Okinawan Black Sugar Candy – Kokuto

IMG_3030Okinawa has its own history and culture, which is reflected in the foods you’ll find here. Since Okinawa is so far to the south, you will also find that many of the fields are filled with satokibi, or sugarcane. It might not surprise you then that one of Okinawa’s local treats is a kind of Black Sugar candy made directly from the juice of sugar cane plants.  The name of the treat comes from the kanji symbols for black and the second half of sugar.

Making Black Sugar

The process of making the sugar candy is interesting in its subtle complexity. Essentially, the candy is a distillation of the sugarcane juice, but in practice, a lot more goes into it. I was invited to a local factory to observe the creation of some of this delicious sugar candy.

IMG_2837The locals create batches of kokuto twice a week during sugarcane season (January through April).  They begin at six in the morning with around 600 sugar cane stalks.  The harvested stalks are cut from a field and the leaves are removed.  The sugarcane juice is extracted by a large rolling press.  The stalks yield around 400 liters of juice that are then placed in large pots over a fire to boil.

Since the sugarcane juice is acidic, bases are used to bring the liquid up to a ph that is more readily consumable.  Afterwards, the solution is left to condense over the flames for around 5 hours.  As the liquid condenses, it is moved to one pot.  In the last hour, the liquid is stirred as it begins to coagulate into a cross between sugar and molasses.  The dark liquid bubbles and is stirred and checked for the right consistency.

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IMG_2960When the workers determine that the process is finished, they transfer the liquid to nabe (large pots) to cool.  The liquid is stirred vigorously to introduce air into the cooling sugar candy so that it will not be too hard.  Once the liquid is nearly cool it is transferred to pans to rest.  Just before they become completely hard, the cooling kokuto is scored so that it will be easier to create blocks later.

IMG_2987The most delicious kokuto is said to be the thin wafers of kokuto that cool on the sides of the nabe.  Since they are the most aerated and are layered from the stirring of the liquid  they are indeed delicious.

More on Kokuto

Most large scale operations will involve more steps, chemicals, and more uniform results. The process I describe here is the local method on a small island in Okinawa.  The Oyatsumura factory and shop started out making kokuto in the garden for family and friends and developed over ten years to the still small but popular operation it is today.  The hand made black sugar candy is delicious and special.  You can order by calling the number listed on the Ultimate English Guide page, or stop by Kumejima to try some yourself!