Mitsuba is a parsley-like herb popular in Japan. In fact, the name mitsuba is Japanese for "three leaves," which describes the way the bright green herb looks. It's used as a garnish for many foods and is found in soups, dumplings, noodle dishes and salads. While mitsuba looks a lot like a classic Italian parsley, even garnering the name Japanese wild parsley, the flavor is more akin to a mixture of fresh celery, chervil and cilantro.
What Is Mitsuba?
Popular in Japan, mitsuba is an herb in the same family as parsley and looks much like a larger-leaf version of its counterpart. In fact, mitsuba is also called Japanese wild parsley, Japanese honewort and stone parsley, and it is used in many similar ways. For example, mitsuba is eaten as as a garnish sprinkled on top of miso soup and rice bowls. People also fold it into tamagoyaki, a type of Japanese omelet. It adds a bit of color and a fresh, green flavor that can lighten a rich food or bring out delicate nuances with milder fare.
Though it's used as an herb, mitsuba is actually in the Apiaceae family, better known as the carrot family. Mitsuba mainly grows wild in native woodlands located in Japan, China and Korea. When wild, the plant can reach around three feet high, but when domestically cultivated mitsuba only grows one or two feet tall. While it can be grown in many gardens throughout the world, mitsuba consumption happens mainly in Japan.
Mitsuba is also supposed to bring good luck to newlyweds. At many traditional Japanese weddings a bunch of mitsuba stems are tied in knots and used to decorate dishes. This plant also gets put into flower arrangements, sometimes even the bridal bouquet.
Mitsuba vs Minari
Though minari and mitsuba look similar, they are totally different plants and have unique flavors. Mitsuba is a light, parsley-like herb with notes of sorrel and celery leaf, where minari has a green pepper-like bite to it. Minari is a water dropwort, which is a type of aquatic plant similar to watercress. Mitsuba is an herb that grows in wooded areas. Both are Asian greens and are used mainly as garnishes, though minari is more popular in Korea and mitsuba is more popular in Japan.
Mitsuba grows wild in the forests of Japan, China and Korea. It's also cultivated in gardens both as a culinary herb and shade-giving plant. The clean, bright and delicate flavor of mitsuba has made it a prized addition to many dishes and it's been used in Japan for hundreds of years to garnish foods.
Fresh vs. Dried
Dried mitsuba isn't a common form of the herb, it's used more as a fresh ingredient. Because of this it's hard to find dried mitsuba on the market. The fresh herb is used as a garnish as well as in salads and sushi. Dried mitsuba cannot be used in the same way, instead, it's more for adding to food while being prepared.
What Does It Taste Like?
As far as taste goes, mitsuba has a lot in common with flat-leaf parsley. Both share a bright, fresh green undertone and slight lemony notes. But mitsuba also has a gently celery, angelica and cilantro taste to it. It's often compared to chervil in that it's a flavorful herb that's also delicate. It's best to eat mitsuba raw; once cooked these nuances fade away and the herb becomes bitter.
Cooking With Mitsuba
The whole mitsuba plant is edible, from the leaves to the root to the seed to the stem. Most of the time mitsuba is added to dishes raw, either as a garnish or folded into hot foods like noodles or eggs. If overcooked the herb can develop an unpleasant bitterness and lose the delicate celery, sorrel and cilantro notes it's prized for, which is why it's usually not heated at all.
In Japan mitsuba gets used to brighten up a bowl of miso soup, enhance a donburi (a type of rice bowl) and mixed into the batter used to fry pork, vegetables and chicken. The tender new leaves and sprouts get tossed into salads, wrapped up in a hand roll and thrown into a bowl of ochazuke, a traditional Japanese dish made with rice and tea.
Recipes With Mitsuba
Mitsuba can be added to many dishes, Japanese or not. Sprinkle it on miso soup or into an omelet and see how it can made these simple foods stand out.
- Steak and Mitsuba Herb Chirashi Sushi
- Japanese Vegetable Miso Soup
- Tamagoyaki: Japanese Rolled Omelet
Since mitsuba is so similar to parsley, especially flat-leaf parsley, this herb is a great substitute. Other things that can work in lieu of mitsuba include chervil and celery leaf.
Uses of Mitsuba
Mitsuba is used to add a fresh green brightness to foods. It's meant to be a garnish and doesn't taste as good when cooked. After cleaning, the whole herb can be chopped, the leaves torn or used in whole leaf form.
Where to Buy Mitsuba
Since it's not a common ingredient outside of Asia, Asian grocery stores are the best place to source mitsuba. It's almost as common in a Japanese, Chinese or Korean market as parsley is in a big chain store. When looking for it, don't be surprised if the whole herb comes intact with the roots, it's the normal way to sell it. One reason mitsuba, especially with the roots, is so readily available is because the herb can easily be grown just about anywhere. Throughout the world many Asian-focused specialty gardens grow mitsuba for markets and local chefs. In fact, it's harder to find dried mitsuba than the fresh herb.
Fresh mitsuba still on its stems can be put in a jar of water like a bouquet of flowers and kept in the refrigerator. Or, the bunch, stems or not, can be wrapped in a damp paper towel and kept in the cooler's crisper drawer. It will last about a week depending on how fresh it was when bought and/or harvested.