I stumbled upon an interesting article that shed light on many things I suspected but never actually confirmed about wasabi. Apparently, it’s “deemed by most experts to be the most difficult plant in the world to grow commercially.” But why? The article outlines the following challenges:
- Cultivation: it’s grown unlike any other plant. It needs plenty of water but it can’t be submerged like a water-lily. “In general, water flows over the crop, so it’s grown in water beds and that’s not something we commonly do in North America.”
- Access: one wasabi farmer said it took 6 years simply to get access to viable seeds.
- Temperment: too much humidity or the wrong nutrient composition can wipe out an entire crop of finicky wasabi.
- Development: wasabi takes just over a year to mature, which means that farmers have to be patient before money starts coming in.
- Scale: wasabi is especially prone to disease when planted on a large scale.
Most wasabi farms fail, but those that succeed are rewarded. Fetching nearly $160 per kilogram at wholesale, in addition to being hard to nurture, wasabi is also one of the most lucrative plants on the planet.
The article also notes that only 5% of restaurants around the world serve real wasabi root. The other 95%? Chances are it’s a concoction of mustard, European horseradish and food coloring.
Accompanying this article are pictures from Japan’s largest wasabi farm, the Daio Wasabi Farm in Nagano. It was used as one of the sets in Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams and its picturesque rivers and water mills makes it a big tourist attraction.