NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (April 2022) - Sakura & Ume: Cherishing Life’s Beauty (桜・梅)
Producer:Shinshu Shizen Okoku
Nagano prefecture is home to one of Japan’s most famous destinations for hanami, Takato Castle. Considered one of the three best locations to view sakura in Japan, the park has over 1500 Kohigan sakura trees, which were reportedly planted in 1875. Given its slightly northern location, the sakura in Nagano bloom a bit later in the season, typically around early to mid-April.
Our producer, Shinshu Shizen Okoku, incorporates local sakura blossoms to gently flavor this jam and to create a light pink blush reminiscent of spring. You will notice a gentle sweetness followed by a light floral taste as you enjoy this springtime spread.
In an effort to protect the natural environment and to go beyond just being “earth-friendly”, Shinshu Shizen Okoku coined the term “Environmental Cultivation” - an approach that removes any burden on the environment throughout their entire process, from their organic farming, to production and processing, and even to how they ship their products.
Ingredients:Sugar (produced in Japan), salted cherry blossoms, plum juice, shiso extract, pectin (derived from apples)
Suggested uses:Spread on toast, scones, biscuits, or pancakes, use as a topping on ice cream and cakes, or stir into rice pudding or oatmeal. Try using it to create Sakura Jam Sauce using the recipe provided.
SAKURA RICE SEASONING
Sakura rice, which features salt-pickled cherry blossoms with steamed rice, is a springtime delicacy in Japan. To make this salt-pickled sakura rice seasoning, sakura flowers are handpicked as buds while still young, washed, dried, and drained before being preserved with salt. The blossoms are left for one full day before being squeezed and soaked in ume (Japanese plum) vinegar, and dried in the shade. They add a beautiful light pink color to rice while providing a delicate salty yet floral flavor.
Our producer, Marui Foods, created this Sakura Rice Seasoning as a convenient way to enjoy the fragrant spring flavor of sakura using their own salt-pickled sakura. The company is run by a brother duo: one brother runs Marui Foods, a tsukemono (Japanese pickles) company which has been in business for over 120 years, while the other runs Nature to sell these products.
Ingredients:Sakura, plum vinegar, salt, vegetable pigment
Suggested uses:First, thoroughly rinse the sakura blossoms with water to remove the salt. Then soak half of the blossoms in water and set aside for later. Combine the remaining half of the blossoms in a rice cooker with 2 Japanese rice-cooker-cups (1.5 US cups or 360 ml) of regular Japanese rice (or mochi rice), the liquid seasoning packet, and the usual amount of water required by your rice cooker. Cook as usual. Once the rice is cooked, mix in the soaked sakura blossoms after thoroughly squeezing out the water. Enjoy asa hot bowl of rice, packed in a bento, or shaped into onigiri (rice balls) to be enjoyed in a picnic under sakura trees.
If you plan a springtime visit to Unnan City, you may have a chance to stroll one of Japan’s top 100 sakura-viewing destinations. The city’s famous Sakura Tunnel is a long path located on the riverbank of the Hii River with thousands of sakura trees arching over the walkway.
Located in Unnan City, our producer Fujiwara Chadonya blends sakura with houjicha, a nutty and caramel roasted tea. Rather than steaming green tea leaves, houjicha is made by first steaming then roasting the leaves in a porcelain pot over charcoal. The process gives the leaves a distinct earthy flavor and makes the tea less bitter compared to other green teas. It’s the perfect blend with the light scent of sakura blossoms. Fujiwara Chadonya has been producing tea since the Meji era. For over 150 years, the company has focused on producing tea that conveys the peaceful spirit of the Japanese people.
Ingredients:Green tea (from Shimane prefecture), sakura leaves (from Shimane Prefecture)
Suggested uses:Use 1 tea bag in a cup or pot of boiling water.Houjicha has minimal caffeine making it a great choice even for children or before bed.
While sakura have become famous around the world as a symbol of Japan, sakura actually bloom after another one of Japan’s lesser-known yet still iconic springtime blossoms: ume (Japanese plum) flowers. You can easily identify ume flowers by their strong, sweet scent which fills the air along riverbanks in early spring.
Our producer Kuramaan uses umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum) as a seasoning in this ochazuke, which is a traditional yet simple comfort food in Japan made by pouring tea over a bowl of steamed rice with savory toppings.Kuramaan was established in 1931 and the shop is now in its third generation. The shop focuses on making traditional Japanese rice crackers, which are used as a topping in this Ume Ochazuke. Sadly, the rice cracker industry is in decline in Japan. There were over 1,000 rice cracker stores in Japan when Kuramaan was founded and now there are only 500. Kuramaan has been able to persevere, even through hard times, and continues to follow the founder’s philosophy of producing the best rice crackers using high quality ingredients and traditional production methods, all withoutadditives or chemical seasonings.
Ingredients:Topping ingredients:Mochi rice (from Japan), dried umeboshi (from Wakayama Prefecture), nori, salt; Ochazuke powder: green tea (from Kyoto), salt, powdered konbu (kelp) (from Hokkaido)
Suggested uses:Add the tea ingredients (the aluminum packet) and the other packet (which includes rice crackers, dried umeboshi and salt) on top of a bowl of 100g of steamed rice. Pour 150ml of hot tea over the rice and enjoy.
SUN DRIED UMEBOSHI
Nothing tastes like spring in Japan as much as tart pickled Japanese plums known as umeboshi. In the early spring months, ume (the firm sour fruits of Japanese plum trees) appear in grocery stores throughout Japan. Ume are related to apricots and plums but are unique as they become more sour rather than sweeter as they ripen. Traditional umeboshi are made by soaking ume in salt brines until they become plump and bright pink.
Unlike regular umeboshi that contain a large pit, our producer, Maruyama Foods, produces these special seedless Sun Dried Umeboshi using one of the most prized varieties of ume, nanko ume, which are a local speciality of Wakayama Prefecture. These premier ume taste similar to apricots with bright, tart, fruity notes. After harvesting the ume, the seeds are removed and the flesh is spread thinly to dry in the sun. Made from only two ingredients - ume and salt - these Sun Dried Umeboshi follow the founder’s philosophy of following traditional methods to create the very best umeboshi - one plum at a time.
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is.
ORGANIC UME VINEGAR PICKLED GINGER
The perfect companion to any sakura picnic is a side of tsukemono (pickled vegetables). Older generations in Japan made tsukemono as a way of preserving food with each region having its own flavors based on the local seasonal vegetables.
Our producer, Maruai Foods, is committed to making pickled vegetables grown domestically in Japan without any additives. Their Organic Ume Vinegar PickledGinger is made by infusing ginger with the springtime flavor of ume vinegar. Organic ginger is soaked with organic red shiso leaves in organic plum vinegar and organic rice vinegar. Shiso leaves are another key ingredient in Japanese springtime foods providing a deep pink-purple color and refreshing minty taste. The final result is a pickled ginger that is mellow in flavor, especially when compared to Japan’s more common pickled ginger known as beni shouga. Maruai Foods believes in the importance of food as the starting point to nurture the body and mind. They hope their foods will be the centerplace of “food memories” that make you smile!
Ingredients:Organic ginger (from Japan), organic shiso leaves (from Japan), pickling ingredients (organic plum vinegar, organic rice vinegar, salt)
Suggested uses:Use as a topping for traditional Japanese dishes such aschirashizushi, okonomiyaki, gyudon or yakisoba. Can also be added to sandwiches, in tempura or chopped into fried rice. Makes for a great spread when chopped into cream cheese. Try using it in the Ume Ginger and Onion Fries or Sweet Ume Ginger Pork Toast recipes provided.