Version 1.4 of my Nukamiso guide. Nukamiso is a Japanese pickling process.

My nukamiso in old ceramic urn.

My nukamiso in newly acquired cedar tub.

Nukamiso (Version 1.4)

By Joichi Ito

August 10, 1998

Last Revised April 4, 1999

Why we mix the Nukamiso

The Nukamiso needs to be mixed at least twice a day in the summer and once a day in the winter. If the Nukamiso is not mixed regularly the following may occur:

  1. Bugs such as small flies may collect and lay eggs.
  2. The Nukamiso may turn sour. See procedure for dealing with sour Nukamiso below.

Procedure for mixing the Nukamiso

  1. Clean hands and dry thoroughly.
  2. Prepare paper towel for wiping container.
  3. Mix Nukamiso thoroughly taking care to mix the bottom of the container. Remember, the main point of mixing the Nukamiso is to allow it to contact air.
  4. Try to keep Nukamiso fluffy and not compressed in order to allow air to stay mixed with the Nukamiso afterwards.
  5. After mixing thoroughly, pat the surface of the Nukamiso to make sure it is flat. (This is to insure that water does not collect in wells in the surface.
  6. Wipe sides inside of container to make sure there are is no Nukamiso on the walls.
  7. Close container and store.

Procedure for inserting vegetables into Nukamiso

  1. (Optional) Wash Vegetables.
  2. Cut vegetables.
    1. Do not cut cucumbers.
    2. Cut daikon into short quarters.
    3. Cut kabu into quarters or eighths.
  3. Rub salt onto vegetables. If vegetables are dry, wet hands and rub salt on vegetables with wet hands.
  4. Bury vegetables in Nukamiso.
  5. Vegetables buried deeper in container will pickle faster.
  6. Lay long vegetables flat so that they pickle evenly.
  7. Flatten surface of Nukamiso, wipe walls, close and store as in Procedure for mixing Nukamiso

Pressure during flattening

Increased pressure on the Nukamiso while flattening will increase the speed of fermenting but will increase the risk of suffocating the Nukamiso causing a fermentation error. Leaving the Nukamiso too fluffy will slow down the process and may cause irregular pickling on the vegetable surface.

Duration to pickle vegetables

In general cucumbers should be pickled for 4-5 hours, daikon for 10 hours. okura for 1-2 hours., shirouri for 4-5 hours, and carrots and eggplant for 10-12 hours, kabu for 15 hours. The duration must be adjusted to reflect the seasonal changes in temperature. These durations are for summer pickles. In spring and fall cucumbers should be pickled for 10 hours or so and in the winter 16 hours or so. Adjust the durations for other vegetables using a similar scale. Because it is the temperature that affects the speed of fermentation, the temperature of the room is what ultimately determines how long to pickle vegetables.

Procedure for removing vegetables from Nukamiso

  1. Find vegetables in Nukamiso and remove without wiping excess Nukamiso off of vegetables.
  2. After removing vegetables, mix, flatten, wipe walls, close and store and in Procedure for mixing Nukamiso.
  3. Wash vegetables in cold water.
  4. Cut and serve.

Procedure for increasing Nukamiso

Twice a month or so, the Nukamiso must be increased. nuka, salt, chopped red chili peppers and kombu should be added. Nuka and salt should be added at a ratio of 500g nuka for 95g salt. It is recommended by some that some of the old Nukamiso be discarded during this procedure to allow for more new Nuka.

Wet Nukamiso

Wet Nukamiso can suffocate the fermentation process. To decrease water level, use a device designed for this or a combination of some kind of sieve and paper towels to soak up extra moisture.

Procedure for fixing sour Nukamiso

  1. Add eggshells or add a mixture of Japanese mustard, eggshells and other things designed to help sour nukamiso.
  2. Keep lid a little off center and allow air to enter container. Mix 3 or more times a day.
  3. Increase the salt content to slow down the fermentation process.

 

Why Nukamiso turns Sour

Too little air (not enough mixing or too watery) or chemicals (hand cream) can cause the fermentation process have problems and leave an acidic material that causes the nukamiso to turns sour. Mixing frequently and removing exccess water are is important in preventing such a crisis.

