Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Japan’s tomato boom not yet bust

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Back in February, a seemingly unstoppable river of tomato juice was flowing out of supermarket doors up and down the country as Japanese shoppers jumped on the latest food fad to hit the nation. The frenzy had been sparked by a report written by researchers at Kyoto University that seemed to indicate that consuming large amounts of tomatoes was effective in alleviating “metabolic syndrome” (read: getting rid of your gut). Nearly six months later, although the tide of red pulp has slowed somewhat, sales of tomato juice are still significantly up, indicating that the trend is still in season.

Tomatoes are still on the menu in Japan

Kagome, who own a whopping half share in the domestic tomato juice market, report that they shipped double the amount of tomato juice in June this year compared to the same period in previous years. A Nikkei Shimbun article reports that sales of fresh tomatoes are also up, with Summit supermarket recording a 21 percent year-on-year rise in tomato sales this June.

It would be easy to call the jump in fresh tomato sales a statistical anomaly, since radiation anxiety made last year an exceptionally poor one for fresh veggie sales. But there is other evidence that home-makers are flocking back to the humble tomato. Recipe website Cookpad now has about 105,000 tomatotastic recipes submitted by users. Before the tomato boom, there were about 1,000 contributions per month for new tomato recipes. After the fad hit, that figure rose to 2,500.

Meiji Dairies Corporation, along with the Japan Vegetable Sommeliers Association, has been trying to generate public interest in the idea of vegetable chocolate fondue since last summer. Tying in nicely with the trend for gourmet vegetables, the idea is that you can savor the tangy acidity of your tomatoes alongside the sweet taste of chocolate. (You can simulate the experience somewhat by grabbing a pack of Meiji’s Chocolat de Tomato.)

The trend of appreciating gourmet vegetables has run alongside the home vegetable gardening boom, and in this sphere too, tomatoes are prominent. Home improvement store Cainz reported a 50 percent increase in sales of tomato seeds in March this year. No doubt fears over food safety and temporary food shortages after the 3.11 Fukushima meltdown has had an effect on this sudden burst of interest.

Tomato growers have been quick to cash in on the increased interest. Sasaichi sake brewers in Yamanashi, for instance, has developed a tomato liquor made from fresh tomatoes grown in the area, while in Takasaki, Gunma, a tomato ice cream has been on sale since July 27. So it seems the juice has not quite yet run out of the tomato boom.

Photo by tooony [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Can Japan swallow a salty yogurt boom?

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Fancy some salt yogurt soup, some fried pork marinated in salt yogurt, or perhaps some salt yogurt mayonnaise? Over the last month or so, a variety of cookbooks featuring salted yogurt as a main ingredient have come on to the market. Until now in Japan, yogurt has been seen as a healthy food to be eaten on its own or with fruit for breakfast, but now it seems publishers are trying to stir up a yogurt cooking craze to rival the salt koji boom that hit the culinary scene last year.

The white stuff: A mixture of yogurt and salt can be used in a wide range of dishes

Over the last month, according to Nikkei Trendy, following a micro-trend of recipes calling for strained yogurt as an ingredient, five cookbooks featuring salted yogurt have been published in Japan. One of these was “Let’s Get Started With Salt Yogurt” by Wakako Sato. Published by Bunshun publishing company, the recipes in the book were created by researching international yogurt-based recipes and adapting them for the Japanese palate.

But we think the recipes are also heavily influenced by salt koji recipes. The cover of Sato’s book exclaims that using salt yogurt is “even simpler than shio koji,” drawing the connection clearly. Salted yogurt is touted as being a great marinade for vegetables, meat or fish. Just like salt koji, marinating meat in salt yogurt is said to soften the flesh and bring out savory umami flavors. Once you’ve finished with your marinade, add some sake and put it on the boil to use as a base for a creamy soup.

Indeed, making salt yogurt is even easier than making your own koji: Simply add salt or miso to plain, unsweetened yogurt and off you go. To make marinades or soups, use the yogurt as it is, or, to make mayonnaise or cream cheese substitutes, place the yogurt in a coffee strainer and drain off the liquid. The cream cheese substitute is simply the strained yogurt cooled overnight in the fridge. Making mayonnaise involves adding olive oil, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.

While unsweetened yogurt on its own is seen by the Japanese as a little bit like Marmite (you either love it or you hate it), the publishers of “Let’s Get Started With Salt Yogurt” reckon that even the haters might like yogurt if it’s used as an ingredient in Japanese-style dishes. The fact that alleged health benefits include helping to maintain a healthy digestive tract and giving a boost to the immune system might be just enough to sway those who might otherwise prefer to steer clear.

Today’s J-blip: Geek-approved cutting board

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Mario cutting board

Instead of bopping mushrooms with his head, this Mario helps you slice and dice them. Iowa artist Jim Van Winkle takes Mario and other 8-bit favorites off the screen and into the kitchen. No coins required for use!

From Prairie Oak Studios on Etsy

Gyaru get cooking

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Gyaru mama at the supermarket

Gyaru mama at the supermarket

You’re not the only one who does a double-take at those over-tanned Japanese ladies with the blonde ringlets; advertisers are giving the gyaru a close second look, too.

Gyaru (and their various sub-genres – in parau dresses, in altered school uniforms and loose socks, in white eyeliner that approached blackface . . . ) started grabbing headlines in the mid-’90s and were a staple of “wide” talk shows and weekly magazines.

While the media spotlight might have dimmed, gyaru haven’t exactly faded into the background. In fact, they’ve become a formidable economic force, with their own magazines, cosmetic lines and fashion brands dedicated to their flashy sense of style and their embrace of all things cute and sparkly.

They’ve also had kids, and advertisers aren’t passing up the chance to reach out to growing gyaru families. The gyaru are now getting the CM treatment with a TV commercial aimed right at them. Ajinomoto has teamed up with “I LOVE mama” magazine to promote a cooking site for mobile phones called “mama gohan” (mama’s meals). Ajinomoto is a century-old company whose core product is bottled MSG, a Japanese kitchen staple that you have probably at some point mistaken for the salt shaker. The magazine is a lifestlye magazine for gyaru who are mothers. The keitai site  has recipes as well as solutions to cooking problems. The commercial itself celebrates cooking as a way to connect the gyaru of Japan and intersperses zoomy shots of healthy meals with wide-eyed young mothers, in huge bow headbands, flashing peace signs against blindingly pink backdrops.  The site promises to help add cuteness to every bento for the kiddies and to make every meal more adorable.

According to the press release, since mama gohan went live in April, the site has had hundreds of thousands of page views and lots of recipes uploaded by members. It’s all well and good to cut carrots into cute shapes and stick smiley faces in the rice, but we’d love to know if it explains how to handle kitchen implements with those long, appliqued gel nails.

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