Off-the-Eaten Path Food Experience in Japan. "Meet the People and Places behind your Plates! "

Saturday 2 January 2016

Learn the art of washoku through fermentation (2) Five Important Crops

Five Important Crops

5 major traditional crops in Japan are: rice, wheat, barley, foxtail millet, soy bean, and adzuki bean, which is written in the oldest chronicle of Japan.

Rice (米)

“Thunder” is called ina-zuma稲妻in Japanese, which literally means “wife of rice”. Japanese staple food rice is grown strongly linked with natural climate. Rice is versatile crop. It is not only staple food for Japanese but also feed for livestocks, used as construction material, fertilizer, or mulching. At festival, weaved rice straw, shimenawa, is important symble of good harvest. There are glutens and non-glutinous rice, mostly steam boiled. Sushi is a rice ball, topped with fishes, eggs or rolled by seaweeds. Mochi dumpling is made by glutinous rice.

Barley (大麦) and Wheat (小麦)

Nawadays, cultivation of wheat and barley are almost disappearing, but in old days, barley and wheat are also important crops in Japanese culture, making hattaiko powder by grinding roasted barley, syrup made from malted barley, and also tea, called mugi-cha.

Japanese wheats are semi-hard or soft flour, suitable for making noodles and manju (steamed cake). Barley and wheat are grown in winter season after harvesting rice.

In some historical documents, both barley and wheat were written as "麦 mugi". These were considered same genus.

Foxtail millet (粟)

Widely used millet in East Asian countries, which is originated in China, one of the oldest crops cultivated in Japan. Shoyu or sake can be also brewed from foxtail millet, which is reported to contain less allergic substances and gluten compared to normal shoyu containing wheat and soy.

Some time, "hie 稗"  Barnyard millet is added as one of the five important crops in Japan. Compared to mugi (wheat and barley are called by same name), names of millets are indeed diverse; awa (foxtail millet), hie (barnyard millet), kibi (common millet), takakibi (sorghum). 

Soy Bean (大豆) and Azuki (小豆) bean

Soy bean is major base of fermented bean paste, called “miso” in Japanese. Also, various foods are processed from soy beans, such as tofu, natto, and kinako (sweet bean powder). Azuki are small red beans, sold dried. It is cooked sweetened and mashed into a paste to make desserts, wagashi in Japanese. It is also possible to make miso or natto from Azuki beans as well.