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New Varieties Make Fruit Easier to Eat (March 20, 2006)

'Marihime' oranges (Ehime Headquarters National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations)
Fruit consumption in Japan has been on the decline in recent years, and one of the reasons is that peeling, deseeding, and slicing fruit can be such a chore. But all this may be about to change, thanks to a number of new fruit varieties that not only taste good but are much easier to eat, too.

Thin Skin
The 'Nagano Purple' is a seedless grape with an edible skin that was developed in Nagano Prefecture, the leading region for the production of 'Kyoho' (large berry) grapes. Full-scale cultivation got underway in 2004, and the first shipment arrived in Tokyo in 2005. A cross between 'Kyoho' and 'Rosario Bianco,' a modified Muscat, the new grape has a thin skin, making it possible to eat the berries whole - skin and all. 'Nagano Purple' has been rated as highly as Kyoho, thanks to its tender skin and high sugar content.

The 'Seto Giants' grape, a high-quality Muscat from Okayama Prefecture sold under the brand name Momotaro Grapes, is distinguished by its large berries, absence of seeds, and a skin thin enough to be eaten. The berries have a cleft like that of a peach, hence its name momo, which means peach in Japanese. The grape has a slightly longer history and was considered revolutionary when it first appeared.

The citrus fruit industry has also undergone some changes. The 'iyokan,' the second most widely produced citrus fruit after the 'Unshu' mikan, a type of mandarin orange, has been falling out of favor because it is much harder to peel. Meanwhile, a new variety, called 'Marihime,' is attracting attention in Ehime Prefecture, the leading region for the production of mandarin oranges. 'Marihime' are about the same size as oranges, are very sweet, have a thin peel, and have segments that can be eaten whole. The first consignment reached the market in February 2006.

Apples are also the object of innovation. At an experimental farm facility in Aomori Prefecture, the country's largest apple-growing region, work is moving ahead on 'Aori 27,' a new apple variety whose flesh will not change color when cut or peeled. This would enable retailers to sell slices of apple without having to worry about the cut surfaces turning brown, thereby catering to the needs of people who like apples but do not want to go to the trouble of peeling them.

Turning Kids on to Fruit
One of the main reasons for this renewed interest in easy-to-eat fruit is the declining consumption of fruit among young people. The results of various surveys make it clear that Japanese today are eating and buying less fruit. Men and women in their twenties and thirties consume just about half of what people in their sixties eat, indicating that this trend is particularly marked among the young.

Fruits are a rich source of vitamins and enjoy an image as healthy and juicy. That Japanese today, who are more health conscious than ever before, are turning away rather than embracing them is puzzling. One possible explanation, however, is the ready availability of desserts, juices, and supplements in convenience stores and supermarkets.

By comparison with jelly desserts and juices, fruit requires some effort and is messy to eat, since peels and seeds often have to be removed. To a growing number of young people, it is simply not worth the trouble.

'Nagano Purple' grapes and other new varieties can be eaten just as easily as a dessert, straight from the package, and may thus be able to rival convenience foods. Hopes are rising that they are just what is needed to reverse the trend away from fresh fruit. Plans are also underway to market new varieties of other healthy foods to enhance their appeal, such as tomatoes that retain their shape when cut, making them especially suitable for hamburgers and sandwiches, and odorless soybeans for soybean milk.

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Copyright (c) 2006 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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