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Most Wasabi Is Fake [video] (theatlantic.com)
138 points by dangerman 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments

In high-end Japanese restaurants, you can often get real wasabi (it'll be listed at the bottom of the menu). My experience with it has been that it's usually coarser, more watery, and less pungent than the "standard" wasabi. I do not prefer it; whatever combination of horseradish and mustard restaurants default to is, I think, the better product.

If I was eating wasabi on its own and trying to, I don't know, appreciate varietals of it, I'd think differently. But for the most part I eat the little blobs of wasabi as a palate cleanser and never explicitly add it to my dishes, which I assume the cook already seasoned the way they wanted me to eat it.

Wow. That's amazing to me (and also that so many responders agree). I love wasabi! It has a clean, sweet, chlorophyll taste to it. However, there are a few caveats.

Real wasabi needs to be mashed, not grated. If you cut the cell walls it doesn't produce the flavour properly. You need to break the cell walls. That's why you use a shark skin "grater" (and it's important to press hard and "grate" in a circular motion because you are really pulping it against the shark skin).

Secondly, the flavour of wasabi changes dramatically from the time it is "grated" and over the next 30 minutes. It is very hot immediately after you grate it and gets progressively less hot over time. After about 30 minutes it is practically tasteless. It's super important to time the "grating" with the dish. At my favourite izakaya, the master's son (who does the fish) "grates" the wasabi first, puts it on the plate, then cuts the fish, plates it and then gives you the dish. This way the wasabi has reached it's peak flavour when you receive the dish. You've got about 5-10 minutes to eat it until it goes horrible.

Finally, the flavour varies considerably by season. I find winter wasabi to be much sweeter than summer wasabi.

Now, at the risk of being slightly dismissive (which I don't intend to be), I buy fresh wasabi from time to time and prepare it for myself. The result is exactly as you describe and I have to say that my efforts are largely not worth it. I even live in Shizuoka so I have access to good wasabi! The problem is that preparing wasabi requires the correct tools, the correct technique and practice -- none of which I have. I wonder if it is possible that the examples you tried were possibly not the best...

> I find winter wasabi to be much sweeter than summer wasabi

This is a normal response in many plants. They accumulate sugars in cells in cold months. Sugar acts then as antifreeze protecting the cell's integrity.

Live in Tokyo and couldn't agree more.

I've been to Mt. Mitake a few times, where wasabi makes up a nice portion of the economy. Towards the top of the mountain, you can literally smell the wasabi in the air. It's kind of the locals' gimmick as well to put wasabi in everything -- pretty sure I saw wasabi ice-cream.

The fresh "real" stuff is quite earthy, and frankly, I find unpleasant in any significant quantity. I bought quite a bit last time I was there and tried to learn to appreciate it. Ending up going bad in the fridge.

Give me good old horseradish any day.

> wasabi ice-cream

And you didn't eat it?!

The guy in my favorite wasabi documentary tries it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTncCmFabM

Sounds like what you were given was just a coarsely ground and non-fully-dehydrated version of the root?

At home I use off-the-shelf wasabi powder, and after mixing with a small amount of water the resulting paste's texture is consistent with that of faux-wasabi.

Edit: I'd bought my wasabi powder under the pretense that it genuine wasabi imported from Japan, but now I see several Amazon reviews alleging that it's fake, and I have no way to tell one way or the other. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

No, it's the actual root, grated with one of those weird Japanese wasabi graters.

Thought so. I just meant that your experience seems more related to the difference in processing than the difference in root species.

I agree, even when I do have the option of getting 'real' wasabi I always prefer the horse radish based one.

That maybe real but is it real and fresh? If it is mixed from the freeze dried stuff it will lose a lot of its flavor. As the article says, wasabi loses its taste quickly.

Yes, in a high-end Japanese restaurant, the "real" wasabi is fresh-grated.

When I have had real wasabi, I have always found it to be superior. It wasn't quite as sharp as the fake stuff but it seemed to have a much deeper flavor (more umami, perhaps). I didn't find it watery at all. Maybe my perception was just colored by the novelty and rarety. But I also suspect that quality can vary greatly season to season and even day to day.

I was wondering when reading the previous replies because I totally agree with you.

Freshly grated real Wasabi, in my opinion, is much more subtle and deep (and slightly sweeter) than the ersatz stuff that comes in tubes or as powder. My guess is that the benchmark for most people is the fake stuff and thus they find real wasabi strange and probably too mild.

What I also learned in high class sushi places is that you NEVER dunk the rice into a mixture of soja-sauce and wasabi (no matter if real or not). If you absolutely must you can use some soja on the fish only. Another nice aspect is that it's completely proper to eat sushi with your hands.

> you NEVER dunk the rice into a mixture of soja-sauce and wasabi (no matter if real or not)

why not?

The rice is already seasoned with sugar and salt (quite a lot of it, actually). Also, the flavour of the rice is enhanced dramatically by the air between the rice kernels. Part of the art of nigiri sushi is making sure that you squeeze it enough that it sticks together, but not enough that the air is forced out. If the fish has not been seasoned, it's usual to dip it in soy sauce (by turning the sushi over and just dipping one end in it), but frequently the fish (especially edomae style) is already seasoned, so you need very little soy sauce if any at all. The sushi should already have the correct amount of wasabi on it and frequently the person serving you will ask you how much you like wasabi so that they can judge the correct amount.

