Daikon Radish Leaves
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Daikon Radish leaves are medium to large in size, depending on the variety and age of the plant, and average 16 to 29 centimeters in length and 10 to 12 centimeters in diameter. The leaves grow in loose bunches from a shared central base and have a slender and elongated nature with crisp, fibrous stalks. Daikon Radish leaves have a broad, flat, pliable, and floppy appearance, and the surface ranges from dark to dusty green. The leaf edges are wavy, serrated, curved, and variable in shape, and the leaf's surface is rough with prominent veining. The leaves are also enveloped in tiny, textured, coarse hairs. Daikon Radish leaves emit a faint green, grassy scent and can be consumed raw or cooked. Raw Daikon Radish leaves have a peppery, vegetal, and spicy taste mixed with an acrid bitterness. The leaves become milder when cooked, reducing their bitter nuances and developing a mellow green flavor.
Daikon Radish leaves are available year-round, with a peak season in the summer.
Daikon Radish leaves, botanically classified as Raphanus sativus, are the greens of the well-known Daikon root belonging to the Brassicaceae family. The name Daikon translates from Japanese to mean “great root” and is a general descriptor encompassing over 100 radish varieties in appearance and flavor. Daikon Radish leaves are a secondary crop to the widely consumed root, and often, the greens are discarded or considered inedible due to their rough, raw texture. In Japan, Daikon Radish leaves are valued for their nutritional properties and are sold with the roots or in separate bunches. The leaves are not commercially produced and are mainly offered as an additional source of income after growing the roots. Daikon Radish leaves are also primarily cooked to lessen their bitter taste and texture and are sold year-round in farmer's markets as a specialty green. In Japanese markets, the leaves are sold under their general Daikon name or simply as Radish greens, and though varieties may vary in appearance, most Daikon Radish leaves have a similar texture and taste.
Daikon Radish leaves are a source of calcium to build strong bones and teeth, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, and iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream. The leaves also provide potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, vitamin C to boost the immune system, magnesium to control nerve functioning, vitamin A to maintain healthy organs, and other nutrients, including thiamine, vitamin B9, phosphorus, and vitamin K. In natural Eastern Asian medicines, radish leaves are sometimes used to increase digestion, reduce swelling, and remove heat from the lungs. Beyond vitamins and minerals, Daikon Radish leaves contain oxalic acid, an organic compound that gives the greens their bitter, acrid taste. Oxalic acid should only be consumed in small quantities, as excess may cause urinary tract stones. Cooking Daikon Radish leaves helps to lessen the concentration of oxalic acid.
Daikon Radish leaves have a vegetal, peppery, and subtly bitter flavor suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The leaves are edible raw and can be used in salads, but many consumers choose to cook the greens to remove their rough, hairy texture. Daikon Radish leaves turn bright green when heated and do not lose their crunchy texture. The greens should be thoroughly washed before use to eliminate pesticides, dirt, or other particles and are popularly simmered, sauteed, or stir-fried. Daikon Radish leaves can be added to rice dishes, simmered in dashi, or served in miso soup. The leaves can also be shredded, stuffed, and fried in cutlets, smashed into rice balls, or sprinkled as a topping over rice and noodle dishes. Try adding cooked Daikon Radish greens to tamagoyaki, a Japanese omelet-like recipe, sautéing with sesame oil as an aromatic side, or deep-frying with tofu and pork. Daikon Radish leaves can also be pickled as a tangy condiment. Daikon Radish leaves pair well with nuts such as cashews, peanuts, and almonds, seafood including sardines, tuna, surimi, and shrimp, aromatics such as chile peppers, garlic, onions, and ginger, sesame seeds, bonito flakes, pork, tofu, eggplant, mushrooms, and carrots. Whole, unwashed Daikon Radish leaves should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor. The greens are recommended to be stored separately from the roots and can be wrapped in newspaper for a few days in the fridge. The leaves can also be blanched and frozen for up to one month. Some home chefs slice the top of the root off and stick it upright in water. Depending on the variety and way the radish was originally grown, new leaves can sprout from the top of the root for culinary use.
Daikon Radish leaves are traditionally used to make furikake in Japan. Furikake is a mix of prepared dried or fresh ingredients to use as a flavoring over various dishes. The name furikake is derived from "furi kakeru," meaning "to sprinkle over," and many variations of ingredients are generally categorized under the furikake name. Despite its fame in culinary preparations in the modern day, furikake was initially developed as a nutritional supplement. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dietary deficiencies were common throughout Japan due to food shortages during the war. Japanese pharmacist Suekichi Yoshimaru sought to help remedy the calcium deficiency by creating a mixture of ground fish bones. Yoshimaru added ground nori flakes, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds for added flavoring to the fish bones and called the combination "gohan no tomo," meaning "a friend for rice." Gohan no tomo was bottled in glass jars, and after its release, it became a popular addition to rice across Japan. Several years later, food corporations began bottling their own dried mixtures, and in 1959, the National Furikake Association was established to help regulate the expanding market. The National Furikake Association collectively named all the various seasonings furikake, and in the present day, furikake is customarily comprised of nori seaweed, sesame seeds, powdered miso or soy sauce, shiso, sugar, salt, and fish flakes. Daikon Radish leaf furikake is a fresh version where the greens are cooked with aromatics as a crisp and crunchy topping. Daikon furikake can be stirred into rice, stuffed into rice balls, or used as a condiment over meat, noodles, rice, or vegetarian dishes.
Daikon Radish plants are native to the Mediterranean and coastal regions along the Black Sea and have been cultivated for centuries as a medicinal and culinary ingredient. The plants were introduced to Asia through trade routes in ancient times and were estimated to have arrived in China sometime around 500 BCE. It is unknown exactly when Daikon Radish plants were spread from China to Japan, but the roots were widely cultivated during the Edo period, 1603 to 1867 CE. In Japan, Daikon Radish plants were initially utilized as a famine plant, grown on farmland as a long-storing vegetable. Over time, Daikon roots and leaves were incorporated into traditional Japanese diets, with the roots being the most used portion of the plants. Daikon Radish leaves were a secondary culinary ingredient, but the greens found a niche market of consumers and chefs who appreciated the leaves for their nutritional properties and flavor. Outside Japan, Daikon Radish leaves are also used as a culinary green in several countries worldwide. Today, Daikon Radish leaves are cultivated and sold through specialty grocers, select supermarkets, and farmer’s markets. The Daikon Radish leaves featured in the photograph above were sourced through the Ito Sai Sai Farmer's Market in Fukuoka, Japan.