The Real McCoy

Yes, this bumpy little root that’s no bigger than my thumb is the real-deal wasabi.

If all that you’re used to is the common toothpaste-like blob of horseradish, mustard and green food coloring found on sushi plates almost everywhere, then you deserve to treat yourself to the real thing.

I picked up this little guy at Nijiya market in Mountain View, where the fresh, very perishable, and very pricey and very difficult-to-grow root can be found regularly in the refrigerator case next to the packages of neatly sliced raw fish.

It’s imported from Japan and sells for $55.99 a pound. Fortunately, this tiny specimen, weighing in at all of .055 of a pound, set me back only $3.08.

With real wasabi, you still get nasal-tingling burn, but not nearly as explosive as that from the imitation paste. In fact, I have no problems eating a little of the grated wasabi root straight. But I’d be hard pressed to do that with the out-of-the-tube stuff without tearing up. With real wasabi, there is more nuance — an almost floral quality and subtle sweetness. It explodes on your palate, but the heat dissipates quickly, unlike the fake stuff.

Typically, a sharkskin grater is used on wasabi root to get a super fine grate. Lacking that, I tried a Microplane grater, which produced far larger shavings, and a ceramic garlic/ginger grater, which produced gratings in-between the two in size. If you use either of those latter two gadgets, you’ll want to make sure to use the end of a chopstick to really pummel the wasabi when you mix it with soy sauce, kind of like you would do with a mortar and pestle.

The leaves at the top of the root also can be eaten. Just chop them up finely to enjoy the same fragrant kick.

Use fresh wasabi just as you would the imitation stuff — as an accompaniment to raw fish or as an accent ingredient in dressings or to perk up crisp vegetables.

One taste will wake you up to what you’ve been missing.

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Date: Friday, 25. June 2010 5:28
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37 comments

  1. 1

    I would just about give up my favorite chefs knife for access to fresh wasabi at local stores!!!!

  2. 2

    Fresh and flavorful!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. 3

    Gorgeous. I remember learning about real wasabi when I was in Japan. Up till that point I had no idea that most of the stuff in sushi restaurants was not the real deal. I was very excited to find real wasabi powder at penzeys but this is even better! Are some wasabi recipes to come?

  4. 4

    i did not know it was that expensive, but coming all the way from japan i can understand. and sadly i have not tried real wasabi….trust me i want too. oh yes. and you say it’s not as hot, but still tingles? love it. i know i would love it.

  5. 5

    I’ve never seen fresh wasabi. It actually looks beautiful in an odd way. I’ve used fresh horseradish and I agree that using the fresh root always provide a nuance subtle flavor instead of the flavor-punch you get from the bottle stuff.

  6. 6

    Wow, I don’t think I have seen wasabi in it’s natural state. It’s so beautiful and unique — I would love the opportunity to try it fresh. I’m sure it would be amazing.

  7. 7

    LOVE fresh wasabi. So much better than the fake stuff. It has a sweeter finish that I really enjoy. Now I’m craving the wasabi potato salad from Delica!

  8. 8

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CarolynJung and Eduardo Pacheco, Food News. Food News said: The Real McCoy http://bit.ly/a1A4eo via http://topicfire.com/Food [...]

  9. 9

    Jaden: Holy cow! Now, that’s giving up a lot for real wasabi. ;)

  10. 10

    Wow, I’ve never had “real” wasabi, I’ve never seen it at a store. I wonder if I can find it somewhere in SF?

  11. 11

    That market is one of my semi-regular stops, and the gardener in me is wondering what might happen were I to dip the bottom of that husky-looking stem in some rooting compound…If I follow through on that thought, I’ll be sure to report back.

    And Joyti, you’re in luck! There’s another Nijiya market In SF on Post Street near Webster in Japantown.

    I tell ya, this internet? It’s a wonderful thing!

  12. 12

    @Carroll – it’s grown much differently than regular horseradish. In Japan they stick parts of the roots (and Carolyn’s chunk would be just about the right size) into the shallow end of a gentle stream so the plant is always neck-deep in running water. I bought some from Nijiya last summer and thought perhaps I could trick it into growing as easily as my horseradish does if I just gave it lots of water, but without the constant trickle of fresh water, the poor thing just shriveled up and rotted. I’ve heard that Taiwan and Hawaii grows quite a bit of wasabi too.

