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What’s TSUKEMONO: Japanese Pickles Complete Guide

What's TSUKEMONO: Japanese Pickles Complete Guide Food & Recipes

Pickles have been around for thousands of years worldwide, and you have traditional pickles in your culture so do we in Japan.

Japanese pickles are called “TSUKEMONO” (OTUKEMONO/ OSHINKO), the most popular TSUKEMONO are probably, “Umeboshi”, “Fukujnizuke”, “Takuan” or “Gari”, you may have already known.

Roughly, pickles are literally pickled produce, mainly vegetables, pickled in salt and other seasonings.

In the old days, there was no refrigerator and it was difficult to store food.

The food harvested in the spring and summer must be kept until winter, so the result is a “pickle” that can be preserved for a long time by pickling it in salt or fermenting it.

Pickles can be easily produced by pickling in salt brine, so they are one of the oldest food processing in history.

The pickled vegetables become unique texture and flavor, and non-habit.

And Japan has an amazing pickling culture packed with a wide variety of pickles.


Japanese Pickles are roughly divided into two types: “fermented” and “non-fermented”.

The most traditional and unique fermented Japanese pickles are probably “NUKAZUKE”- pickles are made by allowing vegetables to ferment in rice bran, called a nukadoko.

Fermented pickles such as NUKAZUKE pickles, SUGU KISUKE, and simply “shiozuke” are not only known as fermented foods but are also attracting attention in terms of nutrition.

They are rich in lactic acid bacteria, dietary fiber, and vitamins.

Contrary, “Asazuke” has a long history, and many of them retain beautiful colors due to the flavor of fresh vegetables and non-fermentation.

Asazuke literally means pickling vegetables (or other ingredients) lightly in salt brine and another seasoning. Some Asazuke recipes can be done for only a few hours to overnight so that it’s Japanese easy refrigerated pickles.

Since you can make Japanese pickles for only one night, it’s often called “Ichiyazuke” which means pickling food overnight.

Also, ASAZUKE is easy-to-make, low-cost, effortless, and easy to consume lots of volume of vegetables at one time, so people are getting busy preparing Asazuke, especially during the vegetable season in summer.

What’s TSUKEMONO Taste Like?

Most Japanese pickles aka TSUKEMONO are basically “salty” if you think about pickles such as “dill pickles”, “sweet pickles”, or “bread and butter pickles”…

Outside of “salty”, they have tangy, spicy, sour, and sweet flavors.

You gotta be careful when you try “NARAZUKE” which has sensational flavor!

Narazuke is the pickled vegetables or fruits fermented in sake lees for a long period regularly replacing the lees over and over until the age of the vegetable.

Personally, I don’t like it much because the flavor is so sweet, funky, and so alcoholic.

Despite Japanese TSUKEMONO being often described as salty, there are pickles that are not so salty- such as Asazuke.

My Semi-dried cucumber Japanese pickles are pickled in soy sauce, sugar, Japanese sake, and vinegar, so it is sweet and refreshing if you want to try them!

For the recipe, please check out this post!


Japan is known for its abundant unique condiments, a t the same time, the pickling seasonings are also a wide variety.

Here, we will introduce typical types of TSUKEMONO in Japan.



“Asazuke” is an easy-quick refrigerated pickle that allows vegetables between a few hours to overnight. Cucumbers, Chinese Napa cabbage, and Japanese eggplants are often used for ASAZUKE.

Here is my Chinese Napa Cabbage ASAZUKE recipe if you’re interested.


SHIOZUKE literally means “Salted food” in Japanese which refers to the old method to store food naturally by being salted.

Thus, SHIOZUKE means not only pickled vegetables but also other food such as meat and seafood.


“Nukazuke” is a pickled vegetable fermenting in the mixture of rice bran, salt, and water, and popular pickled vegetables are cucumbers, eggplants, and Daikon radishes.

Recently, Nukazuke has been known as a healthy food since it is rich in lactic bacteria.


Kasuzuke is pickled vegetables or other ingredients in sake lees, a yeast by-product of sake/ mirin making.

You can enjoy the combination of sweet and salty, which everyone loves.



SU literally means “vinegar” in Japanese, and SUZUKE is pickles made by pickling in vinegar. This is the most familiar to you when you imagine standard pickles in your culture.

Seasonings such as salt, sugar, and soy sauce, and spices such as chili peppers may be added to the pickled vinegar.


KOJIZUKE is the pickles marinated in the mix of Koji rice, salt, and sugar after salting vegetables. The popular pickled vegetables are Chinese cabbage, eggplant, turnip, and Daikon radish.


“Misozuke” is marinating vegetables/ other ingredients in miso paste.

Since miso paste contains enough sodium and flavor to the food, this method has been around to store food for ancient years.

Just marinate seasonal vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, turnips, and Daikon radish in the same amount of miso paste (red/ yellow) and sugar.

Adding yogurt instead of sugar can reduce sugar levels.


“Shoyuzuke” pickles pickling vegetables in soy sauce-based juice. The vegetables are often used after being salted or dried.

How Do The Japanese Eat TSUKEMONO?

Japanese pickles TSUKEMONO has been getting popular as part of a traditional Japanese cuisine called Washoku/ Kaiseki or as the topping for Ramen noodles/curry and rice.

The purpose of Tsukemono in Japanese cuisine is the balance of flavors (refreshing), colors, and nutrition.

Washoku has the basic principle: “Ichiju issai”/ Ichiju Sansai” which means the meal should compose of rice (the staple dish), miso soup (or other soup), and side dishes, and pickles often are counted as a side dishes.

Thus, TSUKEMONO is served mainly as a side dish along with rice.

Are Japanese Pickles Good For You

TSUKEMONO is also known to provide health benefits, especially, vitamins, fiber, and probiotics that promote digestive health.

Japanese pickles have been created with a lot of Japanese ancient wisdom.

For example, NUKAZUKE, rice bran, has high nutritional value and is a rich source of proteins, fats, minerals, and micronutrients such as B vitamins.

Now, you know that Japanese pickles have nutritious value, but what kind of nutrients do you specifically contain? Here, we will explain the nutrients contained in pickles and the optimal pickling method.

Vitamin C


Vitamin C, which is a kind of water-soluble vitamin, easily dissolves in water, so it is abundant in pickles that are made in a relatively short time, such as ASAZUKE pickles. It is also recommended to make pickles using vegetables that are high in vitamin C.


・ Nozawana pickles
・ Pickled mustard greens
・ Nukazuke

Pickles made from green/yellow vegetables such as turnip leaves, radish leaves, Nozawana, and mustard greens are rich in calcium.

Dietary Fiber

Pickled burdock
Pickled Chinese onion
Pickled Karashina mustard greens

Lactic acid bacteria

・ Nukazuke

Traditional Japanese pickles such as Nukazuke and Shibazuke are fermented foods made from lactic acid bacteria as well as kimchi and sauerkraut.

Last Thoughts

Although Japanese pickles are a great side to add colors, flavors, refreshments, and nutrition values, it contains high sodium level.

Be sure to avoid eating too much.

Also, such as NARAZUKE, KASUZUKE, or sweet-sour pickles called AMAZUZUKE are likely higher calorie and sugar levels.

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