You say potato, I say climate change
April 15, 2017 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Japanese snack food manufacturers Calbee Inc. and Koike-Ya Inc. are halting sales of 49 potato chip products due to potato shortages. This is the result of poor crops in Hokkaido, a key potato-producing region, where a series of typhoons hit the island in 2016 for the first time on record. Calbee has said that imported potatoes from the United States are of insufficient quality and cannot cover the deficit.

The shortage has resulted in hoarding and resale of certain flavours of chips at inflated prices.

Hokkaido accounts for more than 70 per cent of Japan's potato production. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service [pdf]:

Heavy rains in August and September reduced Japan’s potato crop by approximately 500,000 metric tons (MT), or 20 percent lower than market year (MY) 2015/16

[...]

[F]our typhoons struck Hokkaido in August 2016 for the first time since record keeping began more than 100 years ago. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) reported that approximately 24,000 ha of land received damaging levels of rain as well as flooding, including those producing fresh potatoes.


Scientists are connecting the strengthening typhoons in the region to ocean surface warming:

Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s (abstract only)

Japan’s future typhoons: disruptive, deadly and destructive
posted by mandolin conspiracy (66 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe they believe that American potatoes are bred for size, at the cost of having a kind of dismal and mealy texture, like those mutant beefsteak tomatoes. That is not absurd. But insufficient quality to make potato chips with? Seems like you don't exactly need the platinum taters for that.
posted by thelonius at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Potato harvest will commence in Kyushu around May, and in a similar fashion to the cherry blossom front, potato crops will advance northward until Hokkaido reaches its peak production in September.

Will newscasters get as excited about the "potato front," with elaborate maps and all?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:59 AM on April 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


...imported potatoes from the United States are of insufficient quality...

Hmph! Fine. More for us.
posted by Splunge at 12:13 PM on April 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Hmph! Fine. More for us.

USA in a nutshell indeed.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2017 [58 favorites]


We've all had that french fry that must that must have come from the King of Potatoes, being the length of your arm. And how about those Pringle potatoes that grow in geometrically perfect elliptical cylinders? How do they slice them like that? Truly American potatoes are wonders of modern agriculture.

Or maybe they're only good for being processed and extruded by the megaton to make fries and crisps.
posted by adept256 at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, "The Potato Front" is the name of my new Celtic band.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:19 PM on April 15, 2017 [20 favorites]


Potato varieties bred for potato chips/crisps are quite different from conventional cooking varieties. They're bred to have a very low sugar content, which means that when you fry them, they turn a nice golden yellow, rather than the dark brown caramelised shade you'll get if you try to make them with higher-sugar store-bought potatoes.
posted by pipeski at 12:23 PM on April 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


Imagine what would happen if consumers discovered that chips made from American potatoes are indistinguishable from ones made from Japanese grown?
posted by 1adam12 at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I hate to break it to you, but Pringles aren't sliced potatoes like most chips, they're made from potato batter.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:55 PM on April 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Soylent Green is Pringles!
posted by otherchaz at 1:28 PM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Imagine what would happen if consumers discovered that chips made from American potatoes are indistinguishable from ones made from Japanese grown?

I've had potato chips made from Hokkaido potatoes. You know how the Japanese are obsessive about everything that they do? Particularly when adopting things from other cultures? They obsess and perfect, until what they have is the most complete and exact essence of the thing they started with. They did this with scotch, denim, baseball, and I would say yeah potatoes.

USA in a nutshell. When other countries say things like "nah your produce isn't good enough"... or when they riot because their government wants to allow US beef to be imported... shit, they must be the morons amirite? It's just potatoes. Who could possibly care about the quality of the things they make?
posted by danny the boy at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2017 [80 favorites]


Japanese potato chips are actually often pretty damned good.
posted by jonmc at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


This btw is the potato "chip" that blew my mind.
posted by danny the boy at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Maybe they believe that American potatoes are bred for size, at the cost of having a kind of dismal and mealy texture, like those mutant beefsteak tomatoes. That is not absurd. But insufficient quality to make potato chips with? Seems like you don't exactly need the platinum taters for that.

