Perilla is a genus of annual herb that is a member of the mint family. Its most common species is shiso which is mainly grown in India and East Asia.
In North America, it is increasingly commonly called by its Japanese name, shiso, in addition to being generally referred to as perilla. Its essential oils provide for a strong taste whose intensity might be compared to that of mint or fennel. It is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.
Perilla is either red or green, the red perilla having an anise flavor and slightly less spicy than the green variety, which tastes more like cinnamon. The leaves, which are rich in calcium and iron, are used for seasoning, coloring, pickling and garnishing. Shiso leaves can be used whole or cut into strips. Use the flower buds by collecting the seeds at the end of the season to sprinkle on salad and rice. The Japanese, in particular, use the red variety to color umeboshi and pickled ginger.
Perilla seeds form an essential part of the famous seven spices of Japan, which originated more than 300 years ago inKyoto. Green perilla leaves are often wrapped around sushi or served with “sashimi” as a garnish. They also are added to soups, tempura or dried and sprinkled over rice. Japanese chefs add red perilla to tofu or bean curd dishes or use it wrapped around pieces of meat.