Kuromitsu is a type of Japanese sweet syrup made from refined sugar and black honey. The name “Kuromitsu” literally means “black honey” in Japanese, referring to the dark color and viscosity of the syrup. Kuromitsu has a rich, complex flavor profile and is used as a topping for desserts like shaved ice, Japanese sweets, and fruits.
The Main Ingredients of Kuromitsu
The two primary ingredients in kuromitsu are granulated white sugar and black honey, specifically a type of honey made from bees that collect nectar from buckwheat flowers. Here is a breakdown of the components of kuromitsu:
- Refined Sugar – White, granulated cane or beet sugar is dissolved in water and heated to make a simple syrup base for kuromitsu. Sugar makes up the majority of the syrup’s mass.
- Black Honey – Buckwheat honey gives kuromitsu its distinctive dark color, viscosity, and complex flavor. Good quality kuromitsu uses unfiltered honey containing pollen and bee enzymes.
In addition to sugar and honey, some recipes for kuromitsu also include a small amount of rice flour or cornstarch to help prevent crystallization and add body to the syrup. The ratio is typically around 10 parts sugar to 1 part honey, with a sprinkle of starch.
Making Kuromitsu Syrup
There are a few basic steps to making kuromitsu at home:
- Make a simple syrup by heating sugar and water over medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar fully dissolves.
- Add buckwheat honey and bring the mixture to a simmer for 2-3 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises to the top.
- Remove from heat and stir in a small amount of starch like rice flour or cornstarch if desired.
- Let the syrup cool completely before using or storing.
The specific ratio of sugar, honey, and water can vary depending on personal preference. Some common ratios are:
- 1 cup sugar : 1/4 cup honey : 1/4 cup water
- 2 cups sugar : 1/2 cup honey : 1/2 cup water
- 3 cups sugar : 3/4 cup honey : 3/4 cup water
Always use the best quality ingredients when making homemade kuromitsu. Look for light and mild floral buckwheat honey to let the honey flavors shine through. Darker, more intense honey can overpower the syrup.
Variations and Flavorings
There are many possible variations on basic kuromitsu to create different flavors and textures:
- Brown rice syrup – Replacing up to half the sugar with brown rice syrup creates a malted, almost caramel-like flavor.
- Double black honey – For a more intense honey taste, use equal parts sugar and honey.
- Herbal infusions – Steep herbs like mint, lemon balm, or ginger in the hot syrup for a flavored kuromitsu.
- Spices – A pinch of cinnamon, star anise, vanilla bean, or cardamom complement the flavors.
- Citrus zest – Orange, lemon, yuzu, or other zests brighten up the flavor.
- Fruit purees – Strawberry, mango, blueberry, or other fruit purees make fruit-flavored kuromitsu.
The possibilities are endless when making infused kuromitsu. Start with a ratio of 10:1 sugar to additions for a subtly flavored syrup. Avoid over-seasoning it so the buckwheat honey flavor still comes through.
The Difference Between Kuromitsu and Other Sweet Syrups
Kuromitsu has some similarities to other popular sweet syrups like maple syrup, golden syrup, and agave nectar. However, there are a few key differences that set it apart:
- Maple syrup – Made from maple tree sap, so has a distinct maple flavor not found in kuromitsu.
- Golden syrup – Made from sugarcane and has a bright golden color compared to dark kuromitsu.
- Agave nectar – Comes from agave plants, so has more fruity, tequila-like notes than kuromitsu.
- Honey syrup – Regular honey syrup lacks buckwheat honey’s unique flavor.
Kuromitsu is the only sweet syrup made specifically with buckwheat flower honey, giving it a one-of-a-kind flavor profile. It has a more complex, malted taste compared to pure sugary syrups. The dark color and viscosity are also distinguishing characteristics of kuromitsu.
Selecting Honey for Kuromitsu
Not all honey varieties work equally well for making kuromitsu. Here are some tips for selecting the right honey:
- Buckwheat honey – This is a must! Buckwheat honey has an intense, molasses-like flavor.
- Dark colored honey – Look for darker honeys that will contribute deep color like buckwheat, chestnut, or wildflower.
- Thick, viscous honey – Thicker honeys like buckwheat help give kuromitsu a rich texture.
- Unfiltered honey – Raw, unfiltered honey contains beneficial pollen and enzymes.
- Milder tasting honey – Let the buckwheat honey flavor dominate, not other strong honey varieties.
Always read the label when buying honey for kuromitsu. Single flower buckwheat honey offers the truest flavor. If buckwheat honey is unavailable, try a blended wildflower or chestnut honey which can mimic some of the same notes.
Like other syrups, kuromitsu can be stored sealed at room temperature or in the refrigerator for extended shelf life. Here are some storage guidelines:
- Store in a clean glass jar or squeeze bottle.
- Keep refrigerated for up to 6 months.
- For room temperature storage, keep up to 1 month.
- Heat before use if crystals form during storage.
- Discard if any mold develops.
Properly stored kuromitsu will remain thick and smooth. It may naturally crystallize over time as the sugars separate. This isn’t harmful, but changes the texture. Gently reheat to dissolve any crystals that form.
