Japanese Pickling Eggplant: The Ultimate Guide to Tsukemono

Imagine diving into the vibrant world of Japanese cuisine with a dish that’s both simple and profoundly flavorful: pickled eggplant. Known as “tsukemono” in Japan, these pickled delights are a staple in Japanese households, offering a perfect balance of sweet, salty, and tangy flavors that enhance any meal.

Pickling, a traditional method used to preserve a variety of foods in Japan, transforms the humble eggplant into a crunchy, delicious side dish or condiment. Whether you’re looking to add a zesty touch to your rice bowl or want to explore the subtleties of Japanese culinary techniques, making your own pickled eggplant is an excellent start.


To embark on your journey of crafting delicious Japanese pickled eggplant, gather the following essential ingredients. This list will help you ensure you have everything needed to enhance the flavors and achieve that perfect crunch.

  • 2 medium Japanese eggplants (approximately 500 grams): For the best results, choose firm, glossy eggplants that are uniform in color. Ensure they are fresh to maintain the ideal texture after pickling.
  • Water for soaking: Cold water is used to soak the eggplant slices to remove any bitterness.
  • 1 cup rice vinegar: Opt for rice vinegar for its milder and sweeter flavor, which complements the eggplant perfectly.
  • 1/2 cup water: Helps dilute the vinegar strength for a balanced pickling brine.
  • 2 tablespoons sugar: Sugar cuts through the acidity of the vinegar and brings a subtle sweetness to the dish.
  • 1 teaspoon salt: Salt is crucial as it aids in fermentation and enhances the overall taste of the pickled eggplant.
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce: Adds a deep umami flavor to the pickles, giving them a distinct Japanese taste.
  • 1 piece of kombu (dried kelp) (about 5 cm long): Kombu infuses the pickling liquid with minerals and umami, enriching the flavor profile of the eggplant.
  • Optional: chili flakes or fresh ginger slices for an additional kick of spice or zest.

Necessary Tools and Equipment

Now that you’ve gathered all the essential ingredients for your Japanese pickled eggplant, it’s important to ensure you have the right tools and equipment to execute this recipe flawlessly. Here’s what you’ll need to have ready:

  • Glass Jars with Lids: Preferably wide-mouth jars, which make packing the eggplants easier. Ensure the jars are sterilized to prevent contamination and allow your pickles to last longer.
  • Cutting Board and Knife: A sharp knife is crucial for slicing your eggplants uniformly. This helps in even pickling.
  • Mixing Bowl: You’ll need a large mixing bowl to combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and optional flavors like chili flakes or ginger.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Accurate measurements are key in pickling to maintain the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness.
  • Pot for Boiling: Used for heating your pickling solution before pouring it over the eggplants.
  • Tongs or a Slotted Spoon: These will help you handle the hot eggplants and pack them into the jars safely.

Preparation Steps

Now that you have all your ingredients and tools ready, let’s dive into making your Japanese pickled eggplant.

Cleaning and Cutting the Eggplant

Begin by thoroughly washing the Japanese eggplants under running water to remove any dirt or residues. Dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel. Place your eggplant on the cutting board and remove the stem. Cut the eggplants into even slices or strips, depending on your preference, making sure they are uniform for even pickling. Aim for about ¼-inch thickness, which allows them to absorb the pickling solution efficiently without becoming too soft.

Salting Process

Transfer the cut eggplant pieces into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them generously with salt, using about two tablespoons of salt for every pound of eggplant. Toss the slices gently yet thoroughly to ensure each piece is evenly coated with salt. Allow the eggplants to sit salted for about 30 minutes. This step is crucial as it helps draw out moisture from the eggplant, which enhances their texture and flavor absorption during the pickling. After salting, rinse the eggplants under cold water to remove excess salt, and then gently squeeze them to expel any remaining water. Be gentle to avoid breaking the slices.

Pickling the Eggplant

After prepping your eggplant slices, the next step is to pickle them, which involves creating a flavorful brine and immersing the eggplant to marinate.

