This popular condiment in Japanese cuisine is a common pairing with sushi. And its unique spiciness also works well with a wide range of dishes. But is wasabi gluten free? Let’s find out.
If you’ve ever had wasabi at a sushi restaurant or at home, you likely remember the spicy kick packed into this bright green food. But can you enjoy it if you have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity?
In most cases, real wasabi is gluten free and can be consumed if you’re on a gluten-free diet. But some imitation varieties may contain wheat products that can pose a risk if you’re gluten intolerant.
Below, I take a closer look at the difference between real and imitation wasabi, how their ingredients vary, and what that means to you if you can’t consume gluten.
What is wasabi?
Most wasabi is grown and produced in Japan. Also known as Japanese horseradish, the ingredient is a plant that can be grated on foods or made into a paste and used as a condiment.
Though it’s commonly paired with sushi rolls and sashimi, this popular condiment can also add a spicy kick to foods ranging from soups and sandwiches to salad dressings and meat dishes.
Real wasabi tastes fresh with a quick hit of heat that affects your sinuses as much as your tastebuds. Whereas most peppers derive their heat from instead capsaicin, wasabi’s spiciness derives from allyl isothiocyanate — an oil that’s also found in mustard and horseradish.
But not all wasabi you find at restaurants or at stores is real.
What’s the difference between real wasabi and imitation wasabi?
Wasabi can be very challenging to grow. The plants need to be cultivated in moving water in specific environments. In Japan, it grows wild in riverbeds, but that type of habitat can be difficult to recreate. So imitation wasabi has emerged as a less expensive alternative. And it’s especially prevalent at Japanese restaurants in the United States.
It’s made with more common ingredients like mustard flour, cornstarch, horseradish, and food colorings or other artificial colors. These imitations struggle to capture the unique flavor of wasabi. They often have a much harsher heat — and they’re usually thicker and pastier.
Does wasabi have gluten?
While true wasabi is naturally gluten free, some imitation kinds may not be. For example, if it’s made with wheat starch rather than corn starch, it may not be ok for those with gluten allergies or other gluten sensitivities.
That’s why it’s a good idea to always check the packaging label or ask your server if you’re having wasabi at a restaurant.
Gluten-free wasabi brands
Most brands easily available from online retailers are gluten free. Here are several wasabi products that fall into that category according to their ingredient lists. Of course, always check the food label before you buy to make sure the wasabi doesn’t have any gluten-containing ingredients.
- Fusion Select authentic wasabi
- S&B wasabi paste
- Wasabi-O wasabi paste
- Kinjirushi wasabi powder
- Eden wasabi powder
- J-basket wasabi powder
- Kikkoman wasabi sauce
Fresh wasabi should be stored in the fridge, either wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the bottom of the rhizome submerged in a glass of water. Store unopened wasabi paste and powder in a cool dark pantry or cupboard. Then keep refrigerated after opening.
A fresh wasabi rhizome can keep for up to 3 weeks if stored ungrated in the refrigerator. Once it’s grated, the flavor and spiciness have a very short shelf life. It can dissipate in just half an hour after grating.
More gluten-related answers
Find out whether other common, and not-so-common, foods are gluten free. Check out these posts.