Why Japanese cuisine is ‘less spicy’ than others in Asia

Why Japanese cuisine is ‘less spicy’ than others in AsiaWhy Japanese cuisine is ‘less spicy’ than others in Asia
via Thomas Marban / Unsplash
Japanese food is often considered “less spicy” than other Asian cuisines, and this could be explained by the country’s culinary history and climate influences. 
Culinary history and tradition: Japanese culinary history places a strong emphasis on the natural flavors of fresh ingredients. The traditional approach has been to bring out the inherent tastes of foods rather than mask them with spices. This focus on simplicity has shaped the character of Japanese cuisine, leading to dishes that are less spicy compared to other Asian cuisines. Some popular examples of Japanese dishes that highlight the use of fresh ingredients include sushi, sashimi, tempura, edamame and miso soup. 
Reliance on seafood: Japanese cuisine has a strong reliance on seafood, given Japan‘s island geography and historical connection to the ocean. Seafood is a key component in many traditional Japanese dishes, and its freshness and quality are highly prioritized, using minimal seasoning. Perhaps the most iconic Japanese dish featuring seafood would be sushi. It involves vinegared rice combined with various ingredients, often raw or cooked seafood. Examples include nigiri (hand-pressed sushi) with slices of fish like tuna, salmon or shrimp, and maki (rolled sushi) with combinations of fish, vegetables and seaweed.
Climate influences: Japan has a relatively mild climate. The types of spices that thrive in hotter climates may not grow as well in Japan. This climate-related limitation on spice cultivation contributes to the milder flavor profiles in Japanese cuisine. 
The changing climate and distinct seasons in Japan also influence the availability and freshness of various foods. Seasonal awareness is reflected in the practice of “shun,” where ingredients are enjoyed at the peak of their flavor. Festivals and traditional events often feature seasonal dishes that align with the climate and the surrounding nature. For example, the colder climate in some regions has led to the popularity of hotpot dishes like sukiyaki and nabe. These dishes are typically enjoyed during the winter months for their warming qualities.
Growing interest in spicy flavors: Despite the general tendency for milder flavors in Japan, there has been an increase in interest in spicy foods over the years. Factors such as globalization, increased travel and the influence of younger generations who are more willing to experiment with different flavors have apparently contributed to a growing appreciation for spicier options. As a result, there is now a variety of hot and spicy condiments available, allowing people to add a touch of heat to their dishes without deviating too far from traditional culinary roots. Some of the top spices include wasabi, spicy miso paste, ponzu, shichimi togarashi, rayu and sriracha mayo.
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