Release | Hokkaido Likers
Found huge and sweet haskap! Visited Atsuma-Cho with the biggest planted area in Japan
Haskap is also known as “the secret medicine for perennial youth and long life.”
The fruit is well-known as a local specialty of Hokkaido, but it’s very sour, and raw fruits don’t sell in the market usually, so I guess not many people have seen the fruit itself nor eaten it.
However, I heard that you can enjoy haskap picking from the end of June every year at Atsuma-Cho, Japan’s no.1 haskap town!
And I also heard that they grow sweet and large breeds here, changing the impressions existed for a long time.
I need to see the truth… so I visited Atsuma-Cho to reveal everything.
Table of Contents- What is haskap and how is it like?
- How did they develop sweet and large fruits?
- What is the difference of “Atsumamirai” and “Yushige” comparing to regular haskap?
- Learn how to distinguish delicious haskaps!
- Let’s go to haskap picking to taste the fruit raw!
What is haskap and how is it like?
Haskap has a deep beautiful black, purple color.
It is known as an alpine plant in Honshu region, and the size is about 1 - 2 cm in average.
▲They have various shapes; circular, elliptic, bell shape, cylindrical, etc. Size and flavor of fruits are different depending on which trees they grow.
▲The name comes from Ainu people’s language “Hashikapu” meaning the thing grow on branches. The Japanese name for haskap is “Kuromi No Uguisu Kagura”, sounds cool…! (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
The area from Tomakomai to the Pacific Ocean called “Yufutsu Genya” is haskap’s most significant wild grown area in Hokkaido.
It originally grew near Lake Baikal in Siberia. There is Lake Utonai in Yufutsu Genya, which is the stopping point of wild birds. It is said that migratory birds brought seeds to Hokkaido from Siberia.
Wild haskaps are incredibly sour!
They are also bitter, so it is not suitable for eating raw.
However, the unique sourness is necessary to souvenirs from Hokkaido.
It is often used for jam, sauce, snacks, and juice, so many people have eaten wild haskaps used in those processed foods.
▲It looks like blueberries, but the flavor is totally different… (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm)
That sour haskap’s language of flowers is “the contract of love”. How romantic!
It came from how haskap grows fruits.
Two flowers bloom together from one root, and two flowers together make one fruit. The word came from this habitat of haskaps.
▲Beautiful light yellow flowers bloom. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm)
▲I will count on you for the important pollination work! Some farms set bee boxes.
▲Small green fruits grow gradually. This is the fruit of love!
How did they develop sweet and large fruits?
Haskaps were thought to have strong sourness and bitterness, but the impressions have changed gradually in Atsuma-Cho, by works of Mr. Yamaguchi, the owner of a haskap farm.
Haskap has different genes depending on trees like humans. Therefore, the size and flavor of fruits are very wide.
Mr. Yamaguchi ate fruits from all trees in the farm and pulled out trees with bad tastes, spending long years.
▲Mr. Yamaguchi with a charming smile. His jams made with particular methods use only haskap and sugar, so it has deep sweetness and sourness! It is perfect as a small gift. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm)
There were about 1000 trees in the beginning.
Only 20 trees out of 1000 were left in the end!
He succeeded in cultivating haskaps delicious when it’s eaten raw by cutting and increasing the number of trees.
Those 20 trees were all different breeds.
Among that, the largest breeds with strong sweetness are his original breed “Atsuma Mirai” and “Yushige”.
The two breeds are registered as new breeds in 2009. They are now known as brand haskaps that those in the know, know.
They are now cultivated in more than 100 farmers in the town.
What is the difference of “Atsumamirai” and “Yushige” comparing to regular haskap?
“Atsumamirai” is extremely large and has a long and narrow shape.
“Yushige”, too, is large but has an angular shape.
▲The left is “Atsumamirai” and the right is “Yushige”. Other breeds normally have 1 to 1.5 cm diameter, so it’s over twice the size! (The picture is frozen haskaps)
▲You can notice the difference in size when you compare with the wild kinds! (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
I was surprised by the size first. Now let’s try the flavor.
I know how strong the sourness of wild kinds because it was in the garden of the house I grew up. I tried how much is the difference.
“What? Is that haskap?”
I was truly surprised. It had strong sweetness! It was totally different from haskap I remember.
“Atsumamirai” is very sweet and light.
The aftertaste is fresh, too. I felt like I was tasting new fruits.
On the other hand, “Yushige” had strong flavors. It had haskap’s unique sourness in sweetness. I felt a great balance of flavors.
That should be expected. Both kinds have to be over 12 degrees of sugar content.
We can’t call them “Atsumamirai” or “Yushige” no matter the size if sugar content is below the standard; even one degree.
