|The Essence of Cuisine Lies in Soup Stock
Secret of Good Niboshi is Human Input
Rediscovering the Value of Niboshi
|The Essence of Cuisine Lies in Soup Stock|
|Scientists now agree that human taste buds are able to distinguish between five main tastes sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. This last one, which was not even recognized by most Western sources until recently, is purported to be the savory, meaty taste of deliciousness, and of the five, this is the one about which Japanese are particularly discriminating. (Japanese even gave the word to the English language!) Japanese cuisine has traditionally eschewed spices fresh produce is cooked in a way that seeks to ensure that ingredients retain their natural flavor. Umami the taste and flavor of Japanese stock or dashi is the hidden ingredient of Japanese cuisine.
Soup stocks of cuisines around the world like bouillon and fon de veau in European cooking and Chinese tang are usually cooked over many hours; in contrast, Japanese dashi is heated for only a short period of time. Dashi can be made from a diverse range of ingredients, combined in different ways, and used in various applications. Indeed, dashi is the very foundation of Japanese cooking. Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda discovered glutamic acid, a substance that produces the umami taste extracted from kombu (kelp), which is a common ingredient of dashi.
Dashi ingredients used in Japan include dried kombu and katsuobushi (shaved dried bonito), but these were exclusive ingredients favored by the wealthy classes and upscale restaurants, so they were not readily available to the common people. Niboshi (dried fish) was the popular and plentiful alternative.
Niboshi is a general term for small, dried fish, usually iwashi a group of fish that includes sardines, herrings, pilchards, and anchovies. It is also known as iriko in western Japan, where niboshi is commonly produced. Sardines and other iwashi are migratory fish found in waters around the world, but they do not keep well once landed from the water. For this reason, many methods have been developed to cook, process, and preserve iwashi canning in oil and marinating in vinegar, to name two. Niboshi is said to have originated in coastal communities of Kyushu and Shikoku where iwashi are plentiful, as a way of preserving the fish in the sun when catches were plentiful. The protein and calcium content of iwashi increases significantly as a result of drying which enhances their nutritional value. Dried iwashi are versatile in that they can be preserved for a long time, eaten relatively fresh, or used to make soup stock with a rich and strong taste. They are even used as animal feed or fertilizer. Niboshi is thus an excellent processed food that is an essential staple for the common people.