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Monday, February 9, 2009

Description Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is an edible plant member of the Cruciferae family, which includes cabbage, turnips, and mustard. Wasabi shares the anticancer benefits of this family. Native to Japan where it has been cultivated since the tenth century, it is still considered a staple condiment in that country. Traditional preparation involves using a sharkskin grater called an oroshi. Wasabi's culinary popularity and chemical bioactivity make it valuable medicinally and industrially. Demand for wasabi has created a relatively short supply, higher prices, and new commercial opportunities. These new opportunities include research and development of cultivation technologies, particularly in Canada, and exportation from Japan of seiyo wasabi, or Western wasabi—imitations made of horseradish (Cochlearia armoracia). Western and Japanese wasabi are both highly prized. Wasabi is a perennial, root-like rhizome that is cylindrical in shape. A brownish-green skin covers its pale green flesh. The plant grows to about 18 in (46 cm) in height and produces leaves on long stems from the crown of the plant. As the plant ages, the leaves fall off and a rhizome, or creeping underground stem, is formed, from which new buds arise as modified stems. The modified stem is the part of the plant that is used. The highest quality wasabi, whose translated name is mountain hollyhock (also known as sawa wasabi), thrives on cool water. It grows along the edges of cold mountain streams. When cultivated, rather than wild-crafted (harvested randomly from its natural growing places), it is grown on tree-shaded, terraced gravel beds covered by a thin layer of cool running mountain water or on artificially shaded gravel ridges formed in larger river beds. A lower quality wasabi (oka wasabi) is grown in fields. There are two varieties of wasabi, Daruma—considered to have a more attractive appearance—and Mazuma—considered to have more heat. Wasabi is described as being "hot and fiery without burning," which changes to a sweetness that lingers in the mouth. Preparations Wasabi is most commonly found in powder or paste form. However, due to the scarcity and price of high quality wasabi, many of these preparations—including imports from Japan for retail sale and those served in Japanese restaurants—are imitations made of horseradish, mustard, a starchy binder, and coloring. Wasabi paste may be made from a powdered wasabi by adding water, and letting it stand 10 minutes to allow the flavor and heat to develop. One source noted that the powder may be safely stored in a cupboard, but recommended refrigerating the paste. A salad dressing may be made by combining 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon wasabi paste, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil. Traditional wasabi is prepared freshly for each use, as its volatile oils are quickly dissipated. It is recommended that individuals select a fresh, cool, and succulent rhizome with nice color. It should be rinsed under cool water with a vegetable brush, cutting a fresh surface below or above the leaf node (a distinctive ridge as on bamboo stems). While maintaining a 90-degree angle to the grating surface, the wasabi should be grated in a circular motion against a traditional sharkskin, ceramic, or stainless steel grater. (It is not necessary to peel the wasabi rhizome before grating it.) Then it is gathered into a ball and allowed to sit momentarily at room temperature. It is best used within 15 to 20 minutes.