The turep (Lilium cordatum) is a typical species found in Northeast Asia, which belongs to the lily family. It is native to Japan and the Russian islands of Sakhalin and the Kurils, where it grows spontaneously in the forests, it prefers to grow in humid soils such as in the banks of rivers. The plant has very eye catching and showy blooms, for this reason it is in great demand as an ornamental plant in gardens, even outside its area of origin. In Ainu food culture, turep is an important food like vegetables, however it has never been adopted in Japanese cuisine.
The Ainu people collect the turep bulb in July. The bulb is milky white and weighs about 150 grams. Once collected, the bulbs are washed and peeled one by one; they are then crushed in a barrel or in a mortar. The bulb is rich in starch, therefore, after being crushed, the mixture is immersed in water to obtain the precious starch. The starch settles on the bottom and forms the precious ichiban-ko or “first powder”. This mixture is then dried in the sun.
Starch is used as a medicine for abdominal and gastric pain. The “second powder” niban-ko, is less refined because it contains fibres and residues. It is processed into circular, fermented and dried blocks. With this special preservation technique, the compound obtained is kept throughout the winter. When it is to be prepared, the dough is pressed, soaked in water and generally added to rice porridge or soups based on venison or vegetables. The main use of niban-ko or turep is to prepare gnocchi. The turep fermentation process requires a lot of experience. Furthermore, fermentation produces an intense smell, and it is now rare to find the Ainu making this preparation for daily use. Also, other types of starch are now widely available and much cheaper.
Due to the urban development of the areas where the Ainu live and therefore due to deforestation, forests and wetlands have been drastically reduced. For this reason, the plant is almost impossible to find in densely populated areas such as Sapporo. Among the Ainu communities of Hokkaido, turep is used less and less in cooking.
Furthermore, the number of Ainu people has decreased significantly, and their food culture is facing a complex transition of traditional knowledge from community elders to younger generations.
With the spread of westernized diets, Ainu food is rarely seen outside of ceremonies.
The Slow Food Community Ainu Women for the safeguard of Ainu Food Culture is working to pass on traditional foods to the next generations based on the concept of "circulation while being grateful for the blessings of nature" passed down from their ancestors. They also create new creative dishes that utilize Ainu ingredients and food culture, and pass them on to as many people as possible. In this way, Ainu women are preserving nature and traditional foods.