Another trick is to use a piece of ginger dunked in the soy sauce to paint the soy on the nigiri to lessen the chances of the nigiri falling apart.

The rice is seasoned using rice vinegar, sugar, and salt; and done to compliment fish or whatever is draped over it. Dunking it into a bowl of soy/wasabi negates the flavors of both. Typically if wasabi is served, it's done as a tiny smear between fish and rice, and the top of the fish will be lightly painted with what ever soy-based sauce the chef chooses. This way the flavor of the rice and it's seasonings is preserved.

When I've had it (at a chain restaurant), it's been served like this - a bit of root and you grate it yourself https://i.imgur.com/oApgDKG.jpg

Of course it could still have been frozen beforehand and I wouldn't know.

So is most truffle oil. Canned reindeer meat in the Nordic countries can be up to 40% pork. Budget-brand soy sauce might actually be "soy sauce powder" mixed with water, as opposed to something straightforwardly brewed. If you travel the developing world, you may find that what is sold as chocolate actually has no cacao in it. Lots and lots of disappointments out there in the food world. I find reading labels carefully and doing research online revelatory.

All because everyone wants champagne taste on a beer budget. It reminds me of a Frank Lloyd Wright quote when someone asked for a $5k house and he says “Are you sure you want a $5,000 house? Most people want a $10,000 house for $5,000.”

They could just pitch these as cheaper substitutions and it wouldn’t be so annoying.

You could say the same thing about vanilla, for which Cooks Illustrated was infamously not able to triangle-test a meaningful preference between artificial and real in a baked goods panel (IIRC, the Milk Bar cookbook went a step further and specified recipes that only worked with artificial vanilla). Sometimes, the artificial ("beer-grade") version is a legit advance.

A big problem with truffle oil is that it's too easy to overdo it, which is something you're less likely to do with a $200 black truffle. It's also too easy to add truffle notes to things that aren't really improved by truffle notes. And those two problems compound each other.

It can work pretty well on french fries, though!

>You could say the same thing about vanilla, for which Cooks Illustrated was infamously not able to triangle-test a meaningful preference between artificial and real in a baked goods panel (IIRC, the Milk Bar cookbook went a step further and specified recipes that only worked with artificial vanilla). Sometimes, the artificial ("beer-grade") version is a legit advance.

True. (And TBH I prefer a decent beer to an equivalent tier of champagne) People get wrapped up in the status element of the luxury good and lose sight of the actual use/enjoyment function of the good itself. If we were more comfortable letting the cheap stuff sing in its own right instead of trying to imitate the expensive things we might open a lot of doors for new innovations.

Your point about truffle oil makes me think of all those 50s cookbooks doing all kinds of weird stuff with gelatin since gelatinizing stuff wasn’t some absurdly laborious and expensive process anymore. It seems like it took a while for people to realize that entombing all foods in gelatin just because you can is actually. . . Not very good. Haha

I love the story that lobsters used to be peasant food before they became rare, and that it was limited in how frequently it could be fed to prisoners except as a "cruel and unusual" punishment.

It wasn't they became rare, it was ubiquitous refrigeration that made them popular. It was prison food because it was basically spoiled.

You typically keep lobster alive until cooking, I don't see refrigeration changing much.

The popularity of lobster is generally attributed to it being canned and served on the railroads (thinking that they could get away with serving cheap meat to customers in the midwest unfamiliar with it) and then people developing a taste for it.

My two favorite things to entomb in gelatin are vodka (jello shots) and cream (panna cotta). Mostly the latter though.

The problem with most “truffle oil” is that it’s truly vile, and if you put it next to actual truffle infused oil no one would confuse the two. The problem is that so few people have actually had truffles, never mind truffle infused oil to know. To a greater or lesser extent the same is true for vanilla, although far more people have had the real deal as a reference point.

Still vanillin is artificial, but hardly a terrible thing in its own right. As you said there are recipes where the flatter note of vanillin works better than the more subtle and complex floral notes of true vanilla. I’d argue however that truffle oil is always disgusting, and the issue of it being somehow fake or fraudulent is secondary to how nasty it is.

Still, in an application like ice cream real vanilla in generous amounts is so much nicer than artificial. Of course ice cream producers figured out that most people aren’t able to tell the difference, lacking experience with a reference point. They realized that black flecks in the mix were what people really looked for, so a market emerged. After vanilla extract is made the bean is totally devoid of flavor, but it’s now ground into flecks and sold as an additive and can be legally listed as “vanilla bean” in the ingredients.

On a semi-related note a friend recently told me that “most cinnamon is fake!” It turns out he learned that a lot of cinnamon used is cassia cinnamon, not Ceylon cinnamon. I had to explain to him that they’re both cinnamon, and both great in different applications. If you want bright, spicy cinnamon then cassia is the way to go. If you want floral cinnamon then cinnamomum verum is the way, and if you want something in between with a natural sweetness, Vietnamese cinnamon is it.

During early tasting panels when they were adding real vanilla to some UK ice cream products there was confusion among the people running them, because nobody was mentioning the black flecks. Eventually they asked people if they'd noticed them - they had, but had assumed they were dirt/a flaw in the batch, and had been too polite to mention it ...

What do you think a good use for cassia cinnamon is? Those little hard candies?

Maybe it’s just that I spent a lot of time in Mexico growing up, but I think ceylon cinnamon is better for every purpose I can think of. I wouldn’t describe it as “floral” though.

My impression is that cassia cinnamon is usually used because it is cheaper.