You'd be suprised about the details of potato chip manufacture and distribution. This podcast from econlog about Frito Lay's operation was ear-opening!

One potato = just 14 chips.
Frito Lay provides the genetic stock for the potatoes they buy.
They stock the shelves in stores themselves because they don't trust retailers to do it properly.
posted by srboisvert at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Imagine what would happen if consumers discovered that chips made from American potatoes are indistinguishable from ones made from Japanese grown?

You know Twain's line, that a man who doesn't read is no better off than a man who can't?

Same's true of travel.
posted by mhoye at 1:47 PM on April 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


While the potato chip snark is fun and all, I find the whole 'more typhoons' thing to be worrisome. I mean, from one of the articles in the FPP:
Overall, Asian typhoon intensity has increased by about 12 percent in the last four decades, according to a study released Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

But the change is most noticeable for category 4 and 5 storms with winds of 209 kph or more. Since 1977, they’ve gone from a once-a-year occurrence to four times a year.
I'm sure the Japanese can get used to substandard US potato chips, but that feels like a pretty rapid escalation in storm severity. (I knew it was ramping up, but not quite that badly.)
posted by mordax at 2:02 PM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Incidentally, "The Potato Front" is the name of my new Celtic band.

All eyes on you!
posted by Chitownfats at 2:29 PM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Or maybe they're only good for being processed and extruded by the megaton to make fries and crisps.

Yes, because you know, Pringles are the only kind of chips we have in the US. It's not like there's a huge number of brands of regular potato chips, including a wide range of high-quality thick-cut chips from producers ranging from the biggest brands to small, hyperlocal companies. Nah, those Americans, all they know is extruded potato mash.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:30 PM on April 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


danny the boy:

"The secret behind the superb flavor is the original crispy texture and roasted salt from the Okhotsk district.We carefully select large Hokkaido potatoes to suit our products. We use choice potatoes that are cut without peeling to retain the flavor of the skin. Our unique processing method achieves a crispy texture and brings out the potato’s innate flavor. The roasted salt from Okhotsk adds even more Hokkaido flavor. This salt is distilled from the waters of the Saroma lagoon. Simmering in the kettle causes the salt to mellow in flavor."

These look and sound amazing! (Any idea if Japanese grocery stores in N. America might carry these, or might have done so before the shortage?)
posted by tenderly at 2:31 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


They obsess and perfect, until what they have is the most complete and exact essence of the thing they started with. They did this with scotch, denim, baseball, and I would say yeah potatoes.

Marketing, marketing, marketing. Every single one of these cases is something that Japan does well, but that hype has blown up beyond all reason, because Americans love a ~mystic orient~ origin story. Take whisky, which is something I happen to know very well: Japanese whisky is good, but a lot of its popularity among cognoscenti came with the fact that the quality was on par (not better, on par) with Scotland while the price was much lower. The recent upswing in demand for Japanese whisky has made the prices roughly equivalent and now the shine has come off a bit (plus, as far as East Asian whiskies go, Kavalan in Taiwan is beating the pants off of every single Japanese distillery).

I've had the extremely high-quality Japanese chips in question. Are they good? Hell yeah. Are they some kind of magical chip experience, unparalleled by American chips? Nah. They're on par with the better chips coming out of American small producers, which are made with - guess what - American potatoes. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that this whole "we can't make our chips with any potatoes from outside of Japan!" is a carefully-constructed marketing stance. Rah-rah made-in-America-ism isn't limited to Americans.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:40 PM on April 15, 2017 [29 favorites]


We've had an increase in the frequency of cyclones here in Queensland. In 2006 Cyclone Larry wiped out the banana crops. The media focused for a long time on the ridiculous price of bananas. We can't import them due to bio-security; blights and parasites that we don't have could ruin the industry.

But that's what made everyone so outraged. That's how it directly effected everybody in Australia. People would go to the supermarket and get super pissed that they couldn't afford put bananas in their kids lunchbox anymore! It flattened peoples houses, ruined jobs and tore up the Barrier Reef, but it only really hit home at the checkout.

