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March 2008 | Vol. 6 MUSO NEWS
“A message from CEO Yuko Okada”
"Happy New Year" by Yuko Okdada

Spring is just around the corner. We are late for a New Year greeting, but better late than never. Therefore, this will be a spring greeting instead! In the year of 2007, a number of food product mislabeling incidents had shaken up the food industry in Japan. As a result, Japan food manufacturers, once again, recognize the importance of food safety. Muso has also reemphasized our corporate philosophy, commitment to quality, and reacknowledge our corporate philosophy. I have recovered from my health condition. I am happy to say, for the first time in four years, I took an ink brush and began drawing. Here is my New Year calligraphy stating my most sincere joyance.

The sea and the earth
Nori Maki

Cultivating Nori in Ocean

Cultivating at the river mouth

Harvesting Nori

Old historical document suggests in the 8th century about 30 different kinds of seaweeds were offered as tax to the local government. Nori was considered to be the most valuable of all. Commercial Nori production and farming practices came to its existence during the ‘Edo’ period. It is said the first ruler of Edo period, Ieyasu Tokugawa was so fond of nori that nori farming oomed around the Tokyo area first. Gradually Nori farming practices spread across Japan entirely. By the middle of the Edo period, nori became widely available to common people. During that same time, the street food ‘nori maki’, became a popular food.

Our nori comes from Ise, one of the premiere nori cultivating areas in Japan. Ise has a relatively short history of nori farming (beginning around the mid 19th century). Ise is a special place and is regarded as a holy site for the Japanese indigenous religion called Shinto. In addition, Ise is blessed with fertile rivers that provide beneficial nutrients for nori cultivation. There are many rivers flowing into Ise bay. Among them, the Miya river is considered to be one of the cleanest rivers in Japan.

Nori, like vegetables, has a season. Cultivating Nori involves a double-cropping system. Nori spores are raised to be filament in the ocean during the period, which lasts from spring through late summer. Seeding takes place two times per year. The first seeding is around the mid September and second seeding occurs in January. The seeding operation involves obtaining spores from the filament of a net. Then the net is suspended at the sea surface. Some of nets with nori spores will be frozen for latter use of the second seeding operation.

In setting nets, there are two ways: one is via a ‘floating’ method and the other is called a ‘supporting’ method. With a floating method, the net is set on the ocean’s surface. The merit of this method is the nets can be set anywhere. With a supporting method, the nets attached to bamboo supports in shallow water. At ebb tide, the nets are exposed to the air and get photosynthesized. Nori farmers in Ise employ both methods.

Nori plants grow rapidly, requiring about 4 weeks from "seeding" until the first harvest. Multiple harvests can be taken from a single seeding -typically at about 10 day intervals. The nori plant is very similar to a tea plant that also involves multiple harvests. Typically, the first harvests are the best. In the case of green tea, it has softer and finer quality leaves. Frozen nets with nori spores are set in the ocean well before the first seeding crop becomes scarce. Processing of raw nori is primarily accomplished by highly automated machines that duplicate traditional processing steps. Processing nori with machines vastly improves yield efficiency and consistency.

When speaking about nutrition, in Japan, we call nori “the vegetable of the sea.” This is because it is simply a nutritional warehouse. Nori contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals, fibers, iron, and calcium. Nori is also is a great source for the talked-about nutrient, omega-3 fatty acid (EPA). Omega 3 is said to lower lipid levels, reduce clotting, reduce blood pressure, and helps protect against heart disease, certain cancers, arthritis, mental illness, and other disorders. Another surprising feature of Nori is its function as a first aid medicine. Apply nori before putting a bandage on a cut or wound. The wound will heal faster!

Nori was once used only as an exotic ingredient for sushi. Nori is now finding a lot of fans all over the world. There is no Western equivalent to it. With a touch of both the sea and earth, its crispy and papery texture and flavor will surely bring you beyond the imagination that it’s another food. Discover the magic of nori by simply trying some!

Zero emission of industrial waste, Recycle of liquid preparation of Umeboshi

Recycling umeboshi plum vinger

For those who follow macrobiotics: We greatly appreciate umeboshi ‘liquid preparation’ (so called plum vinegar. Ordinary Japanese consumers do not even know what plum vinegar is).  After Umeboshi production is completed, most of the liquid preparation is being treated as an industrial waste.

A law revision took place in April of 2007. This revision bans ocean dumping of such industrial wastes.  As a result, disposal fees have increased and are now affecting a lot of small-sized ume factories.

The Wakayama Prefecture is the number 1 Ume production area. Muso’s conventional Ume comes from this same prefecture. This area is making advances in studying the recycling opportunities for this umeboshi liquid preparation.

One research body has found yeast fungus actually eats liquid preparation. They now developed the system to break down the liquid preparation into water and sludge. The sludge is thinned down into liquid with industrial wastewater -letting the yeast fungus eat the liquid remainder.  An efficient use of leftover sludge mixes it with bark and then is fermented to become compost.  This compost is used to cultivate ume plants.  With these processes, Wakayama’s ume production area has created their own ecosystem. 

Another research body commissioned a research Tokyo University of Agriculture.  The university research has now found this particular liquid could also be used as a soil improvement agent. 

The chairman of the environmental management department with the Ume Cooperative Association says he is now strongly urging the entire Umeboshi industry to go green. He believes ‘going green’ will bolster a new image of Wakayama being the number 1 Ume production area.