Taste Test

Snack Critic: Munch on These Wasabi Chips and Make Your Snacktime Sizzle

May 30, 2017

Joining the ranks of uniquely Japanese icons alongside capsule hotels and that bizarre (but admittedly, addictive) Pen Pineapple Apple Pen video released in 2016 is wasabi—traditionally referring to a root in the same family as horseradish and mustard, grated and dabbed into sushi or served alongside sashimi (some believe it kills the parasites in the raw fish).

Make no mistake: what most of us commonly think of as ‘wasabi’ today—that wad of green stuff that comes as powder or prepared as paste sold in tubes, which is what is served in most mid-scale Japanese restaurants in these parts—is likely just horseradish and mustard mixed with food coloring; the real stuff, which is said to have a more herbal (than harsh) taste, can be difficult to come by even within Japan and loses its flavor quickly (within just 15 minutes of being grated!). In any case, unless specified otherwise, we’re taking the ‘wasabi’ here to refer to how the flavor is commonly understood today, albeit not necessarily staying true to the actual wasabi root. Lack of authenticity aside, its one-of-a-kind pungency and heat works well to give a kick that many have come to love. And over the recent years, this “wasabi” has become especially popular even outside its traditional application, appearing everywhere from Kit-kats to pea snacks to instant noodles.

Here, we explore another popular medium the Japanese condiment finds itself: the trusty snack species that is potato chips. Of the many chip flavors the Land of the Rising Sun has come to be known for, wasabi, to us stands out—not only for its distinctive taste and addictive burn, but also for the way it complements the crisp, salty goodness of the popular potato snack. For this round-up, we’ve collected a bunch of wasabi chips from Japan (which can be purchased at your nearby Japanese grocery) as well as a number of local adaptations you might wanna check out.

Locally-Available Favorites

Getting your wasabi fix couldn’t be easier with these chip bags available at most major supermarkets. (L-R) Jack & Jill Calbee Potato Chips – Wasabi, Oishi Ridges – Wasabi, Oishi Gourmet Picks Wasabi & Nori Flavor

Jack n’ Jill Calbee Wasabi

P16.50/28g bag
Available at leading supermarkets nationwide

From the partnership venture between our own Jack n’ Jill and the Japanese potato chip company Calbee comes these wasabi chips. Of the chips in our selection, these stand out for their wonderful crackly texture that makes them ultra satisfying to crunch on. While the wasabi on these feels subtle at first (we almost thought it to be absent while taking our first few chews!), these sneaky chips gradually pack on the wasabi’s heat until it fills your mouth and goes up your nostrils, clearing all the passages it encounters along the way. The only way to counter it is to keep popping in more chips, which only reinforces the beautiful cycle of flavors. Toward the end, you also get a subtle umami hum that we can’t quite identify, but works wonders to round out the complete sensation beautifully.

Oishi Ridges – Wasabi

P10.50/22g bag
Available at leading supermarkets nationwide

We weren’t expecting much from this relatively lowbrow line from Oishi, but were we pleasantly surprised. These chips are spicy, immediately smothering the tongue with a forceful punch of pungency and heat that you will feel throughout your sinuses (and perhaps even beyond). Plus, with their ridge-y, waved shape, they make for a sturdy crunch that stands up to its potent flavor.  If straightforward wasabi goodness is what you are after, keep your eyes peeled for these chips the next time you visit the supermarket.

Oishi Gourmet Picks – Wasabi Nori

P18.50/30g bag
Available at leading supermarkets nationwide

Though also by Oishi, these chips go for a far more subdued approach—in direct contrast to the chips from the Ridges line. Save for the occasional softer, airier pieces, each chip comes with a flat but sturdy build that feels significantly less oily than the others, leaning more toward cracker-like than chip-like. Rather than Ridges’ in-yo-face wasabi assault, the wasabi here plays more of a complementary role to an overall Japanese-y flavor profile that weaves it in with notes of nori and seafood (you might even recognize the shellfish flavor of Oishi’s prawn crackers in the background). While it disappoints as a wasabi chip, these overall aren’t bad at all. We especially the ingenious use of the said naturally umami-rich flavors of the sea, which allows them to skip the MSG without sacrificing flavor.

Imported Japanese Munchies

These chip bags, imported straight from the Land of the Rising Sun, are worth the trek to the Japanese grocery store (we got ours at Chotto Matte, Makati!). L-R: Koikeya Wasamūcho Mune Wasabi, Yamayoshi Wasabeef, Koikeya Karamūcho Yama Wasabi.

Yamayoshi Wasabeef

P80/60g bag
Available at Choto Stop, Little Tokyo, Makati

As the name implies, these Japanese chips marry the flavor of wasabi and beef, which might not be the first pairing you might think of in real life—until you consider the classic Western way of serving steak with horseradish sauce.. (D’oh—we know.) The “beef” part of the equation is interpreted as a sweet, barbecue-y, beef bouillon-like note dominates the first few bites. The wasabi powder appears to be distributed unequally, clumping more in some chips more than others, but overall brings in its signature zing and adds a much-needed zip to the more comforting profile of the beef. If anything, these could use more crispness as the chips border on feeling a tad airy for our crunching needs.

Koikeya Wasamūcho MUNE Wasabi

P80/60g bag
Available at Choto Stop, Little Tokyo, Makati

Like Wasabeef, Wasamūcho also pairs wasabi and beef, but departs from Wasabeef in that it starts sweeter, feels crisper, and ends spicier with a peculiar pungency that feels especially fresh and zingy—which makes it much more satisfying. Notably, there is a rich, fatty note that emerges somewhere in between the beef and the wasabi—we can’t identify what it is exactly, but we’d compare the flavor to that of mayonnaise (and taking a wild guess, we assume it comes from the ‘粉末油脂’—funmatsu yushi, or “powder[ed] oil”, listed in the ingredients). While it feels odd and unnecessary at first (at least to this author, who has a natural aversion to the “mayo-y” flavor of mayonnaise), we eventually come to appreciate how it helps balance out the more dominant punch of all the other flavors.

Koikeya Karamūcho Yama Wasabi

P80/60g bag
Available at Choto Stop, Little Tokyo, Makati

This comes by the same brand as Wasamūcho but features yama wasabi (a.k.a. mountain wasabi), a white, field-grown variety of the root from the Hokkaido region. While the chips are similar to Wasamūcho in appearance and texture, the flavor goes a slightly different direction. At the beginning is a generally-savory, sweetish-salty flavor sensation that brings in that mayo-like note—similar to Wasamūcho’s, but even stronger, to the point that it reminds us of the taste of pork. Soon the heat kicks in—a sort of heat that’s more immediately explosive but short-lived, at once dotting the tongue with its spiciness before dying down almost completely (as opposed to the more gradual, but long-lasting, heat that comes with regular so-called “wasabi”). All flavors combined, the resulting savory-porky-spicy profile reminds us of that of sisig, oddly enough—which makes it difficult to resist going back, chip after chip, to this insanely addictive bag.

The Verdict

As we’ve seen here, wasabi makes for a delicious chip flavor, whether in the solo spot or as part of a bouquet of flavors. We’ve gotta commend, too, how local does not necessarily mean inferior in this case (the surprise find being the cheap-but-oh so good Oishi Ridges chips—you can bet we’ll be hoarding bags and we hope you do too). Whether you like it mild or downright spicy, delicate or satisfyingly crunchy, there’s a bag of wasabi chips here for you, so give this offbeat flavor a chance and add any of these to your grocery cart.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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