Different shapes, same familiar seasonings

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ease of use is the selling point for, from top, miso powder, wasabi beads and dried umeboshi.

By Yoko Tsujimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterOSAKA — Bead-shaped wasabi. Umeboshi flakes.

Japanese seasonings and ingredients are being introduced in different forms and shapes, and consumers have become quite receptive to the trend. With the selling point that they are easier to handle, makers aim to boost consumption by expanding the ways they can be used.

At a two-day food exhibition in Osaka in early February, Shizuoka-based Tamaruya Honten, a noted maker of wasabizuke (wasabi preserves), saw a crowd of people visit its booth. The main draw was the company’s wasabi beads, salmon roe-sized balls containing wasabi.

A female restaurant manager seemed to be won over after a taste test. “The taste and the appearance are both good,” she said. “Sprinkled on a salad, it would enhance its presentation.”

The beads are soft capsules derived from seaweed. Inside is vegetable oil with components extracted from Shizuoka Prefecture wasabi. The product was a hit from the moment it went on sale in December last year, and continues to be in short supply.

“It took 10 years to develop because we wanted to come up with something from which you can easily get the fresh pungency of wasabi,” said Yusuke Matsunaga, who is in charge of product development at Tamuraya Honten. “It also goes really well with Western dishes.”

Shinsyu-ichi Miso Co., a long-established miso producer based in Higashikurume, Tokyo, has a freeze-dried, dashi stock-containing powder on the market. The product comes in a bottle that can be held in one hand, allowing it to be sprinkled while sauteing.

Behind the commercialization of this product were consumer complaints that miso paste was difficult to use.

Nishiyama Co., a plum pulp processing company in Minabe, Wakayama Prefecture, produces freeze-dried flakes of umeboshi from the Nanko-ume variety, and sprinkling the product is an easy way to dress boiled vegetables.

Nishiyama has been selling the product for about 40 years. With consumers also using it to add flavor to sweets, production has been booming. Currently, the company produces 100 tons annually.

“As rice consumption decreases, demand for seasonings that go with rice is stagnating,” Nishiyama President Hiroyasu Nishiyama said. “We need to come up with ideas on how to present tastes to which people are accustomed, and that match their lifestyles.”

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