When I started cooking Japanese food I had no idea what seasonings and sauces would be the most used and important in my type of cooking. There are a ton of articles that tell you what sauces to buy, but not a lot of them tell you what you should buy first, and what dishes can make with them. They all say buy this sauce and this seasoning, and then you end up with 20 things in your grocery cart. After going through this exact journey myself, here is what Japanese seasonings and sauces I would get first. I have put them in order of how often I cook with them so that you don’t have to buy them all at one time. Also, you will see a list of dishes you can cook in each of the ingredients write-ups for posterity. These first 7 common Japanese seasonings and sauces are must-haves in a pantry or a refrigerator for cooking Japanese food. Get them first and your life will be a ton easier when cooking Japanese dishes.
7 Common Japanese Seasonings and Sauces to Get first
- Soy sauce – If there was a glue ingredient in Japanese cooking, soy sauce would be it. Soy sauce is in a lot of meat marinades, soups, dipping sauces, and pretty much all the cooking dishes you buy at a Japanese restaurant. The most common Japanese dishes to cook with soy sauce are Teriyaki Chicken, Udon, Teriyaki Salmon, Tatsuta Pork, Oyakodon, Nikujaga, and Soboro donburi.
- Mirin – If there is an ingredient that most people haven’t used before, it is Mirin. Mirin is a sweet rice wine and is the secret ingredient that makes your meat dishes go from ok to amazing. If you cook Japanese food a lot, and especially in the beginning, you will notice that Mirin is in just about everything. Just as with soy sauce, Mirin is a constant ingredient in any meat marinade and soup or stew. If there is a Japanese seasoning that I go through as much as soy sauce, it is Mirin. The most common Japanese dishes to cook with Mirin are Teriyaki Salmon, Tatsuta Pork, Udon, Oyakodon, and Teriyaki Chicken.
- Sugar – Japanese food is often sweet and savory, but more trending towards sweet. That is why a ton of Japanese recipes include white granulated sugar. The most common dishes that utilize sugar are Tatsuta Pork, Oyakodon, Japanese flank steak, Udon, and Teriyaki Chicken. You can buy almost any sugar but I buy this sugar
- Sake – Sake is a common ingredient when cooking meat or seafood in a pan. You almost never add more than a couple of tablespoons of sake to any dish. The most common dishes that add sake are Teriyaki Salmon, Oyakodon, and Nikujaga.
- Miso (not white) – Miso is on this list of most common Japanese seasonings and sauces because it is needed in a ton of Japanese soup recipes. Specifically, Miso that is not white. White miso is used more for fish marinades, and I would buy this at some point, I just don’t find myself working with it as much. To start with I would buy one that is not white, such as Kodawattemasu. The most common Japanese dishes to cook with Miso are Tonjiru Pork and Tofu soup and Miso soup.
- Dashi powder – When you start cooking Japanese food a ton of recipes will ask for dashi, especially if it is a soup. Dashi can be beef-flavored, anchovy flavored, and many other flavors but I find myself using the beef flavor most often. You add dashi powder to water, and it typically will form your soup base mostly. You can always make your own dashi, but that includes more ingredients and more time. Dashi powder is the way to go in the beginning. The most common Japanese dishes to cook with dashi or dashi powder are Tonjiru, Udon, and Oyakodon.
- Sesame oil – Sesame oil is so tasty and makes every dish amazing. It is used in a lot of Japanese dishes in soups or dipping sauces. The most common Japanese dishes to cook with sesame oil are Tonjiru, Sesame noodle salad, and Soboro donburi.
My Recommendations for seasonings and sauces:
Soy sauce – I recommend the Kikkoman soy sauce. You can also buy the Kikkoman lite soy sauce that has 37% less sodium. Soy sauce already is loaded with sodium so any little bit helps. Thankfully you can buy it at almost every grocery store. The product page for Kikkoman soy sauce I get.
Mirin – I recommend Aji-Mirin from Kikkoman. This is probably the most prevalent brand in my Japanese Grocery store, and it does the trick well. I go through the 33.8FL oz or 1-liter bottle in about 2-3 months. The product page for Mirin I get.
Sugar – I think most granulated white sugars work, but if I was going to recommend one it would be the C&H Pure Cane Sugar Granulated White the 4 LB or 1.81kb one.
Sake – This one is up to you, I just typically buy organic sake, but that is a preference. There are cooking sake’s that come in huge bottles, but since I only use 1-2 tbsps at a time I get a small bottle. You have to refrigerate sake after you open it so I want to make it small enough to fit in my refrigerator.
Miso – I buy the Hikari Organic Kodawattemasu Miso. The miso flavor is great and is organic. It also happens to be a best-selling organic miso in Japan today. The product page for Hikari Kodawattemasu Miso I get.
Dashi powder – You can buy a lot of different dashi powders, Hondashi is very popular, but I actually cook Korean food a lot so I have Dasida powder in my pantry. This beef dashi powder is one of the most popular seasonings in Korean soups and works for me. The product page for Dasida I get.
Sesame oil – For me there is only one answer Kadoya pure sesame oil. So good, so tasty, so amazing. I’m pretty sure you can find this at most Grocery stores, so that is convenient. The product page for Kadoya sesame oil I get.
There you have it! These are easily the Japanese seasonings and sauces that I cook with the most. If you are going to start cooking Japanese food, I would suggest going to the store and buying them in one go. With just these ingredients you should be able to make popular Japanese favorites such as teriyaki chicken, oyakodon, udon, tonjiru, nikujaga, and many more!