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In this article, we introduce Hassaku Daifuku from Hassakuya, a rice cake confectionery with tasty Innoshima hassaku oranges inside. The daifuku (sweet rice cake dumplings with fillings) is made entirely by hand with carefully selected ingredients, embracing the store owner’s love for the oranges.
Let’s have a look at why Hassaku Daifuku makes a great gift.
Visually enchanting yellow and white colors
Each Hassaku Daifuku is wrapped individually with cute prints of a hassaku orange by the store staff, sealed with a green tape suggestive of hassaku leaves. The most eye-catching of all is the contrast of bright yellow of the hassaku orange and the white bean paste and rice cake that emerge as you sink your teeth into it. The beautiful two-colored cross section is instantly alluring.
Sticking to local citrus peels local from Onomichi
The daifuku also has an unforgettable taste. After the rich sweetness of the rice cake and white bean paste hit you, the fresh sourness of the hassaku orange spreads to every corner of your mouth. The sweetness, sourness and the hassaku’s unique bitterness blend perfectly and are totally addictive. With about three whole wedges of a hassaku orange inside, the daifuku offers a sensation much like that of eating a real, freshly picked hassaku.
Great taste comes from local ingredients and being handmade
Innoshima is located on the Onomichi side of Shimanami Kaido Expressway that links the islands of the Seto Inland Sea stretching from Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture to Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. The store Hassakuya is found inside the rest house that overlooks the entire Innoshima Ohashi Bridge, one of the main hanging bridges of the Shimanami Kaido Expressway. Even though the rest house is in a quiet area away from the central part of the island, cyclists and tourists constantly form lines on weekends to buy Hassaku Daifuku. Amazingly, as many as 2,000 daifukus are sold on a good day.
Representative Shinryo Kashihara told us the secret of why their Hassaku Daifuku is so tasty.
First, the ingredients are painstakingly picked. They only use freshly picked, juicy hassaku oranges from Innoshima. Hassaku oranges have only a three-day shelf life, as they get bitter over time or freeze. To enhance the fruity flavor, the store puts mandarin orange skin in the rice cake. The skin also comes from Innoshima. The glutinous rice is entirely from Hiroshima. Usually most daifuku makers add extra ingredients like gyuhi (a mixture of glutinous rice powder, sugar and syrup) to their daifuku to make them last longer and softer, but Hassakuya makes their daifukus only with glutinous rice.
They are also particular about how they manufacture their daifuku. To steam the glutinous rice, they use a wooden steamer, because that way excess moisture can be removed. They do not use a fully automated machine to pound the steamed rice, but still use a stone mill to this day. There are gaps of about 5 millimeters between the hammer and the mill of a fully automated rice cake machine, which sacrifice the smoothness of the rice cake. When the rice cake is pounded in a stone mill, someone will constantly have to flip the dough over. It is time-consuming work but the result is a much smoother and tastier rice cake.
Everything is done by the quality-minded staff by hand, from peeling the thin skin of hassaku oranges, flattening the rice cake thinly without tearing it and carefully filling it, to the final packaging.
“Ultimately, we get the best daifuku when we use local ingredients and do all the work ourselves. The main part of the daifuku is none other than hassaku oranges from Innoshima. The key is to enhance the hassaku flavor, so we deliberately use smaller amounts of bean paste,” says Kashihara.
Daifuku-making started at age 50
Kashihara started making Hassaku Daifuku when he was around 50 years old. Before that, he had nothing to do with making daifuku, working for a ship builder and a shipping company. He changed careers when he met Shinichi Kashihara, the owner of confectionery manufacturer Kashihara in his town who was already making Hassaku Daifuku. Shinichi did not have a successor and consulted Kashihara whether he would be interested in taking over his Hassaku Daifuku production. Under Shinichi’s apprenticeship, Kashihara decided to become a daifuku maker.
“In those days, not many people knew about Hassaku Daifuku. But when I tasted it, it was so good. I simply thought it would be a waste if the tradition of something so tasty was to stop. At first it was a real struggle, the daifuku did not sell at all. I even travelled across Japan to give out samples to let people know how good it is,” reflects Kashihara.
Not limiting to selling to tourists to Innoshima, Kashihara made efforts to expand business to Hiroshima and Tokyo. He filled a truck with Hassaku Daifuku and drove around Japan alone, distributing the daifuku. Gradually, word of mouth got around and more people began to visit Innoshima in search for Hassaku Daifuku. There has been much coverage concerning daifuku in the media and it has now established itself as a popular product of Innoshima.
Hassaku Daifuku is a condensation of the maker’s passion and the blessings of Setouchi’s nature. Why not give it to someone you care about?