GU ⋅ ANLY-503 Project ⋅ May 2022

A Data Science Breakdown

What Ingredients Are You Tasting in Authentic Japanese Flavors?


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Japanese food has become trendy in the US. The number of Japanese restaurants in the US has been growing consistently each year, and with them come swarms of unauthentic representations of Japanese cuisine. The modern Japanese cuisine, in its authentic form is informed by two things: a rich national heritage and a long history of cultural exchanges with the outside world. Our visualizations hope to demonstrate using data science why this statement is true, and why it is the key to achieving an authentic Japanese flavor.

Our main dataset is a web-scraped corpus of authentic Japanese recipes from Just One Cookbook, a food blog created by Chef Namiko Hirasawa Chen (Nami) in 2011 with a focus on authentic and modern Japanese recipes. Supplementary datasets are added on-demand whenever additional information is needed for a particular data visualization. Through this dataset, we hope reveal what makes a Japanese dish authentic and present non-static visualizations that a user may interact with for their own personal inquiry.

What are the most essential Japanese ingredients, and how much do people know about them in the US?

Authentic flavors are impossible to achieve without authentic ingredients. Our first visualization is a compound barplot and boxplot that shows the most frequently used ingredients in Japanese recipes as well as how popular these ingredients are in US-based Google searches. What is clearly revealed is that many of the top-40 most used ingredients in Japanese dishes are Japanese exclusive ingredients and among them, these ingredients have very little public awareness: mirin, dashi, daikon radish, shiso leaves, katsuobushi, shichimi togarashi, and Tokyo negi. So if you happen to be a Japanese food connoisseur and you believe that the Japanese dish you are having at a US restaurant is not authentic, it is very likely that the dish neglected having one of these essential Japanese ingredients.

Figure 1: A comparison - most recurring ingredients in Japanese recipes vs Google search rates
Figure 2: A network visualization of the relationship between recipes and ingredients in Japanese Dishes

How would a Japanese chef use these most essential Japanese ingredients?

Just One Cookbook offers over 800 authentic Japanese. Across these recipes, there are 250 main ingredients. We grouped the recipes and the ingredients into their own subcategories (see legends both left and right) and connected each recipes with ingredients that they contain.

This is meant to be a visualization that allows for open-ended inquiry. Hover over or click on an ingredient, a recipe, or a legend (either left or right) to explore the relationship between recipes and ingredients in authentic Japanese cuisine.

How do nutrition values of Japanese dishes compare to daily guidance?

Eating a high-protein diet to gain muscles? Eating a low-calory diet to lost weight? Eating a low-sodium diet for cardiovascular health? Trying to increase potassium or calcium intake? We have just the visualization for you.

Each node represents a Japanese dish, and the vertical position of each node is relative to the daily recommended value for the nutritional value specified on the x-axis. We've connected nodes of same recipe to help you keep track of nutritional values across different types of nutrition.

This is meant to be a visualization that allows for open-ended inquiry. Hover over or click on an ingredient, a recipe, or a legend (top right) to explore nutritional values for each dish. Clicking on a recipe will reveal the table of nutritional values for that dish, as well as a thumbnail picture displayed on the top left.

Figure 3: A beeswarm plot of common nutrients in Japanese Dishes
Figure 4: A radar plot of ingredient usage in Japanese Dishes

How are ingredients combined for each type of Japanese dishes (e.g. appetizer, entree, etc.)?

This plot reveals how frequently each category of ingredients is used for each recipe category. Some insights from this plot include:

  • Japanese appetizers are usually made directly from processed ingredients to minimize cooking time and effort.
  • Japanese soups and stews use mushrooms and fungus more frequently than proteins to produce the base stock. This is pretty unique because for example, American cuisine most frequently use protein such as chicken or beef to produce stock.
  • Unlikely American desserts which feature frequent use of processed foods, Japanese desserts use very little processed ingredients. The base for tart and sweetness come from fruits and condiments.

Where do these sources of inspiration come from?

Japan's culinary culture is informed by both its rich national heritage and a long history of cultural exchanges with the outside world. Many only know about the former and indeed, obedience to heritage and tradition is exemplified in visualizations above. Nevertheless, the cultural openness of the Japanese culinary tradition can be clearly seen in this choropleth. Our analysis reveals that almost one out of seven of the collected modern Japanese recipes find its origin in a foreign country. The top 3 most influential foreign origins are the United States, China, and France.

At the same time, this map is an underestimation for the true number of Japanese dishes with foreign origins. Chef Nami, the author of our dataset made the choice of denoting the foreign origins of a Japanese dish only if the dish is imported to Japan after World War II, and our visualization is in accordance with Chef Nami's choice. If a longer period of history is put into consideration, one would find that many dishes without notes of foreign origin still find their origins abroad. An example of this is tempura. This battered and deep-fried vegetarian dish was introduced to Japan by Portuguese Catholic missionaries in the 16th century, despite the disguise of a Japanese name and being widely assumed as a native Japanese. We have to give credit to the Japanese people for their extraordinary history of learning from and internalizing the merits of foreign cultures. The cultural agility to learn from others isn't just seen in Japan's culinary traditions, but also in its cultural and political history (see Chinese characters in Japanese writing, the Meiji Restoration which westernized Japan's legal system).

Figure 5: A choropleth showing foreign origins of Japanese Dishes


As creators of these visualizations, we hope that they help users discover something about Japanese cuisine that they never knew before. No matter the end user is a food critic or just a curious reader, we hope that the interactive features also lead you to inquiries and use cases that are beyond our original design intentions. Lastly, we hope that these data visualizations open for you an avenue to further inquiry of and appreciation for the richness and complexity in Japan's culinary traditions. Enjoy!

-- Jingsong, Yu, Chao, Ercong & Rui


Click here to reveal method section.