Shiso from A to Z: 26 Things to Know


What is shiso? From 'Aroma' to 'Zisuye and zisuzi,' 26 interesting facts and figures about this japanese plant: recipes, varieties and benefits.

Aroma. Mint, basil, cinnamon, cloves, melissa, aniseed and citrus fruits: these are the typical aromas of shiso. To enjoy them at their best, most experts recommend using the sprouts or fresh young leaves of the plant cut into fine strips.

Britton. This is the name given to a bicoloured variety of perilla frutescens (see below), whose leaves are green on the upper side and purple underneath, widely used in Korean cuisine.

Condiment. The ume plums that are first fermented with shiso leaves, salt and aquavit before being dried, produce a condiment which, once reduced to powder form, is known in Japan as shiso momiji and used as a salt substitute.

Desserts. Many internationally renowned pastry chefs have used shiso in their sweets and desserts: from the Smoked White Chocolate Mousse with Meyer Lemon Granita and Shiso Ice Cream presented by Ron Mendoza of the Sona in Los Angeles to the Kalamansi Gelée, White Chocolate-Coconut-Soy Milk Soup, Tapioca, and Litchi-Shiso Sorbet signed by Adrian Vasquez of the Providence, also located in Los Angeles, not to mention the Shiso and strawberry granita, yuzu jelly, fromage blanc foam and white chocolate cream created by Junji Tokunaga, pastry chef and chocolatier of the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo and the fresh tasting Shiso and mint sorbet on a bed of creamy custard by Martín Berasategui of Lasarte's in Barcelona.

Egoma. This is the term used in Japan for the “Japonic” variety of perilla frutescens whose seeds are also used to produce an oil. In Korea, this particular variety goes under the name of deul-ggeh.

Fine dining. Starred chefs are very familiar with the aromatic qualities of shiso. Those like Tanja Grandits of the Stucki in Basel who presents Beef tartar with coffee oil, beetroot and shiso. Joël Robuchon, the most starred chef of all times, in a joint venture with Air France, has created (exclusively for passengers travelling in La Première luxury suite class in departure from Paris Charles de Gaulle) caviar and salmon tartar with shiso sprouts.

Gelupo. Late in 2016 Gelupo, the renowned London-based ice-cream makers of Soho launched seven ice-creams by seven London chefs who had just been awarded their first Michelin star. One of the new flavours is a yuzu and green shiso ice-cream created by Arnaud Bignon of The Greenhouse in Mayfair.

Hojiso. Shiso flower buds often used as a garnish for sashimi: the flowers should be picked up with chopsticks and dipped in soy sauce.

Italy. The Japanese city of Toyama, capital of the eponymous prefecture in the Chūbu region, has launched a project called Global Perilla Network with the aim of promoting shiso sales in Italy. Cristina Bowerman of the Glass restaurant in Rome, who is bridging the gap between the two cultures, has been asked to use the herb in a traditional Italian dish. The result is her Artichokes of long life which features both the leaves and oil of shiso (also known as egoma).

Jyuunin. The ancient Japanese name for shiso. It literally means "ten years": tradition would have it, in fact, that its health-giving properties lengthen life expectancy by one decade.

Kaz Iimori. The executive chef of the Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York is among those who swear by using the fresh leaves of shiso as a “receptacle” for the wasabi condiment of sashimi. Whether fresh or preserved, he also recommends the use of this herb with vegetables, teamed up with noodles and in sushi rolls, especially in the ume shiso roll.

Liquor. In Japan, Choya Umeshu liqueur is a popular drink: low in alcohol (15%), it marries umi plums with shiso leaves. However, the US-based Sidetrack Distillery has marketed a Shiso Liquor, which is much more alcoholic (45%), strongly characterized by the pronounced grassy and spicy notes of this herb.

Mixology. White rum or cachaça (plus the juice and zest of yuzu, lime and ginger ale) served with shiso leaves instead of mint offer a mojito-style "divertissement". Another version is vodka, brown sugar, yuzu and shiso; or tequila, shiso and cucumber; or even gin, shiso, cucumber, lemon juice and gum syrup as prepared by the Nobu (London), where this cocktail is known as Cucumber & Shiso Martini. In other words, mixology has discovered the Asian herb and is putting it to good use!

