First appearing in Japanese confectionaries around the year 1900, kurikinton have long been a popular fall confection enjoyed by Japanese people. Kurikinton are simple sweets that are created by boiling chestnuts with sugar and then mashing and molding them into a distinctive shape that resembles a chestnut. The texture reminds me a little bit of cookie dough, and the sweet, chestnut taste pairs perfectly with tea or coffee.
Chestnuts from the Tono region (the area surrounding Nakatsugawa and Ena), have been enjoyed by the locals even before kurikinton. In addition to kurikinton, chestnut rice (rice that is cooked with small bits of chestnut mixed in it) and roasted chestnut are other ways that you can enjoy the autumn delicacy.
I had the chance to visit a chestnut orchard near Nakatsugawa City, and the chestnuts there were gigantic! It was right before the harvest season so most of the chestnuts were still green. The chestnut farmers are able to get the chestnuts to grow to the size they are by keeping the trees trimmed down, this allows for more nutrients to get dispersed to the chestnuts instead of the leaves and branches that were cut off.
After touring around the orchard we got the chance to visit a famous Japanese confectionary store where they hand-make up to 30,000 kurikinton a day. We were allowed to go back into the production area and see kurikinton being made in person. The speed and precision that the workers showed was amazing to watch. Each ball of kurikinton goodness is hand-molded with a cloth, after which it is ready to be sold and eaten. ***When purchasing kurikinton please keep in mind that they only stay good for a few days!
Some chestnut confectionaries stick with making only the more traditional sweets like kurikinton, while other places are inspired by European confections and create their own unique style of chestnut desserts. The uses of waguri, or Japanese chestnuts, in sweets and other dishes here in the Tono region of Gifu are diverse, so even if you don’t have a sweet tooth there is sure to be something that you will like!