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Kuzu, for the Kitchen, the Medicine Chest, and the Suitcase
Kuzu, a strong and tenacious root, is highly-valued in Japan, where the powder from its root is used medicinally and in cooking to thicken soups, sauces, and desserts, much like corn starch or arrowroot. Kuzu is known as kudzu in the United States, where we view it with mixed sentiments: It thrives in the Southern States, where it is often viewed as a pesky, invasive, destructive menace, capable even of felling telephone poles! At the same time, kudzu helps fix the soil to prevent erosion, while it also works as a natural fertilizer. Wild kudzu requires no irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides, or care. Kudzu is one of the hardiest plants one could imagine. Cooking with kuzu powder allows us to capture some of the essence and strengthening powers of the kudzu root. Kuzu, similar to most roots generally, has a downward/inward energy and nourishes and strengthens the digestive system.
Kuzu powder (the form used in the recipes that follow) is processed from the root and available in most health food stores. It is used in cooking and beverages. While not widely available in the United States, kuzu in its natural root form is also used in the Far East to make healing teas.
Kuzu powder is highly alkalizing and is a wonderful antidote to overeating heavy, acid-forming foods. It is also a great digestive aid. Because the powder is derived from the tough kuzu root, it is strengthening, with a strong downward, inward energy, well-suited for the lower intestinal tract. Kuzu is used to treat colds, flu, fevers, diarrhea, stomach upset, and hangovers. By alkalizing the blood, kuzu is also used to clear the skin of rashes and minor acne. And, rich in flavonoids, kuzu can be effective in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, treating chronic migraine headaches, and relieving acute pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. Kuzu’s ability to curb cravings for alcohol is validated by modern science, something that was known and used in Chinese medicine more than two thousand years ago.
Kuzu’s ability to relieve overeating, stomach upset, diarrhea, headache, and hangovers make it a perfect remedy to pack this summer if you have travel plans, or anytime in the future when you venture to foreign shores. It is also a handy mainstay in the kitchen, where it can be used in place of cornstarch as a thickening agent and to enhance the flavor of soups, sauces, and desserts. And, unlike cornstarch which thins as it cools, a sauce or dessert with kuzu will continue to thicken when taken from the stove.
This restorative tonic is most effective when taken about 1 hour before meals, preferably in the morning on an empty stomach.
1 ½ tablespoons crushed kuzu thoroughly dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1 umeboshi plum, pitted and minced, or 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste
½ teaspoon fresh ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze to extract juice)
1 teaspoon shoyu (optional)
- In a small enamel pan, place dissolved kuzu mixture. Add the umeboshi and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture begins to bubble around the edges, stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent.
- Gently simmer for 1 to 2 minutes longer and remove from the heat. Add the ginger juice and, if desired, shoyu to taste.
Apple Kuzu Drink
A good tonic for constipation and fevers and can be used to help calm hyperactive children. [Try making this by the quart, multiplying quantities by 4. It keeps well.]
1 cup organic apple juice
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 generous teaspoon crushed kuzu starch
1 to 2 tablespoons of water for dissolving kuzu
- Heat the apple juice and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from the heat.
- Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in water, add it to the juice while stirring, then return the saucepan to the burner. Stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent. Simmer 1 minute more, then remove from the heat.
- Let cool before serving.
This is a light fruit dessert that can be eaten as is or used as a topping for puddings, cakes, pies, tarts, waffles, or pancakes. It will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
2 ½ cups sliced or whole fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, nectarines, pitted cherries)
1 cup organic apple juice
1/3-1/2 cup brown rice malt syrup (less for sweet fruits; more for tart ones)
Pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed kuzu starch
- Cut larger fruits into bite-size pieces. Small berries can be left whole.
- Combine the juice, rice syrup and salt in a saucepan. If cooking the fruit is recommended (see below), add it to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Remove from the heat.
- Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in 2 tablespoons of cool water and add to fruit mixture while stirring briskly. Place over medium-low heat and stir constantly until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.
- If using fruit that does not require cooking, place fruit in a ceramic or glass bowl and pour the hot liquid over it. Mix gently and cool in the refrigerator. If fruit is already mixed in, transfer contents of the pot to a bowl and cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
Note: Delicate fruits like strawberries and raspberries should not be cooked. Ripe nectarines do not need cooking, but firmer fruits like blueberries, cherries and apples should be simmered with the juice.
Copyright 2013, Pathways4Health.org
- From Japanese Foods that Heal. [↩]