 

Initializing the Nukamiso

  1. Add 380g of salt to 2300cc of water and bring water to a rapid boil.
  2. Cool the water and add slowly to 2kg of nuka mixing and kneading while adding the water.
  3. Add 5-6 dried red-hot chili peppers chopped into rings and 10g of dashi kombu cut into thin strips and mix thoroughly.
  4. Insert cheap vegetables such as cabbage or hakusai following the procedure for inserting vegetables.
  5. A day or so later, remove vegetables, throw the vegetables away and repeat step 4. Repeat one or two more times until Nukamiso has come alive.
  6. White bread and beer can be added at step 4 to increase speed of fermentation. 1 slice of bread and 150cc of beer or so is sufficient. The bread should be torn into small pieces.
  7. Mature Nukamiso from another culture can be added after step 5 to increase the flavor and complexity of the Nukamiso.

The Container

I've seen people use plastic bags, tupperware, plastic buckets, ceramic urns, and cedar tubs. Wood seems to be the best because it allows some air through and adds flavor. Used sake "taru" are supposed to be quite good. Also, since one wants to lay the vegetables flat, remember that the container should be as wide as the largest vegetables are long.

The Old Refrigerator Trick

Some people put the nuka in the refrigerator and only mix it a few times a week. It takes vegetables a long time to pickle, but the care is quite easy. I've never tried this, but I can't imagine that the nukamiso is very happy or the pickles would taste that great, but if you can't deal with mixing it everyday, it might be worth a try.

Dealing With Your Nukamiso When You Travel

If you are leaving for a few days, you can cover the top of the nukamiso with salt and stick it in the refrigerator. When you return, throw away the top layer of nukamiso. If you need to leave the nukamiso for more than a few days, leave it with a friend that you trust. Remember that the nukamiso will start to taste like your friend so choose a friend that you like.

Material added to Nukamiso

Nails - The iron in the nails prevents eggplant surfaces from oxidizing and turning brown. Iron paperweight sized products are available which do the same thing.

Garlic - Garlic adds flavor and aroma.

Chips of Katsuobushi - Katsuobushi is the dried makerel used to make the shavings used for Japanese cooking. Pieces chip off during the shaving process and these pieces can be inserted into the Nukamiso. They add a nice woody flavor to the Nukamiso.

Japanese Mustard - Helps control the fermentation of Nukamiso.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms - Adds flavor and aroma.

Bread Crumbs - Helps fermentation and adds flavor.

Beer - Helps fermentation and adds flavor.

Chili Peppers -Helps control fermentation, adds flavor.

Dashi Kombu - Dried kelp used for making broth in Japanese cooking. Adds flavor and depth to Nukamiso.

Salts - Salt is the single most important part of the Nukamiso. Too much kills the flavor, too little lets the fermentation get out of control. The balance of the salt on the vegetable is essential for the final saltiness of the pickle.

The Art of Nukamiso

There are many things that affect the character of Nukamiso. My friends in Kyoto add beer, bread, garlic, konbu and chili peppers. My friend in Tsukiji uses only broken pieces of dried katsuo (for katsuobushi) and konbu and chili peppers (un-chopped). My Nukamiso is a combination of three 50 year old Nukamiso's and a 25 year old Nukamiso, two from Kyoto and two from Tokyo. Nukamiso evolves and older Nukamiso's have a much more complex flavor and character. Everyone agrees that one must use one's bare hands. When Nukamiso is in good character it is a pleasure to mix and the smell can make one salivate. On the other hand, Nukamiso in bad character smells like garbage or very sour. Mixing frequently, above all else is the most important thing. After that, it appears that the ammount of salt in the Nukamiso is another key factor. It is difficult to smell the salt, so one should taste one's hands after mixing to check the level. It can be adjusted by adding salt directly or salting vegetables more heavily or lightly depending on the adjustment. Finally, it is important to feed the Nukamiso so even if there are is no need to pickle anything, pickling even throw-away vegetables regularly to keep the Nukamiso in shape is important in maintaining flavor.

Release Notes

Version 1.4 4/4/99 - Added seasonal time difference, material added to and packing pressure sections.

