The botanical beauty of Yakumi
Noodles with Yakumi condiments
What is Yakumi?
A culinary term for the herbs and botanicals used in washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine) to spice and garnish food, Yakumi convey a poetic sense of the season as they bring both health and flavour enhancing properties to dishes. Let’s have a look at some Yakumi favourites!
Yuzu is a citrus fruit loved for its elegant fragrance. It is enjoyed throughout the year: in spring its young leaves, blossoms, calyxes, and baby fruits are harvested; in summer its young green fruit arrives in markets; as the days shorten its mature yellow fruit appears. Yuzu zest is often used in clear soups and simmered dishes, while its juice brightens sauces.
Sansho pepper also enlivens washoku across the seasons. Its buds and blossoms garnish clear soups and simmered dishes. Young sansho berries enhance simmered dishes, while powder made from their dried fruit is a must flavouring for grilled eel.
Wasabi mitigates the risk of eating raw fish, preventing food poisoning with its pungent antibacterial properties. Freshly grated, it is a classic accompaniment to sashimi, nigiri-zushi, and soba noodles, and its delicate nature is counterbalanced by a nose-tingling punch.
Shiso perilla comes in two types: red and green. Its young buds garnish sashimi and counteract its fishy smell. Its bright green leaves pair well with the contrasting pinks and reds of sashimi.
Myoga zingiber has a subtle scent and a taste similar to ginger. It is used to flavour and garnish both sashimi and noodles. Although typically an early summer and autumn crop, myoga is now cultivated throughout the year.
Ginger, or shoga, is grated and served with sashimi. But in pickled form, known as gari, it always accompanies sushi. It warms the body and also has strong germicidal powers, which is why it is often used in stews made with blue-backed fish and steamed dishes in winter.
Shiso leaves & Shoga
Negi belongs to the leek family, and its green and white forms are used widely, in soups, simmered recipes, hotpots, donburi rice dishes, and noodles. Negi has a calming effect. Like all yakumi, it brings a mild scent and a crisp spiciness to washoku dishes.
Did you know some or all of these Yakumi and their characteristics already? Or have you learned something new? Either way, Yakumi are an integral part of Japanese cuisine, so be sure to keep an eye out for them during your next Japanese meal!