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Kintoki Ninjin Carrots
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Kintoki ninjin are elongated, slender roots, averaging 25 to 30 centimeters in length, and have a cylindrical shape, slightly tapering to a pointed tip on the non-stem end. The skin is smooth, firm, and bright red, sometimes covered in white striations. Underneath the surface, the flesh is crisp, pale red, and tender with a faint, sweet aroma. Kintoki ninjin are known for having a softer consistency than common carrot varieties and have a subtly earthy and distinctly sweet flavor with notes of caramel.
Kintoki ninjin are available in the fall through spring.
Kintoki ninjin, botanically classified as Daucus carota, are a rare, heirloom variety that belongs to the Apiaceae family. The bright red roots are also known as Kyoto Red carrots and have the esteemed title of kyo-yasai, which is a traditional grouping of specialty vegetables grown in Kyoto, Japan. Kyo-yasai vegetables are heavily protected, having been grown for hundreds of years, and are used as one the primary ingredients in the cuisine of Kyoto. In Japan, vegetable-focused dishes are believed to better align the body with the natural rhythms found in nature, and kyo-yasai vegetables are chosen for their high nutritional content. Kintoki ninjin are only available for a short season and are a preferred variety grown in home gardens across Japan. The bright red roots are prepared simply to preserve their natural coloring and flavor, traditionally steamed or served in soups, and are a favorite variety among children for their sweet flavor.
Kintoki ninjin are an excellent source of lycopene, which is a natural pigment and antioxidant found in the skin and flesh. Lycopene has been shown to help protect the skin against aging, boost the immune system, and reduce vision damage. Kintoki ninjin are also high in potassium, which can help balance fluid levels in the body and assist in lowering high blood pressure and contain fiber, calcium, and vitamins C and E.
Kintoki ninjin are best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as steaming, stir-frying, or boiling. When fresh, the carrots can be consumed straight, out-of-hand, sliced and tossed into salads, or pressed into juice. In Japan, Kintoki ninjin are popularly used in osechi ryori, which is grated daikon radish and carrot tossed with vinegar and served as a palate-cleansing side dish. The red and white dish is often prepared during the Japanese new year celebration and is used to honor the colors of the Japanese flag. In addition to fresh applications, Kintoki ninjin can also be boiled as the carrots do not fall apart with high heat. The roots can be steamed, sliced, and served in a dashi soup, fried into tempura, or lightly stir-fried to create a caramelized flavor. They are also sometimes used in Kyoto to flavor specialty candies. Kintoki ninjin pairs well with persimmons, yuzu, radish, bonito flakes, mitsuba, mochi, poultry, seafood, mirin, and soy sauce. The fresh roots will keep 1-4 weeks when stored unwashed, with the tops removed, in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
The name Kintoki is derived from a famous Japanese folk hero known as Kintoki Sakata or Kintaro. Legend has it that Kintaro was a strong boy who wore a red apron, carried around an ax on his shoulder, and rode a bear. When he was young, Kintaro won a battle while riding on top of a bear and pushed down a tree to make a bridge for animals so they could cross a river. While he was showcasing his supernatural force, a well-known military commander, Minamoto no Yorimitsu, saw Kintaro pushing down the tree and was impressed by his strength. The commander asked Kintaro to join him, and after their joint partnership, Kintaro went on to defeat many demons and adversaries. Today Kintaro is considered to be a guardian angel for boys in Japan and is a symbol of success, health, and virtue. His image is often used for dolls and is drawn on posters in Japan, seen as a model to encourage young boys to grow up strong and courageous.
Kintoki ninjin were first introduced to Japan in the 16th century from China and became a highly coveted variety valued for their flavor, appearance, and texture. Despite their popularity, the red roots are still considered to be rare in modern-day markets due to their short season and are primarily grown in the Kansai area of Japan. Kintoki ninjin can be found at specialty markets and are also grown in home gardens throughout Kyoto.
Recipes that include Kintoki Ninjin Carrots. One is easiest, three is harder.