Japanese Superfoods: Nukazuke
We can gain so much knowledge and inspiration from some of these amazing Japanese elders on their traditional diet and way of living. One excellent example is my neighbor, a nearly 90-year-old, super-genki, giggling and beautiful Japanese lady who has maintained an impressive fermenting pot of goodness for over half her lifetime.
What It Is
Nukazuke are pickled vegetables, specially made by being buried in a bed of nukadoko, a fermented rice bran paste. They are cured in the nukadoko bed for anywhere from two weeks to several months.
The nukadoko bed, which resembles damp sand, is started simply with rice bran paste and salt water, while some may also contain kombu, ginger or miso. The nukadoko is consistently reused and preserved to hold the vegetables and some, like the one I encountered, can be over 50 years old! It requires daily mixing by hand or the batch can be destroyed.
If you’ve been following some of my previous articles, like those on miso and natto, you will understand the strong correlation between fermented foods and the overall good health of many Japanese people. Most importantly, fermented foods are beneficial in aiding with digestion and building good immune function, which can lead to an overall healthy body free from disease. They have also been shown to improve allergies and skin conditions in some people.
Once the nukadoko bed has been mixed, the active cultures come alive to form a batch of good healthy probiotics, ready to ooze their goodness into the vegetables. Some of the vegetables that are added to the nukadoko bed can include cucumber, cabbage, pumpkin, eggplant, daikon and carrots.
Not only does the fermentation process preserve the vegetables, but it also increases the nutritional content of some vitamins and minerals compared to eating the vegetables in their original state. Vitamin B1, also known as thiamine, is essential for the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy and plays a huge role in keeping the nervous system happy. It has been noted that vitamin B1 in daikon can be increased up to 16 times once fermented in nukadoko. A deficiency in this vitamin can lead to fatigue, indigestion, stress, tingling, and in severe cases beriberi.
A variety of nukazuke vegetables can increase your intake of other nutrients such as vitamins A, B2, B6, calcium and fiber.
How to Use It
You can definitely make your own bed of nukadoko by grabbing a starter from a pre-existing batch or starting your own. However, the smell of this is so intense that there is no way that I could mix it with my bare hands every day! So I will be sticking to just buying the pickled nukazuke vegetables already made. Finding a local seller at a market or store with a real “fresh” batch of these vegetables is a much preferred option to avoid any added preservatives or nasty ingredients. However, you can buy them from most supermarkets, where they can be found in the cool section with wide variety of pickled foods.
Nukazuke vegetables are often served as a side dish with meals as a condiment or palate cleanser between courses.
To make your own simple, Japanese-inspired, nutritious dinner that is sure to impress your guests, try out this course meal:
- 1 small bowl of brown rice with sprinkle of sesame seeds
- 1 small bowl of nukazuke
- 1 packet of natto with tamari and green onions
- 1 piece of grilled fish
- 1 bowl of miso soup with wakame
Photos by Ryokuse Hosoi.