Wasabi - get a healthy boost from the fiery root
January 3rd, 2012
10:45 AM ET
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Wasabi lovers may want to add more than a small pinch to their soy sauce the next time they go to their local sushi bar. The green paste, made from a fiery root called Wasabia Japonica, it is not only the perfect accompaniment to raw fish - it has also been found to possess numerous health benefits.

Mentions of the now internationally popular condiment have been found in Japanese manuscripts dating as far back as the 8th century, when it was used more as a medical herb than a complement to food.

According to wasabi expert Naohide Kinae, recent studies have shown that the root has characteristics suppressing a bacterium responsible for many stomach related diseases, such as gastric inflammation and possibly even stomach cancer. Some have promoted it as a means to prevent food poisoning, one of the reasons why it is often served alongside raw fish.

The best wasabi experience a person could hope for is by getting the actual root and grating it themselves. When it is freshly grated, it tends to pack a much stronger flavor, which it only maintains for about 15 minutes after preparation. It also retains more of the healthy elements than manufactured wasabi.

But beware, wasabi fans; there isn’t only one type. When you come across it in the supermarket, you may find numerous different types of wasabi paste, but only a few of them actually include the Wasabia Japonica, referred to by the Japanese as "real" wasabi.

Most wasabi manufacturers use a root called "western wasabi," more commonly known as horseradish. It provides the same sort of burning sensation as the Japanese variety, but not the same color and flavor.

For retail sale, the horseradish is colored green, and the packaging should state if the wasabi used is "real" or not. Confusingly enough, even wasabi labeled as "real" sometimes includes a certain amount of horseradish mixed with the Japonica variety.

This western influx is nothing new. Horseradish was first introduced to Japan after the country emerged from a long isolation in the 1860s. It grows faster, bigger, and cheaper than the "real" wasabi, so it is only natural that businesses went for the more profitable kind.

Purists will say that it lacks the taste that makes Wasabia Japonica pair with raw fish so well, but does it mean the western variety is inferior to the "real" kind? Kinae says that no wasabi is better than the other. In fact, their health attributes are almost identical.

"One wasabi best accompanies fish, while another maybe better compliments steaks," Kinae said. "This choice is probably influenced by history, by experience accumulated over the years, but there actually is one way to appreciate 'real' wasabi and another to appreciate 'western wasabi.'"

So, next time you're in search of wasabi, you've got two tasks ahead if you: figuring out if it's Wasabia Japonica (or not), and deciding which food to pair it with.

You just might get a whole new kick out of your meal.

See all our Japan Eats coverage and get more on CNNGo

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Filed under: Asian • Bite • Cuisines • Feature • Food as Medicine • Health News • Japan • Japan Eats • Japanese


soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. Dave Fields

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing problems with your RSS. I dont know why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else having identical RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

    http://www.poweropen.org

    June 21, 2014 at 11:54 pm |
  2. Eat My WIENER

    COME ON TASTE IT!!!! DRINK IT!!!!! YA KNOW YOU WANT TO!

    November 1, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  3. Colin Bailey

    This thread has said more about the contributors than about the subject! Most enlightening!

    January 8, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  4. Horseradish

    Horseradish is better anyway!

    January 7, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  5. kevin

    This article is stupid, it touts the health benefits of wasabi yet not once did it state what the health benetits are. I thought that was the point of the article.

    January 7, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • kim

      Read paragraph 3, you dodo!

      January 13, 2012 at 3:42 am |
  6. Furriner

    Do japonese delis serve gefilte fish with wasabi? Has the gefilte been boiled? Pretty disgusting if not, but it's a great combination, oy vey.

    January 6, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  7. Clark Nova

    Far over 99% of the wasabi available in the US is dyed horseradish.

    January 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Superman

      Got that. Moving on ...

      January 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Chris Jones

      YOU are absolutely right!...99.999999% of Americas sushi bars use fake wasabi containing American horseradish, food coloring with a host of fillers and additives!

      January 6, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Hello wow thats true?

      HEY CLARK REALLY U A EXPERT?

      January 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • dalmz1z

      I buy it in a tube like tooth paste.

      January 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  8. Keith B. Rosenberg

    Might be good for those who are not sensitive to hot stuff.

    January 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  9. tiki886

    Try putting a dab in your mashed potatoes (without gravy) when you eat steak. You'll be pleasantly surprized.

    January 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  10. A.M. MD

    not so fast. Don't jump to adding Wassabi to your daily diet! yet!! the "back of the nose " burning effect of the Wassabe's vapor, in the region of ethmoid and maxillary sinuses, experienced by almost anyone, predisposes the region to pathologic abnormalities towards the direction of evolution of area specific malignancies!. just a known oncologic facts here is that the malignancies of these areas are particularly high amongst Japanese as compare to the rest of the world.

