Follow that sweet vinegar smell
Added In: Articles › Japanese Food culture
When the wind blows strong, vinegar tang stalks innocent nostrils down the Handa City streets, a smell synonymous with the city for just over two hundred years now. Following the strength of the scent leads to Mizkan’s Su-No-Sato vinegar factory and museum. A river canal cuts through several preserved Edo era factory buildings of black painted wood with the famous Mizkan symbol in white on the side.
In 1804, Matazaemon Nakano the First developed a way to make vinegar from sake lees (then considered the waste of the sake brewing process). Locals latched onto his new seasoning, encouraging Nakano to expand his business. The river into Mikawa Bay allowed for easy shipment to Edo, where fame grew from his vinegar coupled with the new Edo style sushi invented during the same period. The popularity of sake lees vinegar spread from Edo to all parts of Japan. Consumers worldwide can now purchase an ample line of vinegar goods labelled with the family emblem based Mizkan logo. Factories in the Asian Pacific, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States produce dressings, condiments, various cooking and seasoning vinegars, and of course the famous rice vinegar. Mizkan assures all its customers of the highest quality products with the logo of three lines over a circle—balancing taste, smell, and sourness for the best vinegar.
The lone vinegar museum in Japan, Su-No-Sato opened in 1986. Since then one hundred and fifty million visitors have come to learn about both the Edo era and modern vinegar production process. Every year Mizkan invites local elementary school students to study how to make vinegar at the museum. But both young and young in spirit have improved their vinegar knowledge in the museum.
The tour begins in a miniature cinema where a short film outlines the history of vinegar, Mizkan, and the ‘mysterious powers’ of vinegar with English narration. Babylonians first invented vinegar made from nutmeg and raisins around five thousand B.C.; it made it to Japan sometime in the fifth century. Images of different vinegar seasoned dishes change by season on the screen to the chords of the Nutcracker Ballet. The narrator then describes eight ‘powers’ of vinegar to aid with health. Bacteria buffering properties of vinegar mean it makes a good cleaner. The taste stimulates saliva production and appetite to assist in digestion. For those with salt-crazed taste buds, vinegar can add seasoning without all the sodium. Vinegar aids in calcium absorption when cooked with ribs and chicken wings, and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure . Perhaps most important for the upcoming summer heat, vinegar re-energizes ‘like a refreshing cool breeze’.
Following the film, visitors view the tools and methods used to manufacture vinegar in the Edo era, three and a half year process. Sake lees were aged for three years in a wood tank, mixed with water into a mush, and then filtered through cotton bags. Brewers boiled the liquid, let it ferment for another month, and removed half to age as a ‘Mother’ vinegar for another three months. After one final filter through straw ash, the vinegar was stored in wooden barrels. The modern rice vinegar process takes a much shorter period of three months to complete. Sake mixed with the ‘Mother’ vinegar and acetic acid ferments in bathtub-like containers forming an icy film over the top, and creates vinegar in two weeks. The vinegar ages for one to two months, like a good cheese or wine, to improve flavour. Visitors can view the modern fermentation tubs kept in a naturally temperature controlled room (in the summer they open the windows and in winter they cover the tubs with mats).
After learning about the creation and health gains of vinegar, the last room offers pamphlets and computers to search for recipes to introduce more vinegar into the diet. They also have a library of recipes online at www. Mizkan.com/recipes in English.
But vinegar isn’t just for cooking. In Japan, Mizkan’s vinegar based drink rivals rice as the most demanded product. When the curator offered me the honey apple flavor, I had choking flashbacks of the consequences of my four-year-old inquisitiveness. My mother’s cook friend let me take a swig of vinegar when I asked about the taste. I could only remember the burning, so I braced my throat for similar sensations. However, Mizkan’s apple drink tastes similar to fresh-pressed apple cider with the same fizz and revitalising qualities. Just add four parts water to every one part vinegar and this summer you’ll have the perfect drink to cool off and get some energy in the withering heat.