I remember this aritcle: Fasten Seat Belts: Climate Change Could Mean More Turbulence. Is that such a bad thing? People who can afford frequent air travel aren't the ones most affected by climate change. Floods in Bangladesh, droughts in Sudan and the sinking of Kirabathi only effect poor people, not the jet set crowd. Air travel contributes to climate change, and maybe that's something to think about during the increasing frequency of white knuckle death rides at 40000 feet.

This time it's gourmet crisps. A chance to snark about potatoes perhaps. But when they're 40$ a packet suddenly people are asking why. These conversations need to happen.
posted by adept256 at 2:40 PM on April 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


I find the whole 'more typhoons' thing to be worrisome.

Here in New Orleans, people have gotten a bit meh since we haven't been hit since Katrina. But it's not that there aren't more and more powerful storms; it's that the jet stream has also shifted, creating more wind shear and blowing the storms that do form out into the Atlantic instead of letting them into the Gulf of Mexico.

That could also of course twist back for any of an infinite number of reasons any old time, guiding those more numerous and more powerful storms back to say HI NOLA.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:14 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Those Calbee chips are consistently excellent. A client from Japan once sent my firm a Calbee sampler she had curated for us, and the particular chip I loved was apparently a variety that is not available for sale outside of Hokkaido. Man, I wish my new place worked with that client.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:18 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Agriculture and industrial food engineering are surprisingly specialized, it's very likely that it's difficult or impossible to source a style of potato with the exact characteristics. Chip potato's make for wretched baked, actually unpalatable except for chips. It sounds like they need a quite large potato with specific characteristics. It would certainly be possible to locate a growing region and send some "seeds" (argh, how do 'taters propagate?) ((trolling a certain IRL :-)) and do trials from American farms, would shipping volume be cost effective? How many millions of tons does this company go through? Is there a fast enough standard shipping pipeline? But just simply impinging quality is racist, er farmerist?
posted by sammyo at 3:24 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


the quality was on par (not better, on par) with Scotland while the price was much lower

It's as good and cheaper. And that's not... superior in your book?

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that this whole "we can't make our chips with any potatoes from outside of Japan!" is a carefully-constructed marketing stance.

Marketing to who? Not us, because they don't sell their products in the US. So you're saying they're telling their domestic Japanese customers that US potatoes aren't good enough, and that this helps them sell chips somehow? Why wouldn't they want to find a cheaper source of ingredients, sell at same price, and increase profit if they could?

I don't think it's mysticism to say that as a culture, the Japanese are obsessed with food in a way Americans are not. I think it's surely stranger to insist without evidence that Japanese consumers can't tell the difference or that sourcing high quality potatoes in sufficient quantities from abroad is easy or cost-effective.
posted by danny the boy at 3:27 PM on April 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


When did they start growing potatoes in Japan? Did the potato arrive there from the Americas on some pre-columbian Pacific trade current, or did it come via Europe with the early Portuguese explorers (who also gave the Japanese the word for bread, pan) or Commodore Perry's Black Ships?
posted by acb at 3:28 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


American potatoes are good enough to make Freedom Fries.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:29 PM on April 15, 2017


These look and sound amazing! (Any idea if Japanese grocery stores in N. America might carry these, or might have done so before the shortage?)

They are a really interesting experience. Kind of like how a fine dining restaurant might do a play on a traditional dish. It's like eating a prefect example of a fast food french fry but it's cold and dry and came out of a cellophane package. And it somehow keeps the exact same flavor experience, with a very different (but pleasant) texture.

It is almost more french fry than a french fry

You can get them on Amazon.
posted by danny the boy at 3:33 PM on April 15, 2017


Thanks for the Amazon link, dtb! I noticed that a reviewer there leaves the comment, "Sooo tasty! But later I found out that Jaga-bee tastes identical to this at a much lower price."

Just wondering if you've had the Jaga-bee as well, and, if so, how they compare to the jaga-pokle.

