Getto – It’s many Uses

IMG_5342Last week I caught this post over at Ryukyu Mike’s blog and was reminded of my time on Kitadaito Island.  Kitadaito’s biggest industry is sugar production, but during my time there (2008-2011) they created a factory to harness the many uses of the getto plant, aka Alpinia zerumbet.  

So what is a getto?  It’s a tall stalk based plant with broad, tapering leaves and white cone-shaped flowers.  The stalks grow slowly but prodigiously, and regrow after being cut down.  They are sometimes used as windshields for gardens and field or as decorations.

IMG_5343Even before the factory on Kitadaito was made, the plant was well utilized by locals.  One of my first memories on the island was being handed a small greenish cookie.  Chinsuko are popular cookies in Okinawa that are only slightly sweet.  The getto chinsko I was given had a unique spice flavor that was both bitter and salty at the same time and quickly grew on me.

The other item I had was getto tea.  As with the cookie, tea made from the getto leaves had a subtle spice flavor and delicious taste.  Every time I gave it as a present it went over very well.

After the factory was completed, they began harvesting getto plants from around the island.  The leaves were removed, boiled, dried and turned to various food and health uses while the stalks were compressed, their juices extracted and fibers separated.

IMG_6748The fibers in the stalk were washed, separated, dried, and then sent to Osaka to become kariyushi shirts, traditional Okinawan dress.  The getto juice is utilized in fragrance sprays, cosmetics, and health treatments.  The getto plant juice is a natural insect repellent which is useful as it doesn’t contain the harmful and corrosive chemicals in modern insect sprays.The island also produces an insect repelling incense coil based on the getto extract.

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In addition to the taste, getto has a pleasant smell so it’s used in soaps and other items to add natural fragrance.  Finally, it is traditional to serve New Year’s mochi on getto leaves in Okinawa.  Its amazing all the things that can be done with one plant.

Check out the getto segment from my video on Kitadaito for a look at the processing of getto on Kitadaito.

Skip ahead to 8 minutes 18 seconds for the start of the section on Getto.