The Complete Guide To All Major Japanese Condiments & Seasonings

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  • December 21, 2015
The Complete Guide To All Major Japanese Condiments & Seasonings

The secret to many of Japan’s most celebrated dishes is in the use of the right amount and blend of ingredients. Any recipe that may be bland, ordinary, and uninteresting at first can be transformed into a vibrant, appetizing, and scrumptious feast with the addition of spices and seasonings that can enrich and deepen the taste.
Whether it is for food prepared at home or served in a restaurant or a corner stall, the Japanese have an extensive selection of condiments that envelop a broad spectrum of flavors — from sweet to sour, from bitter to hot — that can guarantee a more gratifying meal. Here are 40 of the most widely used condiments in Japan:

1. Soy sauce

soy sauce

Introduced by Chinese Buddhist monks in the 1600s, soy sauce, or shoyu in Japanese, is a standard condiment in Japan. It has five main varieties that differ in the type of ingredients and amounts of soybeans and wheat used in production:

  • Koikuchi
  • Usukuchi
  • Saishikomi
  • Shiro
  • Tamari

Often used in the preparation of soups, rice and meat dishes, marinade, and sauces and dippings, shoyu is available for sale in supermarkets and grocery stores in the country.

2. Vinegar

vinegar

Locally known as su, Japanese vinegar is a spice in liquid form that is usually semi-translucent or pale yellow in color. It has different kinds, including:

  • komezu -  rice vinegar
  • awasezu – vinegar made from sake mixed with sugar and salt
  • kurozo – a black vinegar variety that is made from rice and considered to be rich in amino acids and healthy for the body

Some of the best uses of su are as dipping sauce for sushi, for making marinades for meat and fish, as a main flavor enhancer for soups and stews, and for pickle preserves.

3. Miso

miso

A staple in numerous Japanese cuisines, miso is a traditional seasoning that is made by the fermentation of soybeans with a fungus called koji, along with salt, barley, rice, hemp seeds, rye, and other ingredients. It generally has a salty flavor, but other varieties can be sweet or fruity.

There are three primary flavor groups of miso, and they are the akamiso (red miso that is popular in Kanto), shiromiso (white miso that is widely used in the western Kansai area), and awasemiso (mixed miso).

It is thick and paste-like and is commonly used for spreads, sauces, and soup stocks for udon and ramen.

4. Cooking Sake (Ryorishu)

cooking sake

Comparable to white wine frequently used in Western cooking, ryorishu, or cooking sake, is a type of rice wine that is added to many Japanese dishes to boost their flavor and make them more enticing.

Made from rice, ryorishu is a frequent component in sauces and soup stocks, as well as in marinades, as it is quite effective in tenderizing meat and getting rid of any unpleasant odor.

Supermarkets without licenses to sell alcohol around Japan carry ryorishu that contains salt, as required by law.

5. Mirin

mirin

Mirin is an essential Japanese seasoning that comes in a clear, liquid form. Also known as sweet cooking sake, it contains more sugar and less alcohol in comparison to regular sake.

One of the older uses of mirin is as an agent to remove the slimy, saltwater smell from fish and other seafoods. It can also add that subtle hint of sweetness to any dish and improve the aroma to make both the cooking and dining experiences a lot better.

It is a major ingredient in making teriyaki sauce, and it goes well with pork, beef, and other types of meat.

6. Ponzu

ponzu

A type of sauce that is made from rice vinegar, mirin, fish flakes, and seaweed, and infused with yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), ponzu is a Japanese seasoning that has a very long history in local culinary.

Frequently paired with meat, seafoods, and vegetables, it is added to marinades or soy sauce to make savory dipping sauces suitable for various beloved Japanese foods, like sashimi, shabu-shabu and nabu; topping for rice meals and takoyaki; as well as a seasoning for some Western dishes, such as raw oysters and grilled steak.

7. Ajipon

ajipon

A healthier alternative for soy sauce because of its low sodium content, Ajipon is Japan’s number one ponzu brand. It primarily consists of soy sauce, mixed with citrus juice and vinegar, and can liven up any meal.

For maximum Japanese cuisine enjoyment, Ajipon can be used as a dip for tataki, shabu-shabu, dumplings, tempura, sushi, and sashimi. And, because of its versatility, it can also be seasoned on Western specialties, like salads, baked potatoes, and steaks.

8. Shirodashi

shirodashi

A common type of soup base used in making a wide array of broths, stocks, and other liquid-based dishes, shirodashi, or white dashi is made by soaking kelp and fish shavings in near-boiling water, and then straining the liquid for later use.

