Fermented food in fishing villages
Heshiko(Obama City)
January 13th, 2017
by Takeshi Takashima

Fish inevitably spoils or goes rotten soon without stopping the bacteria.  Fermentation is one of the common methods to preserve fish for a longer time; e.g., anchovy from the Mediterranean, Stinkheads from Alaska and surströmming known as the smelliest fish from Sweden.

Fukui is one of the rice-producing regions in Japan and has fishing grounds along the coast of the Sea of Japan.  It effectively utilizes the great combination between fish and rice to produce fish fermented in rice bran, called “Heshiko (へしこ)“.

Heshiko is the traditional preserved food in fishing villages of Fukui.  Its coastline is “rias”, which has made them isolated.  Heshiko is the achievement from wisdom of local people, who have made efforts to ensure the food, especially in severe winter.  They enjoy eating Heshiko as sashimi (raw fish) or lightly grilled, usually with steamed rice or Japanese sake.

How do they make Heshiko in details?  And, is there any secret in Heshiko?

At first, fish (mostly mackerel) are salted down for a few weeks.  Then, they are pickled in rice bran, byproducts of the rice milling process, to be fermented for a year.  Yasuyuki Kosaka is a high school teacher, who studied the traditional recipe of Heshiko at Fukui Prefectural University for five years and found out its scientific mechanism.  According to his study, protein of mackerel is degraded into peptide and amino acids by lactic acid bacteria contained in rice bran, resulting the rich taste, mixed with acidity, sweetness, bitterness and umami.

Several Heshiko-based products are on the market as the local specialities of Fukui.  For example, according to Yasuyuki’s scientific advice, Takashi Kadono, a fisherman who lives in a small village named Yashiro (矢代) of Obama-City, makes 500 units of Heshiko by hand in a year.  His hand-made Heshiko are very popular and sold out every year, partly because of his own secret methods, e.g., “The amount of salt should be 20% of the weight of mackerel” and “Use only byproducts of pesticide-free rice.”

Heshiko can be made from other seafood than mackerel, such as squid, dolphinfish and pufferfish.  “Nuka-chan Group”, a local group of fishermen’s wives in Koshino (越迺) of Fukui-City, produces bottled Heshiko with olive oil, made from squid.

Heshiko is gradually gaining popularity among chefs and foodies in and outside of Japan.  Heshiko has a great potential to be applicable to various kinds of food, not only traditional Japanese food, but also European contemporary cuisine, such as salad dressing and pasta sauce.

What do you try to cook with Heshiko?   Any idea is welcomed.











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