To most Americans, it’s that strange yellow thing in vegetable sushi. Salty, crunchy, and plant-based, it’s otherwise unidentifiable. Those in the know will recognize them as tsukemono, aka “pickled things,” or more specifically oshinko, which is a pickle made with salt. Daikon radish, a woefully under appreciated vegetable, gets to play the leading role here, slowly morphing from bright white to a luminous shade akin to saffron.
All it takes is time, and lots of it. Traditionally, daikon are sun-dried for a few weeks before ever seeing brine, where they then ferment for months. That process alone creates the signature golden hue, although most manufacturers today take shortcuts. Artificial coloring is used liberally, in addition to chemical preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. These practices are so widespread that few people even know what proper takuan should taste like.
There’s no going back once you cross that line. Ever since getting a bite of authentic takuan, pickled from sun-dried daikon grown in Miyazaki, mass-produced takuan have been ruined for me. It’s impossible to replicate that distinctive crunch, subtly nutty undertone, gentle sweetness, and gently tart flavor. The seasonings serve to enhance the natural flavor of the daikon, rather than cover it up. Like an addict, I’m forever chasing that same high.
“Simple” doesn’t always equate to “easy,” and while it requires little labor, summoning the patience for these pickles to properly mature can be more difficult than the most complex preparation. Ideally, you should set aside two to four full weeks to achieve the proper texture and flavor using traditional methods. Time is the ultimate secret ingredient that no machines can replicate and no amount of money can buy. That said, modern technology can help a good deal; use a dehydrator to expedite the process if you’re worried about leaving food out in the open for that long, don’t have ideal conditions for drying, or just want to get down to the good stuff sooner.
Rich in natural probiotics, takuan is good for your gut, too! No proper Japanese meal is complete without a few slices to contrast with a rich entree, cutting through heavier tastes with a clean, crisp palate cleanser. Once you’ve had the real deal, there’s no going back.