Monday, July 22, 2013

Nittou Relay Plum Kombu Soup/Tea with Red Pepper

Sorry for the big label residue. There was an English label that was stubborn about being torn off.

There's an old SNL commercial spoof in which a couple argue over whether or not a product, Shimmer, is a floor wax or a dessert topping. Someone appears to be similarly confused about this packet of powdered foodstuff. It's referred to both as a soup and as a tea. The manufacturer's press information says that it has ume (plum) tea to refresh, but the package calls it "soup".

This actually raises a question that I've had come up recently in another context. It's the sort of question that only someone who reviews food for fun (not really "for a living", as the only living I could make would be sleeping over sewer grates and begging for pennies in front of Peet's Coffee based on my blogging income). That question is, "what makes "tea" tea?" This comes up because I have been sampling Numi's savory tea for review and those flavors include tomato mint, carrot curry, and broccoli cilantro. The Numi includes actual tea leaves as well as dehydrated vegetables, and, it's frankly, dreadful, but clearly there is no doubt that it can call itself a "tea". It may be horrible to drink, but there's no identity crisis to complicate the discussion.

This product is different because it includes no actual tea leaves. It has powdered kelp, red pepper, salt, sugar, plum, labiate leaf, MSG, citric acid, and labiate flavor. Techically, I guess this is a tisane, but it's not like we call anything which does not include tea leaves a tisane. Much herbal tea does not contain tea leaves, but nobody will call it anything but "tea".

So, semantics aside, let's get to this product. And, incidentally, it's actually soup, not tea of any sort. It looks like a soup, tastes like a soup, and has the savory properties of soup (Numi savory tea be damned!). What is more, it's a very tasty, low calorie soup which I wish I could pick up regularly at any old American market. 

The preparation method is to take 1/2 cup of hot water and then stir the powder into it. This produces something like looks like water from your fish tank that has not been cleaned for far too long. After stirring, the cloudy bits of kombu (kelp) move around the glass like a murky lava lamp. Mind you, I generally don't make my soup in a clear drinking glass, but did so to get a picture for my readers. I wouldn't recommend doing this in anything which doesn't have a handle unless you want to burn your fingers.

The soup mainly smells like the plum. When I say "plum", don't think of American sweet plums, but Japanese umeboshi (pickled plum). It lends a piquant acidic flavor that is the first thing that hits your tongue when you taste the soup. This is quickly followed up by the red pepper, which is just hot enough to add spice and heat the back of your throat, but not burn a hole through your tongue. The balance of these two major elements is perfect. I couldn't taste the kelp at all. I'm sure it was there adding flavor depth to a limited extent, but it was pretty overwhelmed by the plum, pepper, and salt. In fact, salt is the first ingredient.

For the serving size, this is pretty salty, unsurprisingly. A 2-gram packet provides 360 mg. of sodium. Even though sugar is an ingredient (the second one), this is listed as having zero calories. I'm guessing it's one of those deals where there are few enough calories per serving that they don't have to measure them. If you're on a diet which allows lots of salt, this makes for a pretty handy option when you're craving salty food or, as the package suggests, might want to spice up your pasta or rice. You can stir a packet into pasta or dump the soup over rice for a tasty variation.

I bought this at Daiso Japan for $1.50. There are 7 packets so that's a pretty reasonable price per serving. I would warn anyone who decides to try this not only that it is salty, but also spicy in a way which may not suit just everyone. If you're a fan of umeboshi and don't mind a little heat though, I think this is absolutely worth a try.

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