic and see if Welsh slugs have a taste for it or not.