($1.80 for an 18 gr. bag IS rather pricey, considering that I effortlessly consume a 220 gr. bag of [substandard!] Kettle Chips in one sitting...)
posted by tenderly at 3:51 PM on April 15, 2017


Oh no! And this not two days after a new HMart opened in the town where I live.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:53 PM on April 15, 2017


Aw man! I just found these in my local grocery store, which were a replacement for these, that you used to be able to get at World Market (or order from Amazon, with looooooooong shipping and the package arriving half-squished) but they haven't had them for a long time, now. Oh wait, the Whole Cuts are made from US-grown russets. Never mind!
posted by 41swans at 4:51 PM on April 15, 2017


Potato chips/crisps previously on MeFi. Because as we all know, when it comes to potato chips, betcha can't post just one!
posted by TedW at 4:53 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


To this idea that Japanese potatoes (and potato chips) are superior to the American type, I have three words: blind. taste. test. I have every confidence that people, Japanese, American, whatever, could probably not tell much difference between Japanese potato chips and American chips in a blind taste test. I live in Japan and the potato chips are good but I really can't tell a lick of difference between Japanese Calbee chips and Ruffles from the U.S. There are differences in flavoring, to be sure; you ain't gonna find seaweed flavored chips in the U.S.
posted by zardoz at 5:25 PM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


When did they start growing potatoes in Japan?

According to Wikipedia JA, they arrived from Holland in 1598. But the massive agricultural development of Hokkaido started in the late 1800's, particularly under William Clark from UMASS. He founded Sapporo Agricultural College in 1876 (now Hokkaido University). Climate is similar so they basically replicated New England agriculture in Hokkaido: potatoes, apples, and dairy farms.
posted by Gotanda at 5:33 PM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Insufficient quality" may also be as much about food safety as taste. In either case it could be more perceived than real, but Japanese consumers are naturally distrusting of food imports from China, and to a much lesser extent the US, because of differing regulation standards.

Whether or not the food meets safety standards, it's a matter of how easy it is to verify and hold specific people accountable for the quality whenever the need arises. This is a lot harder with imported produce, especially compared to the domestic system where the farmer's name and address are printed on all the vegetable produce packaging, and sometimes even their photo. Japanese consumers associate that personal accountability with assurance of quality.
posted by p3t3 at 5:47 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


List of concerns raised in this post:

☐ Climate change
☐ Food security
☐ International trade
☑ Potato superiority
☑ Chipster rivalry
posted by adept256 at 5:59 PM on April 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Half the links, the top half of the post at that, are about potato chips and potato shortages in Japan. Yet, people are shaming us for discussing them! What did you expect?
posted by thelonius at 6:12 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


the quality was on par (not better, on par) with Scotland while the price was much lower

It's as good and cheaper. And that's not... superior in your book?


No, it's equivalent. Fun fact about whisky: it's actually very cheap to produce. Most of the price of a bottle of whisky (especially younger whisky, where warehouse space and angel's share over time isn't a factor - and fun fact, most Japanese whiskies are sold very young) comes from artificial price inflation, because that's what customers will pay. Japanese whisky was cheaper not because it was "superior", but because it didn't have the brand cachet of Scotch whisky, and so couldn't command the same prices. Once hype allowed them to sell at comparable prices they started to do so, and now it's not cheaper at all.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that this whole "we can't make our chips with any potatoes from outside of Japan!" is a carefully-constructed marketing stance.

Marketing to who? Not us, because they don't sell their products in the US. So you're saying they're telling their domestic Japanese customers that US potatoes aren't good enough, and that this helps them sell chips somehow?


Uh, yes. They've been getting a ton of press for this (hell, we're taking about it on an English-language, primarily American site). Tons of Japanese consumers who wouldn't have thought about Calbee one way or another now think of them as "oh yeah, that's that company that's so Japanese that they wouldn't even consider using foreign potatoes. Also they're high quality, because of their exacting potato standards". It'll make consumers more likely to pay the higher prices in the short term, and once the potato crunch is over and they're back to normal production they get to keep all the brand goodwill. It's pretty basic marketing 101 stuff.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:13 PM on April 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


When did they start growing potatoes in Japan?

