PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: A-Net Farm Tokachi - Four Generations of Rare Azuki Products
A-Net Farm Tokachi, an expansive farm of over 170 acres located in the small town of Shimizu at the base of the Hidaka Mountain Range in Hokkaido, has been cultivated by the Morita family for over 100 years.
“Tenacity” – The Secret behind A-Net Farm Tokachi’s Century of Success
As a family-owned business, A-Net Farm Tokachi has been lovingly preserved and passed down through four generations of the Morita family.
The land was originally purchased by Kosabura Morita during the Meiji Era. After Kosaburo passed away, his four sons distributed the land, which eventually passed into the hands of the family’s youngest descendent, Koichi Morita. During World War II, Koichi was drafted and sent to Siberia. During his absence, Koichi’s eldest son Shinji helped his mother cultivate the land.
Shinji had only one son, Tetsuya, who returned to the family farm to take over the business in 2004. Tetsuya now runs A-Net Farm Tokachi, as the fourth-generation descendent of Kosabura Morita who first built the farm. Tetsuya’s wife recalls Tetsuya’s father Shinji giving them advice about how to prosper on the farm. Shinji said, “In farming, what matters most is your ‘tenacity.’ When it is hot, when it is cold, when you are swarmed with bugs, when your crops do not grow as expected, keep going. Never give up and your effort will pay off.”
In that spirit, Tetsuya and his wife have worked tirelessly to grow the A-Net Farm Tokachi business. Along with a team of full-time employees, they cultivate over 170 acres (equivalent to 225 football fields).
Why is the Heart of Azuki Production in Tokachi, Hokkaido?
In Japan, more than 80% of the nation’s harvest of red beans comes from Hokkaido, and among that, 30% come from Tokachi Prefecture. Several factors make Tokachi the ideal place for growing Japanese red beans known as azuki.
1) Warm Days + Cold Nights = Sweeter Beans
In Tokachi, the temperature changes significantly from day to night, giving the beans a higher sugar content. Daylight sunshine encourages the beans to grow and produce nutrients. When temperatures drop at night, those nutrients are converted into sugar and accumulate in the beans.
2) Lots of Land
Azuki cannot be grown on the same land every year. Instead, the land must “rest” for four years in between azuki cultivation. To replenish nutrients in the soil, crops are grown on a rotating cycle of azuki > potatoes > wheat > beets > azuki. Thus, to produce the same crop of azuki each year, you need four times the land area.
3) Cool Climate for Less Bitter Beans
The cool climate of Tokachi in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, reduces the production of tannin in the beans. Tannin is a bitter-tasting compound with a drying sensation. Compared to azuki grown in China, Hokkaido-grown azuki have a lower tannin content, improving the flavor of the bean and the sensation of eating it.
No-Sugar Added, Fermented Azuki Paste
In Japan, most azuki are made into a sweetened red bean paste (or “an”), which forms the foundation of many Japanese sweets.
Azuki paste is used as a filling for snack buns, cakes, steamed dumplings, and doughnuts. It is also a key ingredient in traditional Japanese wagashi sweets for tea ceremony. In modern frozen desserts, red bean paste can be a topping for ice cream, shaved ice, and frozen yogurt. In fact, 90% of the azuki grown in and imported into Japan are made into azuki paste.
While azuki paste, is ubiquitous in Japanese desserts, most azuki paste is made using a combination of one-third beans, one-third sugar, and one-third water. This unusual no-sugar added azuki paste from A-Net Farm Tokachi is made by fermenting the beans using “koji” to bring out the natural sweetness of the beans. Dubbed Japan’s “national mold,” koji is the same key ingredient behind soy sauce, miso, and sake. Enzymes produced by the koji help break down compounds in the beans bringing out their natural aroma and sweetness. The result is a delicious paste that also boasts healthy probiotic qualities.
Enjoy as a treat on yogurt or ice cream, or spread on toast or crackers like jam. Can also be used in marinades for meat. Or simply spoon out of the jar like peanut butter!
Learn more about A-Net Farm Tokachi at https://www.azukilife.com.