British Columbia

Think you're eating real wasabi with your sushi? Chances are you're getting rolled

On The Coast food columnist says you're probably eating sushi the wrong way, too. So don't miso out on this column.

On The Coast food columnist says B.C. companies taking on challenging job of growing real wasabi

A sushi order served with "wasabi." On The Coast food columnist says the bright green paste sushi lovers are used to probably isn't the real thing.

Most sushi fans love wasabi with their rolls, but they may not realize they're probably not consuming real wasabi at all.

On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson says genuine wasabi is, in fact, a rarity.

However, a few B.C. companies are harvesting the product, making fresh, home-grown wasabi more accessible.

"I hate to say it, but chances are most people have never tasted real wasabi," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"That bright-green paste you get with your kappa maki is probably just a mix of horseradish and green dye. It comes from jars or tubes of paste or powder that might contain artificial flavours and preservatives too."

Johnson says genuine wasabi comes from a plant called Wasabia japonica. It used to be grown exclusively in Japan, but there is actually a burgeoning wasabi industry right here in B.C.

Johnson spoke to Pacific Coast Wasabi owner Brian Oates who says wasabi is an extremely challenging plant to grow outside of its natural habitat. He spent two decades developing technology to grow the plant in computer-controlled greenhouses.

So what's the difference between the real stuff and the fake?

"Fresh wasabi does have heat, but it's not the same as horseradish," Johnson said. "Horseradish is overpowering when you have it with sushi; it feels like there's a whole army of soldiers attacking your sinuses."

Johnson says fresh wasabi has a milder heat that dissipates: "It's not an assault on your senses. It almost has a bit of fruitiness to it."

And Johnson has some more bad news for sushi lovers: if you're mixing wasabi and soy sauce together to make "wasabi gravy," you're doing it wrong.

"You're not supposed to mix the two," she said. "Put a small amount of wasabi on say, the fish or on top of a roll and just eat it like that or dip the other end into a small amount of soy sauce."

"They [wasabi and soy] shouldn't touch. Or avoid soy sauce altogether."

With files form CBC Radio One's On The Coast