Real Wasabi - Health & Science

Authentic Wasabi is a powerful nutraceutical and functional food

Cherished for decades in the East for its unique flavor and healthful influences, Wasabia japonica is best known as an age-old food pairing with sashimi or sushi dishes that include raw fish. Wasabi is also served as a garnish with Soba noodles and made into pickles, jams, wine and other foods. While distinguishing itself with unique and versatile flavors earns it a special spot in any self-respecting gourmand's pantry, true wasabi also serves up benefits that strengthen immune systems.

Wasabia japonica owes its flavor and healthful benefits in part to a suite of isothicyanates (ITC's) with unique characteristics including powerful anti-bacterial properties, which help mitigate microbial elements or pathogens potentially present. Rich in beta-carotenes and glucosinolates, wasabi also kills some forms of E-Coli and Staphylococcus.  Studies also indicate it helps reduce mucous, which has made it the focus of experiments relating to its use in combating asthma and congestive disorders. 

The unique ITC spectrum present in wasabi includes long-chain methyl isothiocyanates uncommon in most American's diets.  Long-chain methyl ITC's have proven efficacy and potency in supporting natural liver and digestive detoxification functions than other more common types of isothicyanates. 

The powerful antioxidant scavanging characterisics of Wasabia japonicaare also attracting additional scientific study.  As more evidence accumulates, suggesting that glucosinolates and their hydrolysis products are efficacious in reducing cancer risk, legends that refer to wasabi as the "King of Herbs" are gaining credibility. 

Glucosinolates transmute to become isothiocyanates.

A member of the brassicae family, Wasabia Japonica owes both its pungency and healthful benefits to a suite of isothiocyanates that occur due to enzymatic activation when the plant tissues are crushed during grating.

Two glucosinolates, sinigrin and glucocochlearin are especially important in wasabi. While both are essentially tasteless compounds on their own, when exposed to the myrosinase enzyme (also present in wasabi in separate plant cells), hydrolosis transmutes these sulfur compounds into pungent allyl isothiocyanate (CH2=CH-CH2-NCS) andsec-butyl isothiocyanate (CH3-CH2-CH(CH3)-NCS), respectively.

The transmutaion process in wasabi occurs within a few minutes of processing, but wasabi flavors are notoriously volatile and dissapate quickly if left exposed to air.  This makes wasabi extremely tricky to process, which partially explains why so many producers substitute horseradish for wasabi.

Other trace components identified in the volatile fraction are 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate, 7-methylthioheptyl isothiocyanate and 8-methylthioocytl isothiocyanate. These ω-methylthioalphyl isothiocyanate compounds are concentrated more so in wasabi than other plants and are believed to be responsible for health benefits and the characteristic taste so loved by connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine.

Wasabi is very low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium.  It is also a good source of Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese, and an excellent source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin C.

With so much healthful activity going on within one plant, it is not surprising that studies and laboratory tests continue to indicate that wasabi shows promise as a nutraceutical or pharmaceutical component.