Why is Real Wasabi So Expensive?

The wasabi that you know is not real wasabi and real wasabi costs about $160/kg on a good day, which is quite a bit more expensive than the powder or pastes that you can usually get on the market.

Why does real wasabi cost so much? To start with, it is the real thing, which means that it is not made of a bunch of cheaper ingredients clumped and colored to look like wasabi. This means that in terms of the smell, taste, and characteristics, you are getting all of them at a much purer state. However, the other reason has to do with how difficult they are to procure.

Real wasabi might cost a lot of money for all of the advantages that it brings but this does not automatically mean that it will be worth all of that for you.

Why Real Wasabi Costs So Much

It would be no exaggeration to say that real wasabi costs way more than the regular wasabi that you find in restaurants. This is why real wasabi is only often found in the most expensive sushi bars and restaurants in the west since they do add to the costs. Then again, real wasabi is fairly common in the sushi bars in Japan, so there’s that.

Coming to the main point, though, the wasabi that you find in the market are those that are made of fairly cheaper ingredients they include the following:

·         Grated horseradish

·         Mustard

·         Cornstarch

·         Green food coloring

·         Preservatives

·         Sometimes a bit of real wasabi

On the other hand, real wasabi is only made of, well, wasabi. As to why such a difference warrants such a huge disparity in price, let’s take a look at the reasons in the table below.

Huge demandWith the rise in popularity of sushi and the increase in demand for authenticity, the demand for real wasabi has risen as well, which has been driving the prices up quite a bit
Difficulty of procurementReal wasabi is much more difficult to procure than fake wasabi, for both the suppliers and the customers, which adds costs to logistics expenses
Limited sourcesReal wasabi can only be grown in very specific places and under very specific conditions, which basically make them similar to why truffles can be really costly
Sensitive storage conditionsReal wasabi requires some very special storage conditions and this can really drive up equipment costs when being transported, stored, and delivered
Much higher qualityThe quality of real wasabi is much higher compared to that of fake wasabi in terms of the taste, the smell, the consistency, and the purity, which makes it in high demand among customers with discerning tastes
Challenging to cultivateWasabi rhizome can be quite difficult to cultivate and can only be grown in certain places, which makes the supply quite limited and the actual cultivation quite risky

It needs to be said that you don’t really need real wasabi in order to enjoy sushi since the star of the show is the dish itself. The condiments, which include the Japanese mayo, the fish eggs, toasted sesame seeds, soy sauce, and of course, the wasabi is only meant to enhance the flavors of the dish. This then means that you could even go without wasabi.

However, there are those who prefer to experience sushi in the most authentic way possible and if this is your goal, there is no getting around the necessity of real wasabi. More than that, sushi is one of those kinds of food that deserve to be treated with reverence because of how much devotion goes into making it. So you might as well go all the way.

You can experience the difference when you are eating sushi with real wasabi for yourself if you check out any of the real, authentic Japanese sushi restaurants that are close to your area. Chances are, if the owner or the operator of the establishment has been trained in Japan, they will use real wasabi for the sushi. Just make sure that the sushi is not a secondary dish on their menu.

Now that we have covered that, it might be worth going through the reasons listed in the table above in more detail to understand why real wasabi can be quite expensive. After that, you can make up your mind as to whether or not it is even worth getting.

Demand – With sushi being so popular in Japan, it is only natural that there would be a huge demand for real wasabi there and there is. However, the popularity of sushi all over the world simply dwarfs that of Japan’s and if we just look at the US alone, there are more people that eat sushi in America than in Asia. The traditional Japanese dish is quite popular among affluent diners, after all.

As the popularity of sushi rose, the demand for the ingredient also went up. At this point, it would be safe to say that there are now more people in places like the US and Europe that want real wasabi than in Japan. Unfortunately, supply is rather low and the high demand has pushed the prices up to unprecedented heights.

This in itself is not really a bad thing, though, since it just shows that there are now more people showing interest in authentic sushi dining. However, it does have the side effect of making real wasabi further out of reach for casual diners than before.

Procurement – Now that you know how high the demand tends to be, you should also understand that even the procurement can be quite the pain. In many cases, farms where real wasabi are grown already have a contract with suppliers, restaurants, or organizations for the rhizomes. This would mean that you would need to deal with middlemen or you will have to enter a bidding war.

The problem is made more difficult because rhizomes are rather difficult to grow when compared to other types of crops and they can have rather special needs. This then means that if you are a farmer who deals with them, you will want to make as much money from the plants as possible from the most reliable buyers possible.

This helps stabilize the supply chain but it also makes it more difficult for newcomers to enter the fray. You can try growing your own wasabi rhizome but unless you have the ideal place to do so, the results are unlikely to go that well. As such, the most reliable way to procure them is to simply speak with the suppliers that then deal with the farmers.

Unfortunately, the higher the demand goes, the more difficult it will be for these suppliers to meet all of the needs of the customers. This is then where the law of economics will kick in, which will result in the prices of the wasabi rhizome to rocket into space. This is pretty much what has been happening over the decades and why you have to pay a lot of money just to get them.

