Smelly science: Only Japan nose what aromas will come next

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Smelly science: Only Japan nose what aromas will come next
The pace of innovation refuses to slow down in Japan, a nation known for its wild tastes, flavours and aromas, from garlic ice cream to bread that smells like Guinness.

According to Kenji Yamamoto, the regional director for French aroma major Charabot, his office continues to be on call to fulfil all sorts of weird and wonderful fragrances for food applications, as well as the mainstream.

Japan has no plants as a source for mainstream food aromas, so we have to import—all Japanese companies have to import. Aromas like orange and rose: we don’t have these, so we depend on imports​,” he said. “So that’s what Charabot is doing: we source ingredients from China, Egypt, Europe, India, America, Venezuela—whatever. And then we distill or extract them​.”

This puts Charabot in Japan in a strong position as every Japanese company that needs aromas must approach it or a similar company to arrange for import. Currently the office has around 50 fragrance and flavour customers who need it to supply their aromas. 

By speaking with our customers, we asked what sort of new ingredients they were looking for​,” Yamamoto continued. 

Some answered back that they wanted Guinness beer extracts and chardonnay wine extracts. It was very surprising for us, just as it was for France. But then we did it​. 

When we approached head office, they asked why we wanted such things. They didn’t know if we were sure about what we were asking for and even if we could sell it. We said we weren’t sure, but trust us with this as our customers have been asking​.”

The French office complied and made these drink extracts into aromas. They then sent one of their developers over to Japan with the sample. When the customers received what they’d asked for, even they were surprised, Yamamoto admitted.

The Guinness extract was to be used in a type of bread that required a strong, yeasty aroma, whereas the chardonnay was for a canned cocktail that also contained wine flavours.

Japan’s food R&D people are always looking for new things. This country isn’t like a Microsoft market [where everything is homogenous]; it’s already a mature market so people know chamomile, rose, lavender; they really do need new things as a tool​.”

Currently top of the Japanese charts is Szechuan pepper, from the eponymous Chinese province that is known for its fiery hot food.

This is one of the biggest new things, and we extract it with CO2 gas. It’s our biggest-selling aroma. We take the pepper, we extract the flavour, which is used for toothpaste and chewing gum to give a hot, spicy taste that’s tangy​,” Yamamoto added.

We do have a plant from the same family in Japan, but we have to take the raw material from China, process it in France and then sell it in Japan. The Japanese know about chilli pepper, they know about black pepper, but they are only now starting to know about this. We are expecting this to take off in Japan​.”

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