30 Amazing Japanese Spices and Herbs | Guide To Japanese Condiments, Seasonings, Spices, And Herbs For Cooking

by Erika Shinomoto
best japanese spices and herbs

If you’re into Japanese cooking then you should definitely first understand the different Japanese spices and herbs, Japanese condiments, and Japanese seasonings to get that authentic flavor. In this article, we discuss all the important Japanese spices, herbs, condiments, and seasonings in detail. Check it out!

Embark on a captivating journey through the realm of Japanese herbs, spices, condiments, and seasonings, where flavors are elevated to extraordinary heights.

Japanese cuisine is renowned for its harmonious blend of tastes and the meticulous use of ingredients. In this article, we unravel the secrets behind these culinary treasures, from the fiery allure of wasabi to the tangy zest of yuzu kosho.

Discover the cultural significance of each ingredient and their culinary applications, as we delve into the essence of soy sauce, the versatility of shichimi togarashi, and the aromatic allure of Japanese herbs like mitsuba and shungiku.

From traditional techniques to modern adaptations, we explore the artistry and creativity that shape these unique flavors.

Join us on this tantalizing adventure, as we unlock the wonders of Japanese condiments, seasonings, spices, and herbs, and gain a deeper appreciation for the extraordinary tapestry of tastes that define Japanese cuisine.

Japanese Condiments For Authentic Japanese Flavors

Soy Sauce (Shoyu)

Soy sauce, known as “Shoyu” in Japan, is a staple condiment with a rich history and a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Crafted through a process of fermenting soybeans, wheat, water, and salt, soy sauce develops a complex flavor profile that combines savory, salty, and slightly sweet notes. 

Soy Sauce

It is revered for its umami taste, which adds depth and richness to dishes. Soy sauce is incredibly versatile and used as a seasoning in a myriad of Japanese recipes, such as sushi, sashimi, stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces. 

Its ability to enhance flavors and provide a well-rounded taste makes it an essential component in Japanese cooking.

Miso

Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that holds a cherished place in Japanese culinary heritage. 

miso paste

This distinctive condiment is created by fermenting soybeans, rice or barley, and salt, resulting in a thick paste with a remarkable umami flavor. 

Miso boasts a complex taste profile, ranging from mild and slightly sweet to robust and earthy, depending on the type of miso and the fermentation duration. It is commonly used as a base for miso soup, a beloved staple in Japanese cuisine. 

Additionally, miso finds its way into marinades, glazes, and dressings, lending its umami depth to a wide array of dishes. Its versatility and unique flavor make miso an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cooking.

Wasabi

Wasabi is a prized Japanese condiment renowned for its unmistakable pungency and distinct flavor. 

Derived from the grated root of the wasabi plant, this condiment delivers a sinus-clearing, fiery heat that quickly dissipates, leaving behind a subtly sweet and refreshing taste. True wasabi possesses a delicate balance of spiciness and vegetal notes. 

It is traditionally served as a vibrant green paste alongside sushi and sashimi, complementing the flavors of raw fish and adding a transformative zing to each bite. The rarity and nuanced flavors of authentic wasabi make it a sought-after and cherished condiment in Japanese cuisine.

Ponzu

Ponzu is a versatile and zesty citrus-based sauce that adds a delightful tang to various dishes. Crafted from a harmonious blend of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and citrus juice, typically yuzu fruit, ponzu possesses a bright, refreshing flavor profile. 

ponzu

It strikes a balance between savory, sour, and subtly sweet notes. Ponzu serves multiple purposes, serving as a dipping sauce for dumplings, tempura, and grilled meats. It also shines as a dressing, adding a lively twist to salads or enhancing the flavors of seafood and grilled vegetables. 

The vibrant and citrusy essence of ponzu enlivens the taste buds and brings a vibrant touch to Japanese cuisine.

Goma (Sesame) Sauce

Goma sauce, also known as sesame sauce or dressing, is a luscious condiment that showcases the unique nuttiness of sesame seeds. 

It is prepared by grinding roasted sesame seeds into a smooth paste, combined with soy sauce, sugar, and other flavorings. The result is a velvety and aromatic sauce with a delectable blend of toasty, sweet, and savory notes. 

Goma sauce

Goma sauce is commonly used as a dressing for salads, providing a creamy texture and a depth of flavor. It also serves as a versatile accompaniment to noodles, grilled meats, and vegetables, lending its rich and nutty profile to elevate the taste of various dishes.

