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Catering for the Elderly

Japanese society is aging, increasing the demand for certain types of food. Analysts estimate the market for nursing-care foods is worth 800 million dollars. NHK WORLD's Daisuke Azuma has a look at some of the newest products, which are developed as much for their appearance as for their taste.

The recent Medi-Care Foods Expo featured meals that are served in hospitals and care facilities. Surprisingly, they include dishes such as shrimp with chili sauce and grilled ginger pork with miso soup. Many exhibitors have developed products that look like normal meals in an effort to increase their market share.

One company uses a special process that makes the food suitable for the elderly. First, food is mixed in a blender, together with the powdered nutritional supplements. The paste is then heated, and formed into the shape of the original meal. And then it's cooled.

"We want to encourage the elderly to eat more," says Shoko Yokoyama, explaining the company's overall plan. "That's why we think it is necessary for the meals to look real. We also believe in making food that is safe for the elderly to eat without the risk of choking."

Another company creates soft food without the need for mixing. A key factor is enzymes, which are added to the freezing process to soften ingredients such as hard bamboo shoots.

The company has promoted its food at some 2,000 facilities across the country. It hopes consumers will also get to like it, and it will catch on for home use. "People with difficulty in chewing believe they can never eat lotus root again," says Fukuko Kinoshita, a registered dietician at a nursing home. "But they're wrong." Manabu Takakura, the manager of Medical Food Service, says the company plans to improve business by introducing its products to nursing care specialists and staff.

Restaurants and hotels are also seeing a business chance in creating soft meals. The French-inspired menu at this tasting party at a Tokyo hotel was colorful and elegant. The guests included food professionals and representatives of the aged-care industry.

Executive Chef Masahiro Ishihara uses the products to make dishes for the elderly. The meals allow even people with difficulty swallowing to eat out with their families. And the best thing is the dishes do not seem like nursing-care food at all, according to Ishihara. "The time has almost come when elderly people can eat at restaurants without worrying," he says.

With the graying of Japanese society, food makers are trying hard to develop new products to satisfy senior needs.

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