Drinking black vinegar for its health benefits has become increasingly popular, with sales of the brownish-red brew posting significant growth over the last two years.

Unlike colorless vinegar in widespread use for cooking, black vinegar is drunk daily in small quantities.

According to an industry estimate, the black variety accounts for nearly 20 percent of the vinegar market in Japan.

The popularity of drinking black vinegar surged after the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry set label requirement standards and established a clear definition for black vinegar last year.

That prompted Mizkan Co., the largest producer of vinegar, with a 60 percent to 70 percent market share, to enter the fray, accelerating the black vinegar boom.

Black vinegar first hit store shelves about 10 years ago. Back then, it was considered good for health but failed to become a hit.

“It was only recently that black vinegar’s healthful effects were scientifically demonstrated,” said Koji Ishigaki, a Mizkan marketing official.

“Studies conducted in the last couple of years have proved that the acetic acid in vinegar is effective in remedying lassitude and lifestyle-related diseases, such as high blood pressure,” he said.

Because black vinegar produces good tasting substances while maturing, it is “easy to drink even for people who have difficulty drinking ordinary vinegar,” a Mizkan official said. Black vinegar is also said to contain more amino acid than ordinary vinegar.

Riding the boom, many companies have produced and marketed various black vinegars made from a wide array of ingredients, including food additives for color.

This prompted the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry to set quality and labeling standards last year in consultation with the All Japan Vinegar Producers’ Association.

The standards stipulate that black rice vinegars must be made from at least 180 grams of mainly brown rice per liter and that black barley vinegars must be made from at least 180 grams of barley per liter.

The ministry plans to publish the standards this summer and put them into effect after a grace period.

Vinegars not meeting the standards cannot be labeled “black vinegar” thereafter.

Mizkan put Jungenmai Kurozu, or pure rice vinegar, on the market in September, conforming to the standards.

Within six months, Jungenmai Kurozu became a top-of-the-line product, accounting for 25 percent of the black vinegar market.

The company intends to expand sales of black vinegar further by proposing various ways of using it in cooking.

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