Definitely ideal for hot candies, and it’s good to add some kick to baked goods. Personally I’m a huge fan of using Ceylon and cassia in the same application to round out the flavor. Cassia is cheaper, but it’s not like it’s the difference between true and fake wasabi.

That may have been why it was used originally, but it's also used now because it's what people expect from cinnamon flavor; it's stronger than ceylon.

> IIRC, the Milk Bar cookbook went a step further and specified recipes that only worked with artificial vanilla

It's a well known fact of cooking, natural vanilla denatures above a rather low temperature (around 50°C or so, if I recall correctly) but artificial vanilla doesn't.

So if you're using vanilla in... crème anglaise (apparently that's the English name for it?) you should use artificial vanilla or pay much attention to adding the vanilla only after it has cooled down enough, but if you're doing ice cream then natural vanilla is a good choice.

Well, the English name for it is custard, but that tended to be mixed up with Bird's in people's minds, so a real custard in a sauce consistency gets the French name for prestige value.

To be honest I'm a bit sick of truffle fries (often with parmesan on top). It's become a cliche.

>A big problem with truffle oil is that it's too easy to overdo it

A bit of a shock when a steak sandwich came slathered in it, and the menu made no mention of this

Fortunately the person who ordered it didn't mind, but I would've sent it back

I checked this out. FLW actually said (in the 30s) "a 10k house for 5K", which translates to a 200k house for 100k today.

source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4633622

Yes indeed. Though most of his so-called $5k houses actually ended up costing around $20k.

And having leaking roofs.

that's how you know it's a Frank Lloyd Wright house

Ah I misremembered the quote. Thanks. Edited and fixed

Ha yeah, I have doubts that my €3 frozen pizza really has mozarella cheese made from buffalo milk on it.

> Canned reindeer meat in the Nordic countries can be up to 40% pork.

On the other hand the frozen sliced reindeer meat is 100% reindeer. The canned stuff is meatballs, which is difficult to make from reindeer or moose -- the meat contains no fat whatsoever. Thus the pork mix.

As for wasabi, what my wife says (she's Japanese) is that wasabi isn't there for its own flavor - its only job is to enhance the flavor of the food it is served with (she talks a lot about tasting the nuances, which is what Japanese food is about - it's not about taste explosions like in so many other cultures). So if you use so much wasabi ('fake' or not) that it only functions to open up your sinuses you're doing it wrong. Same with soy sauce and the like - it's not something you add just to make whatever you're eating taste like soy sauce. And she's horrified when she sees people around here (we're not in Japan) dip vegetable tempura into soy sauce. It destroyes the taste. You're supposed to only add a little salt, the same as a little salt enhances the flavor of eggs. (Add too much though and you only taste salt).

A lot of traditional European dishes (inc Swedish meatballs) mix minced pork with a darker meat, usually beef or veal. You get the savoury flavour and colour from the red meat and the mild flavoured fat from pork. It's a similar affect "grain fattened" beef produces in a single animal, but the animal doesn't need to be an obese cow.

If you have venison in a resteraunt, it's often rare steak dishes. It's cooked rare because it's so lean, and dries up when cooked for longer. Usually the meat is trimmed, because the fat/grisle isn't as good as beef (in ye old times, venison fat was used for tallow candles instead of lard) But, not every cut is steak.

If you make sausages or minced meat dishes (meatballs, etc.) from venison, cutting it with pork or pork fat makes it much more suitable for most recipes.

Lying to consumers is not ok, but combining venison and pork is legit. My guess is that it's traditional.

> And she's horrified when she sees people around here (we're not in Japan) dip vegetable tempura into soy sauce.

FWIW, tempura dipping sauce is usually ginger/mirin/daikon/sugar/soy sauce, and is far sweeter than soy sauce alone—a wonderful combination for tempura.

I know it's a mix, not just soy sauce - still, I actually agree with my wife. Vegetable tempura is much better with just the little salt.

>Budget-brand soy sauce might actually be "soy sauce powder" mixed with water, as opposed to something straightforwardly brewed.

Is this because brewed soy sauce isn't Halal?

ED: why the downvotes? That's a legitimate reason for why vinegar in most chip shops is actually "non-brewed condiment".


Grape/wine vinegar (usually) isn't Kosher either.

Sounds like old abrahamic superstitions are still making food worse.

>> Sounds like old abrahamic superstitions are still making food worse.

This comment is so ignorant.

Another one is Kobe beef. Real Kobe beef is from the city of Kobe in Japan and is only served in a handful of resturaunts in the US (I think 1 in NYC and a few in LV). So next time you see Kobe beef on the menu- you know it’s most likely a lie.

You can get A5 wagyu all over the place in the US. The "tell" that you're looking at fake "kobe beef" is when you could take the dish and swap "kobe" for "angus" and the dish would still make sense; so, for instance, a "kobe burger" always going to be silly and shady, and nobody would ever buy "certified angus nigiri".

I’d add that if you don’t like ultra-rare beer then it’s kind of a waste. I’m not a fan of anything that isn’t medium, and by that temp a lot of the fine marbling is effectively lost. In short, when I finally had some real A5 I realized it was totally wasted on me. If you liked carpaccio though, it would probably be amazing. I think too often people attach value judgements to grades or things, to wine and the like, when the truth is thst individual taste is highly variable. If you like a sensibly priced bottle of wine, rejoice, it’s a good wine for you. If you’re someone who skews to the high priced bottles then that’s going to be rough on the wallet, but again that’s your taste.

