Taste test: Togarashi

324347493_9bd5d15c98_b.jpg Image by zrim via Flickr When I got a bag of chile peppers in our CSA delivery last week, I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to cook them. I tried putting them in pasta, but that turned out numbingly spicy. And then I remembered that chile peppers = togarashi in Japanese, and that they are a key ingredient in one of my all-time favorite spices — shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice mix commonly found at home dinner tables and yakitori restaurants that is designed to enhance the natural flavors of high quality meat and veggies. For this week's Taste Test, I thought I'd share a simple recipe for shichimi and give you some tips on other ways to use it.

urawaza toes.png An excerpt from my book, Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan, offers a toe-warming chile pepper trick.

Chile peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that induces warmth, so you can stick it in your shoe or mitten to keep toes and fingers warm. It is apparently also useful for keeping rice from becoming bug-infested — a colleague of mine once sent me a plastic chile pepper with chile oil in it sold in Japan for that precise purpose. Capsaicin has also been tested on rats for things like pain relief, cancer cell reduction, diabetes prevention, and weight loss. Okay, so here's how you make shichimi togarashi, a delicious seven-ingredient Japanese spice mix, at home, via a recipe I found on Chow.com:
1 tbsp ground chile pepper 1 tbsp black peppercorns 1 tbsp dried tangerine peel 2 tsp flaked nori 2 tsp black sesame seeds 2 tsp white poppy seeds or black cannabis seeds 2 tsp minced garlic Combine all the ingredients in a small container, then grind together using a grinder or a wooden seed-grinder.
Of course, there are many other ways to make the chile pepper a part of your diet — it's great in salsas, hot sauces, and on pizza — I'm sure many of you have your own favorite uses for the versatile fruit. If you just don't like the taste of chile peppers at all, it makes a lovely Christmas tree ornament. Every installment of Taste Test will explore recipes, the science, and some history behind a specific food item.


  1. Tnanks Lisa! We also get tons of hot peppers from our CSA, we use them in a variety of ways, but it’s always nice to have extra options. We’ll try it soon.

    Also, thanks for the hot-pepper-in-shoe tip. Will try it this winter (I’m a farrier, so I’m always working outside in the winter and it gets *really* cold).

  2. Out of curiosity, would using chiles in your shoe work the way liquor does? In other words, does it just SEEM warm while you’re still at the same physical risk, or does it actually warm your toes?

    Not that anyone would seriously think that taking some chile peppers on a mountain climb would be a great idea, but I’m just curious how that physiological reaction works.

    1. Based on the book excerpt, the chiles work the same way as alcohol does (read the ‘Why This Works’ part).

  3. By the way, be careful with the hot-pepper-in-mittens thing. If you handle a chili pepper with bare hands, such as inside a glove, and then touch your eyes or other, ah, “sensitive areas,” you will find yourself in a world of hurt. Trust me on this.

  4. Yeah I want to call bs on the pepper in sock trick.

    However, on the note of alcohol, it does dilate capilaries allowing increased bloodflow. The catch is that (according to wiki) the heat is lost faster at tge extremeties. So if you had insulation at the extremeties it might actually help?

  5. Yeah, capsaicin doesn’t actually cause warmth; as randall wonders, it just causes the sensation of warmth. It will result in a minor flush of blood to the skin, but that will only speed the loss of heat from the body. Worse, like alcohol, this will mask your actual perception of cold meaning you’ll be in greater danger of frostbite and injury as a result.

    It works by bonding with the heat-sensing nerve endings in tissue, allowing them to fire far below their normal thresholds. It absolutely does NOT create warmth.

  6. Side note:
    For some odd reason you’ll find Shichimi labeled as Togarashi Nanami in some stores. Why? I don’t know. But my local japanese store does.

    Shichi and Nana both mean “seven”.

  7. By the sound of it, wouldn’t both this and alcohol serve as a fairly direct treatment for people who quickly lose blood circulation in cold extremities?

    In my case, “my fingers get horribly cold even though I’ve got more than enough body heat to go around” is a much more common problem than “I’m freezing to death”. Maybe I ought to start stocking up on chili (or liquor). :)

  8. Uh, wait a minute – did that say cannabis seeds, as in the reefer? Really? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’ve just never seen anything like that before. I guess maybe with enough of that on your food it wouldn’t matter if the taste sucked …

    1. Well, poppy plants are processed into heroins, so you can’t just jump on the cannabis seed’s case. As a side note, how would cannabis seeds taste on bagels?

    2. When I was living in Japan a few years back, there was a rash of cannabis based arrests. Sale and posession of marijuana, of course, is illegal, but posession of the seeds are not – so people were buying seeds labeled as being for “viewing use only.” A total crock, if you will.

      To get to the point, it was all over the news that cannabis seeds were in shichimi, but were heat-treated so that they could not germinate. I’m sure that if the seeds contributed to getting high in any way, the shichimi formula would have been changed at some point prior to this; I also wouldn’t be surprised if the anti-germination treatment removed whatever THC (if there was any to begin with) was in the seeds.

  9. as i recall, the hemp seeds aren’t ground. check out the S&B brand of shichimi togarashi. also, the chow.com recipe is a little wonky… there should be chinese pepper/sansho in shichimi.

  10. The Chow.com recipe does have sansho, actually. As a substitute, it suggests black peppercorn. I put peppercorn here because I figured people are more likely to have it in their kitchens already, but sansho is definitely an important part of the seven flavors that make shichimi if it’s available to you.

