MISHIMA, Japan >> 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 gimmicky, 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 these specialized 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.
The challenge was designing the surface of the grater. Yamamoto and 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 superior to those 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 very finely.
The surface of the grater is 3 inches square, 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 $38.50. It quickly gained popularity among gastronomes.
The Haganezame grater has also attracted the attention of famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Two variations have since been released — a larger one for professional use and a smaller one for souvenir collectors.
“I hope people around the world will enjoy the genuine flavor of wasabi,” Yamamoto said.