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NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (November 2019) - Fermentation

Tosa Vinegar
Tosa Vinegar

土佐酢
(SHOKAKU)

Vinegar, which is made from the double fermentation process of carbohydrates into alcohol and then into acetic acid, has long been used in Japanese cuisine. Samurai warriors drank it for its health benefits and its reported ability to relieve fatigue by providing an energy boost.

In modern Japanese cuisine, you will find vinegar in countless dishes from vinegar-marinated dishes (sunomono), pickles (tsukemono), simmered dishes (nimono), dressings and sauces, and in marinades for fish and meats.

What sets Tosa Vinegar apart from other vinegar is the infusion of katsuobushi, which is dried, fermented, and smoked bonito (skipjack tuna). Tosa is the ancient name for an area on Shikoku island, famous for its bonito. Inosonic acid in the bonito creates a delightful smoky and umami flavor, which perfectly balances the acidity of vinegar. This Tosa vinegar also incorporates kelp which has glutamine acid, another element which contributes a rich, umami flavor.

This hand-crafted Tosa Vinegar was once a local gem, available only to devoted and loyal customers of Shokaku Zushi, an unassuming sushi shop in the Itayado shopping street near Kobe.

Mamoru Fujiwara founded this sushi shop at the age of 33, after training as a sushi chef in Osaka. They take great pride in the quality of their ingredients and go to the central market in Kobe every morning to source the freshest products and fish for their restaurant. They use dashi produced from dried bonito instead of mass-produced bonito extract.

Thirty years later, the shop is well-respected by locals, as well as visitors from all around the world. Customers were particularly drawn to this unique vinegar, which Mamoru Fujiwara used to enhance the flavors of the fresh fish and seasonal vegetables served at the restaurant. In fact, customers often asked to take some of Mr. Fujiwara’s homemade Tosa Vinegar home with them.

You can now enjoy this special vinegar in your own home. The taste will transport you to the local premium Japanese sushi restaurant! 

Learn more about Mamoru Fujiwara, Shokaku and the impact on their local community in our Producer Spotlight

Suggested use: Toss as is with fresh vegetables for an instant salad or combine with a mild-tasting oil to create a light and refreshing dressing. You can also use it to make pickles with cucumber or other vegetables. Also pairs well with sashimi grade fish.
Ingredients: Grain vinegar, mirin, soy sauce (including soybeans and wheat), sugar, bonito, kelp, salt / alcohol

Nutritional information: N/A

Smoked Island Tofu
Smoked Island Tofu
スモーク島どうふ

(SHOKUNO KAKEHASHI COMPANY)

This fermented and smoked tofu from Okinawa, Japan's southernmost tropical islands, is a rare find, even in Japan!

Okinawa is a sort of Japanese Hawaii - a set of islands with a laid-back tropical feel, year-round warm weather, and swaying palm trees. For almost one thousand years, Okinawa has maintained a reputation for nurturing extreme longetivity with life expectancies reaching 90 years for women and 85 years for men. The traditional Okinawa diet includes two weekly servings of flavonoid-rich soy, usually eaten in the form of tofu. In fact, Okinawans eat about eight times more tofu than Americans, consumed for its reputation to proect the heart.

This unique Okinawan island tofu is carefully fermented and aged with koji (a fermenting microorganism), then smoked using cherry blossom chips to create a fragrant flavor that is ripe, creamy and moist. It has a thick texture and taste similar to cheese but with less fat. Shokuno Kakehashi, the producer behind this smoked tofu, is committed to supporting Japan's agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The company focuses on creating inventive foods made from local domestic ingredients unique to Okinawa.

Suggested use: Eat as is (pairs great with wine!) or use it as a thick spread on bread/crackers. Also tastes great in salads.
Ingredients: Tofu (made in Okinawa), miso, rice kouji, rice, sugar, kelp extract, nigari. Includes soy
Nutritional information: N/A

Mom's Nanban Miso

Mom's Nanban Miso
おふくろなんばんみそ
(JA TOMAKOMAI)

Miso is one of Japan's most well known fermented foods, made from soybeans fermented with salt and koji. It represents pure umami flavor with a taste that is both salty and savory.

This flavored miso paste combines the salty umami flavor with a hint of spice from the green chili peppers and a touch of sweetness. You can add it to salad dressings or sauces, on top of chicken, tofu or fish, or as a marinade. Or you can use it as a simple dip for cucumber spears and other vegetables.

JA Tomakomai, the maker of this miso, is located on the northern island of Hokkaido and is part of the Japan Agricultural Co-operatives (JA or Nōkyō (農協)). JA was originally founded by the Japanese government as a regulating body of its agricultural industry, but now takes on a more grassroots farmers’ organizational feel. Their aim is to promote better farming activities in Japan and to provide support to local farmers and producers. There are almost 700 regional members that participate in everything from production, packaging, transportation and marketing of locally farmed goods.

