Shiso Perilla: How to Eat it and Cook With it

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Shiso perilla

Shiso (しそ, 紫蘇) is the most popular culinary herb used in Japanese cuisine and is considered one of its seven main flavorings. In Japan, it’s also called beefsteak plant, Japanese mint, or  Ooba (大葉) and is also known worldwide as perilla, from its Latin name Perilla frutescens.

There are several different varieties of shiso: the two main crops grown and used in Japan are green and red shiso. Shiso can mean either the red or the green variety; however Ooba (大葉) refers exclusively to the picked leaves of green shiso.

All parts of the shiso plant can be eaten, and it can be used in cooking in a variety of ways, including as a garnish for sushi, in soups and salads, braised as a leafy green, or to color and flavor syrups for sweetened drinks and desserts.

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What part of the shiso plant is edible?

Every part of the shiso plant is edible, both green and red shiso.

The leaves are usually consumed raw in salads or used to wrap sashimi. Stems and flowering shoots can be eaten fresh or cooked.

Flower buds are often used as seasoning in cooked dishes, while leaves and mature flowers can be fried with tempura, according to He-Ci Yu, Kenichi Kosuna and Megumi Haga in their 1997 book Perilla.

The fruit of the shiso plant, a small seed pod, is salted and preserved like a spice, or crushed to yield oil, usually called perilla seed oil. Horiuchi Egoma is one Japanese manufacturer of perilla seed oil.

Shiso can be used like a pot herb, or a green, with a mild sweet flavor, and features in many popular Japanese recipes.

Is shiso a herb or a green?

Shiso is considered a herb, but is occasionally also used as if a green for culinary purposes.

In culinary terms, a herb is defined as a plant whose leaves are used sparingly in cooking to add flavor; as opposed to a green, which is the leaves of a plant used in bulk as a main ingredient.

Shiso leaves are most commonly shredded and used to garnish Japanese food; in these instances it is used as a herb to augment and lift a dish at the end.

However, shiso leaves, shoots, flowers, and stems are often used wilted with the heat of cooking, like greens often are. They are more usually cooked in smaller quantities as an additional herbaceous flavor to other ingredients, but can be steamed or sautéed in large handfuls, like leafy greens such as spinach.

What does shiso taste like?

Shiso has a fresh bright taste most reminiscent of lemon mint or basil. It also has sharper, aromatic notes of cinnamon, star anise, and cilantro. The leaves of the plant especially are sometimes compared to ginger.

Red shiso is sharper, stronger and spicier with a mildly bitter note. It is vibrant, herbaceous, and citrusy; slightly astringent. Some compare it to cloves, cumin, fennel or liquorice; however basil and mint are still the closest matches.

What shiso alternatives can you use to get the same flavor?

The best widely available alternatives to shiso are basil and mint, especially Thai basil and lemon mint. They are closer to shiso when mixed together.

Vietnamese perilla leaves are from the same genus and are extremely similar; however they are often more difficult to source than shiso itself.

Depending on the dish you are cooking, you may also like to experiment with including small amounts of ground cloves, cinnamon, cilantro, fennel or ginger as an alternative to shiso.

What popular Japanese recipes use shiso?

Fresh shiso leaves are often used to wrap pieces of sashimi, or found as a garnish on sushi plates. The leaves and flowers can also be dipped into tempura batter on one side and deep-fried, usually served as part of a mixed tempura plate.

Clusters of shiso flowers, or leaves are often used as seasoning in soups. Retired Japanese chef Marc Matsumoto uses them in his chilled miso soup recipe.

Shiso seed pods (shiso no mi) are salted and preserved like a spice. Joy Larkcom suggests combining them with daikon to make a simple salad, in her 2007 cookbook Oriental Vegetables.

Bruce Rutledge gives an account of tarako and shiso noodles in his book Kuhaku & Other Accounts from Japan.

Red shiso leaves are used when making umeboshi (pickled plums), although they are used here only for their color and not for the flavor. Shiso leaves are also used in recipes to infuse sugar syrup with color and flavor, for a vibrant pink, lemony, herbal note, which can be used to make a gelée.

