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Vegetable Innovation

New Ways to Enjoy the Key Ingredients of a Healthy Diet

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Whole tomato salad. (C)Celeb de Tomato

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Specially selected grilled pork with tomato juice. (C)Celeb de Tomato

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Vegetables are always one of the most popular choices for people looking to improve their eating habits, and now novel ways of serving and eating vegetables are gaining popularity. From restaurants whose menus focus on specific vegetables to patisseries offering vegetable cakes and other sweet treats, innovative vegetable eating habits are entering the mainstream.

You Say "Tomato," I Say "Arigato"Tomatoes are enjoying a particular boom in popularity. In Japan, tomatoes are often eaten raw in salads, and the most popular varieties have firm flesh and a taste that is more sweet than sour. A wider variety of tomatoes has become available at stores in recent years, such as fruit tomatoes grown to have a higher sugar content, and chefs have been busy devising novel ways for food lovers to enjoy each variety's distinctive flavor and texture.

Céléb de Tomato is a restaurant in Tokyo that has become popular thanks to its commitment to serving "tomato dishes that have never been tasted before." Here patrons can sample a wide range of tomatoes, including green mini tomatoes, milky white tomatoes, and black tomatoes whose sweet taste is complemented by a hint of bitterness. Needless to say, all of the restaurant's dishes - from appetizers to main courses and desserts - incorporate tomatoes in one way or another. Items from the menu include whole tomato salad, fish and meat dishes featuring fresh tomato sauce, and tomato bread. Among the restaurant's popular desserts are the ripe tomato brûlée and the roll cake made with homemade tomato jam.

Healthy DessertsCalories are always a source of concern when eating sweets and cakes, and this is another area in which vegetables are being used to create delicious, healthy dishes. Pâtisserie Potager is a vegetable confectionery that opened in Tokyo in 2006. The store, which also works to support farmers and provide nutrition education through its products, is based on the novel idea of mixing vegetables into desserts, an experiment that resulted in the creation of unexpected new flavors. One of its specialties, a green sponge cake made with puréed komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) sandwiching tomatoes and fresh cream, has been popular ever since the store opened. Other surprising combinations include a cheesecake infused with a purée of green soybeans and two-layer green asparagus and vanilla mousse wrapped in roasted tea sponge cake.

Juices made with raw fruits and vegetables are a popular way for health-conscious consumers to get their daily vegetable intake. Fresh juice stands have become a common sight at major train stations in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Kale and spinach juice and goya (bitter melon) and guava juice are among the nutrition-packed juices lining the stands' counters, which are popular with commuters, students, and other busy people keen to supplement their diets.

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Green soybean cheesecake. (C)pâtisserie Potager

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Green asparagus and vanilla mousse. (C)pâtisserie Potager

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The Healthy Appeal of Bean SproutsSprouts from mung, soy, and other varieties of beans are also in the spotlight for their health benefits. Bean sprouts have long been used in Japanese cuisine - in stir-fried dishes and miso soup, for example. In addition to being a plentiful source of potassium, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and other nutrients, they are also very affordable, and their popularity has been growing in recent years. So much so, in fact, that a cookbook featuring numerous distinctive recipes incorporating bean sprouts proved a runaway success, selling over 100,000 copies in the space of a year. Restaurants, too, have been adding bean sprout dishes to their menus, offering such items as bean sprout quiche and bean sprout spring rolls. (August 2009)

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