最終更新: 8 Jun 2023 | 1124 ビューアー |
Wasabi (わさび), also known as "Japanese horseradish," is a plant native to Japan that's best known for its root, which is used as a condiment in Japanese cuisine. Though it's a cornerstone of many meals, particularly sushi, there's a lot more to this fiery green paste than meets the eye. Here is all you need to know about wasabi.
Wasabi, scientifically known as "Eutrema japonicum," is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes mustard, horseradish, and cabbage. It has been a part of the Japanese diet for over a thousand years and has played a significant role in Japanese culture. In ancient times, wasabi was valued for its medicinal properties and used as a herbal remedy for various conditions.
Cultivation and Harvesting
Wasabi is notoriously difficult to grow. It thrives in shaded, cool, and humid conditions, typically found naturally along Japanese mountain stream beds. The plants take 1.5 to 2 years to mature. During this time, they require precise conditions: consistent temperatures between 8-20 degrees Celsius, 80% to 90% humidity, and protection from direct sunlight, wind, and pests.
When the wasabi plants have matured, the rhizome (the stem that grows horizontally along or under the ground) is harvested. This rhizome is the part that we commonly refer to as "wasabi."
Production and Use
After harvesting, the wasabi rhizome is cleaned and grated to make the green paste typically served with sushi or sashimi. A traditional Japanese grater, made from sharkskin, is often used to achieve the ideal texture.
Wasabi has a unique heat that quickly dissipates, leaving a sweet aftertaste. This makes it distinct from other types of spicy foods that have lingering heat. It's most commonly used as a complement to sushi or sashimi, but it can also be used in soba noodles, rice dishes, and various other recipes.
While wasabi is most commonly associated with sushi and sashimi, its unique flavor and heat have led to its use in a wide range of other culinary applications, both within and beyond traditional Japanese cuisine.
Wasabi contains several compounds that are beneficial to health. These include isothiocyanates, which have antimicrobial properties, can potentially help to reduce inflammation, and may even have anticancer effects. Additionally, wasabi has compounds that can help digestion and reduce the risk of food poisoning, which is one reason why it's traditionally served with raw fish.
It's important to note that while wasabi has these potential health benefits, it is usually consumed in small amounts, and therefore, its health impact should be seen as a part of a balanced, nutritious diet.
The Science Behind the Spiciness
The spiciness of wasabi comes from chemical compounds it contains known as isothiocyanates. When you eat wasabi (or when it's grated and exposed to air), an enzymatic process breaks down a compound in the plant called glucosinolates into these isothiocyanates.
Isothiocyanates are volatile, meaning they readily turn into a gas. When you eat wasabi, these gaseous molecules travel up your nasal passage and trigger the TRPA1 receptors in your nose and sinuses. These receptors are pain receptors for irritants, which is why wasabi's spiciness is felt more in the nose and sinuses rather than on the tongue, unlike the heat from chili peppers which activate a different receptor (TRPV1) that's more common in the mouth and skin.
Importantly, the reaction is temporary and usually harmless, though it can be uncomfortable if you're not used to it. The intensity of wasabi's heat diminishes quickly after its initial burst because isothiocyanates are volatile and evaporate quickly. This is why the sharp, intense sensation of eating wasabi subsides just as rapidly as it arrives.
How to Mitigate the Spiciness of Wasabi
In conclusion, wasabi is a remarkable ingredient with a rich history and unique characteristics. Its cultivation requires precision and patience, mirroring its importance and the care taken in Japanese culinary traditions. Its unique spiciness, derived from isothiocyanates, offers not only a distinctive sensory experience but also several health benefits, including antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Though its spiciness can be daunting to some, it's temporary and can be mitigated through various means.