Stocked Mikan: Tokushima’s Sweet, Delectable Citrus Fruit
Synonymous with winter, mikan is one of the most popular native flavors of Japan. It so happens that they’re widely cultivated in Tokushima, particularly the town of Katsuura. Alongside those other famous citrus fruits yuzu and sudachi, the area exclusively produces “stocked mikan,” shipped from January to early April – but usually only around the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region, so people in eastern Japan likely haven’t had a taste.
These mandarins are stocked in a cool, dark storage house for up to two months before shipping. This way, their acidity diminishes and they become especially sweet and flavorful. (Generally, age is sweetness: the younger mikan trees tend to bear blander fruit.)
Meet One of Tokushima’s Stocked Mikan Producers
Yasuhiro Uchitani is one producer of these aged regional delicacies. He came to Tokushima when he was 5. After studying engineering at university, he returned to the prefecture to carry on the family business of mountainside farming. He adores the farm, and likes to talk about the plant life, which includes more than mikan: He grows chestnuts there too (mostly for his father to snack on), as well as other citrus like yuzu and buntan (pomelo).
Tokushima’s Natural Environment Produces Delicious Mikan
Not only does the aging process deepen the sweetness of the mikan, but the soft sunlight and unique temperature of the river basin makes for a good balance of sour and sweet in them. Perhaps the freshness of the mountain air, or the stillness and peace of the farms, have something to do with the delicious produce too.
Opening even an unripe orange on Uchitani’s farm, the fragrance will spread a good distance. The scene is idyllic: 300 to 400 orange trees all around, thick forest in the distance. The whole mountainside is covered with family farms growing various fruits and vegetables, even hot chilis. The boundaries of different properties may even mix, but Uchitani testifies to a kind of pact between farmers, a respect for each others' land. Nevertheless, besides Uchitani and the stray delivery man, it is unusual to spot another soul around.
Stocked Mikan: A Favorite of Everyone
Occasionally, Uchitani has encounters with wild boar, monkeys and deer. If you climbed high above his fields, you could see monkeys picking and eating oranges from the trees.
After emerging from storage – they are checked every few days or so for bad fruits – the stocked mikan have become almost unbelievably sweet, with a depth of flavor you do not experience in a typical grocery store orange. No wonder this delicacy has become a regional brand; even in years when many of the stocked mikan are damaged, the stocked fruits are still shipped after the regular ones to preserve their celebrity.