November 24, 2012

A Few Notes on Wasabi/わさびに関して少し

Here is some practical information about wasabi in Japan.

Needless to say, wasabi is called wasabi in Japan, but to clearly distinguish it from horse radish, which is called seiyou wasabi (lit. Western wasabi), it is also called hon wasabi.  Hon means real, authentic, etc.

When you purchase a pack of sashimi in a supermarket in Japan, you will usually see a small packet of wasabi attached, such as the one below.
The ingredients label says:  Hon wasabi, seiyou wasabi, mizuame (starch syrup), vegetable oil, salt, sour agent, gardenia pigment, and spice extracts.
The term "hon wasabi" is placed before the term "seiyou wasabi", which means that this packet contains more "hon wasabi" than "seiyou wasabi".

I checked other wasabi packets, which happened to be in the fridge, and found they also contained more "hon wasabi" than "seiyou wasabi".
I didn't know that even such cheap products now contain more hon wasabi.  What's more, the one below says that it uses domestic hon wasabi.

There are some tubes of wasabi that contain no seiyou wasabi, like the middle one in the photo below.
I tend to buy such a tube because it's only about 1.7 times more expensive than a cheap one that contains both hon and seiyou wasabi.

The one on the left is a new product from S&B, called Kizami Wasabi, which contains shredded wasabi stalks.
I thought it was a good product and bought one without checking the label.  I later found that it contained seiyou wasabi as well.
Finally, a tube of wasabi that contains 50% or more hon wasabi may have "hon wasabi shiyou" (hon wasabi used)" written on the package, while a tube of wasabi that contains less than 50% hon wasabi may have "hon wasabi iri" (hon wasabi contained) on the package.

Edited to add:

Kona (= powder) wasabi, wasabi in powder form, is usually made from horse radish.  Wasabi in a tube is called neri (= kneaded) wasabi.  I'm not implying that neri wasabi is superior to kona wasabi or that hon wasabi is superior to seiyou wasabi (horse radish).  I wouldn't mind at all having sashimi with kona wasabi because that is something I grew up with and kona wasabi, if properly mixed with lukewarm water (about 40C), is more pungent than hon wasabi.


Sissi said...

Thank you so much, Hiroyuki. I find your explanations very useful. I don't think I will ever find here tubes with hon wasabi only, but when I go to Japan next time, I know what to look for (especially since wasabi is written in hiragana... It will be easier to check).
I would love to taste the one with shredded wasabi stalks!
I miss a lot the wasabi root I brought from Japan and finished a long time ago.

Nancy Heller said...

We tried to grow wasabi once; it is very difficult and finicky, which explains why it is so expensive. Keep the great posts and photos coming!

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I have just added some info about kona wasabi.

I've been slightly disappointed by the one with shredded wasabi stalks in it because it is less pungent and does not go very well with sashimi. It may be good in other uses.

Nancy Heller: Yes, I know. Because of the problem known as self poisoning, wasabi roots cannot grow big under normal conditions, and require clear running water to grow big.