Last updated 12 Oct 2016

About Kudzu (本葛)

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is a perennial plant belonging to the pea family called Fabaceae. The kudzu plant is a prolific, tough, and fibrous vine with heart-shaped leaves that has been used as food in China for more than 2,000 years, and praised in Japanese poetry and legend as a health fortifying food and an ideal thickener. Its roots are amongst the largest in the world, ranging in length from about 1 m to over 2 m and weighing between 90 kg to 180 kg. The Kudzu plant has been part of everyday life in Japan since ancient times. Every part of the kudzu plant from the roots to the leaves is useful with practically no wasted parts: the roots are edible and used in Chinese herbal medicines, the leaves are used as feed for cattle, and the fibers in the vines are used for fabrics. The most familiar byproduct of Kudzu plants is the starch, widely regarded as the highest quality cooking starch or jelling agent in the culinary and confectionary world. Kudzu can be used in most dishes, desserts, and beverages.

Our esteemed Kudzu supplier

Since 1875, Muso Japan has been harvesting and processing kudzu root from wild plants growing in Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyushu Island. Harvesting wild Kudzu consists of the simple but back-breaking work of digging out the roots with a shovel. The official harvesting season for Kudzu starts in December and continues through April. There are about 300 professional wild Kudzu harvesters or diggers called "Horiko" working for our supplier. The present harvesting areas span from the mountain areas of Kagoshima prefecture to the Miyazaki prefecture. Kudzu grows most rapidly during the summer, when the Horiko go deep into the mountains to locate and mark down potential kudzu harvesting areas. In the winter, when the leaves and vines have already fallen off, they return to those marked areas to ccollectthe best roots. Kudzu harvesting is a very secretive operation; each harvester has their own secret turf, much like the truffle harvesters in the West. All of Muso’s kudzu is harvested from wild plants that are at least 20 years old. In fact, the Horiko will never dig young roots, leaving them for a future harvest. This is the unspoken rule among the Horiko and their way of showing respect and gratitude toward the natural blessings that are offered to them from the Kudzu roots.

Extracting white gold from Kudzu roots

After harvesting, the next step to obtain kudzu starch is through rinsing. This rinsing process is where the Hirohachido demonstrate their 150 years of insight and expertise. The rinsing process at Hirohachido involves a natural process that is coupled with traditional methods, all without the use of any chemical substances. Each root is hand-cut into chunks that are then crushed into fibers, which are then soaked and rinsed to create a thick brownish paste. The paste is repeatedly washed and filtered in cold mountain spring water until it becomes a pure white starch. The kudzu starch is then dried, crushed into small chunks, and packaged for distribution.

The health benefits of Kudzu

In traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu root is considered one of the 50 fundamental medicinal herbs. Traditionally, Japanese households keep this high quality starch in their pantry as a staple. Grandmothers typically used it to prepare kudzuyu, a type of gruel made using Kudzu starch when a family member catches a cold. We now understand the use of kudzu as a traditional folk medicine based on research that has discovered healthy phyto-nutrients in the starch, called flavonoids, including puerarin (approximately 60% of the total isoflavones) and also daidzein and daidzin.

The health benefits of kudzu include:

  1. Kudzu is most effective at treating minor indigestion and the symptoms of the common cold.
  2. Kudzu is also effective in relieving intestinal discomfort caused by over-acidity, bacterial infections, and diarrhea.
  3. Its isoflavones have been shown to reduce the appetite for alcohol by influencing areas of the central nervous system that control the desire for alcohol. They are also helpful in curing hangovers.
  4. Kudzu helps soothe emotions, reduces excessive stress, and it is traditionally used to calm hyperactive children in Japan.
  5. Kudzu is helpful in relieving muscle aches and pains, especially in the neck and shoulders.
  6. Kudzu’s isoflavones have a positive effect on reducing fevers, in addition to fighting flu symptoms such as muscle aches and headaches.
  7. In Traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu is prescribed for reducing high blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and relieving chronic migraines. As a result, researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham performed studies that confirmed kudzu’s effectiveness at normalizing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood glucose.
  8. Kudzu’s hard chunks are convenient to chew for relief of heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux, or any intestinal issue. It’s an excellent natural antacid for pregnancy heartburn.

Culinary value

Kudzu is flavorless and easily dissolves in cool or cold water. Upon heating, the water thickens, providing an essential and invaluable ingredient for making a variety of sauces, creams, gravies, and other dishes. Kudzu is a healthy alternative to other commonly used thickeners such as corn starch, tapioca, or arrowroot. Experienced chefs claim that kudzu’s neutral flavor has no effect on the flavors of the other ingredients in a dish made with kudzu. In addition, even when the sauces simmer, kudzu is able to maintain its thickening qualities.

Unsui brand kudzu from Muso Japan is distributed in Malaysia by Woods Eco-cuisine Sdn Bhd (9276699k)