History is filled with unique characters and unique groups of people, many of whom we can learn things from. Each of these groups had to find a way to survive the hardships of life, often times overcoming great obstacles along the way. Others became great obstacles to their neighbors, either through fighting wars with them or from stealing their resources.
One of the most unique groups in history are the Japanese Ninja. These were probably the world’s first “snake eaters,” although I doubt that snake was on their diet. Rather, I’m using this term as it is used in the military, in reference to all types of commando units.
Today’s many special operators all trace their roots back to the British SAS (Special Air Service), a clandestine special forces or commando unit of the British Army, formed at the beginning of World War II. Like the SAS, the ninja had to develop their own methods, equipment and even weapons, as there was nobody for them to copy from. Looking at it from this side of history, we can see that they excelled in this most necessary military art.
Ninjas may have been great clandestine warriors, but they were also great inventors. Pretty much everything they used was unique to their clan. While they were experts in the use of the Samurai’s Katana sword and the bow, they were also experts in a wide variety of other weapons that the Samurai didn’t use.
Their history of invention didn’t end there. Ninjas were interested in many areas, such as herbal medicine. Their studies in this area led them to create their own survival food, which they would use when on their missions. These included foods like hyourougan, kikatsugan and suikatsugan. Of the three, suikatsugan supposedly had some amazing properties, such as allowing the ninja the ability to go without water.
Suikatsugan supposedly restrained the thirst of the ninja, allowing them to go as much as 45 days without water, if they ate just three of these small superfoods. That’s probably an exaggeration, as we can normally go a maximum of three days without water. Even with the highly disciplined lifestyle they lived and the rigors they normally put their bodies through, going 45 days would be too much of a stretch. However, siukatsugan does cause one to salivate, giving the appearance that one could go without water.
While this superfood may not actually do what the ancient writings postulate, we can be sure that it was a compact, healthy source of nutrition. While on a mission, ninja needed to save every ounce of weight they could. Their day-to-day life was rigorous, so as to train their bodies for the rigors of the missions they undertook. Foods like this were not eaten carelessly, but rather, developed with care over a considerable amount of time.
Preparing the Ingredients
My curiosity being aroused, I went about to make my own ninja superfood. The first challenge was in finding the ingredients, as they are not things that I commonly buy at my local supermarket.All of the ingredients needed to be ground up and mixed together, forming something roughly the consistency of cookie batter, albeit a lumpy cookie batter. In the interest of maintaining something of the origins of this food, I chose to grind the ingredients with a Mexican mortar and pestle, called a “molcajete.” These are usually made of porous volcanic rock, but I have one that is made of granite. While not polished like a Japanese one would be, it is a fair approximation.
You could probably accomplish the same thing using a blender or food processor; but would lose the feeling of “originality” in doing so. In exchange, you would save a considerable amount of time, which would make the process more enjoyable.
Licorice root is good for a variety of stomach ailments, including ulcers, heartburn and ongoing inflammation of the stomach lining. I had to purchase mine online, as I was unable to find it locally. It came shredded in a bag. While the root does not naturally taste much like licorice when eaten alone, it did add a distinct licorice flavor to the mixture. It was difficult to grind up the already shredded licorice root with the mortar and pestle; probably even more so because the licorice root was already shredded. I suppose it could have been left in the shredded form, but that might have been difficult to chew and even digest. I was able to grind it considerably smaller, but it took a lot of work to do so.
Kudzu or Kuzu starch is a common ingredient in Japanese recipes, used predominantly for thickening sauces. It provides a bright, translucent quality, without adding a starchy flavor. However, being a starch, it is a good source of carbohydrates, which the body quickly turns into sugar for energy. Kuzu starch is an anti-inflammatory, which is also good for treating stomach disorders.I ended up buying this ingredient online as well. The starch comes in chunks, such as those shown to the right in the mortar above. These are easily crushed to powder, making them the easiest ingredient in the recipe to work with. Once mixed with the other ingredients, this one dissolves and probably works as a binder to hold everything together.
