Yesterday morning I was on duty as my wife’s photography assistant. We spent the morning under shade nets photographing the UK’s only Wasabi Farm – based just outside Winchester.
The wasabi is grown in old watercress beds that are fed with artesian spring water that is rich in natural minerals and nutrients flowing out onto Hampshire’s chalk streams. Rows and rows of wasabi plants are grown on ridges of gravel, fed by a continuous flow of spring water, that mature over two years. The entire wasabi plant is edible, from the stem (or rhizome) to the leaves and flowers, and depending on the time of year and which part of the wasabi plant you use, depends on the potency. The spring weather brings about new growth and flowers and adds an extra bit of poke to the wasabi.
The raw product is fairly expensive (not surprising given it’s specialised growing conditions and two year growing cycle) and is sold to Europe’s top restaurants. You can have a taste at Winchester’s Kyoto Kitchen, a lovely Japanese restaurant that prepares their ‘Winchester Roll’ using fresh wasabi leaves, wasabi flowers and locally smoked trout and which is eye-watering on a number of levels. The restaurant is refined, serene and the sushi and sashimi are spanking fresh and delicious, but come with proper London prices.
Wasabi plants are perfect for the garden as they need shade, and you can hide them away in the damp, dark recesses, taking a potent leaf every now and then until the plant matures. The Wasabi’s natural habitat is along the edge of Japanese mountain streams with evidence that it was part of the Japanese diet since 14,000 BC. The plants are available to buy (if you are interested, let me know and we can combine postage) or you can buy the root or wasabi powder – as the green stuff that you get from a tube is usually horseradish and food dye.