Just like wine vinegar in France, balsamic vinegar in Italy, and malt vinegar in England, rice vinegar in Japan is an indispensable seasoning — for washoku (Japanese cuisine). The vinegar used in making sushi rice is rice vinegar, which utilizes rice as its main ingredient.
Since Iio Jozo was founded in 1893, the company has brewed vinegars — including its main rice vinegar — for over 120 years. Production requires three steps: making rice, sake, and vinegar. Iio Jozo primarily utilizes newly harvested organic rice grown by its locally contracted farms in Tango, northern Kyoto.
Iio Jozo makes sake (Japanese rice wine) from organic rice. Then it allows about 100 days of static fermentation, followed by more than 250 days of maturation, to produce vinegar.Junmai (pure rice) Fuji-su is the most famous Iio Jozo vinegar, requiring a year-and-a-half to two years from rice cultivation to finished production. Making rice vinegar with such meticulous effort is rare even in Japan, and vinegar manufacturers that also maintain sake storehouses (sakagura) are also uncommon.
We interviewed Akihiro Iio, who is the fifth representative of Iio Jozo.
“We take approximately two days to make rice malt, a vital ingredient in brewing sake, and this requires tending every three to four hours. We look after our rice malt like caring for a newborn baby. And our master brewers live at our sake storehouse (sakagura) for a month to look after our sake brewery.”
He says that each of these painstaking production steps is very important. The company offers a new type of vinegar that was eventually created through the efforts of two generations over 20 years of research. This vinegar is called Fiju-su Premium.
Mr. Iio comments, “This premium selection has no acidic flavor but a round, smooth scent and ample umami. Some overseas chefs tell me that Fiju-su Premium has rich umami that is commonly found in kombu seaweed-based bouillon. Maintaining our tradition of respecting inherited skills is important — yet so is pursuit of ever-better flavor.”
Mr. Iio and his company have developed various types of vinegar that support Japanese dietary habits. If you are curious about vinegar production at Iio Jozo, a tour is highly recommended.* You can observe for yourself how Iio Jozo produces vinegar.
Also, depending on the season, Iio Jozo invites volunteers to experience rice production. (Candidates are those who ordered products via website.) Generally, planting is at the end of May and rice cropping is at the end of September, and participants help in operations at these times.* In recent years, more than 200 participants have joined these activities, including international visitors.
Mr. Iio says, “Our production takes ample time and a significant workforce. However, we are able to make delicious vinegar. It may be difficult to visit us from afar, but I’d like people around the world to see the way we work.”
Miyazu (where Iio Jozo Company is located) is also known for Amano-Hashidate — one of Japan’s Three Greatest Scenic Beauties. If you visit Kyoto, why don’t you take a few extra hours for a pleasant side trip?
* Tour requires reservation in advance via Iio Jozo’s official website. Iio Jozo welcomes visitors from overseas. (Japanese language skills are required).