Often found on tables at Japanese restaurants, shichimi tōgarashi is a seven-flavor spice mixture. Also known as nana-iro tōgarashi, or simply shichimi, Japanese eateries and noodle shops often offer this spice blend in commercially branded shakers or in ceramic lidded jars. Shichimi is somewhat unusual as traditional Japanese cuisine is not known for being hot and spicy, but the heat level of shichimi depends on the particular blend. Shichimi is unique in that it’s well-balanced –with aromatic flavors of orange or yuzu and nori (seaweed), plus the tingling sensation from sanshō pepper, and many more layers of flavor from the other ingredients.
The exact ingredients and ratios of a particular shichimi mixture will vary depending on the blender, region, manufacturer, or cook. But the foundation of shichimi is made up of a few staple ingredients. A typical blend contains coarsely ground red chili pepper, ground sanshō pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, ground ginger, and nori. Other recipes substitute with hemp seed, poppy seed, yuzu peel, rapeseed, or shiso. For example, Yardbird’s shichimi is slightly less spicy and contains sundried Korean chili, sanshō pepper, Szechuan pepper, yuzu peel, black sesame seed, white sesame seed, and aonori flakes.
Shichimi can be traced back to the 17th century after chilis were introduced to Japan for their medicinal properties. It was first produced by herb dealers and apothecaries in Edo, which is now Tokyo. Today, shichimi is often sold near temples and has become a popular food souvenir at some of Japan’s famous shrine festivals and tourist sites. Some shichimi vendors even offer custom blends to customers.
Shichimi is often consumed with soups, on ramen or udon, or gyūdon (beef bowl). It is used as a topping for rice products such as rice cakes, roasted rice crackers, or just plain white rice. It’s also ideal for grilled meats, making it the perfect addition to yakitori. It is a versatile condiment because it can be enjoyed on its own as a topping, it can be used as a rub or marinade, and also works when heated in cooking. So the next time you find yourself at a Japanese restaurant with a bottle of shichimi in front of you, make sure to sprinkle it on your food to see how this complex spice mixture can bring your dish to a whole new level, or experiment with its many uses in your home kitchen!