    January 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • scarshapedstar

      Thanks for the advice, Dr. Quack.

      January 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • S Walter

      Utter B.S. Your assertion that wasabi or either type predisposes one to increased rates of malignancies in the sinus region is completely without basis. You sir/madam are a TROLL... A fear-mongering TROLL. If you are, in fact an MD (which I seriously doubt, given the ignorance of your comment), then please provide the community with factual substantiation of your ridiculous claims. Seriously, it's people like you that destroy the validity of factual information on the Internet and dilute it with rubbish the likes of your self-serving commentary.

      January 7, 2012 at 5:08 am |
  11. Jim J

    Wasabi has anti-bacterial properties? Stop the presses! Only every cookbook can tell you that.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Brandon

      LOL. For real. I hate it when writers read something and then pretend like they have some kind of great new exciting news to share with everyone. It's much akin to plagiarism.

      January 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
      • ButzFDNY

        I wonder if the writer realizes that 99% 0f the wasabi that is eaten in the USA is green dyed Horseradish!! Actual wasabi is grown in small amounts alongside creeks and rivers in japan and is very very expensive.

        January 6, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Mosihasteen

      I'm glad they mentioned it! I don't read cookbooks often and never knew that before.

      January 8, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  12. Bert Russell

    Raw fish? Yuck. Who in their right mind would eat raw fish. I can understand why the put all kinds of spices on it. I would too if I was forced to eat that stuff.

    January 6, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • steveo

      noob

      January 6, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • DL

      Tastes like butter!

      January 6, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Jataka

      It's a good way to acquire cranial tapeworms.

      January 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Chris Jones

      You are a dumbass....eating raw fish is probably one of the most amazing source of protein on earth....and isn't even de-natured!

      January 6, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  13. Bert Russell

    Is wasabi related to kemosabe?

    January 6, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • hollywood

      I read your post earlier and I am still on the floor laughing. I cannot stop.
      Excellent post Bert, you started my day. Thanks

      January 6, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Jay Silverheels

      All of my children are.

      January 6, 2012 at 9:05 am |
      • wildone

        Tu eres tonto.

        January 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • KP

      Likewise, might I ask if "Chemo is related to kemo"?............as in kemo sabe!

      January 8, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  14. Diogenes

    Sure have Japanese food but it might be contaminated with radiation. Japanese farmers, fearing bankruptcy, have been selling radioactive rice to beef.

    January 5, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Andrew friet

      If the rice is radioactive then it it cooking the meat from the inside out. Awesome idea

      January 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • neepsandtats

      Those beef must have a hard time getting to the change in their pockets to pay for the radioactive rice. Hooves and such...

      January 12, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  15. Tie my shoe

    yay!

    January 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  16. hahaha

    i like men

    January 5, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Boy George

      So do I.

      January 5, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
      • George Michael

        As do I.

        January 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
      • Lance Bass

        me three

        January 5, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Forgot about Lance.

        January 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
      • Newt Gingrich

        I love little boys.

        January 6, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  17. Richard

    The wasabi we get in the average sushi place in N. America is all fake. The real stuff spoils too quickly once it's ground.

    January 5, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Long Wang

      Thanks for restating what the article says.

      January 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  18. too di fruity

    ding a ling

    January 5, 2012 at 7:52 am |
  19. yokohamacat

    I am a Japanese guy living in Tokyo area. Once when I was eating in a Sushi bar, I saw two American looking guys eating. One of them raised voice and said "Wasabi good!" to the sushi chef. But he did not praise sushi itself. It was pretty unique and funny.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • *

      ?

      January 5, 2012 at 7:49 am |
    • Clark Nova

      Probably because they can get good sushi in any large US city but you can't get real wasabi here.

      January 6, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
      • asdfafasdf

        Hawaii is the only place in the states that I have had good Sushi, which was still sub par in comparison. If you want real sushi, go to Japan.

        January 8, 2012 at 2:37 am |
  20. hocatcher

    dat is da jammy stuffz be zappin da jamma!

    January 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • *

      huh

      January 5, 2012 at 7:50 am |
  21. te

    give me a good dijon over wasabi

    January 4, 2012 at 1:44 am |
    • dd

      Ain't dat da truth!

      January 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  22. Sasanka

    If you read the whole article, you'd note that they state that "western wasabi", known as horseradish, also has the same health benefits.

    January 3, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  23. qularknoo

    then I wonder why the Japanese in Japan have a higher risk of stomach cancer ... than those in the US eating a more western diet.

