Perilla is an herb of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Though known to several cultures by different names, the disparate varieties are now classified under the single species Perilla frutescens. The plant overall resembles the stinging nettle, though the leaves are somewhat rounder.
Korean cuisine uses green leaves of the oilseed variety, which have a flavor different from shiso. It also uses the perilla seeds, known as "wild sesame", a source of perilla oil rich in ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
The flowers, fruits, and seeds of shiso are used as a condiment or spice in Japan.
In temperate climates, the plant is self-sowing, but the seeds are not viable after long storage, and germination rates are low after a year.
Perilla frutescens has been widely naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada, from Texas and Florida north to Connecticut and into Ontario, and west to Nebraska. It can be weedy or invasive in some of these regions.
The weedy types have often lost the characteristic shiso fragrance and are not suited for eating (cf. perilla ketone). Also, the red leaves are not ordinarily served raw.
Perilla is called zisu (simplified Chinese: 紫苏; traditional Chinese: 紫蘇; pinyin: zǐsū) in Chinese and is traditionally used in Chinese medicine, and has been shown to stimulate interferon activity and thus, the body's immune system. It is used to ease the symptoms of the common cold. It is fried in oil with garlic or ginger in the wok, and eaten as a dish with meals. The sū in its name (formed by addition of the herb radical to a homophone meaning "revive") was the namesake for Mount Gusu, the peak which gave Suzhou its name. The Manchu people's festival of "Food Extermination Day" (绝粮日) calls for perilla to be eaten by bannermen.
The Japanese name for the variety of perilla normally used in Japanese cuisine (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is shiso (紫蘇?). This name is already commonplace in US mass media's coverage of Japanese restaurants and cuisine. The Japanese call the green type aojiso (青紫蘇?), or ooba ("big leaf"), and often eat the fresh leaves with sashimi (sliced raw fish) or cut them into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes. It is also used as a savory herb in a variety of dishes, even as a pizza topping (initially it was used in place of basil). In the summer of 2009, Pepsi Japan released a new seasonal flavored beverage, Pepsi Shiso.
The purple form is called akajiso (赤紫蘇?, red shiso), and is used to dye umeboshi (pickled ume) red or combined with ume paste in sushi to make umeshiso maki. It can also be used to make a sweet, red juice to enjoy during summer.
An inflorescence of shiso, called hojiso (ear shiso), is typically used as garnish on a sashimi plate; the individual flowers can be stripped off the stem using the chopstick, adding its flavor to the soy sauce dip. The fruits of the shiso (shiso-no-mi), containing fine seed (mericarp) about 1 mm or less in diameter (about the size of mustard seed), can be preserved in salt and used as a spice or condiment. Young leaves and flower buds are used for pickling in Japan and Taiwan.
The other type of edible perilla (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens or var. japonica) called egoma (荏胡麻?) is of limited culinary importance in Japan, though this is the variety commonly used in nearby Korea. The cultivar is known regionally as jūnen in the Tohoku (northeast) regions of Japan. The term means "ten years", supposedly because it adds this many years to one's lifespan. A local preparation in Fukushima prefecture, called shingorō, consists of half-pounded unsweet rice patties, which are skewered, smeared with miso, blended with roasted and ground jūnen seeds, and roasted over charcoal. The oil pressed from this plant was once used to fuel lamps in the Middle Ages. The warlord Saitō Dōsan, who started out in various occupations, was a peddler of this type of oil, rather than the more familiar rapeseed oil, according to a story by historical novelist Ryōtarō Shiba.
The plant's Korean name is deulkkae or tŭlkkae (들깨). The same word is also used when referring to its seed, which has many uses in Korean cuisine, just as the leaves (ggaennip, 깻잎) do. The literal translations of deulkkae ("wild sesame") and ggaennip ("sesame leaf") are in spite of perilla's not being closely related to sesame, and Korean cookbooks translated into English sometimes use these translations. Cans of pickled ggaennip can be found in Korean grocery stores all over the world, with some ground red pepper between every two leaves in the can. The leaves' essential oils provide their strong taste. Fresh leaves have an aroma reminiscent of apples and mint, and are eaten in salad dishes and with roasted meat. The flavor is distinct from Japanese perilla, and the leaf appearance is different, as well – larger, rounder, flatter, with a less serrated edge, and often a violet coloring on the reverse side. Perilla oil (deulgireum, 들기름) is extracted from the seeds; the cake can be used as animal feed. Perilla oil has a rich taste and scent slightly resembling dark sesame oil (chamgireum, 참기름). Perilla seed can be cooked with meals, roasted, crushed to intensify its taste and/or mixed with sesame and salt.
The purple leaves, called pak maengda (ຜັກແມງດາ), are strong in fragrance, but not ruffled. Lao also used them for Lao rice vermicelli, khao poon (ເຂົ້າປຸ້ນ), which is very similar to the Vietnamese bún. They are used as part of the dish for their fragrance.
Vietnamese cuisine uses a variety similar to the Japanese hojiso, but with greenish bronze on the top face and purple on the opposite face. The leaves are smaller and have a much stronger fragrance than hojiso. In Vietnamese, it is called tía tô, derived from the characters (紫蘇) whose standard pronunciation in Vietnamese is tử tô. It is usually eaten as a garnish in rice vermicelli dishes called bún and a number of stews and simmered dishes.
The pronounced flavor and aroma of shiso derives from perillaldehyde, but this substance is lacking in the "wild sesame" and "sesame leaf" variety. Other aromatic essential oils present are limonene, caryophyllene, and farnesene.
The artificial sweetener perillartine can be synthesized from perillaldehyde, but it is used in Japan only for sweetening tobacco, despite being 2000 times sweeter than sucrose, owing to its bitterness and aftertaste, and insolubility in water.
Perilla leaves are rich in dietary fiber, dietary minerals, such as calcium, iron and potassium, and vitamins A, C and riboflavin. Perilla leaf components are under preliminary research for potential anti-inflammatory properties, and may be used to preserve foods.
- PLANTS Profile for Perilla frutescens (L.) Britton beefsteakplant | USDA Plants
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- O'Brien-Nabors, Lyn (2011), Alternative Sweeteners (preview), CRC Press, p. 235, ISBN 9781439846148
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- Gernot Katzer (September 19, 2006). "Perilla (Perilla frutescens) L. Britton". Spice Pages. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
- "Perilla (Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean Shi-So, Zi Su, Beefsteak)". Evergreen Seeds. Retrieved 2006-11-17. Commercial seed house with pictures of different perilla varieties
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