THE NEW ASIAN PANTRY - A Glossary of Flavors and Ingredients -


Bamboo shoots

These are the ivory-colored shoots of the bamboo plant. Widely available in cans; fresh bamboo shoots are expensive and seasonal. Bamboo shoots have a tender-crisp texture and sweet flavor. To refresh canned bamboo shoots, rinse and quickly blanch before use.

Bok choy

A Chinese cabbage with white stems and broad, dark green leaves. Shanghai or baby bok choy is smaller and has a more delicate flavor. Steamed, blanched or used in soups and stir-fries, bok choy imparts a refreshing, mildly bitter taste. Chose stalks that are crisp with unblemished leaves.

Chili peppers

Hot peppers, known as chilies, are used throughout Asia to make sauces and pastes, and to season stir-fries and braised dishes. Chilies vary in size, color, shape and heat levels, and are used both fresh and dried, in which case they are used whole, ground or made into a powder. Fresh chilies should be firm and bright, with no blemishes.

Chinese broccoli (gai lan)

The broad leaves, tender stalks and delicate white flowers of this vegetable are all edible. They have a mild flavor, similar to Western broccoli, but with a slightly bitter, earthy flavor. Ideal for steaming and stir-frying; often paired with oyster sauce.

Chinese chives

Also known as garlic chives, these flat green chives are quite pungent and are used extensively in stir-fries and soups.


Also known as Chinese parsley or coriander, this herb has a pungent, fresh and somewhat earthy taste. Widely used in Southeast Asian and Thai cooking.


A popular Japanese root vegetable, also known as Chinese white radish. Daikon resembles a large, white carrot and has a firm texture that can withstand long cooking. It can be stir-fried, braised, boiled, steamed or served raw (often grated or finely shredded) in salads. It should be firm, heavy and unblemished with solid, smooth skin.

Dried black mushrooms (shiitake)

Drying mushrooms concentrates their flavors and produces a deep, meaty taste. Dried mushrooms are ideal in soups, stuffings, stir-fries and braised dishes. To reconstitute, soak in warm water 15-20 minutes; remove fibrous stems.

Ginger root

This knobby, light beige-colored rhizome comes in two varieties: young and mature. Young ginger is more tender and milder in flavor and can be used with its skin on. Mature ginger has a more assertive, peppery bite. Both should be firm and free of wrinkles. Grated, slivered, minced and sliced ginger can be used in a range of dishes - from marinades and stir-fries to curries and soups.


An essential ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian cooking, this fibrous herb has long, thin, pale-green leaves and a green onion-like base; it imparts a subtle, lemony flavor and aroma. Only the base of the stalk is used in cooking, often finely minced or pounded in a paste. Large pieces used to flavor a dish during cooking must be removed before serving.


A delicate, leafy green with long, jagged-edged leaves; can be used in salads or stir-fries.

Napa cabbage

This oval-shaped broad-leafed head has very crisp, pale green crinkled leaves and a sweet, delicate flavor. It is used extensively in stir-fried dishes and soups, and absorbs flavors beautifully.


Also known as "spoon cabbage," tatsoi is a leafy Asian green with a slightly spicy cabbage flavor. It can be used in salads and stir-fries.

Water chestnuts

The canned variety are more widely available, but fresh water chestnuts are a treat that add incredible sweetness, juiciness and crunchy texture to a variety of Asian stir-fries, stews, stuffings and soups. Fresh water chestnuts have a dark brown-black skin that can be peeled away with a sharp knife. They should be firm with no soft spots.


Black beans, salted

An important Chinese ingredient, black soybeans are cooked and fermented with salt and spices, resulting in a pungent, soft bean with a distinctive salty flavor. This unusual item is used in steamed, braised, and stir-fried dishes, giving them a rich, complex flavor.

Chili oil

This spicy, bright red oil, an essential in Chinese cooking, is made from steeping vegetable oil with crushed or small dried chilies. Because of its strong, fiery flavor, it is used more as a seasoning or condiment than as a cooking oil.

Chili paste/sauce

A variety of thick seasoning pastes and sauces made from ground chilies, oil, salt and sometimes garlic and vinegar are used throughout Asia.

Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing)

This brown, nutty-tasting wine is made from glutinous rice, millet, yeast and spring water, and is similar in taste and smell to dry sherry, which can be used as a substitute if Shaoxing wine is not available. An important ingredient in Chinese cuisine, rice wine imparts a rich flavor and aroma to marinades and sauces.

Coconut milk

Used primarily in Southeast Asian cooking, coconut milk is actually not the liquid inside a fresh coconut, but rather the liquid extracted from the coconut meat by pressing. Used as a base for soups, stews, curries and desserts, coconut milk is readily available in cans.

Fish sauce

This clear, brownish, salty liquid made from salted, fermented fish is a staple in Southeast Asian cooking. It has a strong aroma and taste that dissipates significantly upon cooking. Fish sauce is traditionally used in dipping sauces, marinades, dressings and other sauces.

Five-spice powder

A fragrant, pungent, slightly sweet and hot Chinese spice mixture. The blend traditionally includes star anise, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves and fennel. Five-spice powder is used in marinades, as a spice rub for meats and in dipping salt mixtures.

Hoisin Sauce

A thick, reddish-brown salty-sweet bean sauce used in Chinese cooking. Hoisin is made from soybeans, garlic, chili peppers and a variety of spices. It's used in sauces, as a condiment and as a barbecue glaze.


A low-alcohol sweet rice wine that's a staple in the Japanese kitchen, mirin adds sweetness and flavor to sauces, glazes, marinades and other dishes.


