Akihiro Iio, now in his late 30s, is the fifth generation of his family to run Iio Jozo, a venerable vinegar house outside of Kyoto. Using locally grown rice, the Iio family has been producing vinegar in Kyoto for more than 120 years, and since the early 1960s their output has been 100 percent organic.

After World War II, Japan Agriculture pushed chemical fertilizers and insecticides on farmers to ease the difficulty of traditional farming and increase yields. Iio's grandfather began to notice that there were no insects or little fish in the flooded rice fields of the farmers that grew rice for his vinegar. Alarmed, he set out to convince them, one by one, over a period of two years, to convert to organic farming methods — something that was highly unusual at the time. The fact that Iio's grandfather was able to persuade not just one farmer but several is a testament to the man.

But that kind of mettle runs deep in this family. Iio's father developed a 20-year-long obsession to create premium vinegar with unparalleled nuances. The basis for this obsession was his disappointment that some of his customers did not appreciate the high quality of his Fujisu vinegar. They were put off by the pronounced aroma of rice in the vinegar caused by the higher concentration of rice in his mix: 200 gram per liter rather than the 40 gram per liter used for inexpensive vinegars produced by large companies. He could not, in good conscience, decrease the amount of rice in his vinegar, so another solution had to be found. In 1998, his son, Akihiro, attended graduate school to study the components that make up vinegar aromas and, after graduating and spending five years experimenting, was able to create a premium vinegar without the unpleasant smell. Akihiro came to understand that if the aroma of rice was bothering some customers, then he should increase the other components that form the aroma profile. He also increased the amount of rice per liter from 200 gram to 320 gram. I have not tasted a softer rice vinegar and use it when I want the vinegar to shine on its own, such as on raw fish or vegetables.