Japanese spices are ones of the most flavorful you’ll find! From furikake to ponzu and wasabi they’ll take your food to the next level
Japanese cuisine is considered one of the most diverse and delicious in the world. Many of the spices used in Japanese cooking are not found in other cuisines, lending Japanese food its unique flavor profile.
I actually love to learn more about international spices since they are what gives food their interesting flair. If you also want to travel the world trough cooking and seasonings make sure to check this post about Brazilian spices.
Here are a few of the most common Japanese spices, along with their uses and flavor profiles.
Top Japanese Spices Seasonings and Condiments you need to try!
- Top Japanese Spices Seasonings and Condiments you need to try!
- Ponzu sauce
- Karashi or spicy mustard
- Moshio salt
- Matcha powder
- Sesame oil
- Sesame seeds
- Tonkatsu sauce
- Unagi sauce
- Sansho pepper
- Soy Sauce
- Mitsuba or Japanese parsley
- Rayu or Sichuan pepper oil
- Bonito flakes
- What is a Japanese seasoning
- Japanese spices for ramen
- Japanese spices for rice
- Japanese furikake
- Japanese Furikake Spice Mix Recipe
Wasabi, or Japanese horseradish, is known for its distinctive bitter taste. It is commonly used as a spice in Japan, but also has other functions. It was first used exclusively as food seasoning to accompany sushi and sashimi dishes because the local small fish are not strong enough in flavor that they can hold up against highly seasoned food items.
Ponzu sauce is a citrus-based sauce made of lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. It is low in calories and fat but high in flavor. It is widely used as dressing for salads or cooked vegetables. Ponzu can also be served with boiled fish fillets like tatsuta age (deep-fried tofu pockets stuffed with minced fish).
Ponzu sauce’s flavor is very light and refreshing. That’s why many Japanese people like this food as a palate cleanser after eating fried foods such as tempura or karaage, which are commonly found in take out menus.
Karashi or spicy mustard
Karashi is a dark yellow, hot mustard powder that comes in two main varieties: Shio-karashi (salt karashi) and Mōkarashi (roughly ground karashi). The taste of both are sharp and spicy. Karashi powder can be mixed with water to make a paste which is eaten as an accompaniment with Japanese dishes. It is usually served with sashimi, boiled vegetables mainly Japanese radish (daikon), tsukemono (Japanese pickles) or grilled beef, along with odeng (fish cakes), tako-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings) and Kushiyaki.
Moshio is natural salt harvested in Japan. It is 100% pure, unprocessed and additive-free. It has a mild sweet flavor and light color, so it is good for seasoning all kinds of dishes without affecting the original flavors.
Matcha is the finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea called tencha. It was originally ground in a stone mill to be used as an ingredient for the Japanese tea ceremony, but now is also made into ice cream, cake decoration etc. You can make iced matcha drinks or hot with milk and sugar at home.
Matcha is also delicious with some Fall spices if you feel like exploring more your spice cabinet.
Sesame oil is dark in color because it contains high concentrations of tocopherols, especially sesamol. It has a strong nutty flavor, so it can be used for seasoning instead of olive oil.
Sesame seeds are used whole or ground to make the seasoning tahini, which is one of the key ingredients in hummus. You can also sprinkle sesame seeds on top of rice or noodles to give them a nutty taste.
Tonkatsu sauce is a thick, deep brown sauce made from fruits and vegetables, such as apples, tomatoes or prunes. It has a salty taste that goes well with tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets).
Unagi sauce is also known as ‘barbecue eel’ sauce because it’s commonly used for grilling unagi (freshwater eel). You can use it for eel dishes but is also good with fried chicken, tempura or salad. It has a sweet and savory flavor, so you will love it if you try it!
Sansho pepper, or sancho in Japanese, is the dried seed pods from a prickly ash tree. It has a similar flavor to Sichuan pepper but with a hint of citrus. Sansho powder can be used as spices for sushi and grilled dishes, such as yakitori (grilled chicken skewers).
Miso is a Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting rice, soy beans, and barley. It comes in three colors: red, white and brown. Each color represents the proportion of ingredients used in fermentation process. For example, ‘akamiso’ (red miso) has more soybeans than rice so it has a stronger flavor than ‘awase miso’ (beef and soy sauce).
Miso is used for many Japanese dishes such as soup, tsukemono (Japanese pickles) or salad dressing. It tastes salty but you can also make sweet miso ice cream by mixing in some sugar!
