Spice Up Your Summer

If you like to cook and are curious about Japan’s spices and flavors, here’s a guide to a few basic ingredients that can give your dishes a distinct Japanese flair. All the products mentioned here can be bought at Uwajimaya supermarkets. Also, the Uwajimaya website has helpful definitions of Japanese ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes here: https://www.uwajimaya.com/uwajipedia


This is the very essence of Japanese cuisine. Dashi is a soup and cooking stock that is used in miso soup, soups for noodle dishes, and much more. It adds umami to any dish. There are many kinds of dashi, but mainly the stock is made from ingredients such as kombu (kelp), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), mushrooms (shiitake), or sardines.
If you want to make authentic miso soup, there is no substitute for dashi. Chicken stock won’t do the trick. But which one to pick? We recommend the Shimaya and Ajinomoto brands for starters.

Soy Sauce

This is the ingredient just about everybody associates with Japanese cuisine, but when you get to the aisle where it is shelved, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out which one to choose. You can’t go wrong with Kikkoman, the granddaddy of soy sauce makers, but another good choice is Marusho, an organic soy sauce that contains no GMOs. One thing to remember about Japanese cuisine is goes heavy on the salt. If that is a concern for you or your loved ones, opt for a low-sodium soy sauce.


This is a savory rice seasoning that typically includes sesame seeds, dried bonito, seaweed, salt, and other ingredients. Parents often sprinkle furikake on their children’s rice to make sure they are eating well. But it also can be fun to use in salads with some roasted shredded seaweed to add an Asian twist. Our favorite brand is the Katsuo Fumi Furikake from Ajishima Foods.


This Japanese pepper is widely used with grilled eel, but it can be used just like Western pepper. However, be aware that sansho is sharper to the tongue and has a little kick or sting to it. It makes a great accent to grilled meats. We like S&B Food brand sansho (spelled “sansyo” on the label).


This is a seven-spice mix you’ll find with udon, tempura, and other dashi-based dishes like zarusoba (chilled buckwheat soba noodles served with a dipping sauce). Shichimi brings extra heat and flavor to your dish. The seven spices are: red pepper, sansho pepper, roasted orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, seaweed, and ginger. This blend adds a tantalizing mix of aromatic and spicy flavors to your cooking. We recommend the S&B Food brand.

Author profile

Bruce Rutledge loves books, baseball, and Pacific Northwest beer, He also loves Japan and has dedicated his career to telling more stories about the country through books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, and now, on Origami magazine. He works in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Come visit him in his store in the Down Under.