This is a little bit tangential, but consider the groundnut, Apios americana. It's a vine native to the eastern US that has a root very similar to a small potato. I haven't tried them, but as an example of a first hand account of them, Thoreau found them growing wild around Concord, MA and wrote in his diary,
October 12, 1852. I dug some ground nuts with my hands in the railroad sand bank.... These were nearly as large as hen's eggs. I had them roasted and boiled at supper time. The skins came off readily, like a potato's. Roasted they had an agreeable taste, very much like a common potato, though they were somewhat fibrous in texture. With my eyes shut I should not have known but I was eating a somewhat soggy potato. Boiled they were unexpectedly quite dry, and though in this instance a little strong, had a more nutty flavor. With a little salt a hungry man could make a very palatable meal on them.
It was once cultivated by Native Americans as a staple crop, but pretty much ignored by Europeans in favor of the potato. You still see them wild sometimes, but they're not really grown commercially anywhere... except Hokkaido!

Why did they start growing them there and nowhere else? It seems nobody knows for sure, but the main theory I've heard is that some stowed away on other plants (like apple trees and the like) sent to Hokkaido under programs like those Gotanda mentioned, and the Hokkaidans recognized them as being a tastier version of their native Apios fortunei (which was eaten sometimes in lean years) and started planting them widely.

And yet almost nobody in New England could tell you what a groundnut is, and I think that's funny. I only heard about them recently, and am actually planting some so I can see what they're like for myself, because why not?
posted by ragtag at 6:24 PM on April 15, 2017 [17 favorites]


Except Calbee already dominates with 53.2% of the Japanese snack market. Not sure how much gain they can get to offset not selling their potato chips.
posted by Gotanda at 6:24 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Man, so Japan's agricultural protectionism deserves a ton a links (perhaps even its own front page post) and I'm on mobile so I'm not going even try but let's just say for complicated economic, cultural and historical reasons (not the least of which is post war famine) importing any staple crop in a significant scale is a non starter for reasons that has nothing to do with quality.
posted by midmarch snowman at 6:52 PM on April 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


once the potato crunch is over

I see what you did there.
posted by 41swans at 6:53 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


When did they start growing potatoes in Japan?

RTFA.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:58 PM on April 15, 2017


Half the links, the top half of the post at that, are about potato chips and potato shortages in Japan. Yet, people are shaming us for discussing them! What did you expect?

Reading? I dunno.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:58 PM on April 15, 2017


Thanks, ragtag, for the info about Hokkaido apios production, a phrase I never have said or typed. Back when I lived in NE Missouri I occasionally would dig and roast groundnuts. I also remember reading that intriguing passage from Thoreau's journal.
posted by Agave at 7:09 PM on April 15, 2017


Man, so Japan's agricultural protectionism deserves a ton a links (perhaps even its own front page post)

I'd love to learn more, despite never bothering to read up on it myself much. But as a casual observer, the JA system seems to have shaped a much different agriculture market than in the US. The US seems to now be mostly a small number of huge farms that bought up all the small ones. But in Japan, JA acts more like a marketing/distribution infrastructure so that local farmers can continue to make money from their modest crops. So now there are lots of full time business folks who run a couple rice paddies on their weekends.
posted by p3t3 at 8:11 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have never been able to find good potatoes at the supermarket in Japan. There is one kind that is good for stewing in nikujaga , but that's about it (there of course are satsuma potatoes and yamaimo).

My wife, who is Japanese and who likes to cook, doesn't have a clue about what kinds of potatoes to use for different dishes in Canada. For example, I prefer Yukon Gold for mashed potatoes, while russet potatoes are best for baking.

I do like Japanese potato chips, although I prefer Old Dutch above all else.
posted by My Dad at 8:49 PM on April 15, 2017


Man, so Japan's agricultural protectionism deserves a ton a links (perhaps even its own front page post)


- Food actually tastes good in Japan
- Small-scale farming generally survives in Japan
- Japan imports a *significant* amount of food, notably rice; most of Japan's prepared foods and fast foods use rice imported from China and Thailand.

With rice, locale makes a difference. I've lived, off-and-on (will be heading back in June) in a farming community for more than twenty years. The rice tastes good. That's worth something.
posted by My Dad at 8:52 PM on April 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


but that hype has blown up beyond all reason, because Americans love a ~mystic orient~ origin story.