Soy sauce is made from soy beans, wheat, salt and yeast. It’s a very important condiment in Japan. Soy sauce can be used for various dishes from grilled fish to soup or curry. You should have a bottle of soy sauce at home!
Ginger is a fragrant spice of the ginger family. It’s often used as a garnish for Japanese dishes such as oden, shabu shabu and sukiyaki because it gives a refreshing aroma. Ginger can also be eaten with grilled food or pickles to clean your palate.
Mugwort, also known as ‘yomogi’ in Japanese, is a plant of the sunflower family. It can be used for various dishes such as tempura or tofu salad. The most popular way to prepare mugwort is to add it into dashi (Japanese soup stock).
Mitsuba or Japanese parsley
Mitsuba is the name of a young sprout of the Japanese parsley family, which looks like chervil or parsley. It’s often used as a garnish for noodle dishes such as soba and udon. Mitsuba also tastes great in miso soup or fried tofu.
Rayu or Sichuan pepper oil
Rayu is Japanese sichuan pepper oil, which you can find at Japanese grocery stores. It contains a lot of aromatic oils and spices such as cayenne pepper and garlic. Rayu has a spicy and strong flavor so it’s perfect for seasoning dishes such as yakitori or salads.
Which roughly translates to ‘flavored rice seasoning,’ is a dry Japanese condiment made from seaweed and dried fish such as sardines or tuna flakes. Furikake has a light flavor so its great for sprinkling on top of plain steamed rice, salads etc.
Aonori is a type of green seaweed that’s dried and turned into powder. It’s often used as a garnish for noodle dishes such as udon or to make okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake). Aonori has a salty taste, so it goes well with soy sauce.
Bonito flakes are thin shavings of dried tuna fish. They have a strong, salty flavor so they’re often used as a condiment for seasonings or sprinkled on top of dishes such as rice, salads and noodle soup.
What is a Japanese seasoning
Japanese season commonly refers to a spice mix traditional in Japanese cuisine. It’s also known as Japanese 7 spice blend or Shichimi Togarashi.
The Japanese 7 spice blend is a spicy spice mix that’s used in different dishes.
Shichimi Togarashi is made with:
- Dried orange peel
- Aonori or seaweed flakes
- Shansho pepper
- Poppy seeds
- White and black sesame seeds
- Chili flakes
There are many spices that have originated in Japan. Some include sansho pepper, miso and shichimi togarshi (Japanese 7 spice blend).
While Japan has an interesting culture revolving around spices, there are only five basic spices used in Japanese cuisine. These include, sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce and miso.
Japanese spices for ramen
The most important ingredient in a bowl of ramen is its soup base. In Japan, there are two famous types of soup base for ramen: soy sauce and miso. However, there are other spices that give the broth a complex flavor such as ginger, seven-spice blend or pepper flakes.
Japanese spices for rice
Since the staple starch of Japan is rice, there are many ways to cook it. The simplest way would be plain steamed rice or kake-daibu (plain white rice with seasoning). You can also flavor your rice with yakumi (seasoning spices) such as mitsuba, wasabi powder, furikake or rayu.
Furikake is a seasoning made from dried fish such as tuna or sardines and seaweed. It has a salty flavor and crunchy texture, which makes it great for sprinkling on top of steamed rice, salads and noodle soup.
Basic Furikake is made with:
- Sesame seeds
However furikake is one of those spice mixes that can be totally customized. There are hundreds of different variations that play with different spice combinations
Some optional furikake mix-ins are:
- Bonito flakes
- Red chili
Japanese spices are a great way to add flavor and variety to your cooking. Try experimenting with different spices to see what works best for your dish. For example, if you’re making rice or noodle soup try adding some extra wasabi powder, ginger or pepper flakes.
If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to use certain spices, try going to a Japanese grocery store and see what you can find. There are many Japanese spices that have original origins, so there’s no way you can go wrong.
Japanese Furikake Spice Mix Recipe
- 3/4 Cup sesame seeds
- 3 Nori sheets
- 3/4 Teaspoons salt
- 1 Teaspoon sugar (optional)
- In a spice grinder pulse the sesame seeds so they are partly ground.
- Transfer to a pan and sautee on medium heat for 5 minutes or until they are lightly toasted and fragrant. You should feel a faint nutty smell. Transfer to a bowl.
- Thinly cut the nori sheets and add to the bowl with the sesame seeds. Stir in the salt and sugar.
- Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool and dry place.