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Why is Seiten no Hekireki rice special?
Probably the most sensational rice to have hit the market, Seiten no Hekireki is the pride and joy of Aomori prefecture resulting from a breeding program aimed at creating a rice that would finally be awarded the Special A rank in the prefecture.
While koshihikari remains the most widely grown rice variety in Japan, its cultivation in the more northern prefectures such as Aomori and Hokkaido has always been challenging. The primary difficulties arise from the region’s lower temperatures and high rainfall during August, which cause the rice ears to emerge later than in other parts of Japan.
Ideally, the rice ears should emerge in early August and ripen under the full summer sun. However, due to the low temperatures during this period, the ears start to emerge later, leading to insufficient photosynthesis and poor nutrient absorption by the roots. Consequently, the resulting rice lacks flavor and taste.
Furthermore, as ears are still relatively immature, they become vulnerable to the adverse effects of low temperatures. The rain and low temperature can cause damage, infertility, and susceptibility to blast disease. As a result, both the quantity and quality of the rice harvest can be significantly compromised.
Historically, rice that has been bred to be cold resistant and early maturing tends to be low yielding, and thus not attractive for farmers to grow. In response to this problem, Aomori continued to run breeding programs in order to create varieties that are not only early maturing but also high yielding. The result of these breeding programs were Tsugaru Roman and Masshigura, two varieties that have since become known as Aomori’s flagship rice.
It wasn’t long before both rice accounted for the majority of Aomori’s rice production, achieving great success and also a steady demand (Masshigura is actually one of our favorite rices). However, Aomori had yet to create a rice that received a Special A ranking by the Japanese Grain Inspection Association. This is in stark contrast to other prefectures such as Fukushima and Akita, which have been producing Special A grade rice since 1989.
In 2014, trial plantings of Seiten no Hekireki by nine different farmers were carried out and upon a successful final test cultivation, the variety was officially registered. By 2015, it was awarded the Special A ranking, fulfilling Aomori’s goal to produce a tasty variety of rice that was suitable to their climate.
Further information about Seiten no Hekireki rice
While highly sought after, Seiten no Hekireki still only accounts for less than 10% of the prefecture’s rice production. This is because cultivation is limited to only areas with particularly favorable conditions, namely central and northwest Tsugaru. As with many of the top rice brands such as Tsuyahime, there are also strict cultivation standards and production targets set as a way to control quality. For example, each batch of unpolished rice must have a protein content of 6.4% or less.
The initial local demand for Seiten no Hekireki was so great that there were queues in supermarkets to buy the rice and many shops quickly selling out by the first day- an unthinkable phenomena in the world of rice.
Seiten no Hekireki’s name and logo design concept
The name Seiten no Hekireki (青天の霹靂) is the result of a public call for proposals to name the variety. Its name captures the essence of Aomori’s picturesque surroundings. Translating to a thunderbolt out of the blue sky, the word “blue” signifies the vibrant blue color of Aomori, while “heaven” or ‘sky’ represents the expansive northern sky. Additionally, the “thunderbolt” refers to the sudden emergence of rice, resembling a bolt of lightning, under the clear Aomori sky.
The typeface used in the logo of “Seiten no Hekireki” also incorporates the imagery of a sharp lightning bolt and the tip of an ear of rice. It is designed as a distinct typeface that exudes character and uniqueness.
Seiten no Hekireki’s Japanese Grain Inspection Association Ranking
Seiten no Hekireki is the first rice variety in Aomori prefecture to obtain the Special A ranking, a long cherished wish for rice farmers. While sometimes grown in other parts of Aomori, it is the plantings from Tsugaru in particular that have been consistently awarded Special A.
How does Seiten no Hekireki taste?
We recommend reading our article on how rice is evaluated in Japan and our in depth discussion on how rice selection charts work to better understand this section.
Known for its slightly larger size and light texture, Seiten no Hekireki possesses an elegant luster and soft gentle whiteness. It has quite a strong stickiness which gives it a tender mouthfeel. The variety also exhibits a delightful elasticity and natural sweetness.
We find that it pairs exceptionally well with grilled fish, particularly with fish with a slightly higher fat content. Our favorite pairing is with grilled salmon, with the melted rich fish fat balanced out with the light texture of the rice.