Ja­panese wasabi now be­ing grown in NI

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Business Telegraph Food And Drink - BY JOHN MUL­GREW

IT’S a quin­tes­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent in Ja­panese cook­ing. But now fiery and fra­grant wasabi is be­ing grown com­mer­cially in North­ern Ire­land for the first time.

Wasabi Crop is a small busi­ness set up by Dr Sean Kit­son, a sci­en­tific re­searcher, who started grow­ing the plant, which is in short sup­ply world­wide, close to Por­ta­d­own in Co Ar­magh.

He de­cided to grow the plant, which comes from the same fam­ily as horseradish and mus­tard, af­ter re­search led him to pin­point the health ben­e­fits, that in­cludes anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties for joints and mus­cles.

Dr Kit­son said: “It’s a po­tent plant that has also been shown to help in­crease pro­tec­tion against bac­te­rial in­fec­tions in the body and mouth.

“Wasabi, fur­ther­more, is rich in an­tiox­i­dants that help to boost the im­mune sys­tem and can aid in re­mov­ing harm­ful tox­ins from the body.”

Dr Kit­son be­gan grow­ing the plant in a huge poly­tun­nel and us­ing hy­dro­ponic tech­niques. He’s now hop­ing to ex­port the wasabi, made into a paste for serv­ing with sushi, as well as the leaves.

The cul­ti­va­tion of wasabi is mostly done in Ja­pan and gained pop­u­lar­ity through the serv­ing of sushi.

“It has an in­ter­est­ing botany and is known as wasabia japon­ica, part of the Bras­sica fam­ily, which also con­sists of horseradish mus­tard and cab­bage,” he said.

De­mand for wasabi, par­tic­u­larly in Asia, is surg­ing at a time when tra­di­tional sup­pli­ers in Ja­pan are scal­ing back in pro­duc­tion.

“The soil in Co Ar­magh is rich and fer­tile, ca­pa­ble of grow­ing a wider va­ri­ety of plants than is cur­rently the case,” he said.

“To many, this may seem a long time, but it does take two years to grow top qual­ity wasabi rhi­zomes, as the stem is known to botanists. The good news is that leaves and stems will be for sale later this year.”

Wasabi Crop is the only com­mer­cial grower in Ire­land and is one of just a hand­ful based out­side Ja­pan.

Dr Kit­son has al­ready at­tracted the at­ten­tion of some top chefs and hopes to ex­port the wasabi leaves and paste to Ja­pan.

“Not only is wasabi a herb it is a medic­i­nal plant pro­vid­ing health ben­e­fits due to its key com­po­nent of al­lyl isoth­io­cyanate which re­leases dur­ing the grat­ing process,” he said.

“The isoth­io­cyanates en­able wasabi to pro­duce as­so­ci­ated an­tibac­te­rial, an­timi­cro­bial and an­tipar­a­sitic prop­er­ties.

“At Wasabi Crop, we have de­vel­oped ex­per­tise through con­tin­u­ous chem­istry to gen­er­ate wasabi rhi­zomes, leaves and stems for all our cus­tomers.”

Wasabi is sim­i­lar in flavour and heat to its cousins horseradish and mus­tard, with the burn­ing ef­fect hit­ting the nasal cav­ity.

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