The biggest mistake we make with food and drink is to “want the best” instead of wanting the best for us. There is subsitute for trying lots of different types of food and drink and choosing what you like the taste of most, not what’s most applauded by experts or in vogue.

I eat wagyu fairly often (I live in Japan and like to buy local). Of course it's Shizuoka wagyu since that's where I live, but as others have said the difference between various regions are not that great (I go to Takayama fairly frequently and eat Hida gyu, which is rated as highly as Kobe gyu these days and it's not that much better than Shizuoka yume wagyu).

IMHO eating wagyu as a steak is a waste for essentially the reason you state. The fat softens at that temperature and because there is so much of it, the texture suffers. I'll take a long aged, lower fat, dry cured cut over that any day of the week. Where wagyu really shines is yakiniku. When it is cut thin, the fat has somewhere to go and the flavour and texture are amazing. This is one of the reasons why if you buy wagyu steak at a teppen yaki place, they will typically cut it fairly thinly.

Wagyu is not actually that expensive in Japan. I mean it's expensive, but not the ludicrous prices that people pay overseas. IIRC 100g of Shizuoka bara (stomach -- think the same cut as bacon) is about $6. Sirloin is up around $16. That's still nearly $70 a pound, but if you aren't making a steak or a roast (for which it is really completely inappropriate) it's fine. When I do yakiniku at home with my wife, between the two of us we eat 300 grams of meat and that includes the pork (Shizuoka black pork is amazing).

I really like wagyu, but there are other traditions for preparing beef that are just as good (in a different way) and not as expensive.

Edit: I forgot to mention that I typically make a roast here using thigh meat (momo) and bard it with stomach. That is a fantastic combination and I can make a 1 lb roast for less than $20.

There's a chapter in "The Man Who Ate Everything" (which is excellent) about "Kobe", and you could sum it up as: it's a good product that is not simply a "better version" of other steaks, and if not prepared specially (as in, in dishes designed for A5 beef), it's pretty much a waste.

In my limited experience that’s a perfect way of putting it. I might have to read that book too, it seems interesting.

Highest possible recommendation. It is one of the great food books.

Yup and honestly the two times I’ve had Kobe I really couldn’t tell the difference between the same cut as non Kobe(yet still A5 Wagyu)- except for when the bill came.

If anyone’s curious about the difference between Wagyu and Kobe, my company has this article on the subject midway down the page: https://www.crowdcow.com/article/akemika2t/japanese-a5-wagyu...

The steakhouse in the Encore casino being built outside of Boston made the news recently for being on that Kobe shortlist

When I was in Kobe I had a hard time figuring out which restaurant sells the real thing.

I got Wagu at Morimoto's in Philly. I've never had beef I could cut with my tongue.

Baby carrots are not, in fact, small carrots. They are misshapen carrots that would not sell unless they were carved into "baby carrots".

> Baby carrots are not, in fact, small carrots

The ones I've gotten that still have the tops on them, and the outer skin, absolutely are; IME, what you are referring to are generally sold as “baby-cut” or “petit” carrots, rather than “baby" carrots.

I've heard this online a few times, but it doesn't gel with my experience shopping at all; I suppose it must be a regional thing.

In the UK the closest I've seen or heard of are both 'real' (whole) carrots:

Chantenay - https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/products/waitrose-chantenay-ca...

'Baby topped' - https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/products/waitrose-1-baby-toppe...

I remember a video of a processing plant that 'lathed down' regular carrots to make baby carrots. I always thought that's what they were. Since nobody buys big carrots any more, pretty much all carrots are made into baby carrots. Because they sell.

> Since nobody buys big carrots any more

What?! Citation sorely needed. I do, and in my experience 'big' (I would've said 'normal') carrots are stocked more abundantly than any other.

70% of carrot sales by some estimates. I googled around; here's a typical summary


And these fake, shaped baby carrots are truly vile. No taste, disgusting texture.

I have an image in my mind of a carrot carved into the shape of a baby

I few years ago I was was reading the back of a can of New York style hotdogs and realised the main ingredient was chicken. By a substantial margin too. Ever since then I’ve been sceptical about the contents of products I buy.

> can of New York style hotdogs

I think they've already failed at being "New York style".

Are you in Europe? I notice the things they call "hot dogs" there are almost always canned, which is exceedingly odd coming from an American perspective, where the concept of a canned hot dog basically does not exist.

Yes I'm in Europe. You can also buy hot dogs that are not canned - though we usually call them "sausages".

Ironically, canned "hot dogs" are usually called Vienna Sausages in North America.

I think that by the time that it gets processed and put in a can, you can't really tell the difference between the taste of the different meats. It just tastes like generic processed meat and sodium.

The store brand soy sauce here has 12% soy sauce and 7.1% soy sauce powder. I've been wondering if this is actually 12% soy sauce as the product is quite cheap.

> you may find that what is sold as chocolate actually has no cacao in it

In the western world, most people seem to want little to no cacao but sugar instead.

>In the western world

Nah really just the US has the giant value bags of Hershey's product with almost no cacao solids. The commonwealth western nations are still sweet but have higher minimums.

Don't believe me? A good benchmark is kitkat bars. Try the regular from US, Canada, England, and Japan. Only the US one tastes overwhelmingly of sugar and not chocolate. Japan's chocolate is far less sweet but they don't seem to emphasize solids as much as UK does.

