Japanese Water Crystal Lemonade

Our Family got bigger. Unfortunate for the grandparents and the girls it is not another baby – only water kefir. It lives happily together with all the other jars and containers that are bubbling and fermenting whatever is inside and produces continuously yummy, healthy lemonade.

Water kefir is kind of like the German ‘Hermann cake’ or the Amish Friendship Bread, that was popular when I was a kid. Except of my husband I don’t know any kid of the 70’s and 80’s that has not brought one home from school.

What is water kefir?

Also named Japanese water crystal, water kefir is a symbiosis of yeast and bacteria – similar to kombucha, that will culture sugar water in a couple of hours to make a naturally fermented homemade soda that is rich in probiotics, B vitamins and food enzymes. In its basic form the taste reminds me of bitter lemon or ‘Fedeweißer’, the partially fermented young wine that comes to the market in Europe in late September/early October.

Fermenting water kefir

To my knowledge water kefir is not produced commercially, but it is easy to get the grains online, although I found a huge difference in price. Some individual vendors hand off their grains for free if you pay postage and some commercial companies sell the same amount – 30g (enough for one liter) – for as much as 18,90€.

In the beginning you don’t need more than those 30g, because in a favorable environment (relatively hard water and enough food (sugar, nitrogen) for the yeast & bacteria) water kefir grows fast. An increase of 25% is almost happening and I have seen it doubling often as well. All you need is relatively hard water, sugar and some dried fruits.

This is what I put in my water kefir the time. A mix of dried prunes and figures, raw sugar, lemon and ginger

Recipe for one liter water kefir

  • 1 liter water (25% warm water, 75% cold water)
  • 75g Sugar
  • 2 round slices of an organically grown lemon (if you don’t like a slightly bitter taste remove the peel)
  • 3 dried figs
  • 30g water kefir grains
  • glass jar that holds 1,5l (without lid)
  • clean cotton cloth
  • rubber band or string

Method

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and mix it with the cold water to get one liter sweet water at room temperature. Put the rest of the ingredients into a clean glass jar and fill it up with the sweet water. Put a clean cotton cloth on top and secure it with a rubber band or a string, so that the developing carbon dioxide can escape Now leave it to ferment for about 48 hours at room temperature. Unlike kombucha it doesn’t need to be dark, but avoid direct sunlight.

When its done, take out the dried fruit and the slices of lemon and strain the lemonade through a plastic strainer, catching the water kefir grains. Rinse the grains and wash the jar before starting your next batch.

You can drink your lemonade right away or fill it in glass bottles and put it into the fridge for a second fermentation. The remaining micro-organism will ferment the slower than the water kefir grains, so it is safe to put a lid on the bottle. Trapping the carbon dioxide during the second fermentation results in a refreshing, nicely prickly lemonade!

Starting out water kefir with some crystals, dried fruits and lemon

Changing the taste of your lemonade

Water kefir offers a gazillion ways to change the taste, inviting you to experiment with whatever you can think of. Play with the ingredients and/or with the time and temperature of fermentation until you have found your favorite style. E.g. if you prefer it not so sweet, extend the fermentation time, so more of the sugar is being consumed by the yeast. When playing with the recipe, make sure that you always have…

  1. Some form of liquid (water or tea)
  2. Some sort of sugar (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup etc.)
  3. Some sort of dried, non-sulfurized fruits
  4. Some sort of natural acid (lemon, grapefruit, lime …)
  5. Optional: edible flowers, herbs, fruits, aromates (e.g. ginger, cinnamon, vanilla pod…)

Some combinations that I have tried or that I have on my list to try when the season has arrived are

  • Ginger, lemon and thyme
  • Fruit tea and plums
  • Green tea, kaki and lemon
  • Black tea, Lemon, vanilla pod and cinnamon
  • Green tea and yuzu
  • Water, elderflower and lemon
  • Green tea, rhubarb and lemon
  • Water, strawberries, lemon and mint
  • … you see the list is endless

Things worth knowing about water kefir

  1. Water kefir doesn’t like metal, so use glass and plastic utensils when dealing with the grains (strainer, funnel, jars etc.).
  2. The importance of hygiene in the kitchen, especially when dealing with fermentation shouldn’t be new, but the be safe I mention it again
  3. Pausing to make water kefir. If you want to stop making lemonade for a couple of days or are going on vacation, put your water kefir grains and 10% sugar water (100g sugar for 1l water) in an non-lidded glass jar in the fridge. When you want to restart simply rinse the grains and use them according to the basic recipe.

