Takana is a type of leaf vegetable (Brassica juncea) belonging to the Brassicaceae family and grown as a food crop. Originally from the area between the Mediterranean and Central Asia, it came via China to Japan , where it developed local varieties and ecotypes as it adapted to the country’s environmental and cultivation conditions.
In the Nagasaki prefecture and most precisely in the Unzen municipality, on the Shimbara peninsula in the far south of Japan, one of the most distinctive of these ecotypes has developed, a takana that forms “knots” at the base of its leaf ribs. It was selected through the efforts of Mine Masugu, a small farmer and owner of a seed store, who after the war decided to cultivate and propagate this ecotype, and made it available to other local farmers. As a result this leaf vegetable has spread throughout the area with the name “Unzen takana with knots”. From the 1960s its cultivation was completely abandoned and replaced by more profitable crops.
A local farmer, Iwasaki Masatoshi, came across some wild plants in 2002, propagated and selected them, and distributed the seeds to local small farmers. This led to the creation of a local movement to recover Unzen takana involving 13 organic farmers, including Iwasaki, who undertake to produce seed for the others. A small workshop run by women transforms this vegetable into traditional Japanese tsukemono. The first plants, harvested in October, are eaten fresh (cooked or raw), while the second and third harvests are processed.
Due to its sweet flavor, with a slight spicy note, Unzen takana is the only Japanese takana which can be eaten raw: all the other ecotypes have a sour flavor and need to be transformed. Tsukemono is the traditional Japanese preservation method for winter vegetables. After harvesting, the takana is dried for half a day, then put in brine and left to ferment in salt in sealed, weighted containers. After about one month more salt is added together with a little turmeric and fermentation allowed to continue. It is ready for eating after about 3-4 months.
A local movement to recover Unzen Takana, including Iwasaki, was also born, undertaking to produce seed for the others.
Common objectives of the Presidium are to increase the number of producers (the amount currently grown is very small), to secure a viable price (the profitability of this crop is very low), to identify new markets for both fresh and transformed product, and to train growers to produce their own seed, an essential step in increasing production.
Production area: Unzen, Shimabara peninsula, Nagasaki prefecture
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