Wasabi came to fame as the uber spicy ingredient commonly served with sushi. Over the decades, many people have taken on the challenge of biting into a big chunk of wasabi and suffering the consequences.
That being said, today, spicy foods are a lot more common. Arguably every restaurant has some type of spicy dish and the number of hot sauces out there is astonishing!
So, how spicy is wasabi in comparison to new ingredients and products? It may come as a surprise to you, but wasabi ranks extremely low in spice level. That is because nowadays spicy peppers and hot sauces are a lot more readily available and used than when wasabi became popular.
While wasabi may no longer be used for its extreme spiciness, it is still an extremely flavorful umami addition to foods. Let’s explore its flavor, the types you get, and how their spice compares to that of other commonly found ingredients.
What Is Wasabi?
So, first things first, we all have a generally good idea of what wasabi looks like. But, few people actually know what it is beyond the “spicy green paste!”
This ingredient is made from Japanese horseradish. It comes from the Brassicaceae plant family, which also includes regular horseradish and mustard. As you can see, this family produces generally spicy ingredients!
The type of spice these ingredients have differs slightly from chili peppers — it’s like people describing black pepper as being spicy. It is, but in a different way from what many traditionally think of spicy!
Wasabi is made from ground-up root-stalk (rhizome) of the Japanese horseradish plant. It doesn’t usually have any other ingredients added to the mixture, but it can.
This paste is unique in how it tantalizes your senses. Wasabi has a bigger effect on your nose than it has on your taste buds. This explains why many people get a super runny nose when eating wasabi!
This is the complete opposite way of how chili peppers affect your senses — they affect your tongue more than your nose.
How Is Wasabi Made?
The process of making wasabi is shockingly simple. You wouldn’t think it, but it’s almost laughable! This world-famous spicy paste is made by finely grating it. That’s it!
Traditionally, a metal oroshigane is used. However, many people also use tools made from sharkskin. Naturally, that isn’t an industry you should support, so try to stay away from such wasabi products.
Now, grated wasabi is usually sold as-is. But, you do get a ton of wasabi-flavored products that are used in different ways. These products will have different levels of spiciness that you should be aware of.
Types Of Wasabi Products
There are two main types of wasabi you get: real and fake. Real wasabi is very difficult to find in many Western countries, and it also comes with a big price tag.
Many people don’t realize this, but more often than not, what you get from restaurants and shops is fake wasabi paste — a wasabi-flavored product made from horseradish, mustard, and green food coloring.
The reason that no one notices the difference is because horseradish and wasabi come from the same family. That means that they have similar properties, including grated texture, consistency, and their signature burning sensation.
If you are looking for products made from real wasabi, here are three options you can buy.
Fresh wasabi is probably the most difficult type of real wasabi to find, and it definitely has the highest price tag.
If you are looking for the purest wasabi flavor out there, however, it is definitely the way to go!
Fresh wasabi is less spicy than tube and powdered wasabi. That is because it is less concentrated, and the moisture essentially dilutes the spicy chemical compounds.
The burning sensation also doesn’t last as long as for tube and powdered wasabi products.
If you buy tube wasabi, always check that it has been made using real concentrated wasabi, not horseradish and mustard — unless you don’t mind the fake version!
Real tube wasabi is the thickest paste and is relatively easy to find. It is also cheaper than fresh wasabi!
Tube wasabi is thicker in consistency and contains less moisture. That means it is definitively spicier than fresh wasabi. You will only notice it when eating them side by side.
Unfortunately, tube wasabi isn’t very aromatic if that is what you are looking for.
Powdered wasabi isn’t exceptionally difficult to find, but it isn’t always easy.
It is the perfect product that matches the flavor of fresh wasabi and the spiciness of tube wasabi. And, it’s also relatively cheap, but more expensive than tube wasabi.
To use this type of wasabi, you have to first hydrate the powder. Allow it to stand for a couple of minutes so that it thickens and creates a type of paste. Then, you can add it to any recipe you want!
What Does Wasabi Taste Like?
Besides the fact that all wasabi products will have some spiciness to them, the difference in flavor is minimal.
Fresh real wasabi is very moist and has the freshest, most authentic wasabi flavor. The burn is fleeting and not as intense. Powdered wasabi is very flavorful, but burns more than fresh wasabi. And tube wasabi is the spiciest of them all!
But, all of these wasabi products are similar in flavor. They are all very savory and add a ton of umami flavor to the food. They are also not exceptionally aromatic and, as we have said, don’t burn as much as chilis do.
Why Does Wasabi Burn?
Now, let’s get a little scientific here. Wasabi contains a specific compound called allyl isothiocyanate. This is the pale-yellow, oily compound that creates that unique burn that wasabi gives. Horseradish also contains this compound!
It has a very prominent and potent flavor — it’s also what causes your eyes, nose, and mouth to react.
Allyl isothiocyanate is inhaled as you eat the wasabi. It travels up your nasal passage and affects your sinuses. That causes your eyes to tear up, your nose to start running profusely, and your mouth to burn.
The different authentic wasabi products (fresh, tube, and powdered) will have varying amounts of this compound. However, they are all so similar that many people won’t even notice the difference.
If you eat fake wasabi (made from horseradish and mustard), you will still get a similar burning effect. It just may not be as spicy as real, pure wasabi.
How Spicy Is Wasabi Really?
The spiciness of foods is usually measured in Scoville units — unfortunately, this only applies to foods that contain capsaicin.