The resultant broth takes on the flavor of the ingredients, so it can be earthy, salty, or sweet, depending on ratio of the components to each other and the addition of particular flavor enhancers, such as ribonucleotides and glutamates, and seafoods and vegetables, such as niboshi and shiitake.

9. Mentsuyu

mentsuyu

Another flavorful Japanese condiment, mentsuyu is a type of sauce that is made from mixing together soy sauce, dashi, mirin, and sugar.

Also called noodle sauce, mentsuyu is frequently added to udon, hiyamugi, somen, and other noodle meals as a dipping sauce. In Japan, it is pretty common to use mentsuyu as a dip for cold soba as it effectively enhances the taste of this popular cuisine.

Because of its versatility, mentsuyu can also be used to season different kinds of dishes, including stir-fry or steamed vegetables, teriyaki, tofu, and tempura.

10. Dashi

dashi

Dashi is a type of broth used in the preparation of numerous Japanese dishes. It has played an essential role in the long history of Japanese culinary and continues to be one of the top spices used up to now.

Made from seaweed and dried fish shavings, dashi gives any food it is added to a flavor boost that is frequently described as mild and just the right level of saltiness.

It is an integral ingredient when making miso soup as it acts as the base stock for the simmering meats and vegetables. In addition to that, when mixed with sugar and soy sauce, dashi can also work as base for soba sauce and udon broth.

11. Usuta sauce (Worcestor sauce)

usuta sauce

Usuta sauce is a Japanese seasoning made by blending together and fermenting a wide variety of ingredients, including tomatoes, onions, carrots, dried baby sardines, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, thyme, cinnamon, parsley, and bay leaf.

Outside Japan, most people know it as Worcestershire sauce. It has quite a distinct tang that is sweet, sour, and salty all at the same time. It is an amazing condiment for any fish, pork, chicken, and beef dishes.

12. Chuunou sauce

chuunou sauce

A well-loved sauced in the Kanto region, chuunou sauce is an appetizing Japanese spice that is a suitable accompaniment to many local foods. Its ingredients include vinegar, sugar, corn syrup, starch, salt, yeast extract spices, and fruits and vegetables, such as apples, prunes, onions, and carrots.

Its taste is a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, and is best used on deep-fried fish and meat.

There are different ways to make homemade chuunou sauce, but probably the simplest and most commonly practiced technique is whipping up a mixture that consists of two parts ketchup and one part Worcestershire sauce.

13. Tonkatsu sauce

tonkatsu sauce

Commonly used on fried pork cutlets, tonkatsu sauce is a very popular Japanese spice that is fruity and sweet in flavor and thick in texture.

This delicious sauce, which is made from the even fusion of flavors of ingredients, such as soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, sugar, mirin, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce, has a rich flavor that is comparable to steak sauce and barbecue sauce.

Tonkatsu sauce can also be used on vegetable salads and other cuisines.

14. Okonomi sauce

Okonomi sauce is a popular sauce chiefly used for okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pancakes. It is sometimes utilized as a substitute for tonkatsu sauce to give flavor to other dishes.

There are several okonomi sauce brands available in Japan, and these are made from organic ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, corn syrup, soy sauce, mushroom, and more.

Also, making a homemade version is so easy as the necessary ingredients, which are Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, tomato sauce, and caster sugar, are sold in most supermarkets all over the country.

Okonomi sauce is also an excellent spice for gyoza, yaki udon, tempura, fried rice, and numerous Japanese meat and vegetable recipes.

15. Teriyaki sauce

teriyaki sauce

Teriyaki sauce is a world-famous Japanese condiment that is often used on fish and meat dishes. It usually tastes sweet, but some varieties can be on the spicier side.

Traditionally, the process of making teriyaki sauce involves heating together mirin or sake, soy sauce, and honey or sugar. Once the mixture starts to boil and is thick enough, it is used as a marinade for any fish or meat that is boiled or grilled later on.

In Japan, teriyaki sauce is popularly used on skipjack tuna, mackerel, trout, marlin, yellowtail, and other seafoods.

16. Oroshi sauce

oroshi sauce

Made from Japanese radish, vinegar, soy sauce, and honey, oroshi sauce is a multi-purpose sauce that has been a customary piece of the country’s long, dynamic, and loaded gastronomy.

Because of the many vitamins, minerals, and a special enzyme present in daikon, the sauce offers some valuable health benefits, particularly in the digestion of fatty and greasy foods.

