Only 10 places outside of Japan grow wasabi. Israel is one of them

The car belonging to the security officer at Eliad, a community in southern Golan Heights, slowly passes by the greenhouse. Anyone who grew up on a moshav or kibbutz is all too familiar with the look on the driver’s face – the one that says, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?” An inquiring look that takes its time studying unfamiliar cars and faces.

“It’s a look that prompts a phone call to check on what is happening and who these visitors are,” says an amused Ran Ronen, who built the greenhouse himself. Inside it, he cultivates wasabi, an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine that has become an expensive raw material in global markets. 

The local farm where it’s grown – complete with its dusty greenhouse sheeting and the disorderly lean-to alongside it – is as different as it could be from the wasabi farms of Japan, where the plants and their beautiful white flowers grow amid gurgling streams flowing down from mountain summits. But his greenhouse in the Golan Heights is one of only about ten places outside Japan where the sought-after plant is grown commercially.

Ronen, born in 1982, moved to the Golan with his family six years ago. “We were accepted to Eliad’s agricultural association, and then we had to think about what to do with the land we had in Nahala. I don’t come from an agricultural background. Over my years in central Israel, I worked in other fields, mainly solar energy. Wasabi is really my first agricultural project.”

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