Gari: Blushing Ginger

Once in a while I need to refill my Japanese pantry and as such I went to my local Asian grocery store. Contrary to the popular belief you don’t need many things for Japanese cooking. Shoyu (soy sauce), sake, mirin (sweet sake), rice vinegar, kombu (seaweed) and if you are not vegan katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) are a good choice.

I don’t buy any convenience products. No teriyaki sauce, no ponzu sauce, instant dashi or similar products. As making them yourself only takes a few minutes, no need to spend the money, but more than that a glimpse on the list of ingredients makes me shiver. They are usually full of additives, flavor enhancer and coloring.

Gari (pickled ginger) or Shin-shoga no Amazu-zuké , that you probably know as a side dish to sushi is no exception. Sushi is so popular that more and more people make it at home, but most of them buy pre-made gari, even though making it is fast, easy and cheap.

All you need for Gari is Young Ginger

In making gari there is one thing mandatory: Young ginger. Young ginger has a mild ginger flavor, is juicier and the flesh is tender compared to matured ginger. The skin is paper-thin and can be scraped off instead of cutting. Young ginger is often sold with parts of the stem that has a red ‘neck’ between the dark green stem and the light yellow root. The season for young ginger in Thailand just started and I already saw the first ones being sold last week.

How does Ginger turn pink?

Gari is available in both colors: yellow and pink. Both types are made with young ginger. The blushing pink develops naturally, if:

  1. The young ginger contains enough red pigments, meaning enough red ‘necks attached to the root AND
  2. Either the ginger or the amazu (sweet and sour sauce) is hot when they are combined to activate the pigmentation

Recipe for 1 jar Gari

350 g   young ginger
1          clean glass jar

Amazu (sweet-sour sauce):
– 500ml    rice vinegar
– 7 Tbsp.   caster sugar
– ½ tsp.   salt
– ca. 5×10 cm   kombu (dried seeweed)

Method

Amazu

Combine rice vinegar, caster sugar, salt and kombu and let them sit of a minimum of 30 minutes. The kombu will soften, give off its umami and melow the acidity of the rice vinegar. I like to use a non-reactivepan for that (lined with teflon or enamel) so that the vinegar and will not get a chance to react with the metal of the pan.

After the soaking heat on medium heat and stir until the sugar and the salt dissolved.

Preparation of the ginger

Scrape off the peel with a spoon or the back of a knife and cut the ginger in paper thin slices. Bring a pot with 1,5-2 l Water to a ruling boil and add the ginger. let it boil for 60 seconds after the water has come back to a boil before you strain it through a sieve.

Pickling the Ginger

Put the hot ginger immediately into the glass jar and fill it up with the amazu. Close the lid and let the ginger pickle in the fridge. If you have enough red pigmentation, the first signs of color will show after about 3-4 hours and the final result will be visible after about 48 hours.

The coloring will be a subtle, light pink. So don’t be disappointed if you don’t get that bright pink that you see in the supermarkets, which is the result of artificial coloring. The color by the way has no influence on the taste. So even if you have yellow gari it will be as tasty.

How much Japan can you get in one sentence?

A little black book caught my eye the other day in a little book store in Berlin. ‘A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees’. How much more Japan can you get into one title? The author is a Japanese Buddhist monk named Yoshida Kenkō who has lived more than 700 years ago (1284 – 1350).

