Wasabi – The Asian Superfood
For centuries authentic wasabi (Wasabia japonica) has been used in Asia for a number of health reasons. It is only in the last decade that these health benefits have been investigated in the West.
Some of these health benefits are;
Kills harmful food borne bacteria
Reduces blood pressure
Kills cancer cells
Improves bone strength
Improves liver function
Detoxifies the body of free radicals
Improves gut actions
Naturally Anti-Viral, Anti-Microbial, Anti-Bacterial
Stimulates the bodies natural immune system
Prior to 1908 Wasabi was unknown in the West. It was mentioned in passing in a botanical book.
Only noticed after 2nd World War when the Allies moved into Japan en masse. Even then it was only used as a condiment and nothing was mentioned about the health benefits. The initial use was described as only used to combat potential bacterial contamination of fish caused by the transport time of fish from the coast to the Japanese cities and inland towns.
Because the Japanese regarded wasabi as an important food and health product for their population the “wasabi” provided for consumption for the Allies was made from European horseradish, because the “foreigners” would not know the difference.
The Allies brought wasabi back to the west, but it was the made up product designed for Western palates. This has continued to the present day. Products can be described as “wasabi” in Japan if they contain a small amount of authentic wasabi (Wasabia japonica).
Now though, even the Japanese public have succumbed to the 60-year-old lie and the majority have never eaten or even seen authentic wasabi – they only know the coloured European horseradish. This hasn’t been helped by the reduction of wasabi growing areas within the Japanese Home Islands.
It was 1994 when the first scientific paper was published showing that wasabi was capable of affecting tumours in mice. This work was done in Japan where some scientists had decided to follow up on some old wives tales about the health benefits of wasabi. Much to the surprise of the scientific community at large the old wives tales might actually turn out to have some substance behind them.
It was during this same period that the world scientific community was making a concerted effort to test every vegetable extract they could find to try and find “the” cure for cancer. While wasabi showed some success, research was discontinued because wasabi was regarded as a rare and difficult to grow herb and therefore unsuited to mass production for pharmaceutical use.
What happened next to the fortunes of wasabi was not unusual in terms of science and commercial interests. No work was being done on wasabi extracts except as they related to food because no one thought there was money in it. Even then, it was piecemeal and carried out by Ph.D. students for their thesis. No funding was available from any Government Science Funding Agencies for any work and interest in wasabi died.
It was in 2004 that interest in wasabi gathered strength when it was found that one unique compound naturally occurring in wasabi, but in no other vegetable, was 40 times more potent in fighting cancer than the other best vegetable extract. [That other vegetable extract is sgs® from specially bred Broccoli sprouts – this was patented by John Hopkins University even though funded from the public purse.]
There are three unique compounds found in wasabi that are not found in any other vegetable. These are known collectively as long chain methyl Isothiocyanates – MITC for short.
The interesting thing about these compounds is that they are difficult to synthesis and extract from the plant, and once produced are very volatile and difficult to store. This indicates that getting these powerful cancer killing drugs into the population at large through the normal laboratory produced supplements or pharmaceutical was going to be difficult. Together with the fact that wasabi used as a food item in the West is minimal, a large education program needs to be implemented – assuming that wasabi is available in large enough quantities.
Now this is where several fortuitous strands have come together to start to form a firm supply chain for this “cancer killer.”
In 1990 a couple in New Zealand started to get involved in the growing of wasabi as a food product with a view to exporting their product to Japan and Asia. In order to do that they had to develop a growing method that did not fall foul of “the Resource Management Act” in New Zealand. This Act controls almost every aspect of growing and using land within New Zealand.
Anyway, a growing system was developed and product produced. It was then found that fresh wasabi did not travel very well and the Japanese and Asian markets were exceedingly difficult to access. Therefore, the couple started looking for other things that they could do with the wasabi that they were growing. They did develop a number of wasabi based food products during that period and during their research they came across the 1994 scientific paper. This was in 1994, so as you can see they were at the forefront of the wasabi development.
