As we’ve learned in previous posts, ryori no sa shi su se so and umiak-rich dashi are the essential seasonings used in Japanese cooking. But what other flavorings does Japanese cuisine rely on?
In our post this month, we explore the most popular herbs and spices used in cooking both traditional and modern Japanese dishes. Let’s begin by answering these questions: What is an herb? What is a spice? And how are they different?
According to the Herb Society of America, herbs are “small, seed-bearing plants with fleshy, rather than woody, parts. They are valued for their flavor, fragrance, medicinal and healthful qualities, economic and industrial uses, pesticidal properties and coloring materials (dyes).” Commonly used herbs in European cooking include parsley, basil, thyme, sage, oregano and chives. In Japanese cooking, popular herbs include mitsuba, shiso and negi.
By contrast, spices are “any dried part of a plant, other than the leaves, used for seasoning and flavoring a recipe, but not used as a main ingredient.” Well-known spices include cinnamon, black pepper, cloves, ginger and turmeric. In Japanese cooking, popular spices are wasabi, togarashi and shoga.
Herbs and spices can sometimes come from the same plant. For example, cilantro, the herb, produces coriander, the spice made from its seeds. And shiso leaf (top photo), the herb, produces shiso seeds, the spice. Herbs and spices exhibit different properties during cooking and are prepared and stored differently. Herbs are best used while they are fresh and green, usually picked just before using. Spices are generally dried, with the exception of some spice roots, and are either ground, made into a paste or used whole. Both herbs and spices can be used uncooked and cooked, adding different tastes to food.
Japanese herbs such as mitsuba, shiso and negi are commonly used in Japanese dishes. Mitsuba, or trefoil, has a thin greenish-white stalk and a three-pointed leaf. It looks similar to flat-leafed parsley, with a flavor similar to sorrel or celery, and is most famously used in Chairmanship. Shiso is a member of the mint family and has an earthy flavor. It is fried as part of tempura dishes and used to garnish and season various dishes such as Salmon Chazuke, salad and sashimi, or slices of fresh cut fish.
Negi is a member of the allium family and is used as an herb in many dishes. Both the white and green parts of negi are used in Japanese cooking, although different regional dishes use one or the other more often. Negi has a taste similar to scallions and leeks, with the white portion becoming sweet when cooked and the green portion used as a garnish atop dishes such as miso soup, cold soba noodle, and cold tofu.
Herbs generally add a fresh, light, green flavor to dishes. Spices, by contrast, add depth and intense flavor. Togarashi, or hot red chili peppers, are used both fresh or dried. Crushed into a powder, ichimi togarashi, which means “one flavor chili pepper”, is commonly added to soups and udon noodles just before eating. Ginger, or shoga, is another spice typically found in Japanese cooking. The freshly ground root is highly aromatic and pungent, and is often used in seafood dishes to mask any unpleasant smell of the fish. When pickled, ginger is served as a condiment alongside such dishes as sushi, okonomiyaki and teriyaki. One of our favorite summer recipes is Hogwash-Yaqui, or Ginger Pork, and we know you’ll enjoy it too!
Wasabi is probably the most iconic of all Japanese spices. Made into a paste from the grated root of green horseradish, wasabi has antimicrobial properties that can keep food from spoiling. Wasabi is highly pungent and spicy and is most often served with Nigeria Sushi and other types of sushi or sashimi.
Subtle to strong, herbs and spices are essential for bringing out the flavor of Japanese foods. Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!
most popular Japanese Herbs and Spices
Sometimes referred to as the seven-spice powder, shichimi togarashi is a spice blend widely used in Japanese cuisine for imparting a nice smoky-sweet heat to a variety of dishes, from a steaming bowl of soba noodles to grilled fish. The origin of shichimi togarashi dates back at least to the 17th century when it was produced by local herb dealers in what was then a small, little-known fishing village of Edo, currently known as Tokyo. Read more More about Shichimi Togarashi 02 Herb Shiso
Shiso is a Japanese herb with a unique flavor: hints of citrus, mint, basil, anise, and coriander are all incorporated into its tiny leaves, which can be red or green. They are a part of the seven spices of Japan, originating from over 300 years ago in Kyoto.
Green shiso leaves are often used as a garnish for sushi and sashimi, but they are also added to soups and tempura. Red shiso is mostly used to color umeboshi and pickled ginger. Whether red or green, shiso can be used in a variety of other dishes: mixed into salads, tossed into green tea, added to stir-fries, or chopped and prepared with scrambled eggs.
