The Wasabi You’re Eating Is Secretly Just Horseradish
Food is expensive in New York City, but vegetable sushi is the one bodega snack that seems kind of healthy but costs under $5, at least in my neighborhood.
That’s why I get avocado brown rice sushi every day for lunch and feel so cocky about my cheap, healthy lunch. In fact, last week, I was feeling so cocky that I decided to google the health benefits of ginger and wasabi to see just how much I was blessing my body on the daily.
“I’m soooo macrobiotic,” I thought. “I’m sooooo anti-inflamed right now. My lunch is literally destroying nascent cancer cells every day at 1 p.m. (or more like 2 p.m. if I have way too many posts to edit in the morning) for the low, low price at $5.”
So imagine my surprise when website after website asserted that most wasabi in American restaurants isn’t wasabi at all. Instead, it’s a mixture of the decidedly less glam-sounding horseradish, mustard, and food coloring. What the ACTUAL fuck?!
So I decided to reach out to Marci Clow, MS, RDN, and senior nutritionist at Rainbow Light Well, to get to the bottom of this pressing issue.
According to Marci, it’s true.
“I’d venture a guess that the majority of people have never tasted real wasabi and have no idea that what they’ve likely been served with their sushi is not the real deal,” she said.
Real wasabi’s scientific name is Wasabi japonica and is often referred to as Japanese horseradish. What we call horseradish is known by the scientific community as Armoracia rusticana, or European horseradish, Marci said.
And because of the high costs and limited supply of Japanese horseradish a.k.a. wasabi, what we believe to be wasabi is European horseradish.
They’re both part of the brassicacae or crucifaraie family, closely related to cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts, Marci said.
But they’re not the same — “real wasabi is traditionally served grated and looks and tastes different, more herbaceous and less heat intensity, than the imposter pile of green paste we are accustomed to,” Marci said.
And like I suspected, European horseradish doesn’t have the same health benefits as wasabi. Wasabi has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits, and it has been “touted for everything from cardiovascular disease to ‘killing cancer cells’ and ‘killing bacteria’ which cause ulcers and gastric cancer,” Marci said.
These are the benefits I thought I was getting from my daily tablespoon-and-a-half of store-bought wasabi. So when I found out I wasn’t eating wasabi at all, my reaction was basically this:
But there is a silver lining. It turns out European horseradish is pretty much just as good for you as Japanese horseradish, or wasabi.
In addition to its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, horseradish has plenty of vitamin C, which is great for your immune system and skin, and it can aid in cancer prevention, according to Organic Facts.
Of course, this fake wasabi comes from a powdered form and is loaded with food dye so I’m sure I’m not getting all the benefits I could be getting from pure, grated horseradish or wasabi root.
But hey, it’s only $5, so it’s good enough for me.