Have you ever wondered why Japanese food tastes so good? Japanese food is known for its delicate, nuanced flavors and is one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Focusing on quality produce and fresh meats, there is one other contributing factor to the deliciousness – Japanese spices!
Umami bases, spicy Japanese herbs, and zesty citrus notes are just some of the unique Japanese flavors that you’ll find across the dishes from this beautiful country. These are all fabulous ways to add flavor to your recipes when cooking at home.
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Japanese Spices And Herbs To Use At Home
One of the most common questions people ask about Japanese cooking is “Is Japanese food spicy?”. Japanese people love heat in their meals, but that doesn’t mean that chili-sensitive cooks can’t enjoy beloved dishes. Look out for recipes containing wasabi, Karashi, and shichimi togarashi – they may be hotter than you think!
While everyone has heard of Japanese ingredients like soy sauce and miso, there is much more to this rich Asian cuisine. If you want to up your cooking game, here are some spices of Japan to add to your menu rotation.
Learn more about Japanese cuisine:
Wasabi – Japanese Horseradish
Known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi is probably the most well-known Japanese seasoning on this list. Usually grated and served as a green paste, wasabi is a common accompaniment for sashimi.
However, you can also use this Japanese condiment in anything from hot noodle dishes to crunchy seafood and white meat coatings.
And, the version usually eaten in Japan is not bright green like the wasabi often served in the US.
For those who would rather avoid the burn, there are other options available! Spicy Japanese food is delicious, though if you’re sensitive to heat, you can avoid wasabi in favor of lighter ingredients like sansho pepper for a lighter effect.
If you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you have most certainly come across rayu! This spicy Japanese food is a hot chili oil typically served alongside gyoza, noodle dishes like cold soba salads, and broth-based ramen soups.
Unlike wasabi and Karashi, rayu’s flavor is relatively mild, and warms rather than burns.
While you wouldn’t want to get it in your eye, the Japanese chili pepper adds depth and dimension to dishes without overpowering them – perfect for your introduction to Japanese cooking!
Japanese Citrus Sauce – Ponzu Sauce
The term ‘ponzu’ refers to a tangy mix of various citrus juices. This sour sauce combines soy sauce, lime juice, and other flavorful Japanese ingredients to create a salty, tart marinade known as ponzu shoyu.
Because of its citrus base, ponzu shoyu is usually used as a sauce for grilled pork or white fish – however, you can also use it as a marinade or side sauce for sashimi, edamame pods, or even katsu! Pair this fresh, salty sauce with fatty meats and rich dishes, as the citric acid will cut through and enhance the flavors already present.
Japanese natives don’t shy away from heat, and this hot mustard is proof of just that! With a heat level greater than English mustard, this Japanese condiment is one of the most popular additions to noodle dishes.
Karashi differs from conventional mustard because it lacks vinegar. This concentrates the heat of the mustard seed while removing the sour aftertaste common to its Western equivalent.
Karashi is usually sold in grocery stores, but you can order tubes or boxes of this spicy Japanese seasoning from Amazon. Try it with a bowl of steaming udon noodles or as a dipping sauce for gyoza.
Japanese Seven Spice Blend – Shichimi Togarashi
‘Japanese seasoning’ is a blanket term used for a blend of common spices in Japanese cooking. Often used in hot noodle dishes and hot pots like shabu shabu, shichimi togarashi is a coverall that brings together all of the best elements of Japanese cuisine.
Although certain regions may use slightly different ingredients, shichimi togarashi typically contains ginger, dried orange peel, shansho pepper, seaweed flakes, chili flakes, white and black sesame seeds, and poppy seeds.
The result is a sweet, spicy blend that is ideal for cooking meats, and seafood, and stirring into broths.
Japanese food often uses seafood products to create the umami flavors typical to the cuisine. Bonito flakes are thin shavings of dried fish – usually tuna – that are often used to create broths, sauces, or as a garnish.
