THE HIDDEN SECRETS OF GENMAICHA AKA POPCORN TEA
When I lived in Japan I was (regrettably) entirely immune to the joys of Genmaicha.
Standing in line at the supermarket check-out I'd often see it displayed in a cheap, tea dust filled packet, sat alongside other impulse buys like Black Black caffeinated chewing gum and the only-in-Japan-would-I-eat-this dried squid jerky. I always wondered what was hiding in there.
Thankfully, since then I have come to love Genmaicha.
It is a perfect everyday tea for spring and summer. Cheap yet refreshing and full of moreish umami sweetness. And what a looker! Bursting with white popcorn flowers, toasted brown rice and vivid sweet green tea.
So you can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered (straight from the Japanese tea farmer / horses mouth) that there is something hiding in there.
Spoiler Alert! Brown rice? Not exactly.
Genmaicha is not actually made with brown rice at all but instead with white rice. During processing the rice is steamed to cook it, then roasted to impart its distinctive colour and flavour. Brown rice or unpolished rice has a husk which during the steaming process splits open which makes for an unattractive grain. Hence, white rice is used for a more uniform and attractive look.
Popcorn? Lost in translation.
Most people think the popcorn flowers which we often see in Genmaicha are also made of rice.
In fact, most Genmaicha is made using popped sorghum kernels. Unlike rice which pops in a rather haphazard way Sorghum grains pop predictably into a uniform, flower petal shape so are favoured in modern production methods.
As so often is the case, all is not what it seems in the world of tea.