Japanese cooking ingredients | 27 of the most used items in Japan

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 21, 2020

In this post, I’d like to show you all of my favorite Japanese ingredients.

There’s a lot you can make yourself and I sometimes like to make my own sauces as well, but if you’re like me and you work and have a family, buying a few off the shelf every now and then isn’t such a bad thing.

At least, if you know where to get the right flavors!

Most popular Japanese cooking ingredients

These ingredients are what I use in my recipes throughout this blog so maybe you’ve landed on this page wanting to make one of the delicious Japanese dishes you saw.

Check out my favorite place to shop for Asian groceries:

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Let’s take a look at the top ingredients for Japanese cooking:

Best authentic Japanese sauces

Japanese Shoyu (soy sauce)

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You can’t get around trying shoyu when eating Japanese food. You definitely know it from having sushi at your favorite Japanese restaurant.

But it’s actually used in a lot of dishes and sauces as well. My favorite use is adding it to my ramen noodle broth, and it all begins with having the right soy sauce for the job.

Japanese Worcestershire sauce

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Worcestershire is the go-to sauce in Japan when adding sauce on top of your food. It’s almost just referred to a sauce in Japanese establishments because everyone will instantly know what you mean.

It probably originated from England but it has been in Japanese heritage for more than 120 years and is considered a Japanese sauce now, and used in a lot of dishes.

Japanese oyster sauce

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Japanese oyster sauce is a lot milder in fish flavors than it’s other Asian counterparts, so be sure not to buy a Chinese or Thai variation of this sauce for your Japanese dish.

It has a lot of soy in it because the Japanese just love soy sauce!

Japanese oyster sauce is used a lot in stir fry vegetable dishes and with shiitake mushrooms as well.

Japanese Teriyaki Sauce

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Teriyaki definitely is a Japanese sauce and it actually comes from two Japanese words “teri” (luster) and “yaki” (grilling).

It gives a luster, that’s the way light hits a shiny surface, to the ingredients you are about to grill. The shine comes from the sugar in the teriyaki, which makes it a very sweet sauce.

But what not many people know is that it also comes from the mirin in the sauce,  an ingredient used a lot in Japanese cooking.

Needless to say that teriyaki sauce is great for all of those sweet BBQ recipes.

Japanese mayonnaise

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If you’re saying Japanese Mayonnaise, you’re saying Kewpie. They’re almost synonymous as it is the most well-known brand that makes it.

Japanese mayonnaise differs from American in that it tastes a little sourer.

I like to use it in dressings as well but I skip the vinegar most of the time because the mayonnaise will take care of that sourness you’re looking for.

Takoyaki sauce

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There are a lot of fans out there that love a good takoyaki ball. It’s the crunchy texture and doughy center, mixed in with the octopus fish flavor that makes them come back for more.

But the real flavor comes from the sauce.

Alongside Japanese mayonnaise, you should use the specifically made takoyaki sauce as a topping to finish your dish.

Yakisoba sauce

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Yakisoba is the famous Japanese dish enjoyed in almost every household.

It’s so good and easy to make that the Japanese often make enough for the whole family and some extra leftover for their bento box the next day.

When using a pre-made Yakisoba sauce, it’s even easier to make.

Yakitori sauce

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Yakitori sauce is used to glaze the chicken skewers before you grill them over the charcoal fire.

Yakitori is actually eaten as is, without any additional sauces, so the glaze has to be perfect.

Best Japanese cooking flavors

Japanese cooking sake

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Cooking sake is used in so many Japanese recipes, you can’t live without a bottle.

This brand is not a cooking sake but you can drink it as well.

I don’t like cooking sakes as salt has to be added by law for cooking sake to be able to be sold in grocery stores without a liquor license.

It’s a very inexpensive option and maybe not the best brand to drink, but certainly to cook with!

Japanese roasted sesame oil

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The sesame oils used as a flavoring ingredient in Japanese dishes is made from roasted sesame seeds.

Roasted sesame oil has a lightly brown color to sometimes a darker reddish color and usually the deeper the color the more flavor it has.

You don’t need to use much in your dishes because the flavor and aroma are so strong, so a bottle should last you a long time.

Japanese Mirin: sweet rice wine

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Mirin is commonly used in Japanese sauces and dishes to add a bit of sweetness without overwhelming. It is what gives the glossy shine to teriyaki amongst other things.

It’s made from rice wine as you find used for sake, but the process for making alcohol is stopped earlier. That’s why you find more sugar and less alcohol in mirin than you would in sake.

