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Is wasabi purple?

Wasabi, known for its pungent flavor and bright green color, is a staple condiment served with sushi and sashimi. However, some may have noticed that some wasabi served at sushi restaurants is actually purple in color. So why is some wasabi green while other wasabi is purple? The answer lies in understanding what makes up real wasabi versus imitation wasabi products.

What is Real Wasabi?

Real wasabi comes from the rhizome or stem of the Wasabia japonica plant, which is a member of the Brassicaceae family along with cabbage, horseradish, and mustard. This perennial plant is native to Japan and grows naturally in cold, mountain stream waters. The rhizome of the wasabi plant is ground into a pale green paste to produce real wasabi.

Fresh wasabi rhizomes are very expensive and difficult to cultivate. Due to high demand and short supply, most real wasabi is now grown in specialty farms in Japan, North America, and New Zealand. However, even farmed wasabi is expensive, retailing for about $8 – $100 per ounce of fresh wasabi rhizome.

Real wasabi has a complex, pungent flavor that is often described as fiery, green, and herbal. The heat comes from a group of compounds called isothiocyanates, which are released when the wasabi rhizome is grated. Isothiocyanates have a number of potential health benefits as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.

What is Imitation Wasabi?

Due to the high cost and effort required to obtain fresh wasabi rhizomes, most sushi restaurants actually serve an imitation wasabi product. Imitation wasabi is made from a mixture of horseradish, mustard, starch, and green food coloring.

Horseradish and mustard give the imitation wasabi pungency, while starch helps it form a thick paste. Food coloring gives it the iconic green color associated with wasabi. Imitation wasabi is also sometimes referred to as “American wasabi” or “Western wasabi.”

Imitation wasabi lacks the complex flavor and health benefits of real wasabi. It has a more straightforward hot flavor thanks to the horseradish and mustard. Imitation wasabi usually comes in a tube or squeeze bottle for convenience.

Why is Some Imitation Wasabi Purple?

While standard imitation wasabi uses green food coloring, some producers use purple food coloring instead. This results in a vivid purple colored wasabi. Purple colored wasabi is simply a variation of imitation wasabi made with different food dyes.

There are a few reasons why purple coloring may be used instead of green:

  • Purple stands out visually – The striking purple color attracts attention and makes the wasabi an eye-catching garnish.
  • Lends unique flair – In fine dining, purple wasabi can add a sense of innovation and sophistication.
  • Offers variety – Purple wasabi gives consumers a novel choice alongside traditional green wasabi.
  • May be less artificial looking – Some find purple wasabi to appear somewhat more natural than bright green.

While purple wasabi offers visual appeal, its flavor and composition remain identical to standard imitation wasabi. The purple color is achieved solely through colorants rather than any ingredient changes.

How Can You Tell Real Wasabi from Imitation?

It can be difficult for the average consumer to tell real wasabi apart from imitation at a glance. Here are a few ways to determine if you are being served real or imitation wasabi:

  • Check the price – Due to its high cost, real wasabi is unlikely to be served anywhere inexpensive. Expect to pay high prices for the real thing.
  • Ask about freshly grated paste – Real wasabi loses its flavor within 15 minutes of being grated. imitation wasabi can sit for much longer.
  • Look out for tubes or bottles – Imitation wasabi usually comes readymade in tubes and squeeze bottles for convenience.
  • Assess the flavor – Real wasabi should taste fresh, complex, and concentrated. Imitation wasabi tends to have more simple heat.
  • Note the texture – Real wasabi is finely grated into a paste. Imitation wasabi is often smooth, creamy, and evenly colored.
  • Observe the color – Real wasabi is a pale green while imitation can range from bright green to purple.

Nutritional Differences

Since real wasabi comes from a vegetable root while imitation wasabi is a prepared condiment, there are some nutritional differences between the two:

Nutrient Real Wasabi Imitation Wasabi
Calories 14 per tablespoon 0 per teaspoon
Fat 0g 0g
Sodium 10mg 374mg
Carbs 0.8g 0.5g
Sugar 0.2g 0g
Fiber 0.4g 0g
Vitamin C 3mg 0mg

As shown, real wasabi contains some vitamins, minerals, and fiber since it comes straight from a plant root. Meanwhile, imitation wasabi has little nutritional value and is high in sodium. Keep in mind amounts vary based on preparation and recipe.

