Wasabi and horseradish might share a flavor profile but they are certainly not the same, which is not something that a lot of sushi lovers even know.
How is wasabi different from horseradish? To start with, you can eat horseradish in a thousand different ways while wasabi is only really enjoyed a few. There is also the fact that they come with very different flavors, aromas, and of course, effects. Even though horseradish is used in imitation wasabi, they taste way different from each other.
On that note, horseradish can actually be used as a substitute for wasabi, but only if you know what you are doing and if you are prepared to make a compromise.
Real Wasabi Vs. Horseradish Wasabi
Wasabi is one of the most intense food items in the world, but it is widely enjoyed, not only in Japan but also all over the globe. It is not only enjoyed with sushi but also with lots of other things, both Japanese and not. For example, wasabi is now being used as an actual sandwich spread where you apply a thin layer of it on toast.
In many ways, wasabi is the food version of distilled spirits in that it will take some getting used to. However, once you get a taste for it, you will find that all other food experiences will be quite lacking. You will start seeking out its qualities, which include:
· Spicy taste
· Astringent aroma
· Intense aftertaste
· Cleansing effect
With that being the case, there are many things about wasabi that most people don’t really know about. For starters, the vast majority of wasabi powders and pastes available in the market are not real wasabi. They are made of substitute wasabi, which is made of a combination of horseradish, food coloring, and starch.
Real wasabi is actually a plant rhizome, which is then grated using a special tool right before being served to customers at expensive sushi restaurants. Since this is the case, what exactly makes them different? You can turn to the details in the table below to learn more about that.
|Preparation||Fake wasabi made of horseradish just needs water to be used but real wasabi will still need to be ground into a paste before being molded and served|
|Preservatives||Many of the fake wasabi powders and pastes in the market contain preservatives in order to last a long time while real wasabi does not|
|All-natural||There are only natural substances in wasabi rhizome that is ground and served while fake wasabi can even contain certain chemicals to improve their tastes|
|Cost||Fake wasabi will naturally be cheaper than real wasabi because of the ingredients being more common while real wasabi is much more particular and difficult to get|
|Shelf life||Fake wasabi can last for years as long as they are stored properly while real wasabi will only be usable for a few weeks at the most regardless of how well it is stored|
|Purity in flavor||Fake wasabi tends to be harsher and more artificial in flavor compared to real wasabi, which tends to be more robust and refreshing|
|Source||Fake wasabi can be made and procured pretty much anywhere but real wasabi can only be obtained in Japan, as well as a few select farms in other countries|
As you can see from that alone, there are already plenty of reasons for you to look into your choice of whether you go with real wasabi or fake wasabi more sincerely. If you don’t, you will either have the wrong impression of what wasabi actually is or you will be missing out on the truly authentic experience.
It would be like the difference between fresh pasta and dried pasta. You can still eat both, but the fresh one will always be better. For even more context about this, it’s worth looking into these matters more closely.
Preparation – Real wasabi and fake wasabi are prepared completely differently, which should not come as a surprise. After all, instant coffee and brewed coffee are not prepared in the same way. However, this might not be the best comparison because instant coffee will at least have real coffee. In contrast, fake wasabi will not actually have wasabi.
Before we get any further astray from the discussion, though, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Simply put, if you are going to prepare fake wasabi, the only thing you really need to do is to add some water until you make a paste. Once you reach the right consistency and texture, you just form the wasabi into any shape that you want.
Real wasabi will not be as malleable and for all intents and purposes, it won’t have the same texture or consistency. It will also need to be prepared by using a special tool, which is a board that has small spikes where you rub the rhizome in a circular motion. When you do this, you reduce the rhizome to small particles that you can then form into some shapes and serve.
Preservatives – With fake wasabi being what it is, it is only natural that it would be made of preservatives, though, this doesn’t seem to apply to all examples of the products. There is also some imitation wasabi that does have excellent ingredients despite the fact that they are not the real thing. Still, preservatives can be a concern.
Though, you should understand that having preservatives does not automatically make something bad. It just makes something not as good as the thing that does not have preservatives and that you can eat fresh. With that being the case, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of the options that you have before you.
All-Natural – Then there is the concern for how natural the product is and in the case of the imitation wasabi, it is only to be expected that it won’t be. This is not exactly a surprising fact, simply because of how odd it would be if the powdered or paste form of the wasabi can even be considered natural. Real wasabi made of wasabi rhizome, however, it is as natural as it can get.
This is a green stump that you dig out from the ground, wash, clean, cut, and grate. There is no point in that process that can make this particular item not natural.
Cost – Now we come to one of the biggest concerns when it comes to wasabi, which is the cost. Fake wasabi is dirt cheap and pretty much anyone with an inclination to eat it can get it. The paste will cost a little more than the powdered version on average, but this is only when you base it on the weight. Real wasabi, on the other hand, can be incredibly expensive.
This particular root crop can only be obtained in specific places and the conditions that come into play when growing them are very particular. This is why top-class sushi restaurants that serve real wasabi tend to charge more than your average restaurant.
Shelf Life – How long you can use the wasabi for will always be a concern if you are going to spend money to get them. In this regard, the fake wasabi would have to be the winner by the simple virtue of its long shelf life. You can literally keep powdered wasabi around for years while the paste version should be good for use for at least a year or two.
