Many traditional Japanese foods are filled with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and even beneficial bacteria (for optimal gut health). Forget the pills and potions—try these Japanese superfoods to naturally keep your body healthy and your immune system strong by adding these to your next grocery store haul.
Matcha was consumed in Japan long before it was a trending latte flavor—it was first introduced from China by a Japanese Buddhist monk in 1191. Matcha is made from whole, high-quality green tea leaves, de-stemmed and ground down to a powder. The powder is mixed with water so you consume the whole leaf, unlike regular green tea, where the leaves are steeped in hot water then removed.
Matcha is traditionally consumed in tea ceremonies, where the drink is prepared step-by-step with elegance and respect. In modern-day Japan, matcha can be found in assortments of drinks, desserts, candies, and baked goods, and can be recognized by its deep green shade.
Matcha is packed with antioxidants—up to 137 times more than other types of green tea—which help to reduce cell damage and fight chronic diseases. Drinking matcha may also help protect against heart disease by lowering “bad” cholesterol, and increase your metabolism. Matcha contains a lot of caffeine, about three times more than regular coffee or green tea, so expect heightened brain function, but without the crash: an L-theanine compound also found in matcha alters the caffeine to prevent a crash in energy levels, while also inducing feelings of relaxation.
When preparing your own matcha, be sure to use hot, but not boiling, water for mixing (about 80ºC).
Miso is a fermented soybean paste that’s a culinary pillar in Japanese food flavoring. Historically, miso was a luxury ingredient not available to the general population, but today it is found in every Japanese kitchen. Miso comes in a few different types, depending on fermentation duration and secondary ingredients. Shiro (white) miso is all-rounder miso, which is fermented for longer than two months. Shinsu (yellow) miso is mild in taste and fermented for slightly longer than shiro miso. Aka (red) miso, is fermented for up to three years and has a saltier, deeper taste that can easily overpower other flavors.
Miso is most commonly consumed in Japan as miso shiru or miso soup, when it’s mixed with a fish or seaweed broth and topped with tofu, green onions, and wakame. It’s also commonly used as a marinade or glaze for roasted meat and vegetables.
As a fermented food, miso is a great source of probiotics or beneficial bacteria, which increases the health of your gut and enhances your immune system. Miso is also high in protein, in minerals like manganese and zinc, and vitamin E, vitamin K, various B vitamins, and folic acid. Note that miso has high salt content, it is possible to have too much of a good thing!
Yuzu is a citrus fruit that originates in Japan, which tastes like something between a mild lemon and a sharp grapefruit. The inside of the fruit is hardly ever eaten on its own, but the yuzu flavor derived from its juice and peel can be used in numerous ways.
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