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Dab of wasabi on a green shiso leaf, possibly at a sushi-bar counter
A green shiso leaf used as receptacle to hold grated wasabi

Shiso (,[1] Japanese: 紫蘇 or シソ, ) is the more widely used name [2] of the Asian culinary herb Perilla frutescens[3] var. crispa, belonging to the mint family.

This herb was previously known as the "beefsteak plant", a mostly obsolete name.[2] It is also sometimes referred to by its genus name "Perilla", which is ambiguous, as it is also inclusive of the wild sesame variety, which is devoid of the distinctive shiso fragrance.


  • Overview 1
    • Red shiso 1.1
    • Green shiso 1.2
  • Culinary use 2
    • Japan 2.1
  • Nutritional 3
  • Further etymology 4
  • Statistical data 5
  • Sources 6
    • References 6.1
  • External links 7


Shiso is a perennial plant that may be cultivated as an annual in temperate climates, and occurs in both red- (or purple-) leaved and green forms. There are also frilly, ruffled-leaved forms called chirimen-jiso and forms that are red only on top, called katamen-jiso.

The Japanese name shiso (紫蘇, シソ) is a loan word from Chinese zisu (Chinese: 紫苏; pinyin: zǐsū; Wade–Giles: tsu-su), whose first character 「紫(shi, murasaki)」 means "purple".[4]

Traditionally in Japan shiso denoted the purple-red form.[5] In recent years green is considered typical, and red considered atypical.

Red shiso

The purple-red type may be known as akajiso (赤ジソ/紅ジソ "red shiso"). The quintessential use is for coloring the pickled plum, or umeboshi. The shiso leaf turns bright red when it reacts with the umezu, the vinegary brine that wells up from the plums after being pickled in their vats.[4][6] The red pigment is identified as the Perilla anthocyanin, aka shisonin.[7] The mature red leaves are not very amenable to use as a raw salad leaf. But germinated sprouts me-jiso (芽ジソ) have been used for years as garnish to accent a Japanese dish such as a plate of sashimi.[4][8] Also used are the hanaho (花穂 flower cluster) or hojiso, which are sprigs or stalks studded with tiny-cupped flowers and forming seeds.[4] The tiny pellets of buds and seed pods can be scraped off using the chopstick or fingers and mixed into the soy sauce dip to add the distinct spicy flavor.[8] The sprouts and flowerheads of the green variety are also used the same way.

Green shiso

Bunches of green shiso leaves packaged in styrofoam trays are now familiar sights on the supermarket shelves in Japan, as well as in Japanese food markets in the West. But production in earnest as leafy herb did not begin until the 1960s.[9]

One anecdote is that around 1961, a certain cooperative or guild of tsuma (ツマ "garnish") commodities based in Shizuoka Prefecture picked large-sized green leaves of shiso and shipped them out to the Osaka market, and gained popularity, so that ōba (大葉 "big leaf") became the trade name for bunches of picked green leaves forever after.[10]

A dissenting account places its origin in the city of (共選・共販), analogous to cranberry cooperatives in the US). By c. 1970, they achieved year-round production.[12]

Culinary use


A whole leaf of green shiso is often used as a receptacle to hold wasabi, or various tsuma (garnishes) and ken (daikon radishes, etc., sliced into fine threads). It seems to have superseded baran, the serrated green plastic film, named after the Aspidistra plant, that graced takeout sushi boxes in bygone days.

Green leaves
A white bowl of spaghetti in red sauce, ganished with minced nori and julienned shiso leaves
Spaghetti topped with minced shiso garnish

The green leaf can be chopped up and used as herb or condiments for an assortment of cold dishes such as:

Chopped leaves can used to flavor any number of fillings or batter to be cooked, for use in warm dishes. A whole leaf battered only on the obverse side is made into tempura.[13] Whole leaves are often combined with shrimp or other fried items.

Red leaves

Red leaves are used for making pickled plum (umeboshi) as mentioned, but this is no longer a yearly chore undertaken by the average household. Red shiso is used to color shiba-zuke, a type of pickled eggplant (also cucumber, myoga, shiso seeds may be used),[14] Kyoto specialty.


