Growing Wasabi in Western North Carolina
PROJECT LEADER(S): Randy Collins
TYPE OF PROJECT: Research
LOCATION: Graham County
Wasabi is a high-value specialty crop with consistently high demand in the Japanese catering and food industry. Research has been initiated to determine whether this crop is suited to production in western NC. Once best cultural practices, site requirements, and methods of disease control are established, it is hoped that wasabi can be introduced as a viable commodity in a region in need of new agricultural alternatives.
Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) is an aquatic perennial plant that is highly prized for the culinary use of its root. The rhizome has a hot flavor similar to horseradish, and is eaten freshly grated or ground into a paste. Wasabi is commonly used in sushi restaurants worldwide; the antibacterial properties of the root make it an excellent condiment for raw fish. While the majority of the wasabi used in the United States is imported, the climate in certain areas of western North Carolina is remarkably similar to that of Japan, and likely suitable for the cultivation of this plant. Demand consistently exceeds supply for this crop, and restaurants are willing to pay top dollar for it (as much as fifteen dollars per fresh root). Given the established market and appropriate climate for growing this plant, wasabi is a potential niche cash crop for western NC. This project was designed to explore whether wasabi can in fact be grown as a viable agricultural commodity in this region. Initial research focuses on identifying best varieties and cultural practices.
The results from the first year of this ongoing project indicate that wasabi will in fact grow in the climate of western North Carolina. Unfortunately, about 80% of the planting was lost this season due to disease. Lab analysis of the plants indicated phytopthora rot in the roots, as well as rhizoctonia rot in the crowns. Disease was less prevalent in the more heavily shaded areas of the plot, suggesting that additional shade may alleviate some of the conditions that foster disease. Therefore, upon replanting in April of 2003, an artificial shade cover will be added to the site.
Additional research should at this point focus on suitable methods of disease prevention and treatment in wasabi. If these challenges can be addressed successfully, this high-value crop could have a place in North Carolina agriculture.