The number of times that I have read instructions for making powdered wasabi into something that feels and tastes like the real thing has made me realise that the people writing the instructions have no real idea about the physical properties of wasabi.
Here is my take on the whole thing, complete with reasons why you should do these things.
Hopefully they will make sense to you, the reader, so that you can enjoy the taste of the True Wasabi, Wasabia japonica.
- Find yourself a good quality Wasabi powder. Preferably made from 100% Pure Wasabia japonica. In this blog I recommend the Namida 100% Pure Wasabi Powder, but you may have found something else you prefer. Hey, we are all different! Now how do you tell if you have got a decent powder. Well first of all, it should have no smell, it should be a light pastel green (dark indicates either artificial colours or too much leaf added (or even other green foods)). Secondly, the product should be very finely ground. If it feels gritty on the tongue then it is too coarse and all the flavour will not be released. Thirdly, the powder should come in a sealed package of some sort. If it is in a plastic bag (like a ziplock), then it already has lost most of the flavour, and will lose more.
- Right, now that you have got your powder, you need to know how to store it properly. I know you hear stories of someone buying a tin of wasabi powder and chucking in the back of the pantry to be dragged out years later and complaining that it either tastes nasty, or doesn’t taste of anything. The reason for that is that over a period of time the volatile parts of the powder that give wasabi the flavour we all love so much boils off and vanishes. That happens even at room temperature. The only place to keep Wasabi Powder is in the freezer until required. If it is good quality wasabi powder with only a small amount of water left in it then it will not clump together in the freezer.
- Now that we have one of the ingredients sorted out, lets move onto the most important one. That is Clean, Fresh, COLD water. The best water is oxygenated and most importantly Cold!!! Why must it be cold, you ask, why not room temperature or even tepid, like some packages recommend. The answer lies in the chemical process that actually takes place to produce the flavour and taste of true wasabi. In the wasabi plant there are two chemicals kept apart in the cells by a membrane. When the cell is crushed these chemicals come together, AND in the presence of water the flavour and taste of wasabi are produced. Without water nothing happens even if the chemicals are brought together. The reason for using cold water is that the flavour and taste compounds produced are very volatile and evaporate quickly at room temperature – even faster the hotter it is. By using cold water we reduce the amount of volatiles that vanish before the flavours are fully formed.
- So we have the two ingredients that we can use. The recipe to get the right mix is now critical. My experience is 2.5 grams of Wasabi powder per serve together with 3.5 grams (ml) of cold water makes a lovely smooth paste that holds together. Any less water and the paste is stiff and crumbly, any more and it becomes too fluid and doesn’t stick to the food, and in my opinion you lose the punch up into the sinuses!
- Mix the wasabi powder and the water in the above ratio in a small deep bowl until it is a smooth consistent paste. Now cover the bowl with a plastic food wrap and put it in the refrigerator for at least five (5) minutes. The longer you leave it (up to 15 minutes), the hotter the paste becomes. This is because it takes time for the two chemicals in the cells to combine with the water to produce the flavour and taste. After about 15 minutes the flavour starts to fade as the flavour molecules degrade and disintegrate. Eventually the paste doesn’t taste like anything. That is the reason why wasabi paste should always be served and used fresh. This brings us back to point 1 above – selection of the wasabi powder. Because the 2 chemicals must be kept apart in the absence of water, the processing of the wasabi plant into powder is critical. If the plant is sliced and then dried in the sun, as the cells shrivel, the cell walls break combining the 2 chemicals, but not all of the water in the plant has evaporated. Therefore, a substantial amount of the flavour is lost. However, if the water is removed from the plant before breaking the cell walls, by freeze drying for example, then the flavour is retained as 2 separate chemicals waiting for the water to arrive to produce the flavour required. So to get the best, select freeze dried wasabi powder.
- Do not leave any wasabi paste in the sun. The paste will turn brown, nasty and crusty, even if sealed. If you leave wasabi powder in clear jars in the sun, the powder becomes bleached and tasteless. All wasabi powder should be stored in opague containers and stored in the refrigerator, preferably in the freezer.
So now you have a recipe for getting the best out of the wasabi powder that you have selected.
Enjoy your new found knowledge and use it to amaze and astound your friends and relatives at your next dinner party. You do have those now and again, don’t you? I mean dinner parties, not the friends and relatives. LOL.