The seed pods or berries of the shiso are also salted and preserved as a sort of spice.[3] They can be combined with fine slivers of daikon, for instance, to make a simple salad.

One source from the 1960s says that oil expressed from shiso seeds was once used for deep-frying purposes.[4]


The germinated sprouts (cotyledons)[15] used as garnish are known as mejiso (芽ジソ). Another reference refers to the me-jiso as the moyashi (sprout) of the shiso.[4]

Any time it is mentioned that shiso "buds" are used, there is reason to suspect this is a mistranslation for "sprouts" since the word me () can mean either.[16]

Though young buds or shoots are not usually used in restaurants, the me-jiso used could be microgreen size.[17] People engaged in growing their own shiso in planters, will also refer to the plucked seedlings they have thinned as mejiso.[18]


The name yukari refers to dried and pulverized red-shiso flakes,[19] and has passed into the common tongue as a generic term,[20] even though Mishima Foods Co. insists it is the proprietary name for its products.[21] The term yukari-no-iro has signified the color purple since the olden days, based on a poem in the Kokin Wakashū about a murasaki or gromwell blooming in Musashino (old name for Tokyo area).[22] Moreover, the term Murasaki-no-yukari has long been used as an alias for Lady Murasaki's famous romance of the shining prince.


Other than the yukari variety, there are many commercial brand furikake type sprinkle-seasoning products that contain shiso as well. They can be sprinkled on rice or mixed into musubi. They are often sprinkled on pasta.

The shiso pasta can be made from fresh chopped leaves, sometimes combined with the crumbled roe of tarako,[23] and the trick to success is not to cook the cod roe on the stove top, but to just to toss the hot pasta into it.


Bactericidal and preservative effects of the shiso, due to the presence of terpenes such as perilla alcohol, have been noted.[13]

Further etymology

The word ōba was originally a trade name and was not entered into the Shin Meikai kokugo jiten until its 5th edition (Kindaichi 1997), and is not found in 4th edition (1989). This dictionary is more progressive the Kojien cited previously, as Kindaichi's dictionary, from the 1st ed. (1972), and definitely in the 2nd ed. (1974) defined shiso as a plant with leaves of "purple(green) color".[24]

Statistical data

Change in annual shiso production
Growth year Production in Tons

The bar graph shows the trend in total production of shiso in Japan. (Source:Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Japan) statistics. For green shiso, cumuative figures for shiso as vegetable is used.)[12][25]

Raw data start from year 1960 (Showa 35), but for the shiso, the production figure was either negligible (far less than 1000t) or unavailable until the year 1976, as shown.

The 1970s was when refrigerated storage and refrigerated transport came online for shiso;[12] but the same technology was bringing fresh produce and seafood to meal tables of ever-remoter parts away from farms or seaports. So foods like sashimi which was not daily fare for every Japanese was becoming exactly that, and the green shiso leaves, developed as a tsuma food item (i.e., garnish esp. for sashimi) quickly began to gain ground.

The no. 1 producer of produce type shiso among the 47 todofuken in Japan is Aichi Prefecture, boasting 3,852 tons, representing 37.0% of national production (based on latest available FY2008 data).[26] Another source uses greenhouse-grown production of 3,528 tons as the figure better representation actual ōba production, and according to this, the prefecture has a 56% share.[12][27] The difference in percentage is an indicator that in Aichi, the leaves are 90% greenhouse produced, whereas nationwide, the ratio is just 60:40 in favor of indoors over open fields.[28]

As aforestated, Toyohashi, Aichi is the city which produces the most shiso vegetable in Japan.[11][29] They are followed in ranking by Namegata, Ibaraki.

