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Untapped ingredients from Japan may have potential worldwide

By Jess Halliday, 27-Sep-2010

Related topics: Health and nutritional ingredients, Suppliers, Asia

Green tea, soy and CoQ10 are some of the best known ingredients for supplements and functional foods from Japan, but a wealth of lesser-known foodstuffs are also the subject of inquiry into their potential health benefits.

The Japanese supplement and functional food market is renowned as the most innovative in the world. But it is not only finished product developers who are a source of inspiration around the globe; emerging research into plants and plant extracts is also leading to new commercial opportunities for Japanese companies.

Next month the HI Japan trade show will open its doors at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre. Amongst the exhibitor presentations on home-grown ingredients, Sun Medica will be discussing amyloban, an active compound isolated from yamabushite (lion’s mane) mushrooms which has been studied for improvement mild cognitive impairment.

The mushroom has previously been the subject of research looking at its effects on respiratory issues, tumours, and lipid metabolism.

Nakano BC Co Ltd will also be presenting on the potential of the Japanese speciality ume, or dried Japanese apricots, traditionally associated with warding off bad luck and more recently investigated for inhibiting Helicobacter pylori-related chronic atrophic gastritis.

Biocon will be showcasing konjac products for carbohydrate restriction foods. Fibre from the plant, also known as devil’s tongue, has previously found use as a texturiser in foods and has also garnered interest as a prebiotic for gut health.

Recent research from Hokkaido Information University, Sapporo Bio-S, and Amino Up Chemical Company, published in the Journal of Functional Foods, looked at evidence that a low molecular extract from lychees called Oligonol may reduce abdominal fat in people with metabolic syndrome and improvements in overall health. Amino Up will be presenting on this ingredient at HI Japan.

NewBio Enterprise CO and Bizen Chemical CO will be presenting on the application of Bacillus Natto. Natto is fermented soybean dish commonly eaten in Japan – and gaining popularity for its purported immune boosting properties, as well as its high content of vitamin K.

Traditionally the steamed soybeans were wrapped in straw and fermentation occurred as a result of the naturally occurring bacteria, but producers nowadays buy in standardised bacteria specially for that purpose. The natto industry is centred in the town of Mitto to the north of Tokyo.

Japan also has a thriving algae industry, and at the Yaeyama Chlorella was one of only a handful of Japanese companies to make the trip to the Vitafoods trade show in Geneva this year. Chlorella is a single cell green microalgae is understood to have been around for about 2 billion years, and is rich chlorophyll, protein and minerals.