Shiso is the now common name for the Asian culinary herb, seed (spice), or entire annual plant of Perilla frutescens variety crispa, belonging to the mint family.
The conventional translation "beefsteak plant" is outdated and has fallen into disuse in current media, though it has not passed into complete obsolescence. The genus name Perilla is sometimes used as a common name but it is ambiguous, since that term is also inclusive of the wild sesame variety, which is devoid of the distinctive shiso fragrance.
The crop occurs in both red- (or purple-) leaved and green forms. There are also frilly, ruffled-leaved forms called chirimen-jiso and forms that are red only on top, called katamen-jiso.
A whole leaf of green shiso is often used as a receptacle to hold wasabi (picture top right), or various tsuma (garnishes) and ken (daikon radishes, etc., sliced into fine threads). It seems to have superseded baran, the serrated green plastic film, named after the Aspidistra plant, that graced takeout sushi boxes in bygone days.
The green leaf can be chopped up and used as herb or condiments for an assortment of cold dishes such as:
1. cold noodles (hiyamugi, somen)
2. cold tofu (known as Hiyayakko)
3. tataki and namero(ja)
Chopped leaves can used to flavor any number of fillings or batter to be cooked, for use in warm dishes. A whole leaf battered only on the obverse side is made into tempura. Whole leaves are often combined with shrimp or other fried items.
Red leaves are used for making pickled plum (umeboshi) as mentioned, but this is no longer a yearly chore undertaken by the average household. Red shiso is used to color shiba-zuke(ja), a type of pickled eggplant (also cucumber, myoga, shiso seeds may be used), Kyoto specialty.
The seed pods or berries of the shiso are also salted and preserved as a sort of spice. They can be combined with fine slivers of daikon, for instance, to make a simple salad.
One source from the 1960s says that oil expressed from shiso seeds was once used for deep-frying purposes.
The germinated sprouts (cotyledons) used as garnish are known as mejiso. Another reference refers to the me-jiso as the moyashi (sprout) of the shiso.
Though young buds or shoots are not usually used in restaurants, the me-jiso used could be microgreen size. People engaged in growing their own shiso in planters, will also refer to the plucked seedlings they have thinned as mejiso.
The name yukari refers to dried and pulverized red-shiso flakes, and has passed into the common tongue as a generic term, even though Mishima Foods Co. insists it is the proprietary name for its products. The term yukari-no-iro has signified the color purple since the olden days, based on a poem in the Kokin Wakashu about a murasaki or gromwell blooming in Musashino (old name for Tokyo area). Moreover, the term Murasaki-no-yukari(ja) has long been used as an alias for Lady Murasaki's famous romance of the shining prince.
Other than the yukari variety, there are many commercial brand furikake type sprinkle-seasoning products that contain shiso as well. They can be sprinkled on rice or mixed into musubi. They are often sprinkled on pasta.
The shiso pasta can be made from fresh chopped leaves, sometimes combined with the crumbled roe of tarako, and the trick to success is not to cook the cod roe on the stove top, but to just to toss the hot pasta into it.