Posts Tagged ‘happoshu’

Rich Japanese flavors for lean times

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

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

Major beer companies diet excessively while craft brewers beef up

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Rest your liver, say the big brewers. Low-alcohol beers and sugar-free beers are booming.

Rest your liver, say the big brewers. Low-alcohol beers and sugar-free beers are booming.

The big four Japanese beer companies – Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory – are in a constant turf war. Game theory keeps them intertwined in a fierce marketing dead heat, and the types of beer they release seem to be hamstrung by a monkey-see-monkey-do strategy and Japanese tax laws.

Over the past seven years, beer companies have produced cheaper and cheaper products by dancing around Japanese tax laws that define beer by barley content,  and politicians have continuously revised the regulations to combat deficits. Brewers first pushed happoshu, a low malt beer, through the tax loophole. Not surprisingly, the beer sold extremely well. Politicians modified laws in 2003 to tax happoshu, and brewers began to “third-type beers” such as Sapporo’s Draft One, which eschews all barley and uses fermentables from peas and corn instead. In 2006, politicians redefined these as “other fermented beverages” to bring them under tax laws.

As the law currently stands, 100% malt beer is taxed at ¥222 per liter, beverages with a barley content of 25-50% at ¥178, and those with less than 25% at ¥134.

Japanese "beer": So much alcohol, so little barley.

Current-day Japanese “beer”: So much alcohol, so little barley.

Most of these beers have maintained the standard 5% alcohol by volume level, but recently companies have been experimenting with sugar-free beers, alcohol-free beers and beers with higher alcohol content. Kirin just released its strangely titled “Yasumu hi no Alc. 0.00%” (“0.00% for the days you rest”), and the advertisements encourage drinkers to “Please, rest your liver” with some Japanese punnery. The movement for sugar-free beers culminated finally in Asahi’s awful Strong Off – a 7% beer that mysteriously has 60% less sugar – and Suntory’s Relax, a sugar-free brew that boasts seven hops. These beers rely on novelty to help them sell, and the big brewers will continue to swap their mutant beer lineup in and out so their marketing campaigns can stay fresh.

Japanese craft beer companies and craft beer bars, on the other hand, are experiencing the opposite phenomenon: They are brewing more barley-heavy beers, and they are building a substantial audience of good beer fans.

While Japanese craft brewing has existed since 1994, when changes in laws reduced the minimum brewing volume required for a brewing license, only recently have Japanese brewers started pushing the envelope with extreme beers that make use of large quantities of barley and hops.

Continue reading about craft brewers in Japan →

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