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Japanese Sauces, Spices & Condiments
Mirin Miso Shichimi Togarashi Shoyu Tamari Su

Mirin (rice wine)
This is meant for cooking instead of drinking, and although it is made with rice, and involves some of the same techniques in brewing as sake, its taste and consistency differ drastically. Mirin is readily available in the better markets in glass or plastic bottles, and has a sweet flavor that is much more interesting than sugar. In fact, I used to use sugar plus sake for much of my cooking, but after switching to mirin, I wouldn’t go back. It is one of the necessary ingredients for making teriyaki sauce, and has the added benefit of adding a nice glossy finish to dishes. After opening, mirin should be kept refrigerated.

Miso (soybean paste)
Along with soy sauce, miso paste is an important seasoning agent for Japanese cooking, and miso, which has been around at least since the 8th century, is actually older. It is made of boiled and crushed soybeans, to which a wheat, barley or rice starter is added. This is aged from 6 months to a year, after which water and salt is added to form a paste. In the old days, many households made their own miso paste, but nowadays, hardly anyone goes to the trouble. Miso is available in various colors and flavors. All are mixed with dashi to make miso soup, and are used in many ways. Shiro miso (white miso) is mild in flavor, creamy smooth, and is often made into sauce and added to salad dressing. Aka miso (red miso) contains more salt and has a strong flavor. Some people like to mix red and white to make awase miso (blended miso). I keep both varieties in the fridge; they come in plastic tubs or bags, and last a long time. I also like inaka miso (country miso), which has an earthy flavor and lumpy texture that resembles chunky peanut butter. This is particularly tasty when added to soup stock for ramen.

Shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder)
Originally from China, shichimi togarashi has evolved through the years to become a thoroughly Japanese spice concoction. The ingredients vary from place to place, which is part of the fun. There is no one recipe. Typical ingredients include ground Japanese dried chili, black pepper, sansho, ground tangerine skin, black and white sesame seeds, and dried seaweed flakes. One of our joys, while traveling, is purchasing shichimi from different stores. We always keep a few kinds in bamboo containers on the table, which we use for soba, udon, and yakitori. In Kyoto, there are two shops that sell excellent blends, including Gion Shichimi, which has been in business since the Edo era. We love their original blend, which is green in color and has an herb I can’t quite distinguish. The clerk recommended we keep our jar in the freezer to preserve its freshness. TOP

Shoyu (soy sauce)
Shoyu has been around at least since the 16th century. It is made from soybeans, salt and wheat, to which malt bacteria is added. This produces shoyu koji (like a starter.) After adding saltwater, shoyu is allowed to ferment for up to a year, after which it is filtered and pasteurized. These days, excellent shoyu is made in the U.S., which has a steady supply of soybeans.

Light shoyu is used for many dishes in the Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto) area. It actually has a higher, not lower salt content, than dark shoyu. The lighter color is appreciated because it doesn’t darken the color of the various ingredients. Sashimi shoyu is rich in texture and color and a delightful inky black. Its’ smooth flavor goes well with sushi and sashimi. Tamari is made without wheat, and is rich tasting and less salty than regular shoyu.

I use all types of shoyu often, and typically buy liter bottles. Since these last a long time, I find that keeping them in the fridge preserves their flavor.

Su (rice vinegar)
Japanese vinegar is an important part of Japanese cuisine. Golden in color, with a sweet fragrance, its flavor is less harsh than white wine vinegar. When mixed with sugar and salt, it is used to make sushi rice. Sunomono (vinegared things), which is like a light salad, can be made with virtually any vegetable and/or seafood. Vinegar is said to aid digestion, and sterilizes and preserves foods. TOP