    January 3, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • KIm

      It's from all of that radiation emanating off of Godzilla.

      January 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
      • iBob

        That should read, "Gawdzilwa".

        January 4, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • NyteShayde

      Well guess what, genius, the Japanese have a love affair with the Western diet, or SAD (standard American diet). Americans have a higher risk for almost every form of cancer and heart disease over those cultures who eat a majority of their nutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. I can cite this, easily...cite yours. Go ahead, I'll wait.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:18 am |
    • saobi

      Actually, stomach cancer is more common in Asians overall

      January 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  24. squarf

    Real and fresh wasabi is how come Orientals have slanty eyes.

    January 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • *

      meh meh

      January 3, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • cacique

      Ji ji ji

      January 3, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Aletheya

      Fail.

      January 3, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • NyteShayde

      Racist troll is trolling.

      January 4, 2012 at 2:19 am |
  25. Fred

    So where, in this vast United States, is one supposed to obtain REAL wasabi? Not at the Kroger where I shop. I also understand that it doesn't stay fresh very long. I guess I'll just stick to the fake stuff; at least it looks real, and it sure can take the top off of your head.

    January 3, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      Some wasabi is grown in Oregon. Production is low and prices are high.

      January 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Chris Jones

      Real Wasabi out of North Carolina is a great place to purchase real Wasabi Rhizomes (root)...just google "Real Wasabi" and order from them....Contrary to what some THINK they now about wasabi...it stays fresh and keeps extremely well for up to a few months if you keep it wrapped up loosely in a moist paper towel in an open plastic bag or container in the fridge!....AND NO Oregon does not grow any Real commercial Wasabi at all!....Pacific Coast Wasabi out of Vancouver, BC...Dr.Brian Oates and REAL WASABI out of NC,USA are the only two outfits growing commercial wasabi japonica in the western hemisphere! FACT!!!

      January 6, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • Dr Brian Oates

      For more information on real Wasabi grown in North America go to http://www.wasabia.com

      January 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  26. out back counting stars

    This article lacks credibility. The specific epithet of a scientific name is not capitalized. The article wrongly says "Wasabia Japonica" not once but twice. So, how many other mistakes and errors does this article contain? Thanks CNN for producing this piece of tripe catering to the intellectual and dietary needs of America's rapidly growing population of cretins.

    January 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • *

      meh

      January 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Fred

      Does the word "epithet" have a special scientific meaning? I always understood it to describe a curse word.

      January 3, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
      • Word Ho

        http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/epithet

        ep·i·thet [ep-uh-thet]
        noun
        1. any word or phrase applied to a person or thing to describe an actual or attributed quality: “Richard the Lion-Hearted” is an epithet of Richard I.
        2. a characterizing word or phrase firmly associated with a person or thing and often used in place of an actual name, t!tle, or the like, as “man's best friend” for “dog.”
        3. a word, phrase, or expression used invectively as a term of ab use or contempt, to express hostility, etc.

        January 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Kenny of Salt

      Wasabi on tripe...that's probably worth a try...

      January 6, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
      • Clark Nova

        Red chile works better. It's called menudo.

        January 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  27. A Brown Table

    I love wasabi with steaks! http://www.abrowntable.com

    January 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Jerv

      Those farm photos look wonderful.

      January 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  28. asec86

    Yet another crappy CNN article. It's safe to assume these studies used fresh wasabi, and not the powdered stuff you'll find everywhere but high-end sushi places. Not even a mention in passing of the people raising this difficult to grow rhizome in the United States? wasabia dot com grows it and sells it fresh for the lordly sum of $8.75 an OUNCE.

    January 3, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • MalaDee@asecDEEPsix

      By all means, go visit Fox news or MSNBC or the Onion and vent about CNN. We won't miss you.

      January 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  29. susheater

    I'd love to try real wasabi sometime, unfortunately the shelf life once prepared from the root is about 30 minutes so unless it was just made for you in japan you're actually just eating regular horseradish with green food coloring :p http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasabi

    January 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      You can get fresh wasabi in the US. Some is grown in Oregon, and some is imported from Japan. Both are quite expensive. It would probably make a good greenhouse crop for entrepreneurs in moderate climates, although it requires running water (it normally grows in streams) to do well.

      January 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  30. susheater

    I'd love to try real wasabi sometime! unfortunately once prepared from the root it's shelf life is about 30 minutes, so if whatever you're eating wasn't just made, it's actually just green colored horse radish

    January 3, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  31. f

    WA SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAABI !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Bob

      (smashes hands on table)

      January 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  32. ELISSA

    I LOVE IT ON HAMBURGERS TOO!

    January 3, 2012 at 11:53 am |
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