In Japan, Funky Fermented Ice Cream Flavors Are All the Rage

DRAWanilla, chocolate and strawberry are all favorite ice cream flavors in Japanbut forward-thinking confectioners are looking back at the country’s age-old fermentation methods to create some of the most exciting modern flavors.

For nearly two centuries, Komego has been producing miso – fermented bean paste used as a basic flavoring agent in Japanese cuisine. Step into the well-equipped outlet store in the west coast city of Fukui, Japan, which has a wide variety of predictable items on display, including a variety of fresh miso in plastic-lined wooden crates and tables filled with soups and miso-based sauces. , and ice. More surprisingly, there is a refrigerator with six signature flavors of Komego products, including white miso with cream cheese and red miso with crispy almonds.

“People ask a lot of questions about those two things,” said Kentaro Tada, president of Komego. “They wanted to know if the flavors really went together.”

It turns out that these somewhat surprising combinations are actually a good complement to each other. The taste of white miso is quite mild, just slightly salty, which goes well with the fatty taste of cream cheese. Red miso, on the other hand, has a richer, saltier flavor that goes well with the fatty flavors of the almonds.

The company’s #1 best-selling ice cream is flavored with amazake, a fermented rice drink. “You can taste the natural light sweetness of the rice,” says Tada. “People really like it.”

Tada was inspired to add early-fermentation ice creams to expand sales beyond their predominantly female clientele and offer an easy-to-eat finger food, as more customers come to the store. are visitors on bus tours. The universal appeal and portability of the cream make it the perfect solution.

For Manami Okada, pastry chef of Acoya, a pastry shop and restaurant located nearby in Eshikoto, the goal of creating a soft, fermented flavored cake stemmed from a desire to cut down on food waste. from the sake brewery that owns the tasting room where Acoya is located.. “I want to reuse sake kasu [otherwise known as sake lees], a by-product of the sake making process,” she explains. “The flavor is usually a very mature, aged and strong flavor. Usually in Japan, it is used to make soup or to make pickles.”

However, the fresh dregs she obtained from the brewery had a completely different taste, more melon-like with a slight floral undertone, making it ideal for sweet applications. “Even ordinary people who don’t like sake kasu love it,” says Okada, who distributes the serving software through a special faucet to give it a cloud-like shape and serve. in a slender cone of maple flavor.

Acoya isn’t the only place to incorporate sake residue into a frozen dish. For more than a decade, Dassai of Asahi Shuzo, one of the country’s top sake brands, has been turning sake dregs into ice cream by Fuji Reika, a small couple-owned ice cream parlor in Hakodate. The ice cream is only available at their store and stores owned by Asahi Shuzo. During the pandemic, domestic sales plummeted, threatening the continuation of this cream. The company decided to try to expand the market for this cream by mass production and export to China. Surprisingly, Dassai Sake Kasu Ice was a huge success, leading to countless export requests to other Asian countries.

Another type of spoon using fermented ingredients is soft soy sauce served at the Yamato Soysauce & Miso outlet in Kanazawa. To many international visitors, the idea of ​​using soy sauce in desserts seems odd. But this creamy confection tastes like salted caramel, making it a much-loved cake that has grown exponentially over the past 15 years. The creator, Yamato CEO Seiichi Yamamoto, said it started as a fun experiment before suddenly becoming his company’s signature item and a bestseller at their store.

Soy sauce ice cream at Yamato Soysauce & Miso.

Courtesy Nevin Martell

All of the fermented products that go into these spoons start with one common ingredient: koji. It’s an edible mold, like the mold found in cold cuts and blue cheese, that’s important for the fermentation process needed to make sake, miso, and soy sauce. In the process, it adds a rich umami of rich saltiness to the dish. To harness and bring out that rich, delicious flavor, Sun Honest, an ice cream maker in Numazu City, uses koji in four types of ice cream, including those combined with yuzu, strawberry and green tea.

Ice cream infused with fermented products isn’t the only flavor in Japan that’s adventurous by Western standards. Daio Wasabi Farm in Azumino serves mustard-spiced ice cream, a soft dish blacked with squid ink that is a popular dish at the fish market in the port city of Yaizu, and in Wakayama Prefecture, gelato made with peas Locally grown thin orchids. Even Häagen Dazs has extended their products to Japan, creating unexpected flavors like cherry tomato, purple sweet potato and carrot.

“In Japan, hyper-local ingredients play an important role in food culture,” says Yukari Sakamoto, author of the book. Tokyo Sake Food, “so it’s not uncommon to find local ingredients in ice cream while traveling around the country. Unique flavors are also fun for locals to market and something travelers look forward to when they arrive in a new city. Kamo Aquarium in Tsuruoka, Yamagata is famous for its jellyfish ice cream. And Kanazawa is famous for the production of gold plates. Many cafes sell snacks with a piece of gold leaf or ice cream parfaits that will be covered with edible gold.”

Merry White, a professor of anthropology at Boston University who has studied Japanese food culture for more than three decades, believes ice cream is the perfect canvas for boundary-pushing experimentation. “Because it’s a novelty and wasn’t invented there, it doesn’t necessarily follow any traditional Japanese construction,” she said. “It’s something malleable that can be made into new forms – unlike the inherently traditional foods.”

She compares ice cream to KitKat bars. While there are only a handful of flavor options available in the United States, new flavors are constantly being produced in Japan to celebrate seasonal products, iconic desserts, food favorites, and more. regional specialties. “It’s all about fun,” she said.

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