Video: Japan Created Easy-To-Swallow Foods To Prevent Senior Choking Deaths : Parallels In NPR's Elise Tries series, correspondent Elise Hu tries out different experiences in East Asia. In rapidly aging Japan, an edible innovation is helping seniors enjoy meals without fear of choking.

Video: Japan Created Easy-To-Swallow Foods To Prevent Senior Choking Deaths

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Here's a crazy statistic. As Japanese society ages, more people are dying from choking deaths than traffic accidents. The problem has led to a whole new line of food designed to prevent choking. As part of her series Elise Tries, NPR's Elise Hu took a taste test.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: We are going to try out specialized food for senior citizens or, as the slogan reads, bringing continued pleasure of eating until the last breath.

This new line of food is called Engay, which means swallow in Japanese. Nearly 10,000 Japanese die from choking each year, most of them elderly. Hearing and speech professor Isamu Shibamoto has been studying the trends.

ISAMU SHIBAMOTO: (Through interpreter) We are very much surprised at the speed that it has reached this level.

HU: Purees that look like baby food aren't appetizing. So here's where the innovation comes in. An original dish, say grilled salmon, is pureed, then a jelling agent is added to the mix. Once it becomes harder and easier to mold, that gelatinous salmon puree is molded like Play-Doh until it looks like the original food. I had to give this a try.

Here we go. Note - I am not chewing. I'm just breaking this down with my tongue. It tastes like - it tastes like salmon. It tastes like salmon. To prevent choking on liquids, the powdered jelling agent thickens beverages of any kind within a few seconds. In this demo, we tried a thickened juice.

This isn't as syrupy as I expected it would be. It's as if orange juice had a bunch of cornstarch in it.

While these food products aren't as delicious as their original versions, they have an added benefit for a rapidly aging Japan. They're specially designed not to accidentally kill you. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.


MARTIN: To see this easy-to-swallow food for yourself - and I know you want to - check out the video at


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