See an excerpt of The Wasabi Comapny's Jon Old talking to Kate Humble in Back To The Land aired on the BBC earlier this year.
Why did we start growing wasabi?
We are watercress growers and watercress has been grown on our Dorset and Hampshire farms since the 1850s.
It was watercress that led us to wasabi. A chef visiting one of our watercress farm in May 2010 remarked how the only other crop he had seen growing in similar conditions was wasabi in Japan. That was enough to plant a seed in our minds and we began looking at what it might take to grow wasabi in the UK. We discovered a lot of similarities between the conditions required for watercress and wasabi. We also discovered plenty of warnings that wasabi was a difficult crop to grow and that it had never been successfully cultivated in Europe.
The gauntlet duly laid down we began growing wasabi in some previously abandoned watercress beds and after a good deal of trial and error we brought our first wasabi crop to maturity two years later. It has been a steep learning curve and we are still given plenty of surprises by our wasabi crops. Each year we see something different and any mistakes take a long time to put right with a two year growth curve. Harvesting a fully mature plant is always an event as it is only when you pull the whole plant you can see what you have yielded.
Sales now reach some of the top chefs in the UK and all over Europe. Many of these are using wasabi in the traditional way, freshly grated with sushi & sashimi. Other chefs encountering wasabi for the first time have used it to compliment their own style of cooking and our wasabi is used to flavour a wide variety of meat and fish dishes, puddings and soups, foams and sauces. When they are available the flowers, leaves and leaf stems are all snapped up for further inspiring creations.
How we grow wasabi
Wild wasabi growing alongside streams in the Japanese mountains takes advantage of nutrient rich water, with a high, dissolved oxygen content. It is accustomed to mild temperatures and summer shade provided by the leaves of large trees growing alongside the banks of the streams. It is these conditions that we recreate in our growing system using traditional Japanese cultivation techniques. Our wasabi takes advantage of naturally abundant spring water rich in minerals and nutrients, which bubbles to the surface from artesian springs at the top of our beds.
Optimum conditions for growth require the right balance of sun, shade and water flow at different times of the year; careful control of these allows us to keep our wasabi free from the use of pesticides and growing in the best possible environment.
Wasabi grown this way in flowing water is called Sawa wasabi and is considered to be the best quality in terms of both flavour and nutritional content.
Oka wasabi is the name used to refer to the plant when it is grown in soil; this is considered to be a product of lesser quality and is more commonly used for processing as opposed to fresh consumption. Soil grown wasabi is also more prone to disease
Wasabi product development
Customer demand has been the driver for wasabi product development. Immediately after launching wasabi sales we received hundreds of requests for wasabi plants from British ‘grow your own’ enthusiasts. Growing your own wasabi means you can enjoy picking flowers, leaves and stems to eat while you wait for the rhizomes to develop.
Home cooks and chefs drove the demand for a culinary wasabi powder. We created a blended wasabi powder with a high portion of wasabi rhizome powder backed up with more affordable horseradish and mustard to deliver a kitchen cupboard staple for times fresh wasabi is not to hand. With all natural ingredients, no sweeteners, only wasabi leaf powder for colouring and a high proportion of wasabi powder derived exclusively from the rhizome, not other plant parts, 0we think this is a market leader.
Travelling to meet our fresh wasabi clients in Europe we came across the Marusho range of vinegars and ponzu sauces. These made such a fantastic dressing for watercress we tried to source them for own use in the UK. When that proved impossible we went straight to Marusho in Japan where we discovered a family firm spanning 5 generations and 200 years who were keen to broaden their market to include the UK. One thing led to another and we now import these direct and sell to chefs and home cooks who have embraced them with the same enthusiasm as we did.
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