A Guide to Japanese Pantry Essentials
If you would like to try your hand at cooking up some delicious Japanese foods, but don’t know where to start or what ingredients you will need, this is the place for you! When first discovering recipes for foods that are perhaps not familiar to you yet, or for cuisine types that you have never attempted to cook before, the new range of ingredients listed can prove to be overwhelming. Japanese cooking often requires many different types of oriental sauces, oils and pastes which are often not used in dishes outside of Eastern Asia. Our guide will walk you through all of the Japanese Pantry (Ja-Pantry, if you will) essentials that you may need on your culinary quest.
Japanese Soy Sauce
Of course, as a staple of Japanese cooking, most people will be aware of (and have probably used) soy sauce. Made from fermented soy beans and salt, soy sauce is used to add colour and flavour (saltiness in particular) to dishes. While you may think that all soy sauces are alike, this is certainly not the case, as Japanese soy sauce has a slightly different flavour than others, say from China. Further, there are several varieties of soy sauce, with the main types being the dark koikuchi and the light usukuchi. The lighter variety, usukuchi, is saltier, yet koikuchi is used far more commonly making it the perfect choice if you aren’t looking to install a dedicated shelf for a full soy sauce collection! Read a more in-depth history of soy sauce with our guide here.
Made from fermented sticky rice and shochu, a distilled alcohol, this sweet rice wine is used for cooking throughout Japan. With a syrupy texture, this sauce adds a hint of sweetness to many dishes, which isn’t surprising considering that it can typically consist of around fifty percent sugar. Mirin is often used to disguise the stronger smells of fresh fish and seafood used in much of Japan’s cuisine. The sauce also contributes to giving foods, especially vegetables, a shiny glazed appearance. With a lower alcohol content than other rice wines, such as sake, mirin contains 14 percent alcohol.
A sweeter vinegar than those typically used in Western cuisine, rice vinegar is made, unsurprisingly, from rice. Rice vinegar is a key ingredient used in making sushi rice. It is also used in dishes involving raw fish, meat or seafood, as it has anti-bacterial properties.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste, typically made using soybeans, rice and salt. The colour of the miso is dependent on the ratio of soy beans and rice used to make it and the length of time the paste was left to ferment. The longer this fermentation process, the darker and stronger the miso will be. This means that there are many varieties of miso, with a range of colours and tastes. For example, red miso is made using around seventy percent soybeans and only thirty percent rice, with a fermentation time of around a year, making for a darker, stronger and saltier miso with a high level of protein. Red miso is best used in miso soup, stir-fry and in marinades. Conversely, white miso is made from a higher proportion of rice, at sixty percent, mixed with forty percent soybeans. More of a yellowish colour than white, this miso is sweet and smooth, so is best for light soups, fish marinades and salad dressings.
Like many of these Japanese pantry staples, sake is made using rice and water. This mixture is then brewed in a similar way to making beer. Used predominantly as a marinade for fish and meat, sake is also used to add flavour and body to stock and sauces. As a marinade, sake both tenderises food and softens the stronger scents of some fish and meat. Although it is brewed like a beer, sake is often likened to wine, and similarly there are many types of sake, ranging from dry to sweet. Cooking sake is also available, a type which includes around three percent salt, making it unfit for drinking, allowing shops without a license to sell alcohol the chance to sell some sake! If possible, however, it is far better to use standard sake than this salty variety.
If you are looking for any of these ingredients, or other items needed to make Japanese food at home, check out the extensive range available online here at Oriental Mart!