There are several unique aspects of Japanese swordsmithing, and that goes right down to the material used. Katana are traditionally forged with what’s called tamahagane, which literally means “ball steel.”
Tamahagane contains a high concentration of iron sand and forms in irregular clumps. In unrefined form, it has a dark, dull color, but there are also specks of shine if you look closely enough.
We recently saw a tamahagane sample on display in the town of Seki, Gifu Prefecture. Seki has been Japan’s premier sword-producing city since the samurai era, but this particular piece of tamahagane wasn’t on display in a museum or cutlery shop, but inside snack shop Seki Milk, which also sells tamahagane-themed cookies.
Officially, they’re called Tamahagane Biscotti, which adds a bit of multilingual appeal to their sweet and historical charms. The “samurai steel cookies” are produced under supervision from 26th-generation Japanese swordsmith Kanefusa Fujiwara, who also was involved with the creation of the tasty Katana Ice frozen treat we ate at Seki Milk, and so we decided to pick up a container of Tamahagane Biscotti for 850 yen.
Katana aren’t produced via an automated process, and so neither are the Tamahagane Biscotti. Each cookie is handmade to ensure an irregular shape, and visually they look amazingly similar to actual tamahagane steel, right down to flecks of light color (which in the biscotti’s case come from salt and almond powder).
▼ Steel (left) vs. cookie (right)
As a matter of fact, the sweets look so much like their edged weapon-related inspiration that we were almost afraid we were going to chip a tooth as we took our first bite. To our relief, though, Tamahagane Biscotti contain no actual metal, and are crispy but light, breaking apart easily without any warrior-level use of strength in your jaw muscles.
They taste great too, with the star ingredient being rice flour made with hatsushimo rice. Hatsushimo is a rare strain grown locally in Seki, and is known as a type of rice that retains its delicious flavor even at room temperature. As for the color, it comes from the use of edible bamboo charcoal, the same ingredient in the black hamburgers which were all the rage in Japan a while back.
Like hatsushimo rice, the Tamahagane Biscotti aren’t easy to come by. In Seki, they’re only sold in three places: Seki Milk, confecionary shop Seki Toraya, and the Seki Hamono Museum. In Tokyo, the only place you can purchase them is the Japanese Sword Museum in Sumida Ward, but to be honest, if you’re the kind of person who’s intrigued by samurai steel cookies, odds are you won’t mind heading to a samurai sword museum to get some.
Seki Milk / 関牛乳 株式会社
Address: Gifu-ken, Seki-shi, Kannonmae 41
Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (weekdays), 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (weekends, holidays)
Related: Tamahagane Biscotti website
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