Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I’m back from Japan after another pretty long stay! I’ve been spending more and more time back ‘home’ these past couple of years, but my real home is still over here. Striking a balance between the two is not easy, but interesting to say the least!

One of the main themes of Just Hungry since its inception is re-creating Japanese cuisine using the fresh ingredients you can obtain locally, using Japanese cooking methods and some key Japanese flavoring ingredients. Until recently I’ve tried to limit myself as much as possible to pantry staples when it comes to Japanese ingredients. However, it’s come to my attention that some fresh ingredients that are quintessential to Japanese cuisine are becoming easier to find, especially in places like San Francisco or New York. I have to grow my own to get my hands on these…or just enjoy them when I’m in Japan.

myoga1.jpg

Myoga or Myouga (みょうが, 茗荷)is one such ingredient. Sometimes called myoga ginger, the botanical name is zingiber mioga. It’s a deciduous perennial plant, and only the young, tender flower buds are eaten. Raw myouga buds taste like a cross between fresh ginger shoots and mild pickling onion, but without any strong onion-y flavor. They look like slender shallots.

Myouga is usually eaten as a garnish, sliced very thinly. Like fresh ginger, it has a refreshing, zingy quality. The slices are very pretty, as you can see here.

myoga2.jpg

Cultivated myouga is available all year round in Japan, but its true season is June to July. Myouga is a wonderful garnish on hiyayakko, cold tofu, and its great eaten with cold noodles, especially somen (thin wheat noodles), though they’re very nice with cold soba noodles instead of, or in addition to, chopped green onions. Myouga tempura is also very nice; just slice in half, and follow the basic instructions for vegetable tempura.

Have you seen myouga for sale at your local Japanese grocery store? Have you tried it? Right now, I’m doing some research to see if this sub-tropical plant will grow at all in sunny but dry southern France. Ah, the things expats do to recapture the flavors of home. ^_^;

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Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I never knew what these were called while I lived in Japan, but I definitely enjoyed them. I'm not sure if they'll grow any better here in New England than they will where you're at, but now that I know what they're called, I'm tempted to try it.

Shari | 22 June, 2011 - 05:48

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

This I have seen a friend bringing back to Singapore from her trip to Japan. We put it into our Chinese New Year raw fish salad (yu sang). It's a milder version of what we have here in South East Asia, the torch ginger bud, which flavors a lot of our seafood and salad dishes beautifully.

pickyin @ LifeIsGreat | 22 June, 2011 - 09:02

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

You can easily buy them at Isetan on Orchard Road. The -1 level supermarket carries a lot of Japanese imports there....

Celine-M | 3 July, 2011 - 15:12

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

2 years ago I could buy 2 small myoga seedlings, and tried to grow them in my garden, but they didn't survive the winter. Other people seem to have same problems in Germany, but I also have heard about people growing it successful.
I never have seen any on sale here, we have right now only fresh yamaimo(or nagaimo) and green shiso leaves(online shopping).
Do you have tips for growing myoga?

Amatō | 22 June, 2011 - 13:11

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

My parents live in Westchester which is about 30 miles north of New York City. They grow both natsu and aki myouga and it's definitely not tropical weather here. The summers are warm, but I wouldn't say it's very humid. The fall here can be quite cool and the aki myouga are just fine. They have had them for years and they grow in abundance like weeds.

Noriko Shimizu | 22 June, 2011 - 16:50

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

Wow never even heard of these. They do look quite enjoyable though so i have to try them once :)

Nicotine Patches | 22 June, 2011 - 17:25

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

It's so pretty, but I've never been sure what to do with it. :)

We can buy myouga at various stores in San Jose, Mountain View, San Francisco, etc. I haven't checked to see if the more widespread Chinese grocery stores carry it...IIRC, it's not particularly cheap. I haven't seen it used in a restaurant here, no matter how nice or authentic (admittedly, I haven't been to any of the $200-a-head kaiseki-style places here yet). So I still haven't tried it. Maybe I will, though!

--
http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

wintersweet | 22 June, 2011 - 20:25

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

Unfortunately there aren't many Japanese stores around so I can't find Myouga. But if I ever find some seedlings online or something similar to them I know that I'll make sure that everyone in my family is sick of them. ^.~

AikoVenus | 22 June, 2011 - 22:52

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I grow it on my balcony near Orléans (center of France), and it grows very well!

mameyuki | 23 June, 2011 - 09:27

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

My mother has it growing in her garden. She is now in a nursing home and can not tell me how to transplant them. What is the best way for me to transplant them to my garden?

emy | 25 June, 2011 - 17:25

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

One of my favorites. I've been enjoying them lately in cucumber salads with sesame dressing (much like the one pictured above!) But I live in Japan, so I've never tried to grow them myself. I hope your attempt to do so works out!

Emma | 27 June, 2011 - 04:02

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

When I was a kid, my japanese dad once made a myouga salad, I can't remember exactly but it was either cut in half or it was not cut at all. It tasted horrible and since then, myouga was one of the few things I couldn't eat.

Then, some years later I was in Japan and went to a soba noodles shop where they served cold soba with thinly sliced myouga. It was delicious!

So, in my opinion, the key to appreciate myouga is to slice it thinly.

By the way, you can easily find myouga in São Paulo - Brazil in japanese stores.

tom | 28 June, 2011 - 22:39

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

They always (or at least very often) have them at the Mitsuwa market outside of Chicago.

MCP | 29 June, 2011 - 08:05

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I was wondering if anyone could tell me how to plant myoga. I live in NY and was wondering if I could also plant here as I love them but can't find it easily here, just at the Japanese Grocery store which is pretty far from where I live... Do I need to buy seeds or could I plant the myoga that I find at the store? Thanks!

