Gluten-free dieting is all the rage, and alternatives to gluten products are getting more and more creative. Case in point? This new type of noodle they’re making in Japan. It’s gluten-free, fat-free, contains almost no carbohydrates, and is partially made from tree pulp. The producer of this pioneering new pasta, Omikenshi Co, is actually one of Japan’s leading textile manufacturer, and created the noodles by adapting one of its industrial textile manufacturing processes. The fiber-rich faux flour product is called “cell-eat”, and its ingredients are all-natural, even though you might not want to eat them on their own.
Omikenshi is known for its best-selling rayon, a cellulose fiber product that’s traditionally made from tree pulp. By combining the indigestible pulp with a Japanese vegetable called konjac, the company has created a gluten-free flour that contains only 60 calories per kilogram, or about 27 calories per pound. Konjac is similar to a yam, but its unique flower blossom has earned it alternate names like “Devil’s Tongue” and “Voodoo Lily”. The plant’s bitter taste has kept other konjac noodle products on the shelves, but the addition of Omikenshi’s tree pulp has improved on the flavor and texture of the flour.
The sudden move from textiles to the health food market is no accident for Omikenshi. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been working to transition farmers from billions of dollars in government subsidies to a more self-reliant system. When Abe allowed more manufacturers to promote food products’ health benefits by easing food labeling regulations, the Japanese health food market started booming. Omikenshi’s cell-eat product works within this system to boost the profitability of Japanese konjac farmers.
Omikenshi also hopes that cell-eat will become an internationally popular gluten-free option. This is especially thanks to the passing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in recent months. Konjac was subject to a 990 percent tariff before Japan agreed to reduce these fees under the TPPA. The tariffs were supposedly designed to protect local konjac growers in Japan’s Gunma prefecture. But these new trade allowances have inspired farmers and manufacturers alike to make their konjac-based products available internationally.
For their part, Omikenshi will spend approximately 1 billion Japanese yen on a manufacturing plant designed specifically for cell-eat. They have identified uses for the flour within Japanese cuisine and other culinary traditions where a gluten-free option would be useful: “It can be used as a substitute for wheat in products ranging from ramen, pasta, and Chinese dumplings,” said Takashi Asami, manager of the company’s strategic material development department. Omikenshi is also working with existing food companies to make cell-eat available for their own products. Starting in 2016, Omikenshi will produce 30 tons of cell-eat per month, which can be tripled based on demand for the product.