THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Green with envy?

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALMy local Marukai Wholesale Mart recently had a sale on all-things matcha. Matcha? Is that some local Hawaiian product? No, matcha is basically green tea leaves that are refined to the nth degree. For starters, the plants that produce matcha aren’t cultivated like your basic green tea plants (Camellia sinensis). Instead, they are shaded from direct sunlight for about three weeks leading up to the harvest so that the plants upregulate their production of chlorophyll, which results in darker green leaves. This shade-grown tea also increases its production of amino acids, specifically theanine.

Once absorbed by the intestinal tract, theanine is hydrolyzed to glutamate — yes, the same glutamate that’s associated with the umami taste sensation. Only the youngest leaves are harvested, with the ribs and veins removed further refining the tea leaves go into the production of matcha. And unlike your basic green tea leaves that are either packaged in tea bags or loose leaf tea, matcha is powdered so you simply wisk it into hot water for your final beverage.

Is this matcha the same tea in my canned tea or Lipton tea bags? Not even by a long-shot. The finely powdered matcha is usually reserved for formal Japanese tea ceremonies where it is whipped with a bamboo wisk or chasen and served alongside a traditional Japanese sweet or wagashi. You do occasionally find matcha used in a fancy cocktail mainly to obtain that vivid green hue … or so I thought.

AssortedMatchaSweets

Assorted matcha sweets. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I Scream, You Scream …
Beyond tea ceremonies and the occasional libation, I never was aware that matcha was found in so many other products … namely sweets, especially since it does have a slightly bitter edge — well, it is tea. So naturally, I had to purchase some of these sweets just to see what all the fuss over matcha laced products was and whether they actually tasted good …

So in the name of science, I selected several items just so you don’t have to elevate your blood sugar or possibly suffer any culinary PTSD or Post Taste Stress Disorder.

Noko Ujimatcha Brownie
I noticed the unmistakable nose of green tea with a pleasing balance of sweet and tea bitterness with little chocolate nibs. The crunchy chocolate bits helped balance the unmistakable green tea flavors.

Matcha Caramel
This has just a hint of green tea flavor that could be overlooked in a blind tasting.

Oreo Bits Sandwiches
Overwhelmed by the chocolate cookie — there’s no real discernable tea flavor here.

Otona Pakkuncho Koi Matcha
These are crispy, bite-sized cookies with great green tea flavor within. They offer a nice light cookie with balanced green tea flavors.

Elise Uji Matcha Cream Wafers
Though these are all green, the initial cookie crunch is just like your average flaky wafer, but the crème filling eventually gives you that green tea flavor.

Pocky Kasane Matcha
Green tea flavor all the way. It’s like a light pretzel coated in green tea!

Assorted Matcha Doraku
These are tree different sweets, though while all three had that green hue, there wasn’t much green tea flavor in the sweets other than the Crunch wafer.

Oreo Chocolate Bar Mini Arabiki Matcha
The bar has a light hint of green tea but it mostly has just a crispy cookie texture.

Milky Gyokuroiri Matcha
Like a green tea caramel. Matcha all the way!

So that was a load of matcha and while some of it was actually very good — the Mrs. and I agreed that the brownie and the Doraku crunch wafer were the best of all the sweets due to their balanced flavors — but there has to be more to matcha than just desserts or a vivid green hue that it imparts to food.

Matcha Wahoo. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Matcha Wahoo. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The Bay Area’s own Chef Daniel Patterson of Alta CA, Aster, Coi, PB and Haven had this recipe highlighted in Bon Appetit magazine several years ago using matcha as part of a topping for baked halibut. Since halibut hardly is seen in the 50th, I used another local firm white fleshed fish, the wahoo or ono (which translates to delicious in Hawaiian).

Chef Daniel Patterson’s Matcha & Pistachio-Crusted Halibut
1/2 cup raw unsalted pistachios
1 1/2 teaspoons matcha powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for parchment paper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 5-ounce skinless Pacific halibut fillets or other firm-fleshed white fish

Grind toasted pistachios, matcha and sugar in a food processor until the nuts are coarsely chopped, about 15 seconds. Add breadcrumbs, melted butter, and lemon zest; process until combined (but not a paste), about 10 seconds. Season topping to taste with salt and pepper.

Salt and pepper fish then top with 1/4 of the nut mixture and bake at 400 degrees for eight to 10 minutes.

Finally, though I occasionally enjoy a nice cup of freshly brewed green tea, including tea from powdered matcha, I also enjoy adult libations as well, and this is one of my standby libations at Hawai‘i’s own MW Restaurant run by the husband and wife team of Chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka. A bit of acid, a bit of earthiness with sake and soju to awaken the palate for the impending feast …

Nagai Shima
Matcha (green tea), Kai lemongrass shochu, Tyku soju, Tyku sake, Fresh squeezed lemon and shiso.

So if you’re still green with envy, just select your own matcha laced foods or libations. It’s more than just a beverage for formal tea ceremonies, it also might expand your palate so that you’re also tasting green …

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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