We tend to think that people in the far and mysterious Japan are so much different from us. They have a different view on what is important in life and also their lifestyle is dissimilar to ours. Still, they have two eyes and one nose, as my mum would say. But before getting into an in-depth analysis of the stereotypical Japanese mindset, let’s shift our attention to Japanese lifestyle. Here we will find facts rather than beliefs to prove that the Japanese are indeed different. But how? The answer is: they know how to live a good life. And by good I mean a longer and healthier life. How do they do that?

Yes, you already guessed it: the key is Japanese cuisine. Rice, fish, vegetables, moderate quantities, and so on, we know it by heart. It’s common knowledge. But there is one foodstuff that is a substantial part of Japanese diet and still doesn’t get enough attention and that is fermented food. Mostly fermented vegetables, called nukazuke.

Pre and pro!

Fermentation as a biological process happens with the aid of bacteria that produce lactic acid. Fermented-or pickled-food is conserved through this process, as the helpful bacteria, -very similar to the species found in our digestive system-hinder the reproduction of harmful microorganisms while enriching the food with important nutrients. By eating pickled food we can help ourselves to both pre-and probiotics. The former serves as food to our gut bacteria while the latter can supplement our intestinal flora with friendly bacteria that dwell in fermented food. Pickled foodstuff can also aid the absorption of several vitamins, proteins and minerals.

Nuka, the family treasure

Home-pickled vegetables are the best for our health, as store-bought ones often undergo heat treatment and thus lose their nutritional value. The Japanese indeed do it at home: most families have a fermenting (wooden or ceramic) crock of their own. They fill the crock with rice bran, which will serve as the fermenting bed for vegetables, and is called the nuka. Before the real fermenting can begin, the nuka needs a couple of days for the starter colony to develop with the supplement of salt, water, kombu seaweed and some apple peel or sliced veggies. Once it’s set up, almost any vegetable can be buried into the wet sand-like nuka and matured there for days, weeks, or even a month. It all depends on the user’s taste. Vegetables pickled in nuka never get soggy and their taste is always unique, due to different colonies and varying spices used in fermentation. However, it is important to „maintain” the nuka bed by giving it a clean-handed stirring every day so that harmful processes such as moulding don’t occur. A well-maintained nuka can last for years and years, making it possible for generations of pickle-lovers to hand over the family fermentation „manufacture” to their children. The most popular vegetables to pickle are radish (daikon), eggplants and cabbage, but even fish or meat can be conserved with this method.

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