Wasabi is a vegetable plant from the cabbage family, the same family to which horseradish belongs. It has long been known in Japan, and used as a condiment, to produce the wasabi sauce, which is usually served with sushi and similar raw fish dishes. Horseradish is often used as a substitute for wasabi in the west, since finding the wasabi plant out of Japan is very difficult. It has an extremely strong and specific flavor. Its hotness comes from chemicals which are not oil-based, such as capsaicin from hot peppers, so it’s hotness generally last less than the effects produces by the for example chili peppers. It produces the hotness effects by stimulating the nasal passages, by producing vapors that are inhaled during eating.
The wasabi plant is normally used as a condiment for Japanese food, most often dishes involving raw fish. The most often used part of the plant is the root, as it contains the most chemicals that produce the specific taste and hotness. It is sold as either a fine grated product, or as a paste. Real wasabi is usually made just before serving, as it loses its taste and effects once being exposed to fresh air. It is generally served in high-end restaurants and Japanese specialty restaurants. On the western market many products are present which are labels as wasabi, but do not actually contain wasabi, but horseradish and food coloring. Wasabi leaves may also be used, as they contain the same chemicals as the root, only in smaller concentrations.
Nutritional Facts – Wasabi
Wasabi root is most commonly used and it is rich source of dietary fibers and carbohydrates. 100 grams of raw wasabi offers around 100 calories. A serving of 100 grams provides one third of daily requirement of Dietary fibers. Protein profile of wasabi is very weak, as it provides only 5% of protein by weight. Wasabi root is very hydrating, two third of raw wasabi root is water. Vitamin C is present in high quantity. It also provides Vitamin B6, Manganese, Potassium, Zinc, Magnesium and calcium in significant proportion. What makes Wasabi nutritional profile unique is the range of photochemical including isothiocyanates. Including wasabi in diet shall help supply nutrients to our body and enjoy their health benefits.
Health benefits of wasabi
Japanese have been traditionally using wasabi for various medicinal uses. Some of the health benefits of wasabi are discussed below:
Wasabi prevent microbes
Wasabi may have developed as a condiment to fish from a reason besides its taste. It is quite possible that it was originally used as a way to preserve raw fish from spoilage. Wasabi, when finely grated, releases many chemicals, and some of them may have an anti-microbial effect of killing bacteria. Wasabi has shown a limited ability to kill bacteria on touch. Eating raw fish paired with wasabi may reduce the chances of infections caused by bacteria in fish. Eating it may help kill some bacteria in the mouth, throat and digestive tract.
Wasabi benefits – Anti-inflammatory
Wasabi, although known for causing mild inflammation of the nasal passages, may have an anti-inflammatory effect on the rest of the body. The chemicals found in wasabi have things in common with capsaicin found in hot peppers, which has been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects. Eating wasabi may help with inflammations, sores and pains in the body. Additionally, it may be helpful to blocking prostaglandin, which is the neurotransmitter primarily responsible for pain and inflammations. Taking wasabi during a fever may in some cases help lower it. It may also help with pain from sore muscles. It can also help with the healing process by lowering the inflammation effect, which can slow down the natural regenerative processes of the body. Studies suggest that wasabi helps in maintaining bone strength and reduce risk of osteoporosis. Wasabi also helps in reducing joint inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
Wasabi for healthy liver
Wasabi is related to broccoli and cabbage, which are plants for which it has been proven that they have health benefits for the liver. Wasabi, as other plants in this family, contains large amounts of chemicals named isothiocyanates, which help promote liver health and in a sense detoxify the liver. Wasabi has also been used for liver detox programs, with some suggesting eating large amounts of it to help the liver clear toxins. Some of the chemicals contained by wasabi are not normally found in any other foods consumed, and these may have an even greater effect on liver health.
Wasabi and prevention of cancer
Since the liver is the main detoxifier of the body, promoting its functions may have an effect that reduces chances of getting cancer. Namely, some of the toxins metabolized and destroyed by the liver may have mutagenic potential, which means they may alter the structure of DNA and cause mutations that can result in cancer. Since some compounds found in wasabi may stimulate the liver to clear out such toxins, it may also have an anti-cancerogenic effect.
Antioxidants benefits of Wasabi
Wasabi contains many active chemicals which exhibit powerful antioxidant abilities. Antioxidants are chemicals which deactivate free radicals. Free radicals are electrically charged chemicals which are a natural byproduct of our metabolisms and well as effects of pollution and some lifestyle habits, such as drinking alcohol, smoking or eating junk-food. These free radicals can cause much harm in the body, as well as be factors which increase the chances of cancer. Wasabi may have natural antioxidant properties, which means it deactivates free radicals and helps preserve health.
Wasabi benefits for allergies
Since wasabi produces vapors which stimulate the nasal passages to secrete mucus, it may be helpful with people who experience nasal allergies such as hay fever. It does this by stimulating the nasal passages and causing a very mild inflammation, which in turn causes mucus to be secreted which can then was out the allergens such in the nasal and sinus passages. It’s potential effects in inhibiting prostaglandin may also contribute to an effect on allergies, since allergies are a form of inflammatory reaction. It may help people with seasonal allergies as well as people with asthma.
Wasabi for reducing heart risks
Wasabi has been shown to have mild inhibitory effects on blood platelets, which means it has a chance of preventing blood clots from forming. This may be especially beneficial for people already suffering from heart disease or people who are at a high risk of stroke, since stroke and some forms of heart attack are caused by tiny clots forming in the blood.
Anti obesity properties of wasabi
Some animal studies have shown anti-obesity effect of aqueous extract of wasabi leaf. It was found that mice fed with wasabi leaf extract suppressed obesity in mice. This benefit can be attributed due to suppression of storage of fats in liver and white adipose tissue.
Caution while enjoying wasabi benefits
Eating wasabi paste has so far not shown any side-effects or negative symptoms. However, if you want to eat wasabi, you have to be careful to eat the real thing. By some reports, over 90% of the wasabi sold, is not actually wasabi. It is a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring. Real wasabi is hard to find outside of high-end restaurants, Japanese food restaurants and specialty stores. Always check the contents of the product you are about to purchase. Wasabi contains certain bioactive compound which due to overdose may accumulate in liver and cause harm. Wasab, while it can benefit over allergies, it is found to cause allergy in some people.
You shall definitely like to add this food with unique nutritional profile and enjoy various health benefits.Image Credits: Wikimedia, Flickr - Jun OHWADA