Preparing the Brine

To start, you will need to prepare a brine that flavors and preserves the eggplant. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Boil Water and Vinegar: In a medium saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil and add one cup of rice vinegar. The vinegar adds a mild tanginess that is characteristic of Japanese pickles.
  2. Add Salt and Sugar: Stir in two tablespoons of kosher salt and one tablespoon of sugar to the boiling mixture. Mix until both are completely dissolved. This combination enhances the eggplant’s flavor and aids in preservation.
  3. Season: Add a strip of kombu (dried seaweed) and a few red chili pepper flakes for an umami kick and a hint of spice. Both ingredients are optional but recommended for an authentic taste.
  4. Cool the Brine: Remove the pan from heat and let the brine cool to room temperature. It’s essential to cool the brine before adding the eggplant to avoid cooking it.

Immersing the Eggplant

Once your brine is ready and cool, it’s time to immerse the eggplant:

  1. Pack the Eggplant: Arrange the salted and rinsed eggplant slices in a clean, sterilized glass jar. Pack them tightly to minimize air pockets, which can affect the pickling process.
  2. Pour the Brine: Carefully pour the cooled brine over the eggplant slices in the jar, ensuring that all pieces are fully submerged. If necessary, you can weigh down the eggplant with a small glass weight or a zip-top bag filled with water.
  3. Seal and Store: Tighten the lid on the jar and gently shake it to distribute the brine evenly. Store the jar in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before consuming. This waiting period allows the flavors to meld and the eggplant to absorb the brine, enhancing its texture and taste.

Aging and Storage

Once you have submerged your eggplant slices in the brine and sealed the jar, the next important steps are aging and storage. These phases are essential to enhance the flavors and longevity of your Japanese pickled eggplant.

Best Practices for Aging

To allow the flavors to fully develop, aging the pickled eggplant properly is crucial. Keep your jar in the refrigerator and resist the temptation to taste it for at least 48 hours. This waiting period allows the eggplant to absorb the rich flavors from the brine and the spices, resulting in a more robust and complex taste profile. For optimal flavor, consider letting the eggplant pickle in the fridge for about 1 to 2 weeks before consumption. The longer it ages, the more pronounced the flavors become.

Storage Tips

Proper storage is key to maintaining the quality and safety of your pickled eggplant. Always use a clean, airtight glass jar and ensure the eggplant slices are fully submerged in the brine to prevent spoilage. Store the jar in the refrigerator to keep the eggplant fresh. Your pickled eggplant can last up to 2 months in the refrigerator if kept submerged in the brine and in an airtight container. Be sure to use clean utensils each time you remove slices from the jar to avoid contaminating the entire batch.

Serving Suggestions

After mastering the art of making Japanese pickled eggplant, exploring the myriad ways to serve it can be equally delightful. This versatile condiment enhances not only traditional Japanese dishes but also adds a unique twist to many other culinary creations.

Pairing Ideas

Japanese pickled eggplant, with its tangy and slightly spicy profile, pairs wonderfully with a variety of dishes. Consider incorporating it into your meals to elevate the flavor profile:

  • Rice Dishes: Spoon some pickled eggplant over a bowl of warm, steamed rice. The tanginess of the pickles contrasts beautifully with the subtle sweetness of Japanese rice.
  • Noodles: Add a side of pickled eggplant with cold soba or udon noodles. Its crisp texture and tangy flavor complement the earthiness of the noodles exceptionally well.
  • Grilled Foods: Serve pickled eggplant alongside grilled meats or fish. The acidity and slight crunch of the pickled eggplant make it an excellent palate cleanser between bites of rich, savory grilled foods.
  • Salads: Chop the pickled eggplant into smaller pieces and mix them into fresh vegetable salads. It adds an unexpected burst of flavor that enhances simple salads.
  • Sandwiches and Wraps: Incorporate thin slices or small chunks of pickled eggplant into your sandwiches or wraps for a boost of flavor and texture.

Each pairing not only showcases the versatility of Japanese pickled eggplant but also introduces an exciting layer of flavor to everyday dishes.


Exploring the world of Japanese pickled eggplant opens up a new dimension in your culinary adventures. With its unique flavor and versatility, it’s a delightful addition to many dishes. Whether you’re sprucing up a simple rice meal or adding a tangy twist to your sandwiches and salads, Japanese pickled eggplant is a game-changer. So why not give it a try? You might just find a new favorite way to enhance your meals with this exquisite condiment. Happy pickling!

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