What is shiso?
Perilla frutescens var. crispa, also called shiso from Japanese シソ is a variety of species Perilla frutescens of the genus Perilla, belonging to the mint family, Lamiaceae. Shiso is a perennial plant that may be cultivated as an annual in temperate climates. The plant occurs in red (purple-leaved) and green-leaved forms. There are also frilly ruffled-leaved forms, called chirimen-jiso, and forms that are red only on top, called katamen-jiso.
This herb was previously known as the “beefsteak plant”, a mostly obsolete name. It is sometimes referred to by its genus name, Perilla, which is ambiguous, as the name also includes the Perilla frutescens, which is a different culinary cultigen. Starting around the 1980s, the rise in popularity of Japanese cuisine has resulted in the mass media more commonly referring to it as shiso.
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In Japan, the plant is called shiso (紫蘇/シソ; [ɕiso̞]). In Vietnam, it is called tía tô ([tiɜ˧ˀ˦ to˧˧]). The Japanese name shiso and the Vietnamese tía tô are cognates, each loan words from zǐsū (紫苏/紫蘇), which means Perilla frutescens in Chinese. (Perilla frutescens var. crispa is called huíhuísū (回回苏/回回蘇) in Chinese.) The first character 紫means “purple”, and the second 蘇 means “to be resurrected, revived, rehabilitated”. In Japan, shiso traditionally denoted the purple-red form. In recent years, green is considered typical, and red considered atypical.
Shiso Leaves can be used as a herb for garnish. It is used this way in Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
In Japan, Shiso is used for many purposes:
- battered and served as tempura;
- used in pickles such as Umeboshi;
- the seeds can be used as a garnish;
- leaves can be wrapped around sushi;
- dried leaves can be powdered and used as a garnish;
- oil can be distilled from the dried leaves (the oil is used in Korean cooking);
- used as a food colouring, because the colour leeches out into other food ingredients;
- the flower buds can be used as a garnish, Flowering clusters can be fried
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