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JAPAN [Saitama]

Japanese Ingredients for the World’s Top Kitchens #13

Fizzy, Sweet and Tangy: Just in Time for Spring


text by Michiko Watanabe / photographs by Daisuke Nakajima / English text by Susan Rogers Chikuba

Though the times are always changing, there are certain timeless ingredients from Japan that will never go out of style. Yukio Hattori, president of Hattori Nutrition College in Tokyo, introduces unique labors of love—items grown and produced with care and integrity by hardworking suppliers across the country.

A tonic rich in active enzymes, polyphenols, vitamins, and acetic and lactic acids, kombucha is enjoyed worldwide these days, although not everyone knows that this lightly carbonated, fermented drink has nothing to do with kombu seaweed. At Oizumi Kojo, brewmaster Yuji Shimada uses a blend of green and black loose-leaf teas for the base (photo right below), and makes the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast/photo left below) mother in-house. 

(photo left) Microorganisms may be the hardest workers at the plant; humans just ensure they have clean, optimum conditions. 
(photo right) The brewing tank, made for beer brewing at home, was imported from the U.S.

Shimada starts with water that’s been filtered six times. He puts freshly brewed sweetened tea through a heat exchanger to drop its temperature to 26 to 28ºC, a comfortable range for the microbes to begin oxidation. Fermentation lasts for one to two weeks, and the alcohol strength is kept below 0.3 percent—no second fermentation is conducted. You can taste the result at the Saitama taproom and the Tokyo café in Nishi-Azabu.

(photo left) The fermentation equipment hails from Germany and was designed for wine. 
(photo right) A blend of organic tea leaves from Uji (Kyoto), Kakegawa (Shizuoka) and Oita is used. 

Seasonal kombuchas are flavored with hibiscus, lemongrass, and yuzu.

(photo left) Casks of kombucha await shipping to clients. 
(photo right) A farmers’ market is held at the Saitama plant every second Saturday and Sunday.

Brewmaster Yuji Shimada.

◎Oizumi Kojo 
5-4-1 Ryoke, Kawaguchi-shi, Saitama

 (The Cuisine Magazine /May 2019)