The problem can be solved if only the supply can be increased, but as will be discussed later on, this is just not that easy to do.

Sources – Real wasabi needs to be cultivated and naturally, this means that there needs to be a place where it can be cultivated. There are more of them in Japan than anywhere else, largely because there are several places in the country that suit the needs of this plant. Unfortunately, there are few other places outside of Japan that can make the same claim.

Now, it is important to point out that the reason why most other crops, grains, and fruits can be quite cheap is how they can really flood the market. Production for such things is high, which keeps the costs low. The reason for this is because most of the world’s crop supply can be quite forgiving in where they can be grown and how.

This is just not the same as wasabi rhizome. The unfortunate fact is that there are only a limited number of places where this particular plant can grow in the manner that it does. This then limits the number of sources for the plant.

If you are going to try and find these sources, chances are high that they are already tied up, and their supply has all been paid for. You will then have to look for another source, but you are unlikely to find one that isn’t already doing business with someone else.

Storage – Then there is the matter of storage, which you would think is not that big of a deal since you are talking about what essentially amounts to a vegetable here, but that’s not the case at all. You see, wasabi is a fairly sensitive plant in that it needs to be maintained in a specific temperature, humidity, and light exposure so that its taste will not change.

You have to remember that you are dealing with a fairly expensive rhizome here, one that can almost be compared to truffles. Consequently, this means that it will need to be handled very carefully at every stage of the process. This includes the harvest, the boxing, the transport, the holding, the delivery, and finally, the storage again once it arrives at its destination.

If the conditions change unfavorably at any point during that process, there is a chance that the wasabi will not be as good as it could have been. You can still use it, for sure, but it won’t be the thing that you paid a lot of money just to get your hands on.

This is why some special equipment can often be necessary when transporting and storing this particular plant. This is pretty much the case with any specialty product, but as with anything else, special equipment comes with special prices.

Quality – On that note, even if you say that all of those things are troublesome, it is worth it for many people because the quality of real wasabi is just leagues beyond what you would get with fake wasabi. Everything about it is just so much more superior, from how it feels in your mouth, to how it tastes, and even to how it burns.

It’s basically the difference between rotgut and a professionally distilled spirit that is then aged for two dozen years. The results are so much smoother, clearer, and purer, which can be a bit difficult to grasp unless you try it for yourself. The best way to describe it is where you eat two pieces of fruit where one is perfectly ripe and the other is still a bit sour.

Now, you can still eat both types of fruits but wouldn’t it be better to go for the one that makes you scrunch up your nose and makes your eyes water a little less? This is basically the dilemma facing you when you have to choose between real wasabi and the fake kind of wasabi.

Then again, that comparison might not be that accurate since the perfectly ripe fruit would cost you quite a bit more than the one that is still a bit sour. At that point, you will have to make a decision if it is still worth paying so much just to get that difference in experience or not.

Challenging Cultivation – Finally, the biggest reason why wasabi can be so costly is because of how hard it is to grow. You are talking about a plant that is very particular about the kind of soil it is buried in, the kind of humidity in the air, the amount of rain it gets, and the coldness of the surroundings. It can even take issue with the kinds of plants it is surrounded by.

With this being the case, it is very easy to say that cultivating real wasabi is a huge pain in the neck and is not something that just any farmers can do. There are far less troublesome plants that they can profit off of and if the worst should happen where the wasabi rhizomes die from diseases, the losses would be significant.

You have to remember that there is currently no buffer for this particular type of crop and if you have to ask whether or not the expenses will be taken on by someone else, this is not always the case. Farming is always a risky industry but it is made even more so when you are dealing with sensitive crops.

Of course, planting technology has advanced over the years and these days, there is a ton of research being done when it comes to vertical farming. Since the conditions surrounding the healthy growth of wasabi can be quite sensitive, it is possible that this type of technology can fix the problem. Unfortunately, that kind of situation is still years away from happening.

What is Real Wasabi?

The real kind of wasabi is the one that is made of grated wasabi rhizome, which looks like horseradish but is thicker and is green in color. Chefs use a special kind of tool to grate this rhizome into a paste, which they then form into simple shapes for serving. Sometimes, real wasabi is also included in fake wasabi, but only a little bit.

In Japan, the law dictates that fake wasabi should still have even a small amount of real wasabi in order to be sold. Otherwise, they would have to start labeling it the same way they would with imitation crab sticks. So, in a way, what you are getting with fake wasabi is a little bit of real wasabi. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to actually give you the kind of experience that you want.

Real wasabi is basically an offshoot of the European horseradish, which is typically white in color. It has a much lower taste of spiciness and the acrid aerosol effects are not as intense as the wasabi variety. Wasabi rhizome is also often referred to as Japanese horseradish, so it would be good to keep that in mind when you go shopping next time.