Some of the most known applications of oroshi sauce are on jako oroshi, which is a type of baby sardines dish, and momoji oroshi, which is a cuisine that has red hot peppers.

17. Mayonnaise

mayonnaise

Because of its rich and flavorful taste, Japanese mayonnaise, specifically the Kewpie mayonnaise brand, is a distinguished condiment, not only in Japan but also in other countries.

Chefs and cooking enthusiasts rave over its pleasant and satisfying tanginess, which is attributable to the use of monosodium glutamate, and also over its thin and smooth consistency, which is the result of using rice vinegar and only egg yolks in the production process.

Kewpie mayonnaise can be used as dipping for fries, burgers, potato salad, and just about every Japanese dish.

18. Wafu dressing

wafu dressing

Wafu dressing is a soy sauce-based salad dressing that is a frequent sight in Japanese kitchens and eateries.

Literally translates to “Japanese-style dessing” in English, this condiment is traditionally made by mixing soy sauce, vegetable oil, and rice vinegar. Flavored variations exist and make use of supplementary ingredients such as wasabi, yuzu, shiso, aonori, umeboshi puree, and grated ginger.

It can be used on vegetable salad, wafu steak, and other Japanese dishes.

19. Rayu

rayu

A Japanese condiment made by infusing dried chili peppers and vegetable oil, rayu is Japan’s version of hot chili oil.

A popular topping choice on white rice, tofu, and noodles, it introduces a special, fiery flavor quality to any dish for a satisfying dining experience.

There are a number of rayu varieties that contain additional ingredients. Taberu rayu, for instance, has onion and garlic bits, herbs, ginger, and other seasonings, for a stronger kick.

Rayu can also be used as sauce or dip for dumplings and gyoza.

20. Goma abura

sesame oil

Considered to be an essential spice in any Japanese kitchen, goma abura is sesame oil that is authentic to Japan.

Premium goma abura is made by carefully selecting only the best quality sesame seeds from the healthiest sesame plants to be pressed, processed, and obtain sesame oil from. 

Great for deep frying, stir frying, sautéing, and marinating, goma abura is a versatile condiment that can be used for an assortment of both local and foreign meat, fish, and vegetable recipes.

21. Yuzukosho

yuzu kosho

Yuzukosho is a Japanese seasoning made from fermented red or green chili peppers, salt, and peelings of the Japanese citrus fruit called yuzu, and comes in the form of a paste.

In Kyushu, it is considered a local specialty and is a rather familiar product in supermarkets in the area. It also is fairly popular in other regions around the country as more and more manufacturers have showed up to mass-produce this condiment.

Its concentrated flavor adds a special layer of zest to many Japanese cuisines, such as nabemono, sashimi, miso soup, udon, tempura, meatball soup, ramen, tonkatsu, and grilled chicken.

22. Wasabi

wasabi

Also known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi is a type of Japanese condiment that is notorious for its overpowering, pungent taste. It is spicy and is often compared to hot chili pepper and hot mustard. When consumed, an intense sensation that travels through the nasal passages is usually experienced.

Wasabi comes from the stem of the plant and is available in different forms:

  • Grated
  • Dried powder
  • Paste

It is commonly used as an essential condiment for sashimi, soba, and sushi.

23. Karashi

karashi

A yellow-colored mustard variety that is a popular seasoning and condiment in Japan, karashi is made by crushing Brassica juncea seeds to make it into either a paste or powder.

Typically served with shumai, natto, tonkatsu, and oden, it can also be mixed with other condiments to make different types of dipping sauces, like:

  • Karashi mayonnaise – dipping sauce with karashi and mayonnaise
  • Karashi su miso – dipping sauce with karashi, miso, and vinegar

Cutlet sandwiches, shumai, tonkatsu, karashi renkon, and oden are just a few of so many Japanese delicacies that can become a lot more enjoyable to eat with the addition of karashi’s hot and spicy flavor.

24. Sansho

sanshou

Sansho is a spice used in various Japanese broths, soups, sauces, and other dishes. It is the unripe berries of the prickly ash tree known as Zanthoxylum piperitum.

Typically used either as whole seedpods or grounded to powder, sansho is added to many food recipes to augment flavor. It has an earthy, citrusy taste that gives the tongue an odd, electrifying sensation.

In Japan, it is somewhat common to season sansho on different noodle dishes, sushi, broiled eel, and grilled meat, such as chicken yakitori.

