Essential Ingredients For Cooking Japanese Cuisine

Much like I covered in my post about Italian food, there are many ingredients that are essential when you are trying to create great tasting food.  With Italian and French it is things like salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil and for Indian cuisine it is herbs.  In this post we will look at some essential ingredients you should have at hand when attempting to make Japanese dishes.

Japanese Rice

Although it may sound self-explanatory, it is important that you use Japanese rice for Japanese dishes.  Some try and cut corners by using Thai or Jasmine rice, but it doesn’t work in the same way.  Japanese is sticky enough to hold together which is essential for authentic sushi dishes and is completely scentless.  There are many different brands that produce Japanese rice, and nowadays it is quite easily to source.

Japanese Soy Sauce

As you will probably be aware – there are many Eastern countries that produce their own variation on soy sauce.  Using Japanese sauce is important to get that authentic Japanese flavour and there two different types that are normally sold – Usukuchi and Koikuchi, but it doesn’t matter which one you use.


Sake is a Japanese alcoholic drink that is used in cooking in a similar way to how white wine is used in western cuisines.  If you do not have Sake in the house but want to cook a Japanese meal that includes Sake, substitute it for a white wine, as long as it is not sweet.


Mirin is a very important condiment in Japanese cooking.  It is made of around 50% sugar and is similar to rice wine such as Sake, but has a lower level of alcohol.  It is used normally to sweeten dishes and reduce of some Japanese fish dishes and to give ingredients like vegetables a nice shiny look.

Hon Dashi or Fish Stock Powder

This is a stock normally made from a swordfish, but don’t worry as it doesn’t have a very fishy taste.  It is used in lots of Japanese cooking and is used in a similar way to chicken stock.  It can often be hard to describe the flavour, but if you have ever tried Japanese Miso soup, you will likely know the taste as this is a soup made from just three ingredients – fish stock, water and miso!

Japanese Mayonnaise

This is a great condiment to have in the home, as it goes well with almost any Japanese dish. It is quite different from its western counterparts, being much lighter and smoother. It can be used in salads or as a dipping sauce for sushi and tempura.

Wakame Seaweed

Seaweed is an essential ingredient in many Japanese dishes such as soups, salads and various noodle dishes. Wakame seaweed can often be found dried or fresh and might even be labeled ‘seaweed salad’ when buying from stores. When using dried Wakame make sure you reconstitute it before adding it to the dish by soaking it in cold water for around 10 minutes.

Japanese Pickles

Japanese pickles are essential for the authentic flavor of many dishes. They often have a distinctively sweet and sour taste, making them perfect for adding some zing to salads, sushi or any other dish you might be creating. They can usually be found in jars pre-made but you can also make your own using cucumbers or other vegetables that have been fermented in brine and flavoured with rice vinegar, salt, sugar and sometimes even ginger or chilli!

These ingredients are just some of the essentials you should have on hand when cooking Japanese cuisine. With these items at your disposal, you will be able to create delicious meals that will transport your taste buds across the world!

Obviously there are other important ingredients used in a lot of Japanese cooking such as seafood, chicken and vegetables, but the above ingredients are good to have stocked up on in your cupboards.  The more you cook Japanese food the better you will get at balancing the flavours correctly.  It is just like any form of cooking – practice makes perfect.  Before long you will be making Japanese food like a pro – wowing your friends and family alike!

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