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The surface of Barafu is covered in tiny water droplet like cells which are known as bladder cells. These bladder cells absorb minerals and salt which nourish the plant even when grown in dry conditions. Leaves are bright green and thick and offer a crisp and juicy texture. The tiny bladder cells create a unique textural experience for the eater which has been compared to bubble wrap. Its flavor is refreshing and salty as a result of the bladder cells ability to absorb salt. The stems of the Barafu are saltier than the leaves.
Barafu are available year-round.
Barafu, also known as a crystalline ice plant and Valach is a member of the Aizoaceae family. Barafu produced for culinary purposes is typically grown in an artificial environment known as Nutriculture or hydroponics, a method of growing without soil. Barafu is unique in that it absorbs and stores salt, minerals and other substances it is grown in. Studies have shown that Barafu grown in soil runs the risk of absorbing pesticides, cadmium and other heavy metals which can be dangerous if consumed. As a result of this, much care must be taken when growing Barafu in order to ensure it is safe for human consumption.
Barafu are rich in potassium which has been shown to be beneficial to people with high blood pressure. They also contain citric acid and malic acid as well as beta carotene. Furthermore, pantothenic acid has been found in Barafu which is effective in burning fat in the body.
To showcase the unique appearance of the Barafu add fresh to salads. The taste is fresh and simple, making it a perfect addition to spring rolls, soups, stir-fries and juices. Research is currently underway exploring the use of Barafu in processed foods such as ice cream. For storing, keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for four to five days.
Barafu was created by Akihiro Nose and the Faculty of Agriculture at Saga University. Taking nearly twenty years to develop Barafu was created from a type of ice plant sourced in the desert area of South Africa. It was put on the market in 2006 and is marketed by a venture firm known as Nokendo which is run by Nose and his University associates. The name, Barafu means crystal or ice in Swahili, a name that is reflective of its appearance. Barafu are a specialty item and cannot typically be found at grocery stores in Japan, rather they are usually sold at high end department stores.