Hinona Kabu turnips are botanically classified as Brassica rapa var. rapifera, and can also be found under the name ‘Turnip of the Sun’ or Long turnip. The Japanese Hinona Kabu turnips are popularly used for making sakurazuke, or ‘cherry blossom’ pickle, named for the color naturally produced once they are pickled. In Japan, Hinona Kabu turnips are known as simply Kabu, in Chinese as Wujing, or Manjing and in Cantonese as Mo ching.
Turnips are a good source of vitamin C and contain calcium, potassium, and a small amount of phosphorus.
Hinona Kabu turnips can be eaten both raw and cooked. The entire plant, roots and greens are pickled together for a traditional Japanese condiment called “cherry blossom pickle.” Hinona Kabu turnips can be used in recipes calling for any variety of turnip. One popular way to prepare the purple-topped tubers is by sautéing slices in butter and sugar and finishing with a touch of soy sauce. This preparation is called ‘teriyaki turnips’ and it can be served over rice. Store left-overs in a glass jar, in the refrigerator, for up to two weeks. Fresh Hinona Kabu turnips can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
In Japan, whether they are called Hinona Kabu or “long-rooted pickling turnips,” these long, mild tasting and brightly-colored turnips are pickled to make sakura zuke or cherry blossom pickle. This should not be confused with pickled cherry blossoms, which are also a popular item in parts of Japan.
Hinona Kabu turnips are believed to have originated in Japan in the 1470s. The name places the origin of the brightly-hued turnip in the town of Hino, in Shiga prefecture. The coloring of the Hinona Kabu turnip is similar to that of a late 19th century tuber known as ‘Long Red Tankard’ which was very popular in central Europe at the time. This has led to a competing origin theory. The Long Red Tankard turnips may have been one of several European vegetables known to be introduced to Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1867. This variety may have been a parent to what is known now as the Hinona Kabu turnip. Outside of Japan, Hinona Kabu turnips have been grown by coastal California farms and are available to farmers in seed form. The turnips pictured above are from a local San Diego farm, and the roots have also been found at a San Francisco-area farm.