A threat to Coca-Cola? Japan sips the eel thing

Forget cola, lemonade or beer – Japanese people sweltering in the summer heat now have a new canned drink to quench their thirst – made out of eels.

The fishy drink Unagi Nobori – which translates as "Surging Eel" – contains eel extract and vitamins found in the fish. The fizzy yellow liquid is believed to be the first mass-produced drink of its kind made in the country.

The launch of the drink this month coincides with the start of Japan's annual eel-eating season, which peaks this year on 5 August. Many locals believe the fish boost energy during the summer's hot and humid conditions.

Kazunori Hayashi, spokesman for Japan Tobacco Inc, the makers of the drink, said it is "mainly for men who are exhausted by the summer's heat".

The beverage has a similar taste to broiled eels, a popular form of the summer delicacy. The drink sells at about 140 yen (65p).

Such is the popularity of eels that every year the Japanese newspapers are full of stories of "eel fraud". Desperate suppliers – eager to capitalise on the delicacy's demand – are often found breaking rules over food labelling. Already this year there have been four cases of companies trying to pass off foreign eels as grown in Japan.

The most recent case came at the end of June, when a government ministry reprimanded two companies for mislabelling Chinese-bred eel as grown in Japan. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries partly blamed the fact that companies are desperate to get rid of their stock from China. The safety of Chinese food was brought into question in January when imported dumplings laced with pesticide caused 10 Japanese people to fall ill.

Unagi Nobori isn't the only drink with an unusual flavour to be sold in Japan. Last year – for one summer only – you could buy Pepsi Ice Cucumber, concocted to taste like the cool green vegetable. Not to be outdone, Coca-Cola also has its own vegetable-based soft drink – Water Salad.

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