The Japanese Legend of Momotarō, Peach Boy
Japanese peaches are literally the stuff of legends. Momotarō, loosely translated as Peach Boy, is a folktale that goes back at least four hundred years to the beginning of the Edo period (1603-1867). According to the most common version of the story, an old woman was doing her laundry at a river when she spotted a giant peach floating by. She took it home, and when she and her husband sliced it open, little Momotarō popped out.
Momotarō grew into a strong and precocious boy who volunteered to go fight a group of demon enemies (oni). On his travels to the distant island of the oni, he befriended a dog, monkey, and pheasant, who agreed to join forces with him in exchange for food. They had interesting adventures, conquered the despised enemies, and came home heroes with the captured ogre chief and all his treasures.
Just as Momotarō was a strong, brave, generous, protective, and loyal son, the Japanese peach is a prized produce that embodies all the good qualities wrapped up into one perfect orb.
How Japanese Peaches are Special
Japanese momo 桃 (peaches) are indeed a treasure. They are a breed of their own. Here’s what makes momo special: they are large, their flesh is white, they are sweet, they are aromatic, and they are flawless.
Japanese peaches are peaches on a whole different level. The first thing you’ll notice at the supermarket is that they are individually wrapped in foam cups to protect them from bruising. Their size will stand out as well: they can be as big as a grapefruit! When their skin is removed, you’ll notice that their flesh is usually more white in color than yellow or pink. Bite into the peach, and you’ll discover that the sugar content is higher in Japanese peaches than in western varieties.
The ultimate effect is a sublime, decadent, juicy, sweet, aesthetically gorgeous fruit. Oh, and one more thing is the sticker shock. When you pay for this precious specimen, you’ll do a double take. A single Japanese peach can cost anywhere from 200 yen (about $1.50) to 1000 yen (about $7.60). But, trust us, they’re completely worth it!
Types of Peaches
Prunus persica is the peach’s botanical name. A common way to differentiate prunus persica varieties is by their color: those with yellow flesh and those with white flesh. Western countries favor the yellow variety of peaches, while Asian countries prefer white peaches. Another way to categorize peaches is by their stone or pit.
Freestone peaches have a pit that easily separates from the flesh, whereas clingstone peaches have pits that cling. Some people prefer freestones because they are easier when it comes to preparation. Freestones are usually white or light pink in color. Clingstones, on the other hand, are softer, sweeter, and juicier. They tend to be yellow in color and more acidic in flavor. They are great in jams, jellies, and other desserts.
The Shimizu (Hakuto) White Peach of Okayama, Japan is the reigning queen of freestone peaches. The Shimizu White peach only makes an appearance for a few weeks at the end of July and beginning of August. With its pinkish whitish flesh, delicate texture, and sweet flavor, it is a favorite to buy as a gift or to enjoy at home.
How Peaches Became Popular in Japan
During the Edo period, Japanese people admired peach blossoms, but not so much the fruit. It was hard and sour and hardly something to get excited about. In 1875, during the Meiji period, the Shanghai Honey peach was brought from China to Okayama. In the late 1800s, researchers took the Shanghai Honey peach and tinkered with it until they came up with the Shimizu Hakuto or White peach. From that came many other delicious hybrids that still exist today.
Japanese people take their peaches seriously, and they are a highly regulated crop. Peaches love warm climates, and Central Japan is the sweet spot for growing peaches in Japan. Peaches start their lives in greenhouses, where they get lots of special attention and monitoring. Each separate fruit gets bagged on the tree because of how delicate and valuable they are. When they are mature and ready to be picked, they are ranked into one of four grades, from inferior to superior. Then they are swaddled in foam cushions for their journey to the market.
Peaches in Japanese Snacks
During the summer, peaches are often enjoyed fresh, peeled, and sliced in Japan. But their growing season is so short that people had to figure out how to extend the peachy sweetness all year round. Here are some ways to enjoy the beloved momo when it’s not available fresh or when you’re craving dessert:
Fujiya Nectar Peach Mochi—Bite into this soft, chewy mochi and get ready for a delightful peach jelly and marshmallow filling in the center. The glutinous rice flour taste of mochi pairs incredibly well with the sweet and tangy peach flavor. Although mochi are traditional Japanese sweets, the peach element gives them a modern twist.
Kororon Momotaro Sakupuff Chocolat: Peach—This is a puffed biscuit featuring a happy Momotaro and his three pals on the package. The biscuit itself is light and crispy, and it is coated in a lovely layer of white chocolate peach. Enjoy this cute ode to Momotarō made in the peach land of Okayama!
Okayama White Peach Castella—Castella is a cake that was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries who landed in Japan back in the 16th century. Japan took that original “castle bread” recipe and made it its own with this delightfully moist and spongy cake that has the aroma of Okayama peaches through and through.
Puré Gummy Premium: Yamanishi White Peach—If you’re in the mood for candy, these peach gummies will not disappoint! They are soft and chewy and sprinkled with tart sugar crystals to give it a nice balance between sweet and sour. With a nod to Yamanishi, a top peach growing region, the white peach jelly in the center of the gummy is pure perfection.
Shimizu White Peach & White Peach Jelly—You know the difference between pudding and pot de crème? That’s similar to the difference between what you might think of when you hear “jelly” and what this really is. These trendy jellies are exquisitely prepared peach purée reductions from the famed Shimizu Hakuto White Peach, made by top-notch artisanal craftspeople. Even though they’re très chic, they are also a nice simple refreshing treat on a hot day.
If these treats pique your interest, why not sign up for Bokksu’s Japanese snack subscription box and be wowed every month by a new assortment of high-quality Japanese snacks? You get 20-24 authentic Japanese sweets, snacks, and teas delivered to your door. It will open a whole new world of flavors and appreciation for Japanese food and culture. 本当 です よ! (It’s true!)