Photo/Illutration This system made by Yatsurugigiken Inc. in Chino, Nagano Prefecture, assesses buckwheat flour’s taste, aroma and freshness. (Takunori Yasuda)

CHINO, Nagano Prefecture--A “world-first” analyzer was developed in this prefecture, noted for its “soba” production, to estimate the tastiness of the buckwheat noodles within seconds.

Jig-and-tool maker Yatsurugigiken Inc. here and Shinshu University’s Faculty of Agriculture, also in Nagano Prefecture, joined forces to create the machine. They expect restaurant operators, millers, agricultural cooperatives and other such parties will be interested in the device.

“Millers have relied on skilled workers’ insights for flavor assessment, but I wanted to evaluate soba’s flavor in numerical form and show the noodle’s quality in an objective fashion,” said Naoya Shimizu, president of Yatsurugigiken.

It is difficult to estimate the flavor of soba noodles because their aroma and taste can be affected by how they are boiled.

Because of this, engineers from Yatsurugigiken and Shinshu University used objective data to calculate savory levels for soba’s main ingredient: buckwheat flour.

By applying ultraviolet LED-induced fluorescence to around 2 grams of buckwheat flour, they could determine flavor index levels for phospholipids, proteins and other substances within several seconds.

The equipment shows its assessments in four categories, including aroma and color, on a scale of 1 to 100.

Shimizu said he was excited about the device, which he called the first of its kind in the world.
But he did acknowledge that taste preferences vary among consumers.

Yatsurugigiken makes to-order jigs required for the high-precision manufacturing of metallic objects at a small factory with 24 staff members. It also produces devices to improve productivity and save power at factories.

The company started working with Shinshu University seven years ago with an eye on creating its own original item.

Yatsurugigiken initially tried to develop a machine that could sort out buckwheat seeds based on their quality, but the plan was dropped because of difficulties in making such equipment commercially available.

The goal was changed to analyzing the flavor of buckwheat flour, and the developers gained a patent for the method in June.

They will gather information from repeated rounds of sensory tests to make clear the correlation between their measured values and how highly people rate the taste of the soba.

Buckwheat, a crop often cultivated in fallow rice paddies as a substitute for rice, carries a relatively low price in the market, Shimizu said.

“Showing objective values will help rectify soba’s price, which differs among producing areas,” he said. “That will provide encouragement for farmers plagued by cheaper market prices and lead to an improved value of soba.”