Raw horsemeat the secret to Nagano's No. 1 longevity?
Last month, the most recent demographic statistics (for 2010), were released by the government. For both males and females, the longest-lived people in Japan hailed from Nagano Prefecture.
For males, Nagano (with average life expectancy of 80.88 years) was followed by Shiga (80.58 years), Fukui (80.47), Kumamoto (80.29) and Kanagawa (80.25). For females, Nagano was followed by Shimane (87.07 years), Okinawa (87.02), Kumamoto (86.98) and Niigata (86.96).
As Nagano people are well known for consumption of horsemeat, both raw and cooked, Shukan Shincho (Mar 14) raises the question of how diet might figure into the longevity of its populace.
“The prefecture’s mortality rate has been improved through campaigns promoting reduction of salt intake and eating more vegetables,” says Hiroshi Shibata, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Human Arts and Sciences in Saitama. He points out that Nagano’s daily consumption of vegetables, at 379 grams, is considerably higher than the national average of 301 grams. But he also concedes that the prefecture’s residents, from ancient times, obtained animal protein from diversified sources, including locusts and other insects. And of course horsemeat.
According to Keizo Sawai, head of the Japan Horsemeat Association, Japanese consumed 7,461 tons of horsemeat last year, with Kumamoto Prefecture ranked first in consumption followed by Nagano. These two combined for 2,238 tons, accounting for around 30% of Japan’s total consumption. But while much of Kumamoto’s horsemeat is consumed by tourists who carry it out of the prefecture in the form of souvenirs, in Nagano it’s widely prepared in homes as well as in specialty restaurants.
Geographically, Nagano is divided into three sections called Hokushin, Chushin (centered on Matsumoto City) and Nanshin (centered on Ina City). Horsemeat is consumed mostly in the latter two.
“In our area, when people aged 50 and over eat sukiyaki, it’s taken to mean horsemeat and not beef,” says Eiji Fukuzawa, proprietor of Echigoya in Ina City. “Horsemeat is not something special; from long ago people ate it raw, as steak or ‘otaguri,’ a stew containing internal organs, and also used as an ingredient in ‘kimpira gobo’ (a dish featuring sliced burdock and carrots).
“The meat sells for 400 to 500 yen per 100 grams, making it cheaper than beef. It was even cheaper in the past, but the prices have risen since Korean restaurants started using it more for ‘yukke’ (Tatar steak).”
The reason for Korean restaurants’ change from beef to horse, Shukan Shincho explains, is that e-coli contamination is less of a problem for horsemeat, making it exempt from new restrictions on consumption of raw meat. Generally the meat is frozen at minus 20 degrees Centigrade for 48 hours to kill any parasites.
“Around the early part of the Showa era (from the late 1920s), Ina was a post station where farmers would come to sell draft animals,” says Fukuzawa. “From around this time, animals that could no longer work the fields were sold off for their meat. When my grandfather’s generation started up that business, more people realized that horse meat was a rich source of protein.”
However, it was not until after the end of the Pacific War that horse became popularized in ordinary households.
“During periods of food shortages, horsemeat for sukiyaki was cheaper and easier to obtain than beef or pork,” says Fukuzawa. “I heard that ‘basashi’ (raw horsemeat) also became more popular from that time. Perhaps it’s because people in Nagano, which has no seacoast, use horse as a substitute for raw fish.”
“Horse has one-third the calories of beef and half that of pork,” says the Horsemeat Association’s Sawai. “And its fat is no more than one-eight that of either beef or pork. So it’s a healthy food that’s high in protein with low calories.”
What’s more, horsemeat is rich in Linoleic Acid, which helps to reduce cholesterol, leading to fewer strokes.
As existing data proving the benefits of horsemeat is limited, a member of the prefecture’s Department of Health and Longevity tells the magazine more research is being considered on dietary factors in the next 5-year plan for general health, which will commence from April.