Takana, also known as Japanese mustard greens, is a fascinating ingredient that's used in Japanese and Asian meals. What’s cool about Takana is that it's a regional plant, so in Japan, the plant looks different in several regions. Takana is usually sold in pickled form because it offers a unique burst of flavor that is slightly bitter. Pickling the leaves also helps it to retain the slightly spicy flavor, plus it gives a satisfying crunch when you eat it.
In this guide, we'll uncover the secrets of what Takana is made of, learn about Takana as a vegetable, and discover the many ways to use Takana in your cooking. Whether you're a seasoned cook or just starting your culinary journey, let's unravel the wonderful world of Takana.
Takana, or simply pickled mustard greens, is made from a specific type of mustard plant known as "Brassica juncea." It originated from China and was introduced to Japan in the Heian Period. Back then, it was more of a commoner’s meal, but because of its versatility and strong flavor, all income classes now eat it in Japan. It’s used as a vegetable component in many dishes because of its texture and flavor, but it is actually used in its pickled form.
Takana has a crisp and slightly crunchy texture, making it an excellent addition to both cold and hot dishes. Its texture is similar to leafy greens and adds a unique flavor when used as a topping or ingredient. You'll also notice a subtle tanginess in Takana, adding a hint of sourness that complements its spicy and umami qualities. This tanginess can brighten up meal recipes and make them more vibrant.
Takana is usually planted on a large expense of land by farmers in Japan. Regions like Aso, Kyushu, and Fukuoka all have Takana plantations and produce a significant amount of Takana regularly.
Takana seeds are sown in moist soil and watered regularly to help them grow. They are usually plated without shade in full view of the sun and take around 7-8 weeks to mature fully. Each seed is plated around 5 inches deep inside the soil and 3 inches apart from the next seed. It takes around 4-7 days to sprout. One of the best things about growing Takana is that it gives off a tangy, peppery scent, and it has a 96% germination rate, so even gardening newbies can try growing some Takana.
Because these plants are grown differently in each region it is grown, harvesting time also differs. Japanese mustard greens are usually in season from October to March. They are plucked when they are tender and young to have the best quality for pickling. Farmers pluck hundreds of Takana daily by hand without the use of machines. They mostly just snap them at the stems. However, some farmer cut the outer leaves when it is mature and leave the inner leaves to fully grow.
Some people do decide to eat Takana in its raw form, but the most popular way of eating Takana is in its pickled form. Tsukemono or “pickled things” are popular side dishes served with many Japanese meals for extra flavor, and Takana is often used as tsukemono. Pickling helps to retain the peppery taste of the leaves and gives it that satisfying crunch.
The pickling process begins by washing the mustard greens and then allowing them to dry. Then, it is fermented in saturated water with other veggies like pepper. This fermentation can take several weeks to several months, depending on the desired flavor profile. As the mustard greens ferment, they transform, developing a distinct umami taste. When the Takana has been pickled, manufacturers package and sell them in vacuum-sealed bags, while others are in traditional pickling jars.
Takana's signature flavor comes not only from the fermentation process but also from various seasonings. Some common ingredients that are introduced during the pickling process include salt, chili peppers, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and occasionally, konbu.
Now that we've explored Takana, let's dive into how you can use this delightful ingredient to enhance your culinary creations. Here are some ideas:
One of the most common uses of Takana is as a garnish. The tangy, spicy, and umami-rich flavor of Takana adds a slightly fiery touch to a variety of dishes like:
You can create a vibrant and spicy stir-fry by adding Takana to your favorite combination of vegetables and protein—the spiciness of Takana pairs wonderfully with many sauces in a stir-fry. One example of this is Takana fried rice, which is a flavorful and satisfying dish that combines Takana with the classic comfort of fried rice. It is also called Takana chahan, or Fukuoka pickled mustard fried rice. To make it at home, simply sauté Takana with cooked rice, vegetables, and your choice of protein for a quick and delicious meal.
In conclusion, Takana is a delightful ingredient that offers a complex blend of flavors, making it a valuable addition to various dishes. When you use it as a garnish to add an extra layer of taste, this Japanese pickled mustard leaf can elevate your culinary creations in unique and exciting ways.
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This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem and edited by us.