Business operator: IA-Foods Co., Ltd.
Project manager: Masanori Tonegawa
In Japan, konjac has a firmly established image as a Japanese cooking ingredient used in dishes such as oden and stews. IA-Foods Co., Ltd. is a konjac manufacturer with a 46-year history, and its second-generation president, Sayuri Yoshida, wanted to dispel this conventional notion and introduce new ways of eating konjac not only in Japan but throughout the world.
It stemmed from Yoshida’s experience when she was studying abroad and encountered konjac products on store shelves. Japanese living locally would know what to do with them, but how, she wondered, could local residents with no knowledge of konjac appreciate its appeal? Yoshida explains, “Besides stressing konjac’s role as a traditional Japanese food, I thought the health benefits and convenience of konjac should be better communicated.”
When she became president, Yoshida acted on the ideas from her days abroad and developed konjac noodles leveraging her company’s expertise. Overcoming repeated setbacks, the company successfully created such products as konjac soups, pasta and noodles. IA-Foods is promoting product development in its J-Konjac Series to be marketed from the current year, which was created after making countless improvements.
Konjac consisting of three ingredients
Konjac is made from simple basic ingredients: konjac flour (or konjac potato); calcium hydroxide, which acts as a coagulant; and water. Konjac is available mainly in three colors of white, gray and brown. Gray konjac is produced by adding seaweed powder and brown konjac is made from raw potatoes. Gunma Prefecture is a major konjac potato production region and nearly 100% of the konjac flour used by the company is produced in Gunma.
Shirataki comprehensively manufactured in one plant
Shirataki, which is white konjac cut into noodle-like strips, is produced by squeezing konjac paste into noodle form and its basic ingredients are the same as for ordinary konjac. IA-Foods develops white, gray and brown konjac variations as well as distinctive noodle-like products using rice flour and glutinous wheat. Ingredients that mix konjac flour and water are poured into a large manufacturing machine called the “Shirataki Plant.” The entire process from forming shirataki to coagulation, ripening, cutting and packaging can be performed with this single machine.
“Hand-rolled” Shirataki produced with workmanship
Shirataki produced at the plant is hand-rolled by skilled workers. Shirataki has been produced this way for ages, but since it’s labor-intensive, nowadays Shirataki is increasingly being produced overseas. Production requires skilled techniques and even IA-Foods has only four or five artisans capable of hand-rolling. Squeezing Shirataki by hand wrings out excess water and enhances texture and makes it easier for the flavor to seep in when it’s cooked.
Production methods with wood crate
The Odo production method for aging coagulation in wooden crates has been the time-honored way of konjac production. Konjac coagulates through heat. In today’s world in which the emphasis is on efficiency, cold konjac paste is usually boiled and then hardened. However, with wooden crate preparation, konjac flour dissolved with hot water is hardened while slowly being cooled in a wooden crate. Carefully taking time for coagulating konjac in this manner brings out a large difference in texture.
Sayuri Yoshida is the second-generation president of IA-Foods Co., Ltd. During high school, she studied in the United States as an exchange student. She entered a vocational college after returning to Japan and following graduation she began working at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Germany. Upon returning to Japan, she joined IA-Foods and in 2009 she assumed the duties of president.
In Japan, it is said that “konjac is an intestinal cleanser.” Konjac contains insoluble dietary fiber and is directly excreted without being digested inside the body. In Japan, konjac has been eaten since early times as a medicine to cleanse toxins from the body. Yoshida notes: “Konjac is a low-calorie food rich in dietary fiber and glutamine free. Despite being a wonderful cooking ingredient, in Japan it’s relegated to a secondary role in cuisine. In contrast, konjac is now eaten in Paris as a diet food and is attracting growing attention in Asia, the United States and Finland as a cooking ingredient. I’d like to see IA-Foods take on challenges in new fields by leveraging my unique perspective as a woman while maintaining the traditions we have nurtured.”
For its J-Konjac Series, IA-Foods took such steps as kneading barley, a so-called superfood, into the konjac and is developing soups containing no meat extracts for countries that are subject to export restrictions. She explains, “Because konjac foods have become more widespread overseas, I now hope to bring new ways of eating konjac as well as konjac culture back to Japan.” Yoshida’s mind is already brimming with several new ideas and new ways of eating konjac.
Currently, the J-Konjac Series is available in three product lines, namely soups, noodles and pasta. The J-Konjac Series provides different flavor genres that ensure people never tire of the taste. For example, konjac soup offers the pleasant texture of lumpy konjac with tomato soup that has a natural taste that lingers in the mouth. The noodles feature plain-tasting Japanese soup stock while the pasta is made with pepperoncino. Despite being low in calories at just 28 to 45 kcal, these konjac products give you a sense of satisfaction and satiety.
Tomioka-shi, renowned for Tomioka Silk Mill, a World Heritage Site adorned with beautiful red bricks, once flourished with its vibrant silk industry. The city is surrounded by mountains that include Mt. Asama, one of Japan’s famous 100 mountains, as well as Mt. Arafune and Mt. Myogi, one of Japan’s three spots of rare scenic beauty. Meanwhile, konjac fields stretch across Tomioka’s flatlands.
IA-Foods Co., Ltd.
In 1971, founder Toshiaki Tsuruta began production of food products centering on konjac. In 2009, Sayuri Yoshida assumed the duties of president. While maintaining traditional production methods, the company promotes the development of products matched to new lifestyles and modern convenience. The company installed large-scale wastewater treatment facilities and also addresses garbage-related and packing material issues.
152 Nanjai, Tomioka-shi, Gunma