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A tasty sauce can transform a simple dish into a recipe fit for a king. For a dinner that is different from the usual, imagine presenting a dish with grilled fish: trivial, right? Then try to enrich it with Japanese spicy sauce: a simple preparation becomes a unique recipe and in addition to making you look good, it will certainly ignite the appetite of the diners. 

Every type of meat, vegetable, fish can be flavored with the typical Japanese hot sauce, for a tasty and complete result. 

Today we will talk to you about Japanese hot sauce: then it will be up to you to combine dishes and sauce to always create new contrasts and combinations, helping you with your imagination in the kitchen. 

Ready to amaze? Even if you are not good at cooking, with this oriental concoction with an intense flavor you will be able to conquer even the most difficult palates and prepare easy but surprising recipes. 

The role of sauce in Japan

Japanese hot sauce

In the typical cuisine of Japan, a condiment that cannot be missing from the table is the sauce. But here it is not just a trivial flavor enhancer, but it is much more and practically becomes almost the main ingredient of every recipe.

The history of salsa goes back centuries and centuries. Already in the 19th century it began its journey in oriental culinary history, but focusing on a simple type, very similar to soy sauce but slightly different in taste. Then, over time, it specialized and acquired increasingly characteristic traits until it established itself on the world market. 

From Japan we first learned about tonkatsu sauce, with its brownish color and fruity taste, which is an integral part of many dishes, from sautéed noodles to chips or stew and we even find it in soups. 

Then many variations were born that also conquered the West, such as some types of hot sauce that we may have already tasted in Asian restaurants in our area. 

Although compared to other Asian cuisines, Japan tends not to exaggerate with spiciness, there are some concoctions that leave their mark and have nothing to envy to other extra intense flavors such as the hot spicy ones of Mexican cuisine. 

How many types of Japanese hot sauce do you know?

Sightseeing through the Japanese streets it is not difficult to come across foods seasoned with spicy sauce. But how to recognize it?

Let's say right away that almost all types of sauce are the result of a skilful combination of 5 elements: sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, and miso, mixed with spices and herbs to give it that more or less spicy taste.

So let's try to know the most common ones, which we can divide into this list:

  • Wasabi
  • Karashi
  • Soy sauce
  • Teriyaki
  • Ponzu
  • Tsuyu

Only two of this list are truly spicy and make even the most resistant palates water. But let's go in order and describe the characteristics of each type of sauce before focusing on the tastiest in Japan. 

For those who love oriental sweet and sour on the table…

Have you ever sat down in a Japanese restaurant and found yourself in front of a set of bowls with varied sauces? Well, this is the culture of the place, which loves to give flavor to its dishes by enriching them with different condiments. Sushi and sashimi cannot do without it and it is therefore advisable to know what we will decide to use as a sauce for our menu.

Soy sauce, the most famous, is obtained by fermenting soybeans with a part of toasted wheat. Its flavor is quite salty, but not particularly spicy. This sauce is also very popular in Japan for its nutritional properties, especially antioxidants.

Ponzu sauce recalls citrus flavors and is ideal for meat dishes. It is prepared with a sweeter form of sake called mirin and rice vinegar, kasuobushi flakes and kombu seaweed.

Teriyaki sauce is typically sweet and sour as it is obtained from the mixture of soybeans and sugar or honey and sake. It is used in particular to flavor fish dishes but also for meat, especially chicken, beef and lamb.

Tsuyu is based on soy sauce combined with broth made with fish and seaweed. It is used to season i noodles, but also to accompany Japanese tempura.

…and for those who prefer spicy instead

In search of strong flavors, however, you have to choose another type of sauce, focusing more on Karashi sauce and the better known wasabi.

The first is a sauce with a very spicy and pungent flavour. The taste is in fact given by the addition of wasabi in its preparation. Given its intense taste, it is often forced to dilute it with other sauces, to make it more bearable. Karashi sauce mainly accompanies meat dishes.

Wasabi, on the other hand, with a very spicy taste, usually accompanies both sushi and sashimi. 

Wasabi, green sauce with a very spicy taste

Wasabi, or green sauce due to its color, is also called "namida" in Japan which means "tears". The name is not accidental but refers precisely to its high degree of spiciness. In fact, if used excessively it can really make you cry.

It is made from the root of the wasabi plant, which belongs to the horseradish family. Often the latter is the most suitable as a substitute for making this particular type of sauce. 

In the Japanese tradition it is not only known as spicy sushi sauce, but it is used for many dishes, all different: tempura, raw fish, meat, vegetables, noodles. 

If you want to buy it, you can choose between two formats: paste or powder. The first is used for extremely pungent dishes, while the powder has a less strong flavor and therefore more suitable for those who do not like exaggerated spiciness.

The Japanese make it a pride in their culinary tradition both for the flavor but also for the benefits it confers on the body. It has antiseptic, digestive and antioxidant properties because it is rich in vitamin C. Furthermore, it has very little protein and very little fat. 

Did you know that it increases the pain tolerance threshold? In Japanese medicine this hidden side has long been widely studied to know its truthfulness and document this thesis.

Karashi, spicy mustard from Japan

Karashi sauce is a condiment very similar to mustard but with a decidedly spicier taste. 

Karashi was born from the union of three plants: brassica nigra, alba and juncea, from which the seeds are collected and then soaked in water at a temperature of 40 degrees.

Its particularly spicy taste is so loved by the Japanese that they even use it in breakfast dishes! But for those who don't want to be too daring, it can simply be used to season dishes from meat to fish, without obviously forgetting sushi and sashimi. And then it is also excellent for dressing vegetables, especially aubergines.

In some typical dishes it is that gem that makes them unique and strongly flavoured, such as in the fermented soy dish called natto or in the Japanese stew called Oden.

Some recipes with Japanese hot sauce

In restaurants or steak houses in and around Tokyo, hot sauce is a must that never fails. 

So here are some typical recipes that you might find enriched by this pungent oriental condiment.

If you like meat you must try the beef, pork and chicken stew. Here they prefer to call it Japanese curry and its secret ingredient is a spicy sauce that makes it very tasty. But we are well aware that not all of them handle strong flavors well and a less spicy variant is foreseen for them. Just warn the chef in time when ordering!

Do you like fish eggs? If it's a dish you like, you must try the cod roe with Karashi sauce. Pleasantly tasty but also decidedly spicy.

The Japanese are particularly creative in the kitchen and by tasting one of their dishes, expectations will certainly not be disappointed in terms of exotic taste and flavour. 

Spicy sauces compared

Country you go, custom you find“: this famous ancient saying also applies to the culinary tradition and, in our case, to the hot sauce. 

Everyone prepares it to their liking, with different spices, different peppers and ingredients combined with each other. It is difficult to say which is the best since the tastes are not similar to each other, but certainly a sort of ranking can be made to identify the spiciest.

The Mexican hot sauce definitely wins, which is famous around the world for being one of the most pungent flavors you will find around. In its Habanero variant it really manages to make you cry!

The Chinese sauce, like the Japanese one, is spicy only in some of its variants. With its sweet and sour taste, however, we feel like putting it in third place on this podium that rewards the hottest spiciness.

And you, which one do you prefer? 

However, if you really don't like spicy taste, don't be afraid to say it: in Japan there is a typical term that you really have to learn in order not to fall prey to spicy cuisine: Geki Kara. It means "extra spicy" and if you see it written on the menu, stay away from those dishes because you just won't be able to eat them!