Nutritional values. Iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, C and B2 have determined the crowning of shiso as the "exotic superfood" of 2016.

Oil. Extracted from the roasted seeds of the plant, its oil is rich in alpha linolenic acid and the fatty acids Omega-3 and 6. It has a characteristic nutty flavour and is widely used in Korean cuisine for preparing fried foods or vegetable stir-fries and for giving an extra kick to sauces, as well as being the (once secret) ingredient of perilla leaf and vanilla ice-cream with salted caramel created by the starred-establishment Soigné located in Seoul.

Perilla frutescens. This is the scientific name of the plant which, despite having a structure similar to that of basil, belongs to the mint family. As well as the aforementioned Britton and japonica varieties, crispa reigns supreme in Japanese cuisine; its leaves may either be green (with a pronounced aroma of cinnamon) or red (tending towards aniseed with a less spicy taste). This plant, or rather, a derivative of an aldehyde extracted from the plant itself, is a powerful sweetener called perillartine which is, would you believe, 2000 times sweeter than sucrose.

Qi. In traditional Chinese medicine stands for vital energy. According to this ancient oriental practice, the leaves and seeds of perilla frutescens have the power to rebalance the qi.

Remedy. Apparently, when the leaves – of the red variety in particular – are rubbed on the skin, they act as a remarkable mosquito repellent: the insects seem to be discouraged by this highly aromatic fragrance.

Seeds. As well as being used to produce oil, the roasted seeds are a typical ingredient of Korean cuisine in which they add nutty and spicy notes. When ground to a flour-like consistency, it becomes deulkkae-garu which is added to soups and stews to give them a thicker, creamy texture. In Nepal and some areas of neighbouring India, the seeds are roasted, ground and mixed with salt, chilli pepper and tomatoes to make a sauce.

Traditional recipes. In Japanese cuisine, the leaves appear in tempura, they strongly characterise umeboshi (see below) and team up with pickled ginger, they are used to wrap little meat or fish patties, they are ideal accompaniments for sushi and sashimi and also end up in the mixture of tsukune(chicken meatballs) or in shiba-zuke, the Kyoto speciality made from aubergines, cucumbers, red shiso leaves, ginger and myoga (a milder-tasting "cousin" of ginger). In Korean cuisine, where the fresh herb is called kkaenip, it is added to kimchi, the traditional dish of pickled vegetables and spices. In Vietnam, on the other hand, it gives an added kick to salads, fish dishes and soups, while in Laos it pops up in khao poon, the traditional soup containing chicken, fish or pork with fish sauce, garlic, shallots, Lao chilli pepper, galangal, lime leaves and perilla.

Umeboshi. The red-leaved variety is an essential ingredient of umeboshi, the well known Japanese condiment containing plums to which it confers pungent notes and a characteristic red colour. One of the many recipes in which it is used is Ume Shiso Maki, also known as sushi with umeboshi paste, shiso leaves, alga nori, rice and, not uncommonly, cucumbers.

Vocabulary. Apart from the Japanese word shiso used throughout this article, perilla is also called tía tô in Vietnam, zǐsū in China, deulkkae or tŭlkkae in Korea, "pak maengda" in Laos, silem in Nepal and India and wild coleus (North America). Then we have synonyms such as "beefsteak plant" owing to the fact that the leaves of the red variety would seem to resemble steaks, or "rattlesnake" owing to the sound produced by the seeds in their pods. It is also widely referred to as Chinese or Japanese basil, Japanese thyme, purple mint, wild basil and perilla mint.

Wok. In Chinese cooking, its fresh leaves are tossed in the wok with garlic or ginger and served as a side dish.

Xiang Su San. This is the name of the herbal tea mentioned in the Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping era, dating back to 1107 A.D., in which the dried leaves are reduced to a powder and mixed with tiger nut tuber (or chufa), dried citrus peel and liquorice. This would seem to be a remedy for the common cold and digestive disorders.

Yukari furikake. This is a Japanese term referring to the dried ground leaves of red shiso: with the addition of salt, sugar and malic acid, this mixture is used to flavour rice and soups.

Zisuye and zisuzi. Deriving from zĭsū, in which "zĭ" stands for the purple colour of the stalk and sū for the beneficial effects of the brew made from it, the two Chinese words respectively indicate the leaves (ye) and the seeds (zi) of the perilla frutescens.