Processed seeds of Kochia, “Tonburi” is known as “land caviar.” The characteristics of tonburi, consists of small circles that are 1 ~ 2mm in diameter, green color, and a popping texture that is just the same as those of caviar, the roe of sturgeon. Kochia, which is also called “Broom grass” in Japan, can be grown everywhere in the country, but its seeds are harvested and processed only in Akita. Almost all Tonburi are produced in Hinai town of Odate city, a northern part of Akita.
Before Tonburi is on a dish
Kochia, the grass which bears Tonburi, is a pretty round shaped, one-year grass. It was introduced from China as a raw material for brooms in the Heian period (from late 8C to late 12C). In the summer, the color of its leaves is a refreshing green, and it turns to beautiful red in the autumn. It is said that the reason why the seeds of Kochia began to be eaten was because of the severe famine in Edo era (the early 17C to the late 19C). Starving people managed to survive since they found a way to eat Kochia’s seeds.
The harvest of Tonburi is around the end of September. Farmers reap Kochia one by one by using stickles when the leaves of grass become yellow and its seeds ripen enough. Because small Tonburi is easily blown away by the wind, and the September is typhoons’ season in Japan, farmers cannot feel safe until every Tonburi is harvested. After the harvest, Tonburi is dried under the sunlight for about a week, and boiled once. Then it soaks in the water for about one day to remove its skin. This series of procedure is repeated 2 or 3 times, until the Tonburi with fish roe like texture is ready to eat.
A charm of Tonburi
Until about 50 years ago, Tonburi was eaten only in Akita. However, thanks to the development of vacuum-packed and bottling process, Tonburi can now be eaten anywhere and anytime. From the bottle of Tonburi, a sesame-like savory smell comes out. Its popping texture is exactly that of caviar. Because of its plain taste, it fits to any cuisine. In Akita, for example, Tonburi is often eaten with yams.
Tonburi is an ideal food for those who are health-conscious. In fact, Tonburi is an herbal medicine which has been used in China from 2,000 years ago. The rich amount of saponin in Tonburi prevents diabetes and drunken sickness, and it also enhances liver function and the diuretic action. Tonburi also contains Vitamin K, which prevents osteoporosis, Vitamin A, which eliminates the tiredness from eyes, and Vitamin E, lacking of which causes skin problems, poor circulation, stiff neck, headache, and frostbite.
Tonburi, one of the traditional foods in Akita, not only does it bring a feeling of quality, but also a healthy body to you.