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Sukanpo is a descriptor for young, upright shoots that appear in the spring, connected to underground, spreading rhizomes. The shoots are thick, cylindrical, and straight, typically harvested when they have reached 15 to 20 centimeters in height, and the tops of the shoots have pointed, slender leaves with smooth edges and a slightly tapered nature. Each shoot showcases raised and bumpy nodes, also known as joints, and have a smooth, pale green surface covered in dark red dots, speckles, and markings. The nodes also display a bright red coloring, enhancing the visual contrast against the green base. The leaves are small to medium in size, averaging 8 to 10 centimeters in length, and have an oval, tapered shape ending in a distinct point. When young, Sukanpo is hollow and will have a crisp, aqueous, succulent, and mucilaginous consistency. As the stems mature, they become crunchier, easily snapping under pressure, and may have a slightly fibrous to stringy texture. Look for shoots with the characteristic snap-like quality, as shoots that fold and do not snap easily are considered too old to eat. Sukanpo has a refreshingly sour, tart, vegetal, grassy, and earthy taste. Some consumers liken the flavor to rhubarb and comment that the shoots have a more vegetal, earthy, tangy asparagus-like taste when cooked.
Sukanpo is available in the spring.
Sukanpo, botanically classified as Fallopia japonica and sometimes known under Polygonum cuspidatum, is a term to describe the young shoots of Japanese Knotweed belonging to the Polygonaceae family. Japanese Knotweed is native to East Asia and is a hardy, herbaceous perennial developing a shrub-like nature extending 2 to 4 meters in height. The plant is fast-growing, occasionally expanding over 30 centimeters in one day, and produces fibrous, knobby stems resembling bamboo with red stripes, earning it the moniker Tiger Cane. Japanese Knotweed is also known as Asian Knotweed, Fleeceflower, Billyweed, Monkeyweed, Japanese Bamboo, Itadori, Itampo, Honzo Jana, Gompachi, Donggui, Suppon, Sashibo, Danji, Itazuiko, Jazippo, and Saitana. In the spring, the plant's young shoots are harvested for culinary use and are a treasured seasonal delicacy known as Sukanpo, Sukampo, and Sucampo. The name Sukanpo is thought to be derived from the shoot's hollow nature, and the distinct popping sound made when the shoots are snapped from their stem base. Sukanpo is traditionally harvested when it is less than 20 centimeters in height and is favored for its crunchy, aqueous nature and refreshing, sour, and vegetal flavoring. The shoots are not commercially cultivated as they grow widely throughout natural habitats in East Asia. In Japan, springtime foragers and chefs use the young shoots to create a wide array of sweet and savory preparations.
Sukanpo is a source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while boosting collagen production, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and manganese to assist with building connective tissues. The shoots also provide vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, phosphorus to produce genetic material such as DNA and RNA, and zinc to help cells grow and repair damaged tissues. The sour and acidic taste of raw Sukanpo is attributed to the presence of organic acids such as citric, malic, and tartaric acid. The plant also contains oxalic acid, a compound that can prevent the absorption of some nutrients if consumed in large quantities. It is only recommended to consume Sukanpo cooked and in small amounts.
Sukanpo has a sour, subtly acidic, vegetal, and green flavor suited for cooked preparations. The shoots must be peeled as the skin is fibrous and tough, and once peeled, they can be lightly boiled, steamed, baked, grilled, or sauteed. Historically, peeled Sukanpo was sometimes consumed raw in Japan, and the shoots were sucked on in the field for their high water content. Despite these raw uses, Sukanpo in the modern day is not commonly consumed raw as the shoots contain oxalic acid, which can be harmful if ingested in large quantities. The shoots are popularly cooked to reduce their sour taste and are added to stir-fries, fried into tempura, or eaten with a vinegared miso sauce. Sukanpo is also added to stews and soups, blanched and tossed into salads, or simmered in a shiru stock and served over rice. Beyond savory cooked dishes, Sukanpo can be incorporated into sweet compotes, sauces, and fillings or used in pies, mousse, muffins, cakes, and other baked goods. The shoots can also be simmered into jams and jellies to create a sweet and refreshing spread. One of the most famous Sukanpo preparations is pickling. Fermenting the shoots allows the pieces to retain a crispness without becoming slimy. Fermented shoots can be diced into fish cakes, used as a topping in ramen, chopped into relish, or served with burgers, seafood, and salads. Sukanpo can also be dried, ground into a powder, and mixed into ice cream, yogurt, and soups. Sukanpo pairs well with meats such as pork, beef, and poultry, seafood, aromatics such as ginger, garlic, and chives, shiitake mushrooms, and herbs including lemongrass, cilantro, lemon balm, and spearmint. Freshly harvested Sukanpo should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor. The shoots can also be preserved in salt and stored for extended use.
Japanese Knotweed is celebrated during the annual Kibune Matsuri festival at the Kifune Shrine in the Kurama mountain region of Kyoto. The Kifune Shrine is a temple inspired by the goddess Tamayori-hime, who, legend has it, traveled to the site by boat up a river. The shrine is dedicated to water and features several waterfalls and places for visitors to drink fresh mountain spring water in cleansing rituals. During the annual festival in June, several ceremonies are conducted to honor the historical practices of the temple, followed by a walk up the mountainside to chant prayers and pay respects. These ceremonies and processionals are held in a specific order, but during the walk up the mountainside, there is an unusual tradition of gathering wild Japanese Knotweed. Participants harvest the largest Japanese Knotweed stem they can find from the forest around the shrine, and this competition has been occurring since ancient times. The knotweed gathering has become known as Itadori Matsuri and is a popular event during the shrine's celebration. In addition to the longest stem competition, participants also race to gather as many stems as they can in a quest to harvest the most Japanese Knotweed.
Sukanpo, also known as Japanese Knotweed, is native to East Asia, specifically Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and China, and has been growing wild since ancient times. The species is not commercially cultivated as it is plentiful in the wild and is seasonally foraged for its young shoots in the spring. In the mid-nineteenth century, Sukanpo was introduced from Japan to England, offered through nurseries, and planted as an ornamental and erosion control plant along embankments and roadways. The plants were initially met with favor in England as they resembled bamboo and were fast-growing, thriving in many different soil types. Japanese Knotweed was also brought to North America in the mid-19th century, featured in seed catalogs for landscape planting. Despite their promising introduction, Japanese Knotweed is considered one of the most aggressive and challenging to eradicate invasive species in the modern-day. Even removing it from gardens is laborious, as just a tiny piece of the plant left behind in the soil, compost bin, or garage pile will cause it to regrow and spread. The plant also has a strong root system that can break through streets, paths, and walls. Today Sukanpo is a foraged green seasonally gathered in the spring throughout East Asia and is found in the Honshu, Wakayama, Shikoku, and Kyushu prefectures of Japan. In China, it is found in Gansu, Sichuan, Yongshan, Shaanxi, Xichou, Zhaotong, Guizhou, and several other provinces. The species thrives along roadsides, fields, mountains, streams, lakes, riverbanks, and disturbed areas and is seasonally sold as a delicacy through fresh markets.