A few months ago we mentioned the various health benefits a daily dose of the Japanese condiment wasabi has to offer. Afterwards, I was intrigued by the potential anti-aging and cancer preventing effects that five grams a day could bring.
However, eating that much wasabi every day is easier said than done. As small as it is, that little ball can pack quite a punch if eaten all at once. Other more traditional uses of wasabi like on sushi are small and require you to eat a lot every day.
Luckily, there actually are quite a few ways to try and enjoy wasabi without feeling its notorious sting. If you can get past that, then you can enjoy what a delicious root it truly is.
■ Know your enemy
First, understanding why wasabi stings is an important step in beating it. Like many similar plants, wasabi contains two chemicals: sinigrin and myrosinase. If the plant is damaged by something like an animal chewing on it, then these two chemicals interact to form allyl isothiocyanate which is sometimes called mustard oil and hurts like a smack to the face.
Many people describe the sensation of wasabi as “spicy” but it’s really quite different from the spiciness of chili peppers. For example, the painful feeling of allyl isothiocyanate of wasabi reacts mostly to the mucus membrane of the nasal cavity rather than the tongue which mostly reacts to the capsaicin of chili peppers.
This is good news however. Wasabi’s irritating component is much more manageable than other spicy food.
■ Breakfast of wasabi champions
Allow me to take you through my daily breakfast. It’s simple and gets my entire daily requirement of five grams of wasabi in one sitting.
First take a couple slices of bread. Then put all the wasabi on one slice. Grated wasabi is ideal, but I’m not made of money so I use a tube. When buying a tube remember to get the one labeled honwasabi shiyou (本わさび使用) because it has over 50% Japanese wasabi by law.
I just eyeball five grams but since I go through a 40g tube in about a week I seem to be close to the mark. Next, you want to spread the wasabi paste nice and thin. This is crucial. If you leave any clumps of it on the bread, you’re going to get burned.
Also, the allyl isothiocyanate is very volatile and evaporates rather quickly. Spreading the wasabi thin helps speed this up. This is more applicable to fresh grated wasabi but can also have an effect on the mixed stuff in tubes.
When used in sushi, the chef will place the fish on top of the wasabi to prevent the oil from evaporating too quickly. In a similar way I place a slice of processed cheese on top to keep some of the kick inside. I then place the bread inside a toaster oven and let it sit a little while I prepare the bacon and eggs.
While the other stuff is frying I toast the wasabi bread. The heat also helps promote evaporation of the allyl isothicyanate, but doesn’t damage the healthy sulfinyl also contained within. It’s win-win!
Once finished I squirt on some mayonnaise. This is also an important step as the high oil content of mayo will coat your mouth and prevent contact with the wasabi. Surely the high oil content of the processed cheese helps as well because – let’s face it – there’s about as much actual cheese in that stuff as there is in the keyboard I’m typing on right now.
I also sprinkle on some oregano for some added zest. Then I toss on the fried egg and bacon. Normally I’d use some lettuce as well but didn’t have any on-hand this day.
And that’s it. If all goes well the wasabi should have a minimal sting to it, but still have a very prominent tang that compliments the other parts of the sandwich amazingly. Eat carefully though, too big a bite will probably result in a sneeze or burning sensation.
However, if a daily heap of bacon and egg doesn’t fit into your particular diet, don’t worry. There are other ways to tame wasabi as well.
■ What else?
There are a few other techniques to beating wasabi to the punch. First is simply by breathing the right way. The wasabi hurts when the allyl isothicyanate vapors hit the mucous membrane of your nose. So all you have to do is breathe in through your nose and out your mouth. Doing that will force the vapors harmlessly out into the world.
Choosing the right drink can also help. Something bubbly like cola would work. The oil in wasabi is very easy to rinse off compared to other spicy food and the carbonation in cola makes it all the easier. Tea is also a good drink, but rather than drinking it after you should drink tea prior to ingesting wasabi. It’s said that the catechin contained in tea helps to strengthen the skin and mucus.
By following one or several of these tips you can unlock the sharp sting of wasabi’s allyl isothicyanate and fully enjoy a rare food that’s every bit as delicious as it is healthy.
However, if for some reason you actually want to increase the painful sensation of wasabi there’s a trick as well. Some say that while grating a wasabi root, you should sprinkle just a tiny bit of sugar onto the grater. The contrast should heighten the sting, but don’t use too much or you’ll just sweeten everything up and begin to drown out the sharpness.
Until next time, happy wasabiing!
Source: Naver Matome (Japanese)