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What is a Tsukemono?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2016
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A tsukemono is a Japanese pickle, literally a "pickled thing." In Japanese cuisine, tsukemono may be served as a snack with rice, or as a side dish, garnish, or appetizer. Japanese pickles are most commonly pickled in salt or brine, though they may also be preserved in vinegar, soy sauce, miso, rice bran, or sake lees. There is also great variety in the vegetables used to make tsukemono. Some of the most popular are ginger, daikon radish, cucumber, eggplant, lotus root, turnip, ume plum, and Chinese cabbage.

Japanese pickles are available at supermarkets, but many people still make their own in a tsukemonoki, or pickle press. Basically, tsukemono are made by salting vegetables and applying pressure, usually with stone or metal weights. Before the invention of tsukemonoki, the requisite pressure was often created by driving a wedge between the handle and the lid of a container holding vegetables to be pickled.

Pickled ume plums are called umeboshi if dried, and umezuki if not dried. They are very salty and sour, and were known for eating through aluminum lunch boxes popular in the 1960s. Umeboshi are believed to aid digestion, prevent nausea and fatigue, and prohibit bacteria growth when placed on rice. Modern umeboshi are often dyed red and sometimes sweetened with honey. They are also often made with vinegar instead of the traditional salt pickling method.

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Tsukemono made from daikon radish are called takuan or takuan-zuke. This type of Japanese pickle is also believed to aid in digestion and is traditionally served at the end of a meal. Another type of pickled daikon is called bettarazuke. It is sweeter and stickier than takuan, because the koji fungus created by the pickling process is not filtered out.

Pickles made with rice bran are called nukazuke and rely on lactic acid from naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast cultures to ferment and preserve the vegetables. Unlike some other types of tsukemono, nukazuke retain their crispness. Crunchy pickles flavored with soy sauce are called fukujinzuke.

Pickles made with sake lees are called kasuzuke. This pickling method is used with both vegetables and fish. Nukazuke made with mustard is called karashizuke.

The pickled ginger commonly served with sushi as a palate cleanser is called gari. It is intended to be eaten between different kinds of sushi so that the tastes of the sushi do not affect each other. Another popular type of ginger pickle is beni shōga.

Asazuke is a quick pickling method, popular for home use, that retains more of the taste of the fresh vegetable than other methods. Asazuke is prepared by rubbing fresh cut vegetables with salt and placing them in a bag or sealed container with spices. The pickles are ready within 30 minutes to a few hours. Asazuke can also be prepared with vinegar or store-bought pickling solution.

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