An Acquired Taste of Japan – Unagipai!

UNAGI. PIE. Sounds like eel pie, doesn’t it? Maybe even like the eel pie and mash found in London shops. But nope. Because unagi pie is an awesome Japanese sweet treat!

What is unagipai? It’s a sweet butter cookie made with dried, powdered eel as one of the ingredients. This treat is a popular omiyage, or Japanese souvenir, and has a well-documented history.

Unagipai is a special pastry originating in Shizuoka Prefecture, near Lake Hamana. Lake Hamana is a freshwater lake renowned for its eel, which is found in a variety of local cuisine. A resident of the area, and a president of a pastry and wagashi shop called Shunkado, Mr. Koichi Yamazaki realized that all over Japan, the eel from Lake Hamana was famous. He was inspired to make a special treat in his shop, and package it so that it could be a unique souvenir that travelers to Shizuoka Prefecture could give to loved ones. So, in 1961, unagipai was born.

Photo by jetalone

Unagipai is a delicately crispy, oblong-shaped butter and sugar cookie inspired by palmier, a type of French pastry. The classic cookie is made using eel powder for a subtle yet complex taste, along with a bit of garlic powder, to counterbalance any fishy smell from the eel powder. Other flavors include unagipai with nuts and unagipai V.S.O.P, which contains brandy and macadamia nuts.

The cookie is famously considered a nighttime snack, and in Japan, that means something really fun! Mr. Yamazaki wanted to market unagipai as a “nighttime snack” because he thought people would enjoy them in the evening with their family when they got back from their travels. But there’s a double meaning! Back in the 60’s, the Hamamatsu area was known as a party area, with lots of nightlife. Combine that with the idea that unagi, or eel, enhances male prowess, many buyers assumed that unagipai was to be eaten at night as an aphrodisiac!

A Shunkado truck advertising unagipai (photo by Toru Miwa)

At Shunkado, unagipai is made in a factory by Unagipai Artisans. It can take up to ten years to be recognized as an Unagipai Artisan, and as part of their training, these chefs learn how to make the cookies while taking into account the quality of the ingredients, the outside temperature and humidity, and even how much pressure to place on the rolling pins to roll out the cookies for optimal crispiness. Artisans prepare the dough and then the cookies are baked in industrial-sized ovens. Packaging is automated, although workers are involved to ensure quality control. Visitors to the Shunkado shop can get a guided tour of the factory and of course, sample the goodies!

Unagipai is so beloved that it’s used as part of other desserts, sometimes filled with cream and fruit, and other times dipped in warm, melted chocolate.

No matter what, if you’re in Japan, definitely check out this unique food!

Main photo by 健ちゃん

Product Inspirations – Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer (NP-NVC10/18)

Ahhh, December. The time of year for holidays and for hunkering down with warm, wholesome foods. At Zojirushi, we’re obviously fans of rice as a staple of those warm meals and are showcasing our top-of-the-line Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer (NP-NVC10/18) to get you through the winter.

This rice cooker combines multiple cooking technologies to provide top-notch results each and every time. It’s made in Japan and comes in two sizes, 5.5 cups and 10 cups. As with our other rice cookers, it’s styled to coordinate with any kitchen décor and comes with two measuring cups and a rice spatula for your convenience.

But really, the most innovative features of this rice cooker are its technologies, including induction heating (IH) and pressure cooking, both of which are controlled by the fuzzy logic technology with artificial intelligence (AI). Whew! Say that fast 10 times!

Knowing how these three technologies work together helps to really understand why this is a superior rice cooker, so get ready for some tech talk.

This rice cooker uses induction heating as one of its cooking methods. When you look inside the rice cooker, you won’t see a heating element or plate, like those used in a radiant heat-dependent appliance. Instead, this rice cooker has a system of magnetic coils that are hidden within the body of the machine. When electricity is run through these magnetic coils, they instantly heat the stainless steel of the inner cooking pan, making the pan itself the ‘heating element’!

 

The heat can be controlled for precise tuning during cooking and the resulting rice is perfectly cooked, every time.

This rice cooker also uses pressure cooking to cook rice. Pressure cooking is simply the act of heating food under steam pressure in a sealed vessel, forcing liquid into the food in order to cook it. In the case of our rice cooker, once the menu setting has been selected, the machine automatically selects from the pressure levels that result in hard, medium or soft rice–the more pressure, the more liquid forced into the rice, and the softer it becomes. In our rice cooker, applying pressure while cooking also helps convert the hard beta starch in raw rice into alpha starch, making it softer and easier to digest. For example, brown rice will need more water forced into it to make it soft and fluffy whereas sushi rice won’t, since it needs to have a firmer texture. Plus, rice cooked under pressure has been found to stay softer longer, perfect for rice that will be stored before consumption.

