For Japan, being in the middle of several of Earth’s continental plates certainly has many dangers, but it also has some wonderful gifts. These natural treasures had gifted Japanese people with delicious but also highly nutritious sources of food for them to grow and thrive.
Hundreds of years ago, traditional Japanese food also needed to be “strong” – in other words, with no refrigeration and a standard of living without factories, distribution systems, subways, Uber Eats, fast food, or even cars. No, the food that Japanese people ate wasn’t as easy to obtain as clicking on a smartphone app. When it was made, it had to last for a while and it had to serve as not only their nutrition, but also as their medicine. Food had to be “strong” enough to not only fill your stomach, but be able to make you healthy to overcome whatever bacteria or virus would be spreading throughout the country.
It didn’t hurt that many of these foods were tasty and delicious, though. We are fortunate that many of them have survived and we are now able to benefit from their healing and nurturing properties. That is why we believe you will not only find great taste and satisfaction from these superfoods, but also great health benefits. We hope you will give some of these natural energy boosters a try.
Here are ten of Japan’s best superfoods that can serve as a great support to the immune system.
From a health standpoint, miso is fermented and provides the body with a source of probiotics, or “good” bacteria. Your gut and your immune system can be thought of as very closely related to each other, as 70 percent of your immune tissue is located in the intestines. Miso helps to keep a healthy bacteria balance within the gut and thus enhances your immune system. Miso is also high in protein, minerals, zinc, and vitamins E, K, B, as well as folic acid. But beware, miso has a very high sodium content, so take in moderation and check your blood pressure on a regular basis.
Although matcha comes from the same plant as the green tea you may normally find in grocery stores and drink steeped in hot water, the camellia sinensis plant, it is put through a different process which gives it different nutrients. The green tea plant is covered for about 20–30 days before harvested in order to avoid direct sunlight. The process helps to increase chlorophyll levels and also boosts the amino acid content. Once the tea leaves are harvested, stems and veins are removed. The leaves are dried and ground into a fine powder, and this is the final product, matcha.
Matcha contains higher levels of caffeine and antioxidants compared to typical green tea.
The health benefits of matcha have been known for a long time. Matcha is packed with catechins, an antioxidant which helps to stabilize free radicals and reduce cell damage.
Additionally, matcha contains a higher amount of caffeine than green tea, approximately 35 mg of caffeine per half teaspoon (about 1 gram) of matcha powder. Caffeine may help with improvements in brain function, faster reaction times, and improved memory. Matcha also contains L-theanine, a compound which can prevent the crash in energy levels that can potentially occur after consuming caffeine.
Seaweed (Wakame, Kombu)
Konbu, normally a thick, tough slab of seaweed, is commonly used for making dashi, or a broth base. Unless it is boiled and softened over a long period of time konbu is not usually consumed as is. Wakame, on the other hand, is normally a thinner version of konbu and can be eaten directly. It is often put into miso soups, or eaten as a salad with perhaps a ponzu dressing, or as a sunomono, marinated in vinegar and often mixed with cucumbers or some seafood, like crabmeat.
Seaweed contains many vitamins and minerals and is low in calories. Besides containing vitamins A, B, C, and E, seaweed also is a rich source of iron and iodine, essential to proper thyroid function. Seaweed also contains a lot of soluble fiber and aids in digestion. Seaweed also is rich in calcium to help support healthy bones and teeth.
It’s no wonder seaweed has been one of the sea’s best treasures!
Natto is a very pungent, sticky food made of boiled or steamed soybeans that are fermented with a special beneficial bacteria and consumed. It is definitely an acquired taste, and even some small areas of Japan have not readily accepted it. But the majority of the country has, and has embraced it as one of their staple foods. It is very inexpensive and has such great benefit for gut bacteria. Since it is made from soybeans, it also has protein, calcium, potassium, vitamins C, B6, K (helps with strong healthy bones), as well as iron and magnesium. It is also said to contain PQQ, a vitamin thought to support mitochondrial function. If you can get over the distinct aroma and stickiness of natto, you may have found a superfood for life!
If you can’t get over the odor of natto, but still would like some of the benefits, there are many health food stores these days that do sell natto kinase in pill form. Although it might not as be as effective as eating actual natto, it could help with some of your gut and cardiovascular health concerns.
Umeboshi are sour, salty pickled plums that are very common in the Japanese diet. It is often eaten accompanied with a bowl of rice, or placed inside of a riceball to counteract the sour taste. This little red ball of sourness is not just for food, but has been considered a remedy for many different ailments including fatigue, liver detoxification, hangovers, and even morning sickness. It contains a good amount of potassium, manganese and fiber for its small size.
