10 Essential Ingredients for Japanese Cooking

Every good chef must have a number of key ingredients at their disposal to create wonderful food as easily as possible. Be that olive oil or salt and pepper for French cooking, or spices for Indian cooking, Japanese cooking also requires a number of ingredients at hand.

These are the 10 essential ingredients for Japanese cooking. I use at least one of them in every Japanese dish I create. They are all cheap and available readily in the west – don’t worry if you can’t get the one shown in the picture – as long as your ingredient has the word ‘Japanese’ on it, the chances are the quality will be good ;-) They all also last for a long time, so it’s worth stocking your cupboards with them so they are always on hand.

The most essential of these ingredients are available to be delivered direct to your door in our handy and convenient Sumobox™. Click here to learn more.

All photography unless otherwise stated was taken by Kram at Gold Hat Photography.

1. Japanese Rice

This may be self evident, but it is essential that you use Japanese rice in Japanese cooking. Some will attempt to cook using Jasmin rice or Thai rice, but it just doesn’t work. Japanese rice is totally scentless and is sticky enough to hold together which is essential for dishes such as sushi. There are many different brands, but I recommend Japanese rice that is made in the USA. The taste is the same as good Japanese rice, but cheaper than other brands. My personal favourites are Akita Komachi and Koshi Hikari which are also made in California and are identical to their Japanese counterparts since the same seeds are used.

Sometimes in my recipes such as Sticky Chicken Rice I use mochikome which is sticky Japanese rice.

2. Japanese Soy Sauce

There are several countries which produce soy sauce so it may not be immediately evident that you are not buying Japanese soy sauce. My favourite brand and the one that you’re most likely to find at western supermarkets is Kikoman. Sometimes you may find two types – Koikuchi (black, deep colour) and Usukuchi (lighter colour but saltier). It doesn’t really matter which one you use but in all my recipes here I used koikuchi.

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

3. Saké

Saké (Japanese alcohol) is often used in Japanese cooking much like white wine is used in western cooking. You can actually substitute white wine if you have no ne, but make sure it isn’t a sweet white. Any brand is fine.

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

4. Mirin

Mirin is is an essential condiment used in Japanese cuisine, consisting of around 50% sugar. It is a kind of rice wine similar to Saké, but with a lower alcohol content. It is used to sweeten dishes (but less than sugar), reduce the smell of certain fish dishes and give vegetables and other food a shiny appearance.

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

5. Fish stock powder (hon dashi)

I use this in almost every meal I make here. Normally the stock is made from swordfish, but it doesn’t have a fishy taste at all – it is used as chicken stock would be in western food, but is far more common. It is hard to describe exactly what it tastes like or what it does to the dish, but if you imagine the fantastic taste of miso soup, this is created from miso, water and fish stock alone! My latest recipe using fish stock is the super popular dish Oyako Don.

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

6. Japanese mayonnaise

Japanese are very fussy about mayonnaise. They cannot understand the popularity of western egg mayonnaise since their mayonnaise is so different in flavour. My favourite brand is Aji no Moto but it is not available in Australia. Perhaps you can find it in your country, but if not, Kewpie is a good alternative. I use it a lot for curries, salad, pasta, sauces and Japan’s favourite dish, Ebi mayo!

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

7. Rice vinegar

Make sure you use Japanese rice vinegar in all the recipes features on this site, not any other type of vinegar even Chinese rice vinegar which is readily available in the west.  It is used for dressings and sauce. Harusame salad is a delicious and refreshing salad using rice vinegar.

8. Ponzu

Ponzu is a citrus based sauce used in many delicious Japanese sauces, in dishes such as Japanese hotpot, Chijimi (Korean pancakes) and hamburgers.

9. Potato starch (kata kuri ko)

This is used when you want to make sauce a little thicker and stickier like flour may be used in western cooking. It is often used when frying to make the sauce stick to the meat, (as in this Chinese and pepper stirfry) or in deep frying to make the meat super crisy. It creates more crisp than flour would.

10. Pan ko

These are bread crumbs, but softer and fluffier than western alternatives. They are used to make deep fried dishes light and crispy. If you can’t get hold of it, you can just shred white bread into tiny pieces and use it in the same way. Japanese hamburgers are always made with panko and milk.

This essential ingredient for Japanese cooking is one of the products included in the Sumobox™, delivered direct to your door. Click here to learn more.

Now learn the 5 Essential Tips for Japanese Cooking !