The Japanese spice blend heating up kitchens

Adding an authentic hit of flavour to noodle bowls, meat and snacks, it’s already taking off in America. Could it make it in the UK?

4 March 2019
image credit: Getty Images

If there was a competition for the sexiest spice out there right now, the Japanese shichimi togarashi might be a frontrunner – not only for its seasoning abilities but also the way it can flavour an Instagram feed.

It’s also known as seven spice powder as it’s made with a blend of white and black sesame seeds, sansho pepper (the dried orange berries of the Japanese prickly ash), orange peel, red chilli peppers, ground ginger and nori seaweed.

That said, the spice can vary from region to region and manufacturer to manufacturer, with some containing yuzu peel, hemp or poppy seeds. Some Japanese vendors even offer custom blends.

It’s thought that the spice, which literally means ‘seven flavour chilli pepper,’ originated in 17th-century apothecaries.

With a short but intense burst of heat, citrus top notes and the umami flavour from the nori, it’s a condiment that really can stretch itself to a number of foods.

Traditionally, it was used with bowls of noodles like udon or soba and to season grilled meat and fish, but it can also be utilised as a snack seasoning for rice cakes, crackers and popcorn. It can even be sprinkled atop eggs, fried potatoes or tempura. For more trendy foods, the mix adds piquancy to avocado toast or even steamed vegetables for the plant-based eaters.

Some have even experimented with adding the spice to tickle the tongue in things like chocolate ganache in cakes and truffles – swearing that it’s the new salted caramel.

A seasoning trifecta

Over in America, shichimi togarashi has made its way from the ramen counter to everything from cured cactus to fried chicken. Mintel reported last year that over there the spice blend has grown by 9% as an ingredient since 2015.

Its spread can be seen across the country, too. Chef Attila Bollock from Barton G in Los Angeles feels he can put the spice on just about anything. “It’s my favourite trifecta of seasonings: citrus, chillies and salt,” he told Bloomberg. “The addition of nori and sesame seeds make it really crave-able.” It features on his menu as a shichimi bacon crumble that comes with devilled eggs.

Robert Hernandez, who is chef de cuisine of San Francisco restaurant Octavia, makes his own shichimi togarashi blends to flavour everything from oysters to a gem salad that is topped with satsuma oranges, watermelon radish and miso vinaigrette.

Other are using the spice to create a shichimi hollandaise for eggs benedict or as a coating for fried eggplant, while Pineapple Express Pizza adds it to pizzas topped with smoked pork belly.

Even bartenders have been experimenting with it in cocktails such as the seven spice sour cocktail, created at Ma Peche in New York last year, while other establishments use it as a rim spice for their version of the Bloody Mary.

UK experience

This seasoning hasn’t escaped the attention of some in the UK, but it’s not necessarily high-end menus that are embracing it.

Wagamama uses the spice on the tofu in its new vegan roti wrap, which rolled out as part of its new breakfast range in February, while Japanese grab-and-go outfit Omoide opened in October with chirashi rice bowls that combine the spice with mayo.

Meanwhile, restaurant Gamma Gamma tosses the spice in a vinaigrette to accompany a tuna nicoise salad and Hackney got a yakitori-inspired grill menu from new restaurant Peg in February, which adds the spice to its wings.

Waitrose also included the spice blend as part of its Cooks’ Ingredients range back in September.

So is this seasoning Sparkie’s kitchen?


Sparkie says:

I have personally used this before and it does make a great colourful and flavourful topping to certain dishes. I would expect to see a little more of this kind of thing as the Instagram trend becomes more mainstream: little natural, colourful flourishes that people can apply to their cooking to make it look good in a picture.

Shichimi togarashi alone is not likely to be a major trend, but I think it’s a very good example of what could be a bigger movement if there are some companies out there with the mindset to produce this type of finishing product.

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