'Water' eggplant

Senshu 'water' eggplant tastes like a fruit

Yomiuri Shimbun, ANN

Monday Jun 13 2011

Salt brings out the eggplant's natural sweetness while rice bran adds depth and flavour to it.

IZUMI-SANO, Osaka, June 8, 2011 - When farmers became thirsty in olden times, they often would munch on a raw mizu-nasu--literally water eggplant.

The eggplants were grown in the corners of rice paddies and other fields for this very purpose.

Mizu-nasu, juicier than other eggplants and without a funky smell, have been cultivated in Senshu, a southwestern part of Osaka Prefecture, since the early Edo period (1603-1867).

The mizu-nasu season lasts longer than that of other eggplants. From April to June, it is grown in greenhouses while field-cultivated mizu-nasu are available from June to September.

Shunka, a company in Kishiwada in the Senshu area, is a major producer of mizu-nasu pickles. I was shown around the company's factory by Ichiro Tanino, a third-generation executive of the company.

Workers first washed eggplants before removing their hulls. They then gently massaged the vegetable using solar salt.

"If the eggplant's surface is lightly scored, salt can penetrate its center. When this occurs, the eggplant is able to fully absorb the flavor of nuka (a rice bran culture used as a pickling medium), which is the next step when pickling eggplants," Tanino explained.

I tasted mizu-nasu that had been pickled for two days, apparently the best time to eat them. I was told to make shallow incisions in the eggplant with my fingernails before pulling it apart.

"If you use a knife to slice mizu-nasu, the knife's metallic 'smell' will react with the eggplant," Tanino said.

The salt brought out the eggplant's natural sweetness. Moreover, the rice bran added depth and flavor to the piquant pickles.

The mizu-nasu tasted like a fruit, almost suitable for dessert.

Mizu-nasu used to be consumed only in the Senshu district but is now commonly available at Tokyo department stores. If you have never tasted pickled mizu-nasu, I strongly recommend it. Its flavor transcends that of ordinary pickled vegetables.