Is Wasabi Spicy? Understanding the Heat and Differences Between Real and Fake Wasabi

Some people love igniting their taste buds by adding condiments to their meals. Others use spices to turn bland dishes into infernos of flavor. If you’ve been to a Japanese sushi restaurant, you might have seen a pale green paste served with sushi or slices of sashimi. The pale green paste is called wasabi. 

What is Wasabi?

Wasabi is a native Japanese plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family. It was first cultivated in the early Edo period. However, it began to be used modernly as a seasoning for sushi during the Bunka/Bunsei era of the Edo period  (1804-1830). [1]

Is Wasabi Spicy?

Wasabi is considered spicy due to its compound allyl isothiocyanate, which can cause a nose-tingling sensation. However, people’s sensitivity to its spiciness may vary.

It’s important to note that authentic Wasabi is made from the grated rhizome of the Wasabia japonica plant, while the commonly available paste sold as Wasabi is a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and food coloring. The fake Wasabi paste may be too spicy or overwhelming compared to real Wasabi, which is typically less spicy but has a unique flavor and texture.

Understanding the heat of Wasabi

Wasabi has a sharp, fiery heat. The wasabi plant contains an organic compound, allyl isothiocyanate, which makes it so spicy. 

Allyl isothiocyanate is also found in mustard and other plants from the Cruciferae families. A reaction with this compound can cause a burning sensation and trigger tears because the human body isn’t familiar with it.

Unlike hot peppers, heat from wasabi is short-lived. 

But how hot is Wasabi? Let’s first understand the Scoville scale.

The Scoville Scale

Image Source: Alimentarium

A Scoville scale measures chili peppers and other spicy substances’ pungency (heat or spiciness). The scale contains a number rating in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The Scoville units measure the capsaicin content in pepper. A low rating on the Scoville scale indicates little to no heat, while a higher rating indicates more pungency. 

The tool was created in 1912 by Wilbur Scoville while trying to find a suitable pepper to use in a heat-producing environment.

Wasabi’s position on the Scoville scale

Since Wasabi has heat, just like pepper, you would expect to measure its pungency on the Scoville scale. However, wasabi is not on the Scoville scale. 

Wasabi contains allyl isothiocyanate. Therefore it isn’t easy to measure its hotness.

So how do we compare wasabi’s heat level to other spices we love?

We can create heat attributes and descriptors to compare the various sensations.

Let’s look at the common attributes that describe the heat profiles of chili peppers and other foods.

  • Development: immediate reaction or delayed by 5, 15, 30 seconds, or longer
  • Duration: sensation lasts for a short time or many minutes or hours.
  • Location: where the heat is felt—mid-palate, throat, front of the mouth, nasal passage, or lips.
  • Feeling: sharp pinpricks or flat sensation
  • Intensity: commercially labeled mild, hot, medium, or extra hot or described in Scoville heat units

Let’s use the attributes above to compare wasabi’s heat to Habanero pepper’s heat;

Habanero has a delayed development, while wasabi’s heat development is rapid. Moreover, wasabi’s heat is brief, while Habanero pepper’s heat lingers.

Habanero is very hot and leaves a flat feeling at the back of the throat. Wasabi has a mild intensity that feels like pinpricks.

Generally, Wasabi’s heat develops rapidly, lasts briefly, and leaves a sharp sensation in the nasal passage. On the other hand, chili peppers have a delayed flat heat that lingers in the tip of the tongue or the back of the throat.

Wasabi is believed to have a heat level similar to jalapeno peppers. This heat falls anywhere between 2,500 SHU and 8,000 SHU. Given these estimates, using their SHU, you can compare wasabi’s heat level to other chili peppers.

For instance, ghost pepper has a SHU value of 850,000 to 1,040,000 SHU, which is higher and hotter than wasabi.

Ingredients Used To Prepare Wasabi

What you see in restaurants is not real wasabi (mostly). This is because real wasabi has a high price tag and is sometimes hard to find. Wasabi is a sensitive plant that can die due to small changes in environment or humidity. 

