There are many different types of Japanese seasonings and condiments that have their own unique flavor. As Japanese food is known for being very flavorful it is important to have the correct seasonings to make the food taste just right. In this article we’ll introduce the main types of seasonings and condiments used in Japanese cuisine including:
- Soy Sauce – common all-purpose fermented cooking sauce made from soybeans, wheat, salt, and water
- Furikake – popular seasoning traditionally used on top of rice made from seaweed, dried fish, and sesame seeds
- Bonito Flakes – dried fish flakes used to make Japanese dashi soup stock and as a topping on popular dishes such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki
- Yuzu Kosho – paste made from yuzu, chilis, and salt that adds instant flavor to any dish
- Shichimi togarashi – a seven-ingredient Japanese spice blend made from chili pepper typically used in everything from noodle soup to sushi
- Sansho – Japanese pepper that can be used instead of black pepper on dishes like eel and yakitori
- Yuzu Ponzu – tangy citrus-based sauce which adds a punch of flavor to many dishes like salads, seafood, and grilled meats.
- Moshio Salt – flavorful Japanese seasoning made from salt and seaweed
Soy sauce, known as shoyu in Japanese, originated in Japan during the 1500s and is used for both cooking and as a dipping or side sauce. It is made from soybeans, wheat, salt, and water which are fermented and brewed in a process that takes around six months from start to finish.
Depending on the dish that you are preparing, different kinds of soy sauce bring out different flavors, and there are five taste elements in soy sauce including saltiness, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and umami.
There are several types of Japanese soy sauce variations to choose from. Around 80% of soy sauce produced in Japan is what we would think of as regular soy sauce, known as koikuchi in Japanese. Popular soy sauce brands like Kikkoman produce a koikuchi all-purpose soy sauce which can be added to many Japanese dishes.
Tamari is the other main type of Japanese soy sauce, which is produced mainly in the Chubu region in Central Japan. Tamari is thicker than regular soy sauce, has a denser flavor, and is often served with sashimi as it is less salty. Unlike regular soy sauce, tamari usually does not contain wheat, making it a good gluten-free alternative.
Furikake is a dry Japanese condiment that is usually sprinkled on top of finished dishes. The most common ingredients are dried seaweed, dried fish, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar. Originally it was created by a Japanese pharmacist as a calcium supplement to be used with plain rice, but these days it can be found on top of many other dishes too. It has become popular outside of Japan in recent years for its delicious taste and the fact that it has many nutritional benefits. For example, furikake is a great source of iodine which is helpful in fighting thyroid problems, protein, calcium which is good for bone density, and vitamin B.
Furikake is a very versatile seasoning and can be used on top of rice, in sushi rolls or onigiri rice balls, on top of pasta, pizza, salads, and even on popcorn. Traditionally, furikake has a savory, umami seafood taste thanks to the presence of dried nori seaweed and bonito flakes.
In addition to the traditional furikake you can buy there are also a variety of other flavors to try. Here’s our recommendations for five of the best furikake flavors:
Dried Bonito Flakes (aka katsuobushi) are a staple in any Japanese kitchen. They're usually used to make dashi, a soup base that is the cornerstone of most Japanese cooking. Dashi is made by soaking the flakes in water and then boiling them for several minutes to extract their flavor.
Katsuobushi can be added to miso soup or any kind of soy sauce-based dish. Bonito flakes typically don't have much flavor on their own, but they provide an instant savory element to dishes with their umami taste.
You can use dried bonito flakes in three ways: as a topping, as a filling, or as a seasoning. As a topping they are used on dishes like okonomiyaki (Japanese-style savory pancake) and takoyaki (deep-fried octopus balls), and as a filling in onigiri (rice balls). The primary use for dried bonito flakes is within Japanese soup stocks, which make many dishes from miso soup to ramen.
Yuzu Kosho is a Japanese condiment made from a combination of yuzu – a citrus fruit grown in Japan, salt, and chili peppers. It was originally used in Japan to balance the sweet and salty flavors of dishes but nowadays it can be used in many different types of food to add an instant kick of zesty flavor. Yuzu kosho was initially homemade in Japan by families before it began to be mass produced after becoming a popular souvenir in the hot spring town of Yufuin Onsen in Kyushu.
