There are various seasonings in Japan which have evolved in a unique way, such as soy sauce and miso. Here are 5 uniquely Japanese seasonings which add an accent to many dishes, not only in Japanese cuisine but also many others depending on your ideas.
1. Soy Sauce
Soy sauce is a seasoning representative of Japan that is sold in more than 100 countries all over the world. It has a long history, and has developed over time in many different ways according to taste preferences in each region of Japan or the history of brewing. It comes in five broad categories: koikuchi (concentrated), usukuchi (light), tamari (rich), saishikomi (re-brewed), and shiro shoyu (white soy sauce). Regular soy sauce is usually koikuchi. It's dark, with a rich aroma and salty taste, along with a strong umami and a slight sweetness. Soy sauce is the foundation of Japanese food culture and used in various ways, such as a sushi topping, broth for soba or ramen, stewed dishes like nikujaga in which potatoes ("jaga," short for "jagaimo") and meat ("niku") are cooked in a soy sauce-based broth, and as a sauce base for fried or sauteed dishes. It is also widely utilized in non-Japanese dishes instead of salt or as a secret ingredient in soup, sauce for steaks, pasta, and lasagna. It is known to go well with tomato-based sauces as well, so try mixing them. Since it has a high salt content, don't use too much of it.
※"Nikujaga" is a generic name for boiled dishes with meat such as beef and pork and potatoes as the main ingredients
Miso is a Japanese fermented food made of grains like soy beans, rice, and wheat mixed with salt and malted rice. It's a must-have for miso soup. Since it's fermented, it's good for digestion, and is said to strengthen the immune system while having beautifying effects. Miso has been gaining attention as a healthy, multi-purposes seasoning.
There are many kinds of miso around Japan with different ways of fermentation, adjusted based on the environment and climate of each region. Another famous miso dish is saba miso, mackerel stewed in miso. It has a unique taste and fragrance. Marinating meat or fish in miso and grilling it is also very delicious! There are many ways of utilizing it in non-Japanese dishes as well. It can be used in soup, stew, as salad dressing or dipping sauce, and goes well with butter and cheese too.
Miso soup with thinly sliced and deep-fried tofu, wakame seaweed, and green onion
Mirin is a popular alcoholic seasoning used in Japanese cuisine. It has a high sugar content and approximately 14% alcohol. It is made from steaming glutinous mochi rice mixed with malted rice, with shochu or other alcohol added in breweing. It's used for stewed dishes, as sauce for standard noodle dishes like soba or udon, in yakitori chicken skewers, and to make teriyaki sauce shine. The alcoholic content can suppress fishiness or gaminess, and the sugar adds sweetness. When stewing food, it helps to stop ingredients from falling apart and/or losing flavor.
Watch out when buying mirin, because "mirin-like" or "mirin-type" seasoning uses different ingredients. If you are cooking Japanese cuisine outside of Japan and it is difficult to obtain mirin, you can substitute it with alcohol such as white wine or sake mixed with sugar or honey.
Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers)
4. Vinegar (Rice Vinegar, Grain Vinegar)
Vinegar is manufactured everywhere in the world and is a familiar seasoning in any country. It is made with various local ingredients as its raw material, and it is said that there are more than 4,000 different kinds of vinegar. In Japan, komezu made from rice and kokumotsu-su made from grains such as wheat or corn are popular. Komezu is known for its rich umami, a light fragrance and a mild taste while kokumotsu-su has a fresh taste. To make vinegared rice used for sushi, komezu is necessary to make the flavor of the rice stand out. Other than that, it is utilized for Japanese cuisine such as boiled or vinegared dishes. Of course it is perfect for salad dressing and can be used for marinating fish, meat, or vegetables too, so why not take a bottle back with you as a souvenir?
Vinegared shrimps and cucumbers
Nihonshu, Japanese sake is not only for drinking but is loved as a seasoning too. It is used for various Japanese dishes such as asari clams steamed in sake, stewed dishes, or to season dried fish when grilling. It goes well with salt and is known to add umami to a dish while making the taste of ingredients in a dish stand out. When you use it to season meat or fish, or to put in broth, it suppresses fishiness or gaminess and plumps up ingredients while adding a rich taste. It can be used in any dish so please include it in your seasoning collection.
In supermarkets in Japan, they sell sake for cooking, but it may contain additional salt or sweetness, so it might be best to buy ordinary sake instead.
Asari clams steamed in sake
There are many more unique seasonings in Japan, and it might be fun to be conscious of these seasonings when eating Japanese cuisine.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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