Capsaicin is the chemical compound found in chili peppers that makes them spicy and causes a burning sensation in your mouth, nose, and eyes.
As we have mentioned, wasabi and horseradish contain allyl isothiocyanate, which isn’t the same as capsaicin. Therefore, wasabi cannot be measured in Scoville units because you cannot measure the capsaicin levels.
So, how can we compare the spiciness?
Many food experts say that the best way to compare the spiciness that different chemical compounds create is to eat them side by side.
So, in the case of wasabi, some poor soul had to eat a chili pepper measured at 100 Scoville units, then eat some wasabi — then eat the chili with 200 Scoville units, and eat some wasabi — until they ate one where the spiciness matched.
Spice Level Of Real Wasabi
Officially, wasabi is said to have a spice level measuring around 1000 Scoville units. But again, this measurement cannot be accurate because wasabi cannot truly be measured using Scoville.
Essentially, when multiple experts compared the spiciness levels of different chilis to that of wasabi, the general consensus was that roughly 1000 Scoville units are the most accurate.
Now, if you want to compare it with the spiciness of other ingredients, you can buy and eat peppers like Anaheim, Poblano, and Peppadews. These all have 1000 Scoville units.
Next, you may be wondering how different the spiciness of different real wasabi products is. Unfortunately, we don’t have an accurate number for this! No one has done these tests (that we could find).
The 1000 Scoville measurement is used to indicate the spice level of real wasabi paste. The fresh wasabi will likely be lower in units (we would say around 800) and the powdered form will be between the two (around 900).
Spice Levels Of Fake Wasabi
Fake wasabi (made from horseradish and mustard) will also have a similar spiciness. And again, we cannot compare the level of spiciness exactly!
The only measurement we could find refers to a horseradish-based hot sauce, and not horseradish wasabi.
This product called “Headless Horseradish” has a Scoville level of 52,000. However, it also contains Ghost pepper, Chipotle peppers, and chili powder to increase this measurement. So, it doesn’t help us much.
If you are using wasabi-flavored ingredients (like wasabi ketchup or wasabi mayonnaise) the exact amount of spiciness will also vary. They could have also added some chilis to increase the burn. So again, these products cannot be accurately measured on a scale.
How Hot Is Wasabi In Comparison To Other Chilis?
Bell peppers have a Scoville measurement of 0. These peppers don’t contain any capsaicin and therefore don’t burn at all. That is the starting point at which spiciness is measured (using the Scoville measuring system).
There are four categories of spiciness on the Scoville scale. These include green, yellow, orange, and red. As you will see from the list below, some types of chilis have a wide range of spiciness.
Without getting too technical, this big difference is caused by growing conditions and specific varietals within a species.
Now, when comparing wasabi, it is definitely in the green list on the Scoville scale. It’s actually quite low on it, too! We only listed some very common types of green-listed peppers, but usually they are between 0 and 10,000 Scoville.
Peppers with a similar spice level to wasabi include Mexibell, Piquillo, and Anaheim.
When comparing the spiciness of wasabi to habanero, the chili pepper is about 100-350 times spicier than wasabi paste. While wasabi is pungent, the burn isn’t nearly as much!
In comparison to jalapeno peppers, these are between 3-8 times hotter than wasabi products. And for the infamous Carolina Reaper or a Ghost pepper, wasabi is about 1641 less spicy in comparison.
After these, the list of peppers just explodes! Even from our extremely limited options in the table below, you can already see how minimal the spiciness of wasabi is. There are hundreds of other peppers not even included below!
|0 - 500
|100 - 500
|100 - 500
|100 - 1000
|500 - 1000
|Real Wasabi Paste
|800 - 1200
|500 - 2500
|Numex Big Jim
|2500 - 3000
|2500 - 5000
|2500 - 8000
|1000 - 8000
|2500 - 10,000
|5000 - 30,000
|30,000 - 50,000
|30,000 - 50,000
|50,000 - 100,000
|100,000 - 350,000
|100,000 - 350,000
|Caribbean Red Habanero
|300,000 - 475,000
|300,000 - 577,000
|800,000 - 1,041,427
|1,400,000 - 2,200,000
Now that we’re more familiar with wasabi and its heat levels, here are some related questions we thought you might have.
Can you build a tolerance to spiciness from wasabi?
If you aren’t used to spicy foods, even wasabi will burn your tongue and cause your other senses to react. However, you can easily (and relatively quickly) build a tolerance to spicy foods.
The more you eat a specific type of spicy food (like wasabi), the less it will burn. However, it isn’t because the wasabi doesn’t react with your senses anymore. It is simply because you have gotten used to it.
The spicier ingredients you eat and the more regularly you eat them, the more tolerant you will become to the spiciness of wasabi and other pepper products.
What affects the spiciness of different wasabi products?
There are many factors that can affect the difference in spiciness between the same type of wasabi product even!
Let’s say you have two real wasabi paste products. The growing conditions, climate, accompanying ingredients, quality of ingredients, age of ingredients, and even age of product will all affect how spicy wasabi is.
That is why you always have to choose a high-quality reputable wasabi product that meets your standards.
Is wasabi spicier than Sriracha?
Sriracha is a type of hot sauce made from chili peppers, garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar. The combination of these ingredients dilutes the spiciness of the chilis.
This gives Sriracha a Scoville level of only 1000-2500. Now, this is still higher than wasabi, but not by much.
And, as many chili lovers know by now, many Sriracha brands have released special products that are made with hotter chilis. Huy Fong is arguably the world’s largest producer and most famous brand of Sriracha chili sauce.