So you're saying you'd rather buy an American car rather than a Japanese car? I know which one I would buy.
posted by My Dad at 8:54 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


but that hype has blown up beyond all reason, because Americans love a ~mystic orient~ origin story.

So you're saying you'd rather buy an American car rather than a Japanese car? I know which one I would buy.


Are you a time traveler from thirty years ago? Do you have some fun japes about how Ford stands for "Fix Or Repair Daily"? Cause, uh.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:20 PM on April 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


When did they start growing potatoes in Japan?

RTFA.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:58 PM on April 15

Which one? None of the articles above the fold contain this information, and checking a couple more at random didn't answer this, either. I can understand how the question would come up.
posted by landis at 11:05 PM on April 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


Life just ain't worth livin' without my French Salad Flavor 60g
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 12:23 AM on April 16, 2017


From the article in question:

Calbee has had to import potatoes from the United States due to the short supply, but the company said a majority of the American spuds are of insufficient quality and cannot cover the deficit. On the other hand, Koikeya said its potatoes are 100% domestically sourced and states that its reassessment of sales was inevitable in view of the shortage.

So they are importing potatoes. One other possibility: clearly, there are gourmet chips in America that are very, very good, but the supply of potatoes for such chips is presumably limited. And Lays et al. prosumably has a very very tightly controlled production line, what with their genetics and their finicky shelf arrangement and all. So I'm going to guess that the problem wasn't some kind of fault in American potato terroir and more that they couldn't get enough chip-grade potatoes in enough volume to cover their shortfall caused by typhoons in a place that isn't used to typhoons.

I have to say, it's always worth noting when the otherwise sober-headed crowd at metafilter picks on a certain detail like this. Who knew that potato pride brings out the patriot?
posted by Stilling Still Dreaming at 2:19 AM on April 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


There are Japanese-American growers in California producing rice for export to Japan, and others making sake from it in California. Perhaps if the problems in Hokkaido persist, some part of the Japanese diaspora somewhere on the Pacific Rim will step up and start growing Calbee-grade chip potatoes.
posted by acb at 5:08 AM on April 16, 2017


Who knew that potato pride brings out the patriot?

Idaho why, but I guess we could russet up some answers.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:09 AM on April 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


A few years ago I found myself touring a rice mill in southern Louisiana, and our guide explained that all the best equipment and quality demands were driven by the Japanese, who were big customers. Presently we came upon four machines, which we were told cost USD$700,000 apiece, called Magic Sorters.

The Magic Sorters sluiced the rice into a six foot wide, one grain deep sheet which passed over a linear array of 250 photodetectors and shortly thereafter past 250 solenoid driven air jets. The sorters rejected misshapen and miscolored grains of rice one grain at a time at industrial volume. You could see a regular haze of grains being blown out of the flowing sheet of rice into the reject slot, where they were destined for customers like breweries who didn't care what their rice looked like.

I design industrial controls, and it would never have occurred to me that it would be worth even trying to build something like a Magic Sorter, much less investing enough capital to actually make one work, and then spending three million dollars to equip a mill in southern Louisiana to meet this insane quality goal. The Japanese really do have different ideas about food quality than we do.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:38 AM on April 16, 2017 [21 favorites]


Marketing, marketing, marketing.

I know what you're getting at, and I'll buy it for whisky and beer. But when I go to a ramen shop in Calgary, Alberta and get reasonably priced, tasty, interesting food made by by skilled cooks, I honestly think there's something else at work.
posted by sneebler at 11:51 AM on April 16, 2017


Without getting into the trade protectionism (which I real, and as mentioned above, allows the continued existence of very small family farms, small factories, and other industries that would likely be wiped out in direct competition with giant corporations operating on massive economies of scale, or with other countries that can afford to pay a pittance for labor), Calbee potato chips are amazing. It's not just the delectable crispiness, it's the constant innovation in flavors. New flavors come out all the time, and then, just like that, they're gone, leaving behind a lasting memory of that really, really delicious chip you had ten years ago.

