If you like sushi, you’ve probably had wasabi. But do you know if it was real, freshly grated wasabi?
The green “wasabi” paste served in most restaurants — the kind that comes in a tube or as a powder reconstituted with water — is most often made from dried horseradish, food coloring and dry mustard, not from the actual wasabi plant.
But does the paste really taste that different from real wasabi?
“The flavor of real wasabi is so much richer, the heat more delicate, less sharp and playful in the mouth than the explosive and comparatively bland horseradish ‘wasabi,’ says Markus Mead of Frog Eyes Wasabi. “The taste difference between fresh wasabi grated just before your meal and a paste or powder is the difference between fresh-picked blueberries and a blue-colored snow cone.”
Mead and his wife, Jennifer Bloeser, own Frog Eyes Wasabi, Oregon’s only commercial wasabi grower and one of only a small handful of wasabi farms in the U.S.
“We wanted to grow something unique to contribute to the Pacific Northwest’s food culture and something that’s associated with another country and another culture,” says Mead.
Although wasabi can be difficult to grow, Bloeser and Mead learned that the Oregon coast offers an optimal climate for this plant, which requires clean water, mild temperatures and little sunlight. They planted their first crop in late spring 2010 and started harvesting in April 2011.
The wasabi plant consists of a rhizome, a root-like stem which can be grated fresh, with clusters of large, long-stemmed heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers that begin to blossom in winter. Frog Eyes Wasabi produces two varieties: Mazuma and Daruma. The Mazuma variety is typically larger and slightly hotter than Daruma, which is sweeter in taste and greener in color.
How to Grate Wasabi
Watch Video - Park Kitchen’s Executive Chef David Padberg demonstrates how to grate a wasabi rhizome.
“The entire plant is edible and flavorful,” says Mead. “We want people to know that wasabi is not just for sushi. We encourage people to try it with meats, soups, and fruits such as melons as a new taste experience.”
Bloeser and Mead sell their fresh wasabi to Portland’s local markets and restaurants, as well as buyers from other states and foreign countries, including Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
Although he’s not serving it on his regular restaurant menu yet, David Padberg, executive chef of Portland’s Park Kitchen, has cooked with Frog Eyes’ freshly grown wasabi.
“Having grown up as a gardener and forager, I love learning about the whole [wasabi] plant and using lesser-known and underappreciated plants in my cooking,” says Padberg, who was trained in both Japanese and European cooking.
“Flavors exist in all the parts of the wasabi plant. The rhizome is where the plant stores most of its energy, so it’s potent. The leaves are more like spinach or kale, but it also has a little bit of lingering, aromatic and mustardy heat. I chop them and purée them into sauces. You get a beautiful green purée with a little bit of wasabi flavors. The stems have the same flavor as the leaves, but it is more fibrous and has a lot more crunch.”
To find out more about Frog Eyes Wasabi products, visit the Frog Eyes Wasabi website. If you’d like to cook with fresh wasabi, try some of the ideas below.
Fresh wasabi cooking ideas from Frog Eyes Wasabi’s customers
Be creative and try cooking with fresh wasabi!
- Steak with a bit of fresh wasabi instead of horseradish
- French fries with fresh wasabi (also in wasabi aioli)
- Mashed potatoes with fresh wasabi
- Soba noodles with fresh wasabi and sautéed vegetables
- Fresh wasabi on a hamburger
- Fresh wasabi grated into an Asian salad
- Wasabi-infused vodka Bloody Mary
- Fresh wasabi ceviche
- Wasabi vinaigrette salad dressing
- Fresh wasabi grated into miso soup or stews
- Salad made from wasabi leaves “pickled” with salt
- Sautéed leaves and stems in miso soup or any salad