Japan’s history with buckwheat, or soba, can be traced back more than 3,000 years when seeds were discovered at an excavation of an ancient settlement. Remnants of soba cultivation can be found from around the 5th century when it was produced as an emergency crop.
At first, soba flour was combined with warm water and kneaded into dumplings, but in the Edo period this dough was rolled out and cut into long and thin noodles that were eaten in a soup. This marked the beginning of soba’s use as a true grain.
Fresh or dried soba noodles sold in stores are the easiest way to prepare soba yourself, but people also enjoy making soba noodles from scratch, starting with the kneading of the soba flour dough. Generally soba noodles are eaten with a soy sauce and katsuo-bushi based sauce.
Horokanai Town is not only Hokkaido’s largest producer of soba but Japan as well. In Hokkaido, Horokanai Town is followed by Fukagawa City, Otoineppu Village, and Asahikawa City, as Northern Hokkaido accounts for a bulk of the prefecture’s soba production volume.
■Map / Main producing municipalities
Horokanai Town, Fukagawa city, Otoineppu Village, Asahikawa City, Numata Town, Kenbuchi Town, Wassamu Town, Takigawa City, Shintotsukawa Town, Hokuryu Town
Compared to other parts of Japan Hokkaido’s soba is harvested much earlier. Therefore, many of the soba restaurants across Japan that serve “new soba” on their menus around September actually make their noodles with Hokkaido-grown soba.
Kitawase soba is the main variety of soba and it is believed to account for about 90% of Hokkaido’s total soba production. Certain regions continue to cultivate the conventional variety called Botan soba. In addition, new varieties of soba have been developed based on the unique climates of each region, such as Horominori in Horokanai Town and Kitano Mashu created around Lake Mashu in Teshikaga Town.
Farmers in Horokanai Town have come up with a unique innovation preserve the taste of soba by aging/storing it for long periods of time using a method where unmilled soba is stored in a container covered in snow.
The growth period of soba differs based on the variety, so there are two types called summer soba and autumn soba based on when it is harvested. Hokkaido’s mainstay Kitawase soba is a summer soba that is planted around June, blooms in July and is harvested around September. It is often sold as “new soba.”