North America's first commercial-scale wasabi operation is under construction north of Nanaimo.
Pacific Coast Wasabi Ltd. has begun construction of its first three wasabi greenhouses at its 35-acre site and plans to build more than 60 greenhouses in the near future with the intention of supplying a large portion of the international demand for the plant, a relative of the watercress family, which has both culinary and biomedical uses.
Company spokesman Michael Naprawa said the demand for high-grade wasabi in the global biomedical and food industries currently exceeds supply.
Wasabi is grown primarily in Japan and is widely used as a condiment and as a spread on sushi dishes.
Naprawa said that besides the challenge of producing enough wasabi within its limited Japanese ecosystem (which is along shade-covered streams), elevated radiation levels in the wake of Japan's 2011 nuclear accident continue to impact the quality of harvest, reducing the number of plans for sale in international markets.
Naprawa said that Vancouver Island, with its moderate temperatures and proximity to water, is ideal for growing wasabi.
He said that after decades of research, including work at a number of sites in coastal B.C. and the U.S., the company has perfected the technology for growing contaminant-free, high-grade wasabi on a commercial scale in a controlled greenhouse environment for the first time.
It's estimated that it will take eight workers to grow and harvest 10 acres of wasabi.
"We have two other farm locations within a couple of kilometres of the greenhouses now under construction north of Nanaimo which we'll also be looking at developing in the near future for growing wasabi," Naprawa said.
"Not only does the area provide us with excellent locations for growing wasabi, Canada has good quality control regulations and fewer export problems for our product than if we had set up our greenhouses in the United States."
Wasabi, which is also called Japanese horseradish, it is traditionally grated or sliced for use in cooking.
Aside from its culinary appeal, pharmaceutical research has identified naturally-occurring compounds in wasabi that show promise in treating a wide variety of ailments, including allergies and eczema.
It's estimated wasabi, with its medicinal qualities, could play an increasing role in the global $200-billion biomedical market.
"Vancouver Island has also received many excellent reviews on its air and water quality and is well known as one of the top islands in the world for tourism so the company sees that a lot of positives in setting up operations here," he said.
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