Shiso is an aromatic herb commonly used in many Japanese dishes such as sushi, salads, tempura, noodles, etc. It has a unique fragrance and flavor loved by the Japanese. Learn all about this amazing herb: where to buy it, how to grow it in your yard, how to store it, and how to use it in your cooking today!
What is Shiso?
Shiso (しそ, 紫蘇) is the most popular culinary herb used in Japanese cuisine and is considered one of its seven main flavorings. Known as perilla leaf or beefsteak plant or simply Japanese mint in English, shiso belongs to the mint family. It’s also known as Ooba (大葉) in Japanese. This perennial herb is also widely used in Vietnamese and Korean cooking.
With its large jagged leaves, bright color, and refreshing flavor, shiso can be eaten fresh, pickled, or deep-fried, and it frequently makes appearances in sushi dishes and sashimi plates.
Fun fact: Have you seen strips of fake green plastic grass used to separate items in sushi trays or bento boxes? These fake grass are meant to replicate shiso leaves! Traditionally, shiso is used to separate different food items on a platter to keep the flavors fresh and from mixing with each other. The antibacterial properties found in shiso can help to slow the spoilage of raw fish and seafood.
There are different varieties of shiso, but you can broadly categorize them into two main types: green-leafed and red-leafed.
Green Shiso (Aojiso)
Green shiso leaves are more common by far and are used all year round in Japanese cooking, just like you would with basil and mint in western cooking.
Red Shiso (Akajiso)
Red shiso leaves are mostly used in coloring foods such as umeboshi (pickled plums), pickled ginger (beni shoga), and this Kyoto-style vegetable pickle.
In the summer, the Japanese enjoy making a refreshing beverage called aka shiso juice (red perilla juice) using red shiso leaves. It is known to bring out your appetite on hot days and helps with recovery from exhaustion and digestion.
Interested to make aka shiso juice? Find my recipe here.
What Does Shiso Taste Like?
Each shiso has its own unique aroma, but green shiso has the best flavor for eating. You can describe the herb as vibrant, herbaceous, and citrusy. Some also point out that it has hints of mint, basil, cloves, and cinnamon. Like most herbs, shiso does have a mildly astringent taste and bitter finish.
Health Benefits of Shiso
In addition to its culinary uses, shiso has been widely used in Japan and other Asian cultures as traditional medicine. It provides several essential nutrients such as:
- Antioxidants and vitamins: Shiso contains high levels of antioxidants and various vitamins such as C, A, and K. The leaves are often added to hot water to make a flavorful tea that helps to strengthen the immune system and lower the risk of certain cancers.
- Flavonoids: Red shiso is rich in flavonoids, which help regulate cellular activity and fight off free radicals. We often use it as a go-to remedy for skin health.
- Antibacterial properties: Shiso is most commonly used to help treat indigestion, morning sickness, and other gastrointestinal conditions.
Where To Buy Shiso
Japanese grocery stores usually carry green shiso leaves all year round in their produce section. Unfortunately, Asian grocery stores do not carry green shiso. You may want to check your local farmers’ markets.
Red shiso leaves, however, are only available in the summer months, typically from end of June to early July. Call the local Japanese grocery store ahead of time to see if they carry them.
There is nothing like the taste and texture of Shiso. It’s really unfortunate that this Japanese herb is hard to find outside of Japanese grocery stores.
Grow Your Own Shiso
The great news is shiso is an incredibly easy herb to grow in your garden! It is also a good choice for container growing so it’s suitable for apartment or small space gardening. Many JOC readers grow their own shiso. I received my seeds from Bobby, a local JOC reader, and have been growing shiso for a number of years now.
To grow shiso from seeds, plant the seeds indoors for 4 to 6 weeks in mid-spring. Soak the seeds in water 24 hours before sowing. Transplant the seedlings out to the garden when the nighttime temperatures are warmer than 45°F (7.2°C) and all possible danger of frost has passed.
You can buy the seeds from the Japanese seeding company Kitazawa Seed Co.
The best way to store fresh shiso leaves is to cover them with a damp cloth or paper towel and put them in an airtight container or bag. Place it in the refrigerator in the crisper drawer. I recommend using them as soon as possible.
How to Use Shiso in Your Cooking
I consider shiso my all-around herb as there are so many different ways to use shiso in cooking. Like most leafy herbs, you can use it raw, the leaves whole or chiffonaded. Here are some ideas:
- As a garnish or topping to bring a touch of freshness, aroma, color, and character to your dishes.
- Deep fry whole shiso leaves until airy and crispy as part of your platter of vegetable tempura.
- Make a pesto. This is the best way to use up your overgrown garden shiso herb.
- A great addition to summer rolls or inari sushi.
- Pair with fatty fish like salmon, yellowtail, and tuna or ikura (salmon roe). They bring a refreshing taste to sashimi bowl!
- Mix into salads like this or this.
- Add into your dipping sauce.
- Add to your mixed rice (mazegohan) or onigiri rice balls.
- Drinks and desserts – Use shiso leaves in recipes that call for mint, like mojito, cocktails, ice cream and sorbets, jellies, simple syrup, granita, etc.
- As a seasoning – Dried and ground shiso can be used as a seasoning and sprinkled on rice and noodle dishes.
Delicious Recipes with Shiso
1. Shiso Pesto
My absolute favorite way to utilize a bounty of fresh shiso leaves. All you need is to combine shiso with pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and extra virgin olive oil, and run it through your food processor. So delicious with pasta, grilled fish or meat, or in a sandwich.
2. Shiso Pesto Pasta
With the homemade shiso pesto, you are ready to rustle up this fuss-free pasta dish anytime you like.
3. Ume Shiso Pasta
Another weeknight recipe where simple ingredients bring out the best of a dish.
4. Inari Sushi
Decorate the top of your inari sushi with shiso leaves and ikura to add a special touch.
5. Ume Shiso Rice
With pickled plums (umeboshi), fragrant shiso leaves, and nutty sesame seeds mixed into steamed rice, this beautiful rice dish is big on flavors. Pair it with a few sides to make a full spread of Japanese meal.
6. Salmon Sashimi Bowl
The addition of shiso helps cut the fattiness off the salmon sashimi and make each bite more enjoyable.
7. Ginger Pork Rolls with Eggplants
Thinly julienned shiso leaves—when used as a garnish on pan-fried food like this ginger pork rolls—add so much more zing to the dish. It also brings more color and attractiveness to the otherwise brown-looking dish.
8. Tsukune (Chicken Meatball Skewers)
I love adding chiffonaded shiso leaves to the meatballs to create a delicious contrasting flavor!
Do you have shiso growing in your garden? What are some of your favorite ways to use the herb? Share them with us in the comment section below!
Learn More About Unique Japanese Herbs and Spices
The Japanese use herbs and spices to elevate their cooking. Learn about the different herbs and spices and how to incorporate them into your dish! Read the article here.