However, some prepare “fake” wasabi, which resembles real wasabi. You can also design your wasabi using various ingredients if you’re a chef. Let’s explore how to consume wasabi and how they are made.

Wasabi paste vs. wasabi powder

Wasabi powder and paste from genuine wasabi rhizome are only standard in Japan. The primary difference between wasabi powder and paste is texture. Wasabi powder is made with dried rhizome, while the paste is made with fresh wasabi rhizome. 

Wasabi powder is made from dried mustard, Japanese horseradish powder, and green food coloring from outside Japan. On the other hand, the paste is made by adding water to the ingredients above.

The Differences Between Real and Fake Wasabi

It’s hard to find authentic wasabi outside of Japan. However, those restaurants try to make their own wasabi, which looks like real wasabi. 

Real wasabi has a grated, gritty texture, while fake wasabi products have a pasty and thick consistency.

Generally, most “wasabi” is created from horseradish, mustard, and radishes. Since these spices have a similar hot flavor to wasabi, it may be hard to tell the difference between real and imitation wasabi. 

How to enjoy wasabi

You might wonder how to use this seasoning if you’ve never tested wasabi. Wasabi is a popular Japanese condiment with sushi and sashimi (raw seafood). However, you can use wasabi for many other dishes. 

For instance, you can use it in salad dressings and marinades for fish and meat. You can also flavor mayonnaise, soy sauce, butter, and hollandaise sauce.

Additionally, you can add this seasoning to stews and soups to up the heat content in a rich, hearty dish.

Tips for using wasabi in cooking

Want to enjoy wasabi in cooking? Here are some tips for you.

  •  Heat wasabi slightly—if you love wasabi’s unique flavor and aroma but can’t handle the kick, heat the wasabi somewhat before use. This helps reduce the spiciness of wasabi.
  • Revive wasabi— if you leave wasabi sauce out too long, don’t throw it away. Instead, add a few drops of lemon juice to revive it and use the condiment in cooking. 
  • Wasabi dressing—mix wasabi with olive oil and vinegar, then add pepper and salt to taste.

There are many ways to enjoy wasabi in your cooking. Find what works for you, and enjoy your seasoning in style.

Is Wasabi Spicy? – My Take

Wasabi is a native Japanese plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family. The plant contains an organic compound, allyl isothiocyanate, which makes it spicy. However, you cannot determine the hotness of wasabi using the Scoville scale because the scale measures heat level based on capsaicin content.

Most of the wasabi served outside Japan is fake. Real wasabi is expensive and hard to find—it’s only native to Japan. You can use this seasoning in Japanese cuisine or pair it with other dishes.

Generally, wasabi’s spiciness doesn’t last for an extended period. So, it’s a good condiment for those who don’t want spiciness that lasts for an extended period.

Frequently asked questions

What is wasabi made of?

Real wasabi is made from the rhizome of the wasabi plant, native to Japan. The underground stem is finely grated to create wasabi paste. However, fake wasabi is made from mustard flour, horseradish, cornstarch, and green food colorant.

Is wasabi paste hotter than wasabi powder?

Yes. Wasabi powder is not particularly hot. Activation occurs when you add water, making wasabi paste hotter than wasabi powder.

How does wasabi compare to other spicy foods?

You cannot use the Scoville scale to compare the heat levels of wasabi with those of other spicy foods. This is because wasabi doesn’t contain capsaicin. However, wasabi is believed to have a similar heat level to jalapeno peppers.

Can wasabi be used in cooking?

Yes. Wasabi can be a great cooking ingredient. Although it is a common condiment for sushi and sashimi, you can add it to recipes when you desire a fiery kick.

How long does wasabi last?

Wasabi can keep fresh for about three weeks to months in the refrigerator. But once grated, the flavor and heat will evaporate from the paste in about 30 minutes.


Taste of Home. (2022, January 27). What is Wasabi? Retrieved from

S&B Foods Inc. (n.d.). Wasabi Tips. Retrieved from