Suggested use: You can add it to salad dressings or sauces, on top of chicken, tofu or fish, or as a marinade. Or you can use it as a simple dip for cucumber spears and other vegetables.
Ingredients: Miso (includes soy), green pepper, sugar, mirin
Nutritional information: Per: 10g, Calories: 25.5kcal, Total Fat: 0.3g, Sodium: 0.84g, Total Carbohydrate: 5g, Protein: 0.7g

 Kawaguchi Natto Snack
Natto Rice Crackers
納豆せんべい6枚入り

(KAWAGUCHI NATTO)

Senbei (rice crackers) are among the oldest and most traditional Japanese snack foods. They come in an endless array of shapes, colors and flavors. Made from rice, senbei are often oven baked, making them more health-conscious than other fried snacks. A pantry staple in Japan, senbei are often eaten with green tea as a casual afternoon or mid-morning snack, or served to visiting guests as a light refreshment. Senbei are sold practically everywhere in Japan from supermarkets and department stores, to street food stands at outdoor seasonal festivals. Artisan sensei makers also exist, especially in older neighborhoods.

These rice crackers are made by Kawaguchi Natto from rice produced in-house without any additives. The crackers are seasoned with miso from Sendai and the company's own natto (fermented soy beans). Natto is one of Japan's most famous fermented foods with a sticky, stringy texture and a pungent odor. Kawaguchi's natto has a reputation for being quite mild due to it high-quality and has a less powerful smell. The company credits the pure water from Mount Kurikomo and the moderate temperature around its headquarters in Ichihazama for helping to nurture its high quality beans.

A great way to enjoy natto in a healthy snack!

Suggested use: Enjoy as is. Typically eaten as an afternoon snack with tea.
Ingredients: Uruchi rice (from Miyagi prefecture), soy beans (from Miyagi prefecture), miso, sugar, sake, mirin, starch, bacteria from natto (raw ingredients includes wheat and soy beans)
Nutritional information: N/A

Glace Plum
Glacé plum
梅ぐらっせ

(UP TO YOU)

These are not your typical plums!

Japanese plums, or "ume", are in fact more closely related to apricots. Too bitter to eat raw, Japanese ume are typically pickled to make sour umeboshi or dried.

These delicious sweet fermented plums, however, have been preserved with sugar only and aged over 6 months.

Based in Fukui prefecture, the producer of these treats - Up To You - uses a special variety of Japanese plum primarily grown in that region. "Benisashi ume" are prized for their flavor and juicy texture, thanks to their smaller pits, fleshier meat, and exceptionally thin skin. This variety of Japanese plums traces its origin back to the Tenpo Era around 1830-1844. At the time, two local merchants collaborated to cultivate their original varieties to create the ultimate hybrid - Benisashi ume.

Savor the perfect balance of sweet and sour!

Suggested use: Enjoy as is. Delicious with a cup of tea (green or black), or coffee.
Ingredients: Ume (Japanese plum), sugar
Nutritional information: 
Per: 100g, Calories: 295kcal, Total Fat: 0.6g, Sodium: 0.03g, Total Carbohydrate: 71.3g, Protein: 0.6g

Goishi Tea

Goishi Tea
碁石茶
(Otoyo-cho Goishicha Coop)

Kombucha may seem like a relatively new health trend, but the Japanese have been drinking fermented tea for centuries!

This rare Japanese fermented tea is made by a tea farmer cooperation, lead by Koji Ogasawara, the seventh generation descendent of the founder. The cooperation follows 400-year old traditional methods from steaming to cutting the tea. During the processing stages, the tea goes through two fermentation steps, first by mold and then by lactic acid bacteria. During the second fermentation process, that tea is pickled, giving the tea its distinctive sour taste.

Traditionally, goishisi tea had been used in Japan as an ingredient to make chagayu (rice porridge with tea). However, now people brew and drink it like any other tea.

This tea is made in the town of Otoyo in Kochi Prefecture, an area known for producing high quality tea. Farmers in the Otoyo-cho Goishicha Coop grow their tea in the verdant local nature of Kochi Prefecture and use additive-free manfuacturing methods to produce their high-quality, fully-fermented goishi tea. The cooperation controls and handles all aspects of production from harvesting to steaming and sun-drying, resulting in a hand-crafted tea which could not be produced by mass-production methods.

The tea boasts high levels of nutrients, confirmed by tests from Kochi University and the Tokyo University of Agriculture.

Because of declining populations and decrease in demand, goishi tea production was on the verge of disappearing. However, thanks to local support and a renewed interested in healthy teas, demand has increased and the industry has been revitalized.

Suggested use: Simply brew the tea bags in hot water until it's reached your desired strength.
Ingredients: Fermented tea (mix of Yabukita (Japanese green tea) and local mountain tea leaves)
Nutritional information: Per: 1 tea bag, Calories: 0kcal, Total Fat: 0.0g, Sodium: 0.01g, Total Carbohydrate: 0g, Protein: 0.0g