Do you love wasabi with your sushi? We hate to break it to you, but the wasabi you usually eat is an impostor. It’s actually a powder consisting of dried horseradish and food coloring mixed with water. So why aren’t you getting the real deal with your Whole Foods and take-out sushi?
Fresh wasabi is insanely expensive because it’s incredibly difficult to grow on a commercial scale. In fact, wasabi is “deemed by most experts to be the most difficult plant in the world to grow commercially,” according to this BBC article.
At prices around $160 per kilogram (2.2 lbs), wasabi is also one of the most lucrative plants on the planet. (We’re only talking about plants that aren’t considered controlled substances here.)
Just how difficult is wasabi to grow? Even in Japan—where you might expect people to be growing their own personal wasabi supplies in even the tiniest of capsule apartments—it’s so difficult to grow that commercial supplies are scarce.
According to the National Post, wasabi’s natural habitat is mountainous regions in Japan. Commercial farms in Japan have basically mimicked that habitat, choosing to grow wasabi plants by flooding mountain water over crops growing in gravel stream beds. Scaling wasabi up to commercial levels also means disease is a huge problem.
A few companies in North America are trying to grow the real deal. Among them are Pacific Coast Wasabi and Frog Eyes Wasabi, both of which are using greenhouses for greater crop control. Pacific Coast Wasabi president and chief science officer Brian Oates told the National Post, “For some reason, the Japanese still don’t believe you can grow it in a greenhouse—even those that buy from us.”
This video from the Oregonian and Frog Eyes Wasabi explains the intricacies of growing wasabi in greater detail.
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