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Nanohana are the young shoots of the rapeseed plant, including its buds, leaves and stems. The stems are thick and green, and their leaves are spiked, deeply veined, and soft. The plant itself grows to around 1 meter in height, but only the top 15 centimeters of the stalks, including the flower buds and leaves, are used for cooking. Nanohana has a grassy, slightly bittersweet flavor that is often likened to broccolini. Its texture is juicy and soft when cooked. It is at its most tender when the flower buds are still tightly closed, before the plant bears its distinctive bright yellow flowers, after which it becomes more bitter.
Nanohana is available year-round, with a peak season in the late winter to early spring months.
Nanohana is botanically classified as Brassica rapa. It is a member of the mustard family, and may be also referred to as Flowering Rapeseed, and Field Mustard. "Nanohana" means “vegetable flower” in Japanese, and Nanohana is a traditional Japanese springtime vegetable, celebrating the end of winter.
Nanohana contains vitamins B and C, and is high in antioxidants like beta-carotene. It also contains minerals like folic acid, calcium and iron.
Nanohana is not used raw. It can be pickled, fermented, fried, boiled, sautéed, and steamed. The traditional Japanese dish, Nanohana ohitashi, Nanohana is blanched, then served with soy sauce, dashi and toasted sesame seeds. It can be cooked and served with wasabi and miso, or dipped and deep-fried as tempura. It pairs well with tomatoes, garlic, onions, bamboo shoots, ginger, shitake mushrooms and sesame oil. It may be used in any recipe that calls for broccoli raab. Store Nanohana in the refrigerator, where it will last for several days.
The Nanohana plant is deeply cherished by Japanese people. The appearance of the plant’s yellow flowers are a signal that spring has arrived in Japan, and tourists visit open parks and fields which are prolifically covered with the blossoms. Nanohana have been described in Japanese literature – haikus, for instance, referencing Nanohana are an immediate link to springtime for the reader - and portrayed in Japanese art. Nanohana is said to be good for the digestion, helping detox the body and jump-start one’s metabolism after a long winter.
Nanohana is native to central Asia. A close relative of the canola plant, it has been cultivated for centuries in Japan, where the mature plant is also used as vegetable oil, and as animal feed. Nanohana has been used in Japan since at least 1185 CE, when Buddhist vegetarian cuisine was introduced to the country. Today, most of the Japan’s Nanohana is grown in Chiba Prefecture.
Recipes that include Nanohana. One is easiest, three is harder.