I've been recently pondering sugar tolerance. I've been avoiding it for the last few years, eating it only sometimes and moderately, checking sugar contents of processed food I buy, etc. I'm at a point where anything with more than ~30% sugar tastes bad: it gives a sort of mouth-wrinkling shock to my taste receptors; my sugar tolerance is decreasing.

Given that sugar is addictive and most producers seem to have the attitude that the more sugar you sneak into the product, the cheaper it is and the more it sells, maybe Nestle (Kitkat's producer, right?) tests for regional tolerance and puts in the maximum amount of sugar, where the person still doesn't feel an overwhelming sugar shock when tasting? Just speculation, but it's a possibility I'd investigate if I were an evil food industry mogul.

Many (many!) years ago a friend brought some bottles of Pepsi from a trip to Egypt. I still had a couple of the bottles left until last year, when I finally ditched them. The reason he brought them was to show how the Egyptian version of Pepsi had much more sugar added (I didn't actually think that was even possible..). Then again refined sugar was invented in that region of the world and was used hundreds of years before anywhere else.

As for myself, I just hate how shop-made cakes are mostly sugar - it feels like my mouth is burning. I don't understand why they do it. Nearly everyone I know prefer home-made cakes (made from basic ingrediants, not mix bags).

Haha, true about the cakes. If you look at baking recipes sugar is usually measured in cups. There's a bakery near my place that offers no-added-sugar items. I find them delicious. They're probably mostly targeting diabetics, but they sure have my business.

Since we're trading anecdotes, I was told that in Egypt people drink sugar drinks, like Cocacola, like you would drink alcohol in the West. Islam forbids drinking alcohol, so they use the next most boring drug: sugar. The picture that was painted for me was a group of grown men sitting around a cafe-bar drinking Cocacola.

There's no such thing as a non-synthetic truffle oil. It is not made from truffles what so ever.


Even "real" truffle oil (or butter or some other fat) need not contain real truffles. It's quite easy to infuse fats with truffle aroma. If you put truffles and a fat (with sufficient surface area in contact with the air) in an enclosed place like under a bowl in a refrigerator, you will get a very significant truffle aroma/flavor in the fat.

I've done this with Oregon white truffles (tuber oregonense) that I harvested with the help of my dog. Kept the butter frozen for over a year, and it still had the truffle aroma when I pulled it out of the freezer.

I actually think the infusion method adds a lot more flavor/aroma than adding pieces of truffle, but the pieces are clear evidence that what you bought actually came in contact with real truffles--it's pretty much just marketing.

There absolutely is such a thing as truffle oil made with real truffles, and you link also says so.

This is today as described in wikipedia

Truffle oil can be produced using any oil. Common versions use olive oil, or a more neutral flavorless oil such as canola or grapeseed oil.[6]

Some truffle oils are made with truffle residues incurred during collection or preparation for sale. Many truffle oils sold in retail markets are not made from truffles[1] but instead use manufactured aromatic compounds including 2,4-dithiapentane (one of many aroma active compounds that can be found in some truffle varietals) with an oil base. There are no regulations regarding the labeling of 2,4-dithiapentane and it can legally be called truffle aroma, truffle flavor, truffle concentrate or other similar terms, even though it is not extracted from truffles. In the United States, the ingredient may use the modifiers "organic" or "natural" as long as the components meet the federal requirements for those terms. Truffle oils range from clear to cloudy, and yellow to green, depending on the base oil used. Some include a piece of truffle in the bottle.[2] These pieces can be from any of over 200 different truffle species and may be listed as "black truffle" or "white truffle" even if not one of prized culinary varietals such as the black Périgord or white Alba truffle.

This is historic and no longer the case:

Truffle oil is frequently used as a bait for truffle-hunting dogs and pigs. Modern Italians often use a strufion, a ball of rags scented with truffle oil.[7](p87) Truffle oil has been used for this purpose since at least 1756, made by boiling truffles in olive oil and given to hunting dogs.[9]

Well, this does say that "some truffle oils are made with truffle residues". Now maybe this is rare in the US, but at least in France it's the only kind of oil that is allowed to be called truffle oil (well, "huile à la truffe"). It could be called "olive oil with truffle taste" otherwise ("huile d'olive/tournesol/colza au goût truffe").

It's really not difficult to find here, and it is absolutely made with real truffle (the broken pieces that can't be sold as truffles). I don't have any at home because I don't care for it, but one I can find at my usual supermarket for example contains "TUBER AESTIVUM (1.1%)". This is known to be a so-so variety of truffle at best. The next-level product (at almost 40 €/L) specifically says that the truffle in its ingredients is "Périgord truffle (Tuber Melanosporum) 1%". This is probably a good enough truffle oil if you like that.

Looking up the products here in Belgium though, it seems like only "truffle taste" oils are available in the regular supermarkets, but that is also clear from the product names ("Bereiding van Olijfolie van Eerste Persing 99,7% met Truffelsmaak").

Alright. We probably just have different views on what could/should be called "real". I apologize for the categorical statement I made before.

I can get a chunk of wasabi for about $6 at my local greengrocer in Tokyo. Unless you plan on eating a lot of sashimi at home within the next few days, though, it’s not practical since it goes bad much faster than the tube stuff.

The taste is substantially better than the fake stuff, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re eating at a cheap place that doesn’t properly prepare the nigiri rice.

