An Acquired Taste of Japan – Inago and Hachinoko!

Natto is an acquired taste. Fermented fish, fungi and vegetables are acquired tastes. But eating insects? Now that is a truly unique experience for much of the world!

Japan shares a heritage with other Asian countries where certain insects are eaten as a nutritious food source. There are a few common types of insects eaten in Japan including inago (rice grasshoppers) and hachinoko (wasp or bee larvae). Eating these insects has a long tradition, especially in Gifu and Nagano Prefectures which are located in the mountainous regions where fish were not abundant, and livestock was limited. These particular edibles are known to provide beneficial fat, protein and B vitamins.


In lean times, inago and hachinoko supplemented many people’s diets, especially during their harvest in the cold months of winter and after the devastation of World War II. Following the mid-1900’s, when industrial pest control became more prevalent and when high-quality food was substantially available to the general population, the tradition of consuming inago and hachinoko lost favor. Today, consuming both of these insects is enjoying a resurgence, as they are readily available in packaged form and as artisanal chefs are looking at them as a sustainable and delicious food source.

Inago prepared as tsukudani, a traditional way of cooking with soy sauce, sugar, and sake, make crunchy snacks. They are often enjoyed with beer, sake or tea and as side dishes accompanying more traditional main dishes. Connoisseurs find inago have a mild, nutty flavor. Similarly prepared as tsukudani, hachinoko are softer and can be served with rice in dishes called hachinoko gohan and hebo gohemochi.


Both inago and hachinoko can be found online, at retailers, and sometimes even in vending machines in Japan. But the best place to eat them are at matsuri, or festivals, specifically celebrating these cultural traditions. In November, the Kushihara Hebo Matsuri held in Ena, Gifu Prefecture, hosts a competition among beekeepers as to who can cultivate and harvest the most hachinoko. The competitors show off their harvesting skills and ultimately, sell the fresh larvae to festival-goers. Plus, street food vendors make the best hachinoko dishes! The Tokyo Bug Eating Club is the place to sample inago, and they have events throughout the season where one can catch, cook and consume the grasshoppers.

No matter where you get them, we’d love to hear your story about the first time you sampled inago or hachinoko. Be sure to share it with us. And happy crunching!

An Acquired Taste of Japan – Kusaya!

The tradition of eating fermented fish spans cultures from Scandinavia to Europe to Asia. We know of famous examples like garum, from ancient Rome, where small local fish were salted and fermented until they almost liquified. And of the famous Swedish surströmming, where Baltic herring are caught in the spring time, lightly salted and fermented in barrels for months.

Japan’s rich food culture, which prizes fish in all of its varieties, is famous for kusaya, a fermented, dried fish that has a mild taste but a most-definitely acquired smell!

Kusaya is made from small flying fish or mackerel. When made using traditional methods, the freshly caught fish is descaled by hand and then flayed open. The bones, entrails and blood are removed, and the inside of the fish is scrubbed many times in fresh water to remove any remnants. The opened fish is then soaked in a salt brine called “kusaya-jiru” for about 24 hours, then dried in the open air and hot sun for up to two days, before it’s stored in jars. Kusaya is unique in that the brine used to begin the fermentation process is the key to preserving the fish. Every family that makes kusaya in a traditional fashion closely guards their brine recipe. The brines are made of water and small amounts of salt to begin with, then reused for each batch of fish, with some brines lasting as long as 100 years! The brine smells of decay, similar to feces, and an overgrowth of bacteria, lending kusaya the aroma that many who have not grown up with this dish find hard to tolerate.

Fermenting fish is a wonderful way to preserve it and to augment and release the umami in the flesh. The fermentation process for kusaya uses the microorganisms in the salt brine to release glutamates from the proteins, sugars and fats in the fish’s meat. These glutamates are the building blocks of umami, the fifth taste in Japanese food culture, and a building block of dashi. Many Japanese eat kusaya with sake or other alcoholic beverages, as it is high in protein and calcium and pairs well with sharper flavors.

Kusaya can be purchased almost anywhere in Japan, most generally in canned or packaged form. But if you’re lucky enough to visit a traditional kusaya maker, overrule the smell around you and try this delicacy!

And don’t forget to share your story with us!