Togarashi 101: What It Is, How To Use It, and Why You Need It
Like to shake red pepper flakes on your slice? Or are you a sushi fanatic? Togarashi (toh-gah-RAH-shee) is the spice mix you need to try, and we can’t promise you won’t become obsessed once you do.
Technically togarashi is a small, hot red Japanese chili available both fresh and dried, but its most popular use is as part of a traditional spice mix that commonly comprises seaweed, orange zest, ginger, sesame seeds, and chile powder. Though “spice mix” may call to mind Chinese five-spice or curry powder, togarashi, sometimes called ichimi, is often used as a finishing spice.
Getty Images/Sasiwimol K
Robin Bashinsky, recipe developer and tester at the Time Inc. food studios, is a huge togarashi fan, and noted that his favorite brand “is about the size of a tube of lipstick you could put in your purse or pocket and have for all situations.” Although “I’ve got togarashi in my bag” doesn’t have the same cachet as “hot sauce”, it’s definitely picking up steam among food world cognoscenti.
How to use it? Bashinsky likes to substitute it for hot sauce or add it to anything that needs a finishing zing. Unlike hot sauce, though, it doesn’t contain an acid element, so it’s ideal when “you just want a kick of spice… but you want more complexity” than chili flakes on their own can provide. He explains togarashi as “a toasty sweet spice experience.” Though it’s not super-spicy, the seaweed lends umami notes, sesame seeds bring texture to the table, orange zest adds floral, sweet notes, and ginger contributes a bit of zing.
Bashinsky dashes togarashi on to pizza, popcorn, and anything else he can think of, such as a pouch of quinoa he heated up in the microwave and plated with soy sauce and toasted pistachios. It would be just as good, he says, on seared salmon and rice, soft-cooked eggs, seared chicken, salads, roast vegetables, or even pasta. When I spoke to him he was right in the middle of testing a togarashi cheese straw recipe.
So check it out—it’s cheap and relatively easy to find online, in the grocery store’s Asian aisle, and at Asian markets—and perhaps you’ll find yourself stashing it in your bag, too.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.