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New Uses for Japanese Staple Ingredient Katsuobushi

[From March Issue 2015]


Ninben Co., Ltd.

Used in dishes such as miso soup, “dashi” stock is a basic ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Dashi is not used for its flavor, but is added to enhance other flavors. There are many kinds of dashi stock including dried fermented fish and dried seaweed. The most commonly used ingredient is katsuobushi, which is made from boiled bonito which is dried and fermented. Ninben Co., Ltd. has been selling katsuobushi since 1699.

In the past, home cooking in Japan used to begin with making dashi. To make a dashi stock, katsuobushi or some other ingredient was placed in hot water and removed once the umami (savory) flavor had been extracted. To save time, in recent years dashi powder and miso that contains dashi has been put on the market.

Rather than simply selling katsuobushi on its own, Ninben is selling more products containing katsuobushi. “All our products contain katsuobashi as a basic ingredient, but liquid seasoning such as “Tsuyu-no-Moto” accounts for 60% of our sales these days,” says ENDO Haruhiko of the corporate planning department.

In line with this trend, in 2010 Ninben opened the “Nihonbashi Dashi Bar” inside its Nihonbashi flagship store at COREDO Muromachi 1 (Tokyo). The aim was to allow customers to experience for themselves the umami flavor of dashi extracted from freshly shaved katsuobushi. “Before opening, we thought take-out soups and “katsubushi rice” – a lunch dish topped with fresh katsuobushi shavings – would be our main best-sellers,” Endo says.

But unexpectedly, the most popular product turned out to be the simple “katsuobushi dashi.” The most sold in one day was 1,800 servings. By January this year the total servings reached 550,000. Given this success, a second store was opened last year at the International Terminal of Haneda Airport. Endo feels that Nihonbashi Dashibar is attracting more attention now Japanese cuisine is on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.

Endo says “katsuobushi dashi has a relaxing effect on those who drink it.” Although it’s not common to drink dashi on its own, “it’s so gentle on the stomach that we recommend it as a substitute for drinks like coffee.” At the Nihonbashi Dashi Bar, like sugar and milk in a coffee stand, salt and soy sauce are available for seasoning.

Until recently, many people thought katsuobushi was exclusively for Japanese food. Yet, Endo says “it can also be used in Western and Chinese dishes.” Katsuobushi is now making waves as an ingredient that is high in protein and gentle on the body. As our dietary habits evolve, it’s possible there will be more opportunities to use katsuobushi in the future.

Ninben Co., Ltd.

Text: ICHIMURA Masayo

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