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18 Essential Japanese Ingredients

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18 Essential Japanese Ingredients

If you plan on cooking up some of your favourite Japanese dishes at home you'll need some essential Japanese ingredients to achieving those unique signature flavours.

Accumulating a selection of pantry staples will ensure you have a shot of re-creating those umami, fermented, rich and iconic Japanese flavours in your own kitchen, when you like, whether you're cooking up your favourite ramen for lunch, tempura for dinner or any snacks in between.

From staples like soy sauce and Japanese rice to garnishes like perilla and myoga, here are some Japanese pantry essentials that'll make your home cooking as authentic as if you ate out.

Japanese Ingredients for Home Cooking

1. Mirin

Mirin is a sweetened sake or rice wine with a low alcohol content and a light syrupy texture, commonly used in Japanese cooking, particularly in teriyaki sauce. Find out more about mirin including how it's made.

2.  Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a storecupboard essential made from a fermented paste of boiled soybeans, roasted grain, brine, and Aspergillus oryzae or Aspergillus sojae molds.

Understand the science behind soy sauce.

3. Perilla

Aromatic perilla leaves are commonly used in many Japanese dishes like sushi for their unique citrusy, peppery, minty flavor as well as coming in handy as a garnish on salads and noodles.

4. Dashi

Considered the cornerstone of Japanese food and cuisine, dashi is a simple stock ready in just 10 minutes. It forms the heart of many favourite recipes like miso soup and is an essential element upon which layers of flavour, aroma and texture are laid.  

Find out more about what makes dashi so enigmatic

5. Wasabi

Pungent green wasabi is the green condiment with a kick that you probably use come sushi time. It's most easily found in powdered or paste form usually eaten in small amounts with sushi and sashimi.

Find out why you've probably never tasted real wasabi

6. Konjac

Konjac is a yam like perennial plant that goes by many names, widely used in the kitchen in its native Japan and is commonly used to make low carb shirataki noodles (above).

7. Bonito Flakes

yuri ono/flickr

Bonito flakes are the dried fish flakes that form an essential component of dashi stock, but are also used as a condiment with many foods like tofu, blanched spinach, and so on. You can shave the flakes fresh or buy them pre-shaved.

8. Panko Breadcrumbs

Wally Gobetz/flickr

Panko bread crumbs are essential for achieving that sought after crunchy coating on fried foods like crispy shrimps as well as serving as nice crunchy toppings. 

9. Kombu Seaweed

Kombu is another important building block in Japanese cuisine and key ingredient in Japanese stock dashi. Dried kombu is easily stored in an air tight container and ideal for using in salad dressings, dipping sauces for soba and udon noodles, simmered one-pot dishes, and soups.

3 Recipes with Kombu

10. Japanese Noodles

Noodles are an easy store cupboard essential to have for cooking up quick and tasty Japanese recipes. Take your pick of these 7 Japanese noodles depending on what you're cooking.

11. Japanese Rice

This may be self-evident, but rice is an essential element of Japanese cuisine. Japanese rice is totally scentless and is sticky enough to hold together which is essential for dishes like sushi. 

12. Sesame Seeds

jacqueline/flickr

Sesame seeds are the tiny nutritional powerhouses that are widely used in Japanese cooking as a seasoning and a garnish. Toasted they bring out the flavours and aromas as well as adding both texture and nutrition.

13. Daikon

Grated daikon radish cuts down on the oiliness of things like tempura and grilled oily fish. 

Find out more about daikon here, including recipes.

14. Myoga

The buds of the deciduous perennial plant are commonly used as a garnish, found thinly shredded and scattered on steamed rice, hiyakko, miso soup, cold soba noodles and somen, although they can also be pickled.

Find out more about myoga

15. Rice Wine Vinegar

Japanese rice vinegar, made from fermented rice, is milder and sweeter than white wine vinegar. You will probably know about sushi vinegar too, which is just rice vinegar with some added flavourings including sugar, salt and sake. 

16. Miso Paste

Miso paste is another staple of Japanese cookig and typically made from rice and soybeans, fermented. Red and white are the most popular but there are a variety of misos to choose from depending on your flavour preference and recipe. Miso paste is dissolved in dashi broth to make miso soup, and used as a flavoring in sauces, marinades and salad dressings.

17. Sake

Kanko*/flickr

Many Japanese foods include sake as an ingredient so while you don't need to splash out on the best, just be sure it's good enough for drinking.

18. Kabocha Squash

Kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, has sweet, dense flesh with a chestnut-like aroma and flavor. It is often simmered in dashi or deep-fried in tempura.

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