Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

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

Vegetable boom growing steadily

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Despite the hallowed status of vegetables in traditional Buddhist cuisine and the healthy reputation of the Japanese diet, let’s face it: The majority of restaurants in postwar Japan are about pleasing carnivores, and most often the main-course options are limited to animal proteins. In recent years, though, vegetable-centric cuisine — not to be confused with strictly vegetarian fare — has been gaining popularity, with the number of restaurants focused on fresh produce growing steadily.

Don’t expect the waiters to be wearing Birkenstock sandals at these new style veggie restaurants, and the soup stock won’t necessarily be fish-free. The vegetables and their provenance do, however, take center-stage. This is literally the case at Nouka no Daidokoro (Farmer’s Kitchen), which just recently opened its fourth restaurant in Tokyo. At the Ebisu location, patrons enter through a fully stocked produce locker (which doubles as a veggie store), and a vegetable hothouse and veggie buffet are the restaurant’s centerpieces. On the walls, large posters sing the praises of the star farmers of Japan and at the register, the shelves are filled with condiments and snacks made from local goodness.

Yasaiya Mei, now with six locations, is slightly more up-scale but places the same emphasis on domestically grown vegetables. Quiz the staff on a particular vegetable, and there’s a good chance that they’ll not only impress you with their in-depth knowledge, but that they’ve actually been to the farm where it was grown.

Continue reading about the vegetable cuisine boom →

Sweetening the veggie deal

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Veggie cream puffs for Beard Papa

Veggie cream puffs at Hirota

Munching on raw vegetables in Japan might be viewed with a bit of suspicion.  A plate of salad or bag of carrot sticks in the lunch room often invites a chorus of “Usagi-chan!” (little rabbit!).

Recently, though, the marketplace has been coming up with ways to sneak veggies into your diet that are a bit less crunchy.

A wave of juice blends have punched up their vegetable content to increase their nutrition. Kagome moved puréed concentrated greens off the supplement shelves and into grocery aisles with its Minna no Aojiru juice blends. The famously bitter green stuff is mellowed out with grape, apple and mango.

Ito En is carrying a line of boxed juices, two of which promise a daily allowance’s worth of  vegetables (25 vegetables! 100% veggie juice!) in one go. Kagome’s heavily promoted Yasai Shibori comes in an elegant black box with low-lit photos and focuses on the flavors of just a few select vegetables in the “golden balance blend” of carrot, red pepper and tomato. A latte from the same line blends milk and purple sweet potato.

Asahi, in collaboration with Kagome, is trying to cover two bases with Spo-vege, a bright orange, reduced-calorie sports drink with a slight carrot flavor.

It’s not just juice – veggies are also turning up in baked goods and confectionaries.  Earlier this week, Japan Pulse spotted spinach and soy doughnuts from Soycom being showcased at Foodex Japan. Meanwhile, Hirota and Beard Papa cream puffs have teamed up to sweeten the deal even further. Their new Vegetable Choux Ice is a six-pack of ice-cream cream puffs in farm flavors including corn, spinach, soy and habanero.

Continue reading about sweet vegetables →


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