Local asian grocery store was selling chunks of wasabi for ~$60 here in Boston, as of yesterday. Pricing was like $120/lb.

Horseradish is a very nice vegetable anyways. I would eat it with sushi, I just wish people had the honesty not to put coloring in it and call it something it's not.

There are a dozen tubed wasabi products in Japan that are categorized by its quality. 100% native wasabi produced in Japan, imported wasabi, 50% wasabi and horseradish mixture, and so on.

But I found the degree of snobbery people show on HN (especially for Japanese products) amusing.

I agree with the last sentiment, but it's by no means just HN. It's prevalent anywhere on the internet, and to a lesser extent, in real conversation.

Is there a name for the specific phenomenon of speaking highly of something solely because it's semi rare or exclusive, especially in the area you're in? Is it a subtle form of bragging?

Never thought I'd get "the feels" watching a video about wasabi. But I really salute the initiative of making such a nicely done video to showcase a dying(?) local artisanal practice. I think young people would find a lot more interest in such professions if it was showcased like that!

I remember taking tests in middle/high school to try to match students to suggested career paths, but they were just job titles in a book, and maybe also descriptions. They never showed the work environment. Nobody ever had a clue where these people would work, or what it would look like, or what their day-to-day tasks would be. At best they had scales like "abstract thinking" or "work with your hands".

I might have been interested in following my dad's line of work (EE), had I had any clue what it involved. In hindsight, he seemed to have a much nicer office than any I've worked in. Unfortunately, even if I'd wanted to, the company shut down that division 20 years ago, and then spun off that whole sector of the business.

That's how it is with technology: easy come, easy go. We may never have a "9th generation" software engineer, short of the point where everyone in the world is a software engineer.

Some people are growing it in Oregon:


I recall reading about a past attempt in Oregon that failed, a while back. Apparently it's not easy.

I don't know what you mean by "attempting to grow it" and comparing them with a "past attempt that failed, too."

I'm a happy customer of The Wasabi Store: their wasabi is the real deal and it is delicious.

I edited it to clarify. It's difficult, apparently.

After many years of peak wasabi use (i.e. highest saturation possible) at Japanese restaurants in the US, I had a chance to eat sushi while on a trip to Shanghai.

I don't know if Chinese wasabi is more real or not, but quickly learned it had at least 10x more sinus-cleaning power than US wasabi.

That was also the first place where I had 'not possible to be any fresher' sushi - orders were placed at the fish tanks on the first floor, restaurant was upstairs.

> That was also the first place where I had 'not possible to be any fresher' sushi - orders were placed at the fish tanks on the first floor, restaurant was upstairs.

You really don't want "fresh" sushi. Freshly-caught raw fish has all sorts of parasites and bacteria in it, which is why almost all sashimi-grade fish is flash-frozen to kill the parasites.

In addition, like most things, sashimi tastes better with age -- which is why most sushi restaurants will dry-age their fish (which also ends up tenderising it).

Freshly caught fish can be quite tough, because the muscles go into rigor mortis. Usually fish is kept for a few days before it's ready to eat. I agree with the other commenter which said the fish tanks where there to be misleading.

> That was also the first place where I had 'not possible to be any fresher' sushi - orders were placed at the fish tanks on the first floor, restaurant was upstairs.

While I won't question your description of the freshness, I would point out that that set up would also work as a hack to suggest freshness regardless of where the ingredients that actually go into your food are sourced.

Supremely fresh seafood is drastically cheaper and more accessible in Shanghai than in anywhere in the US. You can hop over to any local grocer / wet market and find a half dozen varieties of live shrimp, eel, fish, etc.

I hear the real wasabi is not as strong as the fake one. I've never tasted it, nor the American type, but it's quite possible that it was even more fake. That doesn't mean the sushi is lower quality though; a lot of really good sushi spots use the horseradish wasabi.

The chemical responsible for the pungency is well-known and synthesisable, so it wouldn't surprise me if the manufacturers just added more of it on the basis that it's cheaper and customers may think "stronger" wasabi to be better: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allyl_isothiocyanate

That whole 'fresh' thing is very odd Americanism. I like this blog here is good post on the subject: https://www.thesushigeek.com/the-sushi-geek/2016/02/05/719

I love the fresh real wasabi from The Wasabi Store in Oregon. A good place to start is their gift pack which includes a wasabi grater and brush:


They are nice people who grow delicious wasabi! (No affiliation, just a happy customer.)

Keep in mind, food tastes different in different regions. When I first arrived in the states, I had no idea what to do with ketchup or mustard or foods in the microwave bags. Back home (Europe) we grew everything ourselves in the garden and there was no need for processing the food or spices. In the states the food no longer is grown for taste, but for quantity. Looking at the video I appreciate the garden foods, the flavor and uniqueness. You must have an acquired taste for that kind of food/spice to really appreciate it and enjoy it.

I'm ok with the fact that it's not real wasabi but how is this legal? Isn't this blatant false advertising?

(Sorry if they address this in the video but tl;dw)

Fake wasabi actually contains a tiny amount of real wasabi. Sometimes as low as 0.1%.

I thought everyone knew this. Alton Brown talked about it on Good Eats years ago.

Same here. I've been reading about this since the early 90s, at least

Also, if it's a mildly expensive steak in your local Japanese restaurant, it's neither Kobe nor Wagyu, as people have been pointing out since the 80s.

Maybe we should have a Hacker Olds for stuff like this and the random Wikipedia articles.

