Unique Japanese Vegetables and Their Origins
Japan is famous for its quality of fruit and the unique shapes it offers (square watermelons, anyone?). Did you know that the country also grows unique Japanese vegetables? These vegetables may seem uncommon in the US but are eaten frequently around Japan.
Below, you’ll find a guide to some of the different Japanese vegetable options available, from what they are to how to eat them!
What are Unique Japanese Vegetables?
As mentioned, these Japanese vegetables are unique to Americans but not to Japanese people. You likely won't find them in standard grocery stores, though if you have a Japanese market nearby, you can head on over and purchase a few of the below veggies to try!
How Many Types of Japanese Vegetables Are There?
There are far too many Japanese vegetables to name here! This is especially true considering the number of vegetables brought over from Europe in the 1500s. Japan also had native vegetables that were harvested long before Europeans brought over crops.
Other vegetable varieties originated in mainland Asia and shifted to Japan. The various produce origins can potentially be why Japan offers such a wide variety of vegetables. This wide range includes everything from Japanese root vegetables to leafy greens, squash, and more.
Why Are There So Many Unique Vegetables in Japan?
Despite a small farmland area predominantly used for growing and harvesting rice, Japan has curated quite a few unique vegetables to use in recipes. Perhaps the reasoning behind this large variety is that it’s preferred to consume locally grown, seasonal produce over imported produce. Thus, creating a need for more variety of vegetables to be produced in Japan.
Japan also relies on a vegetable-rich diet, ranging from Japanese pickled vegetables to Japanese curry vegetables and everything in between. Both these reasons could be why Japan has many unique vegetables.
Mizuna is a popular Japanese vegetable known as potherb mustard or Japanese mustard greens. This leafy green is part of the mustard greens family and is native to the Kansai region in Japan. It has a delicious peppery, slightly bitter flavor that pairs well with daikon radish.
This leafy green is one of the Japanese vegetables you can harvest when it's young to enjoy as a microgreen or once it's mature. There are multiple mizuna varieties, including red mizuna and round leaf mibuna. Besides the color difference (red mizuna is a purple-red hue), mibuna has a stronger mustard flavor.
Mizuna Nutritional Value
This green veggie is low in calories and packed with nutrients and vitamins! It has vitamins A, C, and K. It also offers a small amount of protein when eaten in larger quantities.
Next on the list is komatsuna, also known as tendergreen or Japanese mustard spinach. You’ll find this tasty leafy green in many areas in Japan and Taiwan. It’s named after the village of Komatsugawa (now known as Edogawa in Tokyo), as it grew abundantly in the Edo period there.
This is another delicious vegetable that you can eat young or mature. Its flavor changes based on when it is harvested. When it’s a young vegetable, it offers a sweet, subtle flavor and has tender leaves. When mature, this vegetable gains a crunchy stem and a bolder pepper and mustard flavor.
Types of Komatsuna
Many varieties of komatsuna are available, with most easy to grow at home. For example, the red leaf variety offers a pretty color and bold flavor. Sharaku is another available variety that grows in cold and warm temperatures, so it's a great option for a home garden regardless of where you live.
Komatsuna also contains many nutrients, like vitamins A, C, B2, and K. Plus, it’s calcium-rich. You'll want to add this to your Japanese vegetables list of must-tries.
Shungiku is an aromatic green that goes by crown daisy, chop suey greens, chrysanthemum leaves, and edible chrysanthemum. This option is one of the Japanese vegetables that are not native to Japan; it originally came from the Mediterranean. Shungiku is grown in Shikoku and Kyushu in Japan.
This leafy green is another of the top healthy Japanese vegetables, as it's full of fiber, potassium, calcium, flavonoids, and vitamins A and C.
How to Eat Shungiku
It's more common for the leaves to be eaten, though you may also see some of the flowers in Japanese vegetable dishes.
You can eat this vegetable raw or slightly cooked. It tastes bitter if you cook it too long, so it's best in salads or blanched.
Negi also goes by a few names: naga negi (long onion), shiro negi (white onion), Welsh onion, and green onion. It’s part of the allium family, which is the same family as onions, scallions, and garlic.
This green vegetable is grown in multiple areas in Japan, including Tokyo. It’s also grown in Hawaii in O’ahu. It resembles green onions with a white bulb on the bottom and green leafy bits up top.
You’ll love adding this vegetable to your dishes, as it has potassium, iron, calcium, copper, and quite a few vitamins. If you can’t find negi in your grocery store, you can easily swap it with green onions, chives, or scallions.
Dishes With Unique Japanese Vegetables
Here are some dishes you can make with the above unique Japanese vegetables! Now, you can get right to the kitchen and avoid the internet search.
Mizuna Miyoga Salad Recipe
This is one of the yummiest (and easiest) Japanese vegetable side dishes. Combine mizuna, miyoga (a type of ginger), and shiso leaves (an aromatic herb). Then, mix a simple dressing with yuzu, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and a dash of sesame oil. Toss the salad, and you're ready to eat it!
Komatsuna Nibitashi Recipe
This Japanese vegetable dish is a traditional recipe that uses aburaage (deep-fried tofu) and an easy seasoning of sake (Japanese alcoholic beverage), mirin (rice wine), soy sauce, sugar, and bonito dashi (fish-based broth). Blanche the komatsuna with the tofu for a few minutes in the sauce; then it's ready to eat!
You can whip up this simple salad in a few minutes! You'll only need a few ingredients, including fresh shungiku, sugar, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Toss the ingredients together in a bowl, and you'll have a tasty, fresh salad ready to eat.
Japanese Negi Patties
These patties resemble scallion pancakes, with egg and sliced negi mixed, then pan-fried in sesame oil. You can also use a sweet sauce, like tonkatsu sauce or Kewpie mayo, to help create a more flavorful dish.
Head to Bokksu to try more of the unique vegetables that Japan has to offer. You can select options like Kohnan Shokuryo Shun de Riz: Sansai Gohan Instant Rice with Wild Vegetables that you can whip up in a few minutes. Or, enjoy unique Japanese vegetables in snack form with the Calbee Sapporo Vegetable Potato Sticks. Bokksu even features baked goods with Japanese vegetables, like the Day Plus Kabocha Pumpkin Vegetable Bread.