Umeboshi has twenty-five times more citric acid than lemon juice, and is known to have an alkalizing effect on the body. Citric acid helps to nutrify cells and improve absorption. But like miso, it is salty, so please consume in moderation.
Yuzu juice is often added to teas, sauces, and alcoholic drinks in Japan. The zest also adds an extra dimension to simple dishes like fish and can be found easily in most Asian grocery stores. But probably the most common food you would find the use of yuzu in is a soy sauce based flavoring called ponzu, which may also contain a little sake, and possibly rice vinegar depending on the recipe. Yuzu fruit is also traditionally used sometime around the peak of winter in baths to symbolize purification of the body. The fruit, rind and oils have a refreshing and relaxing aroma.
Yuzu contains more than twice the vitamin C of a lemon. It is also packed with antioxidants called flavonoids which fight free radicals that cause premature aging. The acid in yuzu can help to absorb calcium better, helping to burn fat faster. The stress-busting yuzu fragrance is frequently used as a room deodorizer, or essential oil for aromatherapy and cosmetics.
Kuro Ninniku (Black Garlic)
At first sight, you’d think that the black garlic was stale and you could mistakenly throw it out. But that would be a very big mistake. Black garlic, or kuro ninniku in Japanese, is ordinary garlic that has been aged under special conditions – stored at low temperatures, between 60 to 77°C (140 to 170°F), with a humidity level of 70% to 90%, for anywhere from 2 weeks, and as long as two months. During this time, the taste, texture and especially color of the garlic cloves results in a slow caramelization of the garlic, hence the dark color of the garlic.
As far as health benefits, it is said that the antioxidants contained in black garlic are ten times greater than in regular garlic. The S-Allyl cysteine content found in black garlic helps reduce cholesterol, triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and protects against oxidative stress and inflammation.
So if you can find black garlic in your local supermarket or Asian grocery store, give it a try!
Reishi mushrooms are usually bitter and tough, so they are usually consumed as either a tea, an alcohol tincture, or powdered. Rather than a food you would eat, reishi has been used for centuries as a home remedy for various issues, including helping build your immune system.
Reishi is known to contain triterpenoids, polysaccharides and peptidoglycans, that may be able to
enhance immune function through its effects on white blood cells, which help fight infection.
Reishi may also help to increase “good” HDL cholesterol.
Shishito are long, thin walled peppers that are delicious when roasted or pan fried. They appear spicy, but usually on average only 1 out of 10 shishito peppers are actually hot.
But besides its delicious flavor, this small Japanese pepper also provides great health benefits.
First of all, here are a list of different vitamins and nutrients that shishito peppers contain: dietary fiber, protein, vitamins A, E, B1, B2, B6, C, niacin, folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, just to name a few.
So with an all-star list of nutrients that shishito contains, there have been many ailments that shishito may aid in helping your journey to good health!
Since the shishito does contain dietary fiber, it is sometimes added to diets to help with weight control. Dietary fiber helps with controlling appetite and keeps you feeling fuller longer. Dietary fiber also helps with digestion and prevention of constipation. In addition, shishito may also be good for colon health.
Vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin E. are essential to your immune system. And vitamin C and vitamin E in shishito help aid in good skin health. These vitamins help in the formation of collagen in our skin to keeping it firm and healthy. The calcium in shishito also helps aid in strong bones and teeth.
We wanted to add this one in because this has such a long culture here in Japan, hundreds and hundreds of years long. Although “asa” (otherwise known as hemp) is grown and consumed across the world. Before being banned after World War 2, asa was an essential part of Japan’s cultural and spiritual spheres (and is still used in Shinto ceremonies as well as sumo events). Asa, or hemp, was used for clothing, rope, and food. Farming for asa was a legitimate business.
We are so glad that this miracle plant has been given credit (and legalization) again for its tremendous health benefits.
As a food, or rather a superfood, asa seeds (hempseeds) are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as containing fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamin E. And unlike consuming fish for its oil, hempseeds are less likely to be contaminated by mercury or other toxic metals.
You can still find ground asa seeds in the Japanese spice shichimi (seven spices) used for flavoring udon noodles and as a seasoning for yakitori (skewered grilled chicken). And today, hemp seeds and hempseed oil are readily available in major grocery stores for cooking and as a healthy source and excellent balance of omega-3 and omega-6 oils.
Recently, other parts of the asa plant have become popular and even in the news. CBD oil and hempoil, made from different parts of the hemp plant, have been found to work with the body’s own endocannabinoid system in order to properly balance and regulate a number of body functions. This has shown a lot of promise in the field of self-health care.
So that’s our list! Pandemic or not, we hope these foods will serve you well in your pursuit of good health at any time and any stage of your life.