For me, it was the gyoza flavor. I swear I could taste not only the meat and vegetables inside the dumpling, but the crispy browned bits on the bottom of the dumpling, as well as the sauce (soy, chili, and vinegar that the gyoza was dipped in. It was truly a sublime potato chip. Other recent favorites: sour cream and jalapeño and a sour cream and bacon variety (seriously, seriously amazing).Right as the shortage hit, one of the best flavors out there was a ma po dofu flavored chip. Incredibly good.

There are chips on shelves advertised as American potato chips, and, well, honestly they're okay. They aren't fantastic. There are a bunch of non-potato crispy things making their way to shelves, like various flavored rusks (crispy toasted slices of bread). I look at this like when the Tohoku earthquake hit. It was a pretty traumatic time with a lot of very serious long term consequences, but also a lot of small, sometimes unsettling changes to everyday life for people nowhere near the disaster area. One of the very mundane consequences was that several Kirin and Asahi breweries were several damaged by the quake, and most of the other big company breweries were turning out canned water for emergency use. As a result, there was a pretty profound beer shortage for a couple weeks, leading to some more flexibility on the behalf of convenience stores, many of which started stocking craft beers, giving them a foothold and a wider audience. The market can't stand empty shelves, and I'm interested to see what ends up filling the gap this time (I hope it's a wider variety of corn chips).

tl/dr: Sour cream and bacon potato chips. Seriously.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:00 PM on April 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


From this link in the post:

Potatoes were introduced in Japan at the beginning of the 17th century, but cultivation began in Hokkaido at the end of the 19th century.

[...]

It is believed that potatoes were first brought by a Dutchman from Java (Jakarta) in Indonesia to Nagasaki in Kyushu (southen island) at the beginning of the 17th century. However, cultivation of potatoes became widespread at the end of the 19th century when the Meiji Government promoted Western-style agriculture in Hokkaido, particularly in the cool mountainous areas in Honshu (mainland). Potatoes became an important food for settlers in the early days of Hokkaido's development. During World War I in Europe, starch was exported as an international commodity. To accommodate demand, cultivation of potatoes for starch production rapidly increased, and this share of the cultivation area remained significant.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:55 PM on April 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Who knew that potato pride brings out the patriot?

Wisconsin has the Snowden potato.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:16 AM on April 17, 2017


Just wondering if you've had the Jaga-bee as well, and, if so, how they compare to the jaga-pokle.

tenderly: I have not, but you got me curious so I now have $100 of potato chips coming from Japan by the end of the week. I'll let you know what I think.
posted by danny the boy at 11:04 AM on April 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Itaxpica: "Tons of Japanese consumers who wouldn't have thought about Calbee one way or another now think of them as "oh yeah, that's that company that's so Japanese that they wouldn't even consider using foreign potatoes. Also they're high quality, because of their exacting potato standards"."

This thread is the first I've heard of foreign potatoes being considered, or rejected. The potato shortage is all over the news here, but this whole "US potatoes" angle is just not part of the narrative. If they're doing it for marketing sake, they're doing it wrong, because the message isn't getting out.

tenderly: "Just wondering if you've had the Jaga-bee as well, and, if so, how they compare to the jaga-pokle."

I've had the Jagabee (in fact, I've got a box of 100 calorie minibags right next to me for three o'clock snacks), but conversely, I haven't had (or seen) Jaga-pokkuru, so I couldn't compare. Jagabee are good. Not amazing, but good.
posted by Bugbread at 4:18 PM on April 17, 2017


They obsess and perfect, until what they have is the most complete and exact essence of the thing they started with.

Indeed I am familiar with the magical thinking that says that Japanese people have special taste buds, special digestive systems, and that for certain categories of food, products grown or made outside of Japan simply won't do. This is true of some products surely, and unsurprisingly for those products (let's say our export beef) this opinion isn't only held by Japan, because other countries have working taste buds too. So Brazilians and French people and the British and Japanese will all agree about this, and so indeed they do.

