Wasabi is a spicy plant-based sushi condiment staple.
Enthusiasts of Japanese cuisine find that raw fish, sushi, and other dishes are hard to enjoy without wasabi on the plate. But there is more to this zesty green sushi accompaniment than great taste.
Wasabi has a long history in Japanese culture. For instance, the traditional use for wasabi was as an anti-bacterial agent. It is also said to have several health benefits.
So, why do you eat wasabi with sushi? Here, I’ll get into all the reasons why and will also get into the origin of wasabi, the different types, and its use when served with sushi.
Table of Contents
Why Is Wasabi Served With Sushi?
Wasabi is served with sushi because seafood is a common ingredient, and the taste of wasabi brings out the flavor of raw fish perfectly.
Wasabi is also suitable for spicing up cooked meat or fish.
Unlike sashimi, sushi may contain cooked fish, other vegetables, and rice. The main ingredient of sushi is sour vinegar rice.
Wasabi also enhances flavor when served with sushi prepared with cooked seafood.
A dab of fresh wasabi is a staple on a sushi serving plate.
The spice emits a strong yet not unpleasant odor. Adding it to a sushi plate reduces the overpowering odor of some raw fish.
Most importantly, a bit of wasabi adds a bright pop of hot flavor (as it also brings a burn) to seafood and other ingredients in the roll.
Wasabi has a distinct flavor that enhances the taste of sushi and sashimi.
In addition, the presence and smell of wasabi add to the authentic Japanese food experience.
Although it began as a practical means to fight bacteria in uncooked seafood, wasabi is a delicious sushi roll partner today, despite it being notorious for bringing on a hell of a nose burn.
Do Japanese People Eat Sushi With Wasabi?
Wasabi is currently among the most popular sushi condiments in Japanese cuisine, so yes, it is eaten with sushi in Japan.
Home cooks and chefs use it in a wide variety of ways. For example, wasabi is placed on top of sushi rolls or to the side, with soy sauce or horseradish.
The Japanese use wasabi in other dishes too, including soba noodles and wasabi dipping sauces.
Japanese culture has a history of eating wasabi that dates back well over one thousand years. They discovered the intense flavor it added to dishes and made it a mainstay in kitchens and restaurants.
In addition, Japanese society was the first to know about the wasabi’s anti-bacterial properties. So they added wasabi to their meal to kill bugs and germs on raw fish and other seafood.
The wasabi plant contains allyl isothiocyanate, a chemical commonly used in insecticides today. It is also credited for supposedly fighting off serious illness for hundreds of years.
Many people believe in the following health benefits of the wasabi plant:
- Reduces bacteria that cause food poisoning
- Activates immune and anti-inflammatory genes in humans
- Reduces the risk of certain cancers
- Encourages weight loss
Research into the benefits of ingesting wasabi is ongoing. The results are promising, although no official statements or conclusions exist about its health effects on humans.
However, wasabi is a delicious complement to sushi and other Japanese and global community dishes.
What Kind of Wasabi Is Served with Sushi?
The average chain restaurant outside of Japan includes wasabi and soy sauce with sushi rolls at no extra cost.
The free wasabi served on the side at many restaurants is not from the natural plant. It’s most likely an imitation wasabi made with colored European horseradish.
There are several reasons for the scarcity of authentic wasabi.
The rare wasabi plant is native to Japan. Growing and harvesting the plant is quite difficult. Processing it is expensive and time-consuming.
The costs to produce and import wasabi are reflected in the expensive price tag to obtain a significant amount.
The average restaurant serves wasabi substitutes because of the scarcity and cost of genuine wasabi.
Diners can still enjoy the distinct taste of real wasabi, however. Many high-end restaurant chefs do not compromise the unique, sharp flavor wasabi adds to sushi rolls and other dishes.
In addition, wasabi has seen a surge in the U.S. market as more farmers in the country grow the plant.
As a result, home cooks can purchase authentic wasabi paste and powder at a reasonably affordable price.
There are some differences between the taste of imitation and authentic wasabi.
Both versions have a zingy taste, which contrasts with the sweetness of some seafood. Imitation wasabi gets this kick from horseradish and mustard.
Genuine wasabi tastes similar but for different reasons.
First, diners smell real wasabi before they taste it.
As far as the spiciness, it starts gently on the tongue and builds up to a peak. The heat from genuine wasabi fades away quickly, leaving a clean texture on the tongue. It doesn’t linger like imitation wasabi.
How Do You Use Wasabi When Eating Sushi?
Enjoying tasty food is the main reason for eating. However, knowing the correct way to use condiments like wasabi adds a layer of enjoyment to the dining experience.
The key to eating wasabi with sushi is to let sushi remain the star of the show.
Too much wasabi overpowers the meat, sears the tongue, and blows out the palate.
The tastes of wasabi, soy sauce, and ginger do not mix well. The flavors of the wasabi and soy sauce wash each other out.
Keep each condiment separate, adding ginger to the top of your roll if desired.
Customarily, diners use their hands to eat sushi with wasabi rather than chopsticks. But a chopstick keeps hands cleaner when eating messier sushi rolls.
The fingers or chopsticks pick up the sushi roll and dip a tiny dot of wasabi on one side before eating.
Japanese chefs craft their dishes with precise attention to detail.
Sushi is the colorful appetizer that pleases the eye. The smells coming from the roll entice the diner to taste.
The addition of wasabi brings a combination of sights, aromas, and flavors that heighten the start of a delicious Japanese meal.