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'Vinegar oozing' creepy-crawly potato chips a crisp hit in west Japan

Aya Sumiura is seen with her "Vinegaroon Chips" on Aug. 26, in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima Prefecture. (Mainichi/Hideho Furihata)

SATSUMASENDAI, Kagoshima -- The whip scorpion, an arachnid (though not, in fact, a scorpion) which when threatened protects itself by emitting a liquid with a vinegar-like smell, has long been treated as a pest on the Koshiki Islands in this city in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwest Japan.

But from August, it has become the face of a new brand of potato chips, "Vinegaroon Chips," which are being sold on the islands in a limited run of 300 bags. They're close to selling out just a month after hitting stands.

They have a unique acidic taste created by the mixture of acetic and citric acids, along with a "scary spice." There are high hopes the chips could become a new famous feature for the islands.

The whip scorpion measures about 4 centimeters long, and when attacked it releases an acetic acid spray that smells like vinegar, which has earned it its other name of "vinegaroon." In nearby Kumamoto Prefecture, which is believed to be the northern limit of the arachnids' habitat, they are designated natural monuments.

The plan to turn them into a marketable product came from Aya Sumiura, 29, a member of the islands' regional revitalization cooperative group. She did her postgraduate studies at Tokyo University of the Arts, where she majored in sculpture.

She was first captivated by the creatures' strong resemblance to actual scorpions, for which they get the name. She thought there must be some way they could be turned into a draw for the area, and came up with the idea for "Vinegaroon Chips," engaging local food processing firm Atus Foods to manufacture them.

The final product comes in bags of 100 grams, and retails at 540 yen. Along with the distinctive acidic flavor, the highly realistic drawing of a vinegaroon by illustrator Kenro Shinchi, who lives on the islands, gives it some extra impact.

Sumiura said, "Although people were clearly divided between those who like it and those who hate it, some of them have told me it's good with a drink and even in a salad." She is looking into having the chips made again.

From Oct. 9 to 11 the products will be available at the Kasumi marche food fair at the Kasumigaseki Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. She says there are even ideas to sell figurines of the creepy-crawlies.

Taku Tsukada, 51, of the Kagoshima society for bug lovers, said of the products, "It has impact in its eccentricity, and an interesting flavor too." On his hopes for future products that could be developed with whip scorpions, he said, "If you heat it up, the acidic taste goes. I think it's delicious."

(Japanese original by Hideho Furihata, Satsumasendai Local Bureau)

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