What makes Matsutake such a prized ingredient within Japan? Is it the naturally spicy aroma it emits, or is it its piney and earthy flavour combined with its meat-like texture? Could it be attributed to the decline of suitable environments to grow them, or that they’re harvested once a year and are sensitive to changes in weather?
The truth is, it’s all of the above.
According to statistical data, Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan produced over 60% of the country’s matsutake supply in 2020, followed by Nagano Prefecture at 27.3%. They can be found growing in red pine forests.
They also have a history of being gifted by Japanese aristocrats or even by Imperial Family members. With such difficulty in obtaining matsutake, it’s little wonder that specialty food shops charge a premium for it or that restaurants around the country put it as part of their culinary arsenal.
Matsutake can be used in various ways, ranging from a simple mushroom rice recipe utilising Japanese rice, matsutake mushrooms and dashi, or even in a chawanmushi, the popular Japanese dish of steamed egg custard.
If you’re a purist and want to enjoy matsutake’s natural flavours, grilling it in aluminium foil and garnishing it with some salt and sudachi (Japanese citrus fruit resembling lime) is recommended.
One of the best-known Japanese cuisines encapsulating this elusive ingredient's essence is Matsutake Dobin Mushi. Dobin refers to the earthenware pot used as the vessel for the dish, while mushi refers to steaming, hence this dish is essentially a broth of ingredients such as chicken, fish, prawns, vegetables and, most importantly, matsutake which is used to season the broth. The broth is poured into a teacup and enjoyed slowly, as one savours the different flavours coming through with each sip.
Besides its rarity and intoxicating tastes, matsutake is also known to provide a host of health benefits. Besides trace amounts of fat and virtually no cholesterol found in it, matsutake is also rich in vitamins A, B6 and C, and also contains plenty of minerals such as phosphorous, potassium, iron and copper.
Have a taste of this premium Japanese ingredient and incorporate it into your culinary repertoire!