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Wasabi, or Japanese horseradish, is a cruciferous vegetable that grows naturally along streambeds in mountain river valleys in Japan.
It also grows in parts of China, Korea, New Zealand, and North America where it’s shady and humid.
Known for its sharp, pungent flavor and bright green color, wasabi is a staple condiment for sushi and noodles in Japanese cuisine.
What’s more, some compounds in this vegetable, including the isothiocyanates (ITCs) responsible for its pungent flavor, may provide several health benefits.
Here are 6 promising health benefits of wasabi.
Isothiocyanates (ITCs) are the main class of active compounds in wasabi and responsible for most of the vegetable’s health benefits, including its antibacterial effects.
Food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness, is an infection or irritation of your digestive system caused by foods or drinks that contain pathogens — viruses, bacteria, and parasites (1).
The best way to prevent food poisoning is to properly store, cook, clean, and handle foods.
Certain herbs and spices like salt can reduce the growth of pathogens that cause food poisoning.
Wasabi extract has been shown to have antibacterial effects against Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus, two of the most common bacteria that cause food poisoning (2).
These findings suggest that wasabi extract may help prevent or reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, but more research is needed to confirm this.
H. pylori is a bacterium that infects the stomach and small intestine.
It’s the main cause of peptic ulcers and can cause stomach cancer and inflammation of the stomach lining (3).
While nearly 50% of the world’s population is infected, most people won’t develop these problems.
It’s unclear how H. pylori spreads, though researchers believe that contact with food and water contaminated with feces plays a role.
Treatment regimens for peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori commonly involve antibiotics and proton-pump inhibitors, which are drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid.
While encouraging, research in humans is needed before any conclusions can be drawn regarding wasabi’s effect on H. pylori.
Naturally occurring compounds in wasabi called ITCs may have antibacterial properties against certain foodborne illnesses, as well as the bacterium H. pylori.
Wasabi may have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
Inflammation is your immune system’s response to infections, injuries, and toxins, such as polluted air or cigarette smoke, in an attempt to protect and heal your body.
When inflammation becomes uncontrolled and chronic, it can contribute to several inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (7).
Test-tube studies involving animal cells indicate that the ITCs in wasabi suppress cells and enzymes that promote inflammation, including Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and inflammatory cytokines like interleukins and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) (8, 9, 10, 11).
Given that human studies are lacking, it’s unclear whether the anti-inflammatory effects of wasabi apply to people.
ITCs — the main active compounds in wasabi — have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in test-tube studies involving animal cells.
Some research suggests that the edible leaves of the wasabi plant contain compounds that may suppress the growth and formation of fat cells (12).
In one mouse study, a compound called 5-Hydroxyferulic acid methyl ester (5-HFA ester) isolated from wasabi leaves inhibited the growth and formation of fat cells by turning off a gene involved in fat formation (13).
Similarly, in another 6-week mouse study, ingesting 1.8 grams of wasabi leaf extract per pound (4 grams per kg) of body weight daily inhibited the growth of fat cells (14).
What’s more, one study found that wasabi leaf extract prevented weight gain in mice on a high-fat, high-calorie diet by hindering the growth and production of fat cells (15).
Though promising, these results were obtained from animal and test-tube studies. More research is needed to determine wasabi leaf extract’s effects on humans.
Wasabi leaf extract has been shown to prevent the formation and growth of fat cells in test-tube and animal studies, but human research is lacking.
The naturally occurring ITCs in wasabi have been studied for their anticancer properties.
One study found that ITCs extracted from wasabi root inhibited the formation of acrylamide by 90% during a Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between proteins and sugar in the presence of heat (16).
Acrylamide is a chemical that can form in some foods, especially French fries, potato chips, and coffee, during high-temperature cooking processes, such as frying and grilling (17).
While promising, it’s unclear whether these results apply to humans.
Still, some observational studies note that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables like wasabi may decrease your risk of several types of cancer, such as lung, breast, prostate, and bladder cancer (23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
Other cruciferous vegetables include arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and rutabaga.
ITCs have been studied for their ability to inhibit acrylamide production and kill or inhibit the growth of several types of cancer in test-tube studies.
Wasabi may have other promising health benefits related to bone and brain health.
Wasabi may play a role in bone health.
A compound in wasabi called p-hydroxycinnamic acid (HCA) has been suggested to increase bone formation and decrease bone breakdown in animal studies (28).
Researchers have speculated whether HCA could help treat osteoporosis, a disease that causes your bones to become weak and brittle. However, human research is needed to confirm this potential benefit (29).
ITCs in wasabi may have neuroprotective effects.
These findings suggest that ITCs may help prevent or slow neurodegenerative disorders driven by inflammation, such as Parkinson’s disease (32).
The ITCs isolated from wasabi may help treat osteoporosis and neurodegenerative brain conditions like Parkinson’s disease, but research in humans is needed to confirm this.
Most wasabi powders and pastes sold in the United States are made from a mix of horseradish, mustard, cornstarch, and green colorant — rather than true wasabi. Some may not contain wasabi at all, or only low-quality wasabi stems (33).
Horseradish belongs to the same plant family as wasabi and is also known for its pungency.
Studies estimated that horseradish and wasabi contain similar amounts of ITCs, with wasabi providing 971–4357 mg per pound (2,137–9,585 mg per kg), compared with 682–4091 mg per pound (1,500–9,000 mg per kg) for horseradish (16).
Real wasabi is difficult to grow and thus expensive, which is why horseradish is commonly used as a substitute.
Nonetheless, you can buy genuine wasabi powder, pastes, and even fresh wasabi online.
Just be sure to read the description carefully to ensure the product is authentic.
You can enjoy the unique flavor and zing of wasabi by serving it as a spice, herb, or condiment.
To incorporate wasabi into your diet:
Due to wasabi’s high price, horseradish is commonly used as a substitute in wasabi powders and pastes sold in the United States. Thus, be sure to read product labels carefully if you want to buy authentic wasabi products.
The stem of the wasabi plant is ground and used as a pungent condiment for sushi or noodles.
The compounds in wasabi have been analyzed for their antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties in test-tube and animal studies. They have also been researched for their ability to promote fat loss, as well as bone and brain health.
While promising, studies in humans are needed to confirm these findings before any conclusions can be drawn regarding the potential health benefits of wasabi.
Also, keep in mind that most studies use wasabi extract, making it difficult to determine whether using it as a spice or condiment would have the same effect.
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