Horseradish or Wasabi?

Found in sushi restaurants, the spicy condiment known as wasabi is often substituted with which other plant that's processed and dyed green?

And the answer: horseradish.

Photo Courtesy: Debbi Smirnoff / Getty Images

In Japanese cuisine, wasabi is typically served as a condiment to sushi, providing a momentary shock of spiciness to accompany raw fish. Because wasabi root is expensive to import, many sushi restaurants outside of Japan replace it with horseradish, which is a similar root vegetable.

The innocuous appearance and odorless quality of these root vegetables is a shared yet misleading trait for wasabi and its popular replacement. It is not until the moment of cutting, breaking or grating that they release their spicy odor (at which point you might want to keep your eyes, nose and mouth out of the equation). However, though these root plants have similar tastes, and even related genetic makeup, they are two entirely individual plant species. We even ingest different parts of the plant – the horseradish root is what we typically consume, while the wasabi stem is the main part of the plant that is eaten.

Wasabi only grows naturally in Japan, making its cost much higher than the globally-grown horseradish. It takes several years for a plant to reach maturity – generally few fans of the spicy condiment will wait around that long. Horseradish, with its similar flavor profile and abundance, is an effective, virtually synonymous replacement (give or take a little green dye).

To learn more about cultivation of the mystical wasabi plant check out the video below.


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