The Reason The Wasabi Plant Is So Difficult To Grow


Fresh Japanese Wasabi is priced at about $160 per kilo and considered the most expensive plant in the world because it’s the most difficult plant to grow in the world. Wasabi’s natural habitat is in 3 mountainous regions in Japan where the generations of farms hold to traditional methods of growing. Why Is The Wasabi Plant So Difficult To Grow?

Wasabi comes from Japanese farms that are versions of the plant’s natural habitat, at sea levels of 1300-2500 meters only, Temp. 8° to 20° C in flooded gravel streambeds by cool, pure mineral-rich mountain water adding flavor that can’t be duplicated

A huge part of the country of Japan is mountains that accumulate snow and large amounts of rainfall to hydrate the lower regions. The natural flow of pristine water filters itself further as it runs down into deep valleys creating streams where the water is perculated through volcanic rich mineral soils that turn the mountain water into bubbling spring water that nurtures the Wasabi plant.

What are The Traditional Cultivation Methods for Wasabi

In the mountainous terrain of Japan, Wasabi’s natural habitat is in river valleys. Although the plant enjoys a few hours of direct sunlight each day, depending on variety, too much isn’t agreeable, and its roots need to be able to reach into flowing groundwater.

In addition, it typically won’t thrive if the air temperature is below 8 degrees or above 20 degrees. Major production areas in Japan are currently in the rural mountainsides of Shizuoka, Nagano, Akita and Iwate prefectures.

The water is supplied by the mountain’s snow and rain for the country. These natural farming methods use terraces that are etched into the Japans landscapes and are dependent on Japan’s most unique natural resource its Mountains, temperature and pure rich water that are as close to heaven as you could find on earth.

That’s a big part of the reason no one can mimic the cultivation techniques that the Japanese have learned to use over the course of hundreds of years is and that, it has taken thousands of years to develop the volcanic rich nutrients and special soil that filter the streams below in the valley running down from the mountains.

In fact, most restaurants that serve the unique and valuable dish don’t serve the real thing.  They serve a fake version that most people don’t realize. It’s an imitation of the real thing. A fluorescent green condiment served alongside the sushi they’re eating. But the paste is usually just a dyed mixture of mustard and European horseradish.

The real reason that they don’t know the difference is because Wasabi, real Wasabi is scarce and very hard to come by. Japanese cultivated Wasabi comes from a high-intensity version of the plant’s natural habitat which is Flooded gravel streambeds fed by cool, pure mountain water

Even the Japanese terrain that the Wasabi inhabits and where its authentically raised is hard to find in Japan these days. Growing Post-War populations living in bustling cities and contaminated land from the Fukushima Power Plant has made the crop even less available and more in demand worldwide.

This has opened up a huge market for being able to duplicate the authentic process in other regions of the world where the climate and water grown Wasabi is promised to be as similar as possible. Still, purest are already complaining that there is no replicating the mountains and cold water stream that are only located in Japan.

Wasabi is grown primarily in three regions in Japan: the Izu peninsula, Nagano prefecture, and Iwate prefecture. Wasabi is derived from the root of the wasabi plant which requires very clean, fresh water to grow well. The mountains of  Japan receive a large amount of rainfall and this area is perfectly suited for growing wasabi. Farmers in these high mountains have for centuries grown wasabi in terraced, patty type plots similar to rice paddies but wasabi fields are typically situated much higher in the mountains than rice fields. In rural areas in the southern mountains here it is not uncommon to find small wasabi farms nestled far up isolated paths near cold water streams fed from volcanic mountains.

Historically, much of Tokyo’s fresh Wasabi is said to have been sourced from the mountainous region of Okutama, just outside the city. The Wasabi is a delicate plant that is related to the cabbage and horseradish very hard to cultivate. Farmers in Japan have been growing it for more than 400 years but it dates back thousands of years used for medicinal purposes.

In these areas over the last century, Japanese worked in forestry and in their spare time built terraces in isolated area streams. It was backbreaking work smashing boulders to build terraces and irrigation ditches that ran alongside the mountain streams. Each individual farm producing several hundred plants for each paddy. As the workers retired from the forestry industry they continued to farm the small terraces build into the landscape.

The roots need about a foot of good moderated packed soil, not too hard-packed, soil and to have access to a constant flow of mineral and nutrient-rich water from the streams. The water is spring water, which has groups of nutrients and minerals, that helps this plant flourish and grows strong stems. It helps makes it, what it is.

Dissolved minerals in water that has seeped down through the mountains add flavor and character to wasabi, and as a result many growers will locate their wasabi near favorably tasting water sources. Like other industries that use water as a primary ingredient

 

How Long Does Wasabi Take To Grow

 

Growers use existing mountain streams or run a pipe from the local stream to the patches of freshly planted Wasabi to ensure a constant source of mountain water running down over the terraces. Most of their work after planting, is to ensure that the water is moving downhill and the pipes carrying water don’t clog.

The Wasabi plant needs months of cultivation for it to reach maturity. there are many things that can happen in those 18 months. There are elements in and around the grow bed that can be detrimental to the young plants. A careful watch has to be provided for fungus, disease or excess water problems especially in the rainy season around the region of the country. Animals eating the plants up, like deer that have a taste for the young plants in this super isolated area.

The roots of the seedlings are planted on a 45-degree angle in solid packed but not too tightly packed soil so the force of the mountain stream doesn’t pull it out of the ground. You need pure water and sediment to reach the plant but too much is no good. It’s a careful balance that is present only in these mountains for a thousand years.

