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Media Articles: In the Press

Following is the text of an article published in the Vancouver Sun (British Columbia) newspaper on June 10, 2002:


Wasabi: B.C.'s next big export crop

By Gerry Bellett

That dollop of green stuff on the side of your plate of sushi isn't the real thing -- it's coloured horse radish -- but the real wasabi is being grown at a secret location somewhere in the Lower Mainland.

"We don't want to disclose where because we don't want people nosing around," says Bill Jones of Jones Nurseries Ltd. in Richmond.

Jones is part of an investment group, Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd., that is seeking venture capital to launch the next big thing in Oriental horticulture after ginseng -- producing genuine wasabi.

"What you get with your sushi isn't wasabi, it's just horse radish which, when it was introduced into Japan, was called Western wasabi. The real thing is quite different," said Jones.

It's also a lot more expensive selling for $100 a pound, he said.

This is the price for the aquatic variety of wasabi called Sawa that is grown in a greenhouse and is being developed locally using a secret formula, he said.

Bill Jones (left) and scientist Brian Oates inspect one of the Wasabi plants growing in their secret Lower Mainland location.

"It's the medium that we've developed for growing wasabi that's a secret," Jones said.

Under a contract with Agriculture Canada, which is promoting the development of a wasabi industry to meet the increasing popularity of Japanese foods worldwide, the investment group will be allowed five years to develop its growing operations before the formula is made public, said Jones.

Wasabi is a slow-growing plant, a carrot-like rhizome which takes 18 months to mature.

It must be grated and applied fresh to food to get the benefit of its qualities, said Jones.

"Scraping releases the enzymes which gives it its taste. It can't be prepared and stored," he said.

Jones wouldn't say how much money the investment group needs but said it would take "millions" to launch a commercial growing operation on several acres of greenhouses.

Samples of wasabi have been sent to buyers in New York and Hawaii, Jones said.

"Also it's [going to be] sold locally in Capers," he said.

A 2000-square-foot greenhouse can produce a crop of wasabi worth $60,000. He said the plant needs very little nurturing and is not labour intensive.

The field-grown version of wasabi -- Oka -- is being produced in Oregon, said Jones, but it is not as fine as the greenhouse product.

Wasabi is also being studied by scientists around the world for possible cancer-fighting properties -- particularly for breast and prostate cancers, said Jones.

"There is work being done in the University of Manitoba and the early results look quite promising," said Jones.

He said pharmaceutical companies were also investigating its anti-bacterial properties.

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