All About Japan

There's No Vegetable Like Snow Vegetables!

Fruit Ingredients Snow Shoryudo Fukushima Hokkaido Nagano Niigata Tohoku

Japanese apples are legendary for their gigantic round shape, sweet taste and hefty price tag due to their flawless appearance. Recently, a “new” kind of apple has been getting popular in the mountainous and very snowy prefecture of Nagano.

It seems that apple growers there have decided to make the most of the winter precipitation that covers their fields by burying freshly picked apples for several months under a huge pile of snow. The “snow apples” are said to be even juicier, crisper and sweeter after spending the winter months hibernating under the snow.

Apple-pickers in Ueda City in Nagano started selling these snow apples around 2009. About 15,000 apples are harvested between late November and early December and placed in crates on the Sugadai Plateau in the city. Snow can reach as high as 4 meters (13 ft) on the plateau, and the crates of apples are buried underneath it until March. They're then dug out and sold as “snow apples.”

The local agricultural association says that the snow keeps the apples at an optimum refrigeration level at around zero degrees Celsius (32°F) and humidity levels above 90 percent. This “natural refrigerator” makes the apples extra juicy with a crisp bite. People also say these apples have a much sweeter taste than regular apples.

In 2014, the apple farmers put more than 4,200 kilogram (about 9,260 lbs.) of the fruit under snow. They were sold at local events and over the internet. Several types of apples were buried, such as Fuji apples, Pink Lady and Nagano’s famous varieties: Shinano Gold and Shinano Sweet.

But apples aren’t the only thing being buried under snow! In the Minami-Aizu area of Fukushima Prefecture, where cold weather and heavy snowfalls are the norm, farmers are starting to use the difficult climate to their advantage. Instead of hurrying to harvest their crops before the snow hits, farmers instead leave the crops to grow as the snow falls and pick them at the end of winter.

Vegetables growing under the snow are said to be a little sweeter and have a richer taste than conventionally grown crops. Farmers have been growing cabbage, carrots, Japanese radishes, yams and all sort of vegetables using this method lately, and produce-lovers around Japan are starting to pay attention.

Meanwhile, in Niigata Prefecture, where meter-high (3-ft) snowbanks become the norm during the long, snowy winters, farmers have recently started growing “snow carrots,” which have become especially popular with kids as they don’t have the “grassy” smell typical to most carrots.

The snow carrots have more amino acids like glycine and asparagine, which is the cause of the sweeter taste. They also have more caryophyllene, which gives the snow-grown carrots a pleasant aroma.

These “snow vegetables” have been gaining popularity in Japan as they make their way all over Japan. And Japanese farmers in cold regions that may have a tough time in the harsh winter months in places like Hokkaido are probably more than happy to be able to provide a unique product like their snow vegetables (pictured above) that consist of the nagaimo yam, Japanese radish and cabbage.

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