Japanese cuisine and spicy aren’t often a pairing that go together, but there are some exceptions. One is shichimi togarashi seasoning. The popular Japanese spice mix, also known as Japanese seven-spice seasoning, is popular for everything from Asian soups and tempura to noodles and grilled meats.
Yet, for all its popularity in its native land, it can be a surprise to see this exotic ingredient in a recipe. You likely don’t have this seasoning just sitting in the spice rack (and it can be difficult to source), so where do you turn? What’s a good shichimi togarashi substitute that will work? Let’s review your choices.
Your best bet (though tricky): Make it yourself
Granted – you’ll need a well stocked spice rack for your best solution. Shichimi togarashi’s base is chili pepper, and cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes are good sub-ins here. But things get a little more exotic from there. Szechuan peppercorns, tangerine peel, and dried nori (seaweed) are called for, and those (for most) aren’t readily available in a spice rack. But if they are – or your planning well ahead – take a look at our shichimi togarashi recipe. There are many recipe variants out there actually – all seven spices and very aromatic.
In a pinch, for those with bare-bone spice racks: Make a simple (though less aromatic) alternative
Shichimi togarashi is known for its complex citrusy and spicy flavor, and these “in a pinch” options will take that complexity of flavor right off the table. Instead, we rely on spice rack staples that are perfect for use in a pinch. They are both spicy, but more neutral in flavor. They won’t add complexity to a dish, but they won’t ruin the expected taste of the recipe either.
Option 1: 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds, pinch of black pepper
Option 2: 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder, 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Option 2 pulls back on the chili base as the cayenne pepper powder will be much spicier (due to density) than an equal amount of crushed red pepper.
Not a good substitute: Chinese five-spice powder
While they both have Asian roots and they are both seasonings, Chinese five-spice powder and shichimi togarashi otherwise have very little in common. In fact, Chinese five-spice powder is an entirely different flavor profile. Star anise and cloves are often primary ingredients, and there’s not even a hint of citrus. It’s not a good alternative to shichimi togarashi – in fact, the flavor is so strong in Chinese five-spice powder that it will completely change the recipe’s overall expected taste.