Wasabi has a taste that’s definitely not for everyone. Some say that it’s a bit of a rush to eat wasabi because of the zing and heat that it has.
The zip of this plant causes many to wonder why wasabi is so strong. It’s not capsaicin (like what’s found in hot peppers) that makes it potent, so what exactly is it?
We’ve researched the cause of the heat in wasabi. Keep reading to find out what gives the food it potency.
Quick Answer: Why is Wasabi so Strong?
The famous ferocity of wasabi comes from a compound called allyl isothiocyanate. It’s also found in other foods, like horseradish and mustard.
You actually won’t find real wasabi a lot outside of Japan. But because they have similar components, horseradish and mustard are often used in wasabi substitutes.
We’ve written about it a little more in our post about why wasabi is spicy.
Allyl Isothiocyanate: The Basic Information
Allyl isothiocyanate has a name that’s a lot scarier than it actually is. It’s an organosulfur compound that naturally appears in a range of plants.
Most commonly, you’ll find it in various types of mustard seed. The potency of the compound is released when the plant it’s inside is torn or mashed, like when you’re biting it.
Aside from appearing in many of our foods, it’s often used as an anti-mold and bacteria agent. It may be one of the reasons why real wasabi has natural anti-bacterial properties.
What Does Real Wasabi Actually Taste Like?
We mentioned previously that you’re not likely to find true wasabi anywhere except Japan. That means that, odds are, you haven’t eaten real wasabi even if you’ve been to a Japanese restaurant.
The reason why wasabi is uncommon internationally is that it’s notoriously difficult to grow. There are Japanese farms that have spent literal generations honing their ability to cultivate this finicky plant.
When you go to a Japanese restaurant, the wasabi you’re getting is usually a mixture of mustard, starch, and green food coloring. It’s an okay imitation of the real thing, but still is, of course, just an imitation.
So what does real wasabi taste like? We’ve written about that more here, but to give you a brief idea, it’s similar to the paste you get with your food at a sushi restaurant. The difference is that it has a much more plant-like, fresh taste.
How to Eat Wasabi Like a Pro
We all know that wasabi is hot, but is there any way you can mitigate that heat? Yes, there actually is.
Allyl isothiocyanate, that compound we mentioned earlier, is water soluble. That means it dissolves in water, so if you find your wasabi is a little too potent, take some sips of water and you’ll feel better in no time.
Another alternative is to make sure you avoid hitting your soft palate when you take a bite of wasabi. Your soft palate is the back third of your mouth, and it’s hyper-sensitive.
Keeping the food towards the front of your mouth and mixing the flavors will help you resist the pungent flavor of wasabi like no other.
Wasabi is a food that’s not for the faint of heart. Because of the allyl isothiocyanate in it, it has a zippiness that you’re not going to forget anytime soon.
But if you can get your hands on authentic wasabi, we encourage you to give it a try. It’s a unique and pungent food that’s a real experience to eat.