[From December Issue 2011]
Setotekkou Co., Ltd is a company in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, which despite being an ironworks, has attracted a lot of attention from the food industry. For 18 years the company has manufactured rice crackers that are so thin (less than 0.2 millimeters) that they resemble sheets of paper. The only other ingredient added to the rice is locally produced iriko (sardines that have been boiled and dried).
The impetus for this development was a newspaper article about children who had broken bones simply by kicking a ball. The company considered how they might turn local iriko, which contains a lot of calcium, into something a little more appetizing. That is how they created the rice crackers. When they distributed the product to elementary schools for free, it became the talk of the town.
They managed to process the iriko using the “instant high-temperature high-pressure firing” method. In just one second, while high pressure is applied, the ingredients are cooked to the core with temperatures of approximately 220 degrees, thus sealing in the nutrients inside. In recent years, the method has evolved further, and the company has developed a technique to press hard foodstuffs such as oysters – a specialty of Hiroshima – and pumpkins, as well as grains, in large quantities. Now, the product range has increased to 50 items.
The instant high-temperature high-pressure firing method makes it possible to process vegetables and other ingredients, while retaining their bright colors. This method is expected to be applied to various foodstuffs because it can seal in their natural nutrients without using any additives.
It has also been discovered that foodstuffs processed by this method extract nutrients more efficiently than other methods. This means that nutrients can be extracted faster and in higher concentrations from ingredients. If you eat soup stock made from such ingredients as shiitake mushrooms, crabs and shrimps, you can absorb more nutrients more quickly. Since the method is very effective in making products that can be prepared simply by pouring boiling water over them, it has also astonished the food industry.
Furthermore, foodstuffs processed by this method are noted for their shelf life. Since the ingredients contain no water, they can last two to three years at room temperature. If tomatoes are ground into powder, all of their natural nutrients can be preserved. Since these dry powdered foodstuffs are completely new, there has been one inquiry after another from restaurants both at home and abroad.
UEDA Koji, who is in charge of development, says, “It may seem that development has been going smoothly, but after we discovered the efficacy of the method, we had to go through a period of trial and error. The method was originally discovered using techniques employed in our ironworks. All kinds of ingredients were brought in, and we went to a lot of trouble searching for the most appropriate temperature and time period for each ingredient, feeling our way forward to explore the possibilities of the method.”
In 2010, the company began research into increasing food self-sufficiency by utilizing waste and unused ingredients; such as by reusing the remains of squeezed lemons that were normally thrown away. Taking advantage of the ingredients’ long shelf life, they are now doing research into developing emergency foods for disaster victims and space food. Their research into creating smaller portions and increasing the efficiency of nutrient absorption will be increasingly useful in today’s aging society. Flooded with requests for trial products from across Japan, the company is expected to play an even more important role in the future.
Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori