If you are interested in using wasabi, your main options are going to be wasabi powder or wasabi paste. You will be able to find some version of both of these condiments in many regular grocery stores and most Asian markets. Both are great for giving dishes the pungency and heat that you expect from wasabi but they each have different characteristics. You will have to take those characteristics into account when choosing between them. Let’s take a look at how wasabi powder and wasabi paste compare to each other.
How does wasabi powder differ from wasabi paste?
Obviously, the primary difference between wasabi powder and wasabi paste is texture since one is dry and the other moist. Wasabi powder and paste made with genuine wasabi rhizome do exist, but they are far from common outside of Japan. The difference between these is that one is made with dried wasabi rhizome and the other with freshly grated wasabi rhizome.
The most common type of wasabi powder in the United States is actually made from dried horseradish and mustard powder and it usually contains no true wasabi. To be fair, some brands do contain a very small amount of it. Wasabi paste may be made by adding water to the aforementioned powder so that the difference is whether water has been added or not. This type of wasabi will typically contain green food coloring to make it look more like true wasabi.
Another difference between the two products has to do with the volatility of the compounds that provide the heat in dried or fresh horseradish and wasabi. With all of these products, the source of the heat is a chemical called allyl isothiocyanate. In the wasabi rhizome, the compounds that form allyl isothiocyanate are separated by cell walls. Grating the rhizome to make a paste breaks down that cell walls and creates the compound that makes the wasabi hot.
With either type of wasabi powder, that activation occurs with the addition of water. Until you add water, wasabi powder is not particularly hot. Once you add the water, the reaction occurs and the resulting paste becomes hot. The heat in the paste only lasts about 15 minutes. In other words, the presence of the short-lived heat is an important difference between powder and paste.
Can wasabi powder be used in place of wasabi paste and vice versa?
Using wasabi powder in place of wasabi paste is a fairly simple substitution. As mentioned above, wasabi powder can be used to make wasabi paste just by adding water. This goes for both the horseradish and mustard version and wasabi powder made with the dried rhizome.
Wasabi paste may be an effective substitute for wasabi powder in some dishes. For example, either can be used to make wasabi peas or wasabi mayonnaise. Note that the difference in moisture may mean that you will have to change the method or ingredients if you choose to replace the powder with paste.
When should you use wasabi powder and when should you use wasabi paste?
Wasabi powder is a more convenient way to add the wasabi flavor to premade mayonnaise or salad dressings without adding any moisture. It can also be reconstituted to make wasabi paste, which means that it is the more versatile option.
Wasabi paste can be used for traditional applications like sushi and sashimi where the paste consistency is desirable. You can also use it as a horseradish substitute in horseradish cream sauce or to make a cocktail sauce to go with seafood.