There seems to be a growth spurt for shiso crops grown for industrial use. The data shows the following trend for crops targeted for oil and perfumery.[30]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2008, "shiso". WordReference. Retrieved April 1, 2012. , "shiso n. ... chiefly used as a herb in Japanese cookery"
  2. ^ a b query in the New York Times archives shows that "shiso" since 1981 had had 251 hits, and during 1990s - current, 243 , with 172 definitely in "+Japanese" context. Since 1981, perilla has 52 hits winnowed to only 12 in "+Japanese" context. Since 1981, occurrence of "beefsteak plant" scored 3 hits.
  3. ^ a b Larkcom 2007, Oriental Vegetables
  4. ^ a b c d e f Heibonsha 1969
  5. ^ Shinmura 1976, Kōjien 2nd ed. revised. (1st ed. 1955, the linguist who edited the dictionary died 1967). Definition of shiso translates to: "Annual of mint family. Native to China. Grows to 60cm. Stalk is rectangular, leaves are purple-red and fragrant.. (description of flower and fruit).. Leaves and fruit..used as an edible aromatic, and to color umeboshi. Occurs in green and chirimen (ruffle-leaved) forms."
  6. ^ Shimbo 2001, pp. 142-
  7. ^ Yu, Kosuna & Haga 1997, p.151, "Kondo (1931) and Kuroda and Wada (1935) isolated an anthocyanin pigment from purple Perilla leaves and gave it the name shisonin"
  8. ^ a b Tsuji & Fisher 2007,p.89
  9. ^ Shimbo 2001,p.58
  10. ^ 川上行蔵; 西村元三朗 (1990). 日本料理由来事典 . 朋舎出版.  : "..一九六一(昭和三十六)年ごろ、静岡県の、あるツマ物生産組合が、青大葉ジソの葉を摘んでオオバの名で大阪の市場に出荷.."
  11. ^ a b "JA豊橋ブランド(JA Toyohashi brand)". 2012. Retrieved April 2012. , under heading "Tsumamono nippon-ichi"(つまもの生産日本一) states Toyhashi is Japan's no. 1 producer of both edible chrysanthemums and shiso
  12. ^ a b c d Okashin 2012 website pdf, p.174
  13. ^ a b Mouritsen 2009, pp. 110–112, Sushi book written by a Danish biophysicist
  14. ^ Ogawa, Toshio(小川敏男 (1978). つけもの(tsukemono) (preview). Hoiku-sha (保育社). p. 115.  gives an illustrated guide to making shibazuke (text Japanese)
  15. ^ Fujita, Satoshi(藤田智) (2009). 体においしい野菜づくり (preview). PHP研究所. p. 78.  , written by a horticulture professor at Keisen University and well-known gardening tipster on TV. quote:"発芽した双葉「芽ジソ(青ジソのアオメ、赤ジソのムラメ)」"
  16. ^ Tsuji & Fisher 2007, p.164, commits this error, even though the book explains elsewhere, under the section dedicated to shiso that the "tiny sprouts (mejiso)" are used (p.89).
  17. ^ Ishikawa 1997, p.108 Photograph shows both green shiso sprouts (aome) and slightly larger red shiso sprouts (mura me) with true leaves
  18. ^ Google search using keywords "芽ジソ"+"間引き" (Japanese for mejiso and thinning) turns up many examples, but mostly blogs, etc.
  19. ^ Andoh Beisch, pp. 12,26–7
  20. ^ Used as such by Japanese-American author, Andoh & Beisch 2005pp.26-7
  21. ^ "名前の由来 (origin to its name)". Mishima foods webpage. 
  22. ^ Shinmura 1976, Kōjien 2nd ed. revised
  23. ^ Rutledge, Bruce. Kūhaku & Other Accounts from Japan (preface). pp. 218–9.   gives this tarako and shiso spaghetti recipe
  24. ^ Kindaichi 1997; 2nd ed.:「紫蘇一畑に作る一年草。ぎざぎざのある葉は紫(緑)色..」
  25. ^ MAFF-stat 2012b, FY2009, title: "Vegetables: Domestic Production Breakdown (野菜の国内生産量の内訳)" , Excel button (h001-21-071.xls)
  26. ^ Aichi Prefecture (2011). "愛知の特産物(平成21年)". Retrieved April 2012. , starred data is FY2008 data.
  27. ^ Both these numbers square with MAFF-stat 2012a figures
  28. ^ MAFF-stat 2012a
  29. ^ This can be derived from MAFF-stat 2012a, with minimal data analysis. Aichi produces four times as much as the 2nd ranked Ibaraki Prefecture and Toyohashi grew 48% of it, so about double any other prefectural total.
  30. ^ MAFF-stat 2012c


