You are what you eat & drink

Wasabi

Why invest in ‘the hardest plant to grow’?

Blake Anderson shows off the wasabi plants in one of his three greenhouses on Vancouver Island in Canada

For nearly 30 years, Brian Oates has, in his words, “pig-headedly” devoted himself to a single pursuit: setting up the first commercial wasabi farm in North America.

Dozens of others in the US and Canada have tried to grow the plant – a type of horseradish that originates in Japan, where it is found growing naturally in rocky river beds – but almost all have failed.

The reason is simple: wasabi is deemed by most experts to be the most difficult plant in the world to grow commercially.

So what drives Mr Oates, and his business Pacific Coast Wasabi (PCW), other than his stated stubbornness?

The price.

At market rates, a kilogram of wasabi goes for around $160, making it one of the world’s most lucrative crops

Fetching nearly $160 (£98) per kilogram at wholesale, in addition to being hard to nurture, wasabi is also one of the most lucrative plants on the planet.

“It is much like gold – we expect to pay a lot for gold. Well, we expect to pay a lot for wasabi,” says Mr Oates.

The real thing

The first thing to know about wasabi – or Wasabia japonica, as it’s officially known – is that you have probably never tried the real thing.

That light green paste nestled next to the pink ginger in your box of sushi? It is most likely a mix of mustard, European horseradish, and food colouring.

In fact, by some estimates, only 5% of the wasabi served in Japanese restaurants around the world comes from the rhizome, or root, of a wasabi plant.

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How to eat wasabi

The methods for eating real wasabi differ significantly from those of the powdered kind, particularly if the plant is fresh.

In its most traditional preparation, the root is stood on a grater made of a piece of sharkskin stapled to a wooden paddle. Using a circular, clockwise motion, one presses the rhizome down and a paste is formed.

The heat and flavour – significantly less bracing than imitation wasabi, but similarly sharp – last only for 10 to 15 minutes, so wasabi is grated as needed.

Nobu Ochi has been buying the wasabi Mr Oates produces from the beginning, and selling it to customers at his Zen Japanese restaurant in downtown Vancouver.

“We send the grater out with the wasabi in it, and let them have the experience of grating fresh wasabi,” says Mr Oichi.

“Once they taste it, like anything else that’s good, you don’t want to go back to the other stuff.”

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

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