  13. 13

    thank you
    for your sweetest comment/congrats on my ebook.
    :-)

  14. 14

    I knew real wasabi isn’t really from a tube with that greenish color, but this is cooler than I thought…and boy, is it pricey!!

  15. 15

    Rena: You are absolutely correct that it is extremely difficult to grow.

    By the way, Oregon also has grown real wasabi for years. http://www.freshwasabi.com/

  16. 16

    A plate of Maguro with fresh wasabi and I’m a happy camper!

  17. 17

    I agree, the paste stuff in a tube does hideous things to my sinuses but the real stuff is much better! :D

  18. 18

    I watched a travel(food) pgm few weeks back and one segment featured wasabi from Japan. Indeed, it is not easy to grow not forgetting the laborious steps taken to clean the root (a lot of washing!)…so it is not cheap, esp imported from Japan. But for 3 bucks you got your real McCoy for, I think it is not expensive at all :)

  19. 19

    I’ve never had real wasabi but I think I would love the more refined flavor of it. Definitely going to watch out for it!

  20. 20

    Waw!! What a special roote!

    I never knew that wasabi root looked like this!! Thanks for all of the info!!

  21. 21

    Rena, thanks for the growing info. I’m fresh out of running trickle planting areas here in Cupertino so guess I’ll just save any roots I buy to savor on their own :-)

  22. 22

    I’ve never tried fresh wasabi but now am intrigued…I’ll have to look for it on Clement Street.

  23. 23

    I’ve never seen real wasabi….love the photo of the grated one! I’m sure the flavours will be a bit like horseradish but spicier somehow!

  24. 24

    it’s funny–i can eat the hottest pepper in the world and not break a sweat, but wasabi sets me on my rear end. i just can’t handle it.

  25. 25

    Fresh wasabi is indeed a treat! I knew it was expensive, but geeze!

  26. 26

    oh my I have still yet to see a fresh wasabi! wow!

  27. 27

    Hi Carolyn – This is such deja vu! I had my first ‘rub’ with fresh wasabi root on sharkskin grater last week!

    So seeing it on your blog today was awesome :)

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  28. 28

    How I wish we had access to real wasabi in Sydney – I am sure it must be available somewhere but I’ve never seen it. Being a real sashimi fan, I’d love to try this.

  29. 29

    I really really like this post. Wow, 0.055lb. Wouldn’t have been able to guess that from the picture. If it’s so rare, I wonder how the Japanese even found this thing to begin with!

  30. 30

    The perception of price vs quantity is so deceptive! Or rather, when we buy ingredients, we don’t realise how much the weight of something is relative to its volume, so we get sticker shock!

    Real wasabi costs >$50/lb, but you only needed $3 worth of it. I was making joong two weeks ago, and bought dried scallops, which are $40/lb. However, I only needed about $4 worth, and it was more than enough for 40 joong.

  31. 31

    $3 is a bargain to be able to try real wasabi! I think they may have some at my local Mitsuwa so I’ll look for it on my next visit.

  32. 32

    So very true, Uzbekcelia. Same with saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. But you need only a pinch to transform a dish into something special.

  33. 33

    OOH, I love to weep wasabi tears! It’s like endorphins for me… I didn’t know Nijiya had the fresh stuff, I always buy sashimi from there, sounds like I need to get myself over there soon. Is it seasonal?

  34. 34

    Two wows!

    1) I can’t believe that’s wasabi!

    2) I can’t believe that it’s not any bigger than your thumb!

    Interesting!

  35. 35

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. Been dying to get my hands on some of this stuff in the Bay Area!!!

    xoxoxo

  36. 36

    If you want to find out about North America’s only commercial growers of sawa (high quality) real Wasabi please have a look at our website (www.wasabia.com). We harvest and ship weekly.

  37. 37

    [...] More Intriguing Produce: Real Wasabi [...]

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