Ex-pat wasabi flourishing

by Jeremy Cherfas on November 7, 2012

Luigi’s indefatigable quest for all the truth there is to be had about wasabi (Wasabia japonica) reminded me that long ago and far away, I entertained thoughts of growing the stuff commercially. Luigi alluded to the reason when he said “there is imitation wasabi on the market”. Amen to that. In fact, there’s almost nothing else on the market. Practically all the wasabi you, a mere mortal, are ever likely to try outside Japan (and much inside) is the wrong stuff. The right stuff commands a hefty price tag, the reason I was entertaining those thoughts to begin with. A little digging, however, persuaded me that the plant was far too persnickety and capital intensive to be worthwhile, so I gave up on it. Silly me.

Turns out wasabi is not nearly as hard to grow as people imagine. Richters, a reliable seed company that supplies the plants, says

[W]asabi will grow quite happily in any moist, organic-rich soil where there is shade and protection from the summer heat; running water is not required. After 18-24 months the rhizomes are harvested, washed, peeled and grated for fresh use.

Nothing there about no sharkskin.

Companies in the US and New Zealand are apparently making a decent fist of growing it on a commercial scale. At which point, I nearly gave up on wasabi again. But one more Google brought me to a suitably gushing piece in The Daily Telegraph less than a month ago. Talk about the wasabi zeitgeist! That too pushes the “wasabi is really difficult” trope, and more power to the plucky lads at The Watercress Company who pulled it off. Now to see whether I can get some of the real thing for a proper taste test.

No point trying to grow it here. Like watercress, which I miss terribly at times, the need to stay cool in summer probably dooms it. I expect it would do OK in northern Germany.

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