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Wasabi (ワサビ(山葵)?, originally 和佐比; Wasabia japonica, Cochlearia wasabi, or Eutrema japonica) is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, horseradish, and mustard. Known as "Japanese horseradish", its root is used as a condiment and has an extremely strong flavor. Its hotness is more akin to that of a hot mustard rather than the capsaicin in a chili pepper, producing vapors that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The plant grows naturally along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. There are also other species used, such as W. koreana, and W. tetsuigi. The two main cultivars in the marketplace are W. japonica cv. 'Daruma' and cv. 'Mazuma', but there are many others.[1]



Wasabi is generally sold either in the form of a root which is very finely grated before use, or as a ready-to-use paste (either real wasabi or a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring), usually in tubes approximately the size and shape of travel toothpaste tubes.[2] In some restaurants the paste is usually prepared as needed by the customer using the root and a grater directly; once the paste is prepared, it will lose flavor within 15 minutes.[3] In sushi preparation, covering wasabi until served preserves flavor, and for this reason, sushi chefs usually put the wasabi between the fish and the rice.

Fresh leaves of wasabi can also be eaten and have some of the hot flavor of wasabi roots.

Because the burning sensations of wasabi are not oil-based, they are short-lived compared to the effects of chili peppers, and are easily washed away with another bite of food or liquid. The sensation is felt primarily in the nasal passage and can be quite painful depending on amount taken.

Inhaling or sniffing wasabi vapor has an effect like smelling salts, and this property has been exploited by researchers attempting to create a smoke alarm for the deaf. One deaf subject participating in a test of the prototype awoke within 10 seconds of wasabi vapor being sprayed into his sleeping chamber.[4]

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