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Enjoying the Real Thing at Home (March 30, 2004)

frozen sushi
A package of frozen sushi
In response to the consumer desire to be able to enjoy the taste of freshly made sushi at home, a small company in Hokkaido has developed an original freezing technology and come up with products that are making mouths water around the country - and overseas, too. The firm launched the business, centered on mail order, about four years ago, and so far it has registered sales of 53,000 meals a month. A couple of years ago it entered the US market, where sushi is becoming increasingly popular, and orders from large supermarkets and others have been flooding in. Now the company plans to expand production to one million meals a month.

Taste of Rice and Sushi Ingredients Preserved
The frozen sushi (or to be precise, nigirizushi, which is the most highly regarded type) was developed by Kairinmaru Beer in Otaru, Hokkaido, which is famous for its delicious brew. The small firm is capitalized at ¥86.4 million ($785,454 at ¥110 to the dollar) and has about 50 employees. For a long time its president, Hajime Sawatari, cherished the desire to deliver frozen sushi that preserved the taste of the real thing to homes around the country.

Frozen sushi itself is nothing new, but previous efforts to maintain the taste and texture of the original had been unsuccessful. It was sushi all right, but nothing like the real thing. After many years of trial and error, Kairinmaru eventually came across a method of preparing sashimi that had been handed down in fishing households in Otaru.

The sushi is ready to eat after being thawed.

Working from this secret formula, the company developed a technique for preserving the flavor of the ingredients by eliminating the moisture that accumulates between cells before freezing. It is this superfluous water that causes the fish, which needs to be raw, to be cooked when heated in a microwave. Furthermore, since the cell membranes of fresh fish break up with time, causing drips of water to ooze out and allowing the amino acid, the tastiness factor, to escape, the company developed a preliminary processing technique that strengthens the cell membranes. As a result, according to Sawatari, the firm has been able to develop an original technology that preserves the taste of the ingredients and rice even after the sushi has been thawed.

The ingredients for the frozen sushi all come from Hokkaido, including the Kirara 397 rice. There are about 20 types, including scallop, shrimp, salmon, whelk, white-fleshed fish, squid, and conger eel. Kairinmaru has also developed frozen sea urchin, which was thought to be technically very difficult indeed.

And how to prepare the meals at home? The frozen sushi can be eaten after placing it in lukewarm water for 30 minutes or in a microwave set to defrost mode for two and a half minutes, or leaving it at room temperature (about 22 degrees Celsius, or 72 degrees Fahrenheit) for two to three hours. The flavor remains for about six to eight hours after thawing. The best-eaten-before date is about a month after purchase. So, bon appetit! Or as they say in Japanese, itadakimasu!

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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