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Butterbur sprouts are available primarily during early spring.
Butterbur or “Fuki” is an herbaceous perennial plant of the Asteraceae genus. Butterburs are native to Japan, and their sprouts are used in Japanese traditional cuisines. In Japanese culture, Butterbur represents spring because it sprouts out of the mountain snow when spring approaches. Its many layers of sepals help to protect the bud from the cold weather.
Butterbur sprouts are made up of pale green sepals surrounding the purple heart of the bud. They have a unique bitter and earthy taste that the Japanese describe as the taste of spring. The bigger the sprouts the more bitter they will taste. It is recommended to pick Butterbur sprouts when small with tight closed buds.
Butterbur sprouts are an excellent source of fiber, beta-carotene, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C. They are also rich in potassium and calcium. Butterbur sprouts also contain medical properties (fukinone, fukinolic acid and chlorogenic acid) that make them an effective remedy for coughs, excessive sputum and pollen allergies as well as for improving digestion. Chlorogenic acid is also said to have an anti-oxidation effect to slow down aging and prevent various cancers. Butterbur sprouts have also been used as an herbal remedy for asthma, whooping cough, fever and spasms.
The traditional preparation method for this vegetable involves a technique known as aku-nuki, literally meaning "harshness removal". First, the Butterbur sprouts are covered with either ash or baking soda. Then boiling hot water is poured on top to remove the bitterness or harshness while preserving the color of vegetable. After the pre-treatment, the sprouts can be chopped and stir fried with miso to make a relish called Fuki-miso. It is commonly spread thinly over hot rice at meals. The bulb-like shoots are also picked fresh and fried as tempura. The frying also helps to counterbalance the bitterness.
Butterburs grow in the mountainous regions of Japan such as Hokkaido, Honshu , Shikoku , Kyushu and Okinawa. It is strongly rooted in the Japanese culture as a symbol of spring. It has been cultivated as a vegetable since the ancient Heian period (794-1185).