When you get used to edging, the cooking begins to gel excellent

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The waters around Japan are rich in marine vegetation. Indeed, historically, all types of marine plants have been an important source of food for humans throughout the archipelago. Some sea vegetables require little processing – just rinsing and drying after harvest – while others take considerable effort to become deliciously edible. Edge (agar) gelatin is certainly one of the more refined foods from the sea.

A red seaweed called tengusa (literally, “heavenly grass”) is dried and cooked to make an almost colorless, very stiff aspic called toko rot. Although Tengusa’s ability to gel is well known and has been used in many Asian cuisines for centuries, the Japanese claim to refer to edging as one of their contributions to the culinary world.

Sometime in the late 17th century, a new breed of Tokorot appeared on Japanese tables.

Tokoroten agar noodles are a traditional cooling summer meal that can be prepared sweet or savory depending on the side dish. | GETTY IMAGES

The “discovery” of this new form of sea gelatin is attributed to chance and the economical action of Mino Tarozaemon, the owner of an inn in Fushimi, Kyoto. According to legend, he recovered some Tokorots that were lying in the snow, undoubtedly the remains of a winter festival. The Tokorot had been exposed to sub-zero temperatures at night, but sunny and cold daytime conditions for several days allowed it to naturally freeze-dry. The resulting spongy, if brittle, white mass was called kanten (literally “cold sky”) by the monks of the nearby Manpukuji Temple.

Known as agar-agar in most English-speaking countries, edging, unlike its perishable toco-rot predecessor, is stable in storage. Traditionally sold in sticks that had to be soaked, soft and crushed before use, edging is now sold in a convenient powdered form called Kona edging in supermarkets, convenience stores, and even 100-yen stores (look out for 粉 寒 天 or 寒 天 パ ウ ダ ーon the label). .

In the old days, before refrigeration or rapid transportation, people relied on kanbutsu – canned and dried (and non-perishable) foods – for their daily diet. In the modern washoku kitchen, dried foods that can be stored in the closet and turned into tasty, nutritious dishes when you’re too busy to go shopping (or when you need to isolate at home) are a real boon. Edging powder can easily turn sweet and / or savory liquids into filling jellies and aspic.

About 25 years ago, the Japanese beverage industry began to market mixed fruit and vegetable juices without the addition of sweeteners or colors. Introduced as a dietary supplement for on the go, most are filled with vitamins and minerals (check labels before buying). These juices are perfect for quickly preparing colorful, healthy desserts. Some of my favorites are mixed berries, mango-apple, and tomato-vegetable combinations. Since edging itself has zero calories and is 80% fiber, it’s an easy way to make cool, easy-to-eat treats for hot summer days.

Visit tasteofculture.com for more information. Washoku Essentials is a series that focuses on the building blocks of Japanese cooking wisdom.

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  • Tokoroten agar noodles are a traditional cooling summer meal that can be prepared sweet or savory depending on the side dish.  |  GETTY IMAGES