Key Ingredient

By Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga

Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Shiso is a shrub approximately 2 feet in height that
yields an abundant amount of delicate,
jagged-edged leaves.


Long popular in Japan, fresh shiso is growing common in our own markets. You've probably seen it, packaged neatly stacked in individual containers of eight to 10 leaves.

Undoubtedly you've come across shiso -- sometimes called chiso -- at a sushi bar or presented as a fragrant garnish with a Japanese entree. There would be no umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) if not for shiso. But there are many other ways to enjoy this prized Asian herb.

The basics: Shiso, also known as perilla or beefsteak plant, is an aromatic green herb related to mint and basil. There are two kinds of shiso: Green shiso can be used in a number of raw and cooked dishes, whereas red shiso (sometimes called purple) is primarily used as a dye for pickling. Shiso's flavor is a snappy essence of fresh citrus and tartness.

Selecting: Most often shiso leaves are prepackaged. Make sure leaves look fresh with vibrant green or red coloring. Watch out for dried or wilted leaves.

Storing: Shiso lasts two to three days refrigerated.

Use: Shiso is enjoyed raw in sushi -- used whole as a wrap or in thin slices inside makisushi. Thin slices can also be used to top sashimi or added to salads along with a fresh citrus- and soy-based dressing. Deep-fry shiso leaves tempura-style for a unique appetizer. Remember, leaves will cook in seconds, so be careful not to burn them. Or, place shiso leaves on fish fillets when broiling or sauteeing. They add a nice fragrance to the fish and a pleasant design.

Where to buy: Shiso comes to us primarily from California. It's available year-round, but summer through fall is the peak growing season. Markets such as Daiei and Marukai have an abundant supply at about $1.29 for eight to 10 leaves.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Contact Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga
online at

Asterisk (*) after nutritional analyses
indicates calculations by
Joannie Dobbs of Exploring New Concepts,
a nutritional consulting firm.

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