If you love adding a spicy kick to your meals, Japan has a not-so-secret spice blend that you’ll probably enjoy. No, Japan is not known for their particularly spicy cuisine (leave that to India, Thailand, and Ethiopia). However, they do have a popular spicy blend whose main ingredient is hot pepper.
Shichimi togarashi, also known as 7-spice blend, is a fiery mixture of 7 distinct spices. The most prominent spice is hot chili pepper, but the other ingredients are what make this spice so unique and special.
In this article, I’ll cover the main ingredients that are found in shichimi spices, the incredible flavors of shichimi, how to use it, and how you can craft your own at home.
Shichimi Togarashi Ingredients and Variations
Shichimi togarashi roughly translates to “7 flavor chili pepper.” This spice blend is always made up of 7 ingredients, but the exact contents can vary from one brand to another.
While every brand or recipe for shichimi is slightly different, they all have some things in common. The main ingredient of any proper shichimi is spicy red chili pepper. So, this spice blend is, well, spicy.
The type of chili hot pepper to use in shichimi could be any one of the popular gourmet Japanese chili peppers. These include the himo togarashi, takanotsume, santaka, and yatsufusa. However, on the ingredient list, you’ll usually just find “chili pepper” listed.
Sesame seeds, both black and white, are another almost universal ingredient in shichimi togarashi. These add a wonderful nutty, rich flavor to the spice blend.
Japanese pepper is a spice that is popular in Japanese and Korean cuisine and is closely related to the Szechuan peppercorn. It has a distinct lemony flavor that brings zest to shichimi.
Another popular zesty ingredient found in shichimi togarashi is orange or yuzu peel. These sun-dried citrus peels add a slightly bitter and acidic flavor.
Dried seaweed is one of the final ingredients you’ll find in most shichimi spice blends. This deeply flavorful addition brings a layer of salty umami to this spice blend that is addictive.
Any shichimi togarashi should only have 7 ingredients in total. However, here is a list of different spices that you may find in various brands or recipes:
- Ground chili pepper
- Dried orange or yuzu peel
- Japanese pepper (sanshō)
- Black sesame seeds
- White sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Ground ginger
- Nori (seaweed)
Note: Shichimi togarashi is sometimes called nanami togarashi. These two spices are used interchangeably and both contain 7 ingredients.
Shichimi Togarashi vs Ichimi Togarashi
If you are shopping for shichimi togarashi, you’ll want to be careful not to confuse it with ichimi togarashi.
The “shichi” in shichimi togarashi translates to “seven.” However, “ichimi” means “one.”
As you may have guessed, ichimi togarashi is made up of just one spice, ground chili pepper, while shichimi is a blend of 7 spices. So, if you’re looking for a Japanese replacement for cayenne pepper, ichimi togarashi is a great option.
Shichimi Togarashi Flavor and Uses
As you may expect from the ingredients in this 7 spice blend, shichimi is a complex flavor. If I had to use one word to describe it, I would use “electrifying.”
Unlike plain cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes, shichimi togarashi has layers of flavor that can make a bland meal delicious. The tingly spice of red pepper, the bright zap of citrus, followed by a nutty crunch from the sesame, and finally rounded out with the savory umami seaweed.
In Japan, it is common to find this spice on restaurant tables next to the salt and pepper shakers. However, with such a specific rollercoaster of flavors, you may wonder how exactly to use shichimi togarashi.
How to use it:
- Ramen or miso soup
- Sprinkled on roasted veggies (or fries)
- Added to mayonnaise for homemade spicy mayo
- Grilled chicken or pork
- Sprinkled on sushi
- Avocado toast
- Pasta and noodle dishes
- On omelets and fried eggs
- Added to pan sauces and gravies
Once you taste shichimi for yourself, you’ll get a better idea of how it can fit into your regular diet. But if you like spicy food as much as me, you’ll be using it often!
Easy Shichimi Togarashi Recipe
It’s worth noting that shichimi is not often made at home. It is easy to find at Asian grocery stores or even in supermarkets. However, if you have the ingredients on hand, you can try blending up a fresh batch of your own homemade 7 spice blend.
- 2 Tbsp ground red chili pepper
- 2 tsp ground dried orange peel
- 1 tsp white sesame seeds
- 1 tsp black sesame seeds
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp nori
- ½ tsp ground Japanese pepper (or Szechuan peppercorn)
If you like it less spicy, reduce the amount of chili, adding more later if needed. Also, try substituting poppy seeds, hemp seeds or yuzu peel if you have them on hand.
Another tip is to dry-toast the sesame seeds and peppercorns (not the chili pepper!) over medium heat. This should only take a minute or so to release the oils and flavors of these ingredients, leading to a better final product.
Again, I’d recommend starting with a store bought brand to see if the flavors appeal to you. Then, it can be fun to experiment with your own homegrown peppers and other fresh ingredients to make your own shichimi togarashi!