National

Soba noodle association develops fun test for allergies

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

One of the major attractions for foreign tourists in Japan is delicious washoku (traditional cuisine). But visitors may not know that one dish includes an ingredient that can cause life-threatening allergic reactions — soba.

To promote safety, an association of soba shops in the city of Sapporo has developed a skin sticker designed in the historic ukiyo-e art style that offers a simple yet fun way to check for an allergic reaction to the buckwheat noodles.

“It was designed for foreign visitors to eat soba safely by checking for allergies beforehand,” said a spokeswoman acting on behalf of the soba association.

A user applies the sticker to the skin with soba water. In about 15 minutes, parts of it will turn red if a buckwheat allergy is detected.

The sticker uses skin-prick testing, which measures allergic reactions by making tiny wounds in the skin.

Health ministry figures from 2002 and 2005 show 4.6 percent of all allergies in Japan are triggered by buckwheat.

One of them, the life-threatening anaphylactic shock, means allergen labeling is required on products that contain the ingredient. In 1988, a sixth-grader in Sapporo choked to death during an allergic reaction from eating a soba lunch served by his elementary school.

“Many people are unaware they have a soba allergy, so the sticker is a good way to prevent allergic reactions,” the spokeswoman said.

In the first half of 2015, the number of foreign tourists in Sapporo jumped 44.3 percent from the year before. This prompted the soba group to create the sticker.

It was tested on foreign tourists in March at a Koyotei soba shop in Sapporo. The association has no plans yet to release the sticker widely.