Wasabi Ice Cream Is A Real Thing, But What Does It Taste Like?

Since ice cream tends to be made from a reasonably neutral base consisting of custard or cream, the iconic sweet treat at its core is a great foundation to incorporate flavors like chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry (the big three). However, some people have gotten creative and designed some unexpected ice cream flavors. Although the big three are well-tested and beloved, variety is the spice of life. That said, it's fair to argue that most people would have never foreseen wasabi ice cream as a winning combination. However, it does exist, so the only logical follow-up question is, what does it taste like?

Well, on the surface, wasabi ice cream has a similar flavor to wasabi (shocking!). However, many fans of this unique ice cream flavor describe its taste as similar to mint, followed by the distinct spicy flavors often associated with wasabi. 

For those unfamiliar, wasabi is often served as an accompaniment to sushi, and is known for its horseradish- or mustard-esque heat and slightly sweet herbaceous taste. However, depending on where you live, there's a good chance you've never actually had real wasabi. This is because the condiment, also described as Japanese horseradish, is notoriously pricey and hard to produce. So, that's an excellent place to start digging further into the details of wasabi ice cream's flavor profile.

What wasabi is and what it tastes like

Real wasabi, a plant related to the mustard family, comes from Japan and other surrounding areas, where it has grown for generations. However, it's notoriously difficult to grow, which makes it quite expensive. As a result, "Probably about 99 percent of wasabi is fake in ... North America," according to The Washington Post. And that seems to be the case everywhere, even in the country everyone associates with the ingredient: "I'd say about 95 percent is fake in Japan," the publication noted. Because of this, the wasabi that most diners are familiar with is actually derived from a mixture of European horseradish, mustard, and food coloring.

Accordingly, actual wasabi tastes different than what most people are being served. According to CEO and co-founder of Oregon Coast Wasabi, Jennifer Bloeser (per Epicurious), both horseradish and wasabi have a "punch-you-in-the-nose heat." However, wasabi also includes herbal and sweet undertones. This is likely why many compare the flavor of wasabi ice cream to mint. It's also probably why Il Laboratorio Del Gelato, a gelato shop in New York City, recommends mint and basil as complementary flavors to accompany the dessert.

The origins of wasabi ice cream and customer reactions

So does wasabi ice cream even contain real wasabi? It's difficult to know. What we do know, however, is that wasabi ice cream was first produced in 1984 and is a popular staple at Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino, Japan — so there's a good chance it's made from the real stuff. After all, the farm is Japan's largest wasabi grower and makes a variety of wasabi-infused foods. 

Two of the Japan-based company's customers explained that the ice cream has an intense flavor with an "unexpected balance" of modest sweetness, commenting that it is both light and refreshing. However, if you're still worried about wasabi's bite, it typically dissipates when paired with dairy, which is why it's so great as an ice cream flavor (there are tons of great ways to use wasabi you probably haven't thought of before). Granted, you might still get a burning sensation, but the creaminess from the dairy should counteract any lingering effects. So if you're an ice cream fan that likes spice, then wasabi ice cream is your next flavor.