27 Comments

this is great -- there are few resources in english for preparing nukazuke, and so i cherish every one i find. i love tsukemono, and nukazuke the best. probobly because the doko is ALIVE. and it changes so quickly. its really fun to see what will happen next.

i also enjoy tasting other people's nukazuke - such huge differences in taste and saltiness. i'd never heard of putting in katsuobushi. and you don't list ginger, which i put in mine. somewhere, a cookbook i think, i saw the addition of dried soybeans, for flavor and to absorb liquid. have you heard of that?

anyway. thanks for posing all this up.

Interesting. I've never heard of dried soybeans or ginger. Do you know what region that's from? I wonder if there are regional differences or more just preference.

I was happy to find this in English. My nissei-grandmother use to make her pickles with oat bran since she couldn't find the rice bran husks needed here in the states. There is a difference in taste, I was wondering if you are aware of making pickles using oat meal bran? Anyways, thank you for taking the time to provide the information.

Where can I buy a wooden taru? The one you have pictured is very beautiful!

I would like to talk with others who are making fermented food products.

Joe

Where do you live Joseph? In Japan we can get them at most cooking and hardware stores...

Thanks a lot! (Thanks to you) we are about to start doing it. Our typical Tokyo flat doesn't have that much spare space but we should be able to find a little bit of room for a little bucket. :)

Just wanted to add my thanks. I started my nukadoko just over a week ago and prepared my first cucumbers. It is pretty exciting to be able to create my own original flavoured pickles. I am still getting the balance right (things turn out a little too salty sometimes).

When you say "Japanese Mustard", are you refering to the dry yellow Karashi powder?

this is great -- there are few resources in english for preparing nukazuke, and so i cherish every one i find. i love tsukemono, and nukazuke the best. probobly because the doko is ALIVE. and it changes so quickly. its really fun to see what will happen next.

i also enjoy tasting other people's nukazuke - such huge differences in taste and saltiness. i'd never heard of putting in katsuobushi. and you don't list ginger, which i put in mine. somewhere, a cookbook i think, i saw the addition of dried soybeans, for flavor and to absorb liquid. have you heard of that?

anyway. thanks for posing all this up.

I was happy to find this in English. My nissei-grandmother use to make her pickles with oat bran since she couldn't find the rice bran husks needed here in the states. There is a difference in taste, I was wondering if you are aware of making pickles using oat meal bran? Anyways, thank you for taking the time to provide the information.

I'm planning a party and trying to come up with cool Japanese beverages (non-alcoholic). Anyone have any suggestions?

Just wanted to add my thanks. I started my nukadoko just over a week ago and prepared my first cucumbers. It is pretty exciting to be able to create my own original flavoured pickles. I am still getting the balance right (things turn out a little too salty sometimes).

I was happy to find this in English. My nissei-grandmother use to make her pickles with oat bran since she couldn't find the rice bran husks needed here in the states. There is a difference in taste, I was wondering if you are aware of making pickles using oat meal bran? Anyways, thank you for taking the time to provide the information.

i also enjoy tasting other people's nukazuke - such huge differences in taste and saltiness. i'd never heard of putting in katsuobushi. and you don't list ginger, which i put in mine. somewhere, a cookbook i think, i saw the addition of dried soybeans, for flavor and to absorb liquid. have you heard of that?

anyway. thanks for posing all this up.

Great page!
Does any one know any way i can get the wooden taru in Seattle Washington USA. Any Japanese web sites selling it and willing to ship to US?

Thank you,
Joe

Joi
I am new to the process of nukazuke. In the initialization you advise to add kombu, chili and even dried shitake, but you don't say to remove it. Should it be left in there forever, or just the duration of one pickling cycle?

Thank You
Joshua

I just wanted to add to the list of thanks for writing such a detailed posting on making nukazuke.


I first tasted nukazuke at the table of my girlfriend's mother when we were visiting Tokyo. My girlfriend told her how much I liked the pickles and the next time Sachiko San came to the states she showed me how to start my own nukadoko.


It has been producing great pickles for the last couple years but it recently soured while I was out of town so I was looking for advice on how to resuscitate it. I found that and more from your description and I think I will be breaking my nukadoko out into a couple containers so I can experiment with adding katsuo and dried shiitake.

