Wasanbon is one kind of sugar products traditionally produced mainly in the east region of Shikoku, such as Kagawa Prefecture and Tokushima Prefecture. It tastes like mellow black sugar.
In Japan sugar had already been known in the Edo period, but sugarcane plantation was restricted to the Nansei Islands and black sugar was generally produced.
Then, the eighth Shogun Yoshimune TOKUGAWA encouraged nationwide to grow sugarcane in Kyoho Reformation and Takamatsu Domain responded to this for the purpose of producing a local specialty and securing financial resources. The article of Takamatsu Domain details this passage.
After that Tokushima Domain also started to grow sugarcane and poured energy to breed, consequently made it possible to grow various places in the domain. However, since the method of sugar refining was unknown, Tokushima Domain collected secret information in other domains and established sugar refining method in the early 1800's, around the same time as Takamatsu Domain. Wasanbon produced in Tokushima Prefecture is called "Awa Wasanbon-to" and that in Kagawa Prefecture "Sanuki Wasanbon-to."
Wasanbon was put on the market of other domains as a precious local specialty and greatly contributed for development of Japanese sweets and local sweets across the nation.
Locally grown sugarcane breed called 'Take-to' is used as a raw material of Wasanbon; it is produced by squeezing the juce of the canes harvested in late fall, refining and filtering it to some extent to crystallize. This crystallized raw material sugar is called Shiroshita-to and its ingredients are almost the same as those of black sugar.
After the work called 'Togi' to knead Shiroshita-to on the tray adding moderate amounts of water to grind sugar particle, kneaded sugar is filled in a linen cloth, put into a box called 'Oshibune,' and squeezed by placing a heavy stone to extract black molasses. This work is repeated several times and finally it is dried for about a week to complete.
The name 'Wasanbon' is originated from 'Togi' to knead sugar on the tray about three times, but these days they often perform 'Togi' and 'Oshibune' five times or more to make the product white.
Created Wasanbon is very fine like powdered sugar and it is lightly colored white due to small quantities of remaining molasses. Used as high-grade material for Japanese sweets because it is not too sweet with a nice finish. There is a sweet cake which is simply made by solidifying Wasanbon itself; it melts quickly in the mouth with such a flavorful sweetness that it has become a typical dry confectionery. Typical examples of Wasanbon sweet cakes include the following: one called 'Uchimono,' which is made with a similar recipe to that of Rakugan (a hard, dainty sweet made of soybeans and rice flour mixed with sugar); one made by wrapping a pair of hemispherical Wasanbon sweet cakes in Japanese paper and giving it a twist so that it looks like a shuttlecock used in a Japanese game called Hanetsuki (similar to battledore and shuttlecock); and one that can be carried around in your pocket once it has been wrapped in pocket paper.
Wasanbon and processed sugar
Wasanbon is the most expensive sugar because of the following reasons: the sugar refining process is complicated; it can only be produced during the cold months; the total volume decreases to about 40% after making Wasanbon out of Shiroshita-to; and it is not possible to add raw material in the middle of the process.
For this reason, nowadays industrially produced processed sugar made from crude sugar which has the constituents similar to those of Shiroshita-to is sold to be used for Japanese sweets as a substitute of Wasanbon.
Typical production region
Hiketa (Kagawa Prefecture)
Mitani Seito, the main shop of Baikodo, and others selling Sanuki Wasanbon are located.