  11. That looks like Thai/Vietnamese hot chillies pepper, commonly used in hot/spicy stir fry. I usually chop 3 chillies up and mix in Thai style omelet.

  12. “Chile peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical that induces warmth, so you can stick it in your shoe or mitten to keep toes and fingers warm.” Uhh, have you ever tried this? This is a terrible idea! Close contact with a chile pepper for any period of time will make your skin STING. Peppers on your skin for an extended period of time will not induce warmth, only PAIN.

  13. Sounds fantastic. I will have to give it a try. I adore things that have complex flavors plus heat. Somehow the heat seems to round out the experience, even though it’s not exactly a flavor in itself.

    Another good thing to do with peppers: infuse them into oil, as in this classic Making Light recipe post.

    And another interesting fact about capsaicin I learned recently: it affects mammals, but not birds. So if you coat your birdseed in it, it should deter squirrels. In, fact chile-coated birdseed is available commercially for this purpose. You could even decorate an outdoor tree with popcorn and chile peppers for the birds.

  14. I’m sceptical about the ability of chilli to deter pests from eating rice and other stored products – I’ve bought a few bags of dried chilli that have been infested with cigarette beetle or Indian meal worm who seem to be doing just fine on a diet of pure chilli. As with the other comments our local birds both domesticated and wild just love chilli, dry and fresh.

  15. A hard time trying to figure out how to cook chile peppers? I can’t think of a recent meal I’ve had without them!

  16. Anonymous, CSA = “Community Supported Agriculture”. There’s this service some farmers offer where you can buy a subscription to their produce — every week the farmer sends you a box of fresh vegetables (and sometimes other products too). Here’s more info.

  17. @Caroline Pet birds like to chew on dried chili peppers too. I’m guessing the plants rely on birds to spread their seeds.

  18. The chili in food does deter pests
    I once grew a chili plant in one pot and some strawberries in a pot next to it
    one plant threw a runner to the chili pot and flourished while all the other strawberries were eaten by slugs

  19. At the high school cafeteria where I teach in Japan there’s a big ol’ container of togarashi on the counter. I put it on everything!

  20. As for cannabis seeds: do realize you may subsequently fail drug tests, for a considerable while.

    There’s prisoners getting in trouble for eating poppy seed-covered buns, from the first generations of herointests (maybe not anymore?). Poppy (or “moon”) seeds being a regular ingredient, I assume they now make the tests not to be triggered by those metabolites.

    Cannabis seeds being an unusual, and presumably mostly illegal, ingredient (only bird seed springs to mind), positive tests may result from eaten-but-not-smoked-cannabis metabolites.

  21. I used to work outside year round in Colorado, and found that by putting a few grains of cayenne on the OUTSIDE of my heavy wool socks inside my boots, that my feet would stay much warmer, as long as they didn’t get wet. Didn’t take much. I also wore a wool cap, and ate something fairly substantial every couple of hours to maintain my metabolism at a higher point. Didn’t need to worry about extra calories back then.

  22. Heheh, shichimi is great stuff. I’ve gotten my parents hooked on it and House-brand Ra-yu (chili-infused soy oil), the kind with the ground chili in it. I have to send some of each to them in the states every few months (no Asian grocers anywhere near). We take it camping, too, as an essential (as in: salt, pepper, shichimi–that’s all the spices). Great stuff, and it goes with almost anything.

  23. In my country ,Hellas, we eat those peppers before they turn red, when they are still green.It is better that way, try it!

  24. Chilis just make you feel warmer by stimulating nerve receptors, they don’t actually make you warmer by any nontrivial amount. Same for alcohol. Your toes will freeze just the same, dumb advice.

    Alcohol is even worse, it causes a flushing of blood to the surface, especially the head, that gives a small feeling of warmth in the skin. The problem is that it is also causing your blood to cool faster and so lowering your body temperature. Again, a very bad idea.

    1. Ah, but alcohol has an actual effect, in that it does increase the blood circulation a bit. Personally, I rather enjoy that side effect of drinking: If I feel overly warm, I’d much rather move some of that out to my icy feet instead of just sweating to try and get rid of some heat – and when I get a bit drunk, things seem to work better. (I’ve apparently inherited a slightly weak blood circulation in my hands and feet. It can be somewhat annoying.)

      Mind you, even just hiding the feeling of cold feet could be nice, and if you don’t get why, I invite you to come live in Oslo for a few winter months. (“Cold, but not dangerously so” describes something like September to April here. There’s no real risk of frost injuries, but that doesn’t mean your feet or hands won’t feel cold.)

  25. As for what was previously said about the cannabvis seeds… they are not illegal to have as long as there HEMP SEEDS, not the seeds that you get from your bag of weed…. that is still concidered posession…. There is a small SMALL amout of THC in hemp and actual Marijuana seeds ( i use this term to determine a difference)… and bein a lontime patron of the courts and having to submit to many drug tests, i can tell you it can be as rediculously easy as drinking alot of water before having to submit your urine, to test clean, as you can smoke marijuana and still drop clean using this method, however it is not foolproof and depends on the amount you smoke.

  26. I remember in my elementary school days my Mom had the idea to put cayenne pepper in my socks because it was a rainy day: damn near burnt my feet off! I still remember the sight of my socks drying on the old iron heater as I tramped through school in my soggy shoes. . .I think I’ll guilt trip her about that again soon :)

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