"Horokanai Buckwheat" - For a limited time only.
Introducing Horokanai buckwheat. These buckwheat seeds are kept in a near freezing river during midwinter and dried in the winter sun. This creates a sweet sugary taste in the buckwheat.
This buckwheat / buckwheat process, also known rather appropriately as 'cold buckwheat' is believed to have started in the Edo Period (1603-1868 CE) in Japan. It is believed the Tokugawa Family were the original inventers of this process.
Firstly a river must be unplugged by cutting through the ice to the water below. The seeds are then stored here for a period of time. The intense cold of a clear frozen river helps to develop the sweetness of the seed and reduce bitterness. The seeds are then removed and dried on a the mountain side in the cold winter wind and mid-winter sunlight.
The combination of the Horokanai area climate and terrain, and the cold buckwheat process seem to go hand in hand. With plenty of cold rivers and winter winds, but rich soils for growing in the summer, it's the perfect place for cold buckwheat.
White flowers bloom across one whole expanse from mid-July to mid-August. When the seeds are turning a rich black they are harvested. This occurs usually around the beginning of to mid-September.
After the husks are pulled from the seeds, each one glows like a little black diamond. This trait has led this buckwheat to be called "Gen Soba" or literally 'Mysterious Buckwheat!"
Moving into early March it is time to go to work and place the buckwheat seeds in the clear, ice-cold river! Tough job but someone has to do it! As seen in the photo, it is necessary to dig down about one (1) meter to the river. Then place the buckwheat in this near freezing water. All of this was done on a day which the max temerature was about minus 2℃!
Actually a quick FYI - Horokanai holds the record for the lowest recorded temperature in Japan! February 1978 - Record at minus 41.2 ℃! (And yes they probably still made buckwheat then too!)
After the buckwheat has soaked for about two weeks, it is time to pull them out. About 360kg of buckwheat is put in, and taken out of the river! This is enough for around 1200 noodles servings!
The delicious sweet flavor of the buckwheat is now well established after this chilly bath.
The buckwheat is then dried. This process takes about several weeks of cold air drying.
Now for the end result - This is homemade soba using cold buckwheat. This soba is sold in the local area and is limited to 20 servings per day at four selected stores! The soba will be ready from about June 16th! So keep your appetite ready.
With all the effort that it takes to produce this unusual form of buckwheat, please enjoy each meal slowly!
( Photos courtesy of Horokanai town Tourist Association)