After writing about wasabi rice crackers two weeks ago I realised that I had never taken a good look at two very common and popular condiments we all eat with our sushi - wasabi paste and pickled ginger.
On the face of it, real wasabi is a root which you grate to eat with your Japanese food and pickled ginger is root ginger pickled in a vinegar and sugar solution. These two products are a long way from those.
S&B Wasabi, $2.89 for 43g
Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first):
This is horseradish, not wasabi.
Both are similar in that they are a root vegetable and both are members of the brassica family which includes cabbage and mustard. Both do have a hot flavour but wasabi has a delicate light green colour and horseradish is white.
Horseradish is much easier and cheaper to grow than wasabi which is why it will be the main ingredient in this wasabi paste.
This is sorbital, which is a sugar alcohol and will be in here to keep the product moist. Excess consumption of sorbital can have a laxative effect and cause gas and bloating.
Rice bran oil
This is a healthy oil because it is free of trans fats and low in saturated fats.
In here for flavour but only a small amount is used at 0.5g per 5g or 1 teaspoon serve
Starch acetate esterified with acetic anhydride (1420) has a long name but is actually just a treated starch.
You'll get 165mg of sodium per 5g or 1 teaspoon serve.
Powdered cellulose (460) is made from wood and cotton.
Wasabi Japonica (1%)
Here is the real wasabi, at last but at 1% this means you get just 0.43 of a gram per 43g tube.
It's a shame to see an artificial flavour in here to beef up the wasabi taste.
Citric acid (330) will be in here as flavour but also perhaps as a preservative.
This is the natural orange-yellow colour turmeric.
Xanthan gum (415) is a natural gum, used in here to thicken the paste.
Another colour and not a natural one this time. This is Brilliant Blue (133).
Considering true wasabi served in good restaurants is simply the root finely grated into a light green ball and placed by your sushi, this paste with its 14 ingredients is a far cry from the real thing. And it includes artificial flavour and colouring. Wasabi is grown in New Zealand and it is possible to buy the fresh root from some specialty stores, so have a look on the internet. Otherwise why not opt for a nice fresh horseradish root and grate that?
Orbento Sliced Pickled Ginger, $1.29 for 100g
Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first)
This is root ginger as you would buy to use in your cooking.
Per 20g serving you will get 168mg of sodium.
Acidity regulators (E260, E330)
These are acetic acid (E260) which is vinegar and citric acid (E330)
Potassium sorbate (E202) is neutralised sorbic acid, in here to preserve the ginger.
Sweeteners (E951, E950, E955)
Crikey, this is a surprise. If you pickled this ginger at home you would use a mix of vinegar and sugar, but these ingredients are artificial sweeteners aspartame (E951) which is also known as NutraSweet. It is made out of aspartic acid and phenylaline which must be avoided by some people. Acesulfame potassium (E950) is another artificial sweetener and sucralose (955) is an artificial sweetener made from sugar.
This is a natural red colour anthocyanin which is obtained from plants.
Pickled ginger does not look pink so I'm not sure why colour has been added, but at least the colour is a natural one which changes my preconception that it was artificial and should be avoided.
I will still be avoiding this product however because of the three artificial sweeteners in here instead of plain old sugar.
Some sushi bars and restaurants now offer pickled ginger which hasn't been dyed pink and you may find some in specialty stores, but check that it lists sugar on the ingredients label instead of artificial sweeteners.