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wasabi vs. horseradish

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  • oldtimer Jul 24, 2005 10:47 AM
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Is wasabi really (a type of) horseradish, or do people just say that? What form are the plants in - I am under the impression that either one looks like white taro in its "fresh" form, but I have noticed cooks refering to "...leaves" as well. Is the green coloring in bottled wasabi anything more than food color? Is there an equivalent green horseradish?

When a recipe calls for "fresh horseradish", is it basically the bottled stuff in a fresher/newer form? I keep looking for an actual, intact, ROOT (or leaves), but to no avail.

Lastly, is "Chinese mustard" just wasabi with yellow food coloring? Sure tastes that way to me.

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  1. Most of what is commercially sold in the US as wasabi (wasabi paste, wasabi powder) is indeed preserved horseradish with food coloring. Real wasabi is a different plant entirely, is very difficult to grow and therefore expensive, and almost never served in mainstream sushi restaurants in the US.

    Fresh horseradish is the grated fresh root of horseradish, which is whitish and somewhat bone-like in appearance. (On a side note, it's pretty easy to grow and in fact hard to eradicate once you plant it.) It can be bought in some stores, and it keeps pretty well in the fridge (pref. wrapped in a moist towel - check for mold though.) The horseradish plant has large, tall glossy dark green leaves which, to my knowledge, are not really used in cooking, as their flavor is much more vegetal than horseradish-y. If you find it in a store, make sure the root is firm when pressed, and without wrinkles. A good picture of horseradish root is here: http://www.freshdirect.com/media/imag...

    Bottled horseradish has less bite than fresh, and naturally tastes acidic because of the vinegar. Hence, you can't use it in recipes that call for cream or milk, which would then curdle. (Grated fresh horseradish with whipped cream is a delicious Central European accompaniment for hams and smoked meats. Grated fresh apples mixed with grated horseradish are an excellent condiment for boiled meats such as oxtails.)

    Wasabi looks a little different; the rhizome is smaller, shorter and green-colored with leaf stubs along its length; the leaves are round. Unlike horseradish, the leaves *are* used in food preparations.

    Here's what wasabi looks like:

    Image: http://www.realwasabi.com/images/stor...

    14 Replies
    1. re: Sir Gawain

      I seem to recall hearing a warning that when grating the fresh roots one should wear gloves, eye protection, and work in a well ventilated space.

      1. re: PolarBear

        not true

        1. re: PolarBear

          I can attest to that! It's like grating onions, times ten! Use a blender, when you open the blender, stand back. This is strong stuff.

          1. re: PolarBear

            Fresh wasabi is actually much milder (heat wise) and more fragrant than the faux wasabi we are used to - it won't make you cry like horse raddish. Shark skin is actually used to grate it - it is amazing!!!

            1. re: PolarBear

              Nah, not really. If you have a blender or food processor full of Western horseradish and you get too close, the fumes can knock your sinuses down to the base of your spine and make your eyes water (a lot), but it's never burned my skin the way the hotter chiles can. And regular protective goggles won't shield you from the volatized irritant anyway - if anything they'd be more likely to trap the fumes leaving your eyes exposed longer than they would be just by being in a well ventilated area.

              With wasabi it's even less of an issue - it's not as immediately pungent in the first place and unless you're a really big spender, you'll be working on one root at a time, by hand - not a whole bowlful that's just had it's stuffing knocked out of it by a machine.

              And FWIW, it's not just what's available in the US - all the powder and most of the tubes of paste sold in Japan are 100% Western horseradish, too. The manufacturers aren't trying to kid anyone, it's just accepted as being what it is. Fresh wasabi is very much a luxury item, which you definitely pay for one way or another in Japan as well as here.

              Some of the tubes (usually with a lot of gold on the label) of prepared wasabi are partly real wasabi, but it's arguable how big a taste difference there is, the regular horseradish pretty much dominates all of them. Depending as much on mood as anything else, I think, the premium tube stuff is a little more nuanced than the straight horseradish.

              1. re: PolarBear

                I have grated fresh horseradish many times and it's really not that bad. In fact, onions make my eyes water a lot more. And you definitely! don't need gloves.

              2. re: Sir Gawain

                Very informative. Thank you.

                Once question, though: you speak of commercial wasabi available in the US. I am not privvy to commercial channels, but all of the consumer-marketed brands I see are either Japanese or Chinese. That is, they are imports from the gitgo, complete with foreign packaging.

                I suppose there are firms in California or somewhere packing their own, but I cannot recall seeing any. Even in places like Super88. You ask for wasabi, they still point you to a tiny little tube of the Japanese stuff.

                1. re: oldtimer

                  Here's some info on wasabi grown in Oregon. They sell packaged tubes and wasabi plants. Never tried it against Japanese grown.

