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Friday, Sept. 5, 2008

TOKYO FOOD FILE

A healthy pick-me-up at the train station


What is the secret to surviving the heat of a Tokyo summer? For some it's ice cream or beer. Traditionalists might say broiled eel or tokoroten jelly. But there are a growing number of people for whom the answer is vinegar; not any old acetic acid, but the molasses-black vinegar known as kurozu.

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A quick shot: Shinbashi's Kurozu Bar

Traditionally, kurozu is brewed in large ceramic ewers left to age for a year or more. The only ingredients are water and brown rice or wheat that has been inoculated with the magic mold spores known as koji-kin, the secret ingredient also used in producing sake, soy sauce, miso and other traditional Japanese fermented foods.

The resulting vinegar is nothing like the light, water-clear product used by sushi chefs and in most Japanese cooking. Instead, it has a dark-brown color and an appetizing fragrance in which the acetic sourness is balanced by a rich undercurrent of flavor.

The beneficial properties of kurozu, if taken in small amounts daily, are well documented. It has been found to help lower blood pressure, promote digestion, enhance resistance to infections and suppress lactic-acid buildup, reducing fatigue. Until a few years ago, it was rarely found outside the shelves of health food stores. Now, drinks containing kurozu can be found in supermarkets and vending machines.

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By the bottle: A chain of bars is betting on the popularity of kurozu vinegar.

The final proof that this remarkable elixir is hitting the mainstream is the arrival of Kurozu Bar. These counters, where you can drop in for a quick hit of healthful black vinegar, are starting to crop up in Tokyo, especially around railway stations. You can order a shot of kurozu straight (¥150); blended with tomato or blueberry juice (from around ¥250); or even as smoothies (¥380). Various concoctions made with cider vinegar are also available.

Kurozu Bar outlets now operate at nine locations at JR stations in the Tokyo area, including: Shinbashi (pictured), Shibuya, Hachioji, Koenji, Yokohama, Omori and Utsunomiya. Most are open 7 a.m.-9 p.m. (weekends 8 a.m.-8 p.m.). For more details, visit www.nre.co.jp/nre/tenpo/kurozu.html



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