I cannot, for the life of me, when I think of the word Wasabi, say it as it’s written. I always martial-art-movie the pronunciation. And I do mean always. Say it with me now,’Wa-saaaaaabi!’
I have wondered whether wasabi was a chilli, pepper or mustard, but apparently it’s a horseradish. According to Wiki:
Wasabi is a plant member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbage, horseradish, and mustard. It is also called Japanese horseradish, although horseradish is a different plant (which is often used as a substitute for wasabi). Its stem is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong pungency. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard than that of the capsaicin in a chilli pepper, producing vapours that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are E. japonicum ‘Daruma’ and ‘Mazuma’, but there are many others.
So, that’s clarified then. I did always wonder, as I’m okay with a little bit of bite – chilli wise – but I far more appreciate flavour over my digestive tract screaming like a girl and up and running away in fear when I eat something hot.
This is why I’m not so great with is hot mustard. It’s also where I fall spectacularly short in the stiff upper lip category of having the de rigeur hot English mustard with my rare roast beef.
Horseradish I can still do, but the glaring yellow of HEM, no. (The colour alone should be sufficient warning that your mouth will qualify for its very own ‘scorched earth’ tag.)
Then in wanders Wa-saaaaaabi! with its deceptively fresh, pastel-green colour that says, ’Hot, me? Naah, I’m all spring time meadows and buttercups – perfectly harmless.’
Blithely unaware, you mix a blob in with your soy sauce or you (‘you’ being the crazy, no taste-buds at ALL daredevils) smear it commando style onto your sushi and pop a piece into your mouth. Then the fire engine alarms start clanging, your nose receptors scream for mercy and your throat clamps shut.
I read recently that more often than not we’re not really eating real wasabi, and that the real deal isn’t even that hot. Also, the heat from real fresh wasabi, when grated, doesn’t last for more than about 15 minutes.
Genuine wasabi is pretty expensive – apparently a lot of it that we eat is a mixture of dyed mustard and horseradish root – which would explain a lot.
Whatever I’m ingesting, I’ve learnt to keep a jug of water on the table whenever Ojiisan Wasabi is paying a visit. Oh, and I think the winter warmer trick here is obvious. If you eat enough of the stuff, it’ll keep your head warm, your nasal passages clear and your brain all on fire like nobody’s business – you certainly won’t notice the cold.