In any case, the real meat of the wasabi can be found in its flesh and this is what chefs grate in order to serve along with a wide variety of Japanese dishes. However, unlike with your normal grater where you basically just want to reduce the item to a smaller, more workable size, wasabi graters are special. The goal is to not only break down the wasabi flesh but also to compound it.

This will then help prepare the grated wasabi for when you need to mold it into the shapes that you need for serving. The action will also help release much of the odor of the rhizome, which can be quite overwhelming if taking in up close.

Is Real Wasabi Worth It?

At this point, you might be thinking if it is worth going through all of this trouble just to get your hands on some real wasabi and the only way to answer that is by looking closer at wasabi itself. Now, why exactly is something that gives you a burning sensation in your mouth, nose, and throat supposed to be good for eating a dish?

Well, it is the same reason why a lot of people like spicy food and for those who are either daring or curious, there are the extra spicy kinds of dishes. These are spicy food items that come with a contract basically absolving the establishment of any liabilities if eating the dish leads to injury or death. Of course, the case of wasabi is a little less extreme.

What you are basically looking at when you are talking about the reasons why some people like wasabi has to do with its effects. This spicy green paste has three main functions. One is to enhance the flavor of the sushi itself by opening your senses. Two is to give the experience of eating sushi more of a kick so that it leaves a stronger impression on your mind.

The last function of wasabi is to cleanse your palate and prepare it for the next piece of sushi that you are going to eat. By priming your mouth, tongue, and throat to receive the next batch of stuffed and wrapped ingredients, you will be able to enjoy it more. This is what makes wasabi such a valuable commodity, especially when dealing with raw ingredients.

You will see this for yourself when you have been eating wasabi for a while whenever you eat sushi. After the first half a dozen times or so that you do it, you can forgo the wasabi when next you eat. You will then realize that eating sushi without that intense sensation in your body makes it feel rather lacking. Once you develop a taste for wasabi, it can be rather difficult to get over it.

Pretty soon, you will start craving the green paste whenever you eat and you can decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. You might even want to start eating other dishes that have wasabi such as ramen noodles, soups, rice dishes, and even sandwiches that have wasabi in them.

Related Questions

What Percentage of Wasabi is Real?

While the numbers are a bit wonky, it has been estimated that about 95% of the wasabi products in the world are all made of fake wasabi. This number should give you an indication of just how rare real wasabi is and why it can be rather expensive to buy. It only makes up 5% of the world’s market.

How Long Does Wasabi Last?

If we are talking about fake wasabi, it depends on the form that it takes. Powdered wasabi can actually last years and years if it is stored properly, in a cool, dry room. Wasabi that is already in the form of a paste, however, will only last you about a year or two before it starts breaking down.

Real Wasabi Vs. Fake Wasabi

There is a general rule in the world of food that the real thing will always taste better than the imitation if only by simple virtue of its pure existence. Real pad thai, for example, will be better than the pad thai that was adopted by foreign cooks because it tastes exactly as it is supposed to taste. It isn’t supposed to be subjective, at that point, because it does not hinge on individual opinion.

It is basically like how adding to one together makes two. Now, if you were to compare two real pad Thais that were made by two different Thai chefs, this is the time for you to compare the two and decide which tastes better. This principle can be applied to individual ingredients like wasabi, as well. Think of it like comparing truffle oil or butter with real truffles.

Fake wasabi will sting and it will burn, but it will do so in much the same way that cheap alcohol will burn. In contrast, real wasabi will also do those things, but it will do so in a much purer and less astringent manner. Think Highlands Single Malt Scotch kind of stinging.

You are basically buying that opportunity to experience wasabi in the way that it was always meant to be experienced. There are no problems caused by differences in quantity and ratio with regard to the mixture of the powder or the paste. On the other hand, this does not mean that real wasabi will not have any issue.

In fact, it can also be quite troublesome if you take into consideration how different rhizomes might taste. After all, two carrots from different farms that were harvested at different times will not taste the same. However, you should still be able to tell that they are both carrots. This is how you should view wasabi.

When to Use Fake Wasabi

Now that we have come to this, you might be wondering that, if you can have access to real wasabi, then why on earth would you ever use fake wasabi? Well, for starters, it can be a good stepping stone for you. Think about it as a practice where you use the cheaper version of the thing you want to try and see if you are actually willing to keep trying that thing.

Buying real wasabi is not a joke and you will likely waste money if you are unable to tolerate the effects it will have. Even more than that, how on earth are you supposed to judge if the real wasabi that you are eating is better than the fake kind if you have never tried the latter? There is something to be said about going through hardships early on and just breezing through life later.

When you know exactly how bad fake wasabi can burn, you will be able to appreciate how good real wasabi can burn. They will both be quite unpleasant the first time you try them but one offers a much better experience than the other. Don’t even try to deny that you would not want to go with the option that comes with the least amount of suffering.

On that note, another occasion where fake wasabi might be better than the real one is when you are just eating sushi at home and you have guests who want wasabi. There is absolutely no need for you to put yourself through that ordeal if you don’t really need to and to pay top dollar for it, at that. Let your guests just get the fake wasabi. 

Recent Content