When it comes Japanese cuisine, it is a known fact that there are five basic flavors used: salt, sugar, vinegar, soya sauce and miso. But, just like with any other cuisine there are also other herbs, spices and ingredients used to enhance the amazing flavors present in the Japanese dishes many of us love so much.
Here is a list of basic spices and seasonings used in Japanese cuisine.
Beni-shouga is red, salt-pickled ginger used to add flavor to okonomiyaki (a Japanese style tortilla), itame-gohan (fried rice mixed with other ingredients) andyakisoba (stir-fried noodles). The red colour comes from red perilla or shiso.
Root ginger is used ground in Japanese cuisine and mixed with soya to marinate pork prior to sautéing it - the flavors of pork and ginger complement one another well. Additionally it is served on top of a pyramid of daikon (Japanese white radish) to put in the tempura dipping sauce. Shouga is used in okayu (rice porridge) as well, which is eaten especially in winter due to its warming properties. It is also generally drunk in an infusion with honey as a medicine to alleviate high body temperatures.
Generally known for its role in accompanying sushi, this is the thinly sliced root ginger that is pickled in vinegar and naturally turns red if it is fresh when it’s pickled. Gari is particularly used as a palette refresher between pieces of sushi, however its original role in accompanying sushi was the result of its use as an antibacterial agent has helped raw fish to be eaten safely when there were no refrigeration techniques. It can also be chopped up and mixed in with sushi rice forchirashi-zushi.
Together with the common root ginger which originates in China and is used in several different cuisines, Japanese cuisine uses this young ginger shoot that looks similar to a spring onion with a white bulb graduating to green leaves. It can be consumed raw, or pickled in vinegar, the white bulb turning pink when pickled.
Myouga is one of the most unique flavors in Japanese cuisine. This very attractive bud can be used as a decoration. If blanched in salted, boiling water and then placed in vinegar it becomes an attractive red color. It can then be used as a garnish or as a sushi topping. It is also used as a raw ingredient for tempura, as sunomono (food pickled in vinegar), as a spice in sauces or with cold soba or somen noodles in the summer when it is in season.
Wasabi is the root of a plant in the cabbage family that is similar to horseradish but with more of a pungent aroma. The natural, unprocessed form of wasabi is made by grinding the root on shark skin, the natural spice and fragrance being brought out to the full when it is then mashed with the back of a knife. Wasabi is sold in different forms: powdered, frozen and as a paste. Frozen wasabi solely consists of the wasabi root, however the powdered and paste wasabi includes horse radish amongst other ingredients. Its main use in Japanese cuisine is as an accompaniment to sushi and sashimi.
Kiyuzu is a yellow citrus fruit originating in China which is ripe throughout autumn and winter. The fruit is at its best when it is yellow, however it can also be used when it is green and unripe. When it is still green and unripe it doesn’t have such a strong aroma.
This fruit is valued for the strong flavor of its rind. It is used in soya sauce as a dressing, in nabe (Japanese stew), or for sushi, sashimi and fish dishes.
Yuzu is also used to add an extra dimension of flavor to pepper, soya sauce, miso and vinegar.
Do you like Japanese cuisine? Have you tried using these spices, ingredients at home? Please share with us in the comments section below.