Tasmania is a treasure trove of so many wonderful things, especially in the way of producers. Innovation is key and Tasmanians take pride in innovation often looking to climates of countries similar to their own for crops that have similar synergies, resulting in some fabulous experimental crops. One such crop, being pioneered by Shima Wasabi, is in fact wasabi.
Wasabi, it has brought many a tear to my eye – but all good tears. I am self-confessed wasabi fiend… there is ALWAYS a tube in the fridge, it goes on everything – sashimi, fish, in my aioli, and even steak – who needs tomato sauce when there is wasabi paste. But little did I know *shock horror* it is not the real thing! Tragedy strikes!
What most of us know and love as wasabi is actually an imposter, horseradish, the poor cousin, trying to its best to infiltrate the exotic condiment space. It is not until you try the real thing that you realise that it doesn’t cut the mustard, so to speak…
Wasabi, does indeed come from the same family, Brassicaceae, as mustard and horseradish, and (who would have thought), cabbage. But it has a superior, and more delicate flavour, and the treacherous trait of clearing the nasal cavity and bringing the aforementioned tears to one’s eyes. I am sure we have all experienced it once or twice, or in my case on a frequent basis. I have fond memories of my mother scooping up a blob of wasabi thinking it was avocado, and the frenetic hand waving, weeping and wild gasping for air that ensued…
Common wasabi that we find in supermarkets (in the tube and powder) are a combination of horseradish and mustard, as well as some fine green food colouring. It is a shame really, as it has cheapened what is a fabulous ingredient that is now very rarely used in its true form.
Having said this, the reason why this has come about is due to the fact that wasabi is quite rare in comparison owing to it having a reputation (which is true) as being particularly hard to grow – especially outside of Japan, which is its native hood. Many have tried, and failed. This is one temperamental little plant!
Another myth I should perhaps dispel is that true wasabi actually comes from the stem of the wasabi plant, not the root. This probably stems (pardon the pun) from its poor cousin imposter, horseradish, which is actually a root.
So enter, Shima Wasabi and its founders, Stephen and Karen Welsh.
Like any story of great innovation, it usually involves someone with great passion for their industry – and that someone would be Stephen. As mentioned previously, wasabi is not easy to grow. Add to that its origins – Japan – and the ‘not easy to grow’ becomes even more difficult in that the Japanese are very protective of the skills and techniques that incite wasabi to flourish.
In Japan wasabi is generally grown naturally and easily in fresh, pristine running water. The climate suits it perfectly, and there has been hundreds of years in perfecting the art of its cultivation. Wasabi in Australia is a first. Reproduction from offshoots and seeds are not terribly successful, varieties are hard to come by and not generously shared, nor is the knowledge.