Ah, spring is finally here. There is nothing better than that break in the weather when you can put away those winter coats, turn off the heating, and start thinking about going out with friends to enjoy the beauty of the cherry blossoms in a park or by a river. It’s a time when love is in the air, but unfortunately for some, so is pollen.
The foods that are in season here during this time are especially delicious. My favourite fruit, the strawberry, is available in abundance. Japan currently has the largest production and consumption of dessert strawberries in the world. No surprise there. No matter where you go you will see something with strawberries in it during this time. I prefer to eat them fresh when they are really ripe and juicy, and without condensed milk. They are high in vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. Strawberry farms throughout Japan offer strawberry picking during this season. For an admission fee of around 1,500 yen per adult, you can eat as many as you like within a limited time. What could be better?
In keeping with the season, there are foods made from cherry blossoms. I was surprised and intrigued to see cherry blossom ice cream for the first time some years ago. It’s a very delicious springtime treat. It was nice to eat cherry-blossom sorbet at a recent Chunichi Dragons game at the Nagoya Dome. You can even buy cherry-blossom noodles and udon in some stores.
A vegetable that now gets added to my shopping basket during this time is bamboo shoot. It is a very versatile vegetable that can be made in soups, tempura, stir fries, and rice. During this season you can also go bamboo shoot harvesting throughout Japan, which is almost mandatory for Japanese people. The bamboo shoot is low in saturated fat, and very low in cholesterol. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamin B2 and B6, potassium, copper, and manganese. A bamboo shoot harvesting trip is definitely something to experience during this season.
In spring my taste buds start craving fresh salads, and the daikon radish is one of those vegetables that’s lovely when shredded and mixed into a nice leafy salad with tomatoes and cucumbers. When cooked, daikon is usually boiled in soups, stews or hot pot (nabe) dishes. It is the most popular ingredient in the oden hot pot. Daikon also makes Japan’s most popular pickle, takuan. During the harvesting season, daikon hanging from farm houses in preparation for pickling is a common countryside sight.
Daikon is one of many cruciferous vegetables linked in studies with successful cancer prevention. Daikon contains several great antioxidants associated with fighting free radical damage, a known cause of cancer. Research has also shown that daikon juice helps prevent the formation of dangerous chemicals and carcinogens in the body and helps the liver process toxins. It is also high in vitamin C. It is believed that daikon helps the body to burn fat, though this has not been proven. Whether it helps to burn fat or not, the daikon radish is extremely low in fat and cholesterol, but dense with nutrients, making it a great addition to any effective weight loss program.
In late spring the asparagus is another one of those vegetables to be enjoyed. It is one of the lowest calorie foods available: only 23 kcal/100 g. This is due to its virtual lack of fat and very low carbohydrate content. However, it is among the vegetables highest in proteins and packed with vitamins and potassium. Eating it has been proven to help with kidney disorders, but it should still be eaten in moderation because of its significant stimulant effect on the kidneys.
The fruits and vegetables that are in season in Japan now should be thoroughly enjoyed.