(Herb books)
  • Larkcom, Joy (2007). Oriental Vegetables (preview). Frances Lincoln. pp. 112–.  
  • Andoh, Elizabeth; Beisch, Leigh (2005), Washoku: recipes from the Japanese home kitchen (google), Random House Digital, Inc., p. 47,  
  • Mouritsen, Ole G. (2009). Jonas Drotner Mouritsen. Springer. pp. 110–112.  
  • Shimbo, Hiroko (2001), The Japanese kitchen: 250 recipes in a traditional spirit (preview), Harvard Common Press,  
  • Tsuji, Shizuo; Fisher, M.F.K. (2007), Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art (preview), Kodansha International, p. 89,  
  • Ishikawa, Takayuki (石川貴之 ed.) (1997). 人気の日本料理―一流板前が手ほどきする (Chef's Best Choice Japanese Cuisine). Bessatsu Kateigaho mook (別冊家庭画報 ムック). Sekaibunkasha.  
(Nutrition and chemistry)
  • O'Brien-Nabors, Lyn (2011), Alternative Sweeteners (preview), CRC Press, p. 235,  
  • Yu, He-Ci; Kosuna, Kenichi; Haga, Megumi (1997), Perilla: the genus Perilla (preview), Medicinal and aromatic plants--industrial profiles 2, CRC Press, , pp. 26–7  
(Japanese dictionaries)
  • Shinmura, Izuru (1976). 広辞苑(Kōjien). Iwanami. . Japanese dictionary.
  • Heibonsha (1969) [1968], "しそ", 世界百科事典(Sekai hyakka jiten) (Heibonsha) 10: 246–7  (world encyclopedia, in Japanese). The botany section by Yoshisuke, Satake (佐竹義輔); agricultural and nutrition by Nishi, Sadao (西貞夫); culinary sectio by Motoyama,Tekishū (本山荻舟).
(Japanese misc. sites)
  • Okashin; Okazaki Shinkni Bank(岡崎信用金庫). "あいちの地場産業". Retrieved April 2012. : right navbar "9 農業(野菜)"
(Ministry statistics)
  • MAFFstat (2012a). "地域特産野菜生産状況調査(regional specialty vegetables production status study". Retrieved April–2012.  . It gives to ink to H12 (FY2000), H14 (FY2002), H16 (FY2004), H18 (FY2006), H20 (FY2008) figures. They are not direct links to Excel sheets, but jump to TOC pages at site. The latest available is TOC for The FY2008(年次) Regional Specialty Vegetable Production Status Study, published 11/26/2010. Under Category 3-1 Vegetables by crop and prefecture: acreage, harvest yield, etc. (野菜の品目別、都道府県別生産状況 作物面積収穫量等), find 10th crop shiso (しそ), and click Excel button to open p008-20-014.xls. Under Category 3-2, you can also retrieve Vegetable by crop and prefecture: major cutivars at major-producing municipalities (野菜の品目別、都道府県別生産状況 主要品種主要市町村 ).
  • MAFFstat (2012b). "食料需給表(food suppy&demand tables)" (published 2011-6-20). Retrieved April 2, 2012.  . Under Reports (View of Statisticl Tables) (報告書(統計表一覧)), click most recent year, e.g. FY2009 (平成21年度〔Excel:e-Stat〕) which is a TOC page not a direct Excel link.On this TOC(FY2009), under category: "Major Items By Crop Cumulative Tables" 主要項目の品目別累年表), locate heading 2-4-1, and next to "Vegetables Domestic Production Breakdown" (野菜の国内生産量の内訳) click adjacent Excel button for data (h001-21-071.xls).
  • MAFFstat (2012c). "特産農作物の生産実績調査(specialty vegetables production realized study)". Retrieved April–2012.  . Links to H14 (FY2000) - H19 (FY2007) biannual figures, not direct link to Excel but jump to TOC pages at site. The latest available is TOC for The FY2007(年次) Specialty Vegetable Production Realized Study, published 3/23/2010. Locate 1-1-10 is Shiso (しそ), where heading reads " Industrial crop sown acreage and production" (工芸作物の作付面積及び生産量, and click Excel button to open p003-19-010.xls.

External links

  • "Portals Site of Official Statistics of Japan". E-stat-go-jp. 2012. Retrieved April–2012.  . This site is nominally available in English, but the search engine is not very robust.
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