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Clean Pantry

This Japanese Herb Is Going to Change Your Cooking Forever

If mint and citrus and a warm spice like clove had a baby, that’s what shiso tastes like. Here's why you shiso in your life and how to use it.

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If you’ve ever bitten into a piece of sushi and gotten a taste of something herby, you’ve had shiso. Or, if you’ve eaten at a sushi place that has real leaves holding the wasabi or separating items, instead of that green plastic grass, you’ve likely seen shiso. If you haven’t, get ready to meet the most interesting, aromatic, flavorful herb—and maybe the prettiest, too.

Shiso, known as perilla leaf in English, is part of the mint family, which makes sense if you’ve eaten it. If mint and citrus and a warm spice like clove had a baby, that’s what shiso tastes like. It’s utterly unique, refreshing and delicious. Plus, it has lush, serrated, vibrant leaves that would elevate the look of any dish.

So what can you do with it? If you’re someone who likes to DIY sushi at home, you certainly can include it in your homemade rolls. Beyond that, you can add it to sandwiches (talk about upgrading your tuna), toss thinly sliced leaves into salads or coleslaw, chop and fold into crab cakes—you could even throw some into tacos. With its singular, bright flavor, shiso also makes cocktails sing (like this one, which combines it with green tea and gin).

Ready to try experimenting with shiso? You can buy it in Asian markets and stores that sell specialty produce. Or, if you have a green thumb, you can try growing it. We recommend sticking to the green kind; red shiso has a more astringent taste and is mostly used as a natural dye for foods like umeboshi.