Japans Nutraceuticals Today - Foods in Black for Better Nutrition

薬食同源 Japan’s Nutraceuticals Today

By Paul Yamaguchi

Foods in Black for Better Nutrition

Black may be way “out” in fashion but it’s definitely “in” for functional foods. They are everywhere, black soybeans, black vinegar, black sesame seeds, black rice and black tea just to name a few.

Black is Better
According to Kikuchi, a science professor at the Foods Laboratory in Tukuba, black foods often contain more anthocyanin, isoflavones and minerals than their counterparts and have more health benefits such as antioxidants and anticoagulation to prevent blood clots.

Black Soybeans
Kobe-based food manufacturer Fujicco and the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of Shizuoka have published a series of studies about the health benefits of black soybeans in Soy Daily and other journals between 1999 and 2002. (thesoydailyclub.com/thesoydailybackissues/fujiccoblksoy.asp). In these studies, they claimed that isoflavones from black soybeans are helpful for improving skin and ease menopause related conditions, as well as helping to prevent high blood pressure by accelerating nitric oxide production. The study also showed black soybeans may prevent fat buildup and lower blood cholesterol levels.

Fujicco is currently developing an isolate of the black soybean and expects to produce an ingredient for various applications such as bakery products. Based on its study, Fujicco introduced a RTD tea product called Black Bean Tea that contains 40 mg of soy isoflavones and was granted FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) status for bone health.

A successful black soybean beverage has been developed by House Foods called Black Bean Cocoa. Not surprisingly, it is a blend of black soybean juice and cocoa. The idea behind this product is to promote isoflavones from black soybeans and the benefit of polyphenols from cacao. The product contains 20 mg of soy isoflavones and 140mg of polyphenols (as anthocyanins) per serving. House Foods said that it is targeting middle-aged women for antioxidants and menopause. It has sold over $ 50 million in the first year of its introduction.

Other black soybean products on the market are black soybean milk from Kibun Food Chemiha (kibunfc.co.jp) and black soybean coffee from Cigario (cigario.co.jp).

Black Vinegar Drinks
Known as Kurosu in Japan, black vinegar is aged vinegar made from rice, barley and sometimes brown rice. The vinegar is kept in a ceramic pot for 3 to 6 months; some for as long as a year. When it ages, it becomes a brownish, darker colored liquid, hence the name “black vinegar.” It is rich in citric acid, vitamins and minerals. Some of the known health benefits of black vinegar include blood thinning, lowered blood pressure, improved blood circulation, lowered cholesterol and improved energy levels. Women drink it as a cosmeceutical product. Several scientific studies have been published in Japan about health benefits of black vinegars in the past few years. According to HIN, the kurosu market is about $227 million.

There are hundreds of other kurosu manufacturers, mostly in the southern part of Japan in Kagoshima. Sakamoto Jozo (kurozu.co.jp) has 70 percent of the kurosu market. Another kurosu manufacturer, Marushige’s Kurosu (marushigeueda.co.jp) is fortified with oligosacchrides to regulate gastrointestinal conditions and it has been granted FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) status. (See 5/27/05 insertion of Japan’s Nutraceuticals Update, “It’s a Six Hundred Million Dollar Market –“)

Black Sesame Seeds
Black sesame seeds are known for health benefits especially for the kidney and liver, and are a good source of calcium; one gram of seeds contains approximately 85 milligrams of calcium, (twice as much as white sesame seeds). Black sesame seeds also have high amounts of protein, iron, magnesium and are also a good source of essential fatty acids (EFA).

Black Rice
Asians have been eating black rice for over 3000 years, particularly in China. Black rice was rare and high in nutrition; only people in the Imperial family were allowed to eat it. (History of kurokome/black rice). Black rice is rich in anthocyanin which are important to suppresses oxidation in the body, and these benefits are not found in white rice. Black rice also contains more vitamin B, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc than white rice. Today, black rice is widely available and you don’t have to be an Imperial family member to enjoy it.

Chinese Black Tea (Puaru tea)
The black tea I’m referring to is different from Ceylon tea or English teas. Chinese black tea is in the green tea family. Instead of undergoing a steaming and drying process, black tea is kept wet and is molded into a disk shape and is fermented for several years. Three to five years of aging is common; some are aged as long as ten to twenty years. As a result, the tea becomes milder, develops a richer aroma and is much more flavorful than other teas. Known health benefits from black tea are to regulate intestinal conditions, detoxification, antibacterial properties and reduction of body fat. In a small study, research revealed that drinking black tea helped a body’s blood flow fairly quickly. In this study, men who drank black tea experienced improved blood flow in their coronary arteries only a few hours after drinking the tea. (“Black tea increases coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy male subjects.” Am J Cardiol, 2004) Recently, more studies of black tea were published; lowering cholesterol is one of them. But the most extensive study of black tea has been done by Y. Wu, H Wang, C. Han and J Li from Chinese University. Among the studies, the most significant finding was that “Chinese black tea destroys cancer cells by inducing apoptosis.” In the study, they also found the black tea suppress cancer.
(Foodstyle 21 Vol7, No 1).

Black Foods Market Worth Over $500 million
From antioxidants to menopause and cancer suppression, black foods offer a wide range of health benefits which some white foods lack. The success of black soybean and black vinegar products have put the spotlight on other black foods. While there are no market figures for black foods, we estimate that it is over $500 million in Japan. The two largest categories, black soybeans and black vinegar, alone reached $430 million in 2004.

Nutritionists often advise us eat darker colored vegetables and other foods because they say it’s better for us. Well, there is no color darker than black.

So, if you have a choice, choose black foods, they might be healthier than their counterparts, but keep in mind, that black coffee just keeps you awake all night.

These are some of the black functional foods found in the Japanese market:
photo from the left; Fujicco’s Black beans tea, Sapporo’s Isoflavon black tea, House’s Blackbean cocoa, Kibun’s Black soybean milk, Yakult’s Black vinegar drink and Lotte’s Five black-grain cookies.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.
His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports. His latest report is Nutritional Supplement Japan 2005, Inside $11.1 billion Japanese dietary supplement market. Other report is Functional Foods and FOSHU Japan 2004, Market & Product Report.
For details and information on the reports, visit: www.functionalfoodsjapan.com or contact Paul at [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.