Hokkaido, Japan’s largest and most northern prefecture, is known for its agriculture. One crop in particular is gaining increased attention in recent years: the haskap.
Japan’s large northern island produces much of Japan’s milk and eggs. Crops grown in its sprawling fields include wheat, potatoes, sweet corn, pumpkins, soybeans, azuki beans, and many more.
And there’s also haskap, a distinct bluish-purple berry that thrives in cold climates and can be made into a variety of tasty sweets. Found almost nowhere else in Japan, the haskap has become a symbol of Hokkaido for residents and visitors alike.
What Is Haskap?
Haskap (ハスカップ) is the Japanese name for Lonicera caerulea, a member of the honeysuckle family found exclusively in the colder regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Other names for the plant and its fruit include blue honeysuckle, fly honeysuckle, sweetberry honeysuckle, and honeyberry.
Hokkaido is one of the world’s largest producers. But it is also found in northern and central Canada, northeastern China, much of Russia, and the northern United States .
Scientists currently believe the berry was brought to Japan by birds who ate the fruit in the Sakhalin region of Russia and later defecated the seeds after flying to Hokkaido.
The name comes from the language of Hokkaido’s native Ainu people. It is derived from hashikapu, a word that means “something that grows abundantly.” It is sometimes also called yunomi, an Ainu word meaning “long, thin fruit.” 
This is an accurate description of haskap’s appearance; the berries are bluish-purple in color and are longer and more rectangular in shape than blueberries or blackberries. The plants can also be identified by their yellowish-white, five-petaled flowers. The plants are extremely hardy and can survive temperatures as low as -53 degrees Fahrenheit (-47 degrees Celsius). They are also highly resistant to most mildews, fungus, and parasites and can weather highly acidic soil.
Haskap and Hokkaido
Farmers have grown and cultivated in the berry in Hokkaido for many years. It remains a popular crop on the island today. The berries are primarily cultivated on farms but some plants can be found growing in the wild. They grow best in wet, marshy regions such as the Tomakomai area on the outskirts of Sapporo and Shiretoko National Park in northeastern Hokkaido.
Haskap berries are typically harvested from late June through late July, when they are at their ripest. Some towns, such as Atsuma-cho, offer one-day picking experiences for residents and tourists, allowing them to harvest baskets of berries for themselves.
While haskap berries can be eaten raw and have a sweet-sour flavor, they are more often used in cooking. In Hokkaido, people make the berries into jams, jellies, sweets, ice cream, teas, and wines. Haskap flavored sodas and waters are popular products in Hokkaido convenience stores.
Omiyage (souvenirs) from Hokkaido are often haskap–flavored, such as cookies or chocolates. In particular, the sweets brand Morimoto produces a number of haskap–flavored goodies. They are most famous for “Haskap Jewelry,” thick cookies coated in chocolate and filled with buttercream in haskap jam. Recently, Morimoto paired with the Sapporo and Tomakomai tourism boards to declare July 7 as “Haskap Day,” a prefecture-wide celebration of the berry and its uses. 
The Growing Popularity of the “Fruit of Youth”
In recent years, people around the world have discovered the health benefits of haskap berries. The fruit is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and a variety of antioxidants.
As a result, some have nicknamed the berries the “Fruit of Youth” due to the role of Vitamin E in improving health and longevity. Manufacturers have also started selling powders and supplements derived from the berry outside of Japan.
Due to the growing popularity of haskap, farmers and hobby growers alike have begun to cultivate plants in the United States, Europe, and Canada. Cornell University and Utah State University published guides for growing haskap in the United States, including recommending strains of both Japanese and Russian versions of the plant which can survive outside of their native environment. 
If you live in a colder region, you may even be able to grow your very own plants in your garden or backyard. However, if you don’t live in an area where you can grow your own haskap, definitely give some flavorful jam or sweets from Hokkaido a try!
What to read next
 HASKAPA. “Top 10 Haskap Berry Facts.” Link.
 Hokkaido Labo. “不老長寿の北国果実、ハスカップ！北海道ならではの魅惑の果実とは？”. 5 March 2019. Link.
 Hokkaido Wilds. “Hokkaido Cycle Touring: Haskap Berry-Picking in Atsuma Town.” 26 October 2018. Link.
 Morimoto Sweets. “北海道特産果実「ハスカップ」の魅力とは？不老長寿と言われる理由.” 7 June 2021. Link.
 Black, Brent, Elisa Lauritzen and Tiffany Maughan. “Haskap in the Garden.” Utah University. August 2015. Link.