Ebi-imo (shrimp potato) (エビイモ)

Ebi-imo (literally, shrimp potato) is a sort of taro. It is also called Kyo-imo (Kyo-taro). It is consumed mainly in the Kinki area, especially in Kyoto prefecture. The name comes from its bending shape and the stripes on it that make it look like a shrimp. Although it is now produced in Kyoto prefecture, Tondabayashi in Osaka prefecture, Tokushima prefecture and Kochi prefecture, an eighty percent share of the domestic market is harvested on the eastern bank of the Tenryu river between the previous Toyooka-mura and the previous Ryuyo-cho (the present Iwata city), the biggest source of it in Japan. However, production is decreasing every year as the farmers age. Ebi-imo is considered a high-grade ingredient because it does not fall apart while boiling and the taste is good; a famous dish using Ebi-imo is Imobo in Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine). Those with red stems are called tonoimo (Chinese potato) or hon-ebi, and those with green stems (yellow-green) are called meimo.

Features of Ebi-imo

・The body of the potato is farinaceous, sticky and tight, and has an excellent taste.

・It does not fall apart or even change its color while boiling.

・The taste is said to be the best among taro.

・It has the shape of a bent spindle and black stripes on its surface.

・As it increases and reproduces from parent to children, it is valued as a bringer of good luck.

・It tastes a little sweet.

History of ebi-imo

Before the birth of ebi-imo

In the Anei era during the Edo period (1772~81, in the late 18th century), Prince Shorenin-no-miya had Gondayu HIRANO, his attendant and the ancestor of the Hirano family that ran a Kyoto cuisine restaurant "Imobo," grow a kind of taro, which had been brought from Nagasaki by the prince, and large, good potatoes were harvested. The name comes from the shape of the taro, which is bent due to the weight of soil after repeatedly covering the potatoes with soil, resembling the shape of a shrimp.
(The present major sources are Seika-cho, Tanabe-cho, and Maizuru city.)

Before it's introduction to Iwata city

Around 1926, Ichiro Kumagai, who was an inspector of farming at the town office of Toyoda-cho (the former Idoori Village), in the previous Iwata district, introduced ebi-imo into the area as a new crop to deal with the Showa recession. It was first produced as a trial by a farmer in the Kegojima area in the former Toyoda cho, and in 1931, the basis for production and sales was laid by a shipping association (chair: Mr. Naito).
At that time, this shipping association was composed of about 50 families in Kegojima, and it shipped its production to wholesale dealers in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo and it was proud of the reputation for 'ebi-imo.'
After that, people in Toyooka (the former Kaketsuka-cho) in the former Ryuyo-cho learned that raising ebi-imo was bringing substantial income to the Kegojima area, and Hiroshi ITO, the head of the farmers' cooperative of the former Ryuyo-cho, grew it from in 1938 to 39 and produced good potatoes, after the start the cultivation of ebi-imo in this area greatly developed. After 1945, growing ebi-imo rapidly spread in Terabun, Iwata City and the Hirose area of the former Toyooka-mura, which had the same soil conditions, and Iwata city became well-established as a site of ebi-imo production.
(Ebi-imo used to be sold for 10,000 yen per 10kg.)

The former Toyooka-mura started to grow ebi-imo in earnest during the late 1950's, as the construction of Sakuma dam and Akiha dam at the upper reaches of the Tenryu river was completed and they did not have to worry about flooding as much as before.

At first it was introduced from the Kansai region to replace mulberry following the retreat of sericulture. After that, around 1960, as the sources of ebi-imo around the land of its birth, Kyoto and Osaka, gradually became residential areas, Chuen became the main source, and has remained so up to the present day.

The process of ebi-imo cultivation

① Plow the land

② Cover the land with plastic called multi

③ Plant potatoes and give much water

④ As the potatoes grow, remove two or three leaves from the parent potatoes (get rid of unnecessary leaves)

⑤ Cover the roots of potatoes with soil (tsuchi-yose). Do it a little bit at a time and repeat several times.

⑥Harvest the potatoes when the leaves start to die

Without 'tsuchi-yose', the putting of soil between the stems coming from the parent potatoes and those from the smaller potatoes, the smaller (koimo) will not part and they will not acquire the basic bent shape of ebi-imo.

Tips for growing ebi-imo

To produce heavy ebi-imo, it is desirable to have rich, permeable soil and maintain the soil at an appropriate humidity.
Also, the best size for the potato sets is between 40 and 80g. (Be sure to make them all the same size.)
The number of potato sets necessary per 10a is approximately from 800 to 900. The important thing while growing ebi-imo is the amount and the timing of adding fertilizer. Because ebi-imo is likely to be damaged by fertilizer, the decision of when to plant should be taken with consideration of the water in the soil, and it is better to do the planting just after a rain when the soil is wet enough. When the soil becomes dry, even fertilizer added two weeks prior can cause damage, making irrigation necessary in dry periods. If irrigation is impossible, be sure to lay the initial manure not under each potato set, but between them. When applying additional fertilizer, the closest attention and care are necessary; for example, spreading additional fertilizer over four times to avoid any damage due to fertilizer. Other than the above, one thing especially worth mentioning is that removing leaves and stems is one of the essential farming techniques needed to make the smaller potatoes larger. Removing the stems and leaves of the parent potatoes, makes the tips of their leaves curved, preventing them from spreading too much will have a beneficial effect on the growth of smaller potatoes.

[Original Japanese]