With life expectancy in Japan topping the charts year after year and with low levels of obesity, it’s no surprise that the Japanese diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world! Incorporating plenty of fresh vegetables, grains, tofu, seafood and fish, it contains far less processed food than a typical western diet.
Japanese food is so much more than sushi and noodles, so if you fancy a foray into some of Japan’s nutrient rich super-foods then you’ve come to the right place! Combining delicious flavours and interesting textures, these foods will bring variety to your cooking whilst also helping you maintain a healthy and balanced diet.
Matcha (powdered green tea) has a vibrant emerald colour and unique taste. Traditionally mixed with hot water and served during tea ceremonies with little Japanese wagashi (sweets), it’s now used in all sorts of drinks and dishes, from lattes to baked goods. Matcha contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that helps you to stay alert without the crash and burn effect of drinking coffee, so why not swap your morning brew for a matcha instead? It’s also packed with more antioxidants than 10 cups of regular green tea combined!
Popular in Japan as a breakfast food or school snack, natto is a protein-rich dish made from fermented soybeans. Perhaps one for the more adventurous, it has an unusual odour and a texture similar to refried beans. This is definitely a must-try food though, and if you love it then you’re in luck, because this super-food is crammed full of goodness. Alongside a long list of vitamins and minerals, natto contains fibre and probiotics meaning it’s good for gut health and digestion.
Wakame is Japanese sea kelp with a salty sweet flavour and a soft texture, usually served in soups and salads. It’s often used in miso soup, so you may have already tried it without realising! Wakame is nutrient dense and low in fat as well as being a good source of omega 3 – a fatty acid that may lower the risk of heart disease, depression and arthritis.
Miso is a paste made from fermented beans and with a delicious salty/sweet taste, it’s an excellent choice for anyone wanting to add flavour to their dishes. Miso comes in several varieties (white, yellow, red and barley) which all have slightly different strengths and flavours. You’ve probably come across miso soup if you’ve ever dined at a Japanese restaurant but in Japan it’s often consumed for breakfast as its probiotic qualities make it great for digestion.
Daikon belongs to the radish family and has a mild peppery flavour with a crunchy texture when raw. Health wise, daikon contains more vitamin C than oranges, lots of fibre and its spicy flavour is good for when you have a cold. Like other cruciferous vegetables, daikon has very low calorie content whilst being nutrient rich. It’s another one of Japan’s versatile superfoods that can be served in a variety of ways, added to countless dishes or served as an accompaniment.
Made from soy milk and with a similar texture to cheese, tofu is a low fat and versatile ingredient that can be used in everything from salads to stir-frys. It contains all the essential amino acids that help our bodies to function properly, as well as iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. As a protein-rich alternative to meat, tofu is also a great option for vegans.
You wouldn’t usually associate beans with dessert, but adzuki beans are boiled, mashed and mixed with sugar to form fillings for Japanese pancakes and other sweet treats. Their deep red colouring and slightly nutty flavour make them a decorative choice as well as a tasty one. Adzuki beans are macrobiotic and high in fibre which is good news for your digestive system! They are also packed with potassium and iron. If you’re going to have dessert then why not add an ingredient with lots of health benefits too?
Wasabi has a similar flavour to hot mustard and packs a whole lot of punch! The stem of the wasabi plant is grated and served in very sparing quantities, but you have to be quick as once the stem is grated it loses flavour very quickly. In Japan a thin layer is often sandwiched between the fish and rice in sushi to preserve its ‘kick’. Wasabi contains isothiocyanate compounds which have anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties, making this the ingredient of choice if you’re suffering from joint pain/arthritis or want to improve digestion.
Edamame beans are often served warm, in their pods and covered in sea salt or spices as a tasty side dish. They can be popped out of their casing and sprinkled into other dishes or even dried out and served as a crunchy and delicious alternative to nuts. As a nutrient dense superfood, edamame beans can help to maintain all over body health. They’re also an excellent source of protein, making them a popular choice for vegans and are naturally gluten free.
Although it’s probably more associated with Korean cuisine than Japanese, kimchi (pickled seasoned fermented cabbage) makes a tasty side dish for Asian dining. Traditionally spicy, you can opt for a less fiery version if you like your food a little more on the milder side and for variety you can substitute other veggies for cabbage. Kimchi is low in calories, high in vitamin C and contains lots of fibre for good digestive health.
Explore lots more recipes, both sweet and savoury over on the recipe section of our website.
What’s your favourite Japanese superfood? Let us know in the comments below!