25. Ichimi tougarashi

ichimi togarashi

Refreshingly hot and spicy, ichimi tougarashi is made from Japanese red pepper that is dried and shaved to make flakes. It is sprinkled onto a wide variety of Japanese foods to take the flavor to another level without eclipsing the dishes’ original essence.

Available in supermarkets all over Japan, ichimi tougarashi adds a burst of zest to fried rice, ramen, soba, grilled and fried fish and meat, soup broths, salad dressings, and many more.

26. Shichimi tougarashi

shichimi togarashi

Popularly known as seven-flavor chili pepper, shichimi tougarashi is a type of Japanese condiment that contains seven different varieties of spices.

Its primary ingredient is red chili pepper that is finely grounded and mixed with another type of Japanese pepper called sansho. The other components are a combination of any of the following: orange peelings, rapeseed, poppy seed, shiso, white sesame seed, black sesame seed, ground ginger, nori, and hemp seed.

It can bring to life several kinds of Japanese dishes, from grilled meat and fish to rice and soup dishes.

27. Wagiri togarashi

wagiri togarashi

Wagiri togarashi refers to togarashi, or Japanese dried red chili pepper, that is sliced or cut into rings. It is a familiar table condiment in Japanese restaurants and is used on quite a number of local cuisines.

Its fiery flavor blends perfectly with almost all sorts of foods. For instance, when making daikon radish, some prefer to top it with wagiri togarashi to have that nice fusion of flavors in the mouth.

Wagiri togarashi is also sprinkled over ramen or soba noodles; fried pork, chicken, and fish; yakitori; and other much loved local dishes.

28. Sesame

sesame

A flowering plant that is coveted for its versatility, sesame is known for its many uses, particularly as the source of sesame seeds, which are an important ingredient in the preparation of countless cuisines, especially in Japan.

For some years now, Japan has ranked number one on the list of the world’s top sesame seed importers, and this should not come as a surprise as the country fully utilizes this seasoning in the production of various delicacies, such as breads, tempura, fried fish and meat, and others.

Apart from sesame seeds and sesame oil, sesame can also be made into paste and mixed with starch to make goma-dofu.

29. Gomashio

gomashio

Made from either black or tan unhulled sesame seeds, gomashio is a well-known Japanese condiment that is a usual component of numerous Japanese dishes.

To make gomashio, the sesame seeds are toasted, salted with sea salt, and then stored in a jar or glass container. The taste, which is a combination of salty and nutty, may vary, depending on the amount of sesame seeds and salt used.

Because of its nutritional value, gomashio is often recommended as an alternative to regular salt in macrobiotic diets. It is commonly used as a topping for onigiri, rice, and sekihan.

30. Aonori

aonori

An edible type of green seaweed, aonori is a common Japanese spice that is rich in vitamins, amino acids, calcium, lithium, magnesium, and other minerals.

It comes in different forms and used for a number of purposes:

  • Dried aonori – used to make dried nori and also added to tempura and soups
  • Powdered aonori – used as topping on yakiudon, yakisoba, isobe mochi, natto, okonomiyaki, isobe age, takoyaki, and misoshiru

Aonori is available at supermarkets around the country.

31. Katsuobushi

katsuobushi

Katsuobushi is a Japanese spice made from skipjack tuna that is dried, smoked, fermented, and shaved. It contains a high concentration of inosinic acid that gives it a sharp umami taste, making it a perfect match for numerous Japanese cuisines.

Popular uses of katsuobushi in the Japanese kitchen include:

  • Onigiri (rice ball) stuffing
  • Topping on okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, and rice
  • Seasoning on cold soba noodles and century egg
  • Okaka
  • Ingredient in dashi or fish broth
  • Steamed or fried vegetables

It is also manufactured to make cat treats that are rich in protein.

32. Kezuribushi

katsuobushi

Made by drying, smoking, shaving, and slicing a type of tuna known as bonito, kezuribushi is considered a great addition to various Japanese dishes as it introduces a smokey, aromatic taste that gives any dish a deeper and richer flavor.

Valued for its low fat and high protein content, it is an excellent condiment to use when making nutritious versions of popular local recipes.

It is commonly incorporated in the preparation of okonomiyaki, dashi or fish broth, and other vegetable and meat preparations.

33. Furikake

furikake

Furikake is a seasoning made from combining sesame seeds, sugar, dried and ground fish, chopped seaweed, monosodium glutamate, and salt.

The Japanese often use furikake as a topping on rice, but they also use it when cooking onigiri, salads, noodles, fried fish and meat, seafoods, and other dishes.