Both cooking methods are controlled by the rice cooker’s microcomputer, or Micom for short. It’s programmed using advanced fuzzy logic technology with artificial intelligence that adjusts the cooking time and temperature for each menu setting. Fuzzy logic is important, because it can make subtle adjustments the cooking process, creating a flow that results in rice that’s perfectly cooked every time.

Considering there’s so much technology in this rice cooker, it’s surprisingly easy to use. All of the menu settings can be selected from the easy-to-read LCD panel and include menus for White Rice, in regular, softer or harder textures (see… different pressures!), Mixed Rice, Sushi/Sweet Rice, Porridge, Brown Rice, GABA Brown Rice, as well as Zojirushi’s exclusive UMAMI, Steam-Reduce and Scorch settings.

The Delay Timer, also accessible from the LCD control panel, allows you to program when you’d like the rice to be ready, and Keep Warm and Reheat settings keep your rice hot and fresh when you’re ready to eat.

Inside the machine, the easy to clean platinum-infused nonstick inner cooking pan (which heats beautifully because of induction heating!) makes sweeter tasting rice, and the detachable inner lid is fully washable and equipped with a filter to prevent small food particles from becoming stuck in the pressure system.

With all of these features, we know you’re going to make amazing dishes. Our favorite warming dish are Garlic Flavored Beef Yakimeshi, Kimchi Fried Rice and Rice and Beans with Bacon and Collard Greens. Check out some more rice cooker recipes on our website!

Happy cooking and happy end of year!

And don’t forget to share your favorites with us below.

The Voices of Zojirushi – Andrew!

It’s December and our final Voices of Zojirushi post. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know our employees this year and sharing in our centennial anniversary!

Andrew, one of our Sales Executives, shares his inspirations and hopes for Zojirushi as we go into the new year. Andrew was born in Japan and raised in the United States, enjoying both Japanese and American cultures, food and lifestyles. He began his career working in a Japanese restaurant, and through his exposure to Asian foods vendors, began to work in sales.

Andrew, you have such an interesting background. Tell us a bit about your career at Zojirushi.

I had always had an interest in sales. I wanted to sell products I had confidence in—and, now I do, because I work for Zojirushi, selling the finest quality small appliances in the industry. Zojirushi prides itself on bringing only the highest quality products to market. They also keep keen focus on what the consumer is looking for—for example, the new Stainless Mug (SM-TA36/48/60) has a smooth, rounded finish on the opening of the bottle so that it is more comfortable to drink out of and clean. It may be a small thing, but that’s the type of small detail that consumers really appreciate. I like being a part of that.

The Stainless Mug’s smooth and rounded bottle opening

Zojirushi has always cared about their customers, and our corporate slogan Inspirations from Everyday Life, reflects that. How do you see everyday inspirations in Zojirushi products?

Every new product we develop is inspired for everyday use. When a new rice cooker comes out there is always something new that was not on the previous model. For example, when the NS-LAC05 (3 cup capacity) was discontinued it was replaced by two models, the NS-LHC05 and the NS-LGC05. Although nearly identical in appearance and function, the NS-LHC05 and the NS-LGC05 have different settings, adapted to the different preferences of consumers. The NS-LHC05 has special porridge setting for making rice porridge and a jasmine rice setting geared towards some Asian consumers, while the NS-LGC05 has a steel cut oatmeal and long grain white rice setting created to capture the general market consumer. Paying attention to the needs of different types of customers is what keeps Zojirushi on top.

Our corporate philosophy is “Creating a Quality of Life for our customers. How do you believe your job at Zojirushi supports our customers?

We recently started a new project as a company, with a focus on incentive and corporate gifts, since a lot of companies like to give their employees or customers a gift with their company logo on it. Putting company logos on mugs and bottles is nothing new to the industry, but usually the bottles are cheap. Our product, on the other hand, is double or sometimes triple that dollar amount; but, with more customer awareness of the high quality of our brand, more inquiries are coming in—from small establishments like coffee shops, to big corporations like Google and Facebook. I am happy to see that more customers prefer quality over price.

The Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle (EA-BDC10)

Since you sell so many products for Zojirushi, you must have your own favorite! What do you like cooking?

I have fond memories of visiting Japan every summer as a kid. I think that it was there I first tried monjayaki, a traditional Japanese meal or snack that is cooked on a hot plate. Since then I have missed eating monjayaki but I’ve been able to enjoy it again thanks to the use of our Gourmet Sizzler® Electric Griddle (EA-BDC10). And my wife made Paella using our griddle. She used fresh clams, shrimp and mussels, as well as chicken and sausage—it turned our great, and was very easy to make!

