It's a sign of the increasing recognition of the importance of Japanese cuisine that I've used lots of perilla leaf in dishes that I've prepared in European restaurant kitchens. Frequently applied with tweezers.
Perilla plant in flower
Eastern Asia or South-East Asia.
The plant is found widely across South-East and Eastern Asia.
There are two variants of p. frutescens grown in Japan. Var. crispa, known as shiso, has attractive crispate foliage and is grown for the aromatic leaves, which may be green (ao-jiso) or red (aka-jiso). The leaves are always used fresh, but can be frozen. The other variant is v. frutescens or egoma), valued for the oil extracted from the seeds which is used for Shinto ceremonies and as an expensive food supplement. Occasionally, the dry seeds find use as a spice.
Lamiaceae (mint family).
The origin of botanical genus and common English name "perilla" is uncertain. There may be a connection with "pearl" (perle in Middle English and Middle French) or alternatively the word may derive from the Latin diminutive of pera "leather bag" or "wallet", from Greek pēra. In Korea, where perilla is an important flavouring, the plant is known as tul-kkae "wild sesame plant" (a name also in common use in several European languages), although perilla and sesame are not closely related. Kkaennip "sesame leaf" is also a common designation for perilla in Korean. Names translating as "wild sesame" are sometimes found in Korean cookbooks published in the West.
The Japanese name for perilla seeds, egoma, is derived from goma "sesame" and means "sesame bean". In some Eastern Asian countries, perilla and rice paddy herb bear confusingly similar names. Species name frutescens is Latin for "having or approaching the appearance or habit of a shrub" from frutex "shrub" or "bush" and –escens "beginning", "becoming" or "slightly".
The aromatic leaves of perilla are popular in parts of Asia, e.g. in Vietnam they are (with other herbs) frequently served as a fragrant garnish for noodle soups and spring rolls. In Korean cuisine they have found similar uses.
Perilla or shiso is one of the few aromatic plants that have established themselves in Japanese cookery. In Japan, perilla leaves are used to garnish sashimi, raw fish dishes and tempura, a Portuguese-influenced Japanese recipe made from battered vegetables or sea food deep-fried in diluted sesame oil. The secret lies in the special batter which is prepared with iced water and consumed immediately, resulting in a uniquely light, almost transparent, coating. Perilla leaves can either be used as a garnish or be battered and deep-fried.
In Japan, perilla cultivars with red or purple leaves are preferred to add both flavour and colour to pickles and both appear in beni shoga (pickled ginger eaten with sushi) and umeboshi (a type of salty pickle prepared from unripe fruits similar to plum or apricot).
In the West, perilla has not yet become very popular outside of fine dining. There is some potential in using the leaves for their subtle flavour, but red-leaved perilla is probably more interesting for its colouring capability. With red perilla leaves, one can achieve colours ranging from a pale pink to an intensive red wine hue.