Kudzu mochi and kudzu kiri are traditional sweets unique to Nara and Yoshino. They’re made from just two ingredients, kudzu starch and water. The gelatinous rubber ball/viscous water droplet texture of kudzu mochi and the complete transparency and mildly sweet flavor of both kudzu mochi and kudzu kiri makes them a fun and tasty dessert. The open kitchen of Nakai Shunpudo Sweets Shop and its willing eagerness to show off the preparation process means it is the most fun place in Yoshino to try the sweets.
“Normally, water and starch don’t mix, just like oil and water don’t mix,” explained the chef (in Japanese) while displaying two metal bowls of water with a pile of white kudzu starch at the bottom. “So how do you get the starch to mix with the water? If you did a similar experiment in chemistry class then you know that it has to be heated.” The chef stirred up the kudzu mochi with a whisk, poured it into a pan and put it on the stove. “If you heat up the starch it absorbs the water and becomes clear.” And it did. The kudzu kiri, whisked, poured into a square pan and steamed in a tray of hot water, was even more impressive. The chef floated the pan on the surface of the water and rocked the liquid kudzu kiri back and forth until the entire solution had, quite abruptly, solidified. “Now to make the kudzu kiri go clear! Ready?” He sank the pan in the water and almost instantly, the kudzu kiri went transparent. “Now it’s ready to be eaten.” The chef then cut and prepared both the kudzu mochi and the kudzu kiri for serving, informing us that we only had 10 minutes to eat it before the starch and the water started to separate and ruin the flavor. Both the kudzu mochi and kudzu kiri were served with a sweet Japanese brown sugar and Japanese molasses accompanied by a cold cup of tea and were an excellent dessert.
While eating my kudzu sweets the chef of Shunpudo told me about the process of making the kudzu starch and about kudzu’s medicinal properties. Apparently kudzu can slow down or halt the progression of a cold and its symptoms if kudzu is consumed at the outset of the cold, it can also cool a fever and relieve a sore throat (and potentially sore muscles and joints). I didn’t have a cold or fever on my trip to Yoshino but the refreshingly cool kudzu kiri and kudzu mochi certainly cooled me down after having spent much of the day outside in the summer heat. Need a refreshing snack on a hot summer day? Happy travels!