Kuro Otabe, Japan’s Black Sweetmeat
Black Sesame and a Touch of Charcoal
For a couple hundred years, Japanese people have been enjoying a traditional sweet called Otabe, made in Kyoto.
The name Otabe means “Please Eat.”
Otabe originated in the Edo period, when a local merchant named Yatsuhashi Genpyo — who hated waste — started making a sweetmeat using Sugar and Cinnamon to use up leftover bits of Rice.
People liked these little sweets, which resembled a kind of chewy cookie, and they became a popular souvenir for travelers visiting Kyoto to take back home.
Otabe are still made in the traditional way and sold by the same shop Mr. Yatsuhashi founded.
This kind of snack or sweet belongs to the class of Wagashi or Japanese Conectionary, one of the important divisions of Japanese cuisine. There are hundreds of traditional varieties, many appropriate for serving with Tea, and some of the recipes come from ancient China.
In later years, different versions of the original Otake traditional sweet have evolved, among them an unusual Black Sesame sweet, called Kuro no Otabe.
This new version of the popular Otabe cookies is called Kuro no Otabe or Black Otabe. It”s jet black, and gets its color from the Black Sesame used in making the dessert.
There is a secret ingredient – a small amount of charcoal, which goes more to add a tiny bit of crunch in the texture than the color and flavor. These come mostly from the Black Sesame seeds. No fear – the charcoal used is not any ordinary charcoal such as you might use for a barbecue, but a quality called Edible Charcoal which is approved for human consumption.
To try Kuro Otabe, if you are in Japan, the Otabe Company can be reached toll-free at 0120-8284-39 and is still in Kyoto. The company’s fax number is 0800-123-8284 0 the number works 24/7 through the year and their Web site is at www.otabe.co.jp/i, which is also accessible by cell phones.
So, although the Otabe Company is still loyal to the 18th century origins and original recipes of Mr. Yatsuhashi, they have embraced modern technology for marketing.
In North America and elsewhere outside Japan, the Otabe line is sometimes available at major Asian supermarkets like Mitsuwa Marketplace.