His collection of 243 short essays Tsurezuregusa (‘Essays in Idleness’) are among he most studied works of Japanese literature. “An eccentric, sedate and gemlike assemblage of his thoughts on life, death, weather, manners, aesthetics, nature, drinking, conversational bores, sex, house design, the beauties of understatement and imperfection. “ (Source: smithsonianmag.com)

When the days get shorter and nighttime falls earlier every day, it is a good time for me to immerse into the thoughts of the past, into the thoughts of a far away world, into the thoughts of someone from the past which, I have never met.

Maybe – or most likely it will not only be only one glass, even though the essay is a short one. The Sohomare Junmai Daiginjo is simply too inviting. Brewed from the best Yamadanishiki rice, harvested in the Premium A area of Hyogo prefecture it is handmade using the ancient Kimoto method.

Soft and slightly creamy on the palate with an elegant aroma I recommend drinking it from a Burgundy glass. Drink it as it is or with a bit of goats cheese  as a nibble while reading. If you want to pair it with food, I would go for charcoal-grilled fillet, chūtoro (medium fatty tuna) or ōtoro (fatty tuna).

I wish you a pleasurable weekend!

Sake essentials in one day : Germany’s first WSET Level 1 in Sake

I am very much looking forward to celebrate World Sake Day (October 01, 2017) teaching Germany’s first WSET Level 1 in Sake in Munich!

Logo Weininstitut MünchenIn collaboration with the Weininstitut München, I will take sake enthusiasts and people new to the world of sake on a one-day journey into the world of Japanese sake.

 

This time the course will be held in German. Therefore please head over to the German section of this blog for more information.

 

Summer days dried eggplants

The far away sound of crickets is riding on the cool breeze that is coming in from the window next to me. A welcoming refreshing sign of the upcoming fall. I like fall. The golden colors, the rich crops and the turning leaves. I like to watch kids jumping through piles of leaves and joyfully throwing them high in the air. I like the silky touch of shiny, dark-brown chestnuts and the coziness that slowly enters the homes.

French postcard-like harbor romanticI do look forward to fall, even though I know how much I will miss those long lazy summer days. Days where my girl’s laughter fill the backyard way past sunset, when back-to-school is still far away. Happy-go-lucky days with normal life being on hold. Maybe not always voluntarily, but on hold – for a few weeks only. Living the days without any plans, enjoying the moment. Doing things just because.

French summer feeling: A scooter as bright blue as the sea

For many years now we spend this short period of time in Southern France. Far away from the tourists that populate the area at that time of the year we spend sunny days between lavender and plane trees. We play hide and seek in a box tree-labyrinth and pick grapes from the side of the path behind our home.

Picnic of the locals at Gruissan harborWe strive through the nearby harbors and local markets and get inspired by the opulence of colors that pile up appetizingly on each stall, begging us to take them home.

Impressive Entrance to the Narbonne marketBaskets full of oysters and seafood

Vegetables piling up at the market

My time is the early afternoon. While the ‘big’ girls play full-throated in the garden I sit next to the open window and listen to the regular breathing of my youngest one taking her nap, regenerating to be able to keep up with the other two until nightfall – or mommy – will force them to stop. Last year I used those moments to make umé boshi (pickled plums). This year I am capturing the summer making sun dried eggplants. Given the intensity of the sun in Southern France at this time of the year and the abundance of fresh eggplants an easy project, promising exciting kitchen experiments in the colder months to come.

Like all Kambutsu (dried products) sun-dried eggplants need to be reconstituted in water before they can be used. When using untreated eggplants the water can serve as a stock (dashi) for further cooking or as a soup. Especially Japan’s temple cuisine (shojin ryori) uses such vegan dashi (e.g. also shiitake-dashi, kampyo-dashi, kombu-dashi) from a single ingredient as well as a mix of different dashis .I must admit this is my first time to experiment with sun-dried eggplants. It might be an old fashioned way of preserving food but maybe it is because of this I am looking forward to give it a try.

Recipe for Hoshinasu (dried eggplants)

Take a few eggplants (however many you like), wipe the surface with a damp cloth and cut them to your liking. As you can see I made two varieties: Thin strips and chunks.

