In Search of Wasabia Japonica

This quarter’s edition of The Art of Eating contains what is almost certainly the last story on wasabi that you’ll ever need to read. If you’re intrigued by the fact that shoguns used to reward retiring warlords with plots of wasabi, or by the contrast between capsaicin and isothiocyanates, which accounts for the difference between chile heat and real wasabi heat, you’re in luck.

Also: The Japanese mafia is rumored to be taking over Japan’s supply of real wasabi. Just in case you were wondering what the yakuza’s been up to since Into the Sun.

At times, the story borders on fetishism (while a ginger grater works for grating wasabi, you apparently need to use a sharkskin grater in order to truly appreciate the full flavor and texture of the rhizome). But it also contains some down-to-earth advice for those of us who must struggle to get by with the gooey green shot-from-a-tube variety of faux wasabi: Don’t mix it into your soy sauce, where the flavor gets lost; instead, apply it directly to the fish that you’re eating.

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