Shichimi: The Seven Spice Blend of Japan
Written by Kevin Kilcoyne
My first experience with shichimi tōgarashi, or simply shichimi, was at a local izakaya back home. It was a cold day, or as cold as a day can get in Miami anyway, so I decided to order a big, warm bowl of nabeyaki udon. When the waitress brought out the steaming donabe she also brought with it a shaker full of some red-looking seasoning. Placing it by the bowl she explained that it was shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice blend that’s typically served with noodle and hot pot dishes.
Giving the bottle a closer look, I could see black and white sesame seeds spotted throughout the red with small flecks of orange and black flakes as well. Being a lover of spicy food and always curious to give new foods a try, I shook out a healthy amount into my bowl. The red flakes, seeds, and other ingredients drifted atop the broth, mixing in and shifting around. Then, drifting up with the steam I was immediately struck by a citrusy, peppery aroma that I instantly knew I was going to love. It added a bit of a kick, due to the red sansho peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, as well as notes of citrus from the orange peel and umami from the fleck of nori.
From then on shichimi has been a staple in my pantry. It’s always a go to for seasoning grilled chicken, noodles, and even steamed rice.
Shichimi, meaning “seven-flavor chili pepper,” is typically a combination of coarsely ground red chili pepper, ground Japanese sanshō pepper, roasted citrus peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, ground ginger, and nori, or seaweed. The recipe for shichimi can vary by home and manufacturer, other additional ingredients often including hemp seeds, poppy seeds, shiso, and Sichuan peppercorns. It should also be noted that shichimi is distinguished from ichimi, which is simply ground red pepper.
In Japan, shichimi and can be found on the tables of most noodle shops, izakayas, and yakitori or yakiniku restaurants. However, prior to being a popular seasoning, shichimi was sold as an herbal medicine in the 17th century. Now, shichimi is often bought as a souvenir and can even be found as a flavor for rice crackers and agemochi, a crunchy fried mochi snack.
Shichimi is an accessible, easy way to incorporate more washoku inspiration into your dishes. Use it as a condiment for grilled meats or vegetables, to add some spice and flavor to soups, and to give a kick to a plate of noodles. Just make sure to check and see how much spice you like before shaking too much! Personally, I like to add a ton, but that might be too much for others. So, while you find your wa in washoku, experiment and see how much shichimi is right for you.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@kevinjkilcoyne) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food.