Beyond sushi: Five essential Japanese ingredients to celebrate its new UNESCO heritage status

Kim Easton Smith
Yahoo Lifestyle9 December 2013

Last week Japanese cuisine was added to UNESCO's cultural heritage list, celebrating its traditional methods and use of seasonal ingredients - only the second country after France to be awarded this.

But that doesn't just mean sushi and edamame beans. There's plenty more to Japanese cooking than what has made it to our popular chain restaurants in the UK.

We asked Japanese food experts Clearspring Foods to find us some new ingredients and why they make such a unique and healthy diet.

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Miso is made using cereal grains and whole soya beans, cooked together and combined with koji (natural fermentation culture) sea salt and water, then fermented and aged over 12 to 36 months in large cedarwood kegs.

The enzymes from the koji gradually break down the complex grains and beans into readily digestible amino acids, fatty acids and simple sugars, making miso an excellent food for strengthening digestion.

The Japanese believe regualrly drinking miso is the best health insurance you can have, that will add vitality to your life. It's used as a digestive tonic and is an alkaline food that helps neutralise the body against acidic compounds meat, sugar and alcohol.

Organic Miso Soup with Sea Vegetables

Matcha  tea
This is a finely milled vibrant green tea powder made from the highest quality Japanese tea leaves.

It's a revered tea in Japan that is known for its energy boosting, mind focusing and metabolism enhancing properties and has been drunk as part of the tea ceremony for 900 years.

It is ideal to drink before or after meals to improve digestion and breakdown fats in the food. Matcha can be mixed with water or soya milk and enjoyed warm or cold.

Organic Matcha Tea

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Umeboshi plums
These are tart, tangy, salt-pickled ume plums that have long been a vital part of Japanese cuisine and folk medicine. Small pieces add zest to sushi and rice balls and can be rubbed onto cooked sweetcorn or used in other dishes.

They're thought to stimulate digestion and promote the elimination of toxins - used in Japan as a potent hangover cure.

This gluten-free root vegetable is used in Japanese cooking to thicken soups (a bit like cornstarch) and stews, sweet and savoury sauces, glazes and pie fillings. 

Another good option for digestive concerns,  it has a high concentration of flavonoids and has the ability to increase blood flow and relieve cramping in the intestines.

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Wakame seaweed
This is a nutrient-rich sea vegetable used in many traditional Japanese recipes. 

According to Professor Arasaki of the University of Tokyo, sea vegetables contain more minerals than any other food and in a readily 'bioavailable' form that makes it easy for the body to absorb the goodness.

Population studies show that people with a regular intake of sea vegetables show few symptoms of mineral depletion and the longevity of the people of Okinawa is believed to be due to their regular consumption of sea vegetables.

Wakame shares many of the nutritional benefits of its close relative kombu, although it contains less iodine and more magnesium. If you're watching your weight, sea vegetables could be a useful addition to your diet. They are high in fibre, contain next to no calories and provide a good balance of essential minerals. Nutrients in sea vegetables also have detoxification properties and beneficial to help cleanse the colon and improve digestion and absorption.

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