Eggplants cut into chunks

Auberginen in JulienneI decided for two widely different cuts to have more options when using them later. Lay the pieces out in the sun on a bamboo basket, rack or any other flat aerated tool (mine was formerly used commercially to dry prunes). The eggplants should not get wet. Neither in the rain nor with the humidity at night. Take them inside if necessary or cover them with a clean cloth, ensuring aeration throughout the entire time to avoid mold.

Drying eggplants A net is protecting my eggplants against hungry birdsThe eggplants are done when they are hard to the touch. The time varies depending on the thickness of your cuts as well as the temperature and humidity. My chunks took a good three days and nights and the julienne were done within two days.

Eggplants finished drying

Blog event on pickling, preserving and fermenting

It all started while I was flicking through my old Japanese cookbooks. The granny-style ones where the pictures of the authors remind me of the old yellowed pictures of me as a kid, where my grandma had a similar haircut. I was looking for an inspiration what recipe would be a good idea to share in Anika’s blog roll. ‚Vergissmeinnicht-Rezepte einer Floristin’ is Anika’s blog which she started to preserve the old family recipes. That’s why her blog translates to forget-me-not, recipes of a florist, combining her education as a florist with her passion as a cook. With ‚Kulinarisch auf Vorrat’ – which translates into culinary preserving – she asked 15 bloggers to share their recipes for pickling, preserving and fermenting. A wonderful potpourri of ideas how to capture the summer before it disbands for this year.

When I got the email that it would be nice to chip in a tsukémono-recipe, I didn’t need to think twice. Tsukémono is definitely one of my soft spots. Ever since my first encounter with Elizabeth’s nuka-pot, I am fascinated by the way the Japanese way of preserving, pickling and fermenting. Soon afterwards a nuka-pot became a member of our family and travels with us wherever we go. My girl’s eyes spark in delight when I serve them takuan (giant radish pickled in nuka for several months). If I top this with a bit of Yukari infused rice (dried shiso leaves from making umé boshi) and a miso soup I instantly have three happy girls.

For the blogevent I decided in favor of a classic pickle recipe. Sun-dried eggplants would be far too easy, plus the German summer this year would make it next to impossible. Takuan is pretty advanced, but more than that it cannot be done in small portions, so not really suitable either. In the end I decided in favor for an all-time-classic: Gari (pickled ginger).

Stay tuned for instructions on what you need to do to get pink ginger without any additives and color enhancements.

Japan meets Italy: Okara Grissini

I told you here about my mission to make proper Kinugoshi (Japanese silken tofu) at home. By now I can reliably repeat making both – momendofu (firm tofu) as well as Kinugoshi, which is especially wonderful with the heat of the summer that is finally approaching Germany. Kinugoshi is by far my most favorite lunch snack in hot weather. Served chilled with a refreshing ponzu sauce, some grated ginger and dry roasted katsuo bushi or equally wonderful with a sauce that I call ‘liquid umami’ and some wasabi for a little kick.

Okara are packed with fiber, protein and iron

Yesterday was tofu-making day in my kitchen and every time you make tofu you end up with about as much okara. The left over lees. As nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen there are many ways to use up okara, which by the way is packed with fiber, protein and iron.

Fresh okara and flour in a bowl

On my Shōjin Ryōri event I used okara to make croquettes – alongside with potatoes, pumpkin and adzuki beans -finished off with some freshly ground sancho pepper and super fine ‘snow’-salt.

Today though we will get a much-valued visitor that we haven’t seen for quite some time. There will be a lot of talking and sake to catch up and I prepared okara grissini as a nibble to go with the sake (Tskudani make a good nibble as well, so do pickled cucumbers) . Not exactly a Japanese recipe, but highly recommendable. You can make the okara-grissini using eggs as well as a replacing the eggs with flaxseeds. I prefer the vegan version, because the flaxseeds add an interesting component to the grissini.

