Japanese textile maker Omikenshi Co. has been in the business of selling the semi-synthetic fabric rayon for nearly a century, but business hasn’t been booming as of late. Faced with increasing competition in textiles, Omikenshi Co. has turned its attention to food, but it gets to use many of the same materials. Rayon and the company’s new Cell-eat noodles are both made from trees.Cell-eat is just one of several dozen new diet foods introduced in Japan since the government eased restrictions on food health claims. A variety of companies that previously made non-food items have since registered so-called “functional foods” with the Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency. The selling point for Cell-eat is that it has no fat, almost no carbohydrates, no gluten, and it contains just 60 calories per kilogram. A kilogram of wheat, by comparison, has 3680 calories. Cell-eat is almost entirely inert as far as your body is concerned.
The key is the trees, or specifically, the wood pulp. Omikenshi Co. is using the same technology from cloth manufacturing to turn cellulose from trees into noodles, rather than rayon. Cellulose is the a polysaccharide (a long chain of carbohydrate sugars) found in plants, and humans can’t digest it. The cellulose noodles are mixed with a vitamin-rich plant called konjac that is grown in Japan. Other noodles have been made with konjac before, but it has a bitter taste that many consumers don’t care for. However, adding it to the wood pulp noodles improves the taste and texture.
So, you can eat a full portion of Cell-eat noodles, and your stomach is full, but none of the calories contained in the cellulose end up in your system. Omikenshi Co. is betting big on consumers taking an interest in this approach to dieting. The company will spend 1 billion yen on a Cell-eat production facility that will produce 30 tons of the noodles per year when complete.