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Central Japan metalwork region hopes new iron ice cream will be a solid hit

Iron ice cream with pitch-black iron powder on top is seen in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, in June 2021. (Mainichi/Honoka Uchida)

SANJO, Niigata -- In a central Japan region full of metal processing plants, a newly developed ice cream made with iron has become a magnet of attention.

    While the number of tourists in the Tsubame-Sanjo region of Niigata Prefecture has been drastically decreasing due to the coronavirus pandemic, local companies and students collaborated to produce "iron ice cream" in order to revitalize the area. The sweet treat is characterized by its taste with a hint of iron and its texture.

    It was planned by ChillFull, the food brand division of Plusys Co. based in the city of Sanjo, which sells agricultural supplies and construction materials. The Tsubame-Sanjo factory festival, which is held every October, was taken online in 2020 in response to the pandemic. According to the cities of Tsubame and Sanjo, which make up the region, the number of tourists dropped from about 3.15 million in 2019 to 1.85 million in 2020.

    Yasuyuki Sakuma, who supervised the flavor of iron ice cream, is seen in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, in June 2021. (Mainichi/Honoka Uchida)

    Satoshi Haga, 43, director of ChillFull, started developing the ice cream in January 2021 with Niigata University students and others. The flavor was supervised by Yasuyuki Sakuma, 38, the only gelato maestro in the prefecture, who runs Gelateria Coco in Sanjo. At first, Sakuma was skeptical, thinking, "It won't taste good." However, after about 10 trials a day and about three months of development, it was finally ready.

    The icy delight comes in a cup and is milk flavored with a hint of iron. The milk-based ice cream is topped with a black powder made by mixing iron powder using iron supplements and bamboo charcoal at a ratio of 20 to 1. The ice cream was made with milk from the prefecture, and the amount of milk and water was adjusted to achieve a firm texture.

    Sakuma said, "If you look at ice cream as iron and eat it by tapping it with a spoon, you can associate it with a scene where iron is being cast, and you can enjoy an 'eating tour of a factory.'"

    The package was designed by Masanori Shimada, a native of the city of Tsubame and a member of the creator unit 401. The nail clippers, nippers, cutlery and other items depicted on the package were inspired by metalwork at factories in the Tsubame-Sanjo area.

    Iron ice cream, priced at 400 yen (including tax) per cup, is sold at "Tadaima-to" in Sanjo, a direct sales shop for agricultural products run by JA Niigata Nankan, and since June 30, both Tsubame and Sanjo cities have added it to their gifts for "hometown tax" donations.

    Haga encourages people to come to Tsubame-Sanjo to eat iron ice cream as soon as the coronavirus is under control.

    For inquiries, please contact Gelateria Coco by phone at 0256-45-5780 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Honoka Uchida, Niigata Bureau)

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