Japan is famous for its colorful, unique cuisine. Takuan, or a traditional Japanese pickle, is a favorite treat for many people, both of Japan and abroad. Also known as takuan-zuke or takuwan, it is created from a specially treated radish, and is often served at the end of a meal.
Takuan is a very popular food in Japan. In contrast to the traditional cucumber used in Western pickling, takuan is made from the daikon radish. In addition to being a flavorful treat, takuan is also believed to help aid the digestive process following a meal. Most typical Japanese meals call for pickled vegetables of some kind. The flavor of these pickles is considered tangy and sharp, with a crisp texture.
To make takuwan, a daikon radish is exposed to sunlight for two weeks. Usually accomplished by hanging the radish upside down, the process lasts until the radish becomes flexible. The radish is then placed in a pickling crock, and submerged in a mixture of various ingredients. Traditional ingredients include vinegar, salt, and rice bran, or nuka. The pickling mixture can be flavored, however, with almost anything, including popular choices such as kombu, daikon greens, sugar, dried persimmon peel, or chili pepper.
The lengthy process continues by placing a weight on top of the crock to keep it closed tightly. If a crock is unavailable, other containers, such as a barrel, may be used. The radish then pickles for several months inside the mixture. Some chefs opt to remove the product after only one month for a lighter flavor. While complete takuan is typically yellow in color, this is often due to a food coloring additive.
Pickled radishes are so important to the Japanese that many people make them at home. Pickles are usually created in the fall to be consumed throughout the winter months. The treats are named after a famous Zen Buddhist priest who introduced them to Japan. Nutritionally, the pickles are a good source of B-vitamins as well as helpful lactobacilli bacteria.
Takuwan may be served alongside other Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, as a special dish. Accompanying tsukemono may include pickled turnip, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, and plum, or umeboshi. This meal may be completed with rice. Tsukemono can also serve as a side dish, a garnish, or a part of the Japanese tea ceremony.
South Korea is another place where the pickled radish is popular. Here, it is called danmuji. South Korean dishes such as jajangmyeon, a mixture of noodles, soybean paste, meat, and vegetables, often call for use of the radish as a filler or side dish.