But then again, it isn't true about other products. I remember in particular that before American rice was widely imported into Japan, the claim was that rice grown in the USA was lower-quality and that Japanese consumers would reject it. Then some crafty bastard conducted blind taste-tests with Japanese consumers and, lo and behold, no one could tell the difference between magical Japanese rice and the imported garbage. So when it comes to potatoes, which are chipped, deep-fried, and then covered with "French salad flavor" powder, I am skeptical. And I think I'm right to be skeptical. Because I have been to Japan, and I have found that while the food tends to be visually gorgeous, it isn't always the taste sensation one would expect. There is, in fact, crappy food in Japan.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:16 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


1adam12: "This is true of some products surely, and unsurprisingly for those products (let's say our export beef) this opinion isn't only held by Japan, because other countries have working taste buds too. So Brazilians and French people and the British and Japanese will all agree about this, and so indeed they do."

Yeah, this was the first time I've ever heard of Japanese potato chips being any big deal. They're...they're potato chips. There are some inventive flavoring powders used on them, but then again, there are some inventive flavoring powders used on American potato chips as well. The underlying chip is just...potato.

I'm just going to requote this, because I think it is the most accurate analysis of this teapot everyone is trying to make a tempest in:

Stilling Still Dreaming: "So they are importing potatoes. One other possibility: clearly, there are gourmet chips in America that are very, very good, but the supply of potatoes for such chips is presumably limited. And Lays et al. prosumably has a very very tightly controlled production line, what with their genetics and their finicky shelf arrangement and all. So I'm going to guess that the problem wasn't some kind of fault in American potato terroir and more that they couldn't get enough chip-grade potatoes in enough volume to cover their shortfall caused by typhoons in a place that isn't used to typhoons."
posted by Bugbread at 4:23 PM on April 18, 2017


Coincidentally, my MIL just dropped off some Calbee seaweed potato chips at my house last night. They were pretty good, with a thickness in between Lays and kettle-cooked chips. To me, they tasted like imitation crab instead of seaweed.
posted by Fig at 1:50 PM on April 19, 2017


Ok, the Jaga Pokkuru and the Jagabee (lightly salted flavor) have both arrived.

Here they are in their packages. The Jagabee (left) is a 39.6g serving and the Jaga Pokkuru (right) is 18g. Both are tiny compared to typical US serving sizes, but the Pokkuru is truly minuscule, containing a dozen "fries". Cost was about twice as much per gram for Pokkuru.

Here they are on a plate. Jagabee again on left and Pokkuru on right. You can see that the Jagabee fries are lumpier and more irregular, while the Pokkuru fries are visually... perfect. I would liken this to the difference between an ad for McDonald's fries versus what you would get in real life.

In tasting, the Jagabee fries are more bitter and have a more powdery texture than the Pokkuru fries, which are very dense. They're both crisp, but the Jagabee feels airy-er, but not really in a good way. The denseness of the Pokkuru is always surprising and very pleasant. They're both the same color, but the Pokkuru tastes well cooked, where the Jagabee tastes almost slightly burnt.

Markings on the Jagabee indicate they were made in the USA, and don't list any specific source for the potatoes. The Pokkuru is a product of Japan and is marketed as being made with 100% Hokkaido potatoes and sea salt from the Okhotsk sea.

In my opinion, the taste difference between the two is easily noticeable. I feel like the overall flavor in the Jagabee is similar to what you would find in a Ruffles or Lays plain chip, including the lingering bitterness, just delivered in a different shape. The taste and texture of the Pokkuru is harder to compare to a Western product. Bottom line, I stand by my previous statement of "blew my mind" for the Pokkuru, and I probably wouldn't have said that about the (US) Jagabee.

I can't say if one will be worth twice as much ($1.70 for the tiny 18g bag) for you, but I do suspect that the real point of Jagabee is their other flavors, which I have not yet received. Coming sometime in the next month is their regular butter soy sauce flavor and a special mentaiko flavor. Much like Kit Kat, Jagabee seems to have limited edition flavors that change yearly. Unlike the two regular flavors for North America, those are made in and only sold in Japan; it'll be interesting to try but won't be a direct comparison until I get to try a Japan market vs. American market of the same flavor.
posted by danny the boy at 5:07 PM on April 21, 2017


« Older Meet Maro, the cosplaying cat.   |   White People are Scared of Us Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments