Eating sakura (cherry blossoms and leaves) article in the Japan Times

Sakurayu - cherry blossom 'tea'

My latest article in The Japan Times is about edible cherry blossoms and leaves. Japanese people love the cherry tree so much that not only do they eagerly look forward to their all too short flowering season each spring, they use the whole plant. They eat the berries of course later on (cherries are called sakuranbo and are in season in June and July) but they also eat the blossoms and the leaves, pickling them in salt and umeboshi vinegar (a by-product of making umeboshi). The wood is used for various things too, as well as the bark. See how sakura bark strips are used in the making of magewappa (bent wood) bento boxes here on JustBento. The bark is also boiled and used as a medicinal tea.

Some photos that didn't get into the article below.

This is how salted/pickled sakura leaves and flowers are typically sold. The flat package contains leaves, and the jar has flowers. You can find them in well stocked supermarkets or in department store food halls in Japan around this time of the year.

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Closeup of some cherry blossoms straight out of the jar. As you can see they are quite salty, so for most uses you need to soak them in water for a bit. But for sakurayu or sakura tea, just put a blossom or two in a cup of hot water. The 'tea' is salty and sour with a subtle fragrance.

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The easiest way to enjoy the taste of sakura in Japan is via wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets). This is a sakuramochi - an an (sweet bean paste) filled mochi cake wrapped in a sakura leaf. The salty-sour taste of the leaf is a perfect foil to the sweetness of the cake inside.

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Here's another kind of sakuramochi; the mochi cake is made of Doumyouji rice, which is medium grain instead of short grain.

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How the sakuramochi looks inside. It's a nice couple of bites.

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This is a sakura manjuu. The filling is an again, but the dough is different from mochi (but still made with rice). The top is decorated with sakura flavored salt. You can also find sakura manjuu with a salted cherry blossom on top.

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Finally here is a sakura-flower shaped nerikiri, a delicate confection made just from smooth an. Beautiful, isn't it? It doesn't actually taste like sakura, unlike the more rustic sakura mochi and sakura manjuu, but it's meant to enjoy the season via the eyes. This one is from Kagizen Yoshifuka, a famous old tea room in Kyoto that I have written about previously a couple of times.

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You can also buy seasonal sakura flavored candies, chocolates and the like but to be honest, most of these are pretty but just taste like sugar.

I have noticed that a lot of people (at least in my circles) are travelling to Japan this spring. This is a good thing. If you're in Japan or planning to go there soon, enjoy the sakura season!

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