In many ways, wasabi seems almost mythical. This rare and spicy condiment is something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve been to an authentic Japanese restaurant, but there are surprisingly few people who know much about it.
Many who stop to give it thought may have some basic questions about what it is, exactly. Is wasabi a plant? Is it a fungus, like a mushroom? Or is it something else entirely?
Consider this a basic introduction to wasabi. We’ll explain to you what it is, if it’s potentially dangerous, and why it’s rare.
Quick Answer: Is Wasabi a Plant?
Yes, real wasabi is a plant. Its scientific name is actually wasabia japonica, and it’s native to the mountainous regions of Japan.
Authentic wasabi paste or powder is made from the rhizome of the plant. The rhizome is underground where you would usually find the roots.
Is Wasabi a Vegetable?
If you’re into gardening or cooking, then you know that plants are subdivided into numerous categories. Wondering exactly which category wasabi falls into?
That’s an excellent question. Wasabi is considered a vegetable. It’s unsurprisingly in the same family as mustard and horseradish, which are also well-known for being hot.
Read Also: Why is Wasabi Spicy?
Can Wasabi Kill You?
With all the information and commentary out there, it’s natural to get a little confused when you’re learning about a new food. It’s entirely possible you came across someone saying that wasabi is harmful.
This rumor might be due to the fact that wasabi has allyl isothiocyanate in it, which is a chemical compound that causes that famous eye-watering reaction you have when you eat it. It’s similar to what you’ll find in mace or tear gas.
A huge enough concentration of allyl isothiocyanate can kill you. However, it would take an extremely large amount of to do so; you’d have eat at least 9kg of real wasabi. Put another way, you’d have to eat almost 20 pounds of real wasabi in one sitting for it to be lethal.
Further Reading: Why Does Wasabi Clear Sinuses?
Why is Real Wasabi so Rare?
We’ve covered the rarity of wasabi in a few articles on our blog. Most wasabi you’ll get in local stores or restaurants isn’t real wasabi – it’s typically a combination of dried horseradish and green food coloring.
The reason for the swap is that genuine wasabi is extremely expensive. Many consider it to be the most difficult crop in the world to grow on a commercial scale, given the strict conditions required for its growth.
Basically, wasabi is rare because it’s delicate and only grows in extremely specific environments. You can read more on the topic in our post about why wasabi is so hard to grow.
There’s so much more than meets the eye in virtually every ingredient in your kitchen. We think it’s important to learn about the foods we eat regularly so we know what it is we’re putting into our bodies.
Wasabi is particularly interesting. This finicky plant is beloved all over the world for its one-of-a-kind spicy quality. We definitely recommend trying the real thing if you have access to it.