Real wasabi, on the other hand, won’t last you a few weeks once it is out of the ground. The moment it is harvested, you only have a short period of time to grate and serve it.
Purity in Flavor – Since we gave the previous win to fake wasabi, I think it’s only fair that we dole out a victory to real wasabi too and we can do that with regard to the flavor. Simply put, real wasabi tastes purer and clearer than real wasabi. You might think that this is strange, but the astringent qualities of these two options are just not the same.
Think of how vinegar and wine differ in terms of taste and aroma, and you have a pretty good comparison with imitation and real wasabi. The difference in this factor alone can make real wasabi the clear winner in many food enthusiasts’ eyes. Food purists can be even more manic about this aspect.
Source – Finally, we have the issue of the source of the wasabi, which could not be more different. Real wasabi is just wasabi but fake wasabi can be made up of multiple ingredients. Real wasabi can only be obtained in Japan or a handful of special farms all over the world while fake wasabi can be obtained anywhere, at any time, and at really low prices.
Why Real Wasabi is More Expensive
As with anything that is authentic, real, and natural, actual wasabi is more expensive than the fake kind for several reasons. This can be chalked up to a lot of things, but among the biggest reasons are the following:
· Organic and natural
Bringing up the first item first, real wasabi is more expensive than fake wasabi because it is much more difficult to get ahold of. With fake wasabi, you just go to any old convenience store and you will find a packet or two. With real wasabi, you either need to go to a specialty shop or you need to special order it from somewhere far away.
Then there is the flavor, which is quite a bit cleaner and purer than the fake kind. There are no powdery granules or disgusting goop to contend with, and the qualities of wasabi just come off in a clearer manner. This is why you definitely want to give the real deal a try.
Of course, a huge part of why real wasabi can be expensive is the perception that is attached to it. It is basically considered a luxury food due to how authentic it is as an ingredient in sushi, which is one of the premier luxury food items in the world. The fact that wasabi rhizome is what real Japanese sushi chefs used simply adds to its mystique.
Putting all of these together, you end up with an item that is in high demand while the supply is fairly low. This then leads to a situation in which the price is driven up due to the simple law of economics. The more people want it, the more expensive it is going to be.
Finally, we have the fact that real wasabi is organic and is all-natural. Do you know how Wholefoods pretty much price gouges people? This is the same thing but with the main difference being that real wasabi is worth it.
Why Imitation Wasabi is Not Bad
On that note, with all of these points brought up, you might now be wondering if the fake wasabi is just not the way to go with sushi. However, this is not the case at all. Instant coffee is enjoyed by a lot of folks all over the world and they are even served in mid-tier accommodations. This doesn’t mean that they are worthless compared to brewed coffee.
Instant sushi does have its place simply because not everyone has access to real sushi. At the same time, wasabi is crucial for a lot of sushi enthusiasts to enjoy the dish. As such, there is no reason not to turn to imitation sushi just to get that sense of completion when you are eating the traditional Japanese food item.
What’s more, for those who don’t really pay that close of attention to the taste of such an intense food item, the difference can be insignificant. As long as you can have a tiny piece of it to go with your nigiri or maki, it is worth the concessions. At the end of the day, though, the decision is completely up to you.
Can Wasabi Kill You?
Unless you are deathly allergic to wasabi for any reason, there should be no chance of wasabi killing you. It would take a kilo of the stuff to even put a dent in your system and I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to tolerate even a fraction of that. Just avoid overstuffing yourself and you should be just fine.
Does Wasabi Have Any Health Benefits?
Wasabi has a ton of great health benefits that can include excellent digestion, regular bowel movement, countering harmful organisms, and much more. There are even comments about how it can supposedly stop cancer, but that is pretty much fantasy at this point. There is no proof of those claims yet.
Is Wasabi Good?
If you have ever had wasabi before and didn’t really come out of the experience with a good impression, you might be wondering what all the fuss about this food item is about. Well, a lot of it comes down to how much it enhances the whole experience. Wasabi basically works by preparing your palate to enjoy the next piece of sushi after you’ve had the first.
You know how wasabi feels like it spreads through your mouth, then your nose, then your throat? It does this so that your senses are expanded even more, which will then allow you to experience even more of the flavors, textures, and more of the sushi. What’s more, the wasabi will also give your senses a kick with each piece of sushi that you eat.
This will basically force your palate to enjoy what you are consuming in a more intense manner. Doing so will then lead to more appreciation of sushi, its condiments, and the simple fact that wasabi is awesome.
How to Eat Wasabi Properly
Now, it is worth pointing out that eating wasabi is not something that a lot of people like to do simply because they don’t really know how to eat it, and that is understandable. If there is no one there to tell you exactly how you should go about it, you will obviously make a mistake and it will lead to an unpleasant experience.
To really enjoy wasabi, there are a couple of things that you need to take into consideration. The first is the amount, which is something that an astonishing number of people don’t really understand. Your first taste of wasabi needs to be the size of a pinhead. Take that piece and place it on a food item like sushi before popping it in your mouth.
Once you do, it is important that you breathe fluidly so that the astringent effects of the wasabi will flow smoothly. Allow it to go through your mouth, your nose, and your tongue. You might be tempted to hold your breath but this won’t help you enjoy wasabi as you need to.
After you get used to that small amount, you can then proceed to increase it until you can get to the ideal portion of wasabi that you can enjoy. The operative word here is “enjoy” since you don’t really want to force yourself here.