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

Sunday 9 July 2017

Off-the-beaten Kyoto: landscape for propducing "ubai", carbonized plum fruit, used as a color fixing mordant

A hidden village of plum, Tsukigase, Nara prefecture

Taking train for an hour from Kyoto city, the hidden valley of Tsukigase village is known as a village of plum trees. However, it is hardly known that the plum tree was originally planted for processing "Ubai", carbonized plum fruit, used as a color fixing mordant.

"Most residents here were producing ubai, approximately 400 producers."

Said the last producer of ubai, Mr. Nakanishi.

Once, ubai had been a main industry in this area, since Edo samurai period. To make good plum, village people planted Joshuhaku, a variety of plum tree, which is bigger and easier to process.

After the Meiji revolution, ubai producers have been forced to close their business, due to the introduction of chemical dye.

Wisdom of making Japanese traditional "beni" color more brilliant

Benibana (safflower, Carthamus tinctorius) is one of the oldest dye in Japan, and it is found out that benibana was used in 6th century in Nara.

Benibana has two pigment colors; yellow and red. To extract red color, called "beni" in Japanese, people used ash of akaza plant (Chenopodium album var. centrorubrum), and karamushi plant (Boehmeria nivea var. nipononivea).

safflower, benibana in Japanese
○mochi bana 
After pounding benibana flowers like mochi, it is dried and solidified, which is called mochi bana.
Thread from karamushi plant is called "aoso". benibana dye will be more red colored after mixing benibana with karamushi

The ash of akaza plant is considered to be a good resource of strong alkaline content. It is added with banimochi.

The last component is ubai. It contains high acid content, and mitigate strong alkaline water. After added with banibana dye, the beni color will be more vivid.

Making ubai

1. First, plum tree is covered with soot, called susu in Japanese. Nakanishi san get susu from neighbors, who are still burning wood for cooking.

2. fumigate plum fruits for 24 hours

3. dry under the sun for 1 month

ubai is now used as mordant for banibana dye, but that usage is very limited this time. In China or in Taiwan, ubai is also popular as healthy drink.

This landscape can be seen from 1st week of July to August.