The Untold Health History of Wasabi
We all love some spice with our sushi, but wasabi is more than just a paste on your plate. In fact, wasabia japonica has been used as a medicinal plant for thousands of years, after it was first discovered growing next to mountain streams in Japan.
LET’S BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
The healthy history of wasabi starts as far back as 16,000 years ago, during the Jōmon period in Japan.
In this prehistoric era, which lasted from 14,000 BC to 400 BC, Japanese people largely lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, eating fish, seafood, deer, nuts, tubers, and amazingly – wasabi.
Yes, amazing as it may sound, archaeological excavations of remains from the Jōmon period show these ancient people were eating wild, small-rooted, sawa wasabi.
This wasabi is now understood to have six health benefits – it is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-platelet, anti-asthmatic, anti-fungal, and chemo-protective. Perhaps the ancient Japanese had observed some of these effects.
FIRST WRITTEN RECORD
As these hunter-gatherers grew into farmers, the practice of eating wild wasabi continued into the Heian period, and in 918 AD, comes the first written record of wasabi. This occured in Japan’s oldest encyclopedia of medicinal plants, the Honzo-Wamyo, by Sukahito Fukae.
However, by the mid-Ashikaga period, which started in 1338 and lasted until 1573, the world of wasabi had changed. Now the wasabi plant was reserved for royalty, and was served with raw fish, to combat any harmful bacteria that may have been present.
By the Edo period in 1596, this medicinal, antimicrobial plant was in high demand. The obvious next step was to start farming wasabi – but it is not clear when or where the Japanese first accomplished this difficult task.
Many believe the first person to farm wasabi was a villager from Utogi, a mountain settlement on the Abe River in Shizuoka Prefecture. It is thought the villager brought home and successfully replanted wild wasabi plants at some point in the Edo period.
Needless to say, wasabi plant cultivation caught on, especially as it grew more popular as an accompaniment to sushi. As a result wasabi plants from Japan’s small-scale, family mountain farms – as a fresh accompaniment to sushi and as a healthy, medicinal plant – were booming.
THE RISE OF IMITATIONS
The problem with growing wasabi is that the farmers needed access to spring water in order to grow it. Wasabi also isn’t exactly what you’d call a quick crop. In fact it can take up to 24 months to reach maturity, which means that each plant requires a lot of care and attention to reach its full potential.
Growing wasabi is also extremely difficult. The wasabi plant is highly vulnerable to disease and requires very precise growing conditions, including the right levels of light, the correct pH balance in the soil, and exactly the right temperature.
All of this kept wasabi farms small and in the 20th century, as sushi restaurants spread around the globe, they simply couldn’t keep up with global demand. Inevitably, this led to the rise of cheap wasabi imitations.
As a result, today when you order wasabi with your sushi outside of Japan, you will more than likely get horseradish with green colouring added, which is much cheaper to produce than real wasabi. Even in Japan, consumers often get cheap processed wasabi, which is made of imported wasabi style horseradish and comes in the form of a paste or powder, instead of the fresh, wasabi root their ancient ancestors enjoyed.
Sadly, as cheaper wasabi alternatives have flooded the market, the health benefits of eating freshly grated, real wasabi root have been largely forgotten.
THE FUTURE OF WASABI
Fast forward to today and there is hope on the horizon for real, fresh wasabi.
In British Columbia, Canada, Wowsabi is helping to keep the tradition of this miraculous plant alive while updating it so that modern consumers can benefit from its medicinal properties.
A family-owned and operated farm, Wowsabi grows real, organic wasabi and uses modern technology to preserve the traditional health benefits of Wasabia japonica. After years of commitment to finding a way to grow real wasabi at their farm, the Voth family developed a dedicated wasabi greenhouse, fuelled by biomass and irrigated with collected rainwater, to create the optimal conditions for wasabi to flourish.
Once their real wasabi is harvested, Wowsabi sets to work to ensure that its benefits are preserved for consumers to enjoy. After harvesting, the wasabi is quickly dried and the whole plant is powdered using a specially developed rapid microwave vacuum process. This means you get more of the real wasabi’s original nutrients as well as its traditional health benefits.
Wowsabi then has this real wasabi powder made into easily consumable capsules, which contain no dairy, soy, gluten, preservatives, additives or fillers – just wasabi. In fact, Wowsabi is the only company in Canada to hold a licence to produce wasabi capsules.
After 16,000 years, who knows what the future holds for wasabi. One thing is clear though – from mountain streams in Japan to a family farm in BC, from ancient peoples to modern consumers, and from crop to capsule, we can all enjoy the many health benefits this wonderful plant has to offer.
With studies identifying its powerful antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and chemo-protective properties, wasabi is becoming the supplement of choice for today’s active, health-conscious, won’t-be-slowed-down people just like you. Click here to find out how you can improve your overall wellness with our premium wasabi products.