New foods spring from school labs

Fair highlights some of the remarkable edible products developed by university researchers

by Asako Takaguchi

Kyodo

With popular interest in health and food safety growing stronger in Japan, food products incorporating the finds of university researchers are drawing strong attention.

In early June, at Takashimaya’s department store in Shinjuku held a fair to promote a variety of food products produced by laboratories at 35 universities.

A type of fresh lettuce, developed by the Faculty of Bioresource Sciences at Akita Prefectural University and lined up in an aquarium at the fair, is low in potassium and thus good for people with kidney disease, said students involved in the event.

Containing less than 20 percent of the potassium of regular lettuce, the new variety is good for people with diseased kidneys that are unable to filter out excess amounts of the element.

Atsushi Ogawa, an associate professor on the faculty, launched his studies after hearing that kidney disease patients usually want to eat the same types of foods as their family members. He finally succeeded in cultivating leafy lettuce with low potassium levels by growing it in a potassium-free solution.

The faculty was awarded a patent on the technology and is ready to commercially produce and market the lettuce in cooperation with companies in Fukushima and Fukui prefectures.

“Universities are in an advantageous position for down-to-earth studies,” said Yukinori Sato, a coordinator at the university who organized the commercialization of the technology. “Social contribution through studies is one of (their) important missions.”

Other products at the fair include a low-fat Non-Meta Pork that was jointly developed by the Graduate School of Advanced Integration Science at Chiba University and local companies.

Researchers at the school found that the mixture of feed and microorganisms developed to reduce the odor of pig excrement reduces the fat content of red meat by about 30 percent, compared with pork produced without using the microorganisms.

The new pork is “popular as it is highly digestible even by elderly people,” said Kenichi Mori, an instructor at the school.

A company jointly set up by the school and local businesses has put the pork on the market.

Tokyo Kasei University has produced cream puffs and roll cakes safe for children allergic to wheat, eggs and dairy products by using soy milk and rice flour as replacements. The sweets are available at confectionery stores in Niigata Prefecture.

The product arose from press reports after the March 2011 disasters that there were kids in the disaster zone who could not eat donated sweets due to allergies.

Tokyo Kasei alumnus Nari Takahashi, leader of the nonprofit organization Project 88, which organized the fair, said she was encouraged by the event.

University researchers can “better demonstrate fruits of their studies in the form of food,” she said.