Asia-Pacific

Japan’s deadly rice cakes spark warnings from authorities

Japanese rice cakes called mochi. Source: AAP

A sticky rice cake has sparked warnings in Japan after it resulted in the death of two men and left several others in hospital during New Year celebrations.

Fifteen people have been hospitalised after eating the Japanese rice treat 'mochi', sparking warnings from authorities to prevent more incidents during New Year's celebrations. 

The Tokyo Fire Department said two men have died from eating the delicacy. They were aged in their 50s and 80s, according to the Kyodo news agency. All of those hospitalised were aged between 55 and 90.

Called mochi, the treat is made from sticky pounded rice that is steamed in a sweet or savoury soup. It can also be grilled and eaten wrapped in dried seaweed with added sweetened soy sauce.

The delicacy can be bought in supermarkets, but many families make their own at neighbourhood events, where residents take turns pounding steamed white rice in a large mortar until it takes on the right sticky consistency.

A choking hazard

The sticky rice cake annually claims the lives of the elderly and children who choke on the glutinous delicacy.

An essential treat during New Year celebrations, the consistency can cause the food item to get stuck in the throat, blocking off the airway.

The size of the treat, much larger than bite-sized and fitting into the palm of the hand also causes problems.

The Tokyo Fire Department issues warnings every year in the lead up to New Year’s celebrations, urging people to cut the delicacy into smaller bite-sized pieces. They then advise people to chew slowly to generate enough saliva to safely consume the treat.

In the past, people have used a less conventional method – featured in the 1985 Japanese comedy film, Tampopo, by director Juzo Itami - where a vacuum cleaner is used to suck the cake out.

 

Japanese authorities posted these instructions online in 2016, advising on how to dislodge mochi.
Japanese authorities posted these instructions online in 2016, advising on how to dislodge mochi.
Supplied

Silent killer claims lives annually

The seasonal killer lands dozens of seniors in emergency rooms every year on January 1.

It is estimated that 90 per cent of hospital admissions involve people aged over 64.

Two people died from eating mochi in 2017, one in 2016, and nine in 2015.

The Tokyo Fire Department has issued its own advice on how to deal with people choking on mochi.
The Tokyo Fire Department has issued its own advice on how to deal with people choking on mochi.
Supplied

The mochi trade association claims the average Japanese eats about one kilogram of mochi a year, mostly during the new year.

Easy to swallow foods introduced to reduce risk 

A market for easy-to-swallow food items has been developed to cater to Japan’s aging population. Called “Engay” foods, the items are processed to reduce the risk of choking. The original item is pureed and combined with a gelling agent to be remoulded into the original look of the food.

Food companies like Fukunao Medical Foods claim that their Engay version of mochi retains the signature starchy taste, without the stickiness.

Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and then molded into shape.
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice pounded into paste and then molded into shape.
Getty

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