Getting to the Yakult factory was quite a tour. For me, this was a two and a half hour route from home to the factory. Now, if you’re staying in Amsterdam I guess it would be only one hour. The factory itself is very recognizable as there is a big Yakult bottle outside and of course a sign outside.
The tour group was gathered in a special room designed for a big group of visitors. I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and wondered how all these people decided to go to a factory tour of Yakult. Most of them weren’t specifically interested in food. To them, this was just an interesting outing since it was a children’s holiday.
The woman who was going to give us the tour started with a history lesson. Apparently, archeologists have found remains from 6000BC that prove products were already fermented back then. Much later, in 1674, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope to study his fabric better (he was a fabric merchant). With the use of his microscope, he discovered bacteria. In 1862 pasteurization was invented by Louis Pasteur. Pasteurization increases the shelf life of products without changing the flavor as much as sterilization.
Joseph Lister discovered competition between bacteria. If the good bacteria thrive the bad bacteria stand no chance. However, if the environment has a place for more bacteria, all bacteria will try to get it. Elie Metchnikoff researched the health benefits of lactic acid bacteria (like in fresh yogurt). He suspected the relationship between health and lactic acid bacteria after studying a group of nomads in Bulgaria. Dr. Minoru Shirota used this research and took it further to isolate bacteria that can survive the stomach. He succeeded in 1930 and started making and selling Yakult in 1935. He decided on the name Yakult because he wanted the drink for everybody. Yakult is supposedly the word dairy in Esperanto, adapted so Japanese can pronounce the word.
After the history lesson, we all got to drink a bottle of Yakult. I chose the green option, which has added fiber and vitamins. In Europe Yakult only has three products: Original (red), Light (blue) and Plus (green). In Asia Yakult also makes cosmetics, medicine, and food.
The lady asked if we wanted to know more about the management or about bacteria. The entire audience wanted to hear more about bacteria, luckily, because I like bacteria. So she started with some fun facts, like did you know you have more bacteria in your mouth than there are people in the world? This was also the time for everyone to start asking questions. I went to the tour with a friend who had a lot of questions, a bit more technical then everyone expected. Luckily the woman was able to answer everything.
Now we finally got to see the factory and lab. We weren’t allowed to really go inside, and we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the factory. The factory is really basically a lot of tanks. Which makes sense, they need fermentation tanks and mixing tanks and cooking tanks. This also means that there really isn’t that much to see. The story we got in front of the lab was cooler. They get the strain from Japan. The original culture is kept there to guarantee the same strain is used. The culture is started in a sterile lab to prevent contamination. Then when the bacteria have grown enough they go to a bigger tank and then the final step is the big production.
Because my friend asked so many questions and we took so many pictures the woman asked us why we came here. She was surprised by the technical questions and was not used to any of that. After explaining that we both had studied food technology she was a bit more relaxed. We walked around for a bit and looked at the packing of the products.
We all got a goodie bag to take home. The goodie bag was a cooling bag and included the three products they have on the market. So I’ll be drinking Yakult every day for the next three weeks.
I also used the Yakult to attempt to make my own probiotics, you can read about that experiment here.