Kind of awesome that you can get it in SFBA (Berkeley) at Tokyo Fish Market for $80/pound (which is expensive, but you don't use that much.

Grown in Half Moon Bay. Other US growing locations are Oregon and Washington State.

I am no farmer. Hell, I'm not even a "Gentleman Farmer" however some years ago I saw a video of couple growing wasabi and it struck me as a interesting and fulfilling occupation.

Of course I don't live in Japan, or for that matter where I have access to that sort of steady flowing clean water. But still...

I had fresh real wasabi at a new york restaurant. To prove it was real, they would grate it right of the root over your plate, the way they do with expensive truffles. It was indeed very good. And yes it does hit your nose first.

the other day I noticed fresh wasabi root sold in a grocery store for roughly $40-$50

Per pound? That seems cheap. I've seen it at Uwajimaya, late on a Sunday night, for US$99.99/lb. The man stocking it told me, "Get some now, while you can! The restaurants will buy it all up and it'll be gone by morning."

Yep that's the stuff I saw. This was maybe 8 ounces.

you can get supposedly freeze dried real wasabi and it's not too expensive: https://www.amazon.com/Sushi-Sonic-Powdered-Wasabi-1-5-Ounce...

no idea if this is some kind of trickery or ruined this way

Suspect you lose a lot of the relevant flavor components this way. It's pretty delicate even from the fresh plant - sorta the whole point is you have to grind it fresh and use it within a short span (~an hour)

This is true. I lived near a wasabi field for a time and the farmer used to give me a few roots once in awhile. If you grate it yourself it's green but not that green.

you can buy freeze dried wasabi powder at whole foods for $10 that is real. just mix a bit with water. it’s good.

At what point does fake become the real thing? Do people really aspire to more than they are getting? At some point _pure_ becomes obnoxious.

Just a truth-in-labelling thing. Not obnoxious; its consumer protection.

If consumers like the fake wasabi and most consumers have only had fake wasabi then it's not really protecting the consumer.

Sure it is; those that know the difference. Just call it something else. Like horseradish for instance. Which is what it is.

Most sushi places don't prepare nigiri properly in my experience. Each piece of nigiri should have wasabi between the rice and seafood and a small amount of sauce on top, intended to be eaten fish-side-down. (SF probably has the most places that do it correctly outside NYC and LA)

You're welcome to eat it however you like, but the ginger is generally speaking the palate cleanser while wasabi is historically both flavor enhancer and an antibacterial agent.

All the major metros in the US have high-end sushi restaurants that are making nigiri properly/authentically. In those restaurants, if there's wasabi underneath the neta, it's because the cook wants it there; if there isn't, it's because they don't.

> properly

What does this mean, really? This always strikes me as snobbery signaling. Perhaps it's traditional, but does that make it "proper?" Why do only some cuisines have such constraints on what is "proper" or "authentic?"

Most “improperly” prepared sushi is not intentionally aiming for something new, but is just mediocre (or bad, depending on your standards), I would guess typically because the chef doesn’t know what they are doing, or maybe because the restaurant is cutting corners to save time/money. Poorly prepared rice is usually the most obvious problem.

Imagine you order a medium rare steak and it’s overcooked and much too salty. If you criticized it you wouldn’t expect someone to say “well maybe it’s not traditional, but don’t be a snob”.

I struggled making that distinction clear when criticizing Mexican restaurants in northern Minnesota. When I would say that I thought a restaurant was low-quality, people would dismiss my opinion saying “sure, it’s not authentic but…“.

However, what I was really saying was that the overall standards of the restaurant were low in terms of food quality and freshness, like fast food or a TV dinner served on fancy plates. In most cases the interpretation of the cuisine was perfectly adequate, and only the preparation and flavor lacked.

But we're not talking about subjective appreciation of the final product, we're talking about ornamental attributes.

A medium steak can be done "properly" and still suck, it's still a steak

The names of dishes (and ingredients) are culinary trade jargon, just like the names of the techniques used to prepare them. In order to achieve unambiguous communication between chefs across temporal and cultural distance, terms like "cacio e pepe" have to be taken to mean one fixed thing—one platonic ideal dish that someone hypothetically made at some point, that all such real dishes are attempts to recreate. Otherwise chefs will just be talking past one-another.

Certainly, you can do things any way you want, and cooks can evolve dishes any way they want. Despite this, terms like "proper [dish]" and "authentic [dish]" still have a use.

A "proper" dish X is the dish that a professional chef expects when they hear X—the culinary-jargon interpretation of the term X. (So: "proper" nigiri sushi is "the nigiri you'd prepare if your practical exam in a culinary academy was to make nigiri.")

As stated above, this is a pretty objective concept; "proper" X will continue to refer to the same exact dish no matter what country you're in, or how long it's been since the dish was invented. (Tweak the dish? New dish, new name. We have a flat global culinary namespace. Yes, regardless of language, because it has to avoid collisions once translated into French. It's much the same as zoology's binomial nomenclature's flat global Latin namespace.)

An "authentic" dish X is the dish that a chef conversant with the culinary heritage that originated the dish X, would make, if you ask them for X. (This is not to be confused with authenticity of ingredients. A Ukranian immigrant making borscht with American beets is using inauthentic ingredients to make authentic borscht.)

(Amusingly enough, often an "authentic" dish X is the least "proper" X, because the dish has evolved in its cultural homeland since it was invented, and so the global culinary profession's concept of the dish has diverged from its homeland's evolving conception of it. The avant-garde and the authentic can overlap. But the avant-garde cannot, by definition, be "proper.")

