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Some like it hot! Fans of sushi and other Japanese delicacies have long known about this pale green paste. They appreciate its spicy, aromatic heat, even if it does sometimes give them an itchy feeling in the nose and maybe even brings tears to their eyes. We’re talking about wasabi.

The snack industry also discovered the spicy green stuff a little while back too, whether as a crunchy coating for nuts or dried peas, or more recently as a flavour for crisps. Wasabi really puts the veteran pepperoni in the shade.

But who or what is wasabi? And does every product that says wasabi on the label actually have wasabi inside? Wasabi is the root of a plant from the Brassicaceae family; this root grows straight up out of the ground and has leaves growing from it. Its other common name, “Japanese horseradish”, is deceptive, as horseradish is a root which grows underground, unlike wasabi. However, the two do owe their hot and spicy flavour to the same thing: volatile mustard oils, known as isothiocyanates.
In its country of origin, Japan, wasabi is sometimes brought to the table freshly grated.

In Germany, it is usually only available as a powder or a paste. This is one picky plant: it will only flourish in shallow, flowing water, doesn’t like to be too hot or too cold, and cannot cope with any direct sunlight. These characteristics make cultivation more difficult and increase the price. So when shopping you should always remain sceptical: real wasabi comes at a price. If the product seems too cheap, it is probably an imitation; a clever mixture of horseradish, mustard and artificial colours. A quick look at the list of ingredients should clear this up.

And whilst we're on the subject of ingredients: it's worth taking a closer look at those listed on wasabi snacks too. Some of these products do not contain real wasabi at all, just flavourings, even if “wasabi” is part of the trade name (as in “wasabi peas”). According to a recent judgement of the Munich District Court, this is a clear case of consumer deception. The judges also concluded that the inclusion of “wasabi flavouring” in the list of ingredients did nothing to ameliorate this deceit.


Source:, Dr Christina Rempe