Rice vinegar

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Rice vinegar is always used in good sushi rice for seasoning the rice. Apart from that, you will often find it in dressing recipes and for all those delicious Japanese pickled ginger, plums and other mixtures.

Japanese Miso Paste

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Miso paste is a substance made from fermented soybeans and has a strong flavor. It has a sort of brownish-red color (unless you have the white miso paste) and is very salty.

It is meant to be used in dishes because on its own the flavor is tot strong.

The most well-known dish that uses miso paste is miso soup, and it’s also a base for a lot of the ramen noodles broths.

Dashi stock

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Dashi is there for the umami flavor. It’s used to bring out other flavors from within your dish and strengthen them with umami.

With an instant dashi stock you don’t have to go through the process of making it yourself from scratch and just add the powdered form to water or straight into your dish (make sure to add some water to the dish as well and stir).

Japanese Sansho pepper

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The Japanese don’t often eat spicy food, but when they add a bit of spiciness it either comes from imported flavors from China or Korea, or they typically use a green Japanese pepper called Sansho.

Japanese Umeboshi pickled plum

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Umeboshi are pickled and dried ume fruits that are found in Japan. They are said to be pretty healthy and are used in some Japanese dishes, mainly as fillings.

One of these dishes that use the pickled plum is Onigiri rice balls.

Best Japanese toppings

Katsuobushi bonito flakes

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Katsuobushi is fermented bonito fish shavings and it’s used on a lot of Japanese dishes to bring out umami flavors.

It’s a main ingredient of Dashi, but it’s also often used as toppings, mainly on fried foods like the takoyaki octopus balls.

Tenkasu (tempura bits)

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Just like almost any country, the Japanese love a good crunch to their dish, and one of the easiest ways is to add some bits of tempura on top of or into your dish.

If you like the tempura shrimp or even vegetables from you local Japanese restaurant, you’ll love the Tenkasu tempura bit you can buy to add that little crunchy texture to your dinner!

Aonori Seaweed Furikake

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Aonori seaweed is used as a topping on a lot of dishes to add a bit of saltiness on top.

You’ll mostly find it is used on just plain rice which is actually a pretty common dish in Japan and you just need the seaweed to make it taste good.

Aonori is also a main ingredient of Furikake where a few others are added as well to enhance the flavors.

Japanese pickled Daikon radish

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The Daikon is a root vegetable and has the structure and a bit of the taste of radish.

You don’t have to pickle it, but like in many other cuisines, the Japanese pickled this vegetable to be able to preserve it longer and have vegetables in the wintertime as well.

Shiitake mushrooms

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Shiitake mushrooms are used in so many dishes it’s hard to keep count. Some of my favorites are sukiyaki and, of course, ramen noodles.

You can get them in dried form and they’ll retain all of their flavor and release it when rehydrated. 

Really handy!

Japanese base ingredients

Okonomiyaki flour

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To make the batter for traditional Okonomiyaki pancakes, you’ll need a few things and I’ve written about it a few times on my blog. But the first thing you’ll need is flour with the right consistency.

There are specially made flours for Okonomiyaki, and the reason is that to get the right texture and flavor you’d have to add quite a few things to it to get it right.

Okonomiyaki flour not only has the right thickness needed for the pancakes (they should be able to hold vegetables mind you), but it also has the correct spices in it already.

Japanese Ramen Noodles (Ramyun)

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Ramen noodles are just in such a large amount of dishes in Japanese cooking.

A bowl of ramen soup can accompany a lot of main courses or stand on its own, and you can add a lot of different flavors with different broths.

Ramen is one of my favorite Japanese ingredients.

Soba noodles

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Soba noodles are basically buckwheat noodles and a lot of dishes use it as their main ingredient.

The most popular one being Yakisoba, which along with its special Yakisoba sauce is very easy to make.

Nori Sheets (roasted seaweed)

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While used as a topping on many dishes from ramen noodle soup to rice bowls, the nori sheets are most commonly used as a base ingredient to roll the sushi in.

Slightly crunchy from the roasting and drying, these also add a salty flavor to your dish.

Tempura batter

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Tempura batter is another one of those staple batter mixes that you’ll need to have to be able to create the best dishes.

Okonomiyaki has it’s own batter to be able to hold vegetables, but tempura batter has to be crunchy and add the right flavor.

Great for deep-frying shrimp but also for vegetables. You should give that a try as well.

Japanese premium-grain sushi rice

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Sushi uses a very particular type of medium-grain white rice to be able to get the right sticky texture needed to form the sushi rolls and get them to stay in place.

Dried Soybean curd tofu sheets

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These are great for when you’re going to make any type of deep fried tofu with fillings, especially good for Inari sushi.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.