Innovation and a New Use for Japanese Tea Plants

Tea seeds. Photo: Courtesy of Den Shirakata.
Tea comes from plants whose seeds contain a high-quality oil. So, the Japanese tea industry looked for a technique to extract oil from seeds of tea plants to develop a tea seed oil similar to camellia oil. Such a product could potentially create new opportunities for tea grown in Japan and appeal to people of different generations. The market for tea seeds would also strengthen the network of tea farmers, and the otherwise-abandoned tea farms could be better utilized to grow this new agricultural product that would contribute to the revitalization of tea producing regions.

A growing number of today's health-conscious consumers prefer olive oil, coconut oil and other natural plant-based oils over animal fats. The industry found, through a composition study, that tea seed oil is rich in vitamin E, oleic acid and other beneficial substances. Tea seed oil is not only delicious but also a healthy oil. Further, tea seed oil has a high moisture retaining property and CoQ10 that affects to your skin. It can be used for cosmetic products as well.

Yet, only a few companies have successfully commercialized such a product. According to several researchers, a tea seed gives up an exceedingly small percent of its weight in oil, resulting in high production costs and requiring an impossible retail price. However, a few Japanese tea companies successfully developed their extraction technique and made either an edible or industrial tea seed oil.

Tea seeds are harvested in October through December, which is outside of the tea harvest season and they are just left on the ground. If tea seeds from tea farmers were purchased at the same price as tea leaves, it would boost their income, prevent tea farms from being abandoned, and protect the beauty of tea fields that attract many visitors to Japan.

Overall, tea seed oil could potentially help bolster the Japanese tea industry.

Den Shirakata has been involved in his family tea business since childhood in Japan. In 2000, he established Den's Tea in California to distribute his authentic Japanese green tea. Shirakata is a licensed tea instructor and well versed in the history, production and health benefits of Japanese tea. In 2018, he won the Minister's Award for Overseas Promotion of Japanese Food from the Japanese Government.