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If you’ve spent time in a kitchen (or watched a lot of cooking shows on TV like me), then chances are you’ve heard the adage “You eat first with your eyes.”  While many a fine dining restaurant around the world features beautiful plating, it's hard to deny that the true masters of the art of food beautifully arranged are the Japanese.

Japan is known for its affinity with seasonal products, particularly when it comes to food. In Japanese when something is in season and popular it is referred to 旬 (shun). Here are some springtime seasonal foods you'll find in Japan:

Shiitake mushroomskonbu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes) are three main ingredients used to make dashi in Japanese cuisine. Here's how to store each ingredient to maintain the best flavor and freshness.

Fermented foods are among the most common foods you’ll find around the world.  Every culture has some tradition of fermenting foods, so it's no surprise to find that this “culture” has deep roots in Japan.  

You may have come across amazake (a low/non-alcohol sweet sake) on your travels to Japan, especially if you’ve visited during the New Years period. Often served in small paper cups at shrines during the cold new years period, amazake has a mild, sweet smell and taste.

Because tea leaves are a shelf-stable product, it is commonly assumed that their quality does not degrade over time. However, through the process of oxidation, tea begins to deteriorate as soon as it is picked from the plant. Luckily, proper storage is a simple way to interrupt that process and keep your tea fresh and delicious. There are five main “enemies” of tea that should be avoided: light, heat, moisture, odor, and air. 

Japan is a seafood lover’s culinary paradise. There is a little something for everyone. One such delight is roe, fish eggs, that can be found as toppings on sushi, a paste to nibble or spread on toast, a stuffing for onigiri, mixed with pasta sauce, and for many other things.

Perhaps the best-known types of roe in Japan are tarako and mentaiko, but what are they and what is the difference? How are they the same?

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese alcohol is sake. You might see it called Japanese rice wine, or even learn that it can be served either hot or cold, but this this barely skims the surface of these remarkable beverages.

Many a first experience of Japanese cooking starts with the savory, tangy, unique taste of miso soup.  And while miso seems like a straightforward ingredient, there are actually a wide variety of miso to choose from.

Miso is produced widely across Japan, in every prefecture.  And while there is a lot of variety, miso can be commonly categorized by color (aging), fermentation ingredient (koji), and region (prefecture).

There are many types of tofu, but the two most common types are kinu or kinugoshi (きぬ/絹ごし) and momen (もめん/木綿). Kinu literally means silk whereas momen means cotton. In English you may come across kinu tofu being referred to as silken or soft tofu and momen tofu being referred to as firm or hard tofu. 

Mirin is one of the key ingredients which brings to life Japanese dishes. Mirin is a semi-sweet, alcoholic cooking rice wine enhances umami, adding depth and richness to your cooking.

As you start down your Japanese home cooking experience, it's a great idea to pick up a few staple ingredients that will help build the foundation of many of the recipes you’ll want to try.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at the fundamental “5 S” ingredients of Japanese cooking and how to store them.

Otsumami are a selection of foods in Japan that are meant to accompany alcoholic beverages and to enhance one’s dining experience. They’re often served at Japanese pubs known as izakaya, or at restaurants or at home as a snack before a meal. These wide ranging foods can be enjoyed hot or cold and vary in how they’re prepared including raw, cooked, deep fried, pickled, smoked or preserved. 

The different types of green tea vary based on how much sunlight the leaves receive and how they are dried, ground and rolled. How you brew them will also will also effect the taste and experience of enjoying a cup of green tea.

We've partnered with our friend Yuca from YUCa ’s Japanese Cooking to guide you through making easy and nutritious Japanese home cooked dishes using ingredients from our Creative Beginnings: Redefining "Wa" Care Package.

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island, is blessed with spacious land, abundant nature and a cooler climate that distinguishes it from the rest of Japan. Akin to Japan's “northern Europe”, Hokkaido’s thriving agriculture and fishing industry has resulted in its treasure trove of regional food.

While many of us might believe that the original package that we buy our rice in is good enough to store it in, that’s actually not true. Rice is a perishable food that can lose its flavor when stored improperly.

High fructose corn syrup is one of the most pervasive food additives both in the West and in Japan.While avoiding highly processed foods is a good way to keep the pesky additive out of your diet, it can pop up in some seemingly unlikely places (rest assured that none of our products at Kokoro Care Packages include it!). Some staple pantry ingredients for Japanese cuisine regularly include it, which are typically the mass-produced varieties, as well as some sauces and seasonings.

Wagashi, traditional Japanese sweets, combine fresh, seasonal ingredients with intricate, artful designs, to create delectable desserts that are often as beautiful as they are to taste. 

With a deep historical and cultural significance, Japanese sweets, broadly known as okashi, originally referred to fruits and nuts. Given its scarcity, sugar had been reserved only for the imperial family and nobility. It wasn’t until the Portuguese and Chinese introduced large sugar imports to Japan did it appear as an ingredient in Japanese confectionery. As the popularity of the Japanese traditional tea ceremony grew during the Edo Period (1603-1868), so did the demand for the accompanying Japanese sweets, which had a subtle sweetness that balanced the bitter notes of the matcha.

As Japan opened its borders to the world during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the term wagashi, which is derived from the words wa (Japanese) and kashi (sweets), was introduced to differentiate Japanese confections from Western ones. Wagashi tend to be less sweet and have historically been plant-based, not using milk or eggs and relying on agar (made from seaweed) rather than gelatin. 

Nowadays wagashi are renowned around the world. They can be found in an infinite array of shapes and designs and are made from ingredients, many of which are featured in this Baking: “Amai” Care Package, that change with the seasons and by region. 

One reason the traditional Japanese diet is thought to be so healthy is because it includes many highly nutritious, seasonal ingredients, beneficial for anyone looking to eat more healthfully and mindfully. It focuses on plant-based ingredients and less on high-fat foods and meat-centric dishes. Additionally, the traditional palette makes use of moreumami rich seasonings, like soy sauce andmiso, and uses preparations that focus on the natural flavors of ingredients and less on added sugars, fats, and sodium. 

Although baked goods aren’t the first product you may think of when it comes to Japanese cuisine, Japan has a plethora of flours. Though the popularity of non-wheat flours has been rising in the West, Japanese cuisine has always included many varieties of rice flour. When shopping for cooking flours at a Japanese grocery store look for the character for powder (粉/kona) on packaging.

From sushi rice to stews, sauces, pickles, and marinades, sugar is a fundamental ingredient in Japanese cooking. Many Japanese recipes call for some amount of sugar, may it be a pinch or even a few teaspoons. This isn’t because Japanese diners prefer their food sweet, but because Japanese cooks have long known the power that sugar has in bringing balance to a dish and making it more filling and satisfying.

As you start to learn about Japanese cuisine you will most likely begin to hear about how special Japanese mayonnaise (マヨネーズ) is. From famous cooks to Japanese individuals living abroad, many flock to Asian supermarkets in search of Japanese mayonnaise.

Traditional Japanese food, or washoku, is known for its seasonal ingredients, gentle flavor and balanced taste. The recipes and cooking methods date back a few centuries and millennia, shaping today's Japanese diet and cultural beliefs. In fact, in 2013, washoku was registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, based on the four philosophies of washoku.

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