If you are a connoisseur of fine Japanese cuisine, your palette has likely been treated to a variety of different sushi rolls when visiting a sushi restaurant. You may have also noticed that it’s a Japanese tradition for sushi to be served with wasabi, the spicy green paste served as a condiment alongside authentic sushi dinners. But why is wasabi commonly paired with sushi? The reason goes deeper than you may think.

Why Is Wasabi Commonly Paired With Sushi?

To understand why wasabi is commonly paired with sushi, you have to go back in time to paddy fields of China in 300 BC, where the origins of sushi began to emerge, or 19th century Japan, the period during which modern-day sushi is believed to have originated. One thing Chinese and Japanese cultures had in common during that wide range of history is the absence of refrigerators. That meant that cultures of antiquity needed to be creative and careful when handling and preserving raw fish to avoid food poisoning.

One way they discovered to avoid food poisoning was to pair fish with wasabi. This method works because wasabi has antimicrobial properties that can kill bacteria and prevent parasitic infections that are a risk when eating raw fish.

Even though we now have modern technology to help preserve fish, the tradition of serving sushi with wasabi or soy sauce continues for other reasons. When you eat sushi, the flavor of wasabi and soy sauce can enhance the taste of the fish and subdue its smell. This is why wasabi is commonly paired with sushi to this very day.

Not All Wasabi Pastes Are Made the Same

To get the full effect wasabi has on sushi, you need genuine, high-quality wasabi. When you buy wasabi in the supermarket, there is a good chance that the bottle you’re getting doesn’t have much, if any, actual wasabi in it. This applies to about 90% or more of the products labeled wasabi that you can buy in supermarkets. Often, lesser expensive brands of wasabi contain soybean oil, horseradish, vinegar, mustard flour, cornstarch, and high-fructose corn syrup as their primary ingredients, with wasabi flavoring and green coloring added.

The spiciness of wasabi comes from a chemical compound called allyl isothiocyanate, which is also found in horseradish and mustard, so the effect they have when paired with sushi is close to wasabi. That’s why these two ingredients are frequently used in products that claim to be wasabi. However, imitation wasabi served at a sushi bar can have a stronger, spicier taste that can overpower the flavor of the fish when you add too much to a piece of sushi. Traditional wasabi is more delicate and accentuates the flavor of fish without overpowering it. It’s still spicy, but it doesn’t leave a burning sensation in your mouth or have an aftertaste. 

Authentic wasabi served at a traditional Japanese restaurant is hard to find and can be expensive when it is found. In addition, it’s a rare crop that is only native to Japan and is challenging to grow. Growing takes about 2 to 3 years and requires particular growing conditions. It can be purchased as a ready-to-use paste or in powdered form that requires adding water. For the freshest wasabi, you can also buy the wasabi rhizome, which you would need to grate yourself to make fresh wasabi. As the rhizome is being ground, ideally with a shark skin grater, it begins to form wasabi paste.

Generally, sushi may be served with wasabi and soy sauce. However, Japanese chefs recommend that you do not mix wasabi and soy sauce on the same piece of sushi. In addition to serving it as a condiment, Japanese chefs often add wasabi to the layer of fish and sushi rice in sushi dinners.

Let Us Host Your Sushi Night

When it’s sushi night, and you’re craving the finest signature sushi rolls or a bowl of miso soup, your first stop should be Kabuto Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar, a Japanese restaurant in Rockville, MD. Our menu has something to accommodate everyone in your dining party, from traditional Japanese spicy tuna rolls to mouthwatering steaks and lobster tails. We use only the freshest, natural ingredients, including the finest sushi-grade fish, and offer many seasonal options to make sure our menu is a delight to even the most discerning palette. 

Don’t spend your sushi night at home. Spend it with us and enjoy a unique dining experience in our traditional Japanese sushi and hibachi restaurant. Call us today for a reservation at any of our locations. Sushi lovers in Pennsylvania are sure to enjoy our Japanese steakhouse menu in East Norriton, PA, so come on in and enjoy your next meal with us!