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A member of the brassicae family, Wasabia Japonica owes both its pungency and healthful benefits to a suite of isothiocyanates that occur due to enzymatic activation when the plant tissues are crushed during grating.

Two glucosinolates, sinigrin and glucocochlearin are especially important in wasabi. While both are essentially tasteless compounds on their own, when exposed to the myrosinase enzyme (also present in wasabi in separate plant cells), hydrolosis transmutes these sulfur compounds into pungent allyl isothiocyanate (CH2=CH-CH2-NCS) and sec-butyl isothiocyanate (CH3-CH2-CH(CH3)-NCS), respectively.

The transmutaion process in wasabi occurs within a few minutes of processing, but wasabi flavors are notoriously volatile and dissapate quickly if left exposed to air.  This makes wasabi extremely tricky to process, which partially explains why so many producers substitute horseradish for wasabi.

Other trace components identified in the volatile fraction are 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate, 7-methylthioheptyl isothiocyanate and 8-methylthioocytl isothiocyanate. These ω-methylthioalphyl isothiocyanate compounds are concentrated more so in wasabi than other plants and are believed to be responsible for health benefits and the characteristic taste so loved by Japanese connoisseurs.