Next time you sit down in a Vancouver Island sushi restaurant, the wasabi in your maki may be homegrown.
Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd. has begun building greenhouses at a 35-acre site near Nanoose Bay, with plans to start growing the spicy root next year. The goal is to produce 7,300 kilograms of wasabi every 15 months, which will generate $2 million in gross revenue. This all according to Michael Naprawa, spokesperson for the company.
Nearly all of the world’s wasabi is grown along riverbeds in Japan, and cultivated using traditional methods. The Pacific Coast farm will be the first commercial-scale wasabi operation of its kind in North America, and possibly the world.
“A whole new technology had to be developed in order to do it,” said Naprawa.
Years of research went into perfecting the greenhouse method, but the company still needed to find the right location. Vancouver Island’s temperate climate and proximity to the ocean made it an ideal spot, and proximity to a large international airport sealed the deal, said Naprawa.
The recent tsunami and subsequent nuclear accident in Japan had a significant impact on the global wasabi market. Elevated radiation levels continue to affect the local harvest, meaning fewer plants are available for international markets.
“There’s going to be a shortage for a long time,” Naprawa said, meaning demand for wasabi produced elsewhere will rise.
In addition to its status as a culinary condiment, wasabi has a number of biomedical uses. Pharmaceutical research has found compounds in wasabi that help treat a variety of ailments, including allergies and eczema.
“The big, big future here is biomedical,” Naprawa said.
For more information about wasabi, or the greenhouse project, visit Pacific Coast Wasabi’s website.