OTSU, Japan >> Fish-shaped taiyaki pastries, somen noodles, mochi and more bring a case of blues around Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture.
Food products with natural blue color are being produced one after the other in the prefecture and are proving to be more popular than expected, especially among young people eager for their next social media-worthy moment.
There are moves to trademark the name “Biwako Blue” (Blue of Lake Biwa) and make light blue dining a nationwide craze.
Blue Mochi was selling like hot cakes at a food truck parked in front of the Shiga government office in November. The customers were mainly young people and many immediately took photos and posted them on social media. The 200 pieces prepared for the day were sold out in about an hour.
“Our blue mochi sells out quickly, both in the truck and at food events,” said Sadao Kawai, the representative of Koka Mochi Kobo, a rice processing and sales company in Koka, Shiga Prefecture. “I was determined to break through the sales slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but this has exceeded my expectations.”
The blue rice cakes are among around 40 products developed as part of the Biwako Blue Project, which started last March.
Nihon Advanced Agri Co., a food and beverage company in Nagahama, has developed a natural blue dye and has called for the development of other blue products. About 30 local businesses and the Association of Bio Business Creation have joined.
The starting material for the coloring is the butterfly pea, a legume that grows wild in Southeast Asia. The blue-purple petals of the pea are rich in anthocyanins, which give the plant its bright blue color, and are used locally for dyes and herbal teas.
Nihon Advanced Agri got to know the butterfly pea when it expanded its business into Laos in 2014. An initial hurdle: the pea turned gray as it was processed for food production. But after three years, the company managed to develop a bright blue dye in powder form using a special sterilization technology.
In September 2019, the Department of Health, Labor and Welfare approved the dye’s use as an additive in food.
The first commercialized product – blue chocolate – was a hit, selling about 30,000 boxes. The company then urged other food makers to use the dye as a way to boost Shiga’s sluggish economy, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
Nihon Advanced Agri aims to make the Biwako Blue moniker as common as matcha green tea.
Related products can be viewed on the project’s website, biwakoblue.org.