Tsuyu

Tsuyu is a versatile Japanese condiment that encompasses the umami essence of soy sauce, the delicate sweetness of mirin (sweet rice wine), and the savory depth of dashi (broth). 

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This combination results in a flavor-packed dipping sauce and soup base. Tsuyu boasts a complex taste profile, with a perfect harmony of saltiness, sweetness, and a delicate umami undertone. 

It is frequently used as a dipping sauce for tempura, soba noodles, and udon noodles, allowing the ingredients to absorb the umami-rich flavors. 

Diluted with hot water, tsuyu transforms into a delectable soup base for noodle soups and hot pots, imparting a robust and savory character to the dishes.

Furikake

Furikake is a delightful dry seasoning blend that adds both flavor and texture to various dishes, with a primary focus on rice. Comprising a medley of ingredients such as dried seaweed, sesame seeds, dried fish, sugar, and salt, furikake offers a symphony of flavors. 

Furikake

Each variety of furikake possesses its own unique combination, resulting in a diverse range of options. It is sprinkled generously over steamed rice, adding layers of umami, saltiness, and a subtle touch of sweetness. 

Furikake also finds its way into onigiri (rice balls), noodle dishes, salads, and other savory preparations, enhancing the taste and visual appeal of these culinary creations.

Karashi (Japanese Mustard)

Karashi, known as Japanese mustard, is a piquant condiment that adds a sharp and fiery element to dishes. 

Made from mustard seeds, karashi possesses a potent spiciness that quickly unfolds on the palate. Its distinctive flavor profile is characterized by an initial heat followed by a lingering, robust mustard flavor. 

Karashi is commonly served as a condiment alongside grilled meats, such as yakitori or yakiniku, providing a zesty and tangy counterpoint. 

It also finds its place in hot pot dishes and accompanies deep-fried tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets), where its pungent notes add a bold and assertive punch.

Umeboshi

Umeboshi, also known as pickled Japanese plums, are a beloved condiment cherished for their intense sourness and salty taste. 

These plums undergo a meticulous process of fermentation, typically with salt and sometimes red shiso leaves, resulting in a distinctive flavor profile. Umeboshi boasts a tangy and briny character, with an almost mouth-puckering quality. 

They are often enjoyed as a condiment alongside rice, imparting their vibrant flavors and lending a delightful contrast to the grains. 

Umeboshi are also incorporated into various dishes, such as onigiri (rice balls), bento boxes, or used as a filling for rice balls. Their sourness and complex flavors contribute to the intricate tapestry of Japanese cuisine.

Japanese Seasonings and Spices For Flavorful Japanese Dishes

Yuzukosho

Yuzukosho is a flavorful condiment and seasoning that captures the essence of Japanese cuisine. Made from a combination of chili peppers, yuzu zest, and salt, yuzukosho offers a harmonious blend of spicy, citrusy, and salty flavors. 

Yuzukosho

It has a vibrant and invigorating taste profile that adds a refreshing kick to various dishes. Yuzukosho is commonly used to enhance the flavors of grilled meats, sashimi, hot pots, and even simple steamed rice.

Its lively and zesty characteristics elevate the taste experience and bring a unique twist to Japanese cooking.

Ajinomoto (Monosodium Glutamate)

Ajinomoto is a flavor enhancer commonly used in Japanese cuisine to intensify the umami taste of dishes. It is a crystalline powder derived from the natural fermentation of certain vegetables or other ingredients. 

Ajinomoto adds a savory and rich flavor to various recipes without overpowering the other ingredients. It is used sparingly to enhance the taste of soups, sauces, stir-fries, and marinades. 

Ajinomoto helps to bring out the natural flavors of ingredients, contributing to the umami depth that is characteristic of Japanese cuisine.

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Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes)

Katsuobushi, also known as bonito flakes, is a fundamental ingredient in Japanese cuisine that imparts a smoky and savory flavor to many dishes. It is made from dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna, which is then shaved into thin flakes. 

Katsuobushi is a key component in making dashi, a traditional Japanese broth used as a base for soups, sauces, and noodle dishes. 

The delicate flakes of katsuobushi add an intense umami taste and a subtle hint of smokiness to dishes like miso soup, noodle broths, and savory sauces.

Nori (Seaweed)

Nori is a type of edible seaweed that plays a crucial role in Japanese cuisine. It is harvested, dried, and processed into thin, dark green sheets. 

Nori is most commonly known for its use in wrapping sushi rolls, where it adds a delicate oceanic flavor and a crisp texture. 

