What is it?
Kuzu (or kudzu) is a proliferating plant native to the Orient, particularly China and Japan. While for centuries the Chinese cooked and ate the leaves, seeds, and flower of the plant, modern culinary use is primarily limited to the starchy root, which is dehydrated to make a powdered thickener. The Chinese call kuzu starch gok fun; the Japanese call it ko fen. In Asia, kuzu is valued as both food and medicine. In the West, Kuzu comes packaged in the form of a lumpy, white powder, sold primarily in health food stores.
The massive, vine-like kudzu plant was first brought to the southeastern United States to feed livestock and prevent soil erosion. Because of the favorable soil and climate of the American South, it spread wildly, choking out all other flora in its path. Tenacious, to say the least, its roots can weigh in the hundreds of pounds.
How is it made?
The roots of the kudzu plant are harvested in the autumn and cut into chunks. The chunks are then crushed and flushed with water to form a thick paste. This paste is repeatedly washed and filtered to extract the pure white starch, which is then air-dried and sold. Kuzu can be found in most health food stores, usually among the macrobiotic ingredients.
How is it used?
Kuzu is a flavorless powder that thickens any liquid in the same manner as corn starch and arrowroot. Use it to thicken sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and pie fillings. Before stirring kuzu into a cold liquid, crush any chunks with a spoon. Make sure all lumps are dissolved. Bring the liquid and kuzu to a simmer on the stove, whisking constantly, until the sauce goes from cloudy to clear, from thin to thick. Dissolving 1 tablespoon kuzu per cup of liquid will yield a sauce-like consistency; 2-3 tablespoons per cup of liquid will create a more pudding-like texture.
Why do we use it?
Our founder, Dr. Annemarie Colbin, has for years cooked with and recommended kuzu, both as a thickener and a powerful healing agent. The charms of corn starch, by contrast, extend only to its thickening power. It may be worthwhile to note that corn starch is highly processed, bleached, and chemically extracted, and, if it’s not organic, probably made from genetically engineered corn.
Kuzu is alkaline and is therefore a good antidote to the acid-forming effects of sugar and alcohol. In her book Food and Healing, Dr. Colbin recommends kuzu preparations for 2 different conditions:
Shoyu-kuzu with umeboshi: effective for treating dietary excess, colds, hangovers, diarrhea, and rashes. Combine 1 tablespoon kuzu, 1 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon shoyu or tamari, and 1 mashed ume plum (or 1 teaspoon umeboshi plum paste) in a pot. Bring mixture to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring constantly until thick.
Apple juice-kuzu pudding: counterbalances contraction, tightness, cramping, as well as tension, stress, and insomnia. Combine 2 tablespoons kuzu, 1 cup apple juice in a pot, dissolving well. Bring mixture to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring constantly until thick. Remove from the stove and stir in a teaspoon of vanilla, if desired. Eat hot before bedtime for a relaxing effect.
In Chinese medicine, kuzu is credited with reducing high blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and relieving chronic migraine. Most interesting is research from China and the US indicating kuzu can reduce the craving for and effects of alcohol.
If you haven’t already, give kuzu a try. From our experience at NGI, and the emerging scientific research, kuzu is a home remedy that deserves a place in your kitchen.
Some links about kuzu’s health benefits: