Shiso is an aromatic herb commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Known as “perilla leaf” in English, shiso belongs to the same botanical family as mint and shares a similar texture and flavor. Due to its high concentration of phytoncides, it is believed to have anti-bacterial properties, one of the main reasons why it has traditionally been used to separate pieces of sushi and sashimi. In fact, the plastic grass dividers found in trays of packaged sushi are modeled after the saw-toothed edges of shiso leaves!
Types of Shiso
There are two main varieties of shiso: green and red. Green shiso is far more popular and common as a cooking ingredient. However, red shiso is also edible and has its own specific applications such as dying umeboshi (pickled plums) their signature pink color, making perilla juice, and flavoring dessert syrups.
Taste & Usage
Beyond being used as a garnish, shiso is also used as a central ingredient to add flavor and contrast to dishes. Described as clean-tasting, citrusy, and reminiscent of cinnamon and cloves, shiso pairs well with seafood, fruits, and vegetables. It is often used as an ingredient in nigiri, where it is layered over the rice but under the sliced fish. Additionally, shiso can be julienned and sprinkled into salads, battered and fried to make tempura, or muddled into mixed drinks. The next time you make a mojito, try using shiso in place of mint!
While the flavor of shiso is distinct and not easily replaced, it can be substituted for other herbs in a pinch. In most cases, mint is a good alternative, although keep in mind that mint tends to have a sharp flavor whilst shiso is more subdued and astringent. As garnishes, basil and Korean perilla can also be used as substitutes.
Fresh shiso leaves can be found at most Asian grocers, particularly those that specialize in Japanese cuisine. Alternatively, if fresh shiso isn’t available in your area, you can still sample the taste of shiso by purchasing dried shiso or shiso furikake.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.