Named for things that please me (“me gusta” in Spanish) and rhymes with balabusta (Yiddish for “good homemaker”).

So You Think You Like Grated Wasabi on Your Sushi?

No, you probably don’t.

“Wasabi”, as we know it, is usually a reconstituted paste of dried, pulverized regular horseradish, ground mustard and/or mustard oil and some actual wasabi, plus other ingredients such as yellow and blue food colorings (to achieve the green hue).

This melange is what is so wildly popular, not only for sushi and sashimi but also for wasabi peas, wasabi grilled tuna and myriad other dishes.

It is possible to get freshly grated wasabi, but this is only found at the most elite (vis: expensive) restaurants and markets in Japan, and even more rarely in the United States. Most Americans have never tasted it and never will.

Wasabi root is very closely related to the regular horseradish we all know.  It is so expensive and rare, that clever chefs learned long ago how to make a reasonable substitute for every day enjoyment.

And here is where the fun starts.

A recent Stop and Shop visit yielded several examples of wasabi, which was a fascinating adventure in truth-in-labeling.  The reality may be that “wasabi” now means “tastes like wasabi”.

One item, powdered “wasabi” listed horseradish, turmeric (a yellow spice) and spirulina (a type of bluish green fresh water algae used as a dietary supplement) as the ingredients. At $3.99, it was not surprising that this contained no wasabi at all, but the product is probably just fine.

The most egregious example of misleading labeling read “Freshly Grated Wasabi” but  was made of: “Grated horseradish and wasabi roots, water, white distilled vinegar, soybean oil, mustard seeds, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, eggs, preservatives,  fd+c yellow #5 , fd+c blue #1” . Note that the horseradish and wasabi were listed together, so the latter is definitely a smaller proportion and potentially a tiny trace. “Freshly Grated Wasabi”, indeed.

Freshly Grated?

Other items on the shelf included a Tabasco-like wasabi sauce (colored with turmeric and natural chlorophyll), wasabi in a tube (no evidence of any actual wasabi in there, but probably quite OK), and wasabi peas (ditto and they are really tasty).

As Shakespeare-san might say: “What’s in a name? That which we call wasabi by any other name would zing as hot.”

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4 thoughts on “So You Think You Like Grated Wasabi on Your Sushi?

  1. Elaine Corn on said:

    Hi Mary Ellen, there’s a japanese store in Sacramento that holds wasabi sacred, and indeed sells the root. You have to have a fan in the kitchen once the grating begins using a food processor. cough, cough.

  2. I would love to try the real thing someday. In the meantime, I love the sinus burn from that green paste! Whoooo!!

  3. I had no idea you can purchase wasabi peas at Stop & Shop. They’re a great snack, authentic wasabi or not!

  4. Pingback: Ingredients of Indian Cooking #1 – Mustard « SAAS Tastebuds

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