Iio Jozo is a 123 year old vinegar brewery located just outside the seaside town of Miyazu that makes what is arguably the highest-quality rice vinegar in Japan. They’ve reached this position by using the best ingredients and by utilizing time-tested traditional methods. They control the process from start to finish, even growing some of their own rice.
Fifty years ago the thirrd generation Iio-san noticed that the pesticides used by the local rice farmers would kill every living thing in their paddies. Realizing that this couldn’t be healthy, Iio-san convinced some of the local farmers to grow their rice without using pesticides. To this day Iio Jozo uses only 100% new-harvest pesticide-free rice to make their vinegar.
Today Iio Jozo is run by Akihiro Iio, the fifth generation president. Under the watchful eye of his father, Iio-san has maintained his family’s commitment to traditional vinegar making, while keeping an eye on the future. Iio Jozo produces amazing vinegar by controlling and perfecting every step in the process of making vinegar. To make rice vinegar you have to ferment sake. Since sake is an incredibly important ingredient, Iio-san makes his own using the same traditional methods employed by the best sake breweries. It’s a labor-intensive process. At the beginning of the process when they inoculate the rice with the koji mold, they have to tend to the rice every 3-4 hours for three days straight. When it’s time to squeeze the sake out of the fermented rice, Iio Jozo uses a hand-powered wooden press. Finally, after 45 days the sake is ready and then they can move on to making vinegar.
To make rice vinegar Iio Jozo uses approximately equal parts sake, water and vinegar mother. It takes about 100 days on average for the living “good" bacteria in the vinegar mother to ferment the sake into vinegar. But it still isn’t ready at that point. Iio-san then ages this vinegar for 8 months in order for it to have a more rounded, appealing flavor. In total it takes about a year for Iio Jozo to make rice vinegar. For comparison purposes, it takes the huge vinegar companies a day to produce a batch of their rice vinegar.
Another way that Iio Jozo makes their rice vinegar superior to others is the amount of rice they use in their vinegar. According to Japanese law, to call your product ‘rice vinegar’ you have to use at least 40 grams of rice to produce 1 liter of vinegar (that’s 1.4 ounces of rice for about a quart of vinegar). Iio-san will tell you that it really takes at least 120 grams/liter of rice to make decent rice vinegar. At Iio Jozo, however, they use 200 grams/liter for their ‘standard’ rice vinegar and 320 grams/liter for their ‘premium’ product.
In addition to rice vinegar, Iio Jozo also produces produces fig, apple, and purple sweet potato vinegar. With each type the process is the same as with their rice vinegar. First they use the fruit to create a sake. Then they use that sake to make vinegar.
The Japanese Pantry is honored to offer Iio Jozo’s amazing vinegars to North America.