Shibazuke is a popular pickle originated in Kyoto. These salty and slightly sour pickles have beautiful natural purple color from purple shiso leaves. Enjoy these pickles with steamed rice or Ochazuke.
Shibazuke (柴漬け) is probably my most favorite type of pickles. Until I tried making it from scratch, I wasn’t exactly sure what was in the pickle. Imagine my surprise when I found out it includes vegetables that I love – eggplant, shiso leaves, myoga to name a few. The beautiful hues of purple, rosy pink of the vegetables medley truly captures the taste of nature, making this pickle extra special. If you have a thing for pickles, it’s hard not to fall in love with shibazuke.
Now before any pickle fans get too excited, I want to give you a heads up. The ingredients for this recipe may not be easy to find even in your local Japanese grocery stores. I had trouble getting them as well.
However, let me introduce this delicious pickle to you anyway since you might have a chance to taste it when you visit Japan.
What is Shibazuke?
Shibazuke (柴漬け, originally 紫葉漬け) is one of the three main Kyoto pickles (京漬物) besides radish pickle Suguki (すぐき) and thinly-slice radish pickle Senmaizuke (千枚漬け).
This bright purple pickle is made of cucumber, eggplant, purple shiso (aka-jiso), ginger, and myoga that are pickled in umezu (Japanese plum vinegar). The salty, slightly sour taste of shibazuke comes from salt pickling and lactic acid fermentation.
Although shibazuke is commonly served in Kyoto cuisine, they are enjoyed throughout Japan. This Fujikko’s “Shibazuke Tabetai!” TV commercial in 1985 made shibazuke really popular in Japan. Does anyone remember this TV commercial? I do!
3 Unique Japanese Ingredients for Shibazuke
1. Aka Shiso (purple red perilla leaves)
Ohara (大原), a suburb of Kyoto, has a good climate for growing shiso leaves. As Ohara is a basin, there is a drastic temperature difference between day and night, which results in high quality fragrant shiso leaves. Therefore, Shibazuke made in Ohara uses generous amount of the purple shiso leaves (aka-jiso 赤紫蘇) without adding color additives.
When I was looking for ingredients to make shibazuke back in May in SF Bay Area, I couldn’t find purple red shiso. Therefore, I had to use green shiso (ao-jiso 青紫蘇) instead. These two shiso leaves are slightly different in flavor but they make the closest substitute.
Purple red shiso is used for natural coloring to make umeboshi (japanese pickled plum) and shibazuke, but not for eating as a herb. Green shiso leaves are commonly used for garnish, salad, toppings, and cooking as a herb.
If you have access to purple red shiso, please see my Notes section in the recipe.
2. Myoga (mild flavored ginger bud)
With a unique flavor and texture, this ginger bud is a wonderful aromatic. Myoga’s season is summer and it is served as a spice (yakumi 薬味) for cold somen noodles and Hiyayakko (chilled tofu).
I was lucky to find myoga before the summer comes, but one pack of 3 myoga costed me $8! I’m currently in Japan writing this post, and today I saw the exact same package of myoga which came from the same place for only 99 yen (about 90 cents)…
3. Umezu (Ume plum vinegar)
Umezu or Ume Plum Vinegar (赤梅酢) is the pickling brine from making umeboshi plums (Japanese pickled plums) with sea salt and purple red shiso, that impart its ruby red color. It’s a tart, salty, festive condiment with beneficial organic acids.
Since I didn’t have the purple red shiso, I used umezu to make pickles and to add the purple color. This Eden brand has no artificial dyes, preservatives, or chemicals. You can find the umezu in Japanese grocery stores or on Amazon.
The Shibazuke Recipe
I’ve followed this Japanese recipe to make “quick” shibazuke. Instead of waiting for 3-7 day fermentation, this method can be done in a day or overnight. However, as another site that followed the same recipe also mentioned, the result was a bit too salty.
So I’d like to suggest: 1) reduce the salt from 2% to 1%, and/or 2) don’t leave with salt for half a day. I think 1 hour of pickling might be enough.
I’ve researched online to see if there is a better ratio or perfect timing for pickling, but other recipes are pretty much the same. So I’ll leave it up to you. When I try making it next time, I’ll definitely reduce the salt pickling time and test to see if 1-2 hours would work better.
How To Enjoy Shibazuke
The best way to enjoy this pickle is to eat with delicious steamed rice. I also enjoy eating this pickle with Ochazuke – steamed rice with tea poured over the rice. Shibazuke has a more intense savory flavor than other Japanese pickles. To me, the saltiness and sourness from the pickle adds indescribable joy to a humble dish.
Even though my first batch turned out to be a little salty, I still enjoyed this refreshing pickle so much. There is no preservatives and additives. If you are lucky enough to find these unique Japanese ingredients, I hope you get to enjoy making the pickle with fresh summer ingredients.
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
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- 3 Japanese or Chinese eggplant (14.1 oz, 400 g)
- 2 Japanese or Persian cucumbers (6 oz, 170 g)
- 3 myoga ginger (1.8 oz, 54 g; you can substitute it with a small amount of ginger, preferably mild-flavored young ginger)
- 1 inch ginger (0.8 oz, 22 g)
- kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (0.4 oz, 11 g; 2% of total vegetables)
- 20 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba)
- 4 Tbsp ume plum vinegar
- 1 Tbsp mirin
- Gather all the ingredients. Wash the vegetables and weigh them. My vegetables weigh 573 g. Use salt equivalent to 2% of vegetables’ total weight, which is 11 g.
- Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and slice diagonally.
- Soak the eggplants in water to prevent from changing color.
- Cut the ends of cucumbers and cut again in half lengthwise.
- Remove the seeds with a teaspoon and slice diagonally.
- Cut myoga in half lengthwise and julienne.
- Peel the skin and julienne the ginger.
- Combine all the vegetables in a freezer bag and sprinkle the salt.
- Mix all together and knead the vegetables. Press the vegetables with 2 x weight of vegetables (roughly 1 kg). Leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Tightly squeeze the liquid out from the vegetables (you can first drain the vegetables into the strainer, too, if you like) and discard the liquid. Transfer the squeezed vegetables back to the bag.
- Cut the shiso leaves into juliennes.
- Add shiso leaves, ume plum vinegar, and mirin in the bag.
- Mix and knead the vegetables.
- Remove the air out of the bag and press with a heavy object. Keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and you can start eating it. Transfer to an airtight container or mason jar and consume in 2 weeks.
- Keep it refrigerated for 2 weeks.