PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: 150 Years of Handcrafting Noodles from Japanese "Norin 61" Wheat - Exclusive Interview with Kaneko Seimen
Since 1877, generations of craftsmen at Kaneko Seimen have been handcrafting Japanese noodles. The business started as a mill in the rural town of Nakai in Kanagawa prefecture, where it was surrounded by wheat farms. Kaneko Seimen built their mill on a tributary of the Nakamura River, using a water wheel to naturally power their mill.
At that time, wheat grew abundantly in Japan. However with the influx of cheap, foreign produced wheat, wheat cultivation and milling in Japan declined. Kaneko Seimen is committed to reviving wheat cultivation in Japan, as well as protecting domestically grown varieties of wheat. The company uses "Norin 61", a whole grain wheat variety developed in Japan, which has a robust flavor yet soft texture.
We had the unique opportunity to speak with Takashi Kaneko, CEO of Kaneko Seimen, as he shares the history of Kaneko Seimen and their vision for preserving domestic grown wheat in Japan.
Kokoro: How is the creation of your Kaze no Sōmen (Wind Somen), made with a “windmill-style” drying method, different from other noodles? What makes your “Kaze no” noodles so special?
Kaneko-san: There are many types of noodles: namamen (raw noodles), han-namamen (semi-raw noodles), and kanmen (dried noodles). However, ordinary dried noodles are dried completely by heating a room to a high temperature using hot air. Although these noodles last a long time, they become very hard.
Our Kaze no Sōmen (wind somen) and Kaze no Udon (wind udon) are dried by hanging them in the wind made by fans, using a "windmill" drying method. They are more similar to sun-dried noodles than regular dried noodles, which leads to a better texture. In order to preserve the quality, an oxygen absorber is included in the packaging to prevent oxidation. Our Kaze no series is also made using only domestic products from Kanagawa, specifically a variety of wheat called "Norin 61"
Kokoro: Your company has such a wide variety of products. How are you able to continue creating them? Where do the ideas for these products come from?
Kaneko-san: While the manufacturing process is different, our products have a common base being noodles and soups.
In many cases, our products are developed based on requests directly received from customers. We offer various types of noodles such as udon, somen, soba, ramen, and hiyamugi, both raw and dried. Our gyoza skins have become very popular recently, and I think they will continue to be well received. They were created based on requests from our customers to use our special type of flour for the skin.
Kokoro: Where can people find your products?
Kaneko-san: Supermarkets, department stores, online, etc. In recent years, the ratio of metropolitan customers has increased more than local customers.
Customers in supermarkets are increasingly looking at other factors beyond variety and low prices. There's a shift towards product commitment, quality and regional characteristics.
Kokoro: The Kaneko Seimen Company was founded in 1877. That's quite a long history. Have there been noticeable changes recently?
Kaneko-san: The company hasn’t really changed since its foundation. All these years, we’ve continued to make noodles using domestic Norin 61 wheat. Even 75 years after the war, we’re still making the same great product. Of course, there have been hardships, but I feel like I bear the role of making sure that the Japanese culture of wheat products which I ate as a child are passed on to future generations.
In addition, as people age they find it more and more difficult to swallow. With an aging society, I think there will be a demand for traditional soft-textured foods in the future.
People never forget the tastes from when they were young. We would like to preserve the Japanese wheat variety of Norin 61, which has been enjoyed for a long time after the war, for people in the future.
I think each region overseas has their own familiar wheat flavors, but please enjoy the special taste of Japanese wheat!
Learn more about Kaneko Seimen at https://www.kanekoseimen.co.jp/
Kaneko Seimen's Natural Ramen Noodles are available in our "Zuru Zuru" Noodles: "Yui" Care Package
Translation courtesy of Kenneth Valencich