Meet wasabi
All about wasabi, its uses, growth characteristics and methods of cultivation
picture of a wasabi plant  
WHAT IS WASABI?

W A S A B I   (Wasabia japonica syn. Eutrema japonica) is a member of the cruciferae family originating in Japan and is related to cabbages. It is a perennial which grows about knee high, is semi aquatic and produces a thickened stem in a similar fashion to a small brussel sprout. As the stem grows the lower leaves fall off. This stem has a very pungent smell and flavour when made into a paste.

Wasabi can be produced both as a ground grown or water grown plant. The water grown plants produce a higher quality product than the ground grown plants.

A growing system for producing high quality wasabi was developed in New Zealand and has been in use for a number of years. This system can be used anywhere in the world.
 

USES OF WASABI

Traditionally the primary use of wasabi is as a condiment for use with Japanese dishes such as Sushi, Sushimi and Soba dishes, and also with raw fish. For these uses it is ground up into a paste for seasoning. 

However, we have found that the use of wasabi extends beyond the scope of these traditional dishes. It is a flavour in its own right and can be used to enhance dips, meats and other foods. [See our recipe section for ideas.] 

In Japan wasabi is commonly regarded to be effective in preventing food poisoning and researchers in Japan have also stated that wasabi stopped the multiplication of human stomach cancer cells, in some cases killing them (Reuters, October 14, 1994). It was also found to have anticoagulative properties (Nihon Nogyo Shimbun, 04/03/91, p.10)

It has also been found to have success in preventing tooth decay (caries), and can also be used in marine paint to prevent fouling.

The realisation that wasabi has a number of health benefits, both in the short and long term, has expanded the market for wasabi and wasabi based products into the foreseeable future.

For more information on the human health benefits that using Wasabia Japonica can give you then go here.

GROWTH CHARACTERISTICS

picture of wasabi growingThe stem of the wasabi plant grows to approximately 15 cms (6 inches) long and can be up to 40 mm (1 ½ in) in diameter.The plant itself will grow to over 600 mm (2 feet) high and have a spread of the same. The leaves and leaf petioles are extremely brittle and break very easily causing the growth to slow and sometimes even stop for a while. 

Wasabi requires a climate with an air temperature from 8°C (46°F) to 18°C (64°F), with high humidity in summer. Outside of Japan, New Zealand, with its climate, sunlight and water quality, is seen as the best place to grow the plant (Horticulture News, June 1992, Page 6, Para 3).

Wasabi reproduces itself by seed, and from stem offshoots. Its growth cycle is dependent upon the local climatic and environmental conditions. Normally, between 18 months and 3 years are an acceptable growth cycle for a crop of wasabi. However, that is dependent upon the crop itself, as at some point during this growth cycle the plants will start to deteriorate to the point of being commercially useless. 

Wasabi, like many other cruciferae, is host to a wide range of diseases which do cause serious or even complete crop losses. Aphids are particularly adept at transferring viruses into the crop. Some of these diseases can be controlled using chemicals but for organic production of wasabi, cleanliness and vigilance are the major cornerstones of control. 
 

METHODS OF CULTIVATION

T R A D I T I O N A L

Soil Cultivation
picture of wasabi growing in Japan Wasabi produced by this method is normally of a lower grade than that grown in water. The ground used must be cultivated and heavily composted before planting. Plants will take three years or more to get to a size suitable for harvesting. Two crops only should be taken from the same plot before allowing the plot to lie fallow for 3 years. 

Additional fertilisers need to be used to allow the stem to develop, otherwise the plant produces large numbers of leaves to the detriment of the stem. 
 

Water cultivation
Stream beds are modified by either mounding river gravel and planting wasabi on these mounds or by terracing to provide growing beds. The water in these streams or growing beds is normally supplied by fresh water springs from the mountains. 

Stream beds are arranged in herring bone fashion to allow for maximum water flow through the beds. and growing beds are constructed to even out the vagaries of the water flow in the stream. Excessive water flow will wash away the plantlets, and too little will not allow the plant to grow. These growing beds can be up to 1 metre (3 feet deep), and consist of a graduated rock size starting from very large at the base to sand on the top. The last growing beds were reportably constructed in Japan over 200 years ago. These growing beds are normally constructed either side of the main stream and the stream water diverted into the beds. 

N E W  Z E A L A N D S'  W A S A B I   S Y S T E M
picture of wasabi growing in Japan Hydroponic growing was tried in Japan in 1986, but abandoned. It has also been attempted by New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research with a marked lack of success. During a field visit to Japan it was stated by a Japanese Wasabi Research Station that wasabi could not be successfully grown hydroponically or by any method other than those presently being used in Japan.

A New Zealand Company started experimenting with growing wasabi in 1991 using all the traditional methods and some not so traditional. A system has been developed which allows a very high quality product to be grown.

The growing system developed by the original New Zealand Company has now been growing high quality organic wasabi since 1990.

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Last update: 13th June 2014
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