                  Link: http://www.freshwasabi.com/

                  1. re: oldtimer

                    I wanted to limit my answer to the US because that's where I live, and I'm not sure how easy it is to find real wasabi in Japan. It's pretty rare here, is all I know.

                    1. re: Sir Gawain

                      Nor was I commenting on wasabi in Japan. I was stating my observation that all wasabi found here appears to BE "from Japan". So I was (and am) a bit confused over what "non-Japanese" wasabi you're commenting on.

                      From other posts, I am left to conclude that all wasabi paste - homemade and imported tubes - is basically colored horseradish anyways. Which I had somewhat suspected with my original post.

                      1. re: oldtimer

                        >>So I was (and am) a bit confused over what "non-Japanese" wasabi you're commenting on.

                        Huh??? I never commented on any "non-Japanese wasabi".

                        I only limited my comments to "wasabi available in the US", not saying where that (so-called) wasabi was FROM. For all I know real wasabi might be available in other countries along with the horseradish stuff, and I didn't want to speak in global terms coz I just don't know what the situation re. wasabi (fake or real) is in Asia, or Africa, or Antarctica for that matter.

                        Hope that clears up any remaining confusion...

                        1. re: Sir Gawain

                          Sorry, you've really confused me. Are you stating that the "commercially available" stuff (wholesale/direct to restaurants?) is different from what's available to individual CONSUMERS (import tubes)? I read your post as saying that, but now you seem to be saying that *ALL* wasabi in the US - including the ubitquitous tubes - are, in fact, colored horseradish?

                          Someone in another thread has already pointed out wasabi in Oregon. I assume that THAT at least is real wasabi?

                          1. re: oldtimer

                            OK, one last try...

                            By "commercially available" I meant purchased via a merchant, whether wholesale or retail, ad opposed to through well-traveled friends, personal connections, or home growers not selling publicly.

                            Of course, top-notch Japanese restaurants do have real wasabi. But as far as I know (yet another disclaimer), *just about* all "wasabi" available in stores and sold via large wholesale vendors is, in fact, colored horseradish. The "just about" exemption goes for those ultra high-end Japanese restaurants and their procurement channels, whoever they might be.

                            Gahd, I'm done with this issue. Further inquiries should be addressed to Matsushita, Takayama or someone like that.

                    2. re: oldtimer

                      Outside of Japan, there are only a handful of companies that specialize in "true to the craft" wasabi japonica products.

                      In North America: 1) Pacific Farms in Oregon, 2)Pacific Coast Wasabia (PCW) in Vancouver and 3) Real Wasabi, LLC in the Carolinas.

                      Link: http://www.realwasabi.com

                  2. Re: hot Chinese mustard - I just mix Coleman's dry mustard with water and let it stand for awhile. I think it's identical and might well be the same thing. One tip while on the horshradish subject: Pendry's sells horseradish powder with the claim of being wonderful when mixed with cream. It's AWFUL. Don't waste your money. Otherwise, I like Pendry's.
                    Bob

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Sony Bob

                      Coleman's dry mustard doesn't in any way resemble Chinese mustard! I mix my own a lot, and at best I'd say the taste is like French's or Goulden's.

                      Maybe if you SPIKE French's with horseradish...well, then....

                      I have seen powdered "Chinese mustard" in Asian stores, by the way. Once again, though, I wonder if it is significantly different from wasabi. I notice that the brands in tubes (Japanese) line then up side-by-side, i.e. "green wasabi" and "yellow wasabi".

                      1. re: oldtimer

                        I guess I'm not very smart about this stuff. Just checked several receipes for hot chinese mustard and they all had as main ingredient powdered mustard enhanced with such as sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar and such. Helen Saunders in "Gormet Mustards" specifies English dry mustard as the principle ingredient. Maybe I'm confused. I will go to an asian market here in Detroit, get some powdered mustard and give it a try. I will report back. Thanks, I guess, for straightening me out.
                        Bob

                        1. re: oldtimer

                          We've used the green "wasabi" powder a number of times. Mix with appropriate amt. of water in a martini glass, cover with plastic wrap, invert and allow to cure for 15-20 minutes. IIRC, it seemed superior to the paste in the tube but if left curing or sitting for too long lost it's heat and flavor. Anyone else experience this?

                          1. re: oldtimer

                            I mix my own a lot as well and sometimes I use Coleman's, sometimes I use the powdered mustard I buy at the local Asian market, and I've also used national-brand powdered mustard purchased at the local supermarket - it all tastes pretty much the same. And they all taste pretty much like the pre-mixed mustard that I find in every Chinese restaurant around here (Boston), which I'm sure is just powdered mustard and water. Maybe there are some regional differences in what the restaurants serve for mustard?