Shichimi togarashi is not your typical Japanese ingredient because… well, #chilli. Yep, it’s true: spicy is definitely a flavour that’s not abundant in Japanese food. But then there’s this. A little tiny shaker of copper-hued wonder dust that packs an actual chilli punch. And, quite frankly, such a joy did not exist until now.
You may already know shichimi togarashi from Japanese restaurants as that red powdery goodness that you sling over sushi, rice, fish and noodle dishes. But what is shichimi togarashi exactly, and why is it about time you got to know it on a deeply personal level? Well, at its core, it’s a Japanese spice blend, and it’s a multi-dimensional sprinkle fest you need in on. Because it isn’t just hot; it’s also citrusy, nutty, aromatic and delivers a fair shot of umami as well to… basically, everything. That little something-something extra to a dish. If you’re not already familiar with it, prepare to get hooked. I totally am. Let’s deep dive…
What is shichimi togarashi?
Ok, first lesson. In Japanese, shichi means ‘seven’ and togarashi refers to chilli, plus to any chilli-heavy spice mix. So, basically, shichimi togarashi means ‘seven spice’. Or ‘seven-flavored chilli pepper’ if you want to be super literal.
Now for a spot of history. According to those in the know, chillies were introduced to Japan around the beginning of the 16th century and, to begin with, they were only used medicinally. In 1625, an Edo (modern-day Tokyo) merchant decided to blend dried chilli with a few other bits and pieces, then peddle it as a healthy food additive… and shichimi togarashi was born. A fun fact is that the company that invented it, Yagenbori, is still around today, hand-blending its shichimi togarashi the way it has for the past 400 years. Amazing!
The original Yagenbori mix contains black sesame seeds, dried mandarin orange peel, both fresh and roasted chilli, powdered sansho pepper (similiar to Sichuan pepper but milder), poppy seeds and hemp seeds.There are loads of variations to this mix, with ginger, yuzu peel, perilla leaves and seaweed other common ingredients.
How do I use shichimi togarashi?
In short: absolutely every which way that floats your boat. It’s used in Japan as both an all-round condiment and a finishing seasoning for dishes like soba and udon noodle dishes. It’s got the kind of chilli heat that fades without sticking around to scorch your mouth, making it perfect in lots of different situations; I love that it isn’t just all about the heat. All of those other zingy, zesty and zippy elements make it so versatile.
Mac and cheese, just sprinklified to a higher state of glory.
I love it sprinkled over any egg dish and it’s the ultimate hot chip and popcorn seasoning. It makes absolutely any veggie totally pop (try it scattered over roast potatoes!) and I mix it into mayo to use as a dipping sauce. It levels up grilled meats and fish dishes… and I like it in home-made pickles too. It makes avo toast totally epic. And I even use it in a salted caramel sesame cookie, in mac ‘n’ cheese and in my fabulous miso cheesecake with caramel sauce; don’t knock these until you’ve tried them!
It’s idyllic on sweet stuff, too: my salted caramel sesame cookies are next level with a shichimi zhoosh.
Where do I find it?
That’s easy. Find shichimi togarashi at most major supermarkets in either the spice or the Asian section, or at your fave Japanese or Asian grocer. As it’s shelf stable, if all else fails you can order a stash of it online. There are some interesting boutique versions rattling around the internet these days so you could even build up a bit of a shichimi togarashi library.
What does shichimi togarashi taste like?
Unlike any other spice blend I’ve tried – it truly has a unique flavour profile. The citrus peel makes it bright and fruity, the sesame and/or hemp seeds make it nutty, seaweed (I prefer the seaweedy ones) gives it that lovely umami edge, while shisho and ginger give it some fragrance.
Even the chilli component tastes aromatic and unlike say, sambal or sriracha sauce, shichimi togarashi is much more of a slow, well-balanced burn and it doesn’t take over. I can’t wait to hear what you think about it.