How do you cook shiso?

Shiso can be cooked in one of these 7 ways to enhance its unique flavor.

  1. Shiso leaves are used raw as a garnish or topping to add freshness, aroma, color, and character to sushi, noodle, or other dishes.
  2. Shiso is often used to infuse syrups or other liquids, especially red shiso. The liquids then become ingredients in drinks or desserts, like juice, gelée, ice cream, or sorbet.
  3. Shiso leaves and flowers can be dipped in tempura batter and fried.
  4. Shiso leaves can also be sautéed in handfuls like leafy greens, along with the stems and shoots.
  5. Shiso flowers and buds can be pickled and eaten as a condiment.
  6. Shredded shiso leaves and shoots can be stirred into soups.
  7. The whole shiso plant can be blended with other ingredients to make a pesto-type sauce.

When correctly stored or grown fresh, shiso can be used for a large number of popular dishes to provide flavor, nutrition and health benefits.

How do you store shiso?

Shiso on the stem is best stored upright, with the cut ends in a glass of water, either in the door of the fridge or on the counter top.

Alternatively, wrap shiso leaves loosely in a damp cloth and refrigerate.

If the shiso is not going to be used within a few days, shred the leaves, place in a folded paper towel and freeze.

What is the nutritional value of shiso?

Shiso is rich in carotene, vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, and K, and various essential minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

The leaves are rich in fiber and riboflavin and are very low in calories.

What are the health benefits of shiso?

The shiso plant has a known medicinal value and multiple health benefits.

According to the Nama Yasai farm, long standing growers of Japanese herbs, shiso leaves are considered effective remedies for asthma, coughs, colds and pain, as well as for mitigating allergic reactions such as hay fever.

Shiso has also been credited with strengthening immunity, and contains a substance with strong anti-bacterial effects that can prevent food poisoning.

It is considered a therapeutic herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

How do you grow shiso?

Shiso can be grown from seeds. Sow the seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost. The seeds will germinate in 7 to 21 days at 70°F (21°C). To improve germination, soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before sowing. Shiso does best in full sun to partial shade, in fertile, well-drained soil.

Shiso plants need regular watering, especially in hot weather. Established plants will grow in slightly dry soil but will thrive in soil that stays just moist.

Shiso can be grown in containers at least 6 inches deep and wide. In winter, grow plants in pots indoors. Place plants in a bright window. Container growing is a good choice in places where shiso spread should be limited.

Is shiso invasive?

Yes, in parts of the USA, shiso is considered an invasive herb. It is known to spread quickly and self-seed easily, similar to other members of the mint family.

However, it can be easily controlled in a garden by removing the flowers to prevent self-seeding and by considering container growing as an alternative to planting it in the ground.

Is shiso a popular Japanese herb?

Yes, shiso is an extremely popular Japanese herb.

In her Japanese cooking website “Just One Cookbook”, Namiko Hirasawa Chen says that shiso is not only the most popular culinary herb in Japan, but is also considered to be one of Japanese cuisine’s 7 main flavors.

What are the differences between shiso and sesame leaves?

Shiso and sesame are distinct plants with different flavors. The leaves of the sesame plant are usually not consumed.

However, shiso leaves are frequently sold under the name of “sesame leaves”. If you see edible leaves labelled as “sesame leaves” they will almost certainly be shiso leaves.

Although the plants are biologically distinct, for culinary purposes, shiso leaves and “sesame leaves” can be considered interchangeable.

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Caroline has always been an enthusiastic eater, but it wasn’t until leaving her childhood home for university that she realized that delicious dinner doesn’t just automatically appear on the table at the end of every day. Since then, every day has been a quest to ensure that her dinner is not only plentiful but also delectable. And not only for herself, but also for others. Her initial career was in the events industry in London, but after moving to Germany, she started food blogging followed by opening a restaurant. She was the co-owner and head chef of Muse Berlin for eight years. She now lives in the countryside in Catalonia, Spain, where she works as a recipe developer and content creator for clients in the food industry.