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From studies in engineering to wasabi production

07/01/2019 - 10:03
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During spring semester 2015 the engineer students Ragnar Atli Tómasson and Johan Sindri Hansen sat in class in their course on Innovation making business plans and deliberating on potential innovative ideas. This was during their final semester at the University of Iceland. Their attention was soon drawn to opportunities in using energy resources to cultivate plants for export. Now, over three years later, they sell real wasabi under the label Nordic Wasabi to first class restaurants worldwide with plans to expand further cultivating other plants. 

"We had recently discovered that over 95% of all the wasabi that accompanies sushi in fact contains no wasabi, but rather horseradish, mustard and green food colouring; that is why we considered the wasabi plant for cultivation" says Ragnar.

"We considered different types after deciding to look into export possibilities of breeding products." After extensive examination of many incredible plants it became clear that the wasabi plant possesses many of the qualities that fit. The plant thrives quite well in Icelandic climate and the price per kilo is quite high," adds Sindri.

Wasabi used in ice-cream and beer
Ragnar and Sindri both graduated from the University of Iceland in the spring of 2015, Ragnar in industrial engineering and Sindri in mechanical engineering. Immediately after their graduation they participated in Startup Reykjavík with their project which continued to grow.  They started a company around the idea, Jurt Hydroponics, and got investors in early 2016 to manufacture the plant. Consequently, the growing process began in the summer of 2016 in the most technologically advanced greenhouses in Europe. The first crop was harvested in September 2017. "The process is long as the plant takes over a year to grow. That is much longer than usual in greenhouse production. During such a long growth process it is vital to manage the production well," explains Sindri.

 

Most connect wasabi with the Japanese dish sushi. However, Ragnar and Sindri point out that wasabi is a new and exciting ingredient in Nordic cuisine that can be used in various ways. "It is popular in all kinds of cocktails, with meat and even in ice cream and beer brewing," adds Sindri. 

The first crop was sold to Icelandic restaurants, but they have now expanded to exporting their goods. "Our main customers are high-end restaurants and suppliers that specialize in quality products," says Ragnar.

Most connect wasabi with the Japanese dish sushi. However, Ragnar and Sindri point out that wasabi is a new and exciting ingredient in Nordic cuisine that can be used in various ways. "It is popular in all kinds of cocktails, with meat and even in ice cream and beer brewing," adds Sindri. 

Is this a competitive business? "Growing wasabi is complicated and the process is long. It is mostly grown in Japan, its place of origin, but there are also cultivators in the Occident due to the increased popularity of sushi," said Ragnar about their competitors. 

Engineering studies useful
When asked they say that their studies in engineering proved useful in this project. "During our studies we learned how to tackle and solve various tasks. This training and experience was valuable in solving numerous and diverse problems," says Sindri.

Their plans for the future include cultivation of other plants. "The company was founded with the aim to cultivate high quality products for export using Iceland's natural resources; clean energy and water to create our speciality. Wasabi is our first product but we aim at increasing the products once the company expands," concludes Sindri.

Further information on the company and the wasabi production can be found on the company website.

Ragnar Atli Tómasson and Johan Sindri Hansen