Aug 2010 | Vol.12 MUSO NEWS
Written by Haruhiko Nakayama
In Pursuit of White Gold for 130 Years
At the beginning of Meji Restoration [ the beginning of modern Japan], a mere merchant named Kiyosuki Taguchi was contemplating to take a new step; either to start up new Sake brewery or Kudzu powder production facility. After much thought, he finally choose the latter, simply because there are a lot of Kudzu plants growing wild where he resided in Fukuoka -located on Kyushu Island. He gave his kudzu powder production a trade/brand name as "Hirohachido", our suppler of Kudzu powder for the last 20 years.

Our Kudzu supplier "Hirohachido"

The Kudzu plant is closely related to everyday life here in Japan since ancient times. Every part of kudzu plant, from root to leaves, is useful and there is nothing to waste: root for edible use or Chinese herbal medicine, leaves for cattle food, and vine for fibers of fabrics. The most familiar by product of Kudzu plants , of course, is starch, regarded as highest quality cooking starch in the world. In the old days, regular households used Kudzu to keep this high quality starch as a pantry staple.

Grandmas typically used it to prepare a hot water potion when one got sick. Nowadays it is disappearing from regular household and there is a new generation of people who are not familiar with Kudzu powder. On the other hand, for many knowledgeable people, it is still considered a very important ingredient not only for Japanese confectionary but also for traditional cuisine. This is especially the case in Kyoto.

Lump of Kudzu starch
Traditional Kudzu confectionary

Official harvesting season for Kudzu starts from December and continues through April. There are about 300 professional wild Kudzu harvesters called "Horiko" working for Hirohachido. The present harvesting areas span from the mountain area of Kagoshima prefecture to the Miyazaki prefecture.

"Horiko" digging out Kudzu roots

Kudzu root looks like a cloggy log, gray-brown in color, with a diameter of 50-60cm and length of 1m, with average weight of 20-30kg. Harvesting wild Kudzu is simple but back breaking work of digging them out with a shovel. Still, it also requires expertise to extract Kudzu starch successfully.

Kudzu roots

Given the fact Kudzu grows the most in summer and then leaves and vines will fall down during winter. Horiko, during summer, will go deep into the mountains to locate and mark down the possible harvesting area. They will then go back to those certain areas in the winter time.

Horiko harvesting is a very secretive operation; each harvester has his own turf like truffle harvester in the West. It is said there needs be another 20 years for a root to become fully grown. The Horiko will never dig out the whole root in order to leave a little root for future generations. This is a manner and unspoken rule among the Horiko; how they show their respect and gratitude toward natural blessings that offer them in the Kudzu root.

After harvesting, the next step is rinsing. This rinsing process is where Hirohachido has accumulated expertise over a period of 130 years.

The rinsing process at Hirohachido involves only a natural process coupled with traditional methods -all without using any chemical substances. After extracting starch from roots through a crushing process, it goes to refining. This simple but complex repetition between washing down with water and settling of extracted kudzu starch is a vital process where the brownish starch morphs into stark white powder.

Traditional rinsing process of Kuzdu
Kudzu in a rinsing tank

In 2008 their rinsing plant became ISO 22000 certified plant. Hirohachido’s rinsing process is now being operated now not only based on tradition but also on modern food safety. And white gold powder will continue to amuse and bless us for years to come.

Kudzu in a drying storage
Kudzu under a metal detector
For more information about Kudzu, please visit our global site