A staple of Asian cuisine for centuries, shiso is a Japanese herb that is related to the mint family. Over the years it’s popularity in Western cooking has grown, and in addition to Asian supermarkets, it can also sometimes be found fresh in regular supermarkets. However, it is likely to simply be labeled as Japanese mint or as perilla, as it is also known.
There are actually different varieties of shiso, each with a unique scent and flavor.
Green shiso can be fried, used as a garnish, added to soups or salads, and used to flavor rice. The flavor is a combination of citrus and cinnamon, with a slight undertone of anise. This aromatic herb is also a great seasoning for fish, chicken, beef and radishes.
Red shiso is much spicier than green shiso and is often found in a salad mix. The flavor is similar to basil, but somewhat lighter. Red shiso is mainly used for pickling or as a natural food coloring.
Shiso flowers can also be used as a garnish, and the seeds can be used as sprouts.
Culinary Uses of Shiso
This versatile herb can be used in a large number of dishes. If you often eat in Japanese restaurants, you may have tried it already — it is added to soups, rice or tempura and wrapped around sushi.
Shredded shiso can be used as a flavorful garnish for tofu or added to fish tacos! Add it to spaghetti in place of parsley, or mix it with some soy sauce and sesame oil to make a delicious marinade for grilled chicken. If you need a place to start, try this shiso plum yakitori skewers recipe.
Besides its unique flavor, shiso offers amazing health benefits. The leaves are often served with sashimi, not just for their flavor, but also because shiso is a known antiseptic that can help to prevent food poisoning.
Health Benefits of Shiso
In Japan and other Asian countries, the leaves are often added to hot water to make a tea. The tea contains antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory and allergy-fighting properties. The tea also helps to strengthen the immune system and the health of your skin.
Having also been used as an herbal remedy in Japan for centuries, the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties are used to treat everything from asthma, arthritis and eczema.
The shiso leaves contain large amounts of calcium and iron, making them a great, healthy addition to salads, soups and stews. The herb is also rich in vitamin A, which may lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Shiso oil is also an herb-based alternative to fish oil, as it can provide omega-3 fatty acids to vegans and strict vegetarians.
Grow Your Own Shiso
If you have difficulty finding fresh shiso, it is easy to grow your own. You can purchase shiso seeds on Amazon or possibly at farmer’s markets. Plant the seeds mid-spring by simply placing them on top of the soil in a full-sun area and watering them daily. The plants will grow to be about three feet tall. Pinching the leaves to prune them will help the bush stay full.