Health Benefits of Real Wasabi

Traditionally in Japan, real wasabi has been consumed for its potential health effects. Research on the key compounds in wasabi, known as isothiocyanates, suggests that it may provide the following benefits:

  • Cancer prevention – Isothiocyanates may inhibit tumor growth by inducing apoptosis in cancer cells.
  • Anti-inflammatory – Isothiocyanates can reduce inflammation by suppressing inflammatory cytokines and enzymes.
  • Antimicrobial – Extracts of wasabi plants have shown antimicrobial effects against common foodborne pathogens.
  • Antioxidant – Compounds in wasabi scavenge free radicals and protect cells against oxidative damage.
  • Cardioprotection – Wasabi extract has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure in rodent studies.

However, most of these studies used only isolated compounds from wasabi or were animal-based trials. More research is needed to fully confirm health benefits in humans when wasabi is consumed as a food.

Risks of Imitation Wasabi Consumption

While imitation wasabi is considered safe for consumption in small amounts, there may be some risks with frequent or excessive use:

  • May trigger food allergies – Imitation wasabi contains common allergens like horseradish, mustard, and dairy.
  • High sodium content – A 1-teaspoon serving contains 374mg of sodium, which is 16% of the daily recommended limit.
  • Potential carcinogens – Artificial food coloring used to make some imitation wasabi has been linked to cancer risk in animal studies.
  • Gastrointestinal irritation – Horseradish can cause stomach upset, especially in those with sensitivities.
  • Not a natural product – Imitation wasabi is highly processed with many artificial ingredients.

Moderation is key when consuming imitation wasabi, and it should be avoided by those with certain food intolerances or allergies. Pregnant women may also want to exercise caution.

Is Purple Colored Imitation Wasabi Safe to Eat?

Purple colored imitation wasabi is just as safe to consume as traditional green imitation wasabi. The purple color comes from harmless food dyes like Allura Red (Red 40) or vegetable and fruit juice concentrates. However, there are a few considerations with purple wasabi:

  • As with any food dye, some people could have sensitivities or allergic reactions to purple wasabi.
  • Purple wasabi should be avoided by those with sensitivities to common allergens like horseradish, mustard, and dairy.
  • High doses of Red 40 may cause behavioral issues in children according to one study. More research is needed.
  • Juice concentrates used for purple color can promote mold growth more quickly than traditional imitation wasabi.

In moderation, the small amount of coloring in purple imitation wasabi is unlikely to cause issues for most people. Those with food dye sensitivities should exercise caution.

Should You Choose Real Wasabi or Imitation?

When it comes to deciding between real wasabi vs imitation wasabi, there are pros and cons to each option:

Real Wasabi Pros:

  • Delivers complex authentic flavor
  • Provides some nutritional benefits
  • Deemed safe for most people
  • Naturally gluten-free
  • Perceived as high quality and luxurious

Real Wasabi Cons:

  • Extremely expensive and hard to obtain
  • Goes bad quickly once grated into paste
  • Pungency can be overpowering for some
  • Not recommended for young children

Imitation Wasabi Pros:

  • Widely accessible and affordable
  • Lasts for months refrigerated in tube/bottle
  • Consistency in flavor and texture
  • Fun colors and presentation

Imitation Wasabi Cons:

  • Flavors and colors are artificial
  • Lacks authentic wasabi flavor
  • Contains common allergens
  • High in sodium

Overall, real wasabi is recommended for those interested in experiencing true wasabi flavor and willing to splurge. For casual sushi eaters on a budget who prioritize convenience, imitation wasabi makes an acceptable substitute. Purple colored wasabi offers identical taste to traditional green but with added visual appeal.


Wasabi served at sushi restaurants may appear shocking purple, but it is simply imitation wasabi made with purple food coloring. While imitation wasabi lacks the complex flavor and health benefits of real wasabi, it allows consumers to enjoy the iconic wasabi experience at an affordable price point. The safety of purple imitation wasabi mirrors green, as long as food dye sensitivities are considered. Overall, the choice comes down to personal preference and budget. Real wasabi remains the ideal way to enjoy this pungent rhizome, but colored imitation wasabi offers cost-effective novelty.