UK-grown wasabi charms European chefs

Wasabi farm Image copyright PA
Image caption Nick Russell of the Wasabi Company

The wasabi accompanying your next meal of sushi may well have grown on an English farm, far from the Japanese mountains where the vegetable originated.

Top Japanese chefs in London and across Europe are buying their supplies from a company that grows its wasabi in England.

The Wasabi Company started growing the vegetable in secret in 2010.

It claims to sell the only commercially available fresh wasabi grown in Europe.

Its sister company, which grows watercress and baby leaf salad in Hampshire and Dorset, was founded in 1994.

England's dark, damp summers provide ideal conditions for growing wasabi, said Jon Old, the company's manager.

Secret location

He said the company grows wasabi in the traditional way, mimicking the wild conditions of the plant by using artesian springs that deliver the minerals and nutrients wasabi needs to thrive.

The exact location of the wasabi farm near Winchester in Hampshire is kept secret, however, to protect the company's growing methods.

One of the Wasabi Company's customers is the two-Michelin starred Umu restaurant in London, which has been buying the product for the past two years.

Mr Old said he had also been surprised by the demand from chefs in France, Sweden, Norway and other European countries who are use wasabi for European-style cooking.

Image copyright PA

While the company does not sell wasabi to restaurants in Japan, it has explored the possibility of supplying its products to a Japanese wasabi trader who feared there may be a shortage of wasabi in Japan during the 2020 Olympic Games.

"It's coals to Newscastle," Mr Old said. "When you add the transport costs, it's unlikely we will sell a lot of wasabi in Japan."

Some of the company's Japanese customers in London were initially resistant to the idea of English-grown wasabi, he said, but once they visited the farm and tasted the wasabi they were won over.

"There are still people who prefer wasabi that is grown in Japan because it's Japanese, and that's OK," he said. "They've been doing it for 10,000 years and and we've been doing it for six."

Wasabi lovers can also buy the product on the company's website, where the retail price is up to £250 per kilogram, reflecting the delicate nature of the plant, which takes 18 months to two years to grow.