Thursday, May 6, 2010

Indonesian Tempeh turned into Tokyo specialty

It may not be everyone's idea of dessert, but chocolate-covered tempeh is gaining fans in Tokyo.

Tempeh, a type of fermented soybean cake that originated in Indonesia, is being produced by a growing number of makers, including Tokiwa Foods, a 61-year-old food processor based in Fuchu, western Tokyo.

Schools are adding tempeh to lunches as a result of municipality efforts to encourage greater consumption of local produce.

And Tokiwa Foods' dessert made of tempeh and chocolate has even been declared a local specialty by the Tokyo metropolitan government.

"Tempeh has great potential (in Japan) as a food product," said Makoto Yusaku, president of Tokiwa Foods. "We want to develop more food products that people appreciate."

The company started adapting traditional Indonesian tempeh to suit Japanese palates six years ago.

Its "fresh tempeh" is made by fermenting cooked soybeans with tempeh bacteria extracted from hibiscus and other leaves.

According to Yusaku, tempeh was first introduced in Japan about 25 years ago, and natto makers marketed it as something similar to their primary offerings.

Demand was sluggish initially. But about a decade ago, tempeh again drew attention amid growing interest in health food.

Fresh tempeh is delicious on its own and also goes well with other foods due to its plain flavor.

Building on that characteristic, Tokiwa Foods devised a variety of tempeh products, blending the soft food with ice cream, rice porridge and other ingredients.

Especially popular is Tokiwa's soy tempeh chocolate, a freeze-dried tempeh dipped in chocolate.

The company's tempeh is also increasingly used in school lunches. Orders have soared since the product was introduced at a study session for school nutritionists in August 2008.

Sales in the year ending in August are forecast to exceed the record 12.34 million yen ($132,000) set in the year ended August 2005.

In March, a group of school nutritionists visited the Tokiwa Foods factory to see how tempeh is produced.

Yusaku emphasizes his commitment to only using quality ingredients. The company buys soybeans from Hokkaido, Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

In Tokyo's Tama region, which includes Fuchu, it works with producers in Ome, Hamura and Hino.

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