Chicken Breast Named Japan's "Dish of the Year"

Low-fat, protein-rich chicken breast was this year's most popular choice. Gurunavi Research Institute's annual Web survey names the food or drink that most reflects current eating trends. It says an increasing number of people are choosing chicken breast as they become more health conscious.

The Institute has been handing out the award annually since 2014. The winner for that year was dishes featuring game meat. For 2015, it was "oni-girazu" -- rice balls shaped like sandwiches to display the fillings. Last year, the award went to dishes with coriander. The Institute says the decision is based on a range of factors, including the number of online searches and online surveys.

Kundo Koyama is a TV scriptwriter who helped to choose this year's winner. He points out an increasing number of people are appreciating food that's healthy. Koyama says people also like the fact that chicken breast doesn't take long to prepare.

Young people in particular are big consumers of pre-cooked breast meat. It's a big hit at a major convenience store chain. It says sales of pre-cooked chicken breast are up 50 percent from last year. It sells the product in a range of flavors and sizes, and is looking to increase its variety.

Masaru Sato, a representative of Amatake -- where sales of the product have quadrupled over the past 5 years -- says it's versatile and healthy.

A restaurant in Tokyo is also finding that many customers are opting for the low-fat, high-protein dishes featuring chicken breast. It has a power-food menu for people who want to stay in shape. One of the customers raves about the dishes. She says it's easy to overload on calories when eating out, but she doesn't feel guilty about eating breast meat.

Professional wrestler and celebrity Reika Saiki is a big fan of pre-cooked breast meat. She boasts about her muscles and energy levels. Saiki says she goes through 2 or 3 packets of the product in a day, and says it's great that a single portion provides 23 grams of protein and only 1.6 grams of fat.

A major factor for the popularity of breast meat is that it can be turned into a range of quick and easy dishes. Dishes featuring breast meat appear on many recipe websites. A woman who uses breast meat almost daily says she often prepares a week's worth -- about a kilogram -- and stores it in the fridge. She says she's a big fan because it goes with anything and is easy to use.

One of her dishes takes only 10 minutes to prepare, and is ideal for weekdays. She seasons the meat with a soy sauce-based dressing, adds some vegetables and cheese, and grills it in the oven toaster.

Popularity of chicken breast boosts production and imports

Chicken consumption in Japan has grown thanks mainly to the popularity of breast meat. The country produced and imported more chicken this year. Domestic output from April to September rose 1.6 percent from a year ago to 769,000 tons. Imports climbed 6.2 percent to 293,000 tons.

Major trading houses and food makers are trying to increase their imports, as they expect demand for chicken to keep rising.

In October, Sumitomo Corporation began importing chicken from Turkey.

NH Foods, also known as Nipponham, plans to invest about US$80 million in chicken processing firms in Thailand by the end of March.

The survey outcome delights the chicken industry

Yoshio Kitano, an executive at a livestock processing firm in southwestern Japan, says his firm started producing local chicken in July. He says he's very happy chicken breast was chosen as Japan's Dish of the Year.

He believes it will remain popular as health trends continue, and plans to boost output to meet growing demand.

Minoru Sato, who heads an association of chicken producers, processors and retailers, says chicken breast used to be relatively unpopular. He says he's really glad many people are now choosing it.

He says his association will develop new recipes and take other measures to make sure that chicken breast remains popular.

Gurunavi Research Institute conducted the annual web survey. Marika Mimura from the institute says the choice of the nominees shows people are paying close attention to their health. She says she believes they will become even more health-conscious in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.