Katashina village where located Gunma prefecture of North Kanto, winter is cold – average temperatures below the zero point with ice and snow. Yet, in these frosty conditions, underneath a thick layer of snow there are sweet and crisp carrots growing in the fertile soil of Katashina.
On a clear sunny day, Professional winter carrot farmer, Kotaro-san took us to his snow-covered fields to enlighten us about these winter carrots.
Kotaro-san passionately explained, with a big smile on his face, how it is a wonderful phenomenon that a tiny little seed can grow into something big like a lettuce head. He observes this miracle by planting radish, white azuki & hanamame beans and in early august he lays carrot seeds into the ground.
Kotaro-san sets out plastic crates onto the field to remind him of where he planted the seeds once the snow starts falling in November. After about 120 days he returns, to carefully remove the thick layer of white snow to find green carrot leafs growing underneath.
Kotaro-san described that the leafs are green meaning that sun rays were able to pass through the snow. He loosened the dark brown soil to discover the brightly orange coloured “sugar sticks” – carrots!
While explaining that summer carrots only require about 90 days, whereas in winter they take more time to fully grow, he easily pulled out a big carrot. He cleaned his knife in the snow and cut it into small pieces for us to taste. A little cold at first but the crisp carrot quickly developed a sweet taste on my tongue.
The winter carrots are a lot sweeter than the summer carrots. A plant mostly produces large sugars (starches and other large polymers). However, to protect itself from the cold and any frost damage, it converts its starch stores into smaller simple sugars.
Having dissolved sugars in the cells can be compared to putting salt on icy streets to reduce the freezing. As a result, the higher concentration of simple sugars help the carrots to survive the harsh conditions and also taste a lot sweeter.
Kotaro-san sells his winter carrots to special vegetable restaurants in Tokyo and to guesthouses at Katashina’s ski slopes. However, at Hanasaku no yu you can also eat them in their dishes, enjoy a freshly made carrot juice or simply buy the whole carrots.
Or how about a sweet carrot juice freshly made out of Katashina’s special snow carrots?
Sweet carrot juice freshly made at Hanasaku no yu
Discover and taste for yourself – Katashina FUNtashina!