Production of grapes in Aomori comes second in volume to that of apples. Grapes of the Campbell Early variety are produced in the Kennan region and those of the Steuben variety in the Tsugaru region. The town of Tsuruta is the largest producer of Steuben grapes in Japan.
Steuben grapes are originally from New York. Characterized by low acidity and flavorful sweetness, Steuben grapes have great shelf stability, making them suitable for the winter market when fruit stocks are low.
In the Shimokita peninsula, farmers have been successful in the cultivation of Pinot Noir wine grapes, a variety found to be difficult to cultivate in Japan. The Pinot Noir grapes are used to make the “Shimokita Wine.”
Grape skins contain high levels of anthocyanin, a substance known for its antioxidative effect and a preventative effect on lifestyle diseases. Glucose and fructose found in the flesh of grapes have been found to stimulate recovery from fatigue.
Winter Grapes – Tsuruta Steuben
Though the Tsugaru region is famous for its apples, Aomori is also a major production area for “Steuben” grapes, dominating 80% of the domestic market share. Steuben grapes come to market when other varieties are no longer in season in the winter.
Steuben grapes were originally developed at an experimental facility in New York as a cross breed between Wayne and Sheridan grapes. Due to the similarity of latitude and climate with New York, the cultivation of Steuben grapes came to the Tsugaru region, with the town of Tsuruta leading production domestically.
The peak season for Steuben grapes is from the end of October to February. The grapes are harvested at peak maturity and stored in specialized facilities developed for the preservation of apples. The high sugar content of the grape allows for them to be stored and consumed throughout winter.
Steuben grapes have a dark blue purple color with medium-sized berries. The grapes develop high levels of polyphenol with abundant exposure to sunlight. The use of artificial chemicals are limited to a minimum due to the cool climate of the Tsugaru region.
Though Steuben grapes have a high sugar content, the area around the seeds has some acidity. The preferred manner of eating by locals is to swallow it without chewing to enjoy the sweetness of the grape.
The Steuben grapes produced in Tsuruta, “Tsuruta Steuben,” are registered in the Geographical Indication protection system (GI) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The system aims to protect the name and characteristics of regional brand products. Registration under the GI system guarantees that, among countless local products, the brand products have maintained tradition, high quality, and demonstrated originality.
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