Dried plums are a great source of nutrition, carrying a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and antioxidants. If you have trouble finding these in your local grocery store, look for prunes, as for some reason, dried plums are commonly known by this name. Prunes are common, making them the easiest ingredient to come up with. This ingredient probably provided most of the nutritional value of the suikatsugan, including a fair number of calories.Before grinding the dried plums, dice them with a knife. This will cut up the skin, helping ensure that when you grind them, they don’t stick together in large lumps. I ended up adding more after my first grind and got a bit lazy dicing and grinding them. That made my mixture lumpy and forced me to go back and mash it again.
Since the finished suikatsugan is supposed to be rolled in small balls, we want to mash this as well in the mortar and pestle. While it would theoretically be possible to use it diced, you would need to roll the finished product into larger balls.
Japanese mint is all but impossible to locate here in the United States. About the only thing you can do is to buy the plants online; but even then it is hard to find. Fortunately, according to an old botanist I ran across, Japanese mint is almost identical to Spearmint, which is relatively easy to find. I was able to buy spearmint in the garden section of my local home improvement center.
It is the mint that provides the majority of the health benefits of the suikatsugan, as well as being the ingredient that helped the ninja deal with thirst. Japanese mint is used for the treatment of digestive problems, fever, pain, spasms, headaches, toothaches, cramps, earache and a host of more serious medical problems. Based upon the information I have been able to find online, as well as that which I could find for spearmint, one is a reasonable substitute for the other.Grinding the spearmint leaves in the mortar and pestle is all but impossible, unless you are going to make a lot of suikatsugan at one time. Instead, you can chop it fine on a cutting board, just as you would do preparing other herbs for cooking.
Making the Suikatsugan
Once the ingredients are prepared, making the suikatsugan requires nothing more than mixing them up. I first tried mixing them with a spoon, which was a joke. The plum paste stuck to the spoon and everything else stuck to it. Nothing got mixed. I ended up mixing it with my fingers, which is probably the way it was originally done. Not only is this a very efficient way to mix everything together, but you’ve got to get your fingers into it to make the balls anyway.
The ratio of ingredients should be something like:
- 1 part chopped Japanese Mint leaves (or Spearmint leaves)
- 3 parts ground Kudzu Starch
- 5 parts ground Licorice Root
- 10 parts Plum paste
A small amount of water might need to be added, in order to help the dry ingredients (licorice root and kudzu starch) mix in. Don’t use too much water, as it will make the mixture too soggy and hard to work with. I used about a thimbleful and that was almost too much.
The finished mixture should be rolled into balls about 1 cm in diameter and put out to air dry.
After going through all this work, making the suikatsugan, I couldn’t just drop it with making the balls and taking a picture of them. I knew you would be curious about their taste and honestly, I was curious myself. So I tried it. I was prepared for a bad taste… but in the interest of science and all that…
It was surprisingly good. I could easily detect the different flavors of the mint and licorice root, as well as the dried plum which formed the foundation. While an unusual combination of flavors, they actually went well together. I was pleasantly surprised.
Even so, I’m sorry, I’m not going to try going 45 days without water, not even after eating three of them, which was supposed to be enough to keep a ninja from needing water. I can see how they would give the illusion of not needing water, as the strong flavors of mint and licorice do make one salivate. So, if you were in a place where you didn’t have enough water, I can see where eating suikatsugan would alleviate your thirst, at least for a short period of time. But you’re still going to need water once that feeling goes away.
On the other hand, suikatsugan should be a good survival food. Not only does it provide a good punch of energy; but it also has a great mixture of nutrients. The medicinal qualities of the various ingredients would probably help your body deal with the lack of food or lack of a balanced diet. So I can definitely see where it would be beneficial as something to pack along, either in your bug out bag, or as part of your survival stockpile.
Maybe trained ninja could go longer without water than you or I; I wouldn’t doubt it. But then, they expected to either die performing their mission or commit suicide after a successful completion of it. So I doubt that the full 45 days has ever been truly tested; they were probably gone before reaching that point.
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