Freshly powdered flaxseeds ground in a suribachi

Recipe for 14 (vegan) Okara-Grissini

Ingredients

200g fresh okara
100g Bread flour
1

1 Tbsp.

3 Tbsp.

Egg or alternatively

Powdered flaxseeds and

Water

¾  tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Powder

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180° C. If you are preparing the vegan version mix the powdered flaxseeds with the water and let them rest for 10 Min. In the meantime mix the other ingredients in a bowl. Add the flaxseeds once they are done and knead well. The better you knead the better the dough will hold together. Especially important should you decide to use low-gluten flour.

Ready made dough

Portion out about 25g of the dough and roll each of it up to a 20cm grissini. If you use larger amounts of dough or prefer the grissini to be thinner make sure to adjust the baking time accordingly. Put them on a parchment lined baking tray and bake them for 30 Minutes. After they have cooled for a few minutes you can eat them straight away. Ideally consume them the same day to enjoy their crispiness.

Okara-grissini just before they went in the oven

If you want to add nutrition you may change the flour to whole-grain flour. I also like to make okara-grissini with whole-grain spelt flour, but in this case I need to be a bit more conscientious when kneading the dough and rolling the grissini, as the dough doesn’t hold together as well.


* Okara can be kept up to five days in the fridge or several weeks in the freezer if you do not have the time to use it up right away.

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Tsukémono: Umeboshi@ home

Their taste is new to most people in the West. Mouth-puckering sour, though pleasant, their saltiness is pronounced but acceptable and make a perfect match for many dishes. At our home umeboshi are often added to onigiri. Those hand pressed rice balls that for some miracle reason taste best if they are made by the hands of one who loves you.

Yukari Onigiri with umé boshi

These days it is easy to buy ready made umeboshi at Asian and organic supermarkets, but nothing beats them being home made. Getting umé, botanically prunus mume or Japanese apricots in Germany is not easy. Until our umé tree yields fruit I am using local apricots instead.

Layered apricots with salt in a glass container
Layer soaked, unbruised apricots with salt in a non-reactive container.

How umeboshi are made

Traditionally umeboshi are being pickled – often but not always with red shiso leaves – in Japan’s rainy season and are left to ferment in their own brine for about six weeks, before they get laid out and dry in the summer sun for three days.

Add weight and patience for the brine to develop and rise and fermentation to happen

What seems easy in Japan with its hot summers is a challenge in Germany. Even more so this year, where summer took a long time coming. But finally the weather forecast predicted a couple of hot days. Perfect timing for my ‘umeboshi’, that will get their finishing touch of summer sun.

Local apricots fermented umeboshi style
‘Umeboshi’ laid out to dry in the summer sun

Want to make umeboshi at home?

This years umeboshi pickling season is over, but if you want to join me in making umeboshi next time, sign up for the newsletter and I will guide you through it step-by-step.

From the kitchen lab: Making tofu at home

Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) - not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.
Silken Tofu made with different coagulates (nigari and gdl) – not a perfect shape, but a pretty good taste. I added some wakame salad with a ponzu dressing to go with it.

I have similar experiences with tofu than with Japanese sake. Before I moved to Japan both were awful. Sake was that weired warm stuff that you got for free at the end of a meal and tofu the unpleasently grainy textured tasteless something that you only eat when you need an alternative for meat. Sometimes overpowered with spices or smoked to transform it into an unpleasantly grainy texture something with some taste – but still awful.

Soy beans in a blender
Add some water to the soaked soy beans to make your soy milk

After discovering what sake can be, I am all in for it. A wonderful ambrosia. Clear, fresh, complex and very divers. From clean and dry to fruity, sweet or luscious . The sky seems to be the limit and not every sake taste the same. Similarly you wouldn’t compare Liebrauenmilch with a wonderful German Riesling.

And my experience with tofu is similar. Since I had the really good stuff,  I don’t want to live without tofu anymore. Without Japanese tofu to be precise. All over Japan you can find tofu-ya (artisanal tofu makers) like you find artisanal bakeries in Germany.

