AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Mikan liquor-ish

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 11, 2011

ONE of the classic scenes of Japanese domestic life in the winter is a family seated around the kotatsu (a low wooden table with a futon around the sides and a heat source underneath), drinking green tea and snacking on the tasty citrus fruit known as mikan. As easy to peel as a tangerine but with more heft, the mikan is sometimes known as the mandarin orange or Satsuma orange in English. It is by far the mostly frequently eaten citrus fruit in Japan; statistics for 2006 show that per capita consumption of oranges was roughly 585 grams, while that for mikan was 4.55 kilograms.

Its ancestor came to Japan from China centuries ago through the port at what is now Yatsushiro, Kumamoto, but it’s generally accepted that the variety now grown and eaten in Japan is a hybrid created in Kagoshima. That’s based on the research of the late Prof. Tanaka Chozaburo, who spent his life studying the mikan, and who identified 159 seed varieties in the same genus. Mikan groves are most likely to be found in Shikoku and Kyushu, with Wakayama accounting for 19% of the national production, but there are orchards as far north as Kanagawa and Chiba, both of which border the Tokyo Metro District.

Mikan are most often consumed raw or in juice, but with overall consumption declining, the city of Arida, Wakayama, started looking for ways to boost demand for their local variety. It took two years, but local growers and processors working with a Nagano winery succeeded in developing a wine and a liqueur made from the fruit.

One of the people who worked on the project was Takano Yutaka of the Japan Sommelier Association. Mr. Takano said it was difficult because mikan have less sugar than grapes. They froze the juice first in the same process used to make ice wine, extracted the part with the high sugar content, and let it ferment for six months. The beverage is said to retain the fruit’s original aroma and tartness, as well as being thick and very sweet. Tipplers can down it straight, with ice, or with carbonated water, and all of this is starting to sound as if it’s being marketed primarily to young females.

The Wakayamanians have produced 1,500 bottles of wine, called Himekibana, priced at JPY 3,150 yen, and 3,000 bottles of the liqueur, known as Kahorikibana, sold for JPY 1,050 yen. If you’re in Japan, you can buy it at the larger Aeon stores and on the Internet. And if you read Japanese you can roll on over to the mikan page of JA, the agricultural cooperative, as well as the page of the Japan Sommelier Association.

I don’t think I’d be interested in drinking it more than once, but it does seem to have the potential for becoming a nice sherbet, doesn’t it?

*****
Speaking of mikan, sweetness, and females, you get a chance to see and hear Morning Musume — the daughters of the morning — perform the song titled “Mikan”. Child love!

Those whose default attitude toward Japanese pop culture is stuck on “snide” should read this and adjust your metric accordingly.

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2 Responses to “Mikan liquor-ish”

  1. toadold said

    Hmmm, it might work if you mixed it with one of the Suntory blended Scotch whiskeys. I wouldn’t want to risk messing up one of their single malts.

  2. joe said

    fail.

    The satsuma ([u]Citrus unshiu[/u]) is a seedless and easy-peeling citrus mutant of Japanese origin introduced to the West. In Japan, it is known as mikan or formally unshu mikan (Japanese: 温州蜜柑, unshū mikan).

    The Mandarin orange, also known as the mandarin or mandarine (both lower-case), is a small citrus tree ([u]Citrus reticulata[/u]) with fruit resembling other oranges.

    A mikan is a mikan. There is no English word for mikan. Mikan and MandarinOrange trees are very different.
    ——-
    J: Thanks for the note.

    You might be right about the mandarin orange name, so be sure to tell the companies that market processed mikan (in Japan, anyway) with “Mandarin Oranges” on the label. What I said was that they are sometimes called that in English. They are.

    I’m not a Wikipedia fan, but you might try their article on mandarin oranges to see what turns up.

    – A.

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