This year’s warm winter has brought a little less predictability to our weather, as we swing back and forth between warm, comfortable days and freezing temperatures. Having to readjust with every change is hard on our bodies, especially as the season goes on. The locals in Yoshino have a lot of ways to stay warm, and one of them is “rooted” in a somewhat surprising place.
Once you know it, you notice that the kudzu vine is all of over the place. It isn’t the most beautiful plant, but locals in Yoshino find its value below the surface. There is a long history in Yoshino of grinding the roots of kudzu plants into a powder, and making desserts and drinks with it. While the cool desserts are refreshing in the summer, in the winter time, I have come to enjoy mixing this powder with hot water to make a drink called “kuzu-yu”.
First boil some hot water. Open a pouch of kuzu-yu powder and pour it into a small bowl. Add the hot water, quickly stir it up, and voila! You have found the local secret for making it through a tough winter. It has a thick consistency, but is still thin enough that you can drink it straight without a spoon. Though it is usually a pearly white color, it comes in a variety of flavors, and sometimes those flavors have a different color. The pack I bought today had the original flavor (kudzu root and sugar), ginger, matcha tea, and azuki bean.
There are many shops in Nara that sell products made from the kudzu root, especially in the Yoshino area. It is not as sweet as chocolate cake, I think you’ll find that kuzu-yu warms your heart just as well. If you’re worried about staying strong through the end of this cold season, it might be worth borrowing a little local wisdom and get the hot water boiling.