Furikake is available in the form of flakes or shavings and are typically bright in color. It is sold in jars in various grocery stores in Japan, as well as in Asian supermarkets abroad.

34. Ajinomoto

ajinomoto

Ajinomoto is a brand that has become synonymous to monosodium glutamate, which is the company’s primary product that was first introduced to the Japanese market back in 1909. It contains an essential compound, a glutamate salt, which can bring savoriness when added to food.

Appropriate for use whatever time of the year, ajinomoto is seasoned on various Japanese dishes to boost flavor. It can be sprinkled on pork dishes, such as butadon and tonkatsu; sushi; sautéed meat, fish, and vegetables; miso soup; noodles, such as miso nikomi udon and tanabata somen; and soups, like nikujaga, aburaage to daikon no misoshiru, and tofu and wakame miso soup.

35. Shouga

shouga

A rather potent and spicy Japanese seasoning, shouga is made from shouga rhizome, a plant that develops more spiciness and hotness as it burrows deeper into the ground. Once harvested, it is grated and served as a condiment.

Probably its most known use is on sushi, as it can mask any unpleasant smell. It is applied to raw fish in small quantities, just enough to get rid of the briny and fishy stench.

Shouga also offers some health benefits, one of which is its ability to aid proper digestion by increasing blood flow in the digestive system, helping regulate warmth in the body while consuming sushi and other raw, cold cuts.

36. Benishouga

benishouga

A popular garnish in numerous Japanese dishes, benishouga is made from thin slices of ginger immersed in a pickling solution called umezu, which is red plum vinegar. It traditionally has a red or magenta color, but some prepackaged benishouga products sold in supermarkets are artificially colored to add vibrancy and life to any dish it is put in.

Some examples of Japanese cuisines that benefit from the sharp and distinct taste of benishouga are yakisoba, gyudon, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, oyakodon, and different meat, fish, and vegetable bowls.

37. Shiso

shiso

An herb that belongs to the mint family, shiso is a Japanese spice that is harvested to be used as a condiment for an assortment of local dishes.

There are two general types of shiso:

  • Green shiso – Its use as an ingredient to Japanese food only started during the 1960s. Nowadays, its leaves are bunched and sold in trays in supermarkets all over the country. It is typically chopped into small pieces and sprinkled over cold dishes including hiyayakko (cold tofu), somen, hiyamugi, namero, and tataki.
  • Red shiso – When shiso leaves get into contact with umezu, they turn red and become known as red shiso. This condiment is long used as a garnish for sashimi as it enhances not only the dish’s appearance, but its flavor as well.

38. Yuzu

yuzu

Said to be a hybrid of Ichang papeda and mandarin, yuzu is a common citrus fruit in East Asia that is similar to a small grapefruit in appearance. It gives off a strong aroma and has an agreeable taste, making it an exceptional seasoning for a long list of Japanese dishes.

Yuzu is a multifaceted fruit. It can be processed and packaged to make different products, such as:

  • Yuzu vinegar – This is perfect as an ingredient when making salad dressings and marinades for fish and meat.
  • Yuzu powder – Yuzu is dried and ground to fine powder and sprinkled over numerous Japanese desserts.
  • Yuzu juice – Juice from the fruit is extracted and bottled and normally sold overseas.
  • Yuzu paste – Known locally as kosho, this contains high amounts of salt and some chili to introduce a hint of spiciness to sushi, soups, and noodle bowls.

39. Myoga

myouga

Myoga is a type of ginger that is a traditional, herbaceous crop in Japan. It is fairly known for its high vitamin and mineral content, making it a great addition to any nutritious meal.

Myoga’s shoots and flower buds are usually shredded into fine bits as garnishing for a variety of Japanese dishes, including tempura, miso soup, grilled and steamed vegetables, noodles, grilled fish, and steamed rice. It can also be infused to dipping sauces to heighten the flavors.

40. Daikon oroshi

daikon oroshi

Daikon oroshi is one of Japan’s top condiments, a constant presence on tables in many local restaurants and eateries, inviting everyone to get a taste of it so as to experience Japanese food like never before.

Made from grated radish, Japanese frequently use it for the following functions:

  • Topping on rice and noodle bowls
  • Side dish for steak, grilled meat and fish, tempura, and other fish, pork, chicken, and beef dishes

Daikon oroshi also possesses numerous nutritional benefits, thanks to its digestive enzymes — lipase, protease, and amylase — it can help in the digestion of food and get rid of that distinct meat or fish odor.

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