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What is the difference in usage between 大葉(おおば) and 紫蘇(しそ)? Are there any implications or nuances in the usage of either? I've seen more 大葉 in the supermarket.

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2 Answers 2

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This is more of a question about culinary/botanical knowledge rather than a language issue, so please read Wikipedia first. The plant itself is called シソ, and when its leaves are green, they are specifically referred to as 大葉, too.

In restaurants in Tokyo, when the green leaf part is used for flavoring (similarly to parsley), it is normally called 大葉 (and occasionally 青じそ). By definition, シソ refers to both the green and purple varieties, but since it has the kanji 紫 (purple), I personally hesitate to call the green ones 紫蘇. However, there seems to be considerable regional and individual variation.

On the other hand, when the purple leaves are used for flavoring and coloring pickles, especially umeboshi, they are almost always called 紫蘇. But purple 紫蘇 are not commonly purchased by individuals at ordinary supermarkets.

Practically, it's sufficient to understand the difference like the following:

enter image description here
(source 1, source 2)

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  • terminology in any language is a language issue ;)
    – arturomp
    Jan 23 at 7:16
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By quick search, I gathered the following.

紫蘇 refers to a plant

which can be roughly subdivided into 赤ジソ and 青ジソ. 大葉 is an alias for 青ジソ, particularly/exclusively when it is used as (kind of) edible herb. In other words, a pot of 青ジソ as a plant won't be called 大葉の鉢植え. And conversely, what you find in supermarkets is always 大葉. (In the season of pickling plums, you may find 赤ジソ in supermarkets.)


These things said, I suppose they are not so consciously distinguished in practice, and that should be why there are many websites explaining the difference.

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