Why Is Wasabi So Expensive? (11 Reasons Why)

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Maisie Hughes

Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

In case you are not aware, the wasabi that comes with grocery-store sushi and fast-food Japanese stores are not actually wasabi, but dried horseradish mixed with food coloring.

It is only in fancy restaurants and reputable suppliers that you can get authentic wasabi, which is shockingly expensive. Why the hefty price tag though? Here is what I found!

Why Is Wasabi So Expensive?

Wasabi is expensive because Wasabi only grows in the Japanese mountainside, and replicating that environment on a commercial-scale is both difficult and costly. Additionally, Wasabi is a delicate plant that has special storage needs. Anytime Wasabi is improperly stored, the Wasabi can deteriorate quickly. Moreover, wasabi spice only lasts for five minutes, meaning Wasabi has to be served fresh.

If you are interested to learn more about the challenges of growing the wasabi plant and the other factors that drive up the cost of wasabi in the market, keep on reading!

1. Wasabi Grows In Mountainous Regions

Wasabi is native to the Japanese mountainside where the perfect combination of fresh stream water, altitude, and humidity allows the wasabi plant to thrive.

Procuring wasabi from the mountainside involves a lot of time, effort, and special equipment. Moreover, the logistics involved can further complicate the harvesting process.

This is why the cost of cultivating and harvesting wasabi is expensive, and the selling price of wasabi even more so.

2. Outside Of Japan, Wasabi Is Nurtured In Controlled Environments

Wasabi grows roots that tap into underground water of the Japanese mountainside. On the surface, wasabi is protected by the mountainous terrain from direct sunlight.

Moreover, wasabi can only grow at a specific altitude above sea level. While these environments can be replicated elsewhere, doing so can be extremely difficult.

Some companies outside Japan have succeeded in creating wasabi farms in greenhouses, but the cost and effort of sustaining these farms are great.

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Naturally, a high entry point results in an equally high selling price for both distributors and consumers.

3. Growing Wasabi In A Commercial Scale Is A Challenge

Given the delicate nature of wasabi and the challenges of growing wasabi in large amounts, most farmers cannot cultivate wasabi on a commercial scale.

Even with more companies endeavoring in wasabi farming, the yield cannot compare to crops like cabbages and horseradishes.

With the scarcity of wasabi, farmers and distributors alike increase the selling price of wasabi to compensate for the farming and procurement costs.

4. Wasabi Is Susceptible To Pests And Diseases

Another factor that makes wasabi difficult to grow is the susceptibility of wasabi to various pests and diseases.

Even naturally growing wasabi in the mountainside can attract slugs and aphids, because when wasabi is not harvested, the leaves die and attract pests.

Preventing pests and diseases from overtaking wasabi can double the labor and special products farmers use, which is why a healthy wasabi can be so expensive to buy.

5. Japanese Labor Fees Are Costly

Why Is Wasabi So Expensive

Labor costs in Japan are more costly compared to countries like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Generally, this is because the labor force in Japan is in a steep decline.

With fewer children being born in Japan yearly, Japan is struggling to secure and retain sufficient workers for the kinds of jobs needed in wasabi farms.

As a result of this scarcity, the labor costs are higher, and this has a direct impact on wasabi’s price.

6. Authentic Wasabi Farmers Already Have Partners

Most wasabi farmers are already well-connected with restaurants and other distributors that are willing to take on any yield that wasabi farms produce.

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In such a case, other organizations that want to get a hold of authentic wasabi will have to negotiate with middlemen or enter a bidding war with other interested parties.

During bidding wars, the cost for securing the wasabi can get staggeringly high, and this is reflected in the price in which restaurants and distributors end up selling the wasabi.

7. Wasabi Needs Special Storage Conditions

Just as wasabi needs special conditions to grow, wasabi also needs special storage conditions to remain fresh after harvesting.

When storing wasabi, the humidity, temperature, and light exposure have to be controlled in order to prevent the wasabi from spoiling or developing a strange taste.

These storage conditions need to be maintained from the moment the wasabi is harvested to the time the wasabi is used, and this drives up wasabi’s equipment and transport costs.

8. Wasabi Can Easily Deteriorate

Even with precautions in place, wasabi farms and distributors can suffer losses due to the delicate nature of wasabi.

Goods that deteriorate quickly are perceived as rare and valuable, which are two things that can make any commodity expensive, and even more so in the case of wasabi.

9. Wasabi Spice Is Short-Lived

Authentic wasabi produces a kind of spiciness that is impossible to replicate with fake wasabi, regardless of ingredients and how well they are combined.

However, Wasabi spice does not come naturally either. To produce it, the cells of the wasabi have to be broken down, and even then, the chemical reaction lasts for only five minutes.

Upon reaching five minutes, the wasabi’s spiciness peaks, and then the spiciness slowly fades. After thirty minutes, the wasabi’s flavor would usually be gone.

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Considering the short lifespan of wasabi spice, it is only natural that wasabi is a condiment that can only be enjoyed at a high cost.

10. Wasabi Is In High Demand

Fresh wasabi has a bright green color with a temporary spiciness. After eating the wasabi, you will detect a sweet, earthy aftertaste that is lacking in fake wasabi.

Wasabi’s unique taste makes wasabi a sought-after commodity all over the world, but the scarcity of wasabi supplies means only those who can afford wasabi can enjoy it.

11. Most Wasabi Comes From Japan

While wasabi also grows naturally in South Korea and Sakhalin, Russia, most of the world’s wasabi supply comes from Japan.

Mainly, this is because wasabi was popularized as a sushi condiment and serves as a crucial ingredient in many Japanese dishes.

When wasabi is imported, the import fees increase the cost of wasabi and make wasabi more expensive.

To learn more, you can see our other posts on why nuts are so expensive, why Hellofresh is so expensive, and why Spam is so expensive.

Conclusion

Wasabi is considered one of the most challenging plants to cultivate on a commercial-scale, mainly because wasabi is such a difficult plant to grow and store.

Special conditions need to be met in order for wasabi to thrive. When these conditions are not met, the wasabi can wither or become unsuitable for selling.

With these factors taken into consideration, it does not come as a surprise that wasabi is one of the most expensive condiments in the market today.

Author

  • Maisie Hughes is a 20-year veteran of the culinary world. She has worked as a chef in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, and she currently volunteers her time at local food banks.

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