Since the 10th century, Japan has been known to be the home of the fiery brassica root wasabi, commonly used as a pungent condiment to many of their national dishes. Renowned for its beautiful fresh, flowing spring waters, rich in nutrients and minerals, the Japanese mountains are one of the only environments in the world that support the growth of Japanese horseradish – or so it was thought!
Successfully growing watercress in very similar conditions on their quintessentially British farms in Dorset and Hampshire, Tom Amery and James Harper saw their natural, mineral-rich watercress beds as the perfect environment for this plant from far-flung shores.
Enthusiastic to adopt cultivation methods that encouraged healthy growing environments that were both sustainable and ethical, not only led to a flourishing farm abundant with watercress, but a naturally harmonious environment that replicated the very specific Japanese growing conditions that wasabi so loves.
In an attempt to grow a product without the need for pesticides, Tom and James, and with the help of Jon Old who manages the wasabi side of the farm, made a conscious decision to grow traditional Sawa wasabi, veering away from its more easily cultivated brother, Oke wasabi. Tom, James and particularly Jon soon came to realise that although the foundations were in place, the cultivation of wasabi would be a laboursome one.
Over 3 years, working tirelessly to achieve a harmonious balance between sun, shade and water flow to replicate the ideal growing conditions, the guys are now Europe’s only commercial wasabi growers successfully cultivating this pungent superfood.
With a growing time of 18 to 24 months, it was a long time before the farm saw a decent yield worthy of everyone’s hard work. However, having now established a healthy yielding crop and an additional surge in demand from the food industry, Jon and his team are harvesting between once and three times a week, regardless of season. It is therefore certainly true to say wasabi has found a healthy home in England – even if it is at an undisclosed location!
With its nutritional content ticking too many boxes to mention, and being labelled as one of the world’s superior superfoods, this pale green root has grown significantly in popularity with the British public in only a couple of years. Its sweet, hot, clean heat makes for a definite contrast from our British love affair with traditional creamy horseradish, however, wasabi is the one Brassicaceae family member that would kick most into touch!
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Words by Helen Upshall