Arissa | 16 August, 2011 - 18:43

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

I live in Montréal, Canada (which has a tiny, tiny japanese community - and most of them students) and no, I haven't been able to source myoga yet. Perhaps the big asian groceries carry some, but they're too far. The Japanese, Korean groceries - or the Asian markets in Chinatown - don't have it (not even pickled whole - the only taste of myoga I've ever had was in a mixed shashimi bowl at a higher end restaurant where the flavour was a bit lost and in commercial tsukemono using it as accent and that tasted more of salt and MSG). I have some hope it's going to show up eventually, as Japanese aromatic ingredients are becoming trendy (yuzu and sudachi are still a 5$/fruit rarity, but a local hef was saying on a radio show a while ago - in a segment he made about the wonders of yuzu - it's only a matter of time before fresh yuzu is available more widely, as after Japanese introduced them to western chefs a few years ago at food fairs in Europe and America, Japanese and non-Japanese citrus growers are now starting plantations outside Japan to meet the ever growing demand (western chefs are going nuts - a little too much - about it). Yuzu juice around here has made its way from Japanese groceries to gourmet shops and is starting to appear in some regular groceries now (it's still mostly popular for desserts with the fancier local homecooks, from chocolates to sponge cakes, mousses and macarons).

Still, I also love to read posts about those harder to source, lesser known ingredients. I can speak only for myself, but don't hesitate to post those! I love the philosophy you've adopted for the two blogs (and I owe to you several excellent meals for it) but though I've read about most of the ingredients in cookbooks and all, it's always a lot more fun to read about them from your perspective, just like a lot of your recipe articles are more enjoyable to me than similar ones in cookbooks - you've become my favourite source about Japanese food beside Tokiko Suzuki (and I find you have a little je-ne-sais-quoi in common with her outlook on Japanese food. Do you like her cooking, Maki-san?).

I think your guess is perfectly right that the ingredients are now (sometimes much) easier to find anyway. I've been shopping at the small local Japanese grocery and the Korean groceries for about 25 years, and there's definitely something happening in the last two-three years. The japanese community here is small (especially once you remove the majority of them who are students from Japan and who apparently don't cook much I'm told), so the store really needs the business of locals and for that reason used to focus a lot on sushi products, beside all the basics for expats. But now izakaya are on their way (here, and I think pretty much everywhere?) to repeat the "sushi boom" of 25 years ago and introduce people to a whole new range of dishes previously little known except by Japanese and nipponophile homecooks, and with them seems to come more and more demand by locals for many "new" ingredients for izakaya-style and homecooking-style dishes. For eg, the grocery started to carrt one brand of green yuzu koshou about two years ago, but lately I've seen they had brands each of green and red (It took me a while to contain myself and stop adding it to everything!), and also preserved uni which I had never seen before. Most of the ingredients you posted about quite a while ago (the post about stuff your mom sent you) can be found at the grocery (except dried komatsuna, and that's easy enough to make in the oven, or to substitute dried kale). That wasn't true even two-three years ago, and I can only imagine what it's like now in areas with a bigger japanese community. The hardest to find remains veggies and fresh aromatics aside maybe from shimeji, enoki, shitaake, shiso, kaiware and all those also used in Chinese cuisine (shungiku, lilly bulbs, renkon, nira and of course daikon that you can find in a lot of regular groceries now etc.), but the seeds are more and more easy to source and (also thanks to a post of yours!) I grow a few now.

And oh, finding them months after getting enthusiastic after reading one of your posts seems to make them better somehow. :)

dominic | 27 August, 2011 - 04:37

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

My two cents worth: I have a pot of myoga growing on my deck here in Oregon; this is their second late summer at my house, and although I had a "large" crop last year [maybe 10 flowers], after a rather harsh winter, a long, rainy spring and a late summer, I see three flowers popping up this week. I love the taste, especially in salad dressings!

yobaba | 8 September, 2011 - 16:45

Re: Japanese ingredients: Myoga or Myouga

Salut Maki!

I live in the Southwest of Germany (near the French Border) and I have grown myoga here for a couple of years now without any problem at all. I cultivate it in large pots that I keep in a dark but frost-free shed during the winter period. I can regularly harvest the buds in large quantities around mid to late August. As I'm writing this, the buds I left on the plants are fully flowering. There are even reports of growing it outside in the garden soil with just a little protection in winter in our relatively mild wine-growing region. Wikipedia says it ist cold-resistant to -18°C or even colder. I have not yet tried this, but I think there should absolutely be no problem to grow myoga in the South of France! Provided you keep it in a not too sunny and relatively moist place (it's a woodland plant, isn't it?), it will thrive and give you many delicious buds every summer.

Best wishes,

Detlef (also called Hashi-san)

dbw | 12 September, 2011 - 01:04

Re: Pickling miyouga

Greetings from Suzuka, Mie-Ken. I've long been a fan of pickled miyouga. We slice it up thinly and put it in a jar with a 1:1 mix of mirin and ume-su, plum vinegar. After a day or 2 in the fridge it's really yummy as a topping with rice or in salads. The same mirin/vinegar mix is good for thinly sliced kabu (Japanese turnip) too. I guess any fruity vinegar could be substituted if you can't get plum. Raspberry would probably be nice, though I haven't tried it. I find it interesting that people here either love or hate miyouga.

Thanks for the great blog. We've got a small garden at our place here with tomatoes, eggplants, cuccumbers asparagus and European herbs, but I'm eager to grow lots of Japanese herbs from next spring, including myouga and ginger. Cheers!

Joel | 18 September, 2011 - 07:31

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