The benefits of wasabi

The benefits of wasabi

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If you have ever eaten sushi, you are probably familiar with the beautiful pistachio green paste known as wasabi, which usually decorates rolls and sushi plates. The scientific literature has accumulated enough data on the beneficial properties and contraindications for the use of wasabi. In our article we will consider the main ideas.

You can most likely recall the first time a somewhat painful rush of vapor struck the nasal passages in combination with wakame seaweed, rice, soy and a horseradish-like mixture of flavors. You might even have been warned to mix a small amount of wasabi with your soy sauce first. But did you take this warning into account?

It is a mustard taste mixed with an exciting burning sensation that many crave to experience along with sushi and rolls. And due to its popularity, wasabi is now a favorite among other goodies such as wasabi peas and wasabi popcorn.

Fortunately, when you get a real wasabi in your hands (rather than the fakes that restaurants usually offer), it also has many health benefits – from improving bowel health to treating foodborne illnesses and even potentially fighting cancer cells. So, let’s go deeper and clear our sinuses with this powerful flavor enhancer.

What is wasabi

True wasabi comes from a root-like stem or rhizome that looks like the consistency of fresh ginger, scientifically known as  Japanese wasabia. It belongs to the cruciferous family   and is related to plants such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, horseradish and mustard greens.

Wasabi is usually cultivated in Japan, and is sometimes called Japanese horseradish. It has an extremely strong and stimulating aroma, which is accompanied by a burning sensation. The acute constituents of wasabi come from allylisothiocyanate (AITC), which is known as mustard oil and is derived from cruciferous vegetables. AITC is formed in wasabi immediately after the root rubs very finely when the glucosinolate in wasabi reacts with the myrosinase enzyme ( 1 ).

Wasabi plant grows naturally along the beds of streams in the mountain valleys of Japan. Growing wasabi is difficult, so it’s hard to find real wasabi in restaurants. Wild wasabi thrives only in certain areas of Japan. But farmers in other places, including the United States, have made efforts to create ideal environmental conditions for the plant.

How to distinguish a real wasabi from a fake

It is true that a real wasabi has many beneficial properties and few contraindications. But find out that you are eating a real product? Substitutes most often contain horseradish root, mustard and some food coloring. Even in Japan, where wasabi grows, getting a real product can be a problem.

Also often European horseradish replaces wasabi in many culinary dishes. What for? Several reasons lead to this. One of them is that horseradish still provides this burning sensation, even if it persists during the night, while the sharpness of a real wasabi lasts only about 15 minutes. That’s why it’s best to rub it the way you need. Ideally, you should have your own rhizome and your own grater in the restaurant so that you get it as fresh as possible.

Taste very much depends on how well it is rubbed. Traditionally, the best way to grate wasabi is to use a shark skin grater called irrigation, which resembles thin sandpaper.


Wasabi close up


So why do we get a wasabi workaround? This creates problems due to the complexity of the growing process. Because of this, some companies choose growth and production using greenhouses. They produce and sell fresh and lyophilized wasabi rhizomes, cans and tubes of wasabi paste, powder and other seasonings. For all of you sushi lovers, you may soon be able to get the present.

So how do you know if you have a real wasabi? The real wasabi is known as Sava Ava Wasabi,  and is usually considered a delicacy. It also tastes more herbal than horseradish, and although it is hot, it does not have a lingering, burning aftertaste that you can get used to with a substitute. It tastes smoother, cleaner, fresher and more like plants or earthen than horseradish.

Why do we eat wasabi from sushi? It is designed to emphasize the delicate taste of fish. The taste of real wasabi enhances the taste of sushi, while some argue that the taste of “fake wasabi” is actually too strong for tender fish and interrupts sushi.

Nutrition Facts of Wasabi

Both the beneficial properties of wasabi and the contraindications for its use are determined by the profile of nutrients. One cup (approximately 130 grams) of raw wasabi root contains approximately:

  • 142 calories
  • carbohydrates – 30.6 g.
  • proteins – 6.2 gr.
  • fats – 0.8 g.
  • fiber – 10.1 gr.
  • Vitamin C – 54.5 mg (91%)
  • Manganese – 0.5 mg (25%)
  • magnesium – 89.7 mg (22%)
  • potassium – 738 mg (21%)
  • Vitamin B6 – 0.4 mg (18%)
  • calcium – 166 mg (17%)
  • zinc – 2.1 mg (14%)
  • thiamine – 0.2 mg (11%)
  • phosphorus – 104 mg (10%)
  • copper – 0.2 mg (10%)
  • riboflavin – 0.1 mg (9%)
  • iron – 1.3 mg (7%)
  • folate – 23.4 mcg (6%)
  • niacin – 1 mg (5%)

Wasabi also contains less vitamin A and pantothenic acid.

Useful properties of wasabi

In addition to its culinary uses, scientists have begun to research the medical use of wasabi. It is believed that it alleviates the symptoms of a number of diseases, including allergies, asthma, cancer, inflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases. Here are some of the most important health benefits that wasabi provides.

