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Research team cooks up space mission for ‘ninja food’

  • March 13, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 10:25 a.m.
  • English Press

INUYAMA, Aichi — A Nagoya University of Economics research team is working on a project to utilize “ninja food” as the dietary regimen in space.


The dietary habits of ninja include food that occupies the stomach and has ingredients that contain medicinal qualities that play the role of modern-day nutritional supplements.


There are still a number of steps ahead before ninja food receives the OK to be used in space, but researchers hope this type of food “helps astronauts on missions that are just as demanding as what ninja do.”


Since 2014, Prof. Takuya Furuichi, 44, and his team have been analyzing historical materials regarding the diet of the ninja, whose mission was to collect intelligence and conduct guerrilla warfare, among other activities.


They carried around food called hyoro-gan or kikatsu-gan, which keeps well. The records of several recipes remain in their respective regions.


Furuichi’s team replicates hyoro-gan based on a recipe described in a ninjutsu book. The item features non-glutinous rice, glutinous rice flour, rock sugar, cinnamon and Korean ginseng, among other ingredients. The mixture is powdered and water is added before it is rolled into a ball about 1 centimeter to 3 centimeters in diameter and steamed.


About 1 centimeter in diameter, 30 balls — about 235 kilocalories in total — were meant to have been enough for one day. However, they are so chewy that they deliver a feeling of fullness.


Hyoro-gan contains a high level of sugar — considered medicine at the time — as well as ingredients with medicinal properties such as cinnamon and ginseng, and the team concluded that the food item was “a minimal source of nutrition and expected to have medicinal benefits.”


As a physiology specialist in vegetation, Furuichi participated in plant-based experiments the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency conducted on the International Space Station. Through that research, he decided to develop a dietary regimen for space as the ultimate emergency food.


JAXA introduced the Japanese space diet program in 2006 to reduce stress on astronauts, and 36 items, including ramen noodle, yakitori and “kaki-no-tane” rice crackers, were chosen as items to try in space after meeting the following conditions: a shelf life of more than 1½ years at room temperature and containers that can withstand the harsh environment of space, among other factors.


The team added black beans and mugwort to hyoro-gan’s original ingredients and replaced half of the sugar with commercial silkworm powder to improve the balance of protein and fat and increase the amount of beta-carotene and vitamins.


“It became a nutrient suitable for life in space and its intensively stressful environment,” Furuichi said.


Currently, the team is studying ways to preserve the items, including vacuum packing.


“Ninja are popular all over the world. I think it will catch the attention of foreign astronauts,” Furuichi said.


Makoto Hisamatsu, professor emeritus of Mie University who is an expert on the eating habits of ninja, said Furuichi’s challenge is unique.


“Under the stress of not being allowed to fail, ninja food was in the position of being a ‘ninja essential’ that plays a role in the success of their missions. The food can be a portable ration useful in today’s stressful society,” he said.

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