How Hampshire-grown wasabi has become a domestic success story
PUBLISHED: 11:53 07 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:54 07 June 2017
It originates in Japan, but is thriving right here in Hampshire, with one company selling to chefs all over the UK and Europe. Nancy Judge, of Hampshire Fare, reports on the adopted crop that has become a domestic success story
It was a chef from Japan visiting local watercress growers in 2010 who spotted the similarity between growing wasabi and watercress. Intrigued by the possibility and challenge of trying to grow wasabi in the UK, the team at The Watercress Company began to research how they could do just that.
Seven years on and The Wasabi Company is now selling Hampshire and Dorset grown wasabi to chefs across the UK and Europe. The crop occupies old watercress beds and it has taken a lot of trial and error to become the first, and only, successful wasabi grower in Europe. The abundant supply of local spring water rich in minerals and nutrients is recognised as being key to the process.
“People are always surprised to learn that wasabi is grown here in Hampshire.” says Tracy Nash from food group Hampshire Fare. “Water is key to the growing process and mineral rich water is plentiful here in Hampshire. Our local wasabi injects such flavour into a dish and is inspiring chefs to experiment with new ideas. Another plus is that it’s really good for you.”
The health conscious are fans of Wasabi as it is low in sodium and a great source of dietary fibre and vitamin C along with calcium, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
Meet the grower – Nick Russell, The Wasabi Company
“I was intrigued by the role at The Wasabi Company because I like a challenge. It’s notoriously hard to grow, especially on a commercial scale and the opportunity to work with this unique crop was hard to resist.
“We didn’t really have any template to follow, we learnt what we could from the age old growing techniques used in Japan, but always knew that we would have to forge our own path and tailor those techniques to fit our climate and natural resources here in Hampshire. The trials continue today and we are always learning new things as we adjust and adapt to the challenges thrown our way.
“We’re a small team and all muck in where we are needed, so my working day could involve anything from wading in and pulling a bumper harvest by hand to talking to some of the best chefs in the country about the complexity of this amazing vegetable. Some chefs have been sceptical at first but our wasabi has now been embraced by chefs all over Europe and we continue to be amazed at the ingenious ways our wasabi is used such as wasabi sorbet, foam, mayonnaise and even wasabi cappuccino.
“I strongly believe the key to our success is the water. We are lucky enough to have mineral rich natural spring water flowing directly in to the converted watercress beds our wasabi now calls home. This water is not only full of nutrients but it is also at a comfortable 10*C – 11*C all year round, perfectly matching the optimum growing temperatures for wasabi of 8*C – 15*C, allowing us to have a more consistent growing environment for our crop.
“One of the favourite things about my job is educating people when it comes to ‘real’ wasabi, as a lot of people out there have no idea it’s a plant, and its likely they have never tasted the real freshly grated wasabi. I am of course a wasabi eater myself and strongly recommend trying it with beef or venison.”
Wasabi Vodka, made by Winchester Distillery
Distiller Paul Bowler has worked closely with The Wasabi Company to develop a small batch wasabi vodka. Freshly grated wasabi and six other botanicals are combined to create a vodka with a balanced sweet/savoury nose with hints of citrus and pepper. The taste is sweet, clean and full of the wasabi flavour with hints of pepper, yuzu, ginger and clove.
After the gentle warmth of the alcohol subsides in your mouth, you get a second wave of rising mustard heat from the wasabi oils. This vodka makes an ideal base for a Bloody Mary or serve with tonic water, RRP £29.95.