Town growing, serving up cactus
照片說明：Prickly pear: Toshihiro Isaji, manager of the cactus shop Sabobase in Toriimatsu town, shows off a variety of products made from cactuses. CHUNICHI SHIMBUN
The city of Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, Japan’s largest producer of cactus grown from seed, is promoting a full-fledged campaign to get people to eat prickly pear.
In September, the Kasugai Chamber of Commerce and Industry opened a shop to gauge the reaction of consumers. Events such as cactus-cooking contests have been organized at restaurants around the city, and a drive to expand production of the fleshy plants has also started.
“Customers from other prefectures are gradually increasing, and some women who tried fresh cactus showed an interest in cooking it at their homes," said Toshihiro Isaji, 37, manager of the cactus shop Sabobase, which was opened by the chamber of commerce on Sept. 17 to showcase not only ornamental cactuses but also 20 varieties of food products made from the the flesh of prickly pear pads, including ice-cream, instant noodles and bread.
The shop has a kitchen and Isaji is considering holding classes for customers to prepare cactuses for cooking and try out recipes that include the succulent’s flesh as an ingredient.
“Cactus has a unique stickiness and also a sour taste but it can be cooked in many different ways. I would like to first show how they can be prepared for cooking, teach people how to create a recipe, and then cook the food," said Isaji, who is also a chef. From November the shop plans to hold cooking classes twice a week and promote other varieties of cactus that can be cooked and served at home.
Restaurants in the city have also been active in developing new recipes featuring cactuses. This summer, 13 competed in the first contest to create an original recipe for cactus “don," a bowl of rice with a topping containing cactus. Residents formed a long line to taste the prizewinning entry.
While cactus has started to gain recognition as a food, it means increasing production has become a necessary step.
Currently, three farms in the city grow about 1 ton of edible cactus a year in greenhouses that are also used to grow ornamental cactuses, but still they cannot keep up with growing demand. In addition to limited production, there are issues on differences in quality and the unit price can be as expensive as ¥1,000, depending on the size of the piece. This price is equivalent to high-grade vegetables.
To address the issue, about 20 restaurants and food processing companies in the city plan to form a cooperative union later this month. The union will purchase prickly pear pads in bulk from farmers rather than buy small amounts from individual producers. The move is expected to encourage farmers to increase production and also lower costs.
“I hope that the production will increase to up to 3 tons a year and prices will halve," said Takashi Mizuno, 58, a restaurant owner who initiated the union. This year, farmers plan to start building a 1,300-sq.-meter greenhouse to grow edible cactuses. This move is likely to add impetus to the cactus industry in the region.
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Oct. 25.