Are You Eating Real Wasabi?


Photo credit: Stock Food

We hate to break it to you, but the spicy green stuff you’re slathering on your sushi probably isn’t real wasabi.

Authentic wasabi is made from a vibrant green root of the same name, which is native to mountain stream beds in Japan. The stuff you’re probably getting at your local Safeway, however, is more likely a spicy mix of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring.

"It makes a very similar spicy-sting-your-nose flavor," explained Ari Kushimoto, the co-owner of modern izakaya Kushi in Washington, D.C., but its effects work faster. Plus, true wasabi paste tends to be milder and fruitier than the stuff we find in the States. 

The real treat is finding fresh wasabi root. If you manage to get your hands on some—try looking at Asian specialty stores or buy them directly from U.S. growers—shave off its brown outer skin and finely grate a small amount of the green core on top of raw fish or ramen.

"The best is to serve a dish like sashimi with the root," Kushimoto suggested. "Grate the root as you eat. It cannot get any fresher than that!"