A fermented soybean paste that is an essential Japanese flavoring ingredient, miso is available in a variety of flavors and colors. It is used in sauces, soups, marinades, dressings, dips and main dishes.

Oyster sauce

Integral to Chinese cooking, oyster sauce is a dark brown, richly flavored sauce made from oysters, brine, soy sauce and spices. It is used as a seasoning agent, especially in stir-fries, and as a table condiment. Oyster sauce imparts a rich, distinctive, savory flavor without any fishiness.

Plum sauce

Also known as duck sauce, plum sauce is a Chinese condiment made from plums, apricots, vinegar and sugar. It has a thick, jam-like consistency and tart-sweet flavor. Plum sauce is used predominately as a dipping sauce for roasted meats and fried appetizers.

Rice vinegar

Used in both Japanese and Chinese cooking, rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and comes in several varieties, each differing in intensity and tartness. In general they are all fairly mild compared to European and American-style vinegars. They can be used in dressings, marinades, as dipping sauces and condiments.

Sesame oil

Used extensively in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, this highly aromatic and richly flavored oil ranges in hue from golden to dark brown. It is sometimes used as cooking oil, but most often is used as seasoning agent in stir-fries, dressings, sauces and marinades.

Sesame seeds

Black and white sesame seeds are used whole as a garnish in a variety of Asian cuisines, ground into a paste, or pressed for their rich oil. To bring out their flavor, toast them briefly in a dry skillet.

Shrimp, dried

Used in a broad range of Asian dishes, this ingredient adds flavor to fried rice, soups, stir-fries and other dishes. These small dehydrated shrimp lose any strong fishy odor or flavor during cooking. Purchase dried shrimp that are bright orange-pink. Soak them briefly in warm water to soften before cooking.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is one of the world's oldest condiments. At Kikkoman, we produce soy sauce using a time-honored natural brewing process. We begin by selecting and blending soybeans and wheat. A proprietary yeast culture is added, along with water and salt, to create a mash, which ferments and ages like a fine wine for several months to develop its rich, mellow flavor, aroma and delicate amber color. Once fermentation is complete, the resulting liquid is filtered, pasteurized and packaged. Not all soy sauce is made this way. Non-brewed soy sauces are the result of a 20th-century short cut known as acid hydrolysis. There are critical differences between brewed and non-brewed soy sauces. Brewed soy sauce has a mellow, salty-sweet flavor, a subtle aroma and a delicate, transparent color - qualities that enhance other ingredients. The harsh, salty flavor of non-brewed soy sauce is one-dimensional, masking and overpowering other ingredients. That's why naturally brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce and Kikkoman Lite Soy Sauce can be used as an all-purpose seasoning to enhance a variety of foods and cuisines beyond traditional Asian applications. In entrees, pasta, pizza, soups, salads, sandwiches and more, Kikkoman Soy Sauce actually balances and intensifies the salty, sweet and tart flavors of other ingredients, acting as a natural flavor enhancer.

Szechuan peppercorns

Not, in fact, related to black and white peppercorns, these are tiny dried berries that contain a seed. They have a pungent aroma and mildly spicy flavor and can be purchased whole or in powdered form. Toasting Szechuan peppercorns in a dry skillet brings out the flavor and aroma. They keep indefinitely when stored airtight.

Teriyaki sauce

A marinade and sauce traditionally made from soy sauce, wine, sugar, and other seasonings. Kikkoman offers a variety of convenient, versatile teriyaki products -- from our original Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce to pre-thickened products, such as Teriyaki Baste & Glaze, Teriyaki Baste & Glaze with Honey & Pineapple, and Roasted Garlic Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce. These products make it easy to serve authentic teriyaki dishes. And their sweet-savory flavor makes them an ideal base for a wide range of non-Asian foods, too, from sauces and dressings to grilled and barbecued entrées and even pizzas.


Known as Japanese horseradish (although the wasabi root is not a member of the horseradish family), wasabi is sharp, fiery and pungent in flavor. It is available in paste and powdered forms, the latter of which is combined with water to make a paste. Wasabi is used traditionally as a condiment and a seasoning ingredient.


Cellophane/glass noodles

Also known as bean thread noodles, these are made from mung bean flour. They are usually softened by soaking in hot water for 10 -15 minutes before cooking with other ingredients.

Chinese egg noodles

These wheat-flour-based egg noodles are sold in both fresh and dried forms; substitute spaghetti or fettuccine if unavailable.

Rice paper wrappers

Circular sheets made from rice flour measuring approximately 8 inches in diameter, rice paper wrappers are brittle and translucent. They must be softened by dipping in hot water for a few seconds and draining. Once softened they can be used to make fresh Vietnamese-style salad rolls or deep-fried spring rolls.

Rice stick noodles

Made from rice flour and water, these noodles are translucent when cooked. They are usually softened by soaking in hot water for 10 -15 minutes before cooking with other ingredients. Fine rice stick noodles can also be deep fried to create a crispy garnish often used in Chinese chicken salads.

Soba noodles

These Japanese brown-flecked buckwheat noodles are sold in both fresh and dried forms.

Somen noodles

These delicate Japanese wheat flour noodles are often served cold or in soups; if unavailable, substitute angel hair pasta.

Udon noodles

These Japanese wheat-flour noodles can be purchased either fresh or dried. They are often used in soups.

Wonton wrappers

These square sheets of fresh wheat-flour and egg dough can be used to make boiled, steamed or fried wontons, ravioli and other dumplings. They can also be cut into strips and fried to use as a garnish for salads and entrées.

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