Food Forum
Vol. 34 No. 3   January 2021

CLOSE-UP JAPAN

Japanese Retort Foods


Various retort foods, clockwise from bottom left: oden, cooked rice, cooking-concentrates for mabo-tofu and takikomi gohan, saba miso-ni, pasta sauce, stir-fry seasoning sauce and curry.

Retort foods have long been embraced by Japanese consumers who appreciate their freshness and convenience. Retort foods are produced by placing pre-cooked food in a pouch or container. This is hermetically sealed and heated under high pressure at around 120°C (250°F), a sterilization process that permits storage at room temperature for about three months to one year without preservatives. The thermal treatment and multi-layered construction of the pouch maintain food’s fresh flavor and nutrient value.

Retort foods were first developed by the US Army in the late 1950s as lightweight substitutes for canned field rations. In 1969, retort foods were carried by the Apollo 11 moon mission, and were dubbed the “food of the future.” The US consumer market was slow to embrace the concept, however, and it was in Japan that development of retort foods evolved. The first product to be made commercially available was a Japanese-made retort curry. Japan’s rapid economic growth at the time was transforming daily lifestyles and spurring demand for quick, easy-to-prepare meals. In response, the single-serving curry involved simply warming the pouch in hot water. This curry became widely popular, and paved the way for a wave of other retort foods, including pasta sauces and soups.

Retort foods evolved in Japan


Kikkoman’s Uchi-no-Gohan Sukiyaki Niku Tofu (sukiyaki-style beef with tofu)

Today, Japanese shoppers enjoy an enormous range of ready-to-eat retort foods that can be heated up in hot water or in a microwave. They can select from a variety of cooked rice to more complex Japanese traditional dishes, such as saba miso-ni (mackerel simmered in miso-based sauce) and oden hotpot. Time-pressed home cooks turn to retort seasoning sauces or cooking-concentrates to prepare dishes like mabo-tofu (tofu and ground meat in spicy sauce) or takikomi gohan (pilaf with meat and vegetables). Kikkoman markets a range of such seasoning sauces called Uchi-no-Gohan (literally, “my home meal”) that can be used to make easy home-style Japanese dishes like stir-fries or simmered dishes with only one or two added ingredients, such as meat or vegetables. Thanks to these and Japan’s many other versatile retort products, busy consumers can always enjoy a good meal at home.