Origin of Teriyaki: How it Become A Phenomenal Dish

Teriyaki Chicken is Classic Fusion

Japanese cuisine is one of the most famous cuisines around the world, this is thanks to immigrants as they spread worldwide. Japanese flavors have gained in popularity and remain a favorite in many countries around the world.

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For instance, many set out to replicate some of the more traditional Japanese dishes. As outsiders did their best to recreate these tasty foods, they added in their own unique cultural flair. This is considered fusion as these dishes resemble the original but incorporate flavors and cooking methods that are not considered traditional. These fusion-style dishes are generally what you will find in a modern Japanese and Asian kitchen.

One thing that remains constant among all of these variations is teriyaki sauce. This sweet, dark sauce was actually not created in Japan. This fact surprises many who have grown associating teriyaki with some of their favorite Japanese dishes, like teriyaki chicken.

But how did the origin of teriyaki come about?

The origin of teriyaki is believed to have actually come from America. Researchers have found that the first teriyaki sauce ever made was in Hawaii thanks to the Japanese people that immigrated there.

Later on, as we continue the story of the origin of teriyaki, we notice the recipe underwent a few changes back on the U.S. mainland and became the sauce we generally know today.

Most teriyakis consist of sake, ginger, soy sauce, and sugar. The traditional uses of this sauce include using it as a marinade or as a dipping sauce for sushi. 

As the origin of teriyaki used as a sauce is not found in Japan, we can trace the meaning of the word “teriyaki” back to the Japanese. Teriyaki actually comes from two words, teri which means “shine” and yaki means “grill”.

The word teriyaki is used in Japan to describe a cooking method. Teriyaki is usually used for preparing dishes which include fish. It is said that as the fish cooks on the grill the fish shines, thus the name “shine grill”.

Chicken Terayki Bowl
bowl of teriyaki chicken

The History of Teriyaki Sauce

Since the origin of teriyaki used as a sauce cannot be traced back to Japan, there’s plenty of Japanese influence. As Japanese immigrants settled in Hawaii in the 1960s, they brought their culture and traditions with them. Incorporating their cooking techniques and flavors, was just one of the ways the Japanese made their mark on the island. 

It makes sense then that the original recipe included pineapple juice. For many years, Hawaii was known for growing fresh pineapples. Mix the juice of this exceptionally sweet fruit with brown sugar with soy sauce and you’ll get a tasty teriyaki marinade for preparing a myriad of dishes.

Today, teriyaki contains a few more ingredients that make it more accessible to the general public. Today you’ll find it is prepared with brown sugar, cornstarch, garlic, mirin (rice wine), sake, soy sauce, and more sugar.

As we take a look into history we can find that teriyaki as a cooking method dates back to the 17thy century in Japan. This was a common term they used to refer to the method of marinating fish in sauce and then grilling it. Two other popular cooking methods at the time were “yakitori” and “sukiyaki”.

Per definition, the word teriyaki means, “a Japanese dish of meat or fish that is grilled or broiled after being soaked in a seasoned soy sauce marinade”.

Dating back to the 1960s, the origin of teriyaki is defined as a liquid used as a glaze for several types of meat. Today it is mostly used in chicken but also with beef and fish. It slowly gained in popularity and has become one of the favorite Asian sauces for Americans.

The Popularity of Teriyaki Sauce In Japanese Cuisine

Thanks to worldwide influences that make up Asian-fusion style food, teriyaki being used as a sauce has become a delicious sauce to cook with. The possibilities are truly endless.

It has not only gained in popularity in the U.S., but also in Japan. Over the years a whole movement of “teriyaki-lovers” has developed over the last few decades in Japanese.

Now Teriyaki is served as a sauce in many fast-food chains all over Japan. You can even find unique dishes such as teriyaki meatballs and teriyaki burgers. All of these appeal to both children and adults.

In Japan, you’ll find fusion restaurants where they prepare traditional Japanese meals with influences from around the world. From seafood, poultry, vegetables, and tofu, the Japanese have truly embraced teriyaki. The fusion sushi also adopted this sauce to dipping these rolls in

Uses for Teriyaki Sauce

It’s quite possible that teriyaki sauce has become as popular as ketchup. For some, it is one of their favorite seasonings, and will incorporate it into many different kinds of dishes. Many home cooks find it appealing since it is so versatile and is pleasing to everyone in the family.

