Forget sushi, frushi is the latest trend in Japanese-style cuisine and it’s got foodies posting images of the hybrid treat all over social media. Industry insiders take a look at the potential for produce of this exciting new development and assesses whether it’s a gimmick or a game-changer
Waitrose became the UK’s first supermarket to sell frushi rolls, made with fruit instead of seafood when it launched the product into some 270 stores in July. A four-roll pack sells for £2.35 and each piece has a fruit centre rolled in sushi rice, then coated with toasted desiccated coconut. The pack contains two rolls with melon, pineapple and mango, while the other two have a fresh mint and mango coulis topped with blueberry.
Waitrose’s frushi four-pack
Waitrose buyer Shaun Birrell says: “Our customers love to try the latest foodie trends…Frushi is a delicious on-the-go snack, a great subsitute for dessert or can even be enjoyed for breakfast.”
The retailer is supplied by Taiko Foods, which has become the most innovative producer of sushi in the UK. The west-London company has launched more sushi and food-to-go products than any other UK sushi manufacturer, and is particularly skilled at producing products that other manufacturers believe are too difficult to make. As well as supplying Waitrose, the company also serves Pret a Manager and Costco. Over 1,000 packs of frushi destined for Waitrose, are made every hour by a team of just five people and the business is also responsible for launching an innovative quinoa and black rice vegetable sushi into Waitrose.
Sadly, Taiko is not commenting on its involvement with frushi or Waitrose. However, the two companies have been working together for a long time; Waitrose was the first supermarket to sell sushi in the UK 20 years ago, and now has fresh sushi counters in most of its branches. Sales of pre-packed sushi have risen 10% year on year at Waitrose and the retailer clearly sees frushi as the natural evolution of the concept.
The frushi production effort for Waitrose at Taiko Foods
But is Waitrose ahead of its time? Views as to the potential popularity and scope for this latest way of incorporating fresh fruit into our diets vary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jimmy Pierson, spokesperson for the Vegan Society welcomes the development: “Sushi has always been synonymous with fish so the rise of sushi with vegetables and fruit is a very welcome trend. Vegetarian sushi is regularly in the to-go section of at least one leading supermarket and we expect its competitors will soon follow suit. There also seems to be many more recipes for vegan sushi online. Frushi looks to be a fantastic vegan dessert, great for your health and we hope its popularity continues to grow.”
Meanwhile, Kailan D’Arcy of specialist sushi catering company, Sushi Rolls is less convinced. “The great thing about sushi is its versatility,” he says. “We have lots of clients who choose sushi catering because we can provide vegetarian and even vegan sushi for their guests, alongside the more traditional rolls, without it looking and tasting like an afterthought.
“However, we actually don’t see much demand, if any, for fruit-based sushi. It’s a nice gimmick for small restaurants that want to add something different to their menu, but proper sushi rice, served at the perfect temperature doesn’t really shout ‘combine me with fruit’.”
And even the Asian-inspired, trend-setting, food-to-go chain Itsu is skeptical. “We’ve definitely noticed a steady rise in the amount of vegetarian sushi that’s being brought by customers in our shops,” says a spokesperson. “And as a result, we recently introduced two new vegetarian dishes to our Eat Beautiful menu – The Veggie Box, which contains avocado baby rolls, vegetable club rolls and vegetable gyoza dumplings; and the Sushi Salad. We don’t have any fruit sushi at this point and have no plans to develop any fruit sushi recipes.”
Although Waitrose’s lead means makes this the first time frushi has been stocked in a UK high street supermarket chain, the idea of alternatives to fish-based sushi have been around for some time. It reflects the way in which Japanese cuisine is adapting to Western tastes. The rise in vegetarianism and vegan diets means that more people are looking for fish-free and meat-free products.
Vegetarian versions of sushi are appearing in restaurants and sushi restaurants such as Akasaka in Milton Keynes where the range includes avocado or cucumber with sushi rice. Itadakizen in London is a vegan Japanese restaurant with a menu that includes sushi rolls incorporating seasonable vegetables, seaweed and sesame seeds.
Vegetarian sushi is also increasingly on the curriculum in Japanese cooking schools. Takeru Kurihara of Sozai Cooking School London says: “We have some classes which use only fruit and vegetables and can arrange private or group classes.” And Alex Connell, principal tutor of the Vegetarian Society Cookery School says that vegetarian sushi has been a popular feature on the school’s international cuisine courses for a number of years. “It always impresses dinner guests but is quite simple to make,” says Connell. “Contrary to popular belief, the word ‘sushi’ actually refers to rice with vinegar, so the dish is often vegetarian. It’s not only a light and tasty dish, but also a healthy one. We’ve yet to integrate fruit sushi into our courses, but we may do so in future.”
Forward-thinking restaurateur Alice Gilsenan co-founder of Tiny Leaf restaurants already sees a future for frushi. “At Tiny Leaf we love to pioneer new food trends,” she says, “fruit and vegetable sushi is something that is very much on our radar and something we are actively considering as part of our menu design (which will potentially feature cauliflower/parsnip rice). We love the fact that consumers are now seeing fruit and vegetables in a whole new light and are thinking creatively about how we can consume it. We hope to incorporate this at our new site in Borough [south London].”
If the UK looks like it might be slow on the uptake, the same is not true elsewhere. Apart from the fact that recipes for frushi or vegetable sushi abound on the internet, frushi was part of the foodservice offer at this year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, at Walt Disney World in the US and there are several US frushi restaurants such as the Orange Restaurant in Chicago. Typical offerings at the Orange Restaurant include a nigiri-shaped coconut rice with green apple, and a makri-shaped watermelon rice with strawberries. While in Spain, yet another variation is Frushi Samba, a restaurant in Madrid offering a fusion of frushi/sushi and Brazilian tastes.