Kokuto, also known as Okinawa black sugar, is one of Okinawa’s best gifts to the world. Produced in Japan's southernmost tropical islands of Okinawa, it plays an important role in the local economy, agriculture, and diet. Increasingly, kokuto has become popular around the world and can be found in a variety of desserts such as cakes, ice cream, and bubble tea, as well as hearty dishes like rafute (Okinawan braised pork belly).
The Story of Kokuto
Kokuto is made from sugarcane grown in Okinawa, which was first introduced to the area from China in the 17th century. Nowadays, sugarcane has become one of the most important crops in Okinawa with fields flourishing in the southern part of the main island as well as a number of outer islands incuding Aguni, Iheya, and Iriomote.
To make kokuto, pure sugarcane juice is extracted from harvested sugarcane and cooked over low heat for hours. The heating process removes impurities. After the dark sugary juice has been reduced, it is left to cool naturally. Because of this slow and delicate cooking technique, the black sugar has an intense malty and smoky flavor and maintains many nutritional properties from the sugarcane.
The dried and hardened black sugar is broken into cubes of kokuto. Throughout Okinawa, you can easily find packets of kokuto in local stores, supermarkets, and even souvenir shops as the locals are very proud of their island speciality.
Health Benefits of Kokuto
It may be a surprise to dessert lovers that kokuto has several health benefits. As a result of the natural cooking process, no preservatives are added, making kokuto a healthier alternative compared to white sugar and common brown sugar (which is a combination of molasses and refined white sugar). It also contains more iron and calcium than other types of sugar.
In fact, kokuto is given out frequently during sporting events like marathon races as a way to fuel the local athletes.
How to Enjoy Kokuto
Kokuto is commonly used in traditional Okinawan snacks like chinsuko, the Okinawa’s version of shortbread cookie, chinbin, an Okinawan crepe, and sataandagi, the iconic Okinawan fried donut.
About the author:
Wendy writes about her travel experiences to escape from her city life in Singapore. Her content creator’s journey started when she had the opportunity to live and teach in Okinawa and circumvent the world with Peace Boat. A compulsive-obsessive traveler and culture enthusiast, she believes that when we know more, we travel better. Or in true foodie spirit, when we eat more, we travel better.