Yamagobo is the Japanese word for pickled burdock root. It is sometimes written as yamagobo-zuke, with the zuke suffix indicating that it is a pickle. Yamagobo is colored with orange food coloring as a part of the pickling process. The food coloring and the fact that the burdock roots have a slender, cylindrical shape makes it look like a cross between daikon and carrots. In fact, many people who are unfamiliar with sushi ingredients mistake yamagobo for carrots.
Yamagobo falls into the category of pickled items referred to collectively as tsukemono, which translates to pickled things. The tsukemono category includes many different kinds of pickled vegetables such as takuan (pickled daikon) and kyuri asazuke (pickled cucumbers). Most Japanese meals have yamagobo or some other type of tsukemono served as sides. Many of these pickled foods developed at around the same time and have a common history.
The Japanese have pickled foods throughout their history. The country is surrounded by the sea and this may account for the fact that salt has long been used as a preservative. Along with meats and nuts, vegetables were also preserved. One theory is that people used seawater to store wild root vegetables before the start of farming in Japan.
Fermentation became a part of tsukemono during the Muromachi era in the 14th century. In the Edo era, tsukemono shops appeared. People all over Japan got access to pickled foods and a wider variety of vegetables.
Yamagobo flavor profile
The yamagobo itself is mildly bitter with noticeable earthy flavors in the background. While yamagobo can look like daikon, its flavor profile is much milder and sweeter than daikon’s. Some people liken the flavor of yamagobo to the flavor of pickled artichokes.
The texture is also crisp and is arguably the main reason to use yamagobo. The brine for pickling the burdock root includes mirin, rice wine vinegar and sugar so its flavor is acidic with a little sweetness. Commercially produced yamagobo often includes glutamic acid to enhance its umami character.
Yamagobo health benefits
Like most vegetables, yamagobo is a good source of important nutrients like:
- Potassium: Burdock root is a good source of potassium, which your body needs to regulate fluid and to manage muscle contractions.
- Inulin: Because it consists of burdock root, yamagobo is a good source of the nutrients you get from burdock root such as inulin. Inulin is the healthy, water-soluble fiber also found in dandelion root and onions.
The addition of yamagobo to your diet can help to relieve or prevent potentially serious health problems like:
- Inflammation: Burdock contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help to fight and control the serious illnesses that can arise from inflammation. These include heart disease and cancer.
- Poor gut health: Fermented pickles like traditional yamagobo contain beneficial bacteria that can improve gut health.
It is often served with a variety of other tsukemono. You can use it as a snack on its own or as a side dish for sushi; sometimes the yamagobo is used inside the sushi to add crunch. It is especially popular for making futomaki where it is one of the colorful ingredients used in that kind of sushi. It also goes well with noodles and rice. Yamagobo makes a good addition to miso soup.