Only those passed the strict regulations get distributed to customers as brand haskap from Atsuma-Cho.
12 degrees sugar content is about the same as standard strawberries.
Can you imagine how sweet those two breeds are if you think that wild haskaps are too sour that you have to frown?
By the way, I heard that some of the pieces go up to 15 degrees!
Learn how to distinguish delicious haskaps!The basic rule is to look for deep purple ones.
▲Those with pale colors and red or green parts are unripe. Don’t pick them and leave it. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm)
▲Can you see the difference in color? (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm
However, there is a trap.
Black, purple fruits look like it’s right time to eat, but it takes about one week since the color changed to get ripe enough to feel the sweetness.
And it doesn’t change visually…
▲It looks everything is the same to us! We can’t distinguish if they are ripe or unripe. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
So I asked how to distinguish between the delicious ones.
There are two to three parts with fruits in one thin branch. Flowers bloom from the root to the tip.
With that said, bear fruits, get colored, and ripe must be from the root to the tip, right?
After all, fruits near the root are close to ripe!
▲The fruit inside the red circle in the picture above is most close to ripe. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm)
Those near the tip is easy to pick but if you find many fruits in the same branch, don’t pick ones near the tip but pick the ones near the roots.
Let’s go to haskap picking to taste the fruit raw!Haskap has thin skin and remarkably soft that juice spread out in small shakes.
We can’t see raw haskaps in the market often because it is very delicate that farmers must hand pick and the harvest season is very short.
However, I have a good news those who wanted to try the raw fruits!
There will be Haskap Fair from June 30 to July 22, 2018, in Atsuma-Cho, the town with the most significant planted area in Japan.
Anyone can participate in haskap picking casually.
▲They will offer stamp rally with a pass to participate in the lottery with gorgeous presents. You can also enjoy special dishes using haskap from Atsuma in Tomakomai City, located next to Atsuma-Cho. (The picture is provided by Atsuma Haskap Brand Promotion Committee)
Read through the how-to below. The procedure is almost the same as usual fruits picking.
1. There are 12 farms in Atsuma-Cho which allows visitors to do haskap picking. First, choose a farm to go! They have different systems and breeds so ask tourism association or each farm if you don’t know where to go. Farms may be closed according to weather and situation of fruits, so you should definitely call the firm before going.
2. Pay the entrance fee. Some farms offer for free.
3. The flavor, shape, and size are totally different depending on trees. Try fruits from different trees and find a tree with your favorite flavor. If you wish to enjoy it raw, choose a tree with a strong sweetness. If you want to make jams, I recommend choosing a tree with a strong sourness. Find fruits at its best by following the tips in this article!
▲You can sometimes encounter with surprises like this. I wish strong birds will hatch from the eggs! (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
4. Start picking if you find the tree you like! Those fully ripe crushes easily.
Hold gently and twist lightly.
▲Haskap trees are short so children can participate in picking, too. (The picture is provided by Atsuma Tourist Association)
▲Look at the sky and rest a while if you get tired. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
5. If you get satisfied, proceed to check out. They have differences in breeds, so the price differs between farms, but it’s typically 1,000 yen to 1,600 yen per 1 kilogram.
Some farms include parts to entrance fee or offer discounts by bringing the farm’s recycled box, so check for deals before entering.
▲The amount of 500 grams is like above if it’s a breed with large pieces. (The picture is provided by Haskap Farm Minori)
6. You can enjoy the harvested haskap right away or bring it home for cooking.
It’s easy to get fruit juice, so I recommend to eat it right away if you find pieces that are crushed. To eat while it’s fresh, finish it in three days and store in a refrigerator.
If you can’t finish within three days, freeze it without washing or cook it to jam or fruit wine!
▲Some people in Atsuma-Cho put haskap when cooking sweet pickles. They add bright color and fruity flavor! It is common to make salted haskap, too. They put in rice balls instead of dried plums.
Take note that there are only a few farms where you can pick “Atsumamirai” and “Yushige”. It’s their work to protect the quality and flavor.
You can purchase ripe fruits harvested by professionals’ eyes Some farms and supermarkets in the town.
Why don’t you try the sweet Atsuma brand haskaps in this opportunity?
Related Links■Atsuma Haskap Brand Promotion Committee
(Located in the economy group of Industry Economic Division in Atsuma-Cho Town Hall)
■Atsuma-Cho Haskap Special Website (Atsuma-Cho Tourism Association)
Text, photo / Hokkaido Likers writer Saki Murakami
Photo / Atsuma-cho Tourism Association, Haskap Farm Yamaguchi Farm, Haskap Farm Minori