Japanese American Traditions

The Joy of Japanese Vegetables

Your mother was right. You should eat your vegetables.

Most health experts agree that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits offers great nutritional benefits—something that the Japanese have known for generations.

Fresh vegetables are used abundantly in Japanese cuisine, and the Japanese diet tends to be lower in fat and cholesterol mainly because soy products and fish are used as the primary sources of protein. Even today, the Japanese eat relatively small amounts of red meat.

In traditional Japanese cuisine (and it many of its Japanese American variations), vegetables provide fiber and substance to a meal and their colors and shapes often add to the important visual appeal of a dish. In addition to mainstream types of vegetables, such as carrots and spinach, Japanese cooking includes a number of lesser-known but extremely delicious vegetables.

Some examples include:
azuki: small red beans often used in sweet desserts
daikon: long white radish
edamame: green soybeans, often eaten as a snack or appetizer
gingko: seeds of the gingko tree, relatively high in vitamin C and carotene
gobo: burdock root, long and thin and having a crunchy texture
kabocha: the “Japanese pumpkin,” a type of small squash with a sweet flavor and a dark green skin
konbu: kelp, a type of seaweed
konnyaku: a jelly-like ingredient made from Japanese yams
kyuri: there are several varieties of Japanese cucumber. They tend to be longer than their Western cousins and often have textured skin, or ridges, and a smaller seed cavity
nasubi: Japanese eggplant are slender and milder and have a more delicate taste than Western varieties
rakkyo: small, flat onion-like bulb, often pickled and used as a garnish
renkon: lotus root, a potato-like vegetable known for its decorative shape when sliced
shiitake: black mushroom, highly prized for its delicate flavor
shiso: leaf from the perilla plant, the “Japanese basil,” often made into a paste for flavoring
takenoko: bamboo shoots
wakame: mild, thin, green seaweed, often used in soups or salads, or pickled with other vegetables

One of the most frequently overlooked types of vegetables is the kind that comes from the sea. Various types of seaweed have long been prized in Japanese cuisine as a rich source of nutrients such as vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber.

In general, Japanese cooking is an excellent cuisine for food lovers—and dieters—to explore. And Japanese vegetables can provide a tasty way to have a more nourishing diet.

December 2005

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