“Nabe Cube”

How technology transformed one of Japan’s favorite winter dishes

Bringing new value to everyday cuisine and new enjoyment to life

At Ajinomoto, we are committed to enhancing the enjoyment of everyday life through flavor. Seasonings are the mainstay of our business. We start by examining the needs and wants of our customers as well as their dietary habits.

Our research has led to a host of new ideas for seasonings, including one that changed our entire R&D environment. The basic concept was to create a small cube that would contain all of the necessary broth ingredients for nabe, the traditional Japanese hotpot made up of broth and a variety of fresh vegetables, fish, and meats. This simple idea generated immediate interest.

A complete broth in a single serving

When we conducted market research surveys, reactions to the cube concept were unexpectedly positive, with people calling it “convenient” and “a great help.” At that time, nabe seasonings were available primarily as bottled concentrates or ready-to-use broths packed in three or four serving-size pouches. Pouches were inconvenient, as they had to be used all at once. From the outset, therefore, our development team’s concept was a small, single-serving cube of nabe broth ingredients, reflecting the trend toward individualization and diversification in eating styles. To make the cube, the team initially hoped to adapt the solid-cube production technology used for Ajinomoto KK consommé cubes, an established market leader.

The evolution of Ajinomoto’s convenient, delicious broth cubes

The tradition of nabe cuisine is to savor a delicious amalgamation of flavors in a single dish. The “Nabe Cube” posed a serious challenge. Many different ingredients are necessary to create the rich and complex flavor. If the broth was simply condensed and solidified into a small cube, it tended to crumble. If additives were included to maintain its shape, the cube was difficult to dissolve. To pack the broth’s flavor complex into a cube, the development team had to do three difficult things: (1) use ingredients that provide strong, deep flavor and excellent aftertaste; (2) achieve pre-granulation fluidity and shape retention; and (3) ensure swift dissolution during cooking.

01. Enjoyment that deepens and lingers

The goal was to transform a delicious nabe broth—inherently liquid—into a solid and compact form. To achieve this, each ingredient had to maintain a high degree of functionality. The development team tested a new soup stock—then under development—that strongly enhanced flavor even when added in small quantities. By combining this stock with ingredients that provided deep body and a rich flavor complex, they were able to create a broth with a savory flavor that began the instant it entered the mouth, grew rapidly through the robust taste of its selected extracts, then lingered and matured until the broth was swallowed.

Time and taste perception: In this graph, the horizontal axis represents the passage of time from the moment the broth enters the mouth through to the aftertaste.

02. Soft before cubing, strong after cubing

Originality in ingredients, composition, and production process

To ensure the cube’s contents are evenly dispersed, each ingredient had to have a degree of fluidity as a powder. On the other hand, the cube needed to retain its shape and resist crumbling throughout the stages of handling and distribution. In order to resolve these conflicting production requirements, the development team established a new process control technology.

03. Internally induced disintegration, enhanced dissolution

Strong, stable cube solidification contributes to the problem of slow dissolution. To overcome this challenge, Ajinomoto employed a new technology that creates a foaming reaction when the cube is brought into contact with water, followed quickly by cube disintegration from within as the water heats up. The end result is the rapidly initiated, uniform dissolution of the “Nabe Cube”.

The "Nabe Cube" — concentrated value to make your meals smarter

“Nabe Cube” has made life easier for cooks. It is lighter in the shopping bag at 7.3g* compared to liquid broths that weigh about 180g per serving. The single-serving cube format makes it simple to prepare broth for any occasion, whether dining alone or serving a large gathering. In these ways and many more, the “Nabe Cube” enhances people’s lives. Our greatest reward is our customers’ satisfaction and enjoyment—which encourages further innovation.

How will food preparation and consumer tastes change in the coming decade? What will people really need? At Ajinomoto, we strive to create new value products that will become an intrinsic part of food cultures around the world.