As our tastes develop and cultures merge in the UK, so do our vegetables. Welcome to the age of wasabi rocket: a new variety of rocket, combining a leaf with the same flavour profile as Japanese root wasabi with the Italian salad herb. Launched into supermarket Asda in May, wasabi rocket is hitting the big time, with a mainstream audience and millions of culinary possibilities to boot. Produce Business UK takes a look at the new salad fodder’s credentials
Although not strictly true, wasabi rocket has been placed within the new wave of popular or at the least successfully attention-seeking hybrid vegetables, managing to capture to the imaginations of all sorts of consumers. Sweet sprouting broccoli, flower sprouts and of course, not forgetting the original hybrid and hit-achieving, Tenderstem® broccoli, have all made it onto the mass market and gained column inches and fans from being a mix of two veggies in one.
But as alluded, wasabi rocket has never actually seen its powerfully punchy namesake, wasabi root, and it doesn’t quite bring tears to your eyes in the same way the reduced root paste, popular as a sushi accompaniment, does. It adds a certain taste of the Orient and horseradish heat to the everyday, sometimes dumbed-down rocket. However, there’s been a bit more thinking gone into this new variety than that.
Both brassicas, rocket and wasabi are a natural pairing. Also known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi is really becoming mainstream, whether it’s in our lunchtime supermarket sushi boxes, making snacks more interesting in wasabi peas or wasabi crisps, replacing horseradish with a seared steak or mixed with mayo in our sandwiches. And considering the original and powerful root has to be powdered down into a paste to eat, adding a fresh product akin to it, should take the market by storm.
Other names: Wasabi Arugula
UK season: June to November, but available year-round in supermarkets.
Production: The variety being sold as wasabi rocket is being produced in the UK by Shropshire growers, PDM. Wasabi rocket can be harvested as a baby leaf within weeks of sowing or left to mature into a full leaf. It needs moist, well-drained soil in sun or semi shade.
Origin/history: Wasabi rocket or wasabi arugula has been around for a while. Vitacress brand Steve’s Leaves came out with a bagged version a couple of years ago, and seeds are available for home gardeners. In fact, wasabi rocket is also domestic garden seed supplier Thompson & Morgan’s vegetable of the year for 2017. According to the seed supplier, wasabi rocket is incredibly easy to grow and is likely to take over the whole veg patch.
With its May 2016 launch, Asda has been hoping to transfer a little of the wasabi heat seen in 2016’s Japanese food trend to UK salad bowls. According to the supermarket, some 17% of British people now eat Japanese food at home, making it the most widely consumed emerging ethnic cuisine after Chinese and Indian foods. Wasabi rocket was developed from trials of the popular type of rocket salad leaf and its history can be traced back to its Italian roots.
Asda’s fresh produce category planner, Charlie Mills says: “Our customers are demanding more from their food flavours. It seems the nation’s taste buds are becoming increasingly more adept to spice and flavour, and we’ve seen a huge demand in flavours that pack a real punch including wasabi, garlic, curry and our hottest chillies. The wasabi rocket leaves are tender but with a sharp note to offer a unique flavour to spice up regular meals.”
Appearance: Wasabi rocket is a variety of rocket and so looks pretty much like the thin leaf, with the exception of having more of the smaller leaves and being very slightly lighter green colour.
Flavour: Wasabi rocket is a perfect accompaniment to any delicate fish or cooked meat; the peppery and crunchy elements of rocket are combined with the real fiery glow of horseradish, without any of the after-effects of the actual wasabi root. Instead of your eyes watering or numbness of the sinuses, you are just left with a fresh brassica taste.
How to use: Wasabi rocket can be used exactly like rocket. You can use it with or instead of salad leaves, cooked or wilted in pasta or risotto or in sandwiches or accompaniment to a meal. Asda puts the shoots forward as a perfect accompaniment to a salad, picnic sandwiches, or to add some punch to a steak, as well as fish and any cooked meat dinner.
Health and nutrition: Containing good levels of vitamin C, calcium and iron, wasabi rocket is said to be especially high in vitamin A. It is also low in calories (33kcal 100g), although not as low as garden rocket.
Popular dishes: Chefs have got creative with wasabi rocket of late, with wasabi rocket foam and wasabi rocket marshmallow gracing the plates of restaurant Aubergine, in Steyl, on a pickled mackerel and sea spaghetti dish. Other dishes that have shown up on dining tables are wasabi rocket with crab and avocado salad, smoked salmon wraps, noodles and oriental dishes, wasabi rocket sushi rolls, Dover sole with sauted apples, wasabi rocket pesto, Cheese tortellini with pancetta and wasabi arugula, Tempura Salmon with Wasabi Leaf, Lime and Coriander Sorbet, Wasabi arugula rice salad with miso-ginger dressing and Veggie tofu skewers with wasabi rocket salad.
Chef fans: Wesley Sijbers, Darren Watson, Lance Kosaka, Patrick Sherriff and Mohammed Javaad Khan
Next big thing: Wasabi rocket flowers