Here is an interesting question I was asked the other day about what makes the Wasabi Flavour.
3/3/2018 – I bought Wasabi powder and soy sauce powder to make my own Wasabi/soy almonds. I found out that the Wasabi powder has no taste without water- how can the makers make Wasabi tasting almonds: I had tried before using Wasabi paste and then dehydrating them, but definitely lose the punch.
The above is a question that I received this week. It is an interesting one because it demonstrated the lengths that food manufacturers go to in order to deceive the customer.
Firstly the flavour of Wasabi is obtained by the interaction of two components in the presence of water.
In wasabi there are two components (actually a lot more) that are kept separate from each other by the cell walls of the plant. One of these components is called a glucosinolate, and the other is an enzyme called myrosinase. In fact Wasabi has so much myrosinase you can use it sprinkled on top of broccoli to activate the glucosinolates in that plant.
Allyl isothiocyanate serves the plant as a defense against herbivores; since it is harmful to the plant itself, it is stored in the harmless form of the glucosinolate, separate from the myrosinase enzyme. When an animal chews the plant, the allyl isothiocyanate is released, repelling the animal.
Even if you mixed the glucosinolate and myrosinase together as liquids, it still needs the addition of a catalyst, in this case water, to turn the chemicals into the wasabi flavour we all love. The wasabi flavour is generated by the glucosinolates being converted into isothiocyanates. The most prevelant one being Allyl Isothiocyanate. Most people would recognise it as tear gas (as in Mace) or mustard gas (as used in concentrated form in World War 1).
All three components must be mixed togther at the same time to obtain the famous wasabi flavour and taste. If one is missing, then nothing happens.
It is the combination of all the natural and unique glucosinolates in Wasabia japonica that gives the famous nose rush and then the slightly sweet vegetable taste in the mouth afterwards.
So, you are probably wondering what this has to do with wasabi flavoured almond or even wasabi peas.
Well, the reality is that Allyl Isothiocyanate (AITC) is easy to purchase, both as a liquid and a spray dried powder. It is also relatively cheap, as a little goes a very long way when added to food products, like wasabi almonds or wasabi peas.
The current price of 94% pure Allyl Isothiocyante powder is in the region of USD130 to USD200 per Kg (2.2lbs). This is supplied a Fine White Crystalline Powder.
However, before you all rush out to buy this for your home made wasabi flavoured goodies just look at the safety notes which state;
“Safety and Handling
GHS H Statement
Flammable liquid and vapor. Toxic if swallowed. Fatal in contact with skin. Fatal if inhaled. Causes skin irritation. Causes serious eye irritation. May cause respiratory irritation. Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects.
GHS P Statement
Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames/hot surfaces. – No smoking. Wear protective gloves/protective clothing/eye protection/face protection. Immediately call a POISON CENTER or doctor/physician. IF INHALED: Remove to fresh air and keep at rest in a position comfortable for breathing. If skin irritation occurs: Get medical advice/attention. If eye irritation persists: Get medical advice/attention.”
Now that should give you pause before placing your online order for delivery by the postman (or woman). The fact is that this chemical is carefully regulated to try and ensure that as few people as possible are poisoned when using it.
From our own knowledge – when we first started processing wasabi back in NZ we had to wear full face oxygen masks (like scuba divers), long gloves and protective equipment. In addition we had to notify the local volunteer firefighter chief that we were processing, AND put a large notice on the shed door telling all and sundry not to enter without an oxygen mask. Luckily we never had to call them out or had an accident while doing the processing.
So how do the manufacturers use AITC when making their products.
They actually add the flavouring as almost the last operation before packaging. Normally the AITC is mixed with rice or tapioca flour and then sprayed onto a sticky base on the product. The sticky base is then allowed to dry out without using heat and there you have a wasabi flavoured something. The reality is it is really mustard flavoured somethings, but our taste buds are hard pressed to tell the difference, especially when eating them by the handful.
For items that are coated such as wasabi peanuts, then the AITC is mixed with the coating material and then processed the same as any other coated items. Sometimes the manufacturer adds a small amount of wasabi (normally the leaf) to give it the expected green colour, and also to add wasabi to the ingredients list.
Using heat to dry the products after the AITC has been applied is not recommended, as AITC is volatile and has a flash point of only 46deg C. This can create large explosions especially in the confines of a home oven or hob top.
Hopefully, this answered the question I was first asked that prompted this explanation being posted.
If you want to see what wasabi flavoured products are really made from then get your free copy of the Wasabi List here.