Going With the Grain: Natural Disasters Put Spotlight on “Drinkable Rice” Emergency Rations

Society

“Drinkable rice” from an Osaka agricultural cooperative is gaining attention as a nutritious emergency food. With long shelf life, a variety of flavors, and the promise of safety for those with food allergies, these canned meals are an increasingly popular choice among local governments and individuals looking to stock up for the next disaster.

A Refreshing Can of . . . Rice?

This year saw a steady series of large-scale natural disasters in Japan. Torrential rain brought flooding and landslides to west Japan in late June and early July; a powerful earthquake on September 6 brought intensity 7 shaking to Hokkaidō; and several destructive typhoons struck Japan in what has been one of the roughest storm seasons in recent years.

The question of how to feed evacuees in the wake of disaster is more pressing than ever. Today, a new type of drinkable rice sold by JA North Osaka, an agricultural cooperative operating in the prefecture, is attracting wide attention as an ideal form of emergency rations.

Rice, adzuki beans, and hatomugi (in English called Job’s tears or adlay millet) are the three main ingredients of Nomeru Gohan, literally “rice you can drink.” The”product can be stored and consumed safely for up to 5 years, and comes in cocoa, plum and konbu kelp, and cinnamon flavors.

Perfect for Perilous Times

The drinks provide both hydration and balanced nutrients simultaneously, making them an ideal product to stockpile for times of disaster. Even when evacuees and other victims lack access to potable water or a cooking fire, they can drink these cans and keep their strength up.

During and after the torrential rains that soaked western Japan this summer, food allergies became a problem at evacuation centers. The dietary needs of allergy-sufferers were given serious consideration while this new product was being developed. The JA creators of Nomeru Gohan managed to achieve a mixture including none of the 27 foods like eggs, wheat, and buckwheat that the Japanese government targets for allergen labeling.

The JA office reports that inquiries about the drinkable rice have been flooding due to this year’s string of disasters. “So far, we’ve received orders of for about 450 cases from all over the country,” says a JA official. “A previous product, developed by a company in Kobe after the painful experience of the 1995 earthquake there, was purchased by municipalities in Hyōgo Prefecture, as well as places farther away in Kyoto, Saitama, Kagawa, and Ōita.” Since the North Osaka organization rebranded its new concoction as the “Drinkable Rice of the Agricultural Cooperative,” it has received a considerable order that should lead to broader distribution through JA outlets elsewhere.

But Is It Any Good?

How long do you feel sated after having a can of drinkable rice? And what about those flavors—cocoa, plum-konbu, and cinnamon? We asked a representative from JA North Osaka for more details and tried some ourselves.

“A single 245-gram can is a substitute for dinner for an adult male. The nutrition contained in our drinkable rice includes proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and more.” In addition to this nutritional balance, says the official, the development process focused on making sure that Nomeru Gohan could be a meal and a source of hydration to people in any circumstances—even those lacking water or a heat source for cooking, those with allergy concerns, and elderly and other people who have trouble chewing and swallowing solid food.

“Cocoa” sounds more like a dessert than a meal, but it was surprisingly satisfying. The rice pulp remained firmly intact. The scent of cocoa was not overwhelming, and it was a pleasurable experience on the whole. Rather than being a meal, it was more like a snack that kept us sated for some time.

“There are several reasons for choosing the flavors that we did,” continues the JA official. “First, there are also serious disasters outside of Japan, and people overseas—especially in Asia—are used to the taste of cinnamon. Plum-konbu was chosen as it is a familiar and calming flavor for Japanese palates, and cocoa was chosen for children with the idea that it would be helpful in coaxing kids into drinking it without resistance.”

Nomeru Gohan, the “Drinkable Rice of the Agricultural Cooperative,” can be bought on the Internet or by phone, and is shipped in cases of 30 cans. One can costs ¥260 (excluding tax). Natural disasters look set to be an ever-larger fact of life for people in Japan; emergency products like these may be an important part of your own disaster-preparedness kit.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on October 5, 2018. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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