It is easy to make soy milk using a blender
It is easy to make soy milk using a blender

Small family owned businesses that turn on their light in the middle of the night to make fresh tofu. Often in shops as big as a garage with a tiny stall in front of it. Easy to spot in the morning when they hang their cloths up for drying in the wind in front of their shops.

Japanese tofu is widely different from the one I get over here. A very delicate taste, but with a definite hint of soybeans – not invasive just the natural taste, which is so fundamental for the Japanese cuisine. Nothing that needs to hide under a layer of spices. Pure and clean.

Separating the soy milk from the lees
This is hot! When starting to separate the soy milk from the lees be sure to use a tool, because it is boiling hot. In the end I always use my hands to get the last bit out of it.

And the consistency? Whether firm, fried or silken Japanese tofu always has a pleasant mouth feel to it. The silken kind is velvety as crème bruleé, topped with grated ginger, katsuo bushi and a refreshing ponzu-sauce a refreshing snack or lunch in the heat of the summer.

I have tried every tofu that I came across. Artisanal ones sold at a farmers market as well as those commercially made in organic supermarkets. Without any success. Nothing could keep up with the tofu I tasted in Japan.

Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)
Okara (lees), nigiri and the prepared wooden box to drain the tofu later on (front to back)

I will be keeping eating every new brand of tofu that I come across, but my hopes are not high to find what I am looking for. Obviously the German taste is different than mine. So I started to make my own tofu.

I did not expect it to be complicated. And it actually isn’t, but there are a few things that can go wrong … and did go wrong. So at the same time I found out that making tofu yourself is not a piece of cake either.

Tofu curds just before pressing
Tofu curds just before pressing

These days I am spending a lot of time in my kitchen lab, testing various ways to make Japanese tofu, aiming to understand all the parameters to make what I want reliably. I will keep you posted on my findings, but before that here are the good news:

Final Tofu
Final Tofu

 

 

I already succeeded a couple of times. I made tofu that tasted like the one from Toshio and Kyoko Kanemoto, my favorite tofu-ya-couple in Tokio, just around the corner from Kaminoge station.

Shōjin Ryōri @ Berlin Food Art Week: A Japanese Vegan Food Art Experience

Experience Extraordinary Events. Discover the exploding taste of sustainability for all your senses…

I am proud to demonstrate SHŌJIN RYŌRI – Japan’s peaceful temple cuisine that will blow your mind during this year’s Berlin Food Art Week.

SHŌJIN RYŌRI Event Description

Discover the alluring blending of Japanese culinary concepts in one meal, which incorporates every last bit of each ingredient while appreciating and respecting the seasons, nature’s bounty and the diligence and ingenuity of the people that produce it.

For the event seasonal fruits and vegetables will be carefully transformed into nutritionally sound and aesthetically satisfying dishes that avoid waste and sustain our natural resources.

Experience Shojin Ryori –Japanese Buddhist Cuisine, paired with carefully selected Japanese sake tucked away from Berlin’s buzz in an intimate setting.

  • When Saturday, July 08,  7 pm
  • Where ExBerlin, Zionskirchplatz 16, 10119 Berlin
  • Tickets Get your tickets here

Menu:

This dining experience is Omakase-style, which is the Japanese tradition of letting the chef choose the dishes for you. It literally means “I will leave it to you” and it is a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom to focus on the freshest and most seasonal ingredients on the day of preparation.

Still nee to be convinced that SHŌJIN RYŌRI is for you?

  • Learn more about SHŌJIN RYŌRI here
  • Questions about the  SHŌJIN RYŌRI-event or about ‘The Taste of Japan’? Drop me a line: info@thetasteofjapan.com
  • Visit the Berlin Food Art Week-website for more information and the full program

Nuka zuké @ home: What is Nuka zuké?

“A bowl of rice with a small plate of pickles and some soup is not merely food, but cuisine…”

(Michael Ashkenazi, The Essence of Japanese Cuisine)

I remember a sunny early autumn day in Tokyo. The heat and cruel humidity of the summer was finally over when a bunch of people literally from around the world gathered in Elizabeth’s kitchen around a big dark brown earth ware pot, waiting for its secret to be unveiled. ‘Take a whiff ‘ was the invitation to carefully look and smell into the pot.