Traditionally, teriyaki is often used as a marinade or a glaze for meats and fish. But it’s probably most famous in teriyaki chicken. But don’t count out vegetables, mushrooms, and tofu for all of you vegetarians.

Teriyaki can be used in numerous cooking methods. Next time you’re cooking with teriyaki try the oven, broiler, over an open flame, or on the stovetop. For thick meat pieces, teriyaki in a slow cooker can result in a tender and tasty piece of meat. This is especially true when you’re cooking with beef or pork.

If you want to try a new way to eat teriyaki chicken, try preparing some fried chicken wings with teriyaki. Or just keep the sauce on the side for dipping. Of course, we won’t say anything if you do both!

This sauce just hits all of the notes perfectly. Whether you are incorporating it with fried rice, protein, or veggies you just can’t go wrong.

Teriyaki on salad? You bet! Toss together your favorite raw veggies and use a teriyaki-based salad dressing. Cabbage and teriyaki also go together surprisingly well.

Next time you’re cooking, think about incorporating some teriyaki and coming up with your own Asian fusion-style meal. Surprise your tastebuds with a completely different flavor for an already favorite dish.

Teriyaki makes a great addition to ground beef in a burger and can be used in place of barbecue sauce. If you’ve never tried teriyaki on ribs, you are missing out. Just cover them with the sauce and it will give them a sweet taste.

India is one place that has embraced Asian fusion cuisine. They love their teriyaki-inspired dishes. Teriyaki noodles are a crowd favorite. And you’ll find a bottle of teriyaki in most pantries in India.

Latin American cuisine has also been strongly influenced by the Japanese chef. Countries like Peru use teriyaki in many of their dishes, along with their famous ceviche which is clearly Asian influenced.

Can You Make Chicken Teriyaki Sauce at Home?

Chicken teriyaki at your favorite Asian style restaurant is always a treat. But sometimes you just don’t want to go out. You can recreate this dish at home and tweak it to fit your tastes.

Chicken teriyaki may seem difficult to prepare due to its complex flavor but it’s totally achievable. Want to know the secret to good Chicken Teriyaki? It is the teriyaki! You may want to consider making your own teriyaki as that’s the foundation of this delectable dish.

The good news if you create your own teriyaki you can keep it on hand for all of the other dishes you’ll prepare. Consider meals that incorporate rice, noodles, or vegetables. If you prepare a good amount of sauce for later, you can store it for just a few days if you keep it in the refrigerator. You can also freeze it to make it last longer if you wish.

It’s important to mention that there are several variations of teriyaki. Depending on its use, it can be more liquid such as if you use it to marinate meats. Or it can be thicker if you use it as another ingredient or just as a dipping sauce.

Also depending on the part of the world you are in, there will be some ingredients that are “traditional” when preparing chicken teriyaki. For example, in Hawaii and other islands, pineapple juice is the main ingredient for this sauce, while in the US pineapple juice is replaced with brown sugar.

Here is one of the most traditional variations of this sauce. It can be made in 10 – 15 minutes. Then, you will have the base for your chicken teriyaki.

For teriyaki sauce, you will need: 

  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, optional (adds deeper flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, optional
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Step 1

In a skillet put the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. If you want a sweeter flavor, you can add more sugar in this step.

Step 2

When the liquid ingredients have started to boil, add the ginger root and the garlic. Let the skillet heat at high-medium flame while mixing well the ginger root and the garlic until it is all integrated.

Step 3

Once the sauce has started to boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer it well for some minutes until it is reduced. Remove the skillet from the stovetop and let the teriyaki sauce cool.

Optional: To have a smooth sauce, strain the sauce to remove the ginger and garlic pieces using a strainer.

Step 4

Once the sauce is cool, it’s ready to be used to prepare teriyaki chicken.

Now your teriyaki sauce is ready to use for just about anything you cook at home.

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