Onigiri, or rice balls, are a perennially popular food in Japan. Their principal ingredients include rice—Japan’s staple food—and salt, a spice that’s been historically valued around the world. Because the seasoning of onigiri is very simple, the taste of the salt is of particular importance.
Ako salt, which is produced in Hyogo Prefecture’s Ako City, is one of Japan’s most highly-regarded salt brands. It is a natural salt that incorporates nigari, or bittern, which is the solution of salts that remains after sodium chloride has crystallized out of seawater. Composed largely of magnesium and other well-balanced constituents, nigari has many functions, such as removing bitterness, preventing ingredients from becoming mushy during boiling, extending antibacterial effects during food maturing and fermentation, and adjusting the taste of food overall.
Ako is located along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, where it receives ample sun throughout the year. As a result, salt pans are plentiful in the area, leading to high natural accumulations of salt. Long distributed nationwide, the history of Ako salt can be traced back all the way to the Nara Period (710-794).
The unique characteristic of Ako salt is its mellow flavor when used for cooking: It isn’t overly obtrusive and has a gentle taste. Another Hyogo specialty that takes advantage of this mellowness is shio ramen (salt-flavored ramen), where the flavor is exemplified in its excellent soup.
Ako salt can also be used in general cooking. It’s an all-round seasoning for meat or boiled dishes, can make a great accent on salads, and can even be used for baking bread and making sweets.
While various companies now manufacture Ako salt, the fundamental approach of making nigari-infused salt hasn’t changed since ancient days. Backed by centuries of taste and tradition, Ako salt can make a beautiful accent to your dinner table.