If you've ever been to a Japanese restaurant and ordered sushi, you're probably familiar with wasabi, the spicy green condiment known to clear sinuses like nobody's business. Well, once again, it turns out we've all been duped. According to a new video from the American Chemical Society, most of us have never even tasted the real thing.
Instead, the average American—as well as a fair amount of Japanese restaurant-goers—has been eating European horseradish, hot mustard, and green dye, believing all the while that it's the real stuff. Wasabi and horseradish have similar chemical make-ups, deriving their spiciness from a body of compounds called isothiocyanates. But true wasabi is incredibly rare and difficult to cultivate, only growing on the beds of rocky Japanese mountain streams.
"For anyone with an appetite for pleasurable pain, try real wasabi," the videos host, Sarah Everts, says. "Find a restaurant that starts grading the wasabi only after you've place your order, or let's you grate your own wasabi ideally with a traditional sharkskin tool called oroshigane."
"That's the only way you'll get the full kick," she adds. "Wasabi flavors start floating away as soon as they're released. Within about 15 minutes, the taste apocalypse you were hoping for is barely a spicy boot to the head."
Still, finding authentic wasabi, even with those many stipulations, is easier said than done. To track down the real thing, be prepared to scour the restaurants of Japan, or pay a hefty restaurant bill. True, isothiocyanate-packed wasabi isn't cheap.