Food Trip, Japan, Kagoshima, Kyushu

Kagoshima’s Black Vinegar – A 200-Year Tradition

Perhaps you might have seen this image somewhere, but did you know that this scene is also in Kagoshima of Kyushu?

In Fukuyama of Kirishima, a part of the Kagoshima Prefecture, artisans have this one item that they have been producing for centuries! It’s no joke when the dedication has passed down for more than 200 years!

It’s the kurozu, a type of amber rice vinegar. The black ceramic pots are used to ferment and age the vinegar, hence making the rows of pots becoming an iconic scene, a unique add on towards the picturesque Kagoshima.

Usually, when we think of mold, we often think of negative things, but to brew the famous kurozu, the Aspergillus oryzae,or known as kōji-kin, is required. If you have heard of miso, sake, and soy sauce, all basic seasonings used in traditional Japanese cuisine, the kōji-kin is also a great contributor to these delicious condiments. Its contribution has even made Japan to declare it as Japan’s “national fungus” in 2006!

With the fungus, in black ceramic jars that also contains rice and water, the combination slowly ferments and mature under the sun to be the mild-tasting black vinegar that is a signature in the town of Fukuyama of Kagoshima Prefecture for more than 200 years.

The vinegar that comes with a lot of dedication

Kurozu literally means “black vinegar,” a mild-taste vinegar that has a dark tint instead of the usual white vinegar we see everyday. There’s a reason why it is famous – and it is not just the sight of black jars in Fukuyama of Kagoshima.
Being a vinegar that is well-rounded in its acidic tang and a light hint of sweetness, how the vinegar managed to enhance the flavors of local dishes has made it so famous to be a more than 200-year tradition. Besides, it was also said to bring health benefits as it has high demands during outbreaks of illnesses. 

As the vinegar ages, the amber color darkens. As one of the oldest fermented foods known to humankind, crafting a batch of high quality kurozu in large amounts requires great commitment with passion and diligence of the artisans. 

We talked about fermentation on initial stages, but little did we knew that the mixture is allowed to mature for up to six (6) months! If you think it’s over – it’s not. Because after the initial six months, the waste products from the surface will be skimmed off, then the vinegar is then again left to mature and mellow for another two or three years! During this time, the kurozu darkens to a coffee-like hue as its distinctive flavor profiles deepen. It is no wonder why it required great commitment and diligence!

Unlike commercialized vinegar that we usually get from supermarkets that are made in factories, there is no such thing called a kurozu factory in Fukuyama. The rows of black jars are located in a hillside village, and it is so many of the jars that you can overlook the Kagoshima Bay with rows and rows of black jars of kurozu aging in the sun. Unique sight, isn’t it?

Maybe you might have remembered from your science classes that dark colors retain heat. The jars’ dark colors and sizes are meant to maximize heat absorption and retention, and have remained the same for two centuries. Even the placement is strategic – they are even placed in rows stretching north to south to ensure they can all receive both morning and evening sunshine.

Fascinating, don’t you think?

Will you be visiting Kagoshima for this unique sight? Let us know if you have plans to visit Kagoshima! The team in H.I.S. Travel is ready to assist your Japan travels.

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