Imagine sitting down in your favorite sushi restaurant with your friends. You browse through the menu, order a couple of drinks and eagerly glance at the sushi conveyer belt for your favorite salmon sushi to make a pass. Thankfully your reflexes and alertness is on point, and you manage to snatch a couple of tasty pieces before they pass your table. You add condiments (maybe a little too much in your excitement) and gobble up the morsels.
Then it hits you.
It starts as a small ticklish feeling at the back of your nose, then slowly starts to work its way down into your mouth. Before you figure out what's going on you get a flash of intense heat followed by waves of savory flavour. Your eyes well up and you take deep breaths - was it the salmon? Hardly. This is the all too-familiar sting of Wasabi, and while many are afraid of the fearsome kick this condiment can give you, it's actually quite a beneficial ingredient once you get to know it better, and understand how to use it properly.
To begin, Wasabi comes from the "Brassicaceae" plant family, which includes the likes of cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. The part which actually becomes Wasabi is the stem of the plant, which is green and has many bumps from the shedding of its leaves. When buying wasabi you should always take note of the wasabi percentage in your product. That's because 100% pure wasabi loses its flavour within minutes of being exposed to air. That's why to better preserve its flavour, many companies choose to mix horseradish and wasabi together. The best compromise is to look for products that have at least 50% of pure Wasabi in its mixture.
Then the question that is, what's so good about Wasabi? Why not substitute it with regular horseradish? That's because you would be losing out on Wasabi's amazing anti-aging properties, which have huge benefits in just a small amount daily. The key chemical that helps your body fight ageing is "6-MSITC", which also happens to give Wasabi its unique taste. 6-MCITC works by fighting off free radicals in your body - the kind which causes cancer and several ageing effects. Besides that, Wasabi also contains anti-microbial properties to fight off food poisoning, as well as vitamin C which helps boost your immune system.
Of course, that's not really addressing the elephant in the room - what should you do about the hot sting you get from eating too much Wasabi? Well, the answer is actually pretty simple; use less Wasabi. Ironically, the main reason why people feel the heat is because they usually add way too much Wasabi in their sushi or food. As a general rule of thumb, you should spread your Wasabi as a thin layer so that you don't see any clumps. If you see any clumps you're going to feel the sting. Another trick to help reduce the intensity is to cook your Wasabi - stir fry Wasabi with other condiments and you will lessen the bite considerably, while imparting a tangy zing to your stir-fry.
To better understand why our eyes water so much when you eat too much Wasabi, you should consider where this reaction takes place and why. For a start, some believe that the reaction takes place in your mouth and tongue. In reality the reaction is mostly taking place in the mucus membrane of your nose, so very much like how your tongue react to the chemicals in a chili pepper, your nose reacts to the chemicals in Wasabi. So the next time when you find yourself in a position where you've eaten too much Wasabi, try taking deep breaths through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. This helps to clear out the chemicals and stop the sting. Don't exhale through your nose when doing this! It will cause the chemicals to settle in and prolong the reaction.
Not to say that Wasabi should only end up in your nose and stomach, the green paste is also good on your skin! There are actually many benefits you get from doing it - albeit in small amounts and when prepared properly. For instance, a very popular method for using Wasabi is to create your very own Wasabi massage oil; Simply heat up 1/4 cup of vegetable oil with 1/4 cup light sesame oil in a sauce pan on low heat until its warm (make sure it's not boiling or smoking!). Use a wooden spoon to stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of Wasabi paste (plastic spoons tend to leech out chemicals) and let it cool covered for at least an hour. Finally and add 5 drops of vitamin E oil, and voila! You now have a stimulating and invigorating massage oil to use as and when you please. Transfer it into a squirt or spray bottle and apply a light coating on your skin before massaging it in. Just be careful to avoid cuts or open wounds, the mixture will cause them to sting.
When applied on your skin, Wasabi improves circulation and promotes oxygenation, which warms up your stiff muscles and creates a tingly feeling. It's been recommended as a great weekend treat after a long week. Wasabi also contains natural antiseptic properties, which help to clean and moisturise your skin.
Finally, don't be too surprised when you start finding Wasabi popping up in a number of commercial items - Wasabi is starting to see itself being used as an ingredient in fragrances, cleansers, and even as a natural toothpowder. With more and more companies starting to realize the potential of Wasabi, it may only take a few years before we start seeing international Wasabi brands appearing in the global market.
So whether you're someone who eats Wasabi by accident, or goes out of their way to buy premium grade Wasabi from specialty shops, you should definitely incorporate some Wasabi to your lifestyle every day. The recommended dosage for Wasabi consumption is a teaspoon a day (the kind containing at least 50% pure Wasabi mind you!), and armed with a better understanding about this infamous green paste, you just might be convinced to give Wasabi a try!