Wakayama NPO chief using locusts for the perfect seasoning

JIJI

In an effort to revitalize rural areas, nonprofit organization leader Hiroto Tanaka has developed a soy sauce-like seasoning using traditional fermentation technologies in western Japan.

However, what makes his product unconventional is its basic ingredient — Japanese inago (locusts).

The salty sauce “harmonizes well with bonito and mushroom stock,” Tanaka says, adding that the product is suitable for traditional washoku (Japanese cuisine) dishes.

Tanaka, 33, established the local revitalization group Inaka Denshosha in his hometown of Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, in 2013, hoping to educate people about the traditional cultures that still exist in the countryside.

A former salesman for a pharmaceutical company, Tanaka wanted to unearth unused resources in the prefecture and use them to create new products.

He chose locusts, which are traditionally eaten in some regions in Japan. He decided to combine the insect with soy sauce, which is said to have originated from the region that is now Wakayama.

In October 2013, Tanaka started creating test products in cooperation with a local soy sauce producer and the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

While soy sauce is made from soy beans, Tanaka and his partners use locusts to produce the new seasoning, mixing them with a koji (yeast), salt and water.

After six months of fermentation, the team percolates the mixture and obtains transparent liquid seasoning, which has no unpleasant smell or taste reminiscent of the insect.

Tanaka and his partners started work to commercialize the product, named Inago Sauce, in 2014, after it drew favorable responses at a tasting event.

The team, however, could not find adequate supplies of locusts after searching rice paddies in the prefecture. The team had to procure 60 kg of frozen cooked locusts from Nagano Prefecture.

“That made us realize that locusts are a fragile creature vulnerable to pesticides,” Tanaka says.

Tanaka began selling the product, priced at ¥5,400 for a pair of bottled sauces made using different types of koji, via his organization’s website in October.

Some 30 units have been sold so far, with the buyers including cooks and a university researcher. “We’ve found eccentric people in many places in Japan,” Tanaka jokes.

In Kinokawa, nutritionist Kazumi Mikuni is working to develop food recipes that use Inago Sauce. Mikuni has tried it for Japanese-style soups and steamed fish.

The product “rids fish of its uncomfortable smell while bringing out umami and sweet tastes,” Mikuni said. “You can use it like many other seasonings.”