All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Shiso perilla leaves, flowers and fruits

Shiso perilla leaves are largely either green or purple, with some leaves being flat and some crinkled. There are also bicolor shiso leaves with a green top surface and purple underside, as shown with katamenjiso below.

Aojiso Perilla frutescens crispa fo. viridi-crispa

Akajiso Perilla frutescens purpurea Makino (flat leaves) and Perilla frutescens purpurea crispa (crinkled leaves)

Katamenjiso Perilla frutescens crispa fo. discolor

Where I grew up, shiso is synonymous with aojiso or oba [both green perilla], but when it comes to umeboshi pickled plums, shiso always means akajiso [purple perilla]. In some regions, shiso is said to be more strongly associated with akajiso [purple perilla]. Confusing, isn't it? Aka literally means red, therefore it refers to the reddish purple color. Ao, referring to the green leaves, literally means blue in today's Japanese language, but in ancient times it referred to cold colors (both greenish and bluish) in general. For this reason, the actual color of something described as ao [blue] is often green.

There is an old Chinese tale  from the late 2nd/early 3rd century behind the name shiso. A young man who was dying from food poisoning after having eaten too much crab was given a purple-colored decoction remedy by Hua Tuo (?-208), a legendary doctor who happened to pass by, and the man quickly recovered his health. After this episode, people started to call the plant shiso, which means “purple (plant) that revives life” in Chinese characters. 

Based on this episode, it is believed that purple perilla is older than green perilla, and purple perilla had been used for medicinal remedies for centuries. Regardless of color, perilla has a distinctive aroma. It comes from perillaldehyde, which promotes stomach fluids and increases appetite. The substance also has an antiseptic function and is effective to prevent food poisoning (and thus often accompanies sashimi). Rich in beta carotene (11000 μg/100 g), it also contains a fair amount of calcium (230 mg/100 g), iron, potassium, fiber, and Vitamins B1, B2 and C.  Rosmarinic acid in perilla leaves and luteolin (flavone) in fruit also helps to prevent allergies.

Shiso, especially aojiso green perilla, appears quite often at the table in summer. Its refreshing note and aroma are perfect companions for tofu and cold somen noodles. It is also found as an ingredient in tempura and many other dishes to which herbs are added. At our table, it is an indispensable ingredient in temakizushi or hand-rolled sushi. Many people in Japan use aojiso as a basil substitute for an instant makeover of western dishes into something Japanese.

Akajiso purple perilla is traditionally is used for coloring pickles, including umeboshi, and as furikake topping for rice. In recent years, akajiso has made a comeback as a ruby-colored health tonic in Japan.

I grow katamenjiso [lit. one-side perilla] mainly for its pink hanaho flowers (photo at left). It is a nice aromatic addition to dishes and also works as a pretty garnish. While only the underside of the leaf is purple, katamenjiso produces purple liquid, and leaves can be used pretty much the same way as akajiso purple perilla leaves.

Shiso fruits (shiso no mi) are also used to make pickles.

Shiso leaves: 37 kcal/100 g; 86.7% water, 3.9% protein, 0.1% fat, 7.5% carbohydrate, 1.7% ash

Recipes with shiso

Try shiso in the following recipes

(Last updated: August 22, 2017)

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