By Takayuki Matsumoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMISHIMA, Shizuoka — If you look closely at one of the wasabi graters produced by Yamamoto Shokuhin Co., you will find the surface is covered with a repeating series of the three hiragana characters that make up “wasabi.”
The grater, produced by the Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture-based food company, has received favorable reviews for bringing out the full flavor of wasabi.
I tried some wasabi that had been grated using the distinctive utensil. At first, I felt a smooth texture on my tongue, then the pungent flavor of the wasabi hit me.
“The [wasabi’s] texture is like that of soft-serve ice cream, isn’t it?” said Yutaka Yamamoto, president of the food company. “It goes best with sushi and sashimi.”
But why did the company decide to produce a grater with a surface covered in hiragana characters? It might sound like a gimmick, but the reason for developing it was quite serious.
The idea for the product was born from a customer’s comment that home-grated wasabi was not pungent enough. Finely grated wasabi tastes best, but it is difficult to produce the optimum flavor and aroma with ordinary graters.
Many professional sushi chefs use wasabi graters made of shark skin. However, a specific technique is required to use the specialist graters and maintaining them can be difficult.
The company decided to create a tool that would allow anyone to enjoy grated wasabi that tasted better than that produced with shark skin graters and began developing a new product in cooperation with a local metal processing plant.
The challenge was how to design the surface of the grater. Yamamoto, among others, tried more than 300 patterns, such as circles, stars, squares and waves, as well as Roman and kanji characters. However, they could not produce flavors that were better than that produced by shark skin graters.
They then processed the surface to make a pattern using the three hiragana characters for wasabi. The grated wasabi from the prototype had a softer texture and its flavor and aroma were much improved. They investigated why this might be and found that the hiragana characters have irregular shapes, which allows the utensil to grate wasabi finely.
The surface of the grater is a 7.7-by-7.7 centimeter square, providing the ideal size when grating wasabi in a circular motion. They adjusted the size of the characters and other factors, producing the final version about one year after they came up with the idea.
Named Haganezame, or steel shark, the product was launched in March 2017 priced at ¥4,320. The product quickly gained popularity among gastronomes.
The Haganezame grater has also attracted attention from famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo, among other places. Two more variations of the grater have since been released — a larger one for professional use (¥14,040) and a smaller one conceived as suitable for a souvenir (¥2,700).
Traditional wasabi cultivation has been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System, amid rising global attention for the pungent root.
“I hope people around the world will enjoy the genuine flavor of wasabi,” Yamamoto said.
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