Gut Instinct | The Secret Science Behind Japanese Food Pairings


There are some combinations that just feel right. Blue jeans and white T-shirts. Cartoons and Saturday mornings. Matsumoto and Hamada.

And, of course, there are traditional Japanese food pairings. At long last, scientists have gotten around to confirming what countless generations of Japanese chefs and chowhounds have known in their guts to be true: certain dishes, like our personal favorite beer and edamame, are just plain meant to be. (Even molecularly.)

Read on as we serve up the new science behind some of the oldest Japanese food combinations.


Sushi and Wasabi

No pairing in Japanese cuisine, perhaps, is as famous as sushi and its loyal sidekick, wasabi. Not only does wasabi pack a mighty wallop for your taste buds, but it also serves as a powerful anti-microbial agent, making it a perfect partner for raw fish.



Sanma and Daikon

But, hey, sometimes you need your fish well done. Blackened even–like the traditional platter of chargrilled sanma. If so, it’s best not to skimp on the customary side of diced daikon radish. Cancer-fighting glucosinolates in the daikon work to counter the carcinogens in the charred part of the fish. And the daikon is really tasty.



Onigiri and Seaweed

You’re probably thinking: the seaweed wrapped around my onigiri already acts as an exceedingly convenient method of conveying sticky rice to my mouth. What more can I ask of this–this superfood? Actually, a lot. It turns out that this wrap, called a laver, holds the amount of Vitamin B necessary to convert all those rice-born carbohydrates into energy. Fuel for thought.



Katsu and Cabbage

The next time you’re tempted to bypass that heap of cabbage on your plate and go directly to those tender, golden strips: don’t. Raw cabbage excels at delivering the little-known Vitamin U. This (slightly mysterious sounding) compound protects against a whole host of tummy-aching disorders, including acid reflux. The important lesson here: cabbage will allow you to eat more delicious meat.


curry and rakkyo

Curry and Shallots

Let’s hope you took that cabbage advice, because our next combo is also a meat-heavy one–pork-curry and pickled shallots. Pork is loaded with B1, a vitamin essential to maintaining regular cellular function. Shallots burst with the amino acid allysine, which promotes absorption of B1. Since scientists haven’t found a detriment to consuming large quantities of B1, feel free to go for tabehodai.



Beer and Edamame

Is there anything more relaxing than a frosted mug of nama biru and a plate of salty, steaming edamame? There might be one thing: the knowledge that all those beers are doing slightly less damage to your liver than you thought. Edamame brims with the liver-protecting amino acid methionine, as well as Vitamins B1 and C, which aid in breaking down alcohol. Cheers to that.



  1. Excellent. Kanpai!

  2. Really great post! I love sanma sooo much. My mouth is watering now…

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