Iceland, where Wasabi grows

“Find the mistake” is what you want to shout when you read this headline. Wasabi, one of the most demanding plants of all, grown in Japan at a pleasant 20 degrees in the hills of the Izu Peninsula, grows in the harsh climate of Iceland? The wasabi fields in Shizuoka are terraced so that the plant’s thirst can be satisfied with ever-fresh meltwater from Mount Fuji. Harvesting is arduous and the ripening period takes up to three years. Daring, two Icelandic engineers choose the capricious Japanese pungent right after graduating from university to create Iceland’s first export vegetable.

Nordic Wasabi’s business idea is an exciting start-up story centered on Iceland’s geothermal energy, the best drinking water, patient investors, and a sought-after product that is wowing chefs worldwide.

The Wasabi Lie

If you think you know wasabi because you like to season sushi rolls, sashimis and makis with a dab of wasabi paste, you’re in for a disappointment. In all likelihood, it is a fake made from horseradish, mustard and food coloring. Real wasabi is an expensive delicacy. In Europe, wasabi is hard to get and does not keep very long. Nordic Wasabi could now change that. Top restaurants throughout Scandinavia and also Germany are enthusiastic about the versatile product.

We were on site and talked to the founders of Nordic Wasabi and top Icelandic chef Rúnar Pierre Heriveaux about real wasabi, the possibilities of high-tech greenhouses based on geothermal energy, and the success of their product in top international gastronomy.

Wasabi in the open and in the greenhouse

We also visited his native Japan, Shizuoka Prefecture. Here, wasabi grows in the mountains of the Izu Peninsula. Outdoor wasabi takes two to three years to harvest. The stem is traditionally grated on an oroshigane grater made from dried shark skin. We have noticed taste differences between the Japanese and Icelandic wasabi.

Restaurant Öx gets Michelin star

Chef Rúnar Pierre Heriveaux of Öx in Reykjavik is a big fan of Icelandic products. For him as a chef, it is a stroke of luck that a plant as aromatically complex as wasabi is now one of Iceland’s indigenous products. In July 2022, Restaurant Öx became the second Icelandic restaurant ever to be awarded a Michelin star. In an interview, Rúnar Pierre Heriveaux explains why Icelandic wasabi excites him so much and why he also uses wasabi in desserts. The capricious Japanese wasabi plant is currently advancing to become Iceland’s first export vegetable and is enchanting top chefs throughout Scandinavia.

Im hochmodernen Wasabi-Gewächshaus läuft vieles automatisiert. Doch die Ernte, der Schnitt und die Verpackung sind Handarbeit / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the ultra-modern wasabi greenhouse, much is automated. But harvesting, cutting and packaging are all manual work / © Photo: Georg Berg

Photo gallery of wasabi from Iceland

Wasabi grows as far as the eye can see in the state-of-the-art greenhouse in the east of Iceland. All year round, even in Iceland’s long and cold winter, the temperature here is a pleasant 20 degrees Celsius. Irrigation and lighting are fully automatically controlled.

Photo gallery wasabi from Japan

Here we have the original. Wasabi is a demanding plant. It stands with its roots in flowing water and thrives only in the best water quality. Only in the special microclimate on the Japanese peninsula of Izu is the cultivation of wasabi in the open possible. The wasabi fields in Izu are narrow and stretch down the gentle mountain slopes following the course of the river. Partly the fields are shaded with nets. The plants grow very slowly and the cultivation of wasabi is very labor intensive.

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