Throughout the regions of Okutama, many Wasabi farms are being replenished by locals, Officials, and people interested in learning the historic farming methods. Plots of what were once flourishing Wasabi gardens and now piles of rocks, weeds, and lumber filled gardens are being reclaimed by the resident who wanna be farmers. They are cleaned up and re-planted with new seedlings.

Seedling Farms are being developed inside the country at the Shizuoka Facility on the Izu Peninsula. This will be part of the learning self-sustaining methods that farmers from this area, some in their 80’s are passing on to the ones that will listen. There are some owners and teachers that are sharing their homes to share a very profitable and historical along with some back-breaking lessons on the art Wasabi Farming.

After hours of clearing over-growth and washing away sediment that had collected in the garden and adding a new fence that will keep the animals away, volunteer farmers replant seedlings. The rows run the length of the trench about a foot from each other on the 45-degree angle facing away from the direction of flow. The labor-intensive work is repeated over and over again. The work is precise and done mostly by hand tools. There is a rail that some bigger farms have installed to carry tool up the long paths to where the Wasabi gardens are planted.

What Are The Health Benefits of Eating Wasabi

 

Cancer Prevention: Wasabi is a root vegetable rich in isothiocyanates, which forms glucosinolates, which are essentially sulfur-based compounds. Sulfur-based compounds in food are being studied for protecting against forms of cancer. Wasabi hosts an isothiocyanate called 6-MITC, which has proven to be helpful in eliminating the risk of leukemia and stomach cancer. It is very effective in causing cell death in cancer cells and inhibiting growths such as tumors, etc.

Heal respiratory Disorders: Wasabi has a strong effect on the nasal passage. The Wasabi has been very effective in curing a sore throat whilst clearing nose congestion and sinuses. Wasabi is considered a cure for sinuses in Japanese culture.

Anti Inflammatory: The spiciness that is felt in the throat can actually calm respiratory inflammations and sore throat. Wasabi has antioxidants that help improve any inflamed condition in the body.

Antimicrobial: Its paste is very antimicrobial in nature, giving it the ability to fight off infections and viral illnesses. Japanese say is a good choice to add to food during the colder months as seasonal infections are quite active at that point in time.

Prevent Arthritis: Arthritis is a worldwide problem in any country. Wasabi and it’s leaves are seen by many to be beneficial in reducing the inflammation in joints and ligaments, which contribute to arthritis.

Heart Health: Wasabi past has been found to prevent the accumulations of blood platelets that can cause serious cardiovascular disease. Accumulation of blood platelets can cause artery blockages that may cause heart attacks.

I would think that just living the culture that is involved in the farming and production of Wasabi is probably healthy for you. The paths that take you up to the terraces are all uphill and steep.

When you think of a wasabi plant, the image of a chunk of the dull green plant probably comes to mind. Contrary to what you might imagine, however, the part that’s ultimately grated up into the spicy green mass that’s eaten with sushi is the lower portion of the plant’s stem, and not the root!  A lot of people think that Wasabi is a Japanese horseradish but actually it’s a form of cabbage.

They probably never had the real thing before but were told they were eating it. That was my case. Most Japanese started eating Wasabi because of the threat of eating raw seafood and getting food poising from it.

It was believed that adding Wasabi to the meal helped prevent the fear of less than well-cooked meats and raw seafood.  This was with good reason as it has been discovered later that wasabi contains a chemical called allyl isothiocyanate, now used as an insecticide, and it also has anti-bacterial properties too.

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on a real wasabi plant and plan to make some real wasabi paste then you had better be careful, once you have made it if you leave it uncovered then it will lose its flavor after about 15 minutes.

As your wasabi plant is quite precious, and eating real wasabi paste is a treat, you should try only to grate what you need when you need it. This goes for eating at a restaurant serving real wasabi too, if it is real then you need to eat it within 15 minutes or so – don’t let it go to waste!

In contrary, The Wasabi stem’s flavor can last for months. So you should only grate as much as you need it and when you need it the Wasabi stem under the proper conditions can last for a long time to be enjoyed.

 

A new legacy of modern Chefs has traveled to the mountain ranges of Japan’s Southern Alps to learn the art form of Authentic Wasabi Cultivation that teaches what can’t be duplicated by modern technologies or the modern Chefs who are constantly on the lookout for new ways in the Culinary Arts. Not just with Sushi anymore but served in fine restaurants with different meats.

If you can find it. Ask for the “real Wasabi” not the horseradish powder and green food coloring.  I love Sushi and would love to try this. I don’t think I would know whether I was eating real Wasabi or not. Here’s the video on how to tell the difference.

 

Related Questions:

 

Is Wasabi a Superfood? You will normally only see real wasabi at high-end restaurants and stores. Most places use fake wasabi which is a mixture of mustard, horseradish, and food coloring.

Does wasabi give you gas? Due to its liver and gallbladder stimulating effects, eating wasabi may cause gastrointestinal disturbances, diarrhea, and nausea

Does wasabi boost metabolism?   Spicy foods such as hot mustards, hot sauce, chili peppers, salsa, and wasabi have been shown to increase metabolism for hours after you’ve finished a meal

 

References: Walking In Japan by Kurt Bell

 

 

JimGalloway

Editor/Author, MyWaterEarth&Sky

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