Yuzu kosho is a great seasoning for meat and fish and can also be used to make a tasty dressing for vegetables. It is also used as a condiment for nabe, miso soup, tempura, udon, yakitori, and sashimi. In some parts of Japan, you can also buy yuzu kosho flavored snacks, such as senbei crackers, potato chips, and in Kyushu you can even find yuzu kosho flavored Kit-Kats!
Shichimi Togarashi Seasoning
Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese spice blend typically used in dishes such as onigiri (rice balls), noodles, hot pot, miso soup, oyakodon, donburi, tendon, tempura, and sushi.
The exact blend of ingredients differs slightly depending on each shichimi producer, but it is usually made from seven ingredients including dried chili peppers, green and black sesame seeds, seaweed, and fragrant spices such as coriander and orange peel. This versatile and bold flavored seasoning is sure to make a useful addition to your spice collection. To add flavor to any dish you simply sprinkle the desired amount directly onto the food prior to eating.
Shichimi togarashi adds flavor to noodle soups such as ramen and udon and can also be added to tempura mix to give the batter a spicy edge. It is also a great seasoning for meat dishes like yakitori and shabu shabu and can also be used to flavor seafood. Although it is possible to make this spice blend yourself you can save a lot of time by simply buying it readymade. Our favorite brands of shichimi togarashi include this one from House Foods, made from the following all natural ingredients: chili red pepper, sun-dried mandarin peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, hemp seed, poppy seeds, and aonori seaweed.
Sansho is a Japanese condiment made with the dried, powdered fruits of the sanshō pepper. It is used in most parts of Japan to give flavor to various dishes such as grilled eel, grilled meat, fried chicken, fried meals, hot pot, and miso soup. You can also use sansho in dishes as a replacement for black pepper.
The name "sansho" derives from the Sichuan pepper, which was originally brought to Japan by Buddhist monks hundreds of years ago. Sansho has a refreshing citrus scent and provides a spicy tingle on the tongue when consumed. The sansho plant is very versatile as several parts of it can be used for cooking. For example, the flower pairs well with grilled fish, the unripe green berry can be used for pickles, while the red mature berry is dried and ground into powder.
Yuzu ponzu is a citrus-based sauce with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. This tangy sauce adds a punch of flavor to many dishes like salads, vegetables, seafood, and grilled meats. Yuzu ponzu has a savory taste and refreshing and rich aroma of yuzu citrus. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit mainly grown in Kochi prefecture on the island of Shikoku and is a popular ingredient in food, drinks, and beauty products.
You can use yuzu ponzu as a seasoning or dressing for sashimi, salad, fish, meat, tofu, hot pot, and tempura. It also works well as a dipping sauce for simmered dishes like shabu shabu and with seafood. You can try making your own yuzu ponzu sauce with the following ingredients: soy sauce, sake, mirin, kombu, katsuobushi, and fresh yuzu juice. Alternatively if you have a hard time getting hold of yuzu outside of Japan you can buy readymade yuzu ponzu like this one from Choko made with high quality soy sauce, a little vinegar, and organic yuzu fruit from Kochi, Japan.
Moshio salt is a traditional flavorful and nutritious Japanese seasoning made from seaweed and salt. It is typically used as a finishing salt, which means it is sprinkled on top of the food after cooking but can also be used as a rub for fish.
Moshio salt was originally made using an ancient method dating back more than 2,000 years that involved boiling seaweed and seawater together until a complex salt crystalized, adding extra umami flavor. Today it is made by collecting salt water from the Seto Inland Sea and leaving it to evaporate in a large pool, before seaweed is added to develop the flavor and color and add minerals.
Moshio Salt is a tasty replacement for regular cooking salt and can be used as a condiment for tempura, sashimi, grilled meat, soup, simmered dishes, salad dressings, on roasted vegetables, or any other dish that requires salt.