Posts Tagged ‘tomatoes’

2012: Food and drink trends in Japan

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Whether it be moldy salt, lunch in a cup or frozen soup on a stick, the thriving Japanese food scene spawned a diverse array of surprising culinary wonders this year. Behind the fads, a pragmatic consciousness about healthy eating and a desire to economize were major factors affecting food and drink trends during 2012.

Eating out

According to Nikkei Trendy, the poor economy and the aging population have dealt blows to the high end of the restaurant trade. Enter the low-cost posh restaurant. Massively successful in 2012, a chain of restaurants run by Value Create is serving up top-end French and Italian food designed by “super chefs” in a bistro environment. There are now five “Ore no Itarian” (My Italian) and four “Ore no Furenchi” (My French) restaurants in the Ginza area. Meals cost around  ¥3,000 to  ¥4,000 per head, a huge saving compared to the ¥30,000 per head charged at the poshest restaurants. Nikkei Trendy says that other high-end restaurants are cutting costs and following suit.

A new casual restaurant called Tanita Shokudo turned up on Jiyu Kokuminsha’s 50 top buzzwords of 2012. Run by Tanita, a company that manufactures scales, this hugely popular restaurant in the Marunouchi area of Tokyo serves up the same menu — and nutritional advice — as the company’s own cafeteria to health-conscious customers. This year has also seen a revival of interest in restaurants serving yakuzen (Chinese medicinal) cuisine. Some of these restaurants also advise customers on what dishes might have a beneficial effect on their health. This is a trend we feel might spread in 2013.

Keeping trim

The inevitable diet fad surfaced in 2012 with the appearance of the tomato boom. It was kicked off by the publication of a study that appeared to indicate consuming large amounts of tomato juice would help alleviate metabolic syndrome. Though the trend has slowed somewhat, just as the notorious banana boom did, tomato sales stayed higher for longer than your typical fad.

Continuing on a health tip, one of the most successful new beverages to emerge in 2012 was a health drink — at least according to the Japanese government. Endorsed as the Japanese equivalent of a FOSHU (food for specified health use) by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency, Mets Cola sold so well that its manufacturer, Kirin, met its annual sales target in just two weeks. Popular with health-conscious men and women in their 30s to 40s, the cola contains an ingredient that helps reduce the absorption of fat. Other tokuho (health) drinks that deliver the fizzy pop experience without the calories have also been popular. The trend looks set to continue with more and more products gaining accreditation.

Spicing things up

Another versatile ingredient that’s still trending is koji salt. Combined with salt, koji, a domesticated fungus used in the production of miso, soy sauce and sake, can be used as a marinade that increases the umami (savory) flavors of meat or fish. It also turned up flavoring packaged foods like potato chips and drizzled on salads and grilled vegetables as a dressing at trendy restaurants. Following salt koji’s huge success, salty yogurt also enjoyed a mini boom with a number of cookery books utilizing this rather odd ingredient. Both savory sauces can be homemade, meshing with the trend toward cheaply producing food at home.

Taking it with you

Hot on the heels of the phenomenon of bento danshi (guys who bring a packed lunch to work), home-made lunch boxes continued to be popular in 2012. This time it was women who were behind a trend to pack their lunch into plastic tumblers. Colorful, versatile and fun, the trend for tumbler bento was also great for keeping portion sizes under control and was popular with dieters as well as the budget-conscious.

Keeping things interesting

As well as economizing, the Japanese food and beverage industry continues to innovate, producing a range of weird and wonderful new products. Among our favorites this year were Gari Gari Kun corn soup on a stick and frozen beer suds. In keeping with that, we’d like to raise a glass of the recently released limited-edition Coffee Porter hot beer coffee (got that?) and wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year — a year which will no doubt be filled with delicious new treats.

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

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