...and then there's the term "traditional", which just means for a dish X that the chef who made the dish is a traditionalist—nostalgic for some bygone era (where the era they're nostalgic for is left unspecified, can change from chef to chef, and can change over time!) This term is, by contrast, pretty useless. Saying "give me a traditional X" is kind of like saying "give me a [git ref HEAD~1] X." Might work for you now, but won't work later. Chefs don't tend to use the word "traditional" much. (Instead, they'll speak of a culture having a particular culinary tradition, but will identify a specific period of that tradition if they want to pinpoint a particular dish they want to make.)

I think it's important to recognize that the degree of precision required to achieve "authenticity" varies between cultures.

Italian dishes tend to be extremely precise in terms of what ingredients may be added, to the point where many people would disagree you're making an authentic Carbonara sauce if you add garlic to the sauce, or even use pancetta instead of guanciale.

On the other hand, a culture like the US usually only requires that dishes follow a rough template - a meatloaf is a meatloaf provided it's predominantly ground meat molded into a loaf shape and baked.

Thank you for writing this. This is the content I come to Hacker News to read.

Why do words mean anything? Why do we categorize anything into any number of buckets of arbitrary granularity?

If I’m served a steak or a slab of raw salmon, am I gatekeeping or being snobby when I claim that I was not served sushi?

I actually think this comment hits a point.

It may sound "snobbery" to some, but there are important distinctions to make between the levels of how well something is prepared. The two most important being "proper" and "improper". Burnt rice, rotten meat, and missing ingredients are definite examples of "improper".

And cuisines can definitely have constraints on authentic, e.g. hard shell tacos, while delicious, are definitively not "authentic" Mexican. Just like adding spices to my grandmother's (or my) chai is an easy way to lose your head.. it's just not right. Would you like it if your salad resembled more a pasta? Or if you were served pizza as a mixed vegetable platter?[0]

I don't think parent^3 was being a snob because he wasn't describing a wine as being "better" because it tastes "oaky". A statement like that is probably deserving of hate, because what does oak even taste like?

[0]: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/no...

This isn't what we're talking about at all though.

derefr has a great explanation of traditional vs proper vs authentic. But on Why do only some cuisines have such constraints?, that's probably just down to culture.

Prescribing how a dish is made expresses a deep cultural identity through food, even if that food has evolved greatly over time. You might be able to change a dish and even improve its flavor, but it would no longer be that culture's food.

Now, why do only some cuisines seem to be sticklers more than others? Probably because some people are more sensitive than others about their food. They probably went to get a certain kind of meal, and it wasn't what they were expecting, and they were pissed off. And I get that. If you have an intention to eat this culture's food, you don't want some weird western "interpretation" of it, or some jackass from NY who thinks putting cream cheese on it makes it "regional". You want to be connected to where that dish first came from, and all the breadth of history that distilled into creating its specific flavors and textures. You want that dish.

It doesn't help that when dishes are transported out of their country of origin they get transmuted into some kind of local monstrosity. Tex-mex? Spaghetti and meatballs? "Chinese takeout"? California rolls? It's clearly not the real mccoy, but people still call it "mexican", "italian", "chinese", or "sushi", when it barely resembles those cuisines at all. And don't get me started on trying to find a real burger or bbq anywhere outside this country, to say nothing of those rarer American foods, like drip coffee.

And to be honest, there's probably a certain amount of cultural elitism involved in "cuisine" (the French word for "we're better than you"). I've always found the French and Japanese alike in that they both think they're superior to everyone else on earth. That's probably going to result in a lot of uppity people wanting their dish the "superior" way. But for me, it's about wanting to understand and respect the deep cultural traditions that produce singularly unique and beautiful expressions of food.

Drip coffee, of course, is the default method in many places. Paper filters were invented in Germany.

Really interesting how you feel burgers are less than "real" in other places.

Yes, coffee is made in many different ways around the world. The French, for example, only drink drip coffee at home. The Viennese famously have it strong with whipped cream. Much of the Mediterranean uses an Ottoman-derived concentrated boil method. Trying to find a drip coffee in these places, and many other countries, can be quite difficult.

It's not interesting, it's just true.

Not sure how it's done in the US, but here, the chef usually asks you if you want wasabi or not (at least at any place a step above conveyor sushi).

In addition, at any decent omakase place (chef decides the menu), the chef will instruct you how to best eat each piece: with or without soy sauce, etc.

Actually the ginger is not a palate cleanser: it is used to dip into the soy sauce so that that can be spread evenly and delicately on top of the sushi which allows one to avoid clumsily dipping the sushi. People seldom do this, but a Japanese sushi chef would tell you this.

I always like the sushi, ginger, and soy sauce/wasabi mixture all in the same bite. Maybe I am weird, but I love that combination of flavors all at once.

You're definitely not expected to eat the ginger along with the nigiri (sometimes menus will point this out) but, I mean, if you like the way it tastes, go for it. :)

The only thing I think we have to agree on is that people who mix wasabi in with their soy sauce are evil.

That sort of makes all the fish taste the same or very similar.

I can see the appeal, but I think that would overpowered and confuse the mixture of flavours.

Heh yeah I eat a ton of that ginger all throughout the meal

I eat sushi without ginger, wasabi or soy sauce. Yuk, yuk and yuk.

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