Japan Today
A store sells Japanese food souvenirs. Image: PIXTA/powerbeep

Traveling in Japan? Fill your suitcase with these six healthy food souvenirs

By Victoria Lindsay

As you make your way through the crowds in some of Japan's most popular cities, one thing is certain: traveling in Japan is back and bigger than ever. From international tourists to locals wanting to escape for the upcoming Golden Week holiday, it seems as if everyone is adding destinations within Japan to their upcoming travel itineraries.

While there are many things to love about traveling to a new destination, something that brings me joy is sharing that part of the world with the people I love back home. Therefore, I'm a fan of the Japanese concept of omiyage, which is the practice of buying souvenirs to share with work colleagues, family, or friends. In Japan, many of the most popular omiyage are edible items like sweets, rice crackers, dried snacks or candy. Stop into any souvenir shop in a tourist area and you're sure to see boxes of individually wrapped items made just for this purpose.

Although I believe that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, the dietitian in me gets excited to discover unique local foods or ingredients that not only taste great but offer health benefits as well. These can make great gifts for both health-conscious and foodie friends alike, so read on for a few of my favorite healthy food souvenirs from Japan.

1. Shichimi togarashi 

Image: PIXTA/Masa

Found on the tables of many Japanese restaurants, shichimi togarashi refers to a traditional seasoning blend made of seven different herbs, seeds, spices, seaweed, and dried pepper. While shichimi will always contain seven different ingredients including dried togarashi pepper, the exact combination of ingredients can differ depending on the region or spice maker. Equal parts spicy and delicious, it is used as a finishing spice and is great on top of soups, noodles, rice, meat, tofu and popcorn. As for the health benefits of shichimi, they are largely due to the capsaicin found in the togarashi pepper. Research has shown that capsaicin may act as a potential anti-obesity agent in the body, as well as having anti-cancer and blood sugar lowering properties. What's more, shichimi blends usually do not contain salt, making it a perfect gift for those on a sodium-restricted diet who want to add more flavor to their food.

2. Yuzu 

Image: PIXTA/manbo

Considered an important ingredient in Japanese cuisine, yuzu are small citrus fruits with a taste that's both tart and zesty. Although bringing back fresh yuzu will likely get you into trouble with your country's customs, opt for one of the many types of shelf-stable yuzu products instead. In addition to being high in vitamin C, yuzu may also decrease inflammation in the body and protect against dementia. From yuzu juice to yuzu zest, you can use yuzu in recipes similar to the way you would use a lemon. I love using yuzu to make tangy vinaigrettes or as a marinade for proteins like meat, poultry, or fish.

3. Matcha 

Image: PIXTA/shige hattori

While Japan has a reputation for cultivating many types of high-quality tea, matcha tea has emerged as one of the trendiest, both within Japan and beyond. Made from finely ground green tea leaves, matcha is especially rich in compounds called catechins. Catechins have been shown to protect against cellular damage and have a strong antioxidant effect that may protect tea drinkers from several types of chronic illness. Although Uji, an area in Kyoto Prefecture, is thought to have some of the best matcha in the country, access to high-quality matcha is available throughout Japan.

4. Sesame based foods 

Image: PIXTA/Nov

There’s no question that sesame seeds, which have long been used in traditional Eastern medicine as a healing food, are full of healthy fats, protein and antioxidants. But something I’m even more sure of is how many people love receiving sesame foods as gifts, from roasted sesame seeds to sesame-based sauces. While little packets of roasted sesame seeds travel well and don't take up much space, be sure to leave room in your suitcase for a bottle or two of roasted sesame salad dressing. The savory taste and creamy texture will win over even the most hardened salad avoider, and I've had lots of success giving it to kids as a dip for vegetables.

5. Nori and furikake 

Image: PIXTA/K321

High in iodine, polyphenols, and health-boosting fibers, foods made from seaweed such as nori and furikake are a healthy addition to your souvenir stash. Nori, or seaweed sheets that have been dried or grilled, can be purchased in various sizes, types and flavors. For kids, try nori sheets that come in the shape of their favorite characters, such as Pokemon nori cutouts. Furikake, which is a dry seasoning made of seaweed, fish flakes, and sesame seeds, is another foodie favorite. Furikake can also be found in several different varieties and is excellent on top of rice, fish or vegetables.

6. Soba 

Image: PIXTA/jazzman

If you’re souvenir shopping for a pasta lover, skip the hard noodle bricks of ramen and pick up some soba instead. Compared to other pasta, soba noodles tend to be higher in protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals alike. This is because soba is made from buckwheat, a nutrient-dense pseudocereal that gives soba its signature nutty taste. Research studies have explored the health benefits of buckwheat and found it may lower blood pressure, decrease cholesterol, and protect against cancer.

What’s more, because buckwheat does not contain gluten, soba can be enjoyed by those who are gluten intolerant, such as those with Celiac disease. Note that some soba noodles will also include refined wheat flour, so be sure to check the package to ensure it is made with 100% buckwheat for anyone sensitive to gluten. For a unique gift, look for soba made with uji matcha, which is commonly referred to as green tea soba noodles.

Whether you're a health-conscious traveler or a culinary enthusiast, these top six healthy food souvenirs can serve as a tasty introduction to Japan's rich food landscape. As you gear up to head back home, carry with you not just memories, but a suitcase full of these tasty treasures to share with those wanting a taste of Japan.

Victoria Lindsay, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant working at Tokyo Medical & Surgical Clinic and her Tokyo-based private practice. To get in touch, please visit [https://www.victorialindsayrd.com/](https://www.victorialindsayrd.com/). 

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If you want capsaicin, you might as well just go to any kinds of chilli peppers, dried or not. You won't get much taste out of shichimi anyway. It always seems to be little more than a decoration to the table, probably playing the same role as the largely tasteless pepper we all have come to use these days. Sesame-based foods are to be found anywhere, and there is no sign of tahini anywhere in Japan, except import shops. If you want the true benefits of buckwheat, go for the seeds, which are either nowhere to be found in Japan, or are speciality products. Buckwheat is grown all over the world and is a part of eastern European food, so they tend to be producers. You can add to soups and fry it too, where it gives a very nice texture to fried rice. By now, you can buy nori in countryside supermarkets in many countries. As she says, you won't be taking fresh yuzu anywhere but, if you want it, you can get it in most foodie places in the world anyway. That probably just leaves matcha.

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Yes good suggestions but - each time you reach immigration and customs in your country you are asked, " do you have anything to declare?" Yes must be the answer but if you qualify it with the comment, " only processed Japanese food " the customs may just wave you through. If there is no wave then you go through the inspection and delays. Just be aware that yusu, raw , is a no-no and not declared will bring a heavy serious officialism down on you.

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It wasn't until 1949 that the reproductive process of nori was discovered by a British botanist named Kathleen Drew-Baker.

In honour of her contributions to the Japanese aquaculture and role in rescuing the commercial production of nori, she was named Mother of the Sea in Japan, and since 1953, an annual "Drew festival" is celebrated in the city of Uto, Kumamoto in Japan, where a shrine to her was also erected.


We prefer the Korean nori when we can find it. A little more salty.

We enjoy all the foods in the article.

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These all would make good souvenirs. ("What did you bring me?") There lots of things to take back home with you but all of these are good one, especially for foodies. As souvenirs these are nice.

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