We’re grateful to Andrew for sharing his thoughts with us and wish you all a very happy holiday season!

It’s Baking Season

In the food industry, where I work, the 4th quarter of every year is the busiest time because of baking season. It is when most home bakers are actively baking their favorites to give as gifts or just to treat their families to fresh baked goods. A quick look at some of the special holidays this month reveals just how important baking gets during the month of December.

National Fritters Day is Dec. 2nd

Apple Fritters are my wife’s favorite thing when we go to a donut shop. She’s very picky about her fritters—they must be crispy and properly bumpy with crevices on the outside, moist with enough apple bits inside. Not too sweet, with a cinnamony taste overall. Fritter fanatics regard this classic as the shining star of the pink donut box.

National Brownie Day is Dec. 3rd

America claims that Brownies are home grown and was invented in Boston during the early 20th Century. Most stories point to a cookbook author named Fannie Farmer who adapted her chocolate cake recipe into a chocolate bar cookie baked in an oblong pan, back in 1905. The Brownie is classified as more a cookie than a cake because it’s a finger food, eaten with your fingers like cookies, instead of with a fork, like cake.

National Pastry Day is Dec. 9th

Like we need a Pastry Day on top of all these other baking days? LOL. Apparently there is a classic definition of what a pastry is, versus what is cake. For me, when I see a display of baked goods in a showcase at a bakery, they’re all pastry to me, but I would be wrong. Pastry is defined as “dough or paste consisting mainly of flour, water and shortening that is baked and often used as a crust for foods like pies and tarts”. Whereas cakes are basically baked desserts and are simply a modified bread.

I have learned one thing from Zojirushi though—making pastry dough is easy with a bread machine, but a hassle enough for most people that they buy ready made pie crusts from the store. Most bread machines have dough settings that knead the dough for you, so you can bake homemade pastries in no time. If you have a machine, check out Zojirushi’s croissant recipe here.

National Oatmeal Muffin Day is Dec 19th

I have to admit, my favorite muffin is blueberry, but like everyone else, I know oatmeal is healthier for me—others must agree, because otherwise why would there be a whole holiday devoted to them? And speaking of muffins, remember that episode on Seinfeld® where Elaine talks about the “best part of a muffin” being only the muffin tops? Did you know that McDonalds® is going to be offering muffin tops as part of their revamped breakfast menu? According to Moneywatch, the fast food giant is trying to revive their weakening breakfast sales by offering new and unique items. It’s always fun when real life copies fiction!

National Pumpkin Pie Day is Dec. 25th

I guess pumpkin pie is as much a traditional Christmas food as anything else, but pies in general are very popular during the holiday season, according to (who else?) Marie Callendar’s. While pumpkin pie is a staple of Thanksgiving dinners, it isn’t the only American pie favorite. Pecan pies are a southern thing that dates back to the 1920s, and the company says they sell more than a million pecan pies during the November & December season. And if you account for all the dessert pies, Americans bought more than 38 million frozen pies for the holidays. How about you, are you a pie person or a cake person?

National Fruitcake Day is Dec. 27th

I wonder how many people even know what a fruitcake is? I believe you have to be of a certain generation to be familiar with this traditional dessert that probably only your grandmother knows. These days I think it’s been replaced by Panettone sweet bread, the kind you see pop up during the holidays at supermarkets. But back in the day, this dessert was one of the most ridiculed dishes ever, because even though people joked in good fun, you’d have to be a real fan to actually like it. The fruitcake is a dense bread made with candied or dried fruit, nuts and spices, and sometimes soaked in rum or spirits.

It’s so heavy that in Manitou Springs, Colorado, a competition is held to see who can throw it the farthest. In Independence, California, fans gather to participate in a Fruitcake Festival bake-off, still going strong in its 14th year. Admission to the event is said to be “fruitcake or egg nog”. The fruitcake is also known to be able to last a notoriously long time. Since most of the ingredients are already preserved foods like dried nuts and candied fruit, the microorganisms have no moisture to reproduce. It’s also soaked in booze, which acts as a preservative and stops mold and yeast from developing on the surface. Diehard fans like their fruitcake old, like fine aged wine, they say. No wonder everyone makes fun of fruitcake!

Enjoy the baking season—I hope you plan on doing some baking this year!

 

photos: Brownies by kae71463, Fritter by L.A. Foodie, Pastries by Allison Meier, Chocolate Pastries by Marco Verch, Muffins by Marco Verch, Fruitcake by Bryan Ochalla
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