Uses for Kuromitsu
Kuromitsu is a versatile syrup that can elevate both sweet and savory foods. Here are some popular ways to use it:
- Drizzle over shaved ice (kakigori) as a traditional Japanese dessert.
- Use as a topping for fresh fruit, pancakes, waffles, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Make kuromitsu lattes and other specialty drinks.
- Brush on poultry, ham, or pork glazes before roasting or grilling.
- Swirl into oatmeal, cottage cheese, or cream of wheat cereal.
- Stir into plain Greek yogurt to make a honey-flavored dip.
- Blend with soy sauce and ginger as a glaze for salmon.
- Add to salad dressings, marinades, and stir fry sauces.
The moderately sweet yet complex flavor of kuromitsu complements both sweet and savory ingredients. Try using it anywhere you would use honey or maple syrup. The viscosity helps it cling nicely to foods too.
Nutrition Facts of Kuromitsu
Since kuromitsu is primarily sugar and honey, it is very high in carbohydrates. A 2 tablespoon (30ml) serving provides:
As you can see, kuromitsu is almost entirely carbohydrates from the sugar content. There are also trace amounts of nutrients like calcium, iron, potassium, and B vitamins from the honey. But overall, kuromitsu should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet due to the high sugar and calorie content.
The History of Kuromitsu
Kuromitsu has been made in Japan for centuries, with possible origins as far back as the Muromachi period (1336-1573). Here are some interesting historical facts about kuromitsu:
- First made from sugarcane, then later beet sugar when production increased.
- Buckwheat was introduced to Japan in the 15-16th century, providing a new honey source.
- Used as an offering at shrines, temples, and tea ceremonies in feudal Japan.
- Became a popular topping for traditional sweets and wagashi in the Edo period.
- Making kuromitsu was one of the few ways to preserve harvested honey before modern times.
Kuromitsu remains an integral part of traditional Japanese confectionery and sweets. It is still commonly presented as a votive offering at shrines. The syrup is also used in Japanese tea ceremonies to flavor sweets eaten alongside matcha green tea.
How Kuromitsu is Made Commercially
For large-scale production, kuromitsu is made in commercial facilities using automated equipment. However, the basic process is similar to small-batch methods.
Commercial kuromitsu production involves:
- Mixing refined sugar and purified water in large stainless tanks.
- Heating the sugar solution using gas burners or steam injection to dissolve the sugar.
- Filtering the sugar syrup through pressure filters to remove impurities.
- Loading the filtered syrup into tanks then blending in honey.
- Heating the honey and sugar blend to pasteurize.
- Filling the kuromitsu into retail packaging while hot.
- Sealing bottles/jars then cooling down for storage.
The syrup may also be sent through an evaporator to achieve the desired brix and viscosity before packaging. All equipment and ingredients are carefully controlled to ensure food safety and product quality.
Common Brands of Kuromitsu
Some popular brands of kuromitsu include:
- Yamakawa – One of the oldest and best known brands founded in 1885.
- Maruman – Another long-standing company making many traditional Japanese foods and sweets.
- Nakano – Family-owned company focused on artisanal production.
- Sugimoto – Specializes in premium kuromitsu made with high quality honey.
- Yamamotoyama – Historic company and major matcha tea producer also making kuromitsu.
There are also many small, local producers of fresh kuromitsu in Japan. When buying, look for brands that use single-origin Japanese buckwheat honey and minimal additives. Short ingredient lists with only sugar, honey, and sometimes starch are best.
Kuromitsu Around the World
Outside of Japan, kuromitsu is gaining popularity and becoming easier to find due to the growing interest in Japanese cuisine. Here are some ways kuromitsu is spreading globally:
- Japanese markets and specialty stores import brands like Yamamotoyama.
- Taiwanese bubble tea shops use it in honey milk tea and other drinks.
- distributed in Southeast Asia by major Japanese confectioners.
- Hawaii has local producers like Big Island Bee Company inspired by Japanese settlers.
- Online retailers ship kuromitsu worldwide.
- Recipe blogs and videos teach people to DIY at home.
While awareness and availability outside Japan continues to expand, kuromitsu remains most popular and prevalent within Japan itself. There is a growing international following, but the syrup is still considered a distinctly Japanese specialty ingredient by most.
How to Substitute Kuromitsu
If you can’t find kuromitsu, there are a few possible substitutions depending on the application:
- Golden syrup or brown rice syrup – For baking recipes or straight up eating.
- Honey – Less viscosity and depth of flavor but works for drizzling.
- Maple syrup – Approximates the flavor profile in some dishes.
- Molasses – Replicates the dark color but very strong taste.
- Invert sugar syrup – Similar consistency and works in drinks.
However, nothing can perfectly replace the uniqueflavors of buckwheat honey. The best solution is to order kuromitsu online or try making your own using honey sourced locally.
Kuromitsu is an ancient Japanese syrup that captures the enticing flavor of buckwheat honey balanced by sweet cane sugar. The dark, thick syrup is versatile in both sweet and savory recipes from shaved ice to glazed meats. Authentic kuromitsu is made from minimal ingredients – just sugar, honey, and sometimes starch. Look for Japanese brands using high quality, single origin honey. Kuromitsu stands out from other syrups due to its distinctive color, viscosity, rich taste, and cultural heritage.