Japanese professor launches crowdfunding project to recreate amazura, a lost Heian Era sweetener

Amazura was a popular sweetener among Heian aristocrats but its method of production was lost to time after the widespread diffusion of sugar.

With the proliferation of patisseries and baked goods in Japan today, it’s easy to forget that table sugar wasn’t always around. It’s believed to have been introduced to Japan in 754 via envoys from the Tang Dynasty in China but didn’t become widely used until the Edo period (1603-1868). Up until then, another plant-derived sweetener, called amazura, was enjoyed by aristocrats of the Heian period (794-1185). It was often noted in classical works of literature of the time, such as The Pillow Book, Konjaku Monogatarishu, and Uji Shui Monogatari, which detailed its use drizzled over shaved ice or boiled in a gruel with diced sweet potatoes for a dish known as imogayu that was served at aristocratic banquets.

▼ An excerpt from Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book (completed in 1002) references amazura at the top of the third line from the right.

Fast forward to the Reiwa period (2019-present). Ritsumeikan University Assistant Professor Yukihiro Komatsu, a member of the Ritsumeikan Global Innovation Research Organization, is now attempting to recreate amazura for the modern age. It may sound like a fun and fairly straightforward project, but here’s the catch: both the list of raw materials and production method used to make amazura all but disappeared from written records after sugar became more widely available in the Edo Period.

▼ Komatsu introduces amazura and his research goals in this short video.

In order to accomplish his goal, Komatsu has appealed for the public’s support on Bluebacks Outreach, a unique crowdfunding website which aims to bridge scientific inquiries with …continue reading