Turnips coming out of the nukadoko
Turnips coming out of the nukadoko

But no hands, because hygiene is extremely important in keeping a nuka-pickle-pot healthy. Nukadoko (pickling bed) can be passed down for generations and as such the one in front of me was easily some 150+ years old. Given that nukadoko is a living organism that requires constant monitoring and attention, it doesn’t come on a surprise that Elizabeth is very cautious.

My nuka-pots carefully packed for the long trip down south
My nuka-pots carefully packed for the long trip down south

The only one allowed to touch Elizabeth’s nuka pot besides her is her neighbor that takes care of it whenever she is out of town for a long time. Sounds irritating in the beginning, but after having to throw out nuka-pickle-pots that had gone bad three times, I find myself being as careful and restrictive. I even take my nuka-pickle pot with me on vacation or weekend-trips. Is that absolutely necessary? No. There are ways to maintain your nuka-pickle-pot even though you are not around, but as I have Elizabeth’s 150+ years in mine , I am not going to take chances.

Nuka zuke in France
Making nuka zuke in my holiday home kitchen in Southern France last year

Nuka, Nukadoko and Nuka zuké: What’s the difference?

But before I go on, let me explain a few terms here, so that you don’t get confused:

  • Nuka is the Japanese term for rice bran. In Japan, nothing goes to waste and as such, the nuka that is left after polishing rice (e.g. for table rice, sake making etc.) is used as a pickling medium.
  • Nuka mixed with water salt and aromatics becomes the pickling medium, called nukadoko.
  • The nukadoko is usually kept in a (non-reactive) container, a ‘nuka-pickle-pot’ or nuka-pot and
  • the generic term for vegetables, pickled in nukadoko is nuka zuké.

Nuka zuké ferments vegetables in a couple of hours

Nuka zuké is fairly easy and fast compared to other fermented products, but it needs to be mixed by hand to aerate the nukadoko. Yes, everyday! It only takes a few seconds, but you should be willing to commit to this before you start you own nuka-pot at home. Your reward? Cucumbers turned into crisp, savory pickles over night and tart red radishes get enchanted into exhilarant crudités in a couple of hours.

Nuka zuké: Cucumbers and turnips topped with yukari and shio zuké on the side
Nuka zuké: Cucumbers and turnips topped with yukari and shio zuké on the side

Nukodoko thrives off the bacteria that live on your hands and the vegetable’s skin. They also influence the taste as well as the aromatics that you can put in. So each nukadoko has its unique taste that will constantly change. Generally spoken an aged nukadoko will be more round and smooth than a young one, similar to wine, that’s why nukadoko can be passed down the generations.

Nuka zuké contains brown rice nutrients

Nukadoko is made from nuka – rice bran. The vitamin rich outer layers of rice – undoubtedly nutritious and healthy – would create off flavors in sake and are often unwanted for table rice. So one way to get back some of those nutrients that have been milled away is pickling vegetables in nukadoko. Nowadays it is fairly easy to source nuka either in Asian markets or online (e.g. here or here), but you could also substitute nuka with wheat bran. Wheat bran is lighter and more fluffy. When using wheat bran instead of nuka you should use a little more water and make sure that your pack down your ‘wheat bran-doko’ tightly on your vegetables to ensure contact with the bacteria.

Become a tsukémono addict

Ever since that one sunny autumn day in Tokyo when I smelled and tasted nuka zuké for the first time, I am enamored with it. But while a taste of vegetables pickled in nuka can prise the gates to Tsukémono heaven ajar, making it yourself will fling them open and convert you to the delights of preserving the Japanese way.

For those that are interested to learn how to start a nuka-pot and to handle it properly, how to influence its taste and troubleshooting-strategies to avoid it going bad, subscribe to the newsletter to get the information on the next nuka zuké-workshop delivered directly to your inbox.