Want to know why the Japanese live so long? Here are five superfoods, along with easy recipes, so you can not only expand your palette to include healthy options, but also experience new types of flavors. These five superfoods are commonly found in all types of Japanese cuisine, and a lot of them are believed to help fight common colds, improve digestion, or simply improve your health. Next time you stop by the Asian supermarket, you can pick up these items or try them if you go to Japan.

1. Matcha

green tea, herb, tea, matcha
Sam Jesner

Matcha is a powdered green tea that is traditionally mixed with boiled water to create a dark-green, aromatic tea with a bitter and herb-like taste. Matcha has risen in popularity over the past few years, by being introduced in desserts such as ice cream, cake, waffles, or sweetened drinks, such as matcha lattes or matcha bubble tea.

The origins of matcha can be traced back to the Tang dynasty in China, which started nearly 1400 years ago. Japanese Buddhists brought green tea from China to Japan, and continued the tradition of grinding the leaves into a powder. However, the traditional matcha tea ceremony, "Sadou" or "Chadou", that continues today wasn't created until 1500, by a Zen student named Murata Juko. 

Matcha is packed with antioxidants and is believed to help boost metabolism. It can also help detox and lower the probability of disease. You can add matcha to your diet by making your own matcha tea by purchasing a bamboo whisk, or making your own matcha latte by mixing matcha, sugar, and milk (or milk alternative). 

2. Hojicha

Hojicha Stalk Teanobi

Kirinohana on Flickr

Hojicha is a lesser-known loose leaf green tea that is unique in how it is prepared. Hojicha's name in Japanese literally means "roasted tea." Traditionally, hojicha is prepared by roasting green tea leaves in a pot over charcoal, so the leaves turn reddish-brown. As a result, the tea has a distinct toasted flavor compared to other green teas. Like matcha and other varieties of green teas, it is also full of antioxidants and can also be used for detoxing.

Recently, hojicha has also made its appearance in desserts such as Haagen-daaz's Japanese limited edition hojicha latte-flavored ice cream, or Starbuck's hojicha Frappaccino with tea jelly. You can easily prepare hojicha tea by purchasing hojicha tea bags, or make a hojicha latte by steeping the tea in hot milk (or milk alternative), and adding sugar.

3. Natto


yoppy on Flickr

Natto is a pungent, gooey dish that is made up of fermented beans. It is known for its extremely strong smell and sticky, slimy texture. It is commonly eaten in the morning for breakfast, paired with rice, or tucked in tamagoyaki, or Japanese rolled egg omelette. Most people have a love-hate relationship with natto; those who love it see natto as their favorite food, and those who hate it never want to eat natto again.

Because natto is fermented, it has a lot of probiotics, which can aid digestion. It is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals such as vitamin K2, which is known to boost heart and bone health. If you can get past the strong taste and smell, natto is definitely an option for improving health.

Natto can be eaten alone, but is usually paired with rice. Some enjoy it mixed with soy sauce, mustard, chives, or other seasonings. Many like to add it to rice topped with a raw egg, or tamagokake-gohan (or TKG for short). Natto can also be added into pasta or topped on toast. It is usually sold in stores in packs of three. Once you open a pack, mix the natto throughly until it is frothy and sticky. Add in the sauce and mustard and mix again.

 4. Umeboshi


ayumew on Flickr

Umeboshi are Japanese pickled plums and are extremely sour and salty. They are made by being pickled in barrels full of salt, and dyed red using purple perilla leaves, akajiso, and flavored with kombu or katsuoboshi.

They are eaten in small quantities because of their strong flavor and high salt content. Umeboshi are known to aid digestion and prevent nausea. It is believed to have been commonly given to samurai as part of their diet to help prevent fatigue and keep up stamina. It is also used as a hangover cure. It contains iron and calcium, to help stimulate blood production and bone growth. It also contains antioxidants as well. It was well known to eat through aluminum bento boxes in the 1960s, because of its citric acid and salt content allowed it to break down the aluminum. 

Umeboshi is commonly eaten with rice. Umeboshi can also be added into onigiri, or rice balls wrapped in seaweed. It is also eaten in makizushi, which is umeboshi with perilla leaves wrapped in rice. Next time you have a cold, you can pair umeboshi with okayu, or Japanese rice congee, or eat it with ochazuke, which is green tea or dashi soup poured over rice. 

5. Soba


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Soba is buckwheat noodles that can be served either hot or cold. Cold soba is usually placed on a bamboo roll, called zaru, on a tray to keep the noodles dry and dipped in a sauce called mentsuyu, which is made out of soy sauce, mirin and dashi soup base. A side of shredded Japanese green onion, wasabi, and nori seaweed is placed on the side to be eaten with the sauce and noodles. It is also eaten with tempura. It is a popular dish to eat during summer to cool down in the heat.

Soba is gluten-free because it is made out of buckwheat flour. However, some soba noodles are not always 100 percent buckwheat flour; sometimes wheat or white flour is added. Make sure you check the labels if you are sensitive to gluten. It is high in fiber, low in fat, and contains thiamine and manganese. It can be used as noodle substitute or made into cold soba salad

These are just five of the many foods in Japanese cuisine with amazing health benefits. Next time, stop by your Asian grocery store to pick up these ingredients to create a wonderful dish that is not only tasty, but also packed full of vitamins and minerals.