Eating wasabi with your sushi could do more than add spark to your lunch. The pungent, horseradish-like condiment—already known to contain infection-fighting chemicals—might also fight cavities.
New research hints that certain chemicals in wasabi can inhibit tooth decay, says Hideki Masuda of the Material Research and Development Laboratories at Ogawa & Co. in Chiba, Japan. In his test-tube experiments, Masuda said, these chemicals block an enzyme that the tooth-attacking bacterium, Streptococcus mutans, uses to make plaque. He reported his results in Honolulu last month at the 2000 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies.
The cavity-fighting chemicals, called isothiocyanates, are also the source of wasabi’s sharp smell and taste. Various forms of these chemicals appear too in other cruciferous vegetables, which include cabbage, radishes, cauliflower, and mustard.
Over the years, researchers have uncovered evidence that isothiocyanates possess antimicrobial and anticancer properties. So adding wasabi to sushi plates, for example, could safeguard people against microbial diseases sometimes contracted from raw fish, notes Fereidoon Shahidi of Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s.