Miwa Somen (thin noodles made in Miwa) (三輪素麺)
Miwa Somen is a somen (Japanese fine noodles) produced in Miwa area centering around Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, and it is a local special product of the area. Also it is said that Miwa area is the birthplace of somen.
History of producing somen
According to the legend, in 91 B.C. (the seventh year in Emperor Sujin's reign) Otatane no mikoto, who was the fifth descendant of Omononushi no mikoto, was appointed the great Shinto priest of Omiwa-jinja Shrine. And it is said that somen was first produced by Tanenushi, the second son of Jugoinojo (Junior Fifth Rank, Upper Grade) Omiwa no ason Saikusa, who was the twelfth descendant of Otatane no mikoto.
The process of producing and characteristics
Miwa Somen is made from flour by hand-stretching during mid winter.
Its characteristics are that it maintains firmness when it is boiled and it has a special firmness and smooth tasting on the tongue.
The somen aged for one year or longer is called "Hinemono" and the one aged for two years or longer called "Ohine," and they are prized for their rareness.
In Miwa, which has long history of producing somen, somen were classified into four categories based on their thinness, in the past.
Kamisugi, superfine top quality product
Odamaki, a quality product which is a little thicker than Kamisugi
Mizugaki, a quality product which is a little thinner than Homare
Homare, a normal product of Miwa Somen
However, this classification has become unclear because other makers produce their own somen that are thinner than the ones mentioned above. Usually Miwa Somen is roughly classified into two categories of Mizugaki vulgarly called Torii no Kinobi (golden belt of Torii (shrine gate)) and Homare, Torii no Kuroobi (black belt of Torii). Originally the wheat produced in Japan is not suitable to make the noodle thinner because it does not contain much gluten. Therefore, it would be better to think that producing thin somen that are available nowadays was made possible in modern times, when imported wheat became common to be used.
In terms of the thinness of the noodle, there are finest products called Shirahige and Hakuryu by Miwa-Somen Yamamoto CO., Ltd. or Soryu no Ito by IKERI CO., LTD. to seek the ultimate thinness. However, Shirahige and Hakuryu is produced by OEM in Nagasaki Prefecture, so strictly speaking, they are not labeled as Miwa Somen.
Violating the place-of-origin labeling
In July, 2002 the ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries operated an on-the-spot inspection to the three major somen manufacturers on charge that they had sold the somen produced in Nagasaki Prefecture as "Miwa Somen" and instructed them to improve the situation.
There are two brands of somen, which are the somen produced by companies based in Miwa, and the one controlled by Yamato Miwa Somen Industrial Cooperative Association. The major manufacturers were using the label of 'Miwa' although they bought somen produced in Nagasaki Prefecture.
To their practice, the association claimed that only the somen produced in Miwa can be called 'Miwa Somen.'
The association counted the trademark of torii for it. Also as the association, it asks each somen companies to buy the association's somen. Therefore, each somen company sells both its own brand somen and the one they bought from the association. The somen companies has stopped using the label of Miwa Somen if it is not produced in Miwa. The major manufacturers make it a rule to bring water from Miwa when they produce somen in Nagasaki Prefecture. This looks like they borrow the function of production site (plant facility) from Miwa. As the market price of somen produced in Nagasaki Prefecture was much cheaper than Miwa Somen, the somen produced in Nagasaki was habitually used as the stable supply of Miwa Somen.