Japanese pickles, known as "Tsukemono" (漬物) in Japanese, are an essential part of Japanese cuisine and are served as side dishes or condiments to complement the main course. These pickles come in a wide variety of flavours, textures, and colours, offering a delightful range of tastes to the traditional Japanese meal.
WHAT ARE JAPANESE PICKLES?
The word Tsukemono literally translates to 'pickled things' in Japanese. Pickles are a popular accompaniment to dishes in Japan; sometimes they are served as a main dish on a bed of rice, or placed in the centre of rice balls, other times they are served alone as a snack with a cold beer!
You're probably most familiar with pickled ginger, which is often bright pink and placed on top of ramen or katsu curry in British Japanese restaurants.
HOW ARE JAPANESE PICKLES MADE?
Pickles can easily be bought ready prepared, saving you a lot of time and effort, as the process of making them is quite long and requires specialist equipment. If you want to make pickles at home, simply select a vegetable or fruit (cucumber, ginger, radish and plums are traditional.), and soak them in a brine. There are many different brines you can use - often just salt is used, but you can also make pickles using soy sauce, sugar and vinegar or miso for example.
The pickles are then stored in a container and weight is used to press them down. The Japanese use a piece of equipment called a Tsukemonoki, which is a container with stones that press down the pickles.
Another option is to make fresh pickles which are lightly marinated in brine and called Asazuke.
What Types of Japanese Pickle are there?
Shiozuke (塩漬け): Also known as salt pickles, shiozuke involves pickling vegetables in salt or a saltwater brine. This method draws out the moisture from the vegetables and imparts a crunchy texture. Common vegetables used for shiozuke include cucumbers, daikon radish, cabbage, and turnips.
Asazuke (浅漬け): Asazuke is a type of quick pickle that is lightly seasoned with salt and sometimes rice bran. Unlike other pickling methods that require fermentation, asazuke is a short-term pickling technique. Vegetables like cucumbers, carrots, and ginger are often used for asazuke.
Nukazuke (糠漬け): Nukazuke is a traditional pickle made by fermenting vegetables in a mixture of rice bran (nuka), salt, kombu seaweed, and other ingredients. This method results in a unique umami flavor and a slightly creamy texture. Common vegetables used for nukazuke include daikon radish, cucumbers, and carrots.
Amazuke (甘漬け): Amazuke are sweet pickles made by marinating vegetables or fruits in a sweet solution. The pickling liquid often contains rice vinegar, sugar, and sometimes soy sauce. Cucumbers and watermelon rinds are popular choices for amazuke.
Koikuchi-zuke (濃口漬け): This type of pickle involves using a concentrated soy sauce-based brine to pickle vegetables. The resulting pickles have a rich, savoury flavour and a darker colour compared to other pickles.
Misozuke (味噌漬け): Misozuke is a pickling method where vegetables are coated with miso paste and allowed to ferment. The miso adds a savoury and rich flavor to the vegetables. Eggplants are commonly used for misozuke.
Kasuzuke (粕漬け): Kasuzuke involves pickling ingredients in sake lees (the remnants of sake production) mixed with salt and sugar. This method imparts a delicate sake flavour to the pickles.
Fukujinzuke (福神漬け): Fukujinzuke is a mixed vegetable pickle often served as a condiment with Japanese curry dishes. It typically includes daikon radish, lotus root, cucumber, eggplant, and other vegetables pickled in a sweet and savoury sauce.
Beni Shoga (紅生姜): These are pickled red ginger slices often served as a garnish with dishes like tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancake).
Umeboshi (梅干し): Umeboshi are pickled Japanese plums that are extremely sour and salty. They are typically enjoyed as a condiment with rice or eaten with green tea.
These are just some of the most popular pickles, but it's easy to come up with your own!