A Nutraceutical grade product was developed and sold on the world market. This product is called Sawa® and is available both in bulk and capsule form. There is no other wasabi product available on the world market with this pedigree.
From research funded by this couple together with the assistance of various University Ph.D. thesis’s it was found that the MITC had another trick up its sleeve. Because of its short life span it was difficult to get the MITC direct to the cancer site if it was eaten or even injected. Therefore a new method of delivery had to be found. It turned out not to be as difficult as anticipated.
It was known that the MITC’s were produced naturally when the cell walls of the wasabi were broken by the action of chewing or mashing. This is what gives wasabi its pungent sinus clearing abilities.
It turned out that the Sawa® powder production methods had solved the delivery problem without realising it. Instead of extracting the MITC, it was found that the MITC together with the other buffering agents within wasabi could be delivered to the site of the cancer cells by utilising the bodies’ natural immune system.
This was done by the simple means of consuming several capsules of the Sawa® powder and allowing the MITC to be produced in the gut where the body was able to absorb it directly. The MITC was then carried by the blood stream direct to the cancer cells where it attacked and killed the cancer cells.
Normally, if this were a pharmaceutical product then that would be all that would happen and the body would be left to its own devices to get rid of the dead cancer cells. Nature, however, has a better solution.
When the cell walls of the wasabi are broken then in addition to the MITC’s a whole range of other chemicals and by-products are formed. Some of these act to boost the natural immune system of the body, some activate the liver to improve its function, and finally others work to ensure that the body does not react adversely to the chemical attacks that are going on inside the body. All these interactions and buffering agents allow the various compounds to work together to maintain a healthy body.
At long last, the old wives tales of Japanese and Asian folklore are proving to be true and the inclusion of wasabi in Western daily diets may be one of the significant health revolutions of the 21st Century.
Now, how do you consume it?
As mentioned before, the most common way of consuming wasabi is by eating it. However, while Japanese restaurants, sushi bars and other Asian food places are springing up everywhere you go, they use coloured horseradish. This product does not contain the benefits of using authentic wasabi.
Also there are a large number of people who do not enjoy the sinus rush you get when you eat wasabi paste with your meal. For these people the consumption of authentic wasabi as a supplement would be indicated.
All this is very fine, but when 99% of “wasabi” being sold is only coloured horseradish how can you tell if what you are consuming, either as a food or a supplement is authentic wasabi? Even if the supplier tells you that the product is the authentic plant extract how can you be sure? After all, the lie has been going for over six decades and seems likely to continue into the future unless someone makes a stand against it.
In 2009 an organisation, the “World Wasabi Council” was formed by Wasabia japonica growers and manufacturers with the sole purpose of defeating this 60 year old lie by carrying out independent scientific tests to ensure that products that carry the “Authentic Wasabi” logo do not contain any European horseradish and/or artifical colourings.
For the consumer this is a major departure from the general accepted notion that food manufacturers can do what they like with the food that we put in our bodies. In this day and age there is a major change of view that the consumer wants only to eat food that is good for them, as well as being tasty and nice to eat. This is a way that one part of the food chain can make a difference. It is expected that within the next couple of decades all food suppliers will be required to certify what they claim is in their food is actually there, and is not just a “look and taste alike”.
As a Superfood, it is essential that Wasabia japonica can be easily recognised on the shelf at any place selling food. This includes supermarkets, other retailers and restaurants. It is no longer enough to rely on consumers to read the labels as the major food manufacturers continue to lobby for ingredient information to be removed from packaging.
The “Authentic Superfood” certification mark should be looked for on all products. All products carrying this mark have been rigorously tested to ensure that they are what they claim to be and have scientific results backing the claims as being a Superfood.
Used with permission from http://www.worldwasabicouncil.com
© World Wasabi Council 2009