Hoshigaki, sun dried persimmon, Kyoto
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Japanese Fruit, Nuts & Seeds

Ginnan Goma Kaki Mikan Nashi Sudachi Ume Umeboshi Yuzu

Ginnan (gingko nut)
There is a gingko tree in the courtyard of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. It is over 100 years old, and is resplendent in autumn, when its leaves turn a radiant gold. Unfortunately, it is a female tree and produces abundant gingko fruit that has a notoriously foul odor. However, inside each fruit is a seed that is extremely delicious and prized as a delicacy in Japan – the gingko nut. The season for ginnan is autumn, when the emerald green nuts appear, skewered on delicate pine needles, or in chawanmushi (savory custard). The nuts resemble pistachios and are roasted in their shells before the hard tan shell is removed. Inside, they are soft and slightly chewy, with an earthy and slightly bitter flavor. Roasted ginnan can be found at festivals – young men energetically shake steel pans over hot coals, handing out hot paper bagfulls. Each shell is thoughtfully scored to make it easy to remove.


Goma (sesame seeds)
Available roasted, in black or white (actually beige), at Asian groceries, sesame seeds add richness and nutrition to rice, sauces, dressings, etc. Their flavor is enhanced by extra roasting, which can be easily and quickly done in a dry skillet. You can use either black or white seeds, depending on the color of the dish. For instance, for contrast, use black seeds in sushi, or when you don’t want to discolor a dish, such as tofu salad, use white seeds. Goma dofu is a decadently rich, silky “tofu” made of ground and strained sesame seeds thickened with kuzu, and black sesame ice cream is one of my favorites.


Kaki (persimmon)
The sight of kaki trees, bare of leaves and heavily laden with fruit, is a marker of late autumn and early winter. There are two types of kaki: fuyu gaki (winter persimmon) is flat and square in shape. It is better when eaten while almost crisp. The other type of kaki is shaped rather like an egg with a pointed end, and is extremely bitter unless fully ripe, at which point its flesh turns into a marvelous creamy jelly-like consistency that is best eaten with a spoon. Do not eat the peel, as it is full of tannin and extremely astringent. TOP


Mikan (tangerine)
We love mikan! These sweet, easy-to-peel tangerines make wonderful, healthy snacks and desserts that are enjoyed throughout the fall and winter months in Japan. During this season, they are conveniently packaged in tidy rows of 6 or 8 at convenience stores, local groceries, highway stops and train stations. Different regions grow different varieties of mikan, which ripen at different times, and some are larger and/or sweeter than others. I have many fond childhood memories of eating mikan on the train. They are also an important fruit for the Oshogastu New Year’s festivities, where they provide the third tier of kagamimochi, a traditional edible display.


Nashi (Japanese pear)
Nashi are now widely available in the US as Asian pear. Deep yellow and shaped like an apple, they have a crispy, slightly grainy texture that bursts in your mouth with the juicy flavor of pears. Since the skin is quite tough and grainy, it is usually peeled before serving. Nashi, like apples, discolor when exposed to air, so they should be freshly peeled and enjoyed right away.


Sudachi (bitter orange)
This citrus fruit is hard to find outside of Japan. It looks and tastes like a lime, but has a more fragrant and delicate flavor. It ripens in the late autumn/early fall and is often served alongside other fall delicacies such as matsutake mushrooms. TOP


Ume (plum) and Umeboshi (pickled plum)
Japanese plum trees are among the first to flower, appearing in late winter. Seeing their delicate white blossoms is always a welcome sight, heralding the end of winter. Considered one of the three auspicious symbols of Japan, they symbolize strength and beauty, and have inspired countless poets and artists through the years. The fruit arrives in late May and June, golf ball sized, first green in color and ripening to yellow, with a reddish pattern. Notoriously sour, ume are never eaten raw. They are pickled and dried for umeboshi, or soaked in liquor and sugar to create ume shu (plum wine).

Umeboshi are often enjoyed at breakfast, where their mouth-puckering flavor awakens the diner, or at lunch in bento boxes, where the red circle in the middle of a rectangle of white rice represents the Japanese flag. It has antiseptic qualities and is thought to aid digestion.


Yuzu (citron)
Yuzu is a citrus fruit, a little larger than a lime, with bumpy, thick yellow skin. It has a bright lemony flavor and a beautiful aroma. The trees can tolerate cold climates, and the fruit ripens, along with mikan, in November. Yuzu is hard to find outside of Japan, but its juice is sold in small bottles; after opening, store it in the refrigerator and use it quickly, as the wonderful intense flavor and aroma fades over time. The juice, as well as the rind (thinly sliced), is wonderful in salad dressings, pickles, simmered dishes, and lends a heady aroma to clear soups. The rind also makes a lovely decorative cup when the pulp is removed, and is delicious when candied. Yuzu rind is also available freeze-dried in vacuum-sealed packages. The rinds are sometimes dried and added in large pieces to hot baths, where the essential oils are thought to warm the body and ease back pain. TOP