J-STORIES - There are pasta sheets for making lasagna and seaweed sheets for making sushi rolls, not to mention pastry sheets for pies. But have you heard of vegetable sheets?
“Vegheets” are an innovative food product that are not only long-lasting and easy to chew, but also offer a solution to the problem of food waste.
Developed by Japanese firm Isle Co., the sheets are made from vegetables that would otherwise be discarded because they fall short of sellers' cosmetic standards. Globally, around 30% of farmed vegetables go to waste for such a reason. What's more, Vegheets can be stored at room temperature for up to two years, so are less likely to go bad and be thrown away.
The sheets were the brainchild of Isle's CEO. Kesuke Soda, whose initial attempts to make them using a machine used to make seaweed sheets came up short. Undeterred and with help from researchers at Nagasaki Women's Junior College, Soda spent the next 20 years developing, and then patenting, a special method to make his innovative product.
The sheets are 0.1 mm thick and can be used in a variety of ways, such as wraps for rice balls and sandwiches, pizza bases, or in salads. They quickly soften in warm water, and can be turned into drinks and jelly, so are great for children who don’t like raw vegetables, or for elderly people who struggle with hard-to-chew food. Isle currently makes six types of sheet: carrot, daikon radish, pumpkin, tomato, spinach and purple sweet potato.
In 2010, Isle set up a booth to introduce its Vegheets at The International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York. Soda was surprised when more than 2,700 people from 180 companies came to taste his company's unusual product.
But there were plenty of bumps on the 20-year road to its commercialization. According to Japanese media interviews, at one point the company was short of funds, and the resulting stress caused Soda to lose his appetite. He lost 20 kg and was hospitalized for three weeks. Through it all, he also struggled to create sheets that retained the color and taste of the source ingredients.
His determination to succeed has born fruit and the sheets are now attracting plenty of attention both domestically and overseas. Isle is already supplying them to several large Japanese food retailers, and when he exhibited the sheets at a trade show this June he held discussions with American food retailers Costco and Kroger, as well as food processing company ADM.
Soda hopes to soon roll out his vegetable sheets overseas. In an interview with J-Stories, he said he intends to expand domestic production and also set up a plant on the Indonesian island of Lombok. The latter could potentially supply large global retailers such as Costco.
In the future, he also hopes to float his company on the New York and Singapore stock exchanges.
“Once our company receives international recognition, I intend to make the Vegheet technology available to the world,” he said.
Translation and Editing by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by 5PH / Envato
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