Wasabi Vs. Horseradish—How Do They Compare?

Wasabi and horseradish are often recommended as substitutes for each other. And you may already know wasabi is sometimes referred to as Japanese horseradish. Does this mean that they are the same thing? No, it does not. In fact, they have some differences that you should understand before choosing one over the other. Let’s compare the two in more detail to help you make the best choice for your cooking.

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How do wasabi and horseradish differ?

The most obvious difference between these two condiments is the appearance of each. When prepared fresh, wasabi has a pale green color; horseradish can range from beige to white.

Despite being relatives, these two plants have geographically disparate beginnings in that wasabi comes from a Japanese plant while horseradish has its origins in Europe and Western Asia. Wasabi’s traditional use is largely confined to Japanese cuisine and the use of horseradish is primarily on European foods. Wasabi is much more difficult to cultivate than horseradish, which means that it is harder to find and more expensive in those places where it is available. Fresh wasabi rhizome is less common outside of Japan; horseradish can be found in many American and European grocery stores.

The next major difference is tricky—different parts of each plant are consumed. While both are often referred to as roots, wasabi is actually a rhizome. As for horseradish, the root really is the part of the plant that is used to make the condiment.

In terms of flavor, both have a strong, pungent, and spicy flavor that is experienced more in the nasal passages than on the tongue, unlike the heat from chili peppers. This is due to the presence of isothiocyanates, a type of compound that releases a vapor when the plant’s cells are damaged, such as when it is grated.

However, there are distinct differences between the two. Wasabi has a more complex flavor, often described as fresh, green, or even sweet before the heat kicks in. Its spiciness is also more fleeting, disappearing within a few seconds. On the other hand, horseradish has a sharper, more straightforward heat that lingers longer. Its flavor is less complex, often described as earthy or bitter. Additionally, the heat level in both can vary greatly depending on how they are prepared and served, with fresh being the most potent.

Can you use wasabi in place of horseradish? And vice versa?

Wasabi and horseradish are commonly recommended as substitutes for each other because of their similar flavor profiles. Consider the fact that the wasabi product sold in most grocery stores outside of Japan (also known as wasabi paste) consists mostly of horseradish with a little mustard and some green food coloring (called “fake wasabi”.) This makes a prepackaged wasabi paste virtually identical in terms of flavor to prepared horseradish.

When it comes to fresh wasabi vs fresh horseradish, the difference is a little more obvious, but the two are still similar enough that each will work as passable substitutes for the other. Keep in mind that passable does not mean perfect. Sushi connoisseurs will detect the difference easily.

The appearance may be the key obstacle when using wasabi in place of horseradish. While green food coloring can be added to horseradish to make it look like wasabi, the green color of wasabi cannot be removed to make it look more like horseradish. This means that in applications where a traditional appearance is important, wasabi will not make a good replacement for horseradish.

Wasabi powder and horseradish powder are virtually interchangeable. The flavor differences are there, but more subtle than compared with their fresh counterparts.

–> Learn More: What’s A Good Wasabi Substitute?

Which stays fresher longer?

Both wasabi and horseradish are similar in that they have a short shelf life once they are ground into a paste or grated. However, in their whole form, both can last quite a while if stored properly. Wasabi, in its traditional form as a rhizome (similar to a root), can be stored in the refrigerator for a few months. Once it’s grated into a paste, it should be used within a couple of days as it loses its flavor quickly.

Horseradish, in its whole root form, can also be stored in the refrigerator for a few months. Once grated, it can last a few weeks to a month in the fridge if it’s kept in vinegar, which is how it’s typically sold in stores. In general, horseradish might stay fresher slightly longer, particularly when already grated, due to its common preparation with vinegar which acts as a preservative. However, the freshness also depends on the specific storage conditions and the quality of the wasabi or horseradish to begin with.

When should you use wasabi? And when should you use horseradish?

While they are close to being perfectly interchangeable in terms of flavor, the best use for each is their respective traditional applications. Wasabi is typically used in traditional Japanese cuisine, most commonly as a condiment for sushi and sashimi. Its unique flavor profile and intensity make wasabi a perfect match for the delicate flavors of raw fish. Its antimicrobial properties also help to safeguard against food poisoning. Additionally, wasabi can be used in other dishes like soba noodles, or mixed with soy sauce to create a dipping sauce. It’s also found in some Western-style dishes, like wasabi peas, a popular snack food.

Horseradish, on the other hand, is a staple in many Western cuisines, particularly in Europe and America. It is often used as a condiment for roast beef, in cocktail sauce for seafood, and in a variety of salads and dressings. As mentioned, the flavor of horseradish is also spicy, but unlike wasabi, it has a longer-lasting and more pungent heat. This makes it a great choice for heavier, richer dishes where its robust flavor can shine without being overwhelmed. It’s also commonly used in Bloody Mary cocktails and in some traditional Jewish dishes like gefilte fish.