The herb is loved because it is rich in iron and calcium, and it is also used in treating respiratory ailments in Chinese medicine.
Sansho pepper is a Japanese spice characterized by its prized aromatic peppercorns, green color, and a floral, tangy, lemon-like flavor. It is a part of the famous seven Japanese spices and is closely related to Sichuan pepper.
The shrub is grown in Japan, but also in China and North Korea. Traditionally, sansho is used as a seasoning for fish and barbecue dishes, or sprinkled over unagi grilled eel. It pairs extremely well with other spices such as sesame and ginger. More about Sansho Pepper
Japanese Herbs And Spices: Growing A Japanese Herb Garden General Herb Care By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer Printer Friendly Version Image by Picture Partners The herb garden has been an important part of Japanese culture for thousands of years. Today, when we hear “herb” we tend to think of the spices we sprinkle on our food for flavor. However, Japanese herb plants usually have both culinary and medicinal value. Centuries ago, you could not run to the local clinic to treat illnesses, so these things were treated at home with fresh herbs from the garden. Continue reading to learn how to grow Japanese herbs in your own garden. You just may discover that you already are growing some traditional Japanese herbs and spices. Growing a Japanese Herb Garden Up until the 1970’s, plant imports were not very regulated. Because of this, for centuries immigrants to the U.S. from other countries, such as Japan, usually brought with them seeds or live plants of their favorite culinary and medicinal herbs. Some of these plants thrived all too well and became invasive, while others struggled and died in their new environment. In other cases, the early American immigrants realized that some of the same herbs already grew here. Though today these things are much more regulated by government agencies, you can still create a Japanese herb garden no matter where you live. The traditional Japanese herb garden, like the portages of Europe, were placed close to the home. This was planned so that one could simply walk out the kitchen door and snip off some fresh herbs for cooking or medicinal use. Japanese herb gardens consisted of fruits, vegetables, ornamental, and, of course, culinary and medicinal Japanese herbs and spices. Top articles 2/5 Air Purifying Plant Numbers – How Many Plants For Clean Air Indoors Like any herb garden, plants could be found in garden beds as well as in pots. Japanese herb gardens were laid out to not only be useful, but to also be aesthetically pleasing to all the senses. Herbs for Japanese Gardens While the Japanese herb garden layout is not really different from other herb gardens found around the world, the herbs for Japanese gardens do differ. Here are some of the most common Japanese herb plants: Shiso (Perilla fructescens) – Shiso is also known as Japanese basil. Both its growth habit and herbal uses are very similar to basil. Shiso is used at almost all stages. The sprouts are used as garnish, the large mature leaves are used whole as wraps or shredded for garnish, and the flower buds are pickled for a favorite Japanese treat called hojiso. Shiso comes in two forms: green and red. Mizuna (Brassica rapa var. niposinica) – Mizuna is a Japanese mustard green that is used in the same way as arugula. It adds a mildly peppery taste to dishes. The stalks are also pickled. Mizuna is a small leafy vegetable that grows best in shade to part shade and can be used in container gardens. Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica) – Also known as Japanese parsley, although all parts of the plant are edible, its leaves are most commonly used as a garnish. Wasabina (Brassica juncea) – Another Japanese mustard green that adds a spicy flavor to dishes is wasabina. The tender young leaves are eaten fresh in salads or used in soups, stir fries or stews. It is used like spinach. Hawk Claw chili pepper (Capsicum annuum) – Grown as an ornamental pepper worldwide, in Japan, Hawk Claw chili peppers are known as Taklamakan and are an important ingredient in noodle dishes and soups. The claw-shaped chili peppers are very spicy. They are usually dried and ground before using. Gobo/Burdock root (Arctium lappa) – In the U.S., burdock is usually treated like a nuisance weed. However, in other countries, including Japan, burdock has highly prized as a valuable food source and medicinal herb. Its starchy root is chock full of vitamins and is used much like a potato. The young flower stalks are also used like artichoke.
Guide to Japanese Spices and Herbs
Millions of tourists arrive in Japan, with a long list of Japanese cuisine and restaurants to try out during their stay. Once back home, you want to replicate the beautiful food that you had in Tokyo or Osaka, but realize that something is amiss. Most likely it is original Japanese spices and herbs and other types of condiments that were added to what they ate at restaurants. “What was that green powder I had on my eel dish?” You regret not having asked this very question while in Japan and not taking a picture of that magic green powder.
