Japan: 4 Most Common, Traditional Ingredients

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Every time someone says ‘Japan’, the word ‘sushi’ will immediately come up in your mind and there is a reason lies within this connection. The secret behind Japan’s success is their unique ingredients.

Japan is an isolated and densely populated island without many natural resources to spare. It is covered with mountains and the arable land was less than 12%; hence Japanese cuisine makes use of everything that’s edible on their land.

Japanese ingredients consist of various foods that many cultures normally neglect, such as wild mountain vegetables (ferns for example), seaweeds and every kind of fish you can imagine. Japanese staples are soybeans and rice which have been developed into hundreds of forms and recipes.

Take a look at an ordinary Japanese supermarket and you will find a lot of unique ingredients. Almost all of them are impossible to find elsewhere outside Japan and usually they cannot be substituted. But don’t worry because this is slowly changing and you can buy Japanese ingredients everywhere nowadays. And here is the list of top Japanese traditional ingredients you should know about:

Japanese Rice

Japanese rice offers a unique taste and it has a lightly sticky structure that’s utterly required to dishes such as sushi.

Japanese rice can be divided into two types. Uruchimai is an ordinary Japanese rice that has a little sticky texture. Uruchimai is used for sushi and in most Japanese rice dishes. The second type is Mochigome and it is stickier than Uruchimai. Mochigome is used to make mochi and mochi-related foods (dango for example).

Shoyu

Japanese shoyu (meaning soy sauce) adds an extra dimension to your normal taste. Shoyu is a fermented solution consisting of soybeans, brine, grains, and Aspergillus molds (also known as Aspergillus oryzae or sojae). In Western cuisine, there are 4 traditional tastes: sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness. Soy sauce offers a unique flavor and that flavor is so unique that Professor Kikunae Ikeda proposed another taste for it in 1908, which is named umami.
The Japanese recognizes the importance of umami and treats it equally with sweetness and saltiness. That’s the reason why shoyu is such an important ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

 

Mirin

Mirin (rice wine).  is a Japanese wine used for cooking. It has more sugar and less alcohol than sake. Mirin is a decisive ingredient in a lot of Japanese dishes. Mirin can be divided into three kinds, which are Hon Mirin (also known as true mirin and it contains around 14% alcohols), Shio Mirin (also known as salt mirin and it contains 1.5% salt to dodge taxes on alcohol) and Shin Mirin (also known as new mirin. It the last kind I would recommend because it is filled mostly with artificial ingredients and the alcohol percentage is just about 1%). If you cannot buy Mirin, you can try to substitute it with sake and a little bit of sugar; however according to my experience, it doesn’t work in most cases (Mirin has an irreplaceable flavor which is very hard to mimic).

Soybean

Countless Japanese dishes are made with soy ingredients such as tofu, miso, shoyu, yuba, natto and many more. More than half of Japan’s soybeans are turned into tofu. An average Japanese consumes 3 to 4 tofu dishes per week.
The spare soybeans are turned into Miso by fermenting them together with other grains (rice or barley). The outcome is a thick, sweet and dark brown paste that you can use in hundreds of dishes like miso soup, miso ramen, miso udon, miso sauce with deep fried pork…

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