It can also be crumbled or roasted and used as a seasoning for rice, noodles, and soups. Nori offers a umami-rich taste and contributes to the visual appeal of many Japanese dishes.

Nanami Togarashi

Nanami togarashi is a Japanese chili pepper blend that brings a gentle heat and complex flavor to dishes. 

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It typically consists of red chili pepper flakes along with other spices such as black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, dried orange peel, and ginger. 

Nanami togarashi adds a mild spiciness and a tantalizing aroma to udon noodles, tempura, soups, and other dishes. The combination of flavors provides a nuanced and well-rounded taste experience that enhances the overall enjoyment of the meal.

Mentsuyu

Mentsuyu is a concentrated soup base used as a seasoning in Japanese cuisine. It is made by combining soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), dashi (broth), and sugar. 

Mentsuyu offers a complex flavor profile that combines saltiness, sweetness, and umami richness. It is versatile and used as a seasoning for noodle dishes like soba and udon, as well as a dipping sauce for tempura and other fried foods. 

The concentrated nature of mentsuyu allows for easy customization of flavor and provides a convenient way to enhance the taste of various Japanese dishes.

Gomashio

Gomashio is a simple yet flavorful seasoning made from toasted sesame seeds and salt. The sesame seeds are ground or crushed with salt to create a fine mixture. 

Gomashio adds a nutty and toasty flavor along with a subtle saltiness to dishes. It is often sprinkled over steamed rice, vegetables, noodles, or salads, providing an extra layer of taste and a delightful crunch. 

Gomashio is appreciated for its simplicity and ability to elevate the flavors of various Japanese dishes.

Sansho

Sansho, also known as Japanese pepper or prickly ash, is a spice that holds a special place in Japanese cuisine. It has a unique flavor profile characterized by its citrusy, peppery, and slightly numbing taste. 

Sansho is typically used in powdered form or whole berries and is often incorporated into seasoning blends or sprinkled over dishes. Its vibrant flavor adds a tangy and aromatic kick to grilled meats, noodle dishes, soups, and even desserts. The numbing sensation of sansho, similar to that of Sichuan pepper, creates a fascinating and exhilarating culinary experience.

Shichimi Togarashi

Shichimi togarashi, often referred to as seven spice blend, is a versatile and popular Japanese spice mixture. It typically includes a combination of red chili pepper flakes, sansho, sesame seeds, dried citrus peel (such as yuzu or orange), nori (seaweed), ginger, and other spices. 

Shichimi togarashi offers a complex flavor profile that combines heat, citrusy notes, nuttiness, and a hint of umami. It is commonly sprinkled over noodle dishes, rice bowls, grilled meats, and tempura to add a vibrant and aromatic kick. 

The blend’s varying textures and flavors create a harmonious balance that enhances the overall taste experience.

Tamari

Tamari is a type of soy sauce that originated in Japan. It is made from fermented soybeans, typically without the addition of wheat. 

Tamari has a richer and milder flavor compared to regular soy sauce. It offers a complex taste profile that is characterized by its umami-richness, subtle sweetness, and a hint of saltiness. 

Tamari is used as a seasoning in various Japanese dishes, including stir-fries, marinades, dipping sauces, and sushi. Its smooth and well-rounded flavor elevates the taste of the dishes and adds a distinctive umami boost.

Katsuobushi

Katsuobushi, also known as bonito flakes, is a quintessential ingredient in Japanese cuisine. It is made from dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna that is shaved into thin flakes. 

Katsuobushi is valued for its unique smoky and umami-rich flavor. It is commonly used as a topping and flavor enhancer, particularly in dashi, the fundamental broth of many Japanese dishes. 

The flakes are often added to soups, sauces, and simmered dishes, where they impart a depth of flavor and savory complexity. 

Katsuobushi adds a distinct touch of umami that is integral to the authentic taste of Japanese cuisine.

Japanese Herbs Essential For Japanese Cooking

Shiso

Shiso, also known as perilla, is a versatile herb with a long history in Japanese cuisine. It is characterized by its vibrant green or purple leaves, which have a distinct and refreshing flavor profile. 

Shiso leaves possess a unique blend of minty, basil-like, and citrusy notes, making them a popular ingredient in Japanese dishes. 

The leaves are often used as a garnish, rolled up and wrapped around sushi or sashimi, or finely chopped and added to salads, soups, and noodle dishes. 

Shiso not only adds a visually appealing element with its beautiful color but also imparts a fresh, aromatic, and slightly tangy taste that complements a wide range of culinary creations.

