Just add hot water to make easy meals

By Ryo Kato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe range of foods made by freeze-drying (see below) has expanded, diversifying beyond miso soup to curries with pork cutlets, toppings for rice bowl dishes and even dishes that go with the main meal.

A shop in the KITTE commercial complex across the street from Tokyo Station sells a variety of freeze-dried items. Run by Asahi Group Foods Ltd., the store is set up as a one-stop-shop for a wide variety of freeze-dried items.

“I didn’t know this was available freeze-dried,” said one customer. “They look delicious,” said another.

Particularly eye-catching are toppings for rice bowl dishes such as chuka-don (stir-fried ingredients in thickened sauce) and oyako-don (chicken and egg). By pouring hot water over the freeze-dried ingredients and putting them atop some rice, meals are ready to eat.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Freeze-dried items on the shelves at the Asahi Group Foods shop in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

Asahi’s freeze-dried potato salad, which was released in March but has now sold out, felt just like the fresh-made version, with crunchy cucumbers and soft and fluffy potatoes.

The company’s curry with pork cutlet, which was put on the market in November in limited quantities, was very popular because of the cutlet’s surprising crispness as a freeze-dried product.

“They’re easy to carry around and will hopefully be served as full-blown meals for outings,” said Asahi’s Keiji Maejima. “In the future, we want to freeze-dry grilled fish and other favorites.”

Asuzac Foods Inc. has been selling “Sangria no moto” since March last year. To make authentic sangria, it normally takes a number of hours to steep fruits in wine, but this product can be poured into wine to immediately create the taste of the real thing, making it popular for parties.

The company also sells popular dishes such as deep-fried eggplant dipped in dashi broth and simmered chicken meatballs with koya-dofu, all ready by just adding hot water.

“Freeze-dried main dishes are not widely known yet, but they are really convenient for bento boxed meals and as side dishes,” an Asuzac spokesperson said.

In the freeze-drying process, food is not dried by heating, allowing food to reasonably keep color, flavor and nutrients. On the other hand, oily dishes do not absorb water much and therefore don’t rehydrate well, so it used to be impractical to make them into freeze-dried items.

However, makers overcame those problems by improving ways to process and cook such ingredients, as well as developing technology to freeze-dry them. Growing demand for meals along with an increase in the number of single-person households have also bolstered the development of such products.

“Freeze-dried items are easy to prepare even for elderly people living alone, which is why they are popular,” said Yukiko Tanaka, a University of Shimane associate professor who has studied the freeze-dried food market. “They can also be used as an emergency stock of food, as they can be kept for a long time. [Freeze-drying technology] will be applied to a wider range of foods in the future and has the potential to become very common.”

■ Freeze-drying

A technique of putting frozen food into a special vacuum machine that removes moisture. For consumption, the dried, spongy food is rehydrated, usually with hot water. The method is used to make instant versions of coffee, miso soup, ramen, pasta, even grated daikon, and meals to eat in space.

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