Rich Japanese flavors for lean times

March 23rd, 2012 by Felicity Hughes

You might have heard that Japanese food is all about delicate flavor; that seasoning tends to be muted to allow the flavors of the main ingredients to shine. Despite this, according to J-Cast, the current food trend is all about rich, strong flavors. These days packages of instant ramen, potato chips, happoshu (a beer-like beverage) and puddings are often emblazoned with the words “noukou” (rich) or “koi” (strong flavored).

Rich cream stew

Rich cream stew

A recent program on TV Asahi presented by Yohei Onishi demonstrated that in supermarkets there are now 38 products labelled noukou or koi. Out of these Koi Stew, by S&B Foods, has been a hit among consumers. There are two varieties of Koi Stew, one beef flavored and one béchamel cream. Dense, creamy sauces are the reason many Japanese shy away from French cuisine, citing the fact that they are just too rich and difficult to digest, so it’s interesting that S&B’s product has been so successful.

Richer flavors are found not only in processed foods. There’s been a trend in restaurants in recent years for ramen broths to be thicker and richer. We asked Brian MacDuckston, author of the blog Ramen Adventures for his thoughts on this trend: “It’s true, there has been a recent trend to make stronger flavors in ramen. In the past, the soup was simply a vessel to keep the noodles hot. Now, the noodles are a vessel to deliver the soup, often motor-oil-thick, to your mouth. Chefs have a difficult task, though, as the long boiling times required for thickness can easily result in a bitter broth.”

So why the change in attitudes? Economic analyst Kazuyuki Hirano states that in this bad economic climate when salaries are taking a hit, people want to indulge in small luxuries or small extravagances. In summary, the recession is pushing this boom for richer flavors. Consumers on the Asahi show commented, “If it costs the same, I’d prefer a rich taste” and “I feel deep flavors are tastier.”

Photo by Mekkjp via Flickr

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