Thousands of years ago, way before you were born, Japanese spices traveled the long journey known as the spice road, a trade route between Asia, Northeast Africa, and Europe. These spices found their way into the Middle East, where the traders withheld their true sources and associated with fantastic tales. Today, these Japanese spices and seasonings are found throughout the world and flavor all our menu items.
Let’s take our own journey through some of the most popular and traditional supaisu and chōmiryō (‘spices and seasonings’ in Japanese) you should know about:
Shiitake Mushrooms – No noodle bar is complete without this magic mushroom known for having an intensely earthy, woody, umami flavor that brings a savory note to broths, sauces, and parties.
Nori – This sexy seaweed is dry roasted and crushed for use as a garnish often eaten at breakfast with a bowl of rice or at dinner also with a bowl of rice.
Coarse – Don’t let the name fool you; this seasoning is soft and smooth. It is made from crustless bread to produce airy breadcrumbs used as a coating for fried foods as it absorbs less grease during the frying process and results in a flaky, crispy (or coarse) crust.
Japanese Chili Oil – Some like it hot, others like it rayu (Japanese chili oil) hot! This chili oil is made by infusing sesame and/or vegetable oil with dried, ground, hot red chilies. It’s used as a condiment and an ingredient to add heat to dressing and those dipping sauces we all love.
Miso – One of the most important staples of Japanese cooking, miso is a seasoning paste made by salting and fermenting soybeans with rice and/or barley. Red and white miso are the most popular of the many varieties, our Spicy Miso Ramen is of the red variety. Miso paste is dissolved in dashi broth to make miso soup, which is making miso-hungry!
Shoyu – More commonly known as soy sauce, this is the holy grail of Japanese cooking. Soy sauce is extracted from a fermented paste made from soybeans, wheat, salt, and yeast. There are several types of soy sauce, the most popular and widely used in the West is koikuchi; the familiar, dark, salty soy sauce your sushi is swimming in.
Bonito – This is a Japanese pantry essential, also known as katsuo, it is a migratory fish in the mackerel family. Bonito fillets are cooked, smoked, dried, or cured with mold (yes, you read that right) in a process that can take several months. Once the fillets have hardened, they are shaved into flakes to make dashi and sprinkled like snowflakes over many other dishes.
Sansho Powder – Also known as Japanese pepper, is a golden spice ground from the seedpod surrounding the berry of the prickly ash shrub. It has a citrusy, minty aroma and flavor, and a slight tongue-tingling effect similar to a first kiss. It is used as an all-purpose seasoning. Pucker up!
Ume – A sour fruit similar to plum and apricot, this seasoning is made by sun drying and salting the fruit, then pickling it with vinegar and red shiso leaves, which impart a rosy color, often eaten with rice and miso for breakfast. Y-ume!
There you have it, from the spice road to our spice ramen, taste the Japanese spice and seasoning rainbow at home or in ours.