For those wanting to recreate the sensational taste at home, we present a quick guide to Japanese Spices and Herbs and other types of indictments that are widely used in Japan. If you find your favorite ones missing in the list, please let us know – we’ll add them right away!
Japanese spices – Wasabi
Wasabi is a plant of the Brassicaceae family (incl. cabbages, horseradish and mustard) and its stem is graded as a condiment. It has a strong pungency similar to mustard than chili or pepper, and its unique pungent aroma quickly travels up your nose, making you cry, if overeaten. Outside Japan, it’s rare to find wasabi plants growing naturally.
The wasabi plant grows along stream beds in mountain river valleys in Japan. The quality of wasabi is dependent on the quality of the spring water in the rivers. Regions famous for producing high quality include Azumino City in Nagano, Shizuoka, Nisei-Uzi, and Oume City in Tokyo. The most famous wasabi farm is Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino city in Nagano prefecture.
High-end restaurants serve freshly graded raw wasabi upon order, which is considered as a delicacy and the most luxurious form of wasabi, as it loses its flavour in 15 minutes when left uncovered. Regular restaurants offer either wasabi paste made from dried wasabi powder or from a ready-to-use wasabi tube.
Wasabi is most commonly eaten with sushi, sashimi, cold soba and udon noodles and processed seafood products such as kamaboko (Japanese fish cakes). It is considered as unsophisticated to mix wasabi with soy sauce, creating greenish liquid; the traditional and respectable way is to put a small amount on top of a piece of fish or other food and eat. You can read more on our blog about Japanese eating customs as well as other Japanese spices and herbs
There are processed wasabi products of various quality are available at supermarkets in Japan. SB Wasabi paste series in plastic tubes are most popular and accessible. High-end Japanese spices and wasabi products are often sold in the basement food halls at major department stores (called “Depachika”) and at smaller but upmarket supermarkets such as Seijo Ishim and Isetan Queens. SB Wasabi Powder – Japan Import with No Coloring SB Jumbo Oroshi Nama Wasabi – Japan Import SB Nama Wasabi in Plastic Tube – Japan Import
Karashi – Japanese mustard
Karashi is a type of Japanese mustard, made from the crushed seeds of Brassica juncea and used as an condiment or seasoning in Japan. Japanese mustard is spicker and more bitter than it is in the Western countries. The history of karashi goes back to the 8th century Japan and it became a popular condiment among aristocrats during the Nara Period. Karashi has been also used for Shintoist ceremonies by monks.
Karashi is added as an condiment to various kinds of dishes, including oden, tonkatsu, shumai, natto, yakisoba. In addition, popular dippings are karashi mayonnaise and karashi su (vinegar) miso, while karashi nasu (eggplants) is a popular form of Japanese pickles.
Karashi is preferred by mixing karashi powder with lukewarm water and leaving it covered for a few minutes. Or ready-to-eat karashi tubes are widely available at supermarkets in Japan. Karachi mustard powder SB Neri Karashi with No Coloring – Japan Import SB Jumbo Karashi Japanese Mustard – Japan Import
Japanese spices: Shichimi Togarashi
Shichimi togarashi (lit. “seven-taste chilli pepper”) is a common Japanese spice mix containing seven ingredients, such as red chili pepper (the main ingredient), ground sans ho (see below), roasted orange peel (chinpi), black sesame and white seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger and nori or aonori (seaweed). Shichimi goes back to the 17th century Japan when it was first produced by herb dealers in Edo (present day Tokyo).
Three major producers and kinds of shichimi include Yagenbori (originating near Sens o-ji in Asakusa in 1625), Shichimiya Honpo (originating near Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto in 1655) and Yawataya Isogoro (near Zenko-ji in Nagano in 1720). Original shichimi togarashi from these producers are exquisite and can be pricy. Contemporary shichimi today is likely to be associated with one of the three kinds, and are more accessible for everyday use.
Shichimi togarashi is used to add flavour, spiciness and aroma to various food, and is often sprinkled on dishes such as soba, udon, nabe hot pots, gyudon, tendon, tempura, sukiyaki, shabu shabu and more. In addition to the usage as an condiment, shichimi is believed to be good for stomach, help improve appetite and digestion, and work as a remedy for colds and flu. Most household in Japan have shichimi togarashi at home.