It would appear that a 99-year-old cloth-making company in Japan is looking to enter the food business in an unusual way. Instead of only churning out towels and bedding, it’ll start using fiber from trees to cook up a gluten-free, slurp-able snack.
Osaka-based Omikenshi Co. employs the same technology it uses for creating textiles to also make food: Specifically, it morphs tree wood pulp into edible noodles that are incredibly low on fat, carbs, and calories, and is devoid of gluten, too, Bloomberg reports. For example, wheat contains 1669 calories per pound, while this tree noodle has just 27.
Omikenshi is hoping it could be a wheat substitute for food like ramen and pasta, and will be shipped to countries like China that are struggling with obesity epidemics.
How do they make it? They start with a cellulose fiber made form tree pulp called rayon, which is the company’s specialty and can be used to make clothing and all sorts of fabric. To create the special noodle flour, which the company has named “cell-eat,” it uses a manufacturing process that’s similar to making rayon. But it combines konjac (a sweet potato-like veggie in Asia) with the cellulose from the wood pulp. The result? A super healthy noodle that the company also says improves the flavor and texture of the konjac.
Besides making a bitter plant like konjac taste better, why’s this company spinning noodles from trees? Well, Bloomberg describes konjac as “Japan’s most-protected agricultural product,” and the Japanese government apparently slaps a staggering 990% tariff on imported konjac in order to safeguard Japanese farmers’ livelihoods. So, this new noodle could improve the economy and incentivize local farmers to work with the company.
Bloomberg reports that Omikenshi will spend a billion yen (or around $8 million) to open a factory that’ll produce 30 tons of cell-eat at one of a textile plant in southern Japan per month, starting next year.
Top image: stock image of ramen noodles (not the tree noodles), via Shutterstock