Sesame in Japanese cuisine 胡麻
Credit: Bruce Bortin
Gomashio is a mix of white sesame and salt.
Furikake for everybody!
Japan's many uses for sesame
The Japanese are the largest consumers of sesame, with nearly 160,000 tonnes imported each year from Latin America. And with good reason - in Japanese cuisine, sesame features in a variety of delicious ways!
First, let's distinguish the three main types of sesame (胡麻, goma in Japanese): white sesame, the most common, black sesame, and finally golden sesame. These three sesame types are used in abundance in Japanese cooking, usually not for their nutritional quality - although sesame seeds are full of fibers and minerals - and instead for their taste. But these seeds are far from interchangeable.
TYPES OF SESAME
- White sesame 白胡麻
The various sesame seeds are used in different ways. White sesame is the most subtle in taste, so it's generally the most popular. It is used in Japanese salad dressings, or for sesame tofu, or "shira-ae" (a Japanese crushed tofu salad with crunchy vegetables). Finally, its light taste makes it the perfect garnish, adding visual interest without altering the taste of the dish!
Read: The art of bento
- Black sesame 黒胡麻
As for black sesame, it has a much more distinctive, nutty taste, so it is the preferred type of sesame for marinades, and also for seasoning rice porridge. It can also be crushed to make a paste, which is often used in Japanese cuisine: to decorate dishes or salads, or even for a good sandwich! It's also used to make desserts: black sesame pudding, ice cream, cookies and more.
- Golden sesame 金胡麻
Golden sesame is the least well-known, and is found mainly in furikake, mixtures of sesame and nori seaweed, ground to a powder and used to season rice. Furikake are very popular, especially with children. There are many variants (fish, egg, vegetable...), which you will find in all Japanese supermarkets. Furikake is often sold in individual portions, with very colorful packaging!
Black and golden sesame seeds are also often roasted, then crushed and mixed with salt to create goma shio, a popular condiment in Japan. You will find goma shio in many Japanese restaurants, including ramen shops, between the ginger and soy sauce.
Read: Soya in Japanese cuisine
- Sesame oil
Finally, what would Japanese cuisine be without sesame oil? This is the base of multiple recipes. There is a slightly spicy version sold that subtly enhances the dishes it's used in.
Sesame isn't the first ingredient that comes to mind when thinking of Japanese cuisine. However once you're there it's impossible to miss it, and once you've tried it, it's difficult to do without!