1. Kills harmful bacteria

Studies show that wasabi provides a powerful blow when it comes to protecting against certain bacteria. In one study conducted at the Chiba University Plant Cell Technology Laboratory in Japan, using it in potato cultivation makes a vegetable more resistant to disease ( 2 ).

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology shows that the same applies to tomatoes ( 3 ). Incorporation of the selected wasabi culture into the potted soil significantly reduced the bacterial infection on the tomatoes, and the treatment of the tomatoes gave excellent control effectiveness against M. incognita  with fresh wasabi residue. In addition to the high price, this can make it an excellent option for treating diseases using a combination of endophytes, common and very diverse microorganisms that live in plant tissues.

2. Prevents tooth decay

Due to its ability to kill bacteria, wasabi is a natural antimicrobial agent often used with raw fish. This is mainly due to isothiocyanate vapor. These fumes help inhibit the development of fungi, mold, and bacteria ( 4 ).

Interestingly, wasabi can also help prevent tooth decay by killing the bacteria that can cause it.

3. Fights cancer cells

Wasabi contains powerful phytonutrients, or phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates are sulfur-containing phytonutrients with a strong anti-cancer effect. They are found naturally in the form of glucosinolate conjugates in cruciferous vegetables such as wasabi. When raw vegetables are chewed, the plant cells break down and an enzyme called myrosinase is converted to isothiocyanates.

Their antitumor effects are manifested because they neutralize carcinogens – therefore, reducing the negative effects of poisons. Studies have shown that isothiocyanates can help prevent lung cancer and esophageal cancer and can help reduce the risk of other cancers, including gastrointestinal cancer ( 5 ). This means you can add wasabi to your cancer list.


Sashimi with wasabi


4. May help reduce pain caused by inflammation

Compounds in wasabi can also help scientists develop a new cure for pain. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco studied isothiocyanates, which trigger a reaction in the TRP receptors, which are responsible for transmitting a pain signal to the brain, to the nerve cells of our tongue and mouth.

Scientists used mice that lacked one type of TRP receptor and found that mice did not respond to compounds that contain isothiocyanates ( 6 ). The data also show that the receptor is responsible for inflammation. This means that isothiocyanates can block this receptor, which in turn can be a useful painkiller.

5. Improves intestinal health

Studies show that the root has properties that can inhibit bacteria found in the intestines, such as inflammation of the stomach and possibly even stomach cancer ( 7 ). It is possible that it can prevent food poisoning, which is one of the reasons it is served with raw fish.

Wasabi peas are an excellent option for the intestinal tract, as it helps remove toxic substances from your body, helping to eliminate the possibility of complications of diverticulitis. Detox occurs because peas are a high-fiber product. This dietary fiber is needed to help push the stool forward and prepare it for crowding out. Without fibers, in order to add volume to the stool, the colon must work harder than usual, and pressure from this can lead to the formation of sacs in weak spots along the colon, creating discomfort and potentially contributing  to the leaky gut syndrome .

6. Can be used as smoke alarm

Now that you know how amazing wasabi can be for a body, imagine if it can warn you about a fire. Intense steam, which can be atrocious for the nose, can actually help people with reduced sense of smell.

Japanese scientists focused on its pungent odor to create a prototype smoke alarm for the hearing impaired. This works by spraying wasabi extract into the room when smoke is detected. In this study, 13 out of 14 subjects were awakened by a smell within two minutes after the alarm went off, and one subject actually woke up in 10 seconds ( 8 ).


Despite all the beneficial properties of wasabi, this product is not suitable for everyone. Recall that wasabi causes a rather intense burning effect in the nose and can even cause itching in the eyes. If you have never tried wasabi, please start slowly using a small amount so as not to spoil the impression. If spicy foods cause you problems, it is best to avoid them altogether.

What happens when you eat a lot of wasabi? Well, besides the burning sensation in your nose and mouth, your gastrointestinal problems can also develop. This is because wasabi and other spicy foods stimulate the liver and gall bladder, causing side effects such as diarrhea and nausea. Can eating too much wasabi be fatal? Although research on this issue is not enough for a scientific answer, it is unlikely that you will die from wasabi overload. However, you will experience some serious digestive and breathing problems.

Wasabi can slow blood clotting in some people, so if you have surgery and want to reduce the risk of excessive bleeding, it is best to avoid drinking it for at least two weeks.

Final thoughts

So, we learned what wasabi is, its beneficial properties and contraindications. Summarize.

Believe it or not, it’s possible that when you think you’re eating wasabi, you’re actually using a substitute made from horseradish. Why? For starters, the real spiciness of wasabi lasts about 15 minutes. In addition, it is not as easy to produce and store as horseradish, although they have similar tastes and effects.

The good news is that you can find a real product. This is important because it has been proven that the beneficial properties of wasabi are amazing. It kills harmful food bacteria, prevents tooth decay, destroys cancer cells, helps reduce pain caused by inflammation, improves intestinal health and is even effective as a smoke alarm.

So if you can handle spicy nose cleansing products, add this amazingly nutritious seasoning to your diet.

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