Doomo,
-j

Excellent!

Good luck!

This is great!!
I've been looking for organic rice bran, contacting a rice producer to gluten-free food stores.

But I can use oat bran for nuka-doko!! That's easy to get here.

Thanks for this documentation, it's extremely hard to
get information about nukamiso in english.
By the way, it seems to be better to use salt without
iodine (iodine has sterilizing properties).
And when using beer, shake the bottle to remove the
carbonic acid.

I'm living in Germany and my Japanese supermarket didn't
have nukamiso powder this year, so I've used toasted
wheat-bran instead.
It seems to work, at least the taste is similar to
rice-bran nukamiso.
Wheat bran is more 'fluffy' with more air between the particles. Because this decreases the contact area between
pickles and bran, pickling takes at least two days.

Thank you so much for this information on nukamiso. I want to try it at home, but I do not want to make myself ill by breeding some harmful bacteria. At what average temperature should you keep your nukamiso? I see you keep yours under your house, but is this a must? I understand that keeping it in a refrigerator will slow down the fermentation process. Is room temperature, (60 - 70 degrees F.) o.k.?

You will know when you are breeding bad bacteria. It will start to smell like a can of trash instead of like something you want to eat. ;-)

The temperature range is quite broad. You can stick it in the fridge or you can have it out at room temperature, even on a warm day. The main thing is that if it is warm, you will have to turn it and aerate it maybe twice a day. In a cool room or under the kitchen boards (in Japanese homes) once a day is fine. If you stick it in the fridge and put a layer of salt on top of it, nukamiso can survive maybe five days or so. What we do is keep it out in the winter and stick it in the fridge in the summer, especially when we can't pay enough attention to it.

Hello,
I just bought1600 grams of "premixed" nukamiso from a Japanese grocer in San Francisco. It's dry and lists its ingredients as: rice bran, rice malt, red pepper, tangle (seaweed I assume) and Japanese pepper. Sadly, I read no Japanese and cannot read the instructions on the bag. Should I just use my materials and follow you initializing steps above. Do I need to add vegetable peels or anything to "start it", or do the vegetables one puts in start it up? When you say "it comes alive" can you tell when that happens. Does smell or texture give any indication?

Thanks for your great site!!
Brian

hi
we've been struggling some with our our own nukamiso (rice-brand), pepper, kombu, garlic.
everything was going well, and then it started over-fermentating, giving out a very strong alcoholic smell. for two weeks now i've been stirring it 5 times a day, added eggshells, and tried giving it more air for a few days but to no avail. the smell isn't foul, it's not the garbage pail kind, but really an alcoholic smell.
it doesn't really increase either, but it's still too present to consider eating the pickles.
my wife is Japanese and really read up all she could find ( her own mother does it the "lazy" refrigerator way in Kyoto, so did I, and really everything was going fine until these fermentation gases started. now it's under control but unuseable.
we're on the verge of throwing it away, which is a little sad after a few months of daily care.

would you or anyone have any last advice or tricks we could try, beyond adding salt, stirring more, airing and egg shells ?

thanks for the great writeup !

ben

sorry, i realised my message lacked a bracket and could lead to confusion.
we prepared the nuka in the usual way, not leaving in the refrigerator.
it was stirred twice daily but still gave this strong alcoholic like fermentation.
thanks

b

Ben: That's a bit odd... are you putting fresh veggies in every day? One thing is maybe add more kobu or something to try to get the culture started. The best thing, if you can, is to add some living nukamiso from somewhere else. Maybe you can buy some nukazuke at the supermaket and put the nuka in... or if you have a friend who has a culture.

One thing could be that you might have too much water... it should be damp, but not wet.

Hi, I'm starting a nukazuke pot, because I'm tired of paying a lot of money for pickles here in California. I think I bought a premix bag of nukazuke, because it said on the bag there's nuka, salt, kelp, shiitake mushrooms, mustard powder. It's a 500 g. bag. How much beer should I add to this mixture so it is the right consistency? I want to add a 5 cm. piece of extra kelp and 2 dried shiitake mushrooms to the mix. Is that enough for flavoring? And how long do I keep the kelp and shiitakes in the pot?

Thanks for your help. Jenny

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