It is believed that wasabi was first used where it was found, growing wild in Japan’s valleys of Mt. Heike, Mt. Mizuo, and Mt. Bahun. The locals gathered wild wasabi to use as a condiment with slices of raw yamame, and raw venison. In addition to use as a flavoring, the stems and leaves of wasabi were also pickled and eaten as a vegetable. At one point the wasabi was shown to Tokugawa Ieyasu, a Japanese warlord of the era, who liked it so much declaring it a treasure only to be grown in the Shizuoka area.
Although centuries have passed since, today wasabi still has a reputation of being extremely difficult to grow, largely because it requires cold, pristine water with just the right balance of minerals. Basically most wasabi (wasabia japonica) is still solely grown by farmers in different parts of Japan. Challenged and inspired by the unique skill required to grow wasabi, British farmer Tom Amery started three years ago with his first development and trials in his watercress farm near Bere Regis in Dorset, England to be the first wasabi grower in Europe.
Unforeseen difficulties gradually evolved into encouraging results and last year Amery’s The Wasabi Company was able to harvest his first mature rhizomes and send them for approval to some of the most respected restaurants in Europe. The results were marvelous. Now London’s The Ledbury, and Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir in Oxfordshire are among the exclusive restaurants lining up to buy fresh wasabi from The Wasabi Company.
Amery states on his success: “It was difficult to research how to grow it because no one has been successful in Europe before, so we tried different methods. We practised and came up with our own system based on the sawa method used in Japan, which is where the wasabi is grown in water on gravel.” And after succeeding in finding the perfect growing method for his Bere Regis farm, Amery foresees a growing interest in wasabi: “We are now producing about 100 rhizomes a week and selling them to chefs and restaurants who have been experimenting with ways of using it in their food. I think it could [even] take off as a product that individual people will want to buy as the interest in Japanese food and sushi is steadily gaining popularity.”
We love the relentlessness of Amery and can’t wait to taste his wasabi in the future, for more info see here.