If you’ve gone out to get sushi, you might have noticed a little green leaf on your plate. In the Western culinary world, most of us just assume that this is a decorative garnish and leave it untouched. But, that plant is actually most likely shiso, a Japanese herb that’s a member of the mint family.
What is Shiso?
MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock
Shiso, also known as perilla, sesame leaf, or beefsteak, is a perennial plant that originates in Japan. There are two varieties: red and green. Red shiso, also known as akijiso, is used as a garnish for sashimi and to color umeboshi (pickled plums). Its flavor has been described as being similar to anise, fennel, or a subtle licorice. Green shiso, on the other hand, is much more common and traditionally used as a garnish. Its flavor is a little trickier to describe, but those who have tried it have described it as being slightly spicy and like a cross between basil and mint — kind of like cilantro, though those adverse to cilantro might still be fans of shiso.
Shiso was brought to the United States in the late 1800s, where it was easily naturalized. It’s not unusual to find wild shiso growing in sunny states and woodlands. It’s also easy to grow at home. If you want to attract butterflies and other pollinators, try planting shiso.
In terms of nutritional value, shiso is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron, and dietary fiber. In Chinese herbal medicine, dried shiso leaves are used to treat respiratory conditions and to alleviate nausea and sunstroke.
While the usage of red shiso leaves is reserved primarily for making umeboshi and seasoning, green shiso leaves are very versatile. Traditionally, green shiso leaves are served wrapped around sushi or alongside sashimi. Try serving this Teriyaki Tofu Roll, this Kabocha Temaki, this Sweet Mock Eel Nigiri, or this Tempeh Maki Roll with a garnish of shiso. You can even use shiso leaves as a wrap for barbecued tofu or tempeh!
It’s also served with soups. Before adding shiso to soup, slice the leaves into thin strips to better release the flavor. Then add it to this Green Tea Soup With Roasted Eggplant, this Shyoyo Ramen, this Kake Udon, or this Soothing Miso Soup.
Shiso is the perfect garnish for Asian noodle dishes like these Green Tea Soba Noodles or these 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles. Or, you can chop it up and add it to stir-frys, like this Ultimate Teriyaki Stir-Fry. You don’t need to follow the recipe to a T — just swap in your favorite veggies or use whatever you have available.
Shiso pairs well with fried foods, like tempura. Or try pairing it with these Quick and Easy Zucchini Fritters, these Skinny Carrot Fritters, these Puerto Rican Corn Fritters, or these Tofu “Fish” Fritters. A garnish of shiso would also pair beautifully with other crispy, traditionally fried foods, these Zucchini Brown Rice Arancini or these Jackfruit “Crab” Cakes.
Try using shiso as a substitute for herbs in dairy-free pesto. Swap the basil in this Pesto Gnocchi or this Pesto Twist Loaf for fresh, green shiso. Or try it in this Broccoli Pesto Pasta. Go halvesies with Thai basil in this Creamy Thai Pesto Linguine for some true fusion food flavor.
Shiso is common in the United States and it can be grown just about anywhere, as long as it’s sunny out. Look for shiso plants and seeds at your local nursery or among the fresh herbs at your local grocery store. Or, you can buy seeds online.
This packet of David’s Garden Seeds Red Shiso Seeds comes with non-GMO, pollinated seeds. One packet of 500 costs about $8. Or, try these Ohio Heirloom Seeds Green Shiso Seeds. One packet of 300 seeds costs $2.29.
If you want to try interesting shiso-based products, try this Shiso Fumi Furikake, a rice seasoning made from powdered red shiso leaves, salt, and sugar. One 3.1-ounce bottle costs $7.59. Or, go for this Eden Foods Shiso Leaf Powder, a garnish made from red shiso leaves that have been pickled in ume vinegar. One 1.76-ounce bag costs about $11.
If you enjoy articles like this and want more, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App. For those that don’t have it, it’s a brilliant food app available for both Android and iPhone. It’s a great resource for anyone looking to cut out or reduce allergens like meat, dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, grains, and more find awesome recipes, cooking tips, articles, product recommendations and how-tos. The app shows you how having diet/health/food preferences can be full of delicious abundance rather than restrictions.
The Food Monster app has over 8000+ recipes and 500 are free. To access the rest, you have to pay a subscription fee but it’s totally worth it because not only do you get instant access to 8000+ recipes, you get 10 NEW recipes every day! You can also make meal plans, add bookmarks, read feature stories, and browse recipes across hundreds of categories like diet, cuisine, meal type, occasion, ingredient, popular, seasonal, and so much more!
Lead image source: MAHATHIR MOHD YASIN/Shutterstock