While the strong, salty taste of this Japanese seasoning isn’t for everyone, bonito flakes add savory notes that enhance the dish’s other elements.
Try sprinkling them on top of noodles, or mixing them with citrus and ginger for a zesty, spicy sauce. You’ll even find bonito flakes on several Japanese breakfast dishes.
Japanese Seaweed Salt – Moshio Salt
You may have heard of Himalayan Pink Salt, but have you ever heard of Moshio salt? Unique to Eastern Asia, this spice of Japan combines two of the country’s greatest loves – salt and seaweed!
Using a traditional collection method, the Japanese sea salt is gathered and stored with dried seaweed sheets for months or even years at a time.
As the seaweed degrades, it transfers a savory, umami flavor to the salt – creating a moreish, highly addictive seasoning!
Unlike other Japanese spices on this list, Moshio salt is used in almost everything, even as a replacement for soy sauce! Sprinkle the colorful salt over noodles, crackers, or katsu curries, or keep it on the side for dipping vegetables and sashimi – the choice is yours!
Sansho pepper, also known as sansho, is a Japanese spice from ground seed pods of the prickly ash tree. This Japanese chili pepper is often compared to Sichuan pepper or rayu. However, the spice is often semi-tart and almost citrus-like in its flavor.
Not as hot as karashi or wasabi, sansho pepper still gives a little bit of a kick to Japanese dishes! This medium-hot Japanese seasoning complements grilled meat dishes like yakitori and can be used in dipping sauces for sashimi and edamame beans.
Not all spices in Japan are hot! Made from the ume plum, umeboshi paste is one of the more unique Japanese ingredients you’ll find in your recipe book!
The unripe fruit is pickled, sliced, and crushed with Shiso leaves, before being ground into the umeboshi paste. Because of its strong flavor, umeboshi paste is usually enjoyed with blander food like plain rice, vegetables, and noodles.
You can also mix the strong, sour Japanese condiment with mirin (rice wine vinegar) to create a dipping sauce for grilled and raw fish dishes like tuna.
If you want to sample a traditional Japanese condiment, yuzu koshu is the way to go! Yuzu koshu is a sweet, spicy, sour, fruit-based paste. It can be used with almost all foods and isn’t a taste you’ll forget in a hurry!
There are two types of yuzu koshu. Green yuzu koshu is made using unripe yuzu and green Japanese chili peppers.
Red yuzu koshu is created with ripe yuzu and hot red chili peppers. Of the two, green yuzu koshu is more common across Japan. The red version has more spice and is used directly on food to add heat.
No matter which yuzu koshu you try, these Japanese condiments will add kick and depth to any dish. Sample it with hot pot dishes, noodles, or onigiri for a light, quick snack.
Japanese Herbs And Spices For The Home Cook
So there you have it – 10 delicious Japanese spices to help you create your next culinary masterpiece! There is no better way to appreciate a different culture than by diving into the cuisine.
With so many Japanese herbs and spices at your fingertips, there’s no excuse not to add something new to your weekly menu.
FAQs – Japanese Spices
One of the things that set Japanese cuisine apart from other cuisines is the spices. Spices like shoga, togarashi, and of course, wasabi feature heavily in Japanese cooking. While not completely unique to Japanese cooking, they are predominately associated with Japanese cuisine.
Shichimi Togarashi is a popular Japanese seasoning. It is a blend of seven different spices including sesame, chilies, and other spices. It’s used to season meat, fish, and vegetables before grilling.
Hands down, the most popular condiment in Japan is soy sauce. Used to season dishes before and after cooking, soy sauce is to Japan what ketchup is to the USA. Soy sauce along with pickled ginger and wasabi is extremely popular when eating sushi.
Japanese food and flavors are spread across a wide spectrum From the subtle taste of fresh sushi to the in-your-face spice of wasabi there are a lot of flavors to experience. That said, the most common flavors you’ll find in Japanese food are salty, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and most importantly umami.