Wasabi: you know it well, or so you think. Chances are, however, you've never actually eaten real wasabi, or at least not very often. This is because most of the wasabi served outside of Japan is a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring. Even in Japan, the demand for real wasabi is so high that you'll often find the horseradish mixture instead, with little, if any, real wasabi mixed in.
Real wasabi tastes more herbal than the horseradish stuff. It's hot but doesn't have a lingering, burning aftertaste. It's supposed to taste smoother, cleaner and more "plant-like" than its commonly used substitute. The horseradish paste served in restaurants is harsher and not as fresh-tasting.
So now that you know you're probably eating fake wasabi, what does real wasabi look like and where does it come from?
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Most of the wasabi you'll find in Japanese restaurants in the United States and even often in Japan is not real wasabi.
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grows faster and bigger than Wasabi Japonica, and it is cheaper to produce. Even in Japan horseradish is often used in place of Wasabi japonica.
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Mentions of the plant have been found in botanical books and dictionaries in Japan that trace back to 794 CE. Today, however, it is also grown in China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia and North America.
They can be eaten
raw in salads, pickled or even fried into chips.
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For the freshest wasabi, you must grate the root right before serving, as the wasabi will only hold its strong flavor
for about 15 minutes after preparation.
It is believed
that wasabi has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory effects.