Mitsuba

Mitsuba, also referred to as Japanese parsley or trefoil, is a delicate herb that plays a significant role in Japanese cuisine. It features vibrant green, serrated leaves and a subtle, yet distinct flavor profile. 

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Mitsuba leaves offer a mild and slightly bitter taste with hints of celery. They are commonly used as a garnish for soups, salads, and sushi, adding an herbaceous freshness and visual appeal to the dishes. 

Additionally, mitsuba is often incorporated into tempura or simmered dishes to enhance the overall flavor and bring a unique touch of herbal essence to the culinary experience.

Myoga

Myoga is a fascinating herb closely related to ginger, which is highly valued in Japanese cuisine for its distinctive taste and aromatic properties. 

It is characterized by slender, elongated shoots with a pale pink hue and a flavor profile that combines spicy, tangy, and floral notes. 

Myoga is typically enjoyed pickled or thinly sliced and used as a garnish for sashimi, salads, and cold noodles. Its unique flavor adds a refreshing and invigorating element to the dishes, creating a harmonious balance between the other ingredients.

Shiso Perilla

Shiso perilla, a variation of shiso, brings its own unique attributes to Japanese cuisine. It features larger leaves and possesses a slightly stronger flavor compared to regular shiso. 

The leaves of shiso perilla boast a complex taste profile, combining elements of mint, basil, and citrus. These leaves are often utilized as wrappers for sushi or incorporated into rice dishes to infuse them with an appealing color and a distinctive taste. 

Shiso perilla adds a touch of freshness, depth, and visual appeal to various culinary preparations.

Uziza

While originally from West Africa, uziza has found its way into Japanese cuisine, particularly in recent years. 

This herb offers a captivating flavor profile with a notable spicy and peppery taste, accompanied by hints of citrus. Both the leaves and seeds of uziza are used sparingly as a seasoning in soups, stews, and sauces, contributing a unique and aromatic taste to the dishes. 

Uziza provides a tantalizing contrast and a pleasant warmth to the palate, enhancing the overall sensory experience of the meal.

Seri

Seri, also known as water dropwort or Japanese parsley, is a graceful herb with slender, hollow stems and serrated leaves. It is known for its mildly bitter and herbaceous taste, with subtle hints of celery. 

Seri is often employed in soups, stews, and hot pots, where its distinctive flavor contributes depth and complexity to the dishes. 

This herb brings a refreshing and earthy quality to the culinary creations, making it a valuable ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Yuzu

Yuzu is a prized citrus fruit that holds a special place in Japanese culinary traditions. It boasts a vibrant and aromatic flavor that is characterized by its tangy, tart, and subtly sweet taste. 

Yuzu zest and juice are extensively used to add a refreshing citrusy note to various dishes, ranging from sauces and dressings to marinades and desserts. 

The unique flavor of yuzu elevates the taste profile of the dishes and imparts a distinctively Japanese touch. It is particularly cherished during the winter season when its bright and uplifting aroma adds a sense of warmth and cheer to the culinary creations.

Shungiku

Shungiku, also called edible chrysanthemum or garland chrysanthemum, is a leafy green herb with a slightly bitter and tangy taste. It has serrated, dark green leaves and a distinctive aroma. 

Shungiku is commonly used in hot pot dishes, stir-fries, and sukiyaki, where its robust flavor adds depth and complexity. 

The herb is also enjoyed in salads and as a topping for rice bowls. Its unique flavor and nutrient-rich nature make shungiku a popular choice in Japanese cuisine.

Mikan (Satsuma Orange)

Mikan, also known as Satsuma orange or mandarin orange, is a citrus fruit widely cultivated in Japan. The zest and juice of mikan are often used as a flavoring agent in various dishes. 

The zest adds a bright and tangy aroma, while the juice brings a sweet and slightly tart taste. Mikan is utilized in dressings, marinades, desserts, and even savory dishes to infuse them with its citrusy essence. Its delightful flavor and fragrance contribute to the overall balance and freshness of Japanese culinary creations.

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Oba (Green Perilla)

Oba, also referred to as green perilla or beefsteak plant, is an herb with large, rounded leaves and a distinct aroma. It has a minty, basil-like taste with a touch of citrus. 

Oba leaves are commonly used as a wrapping for sushi rolls, as a garnish for soups and noodle dishes, and even as a component in pickles. The herb adds a refreshing and herbaceous note to the dishes and is highly valued for its aromatic properties.

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