Tiramisu is one of those deliciously decadent treats you just can’t resist sometimes. Its coffee or espresso-infused sponge cake sandwiched between layers of creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with cream and cocoa flakes make it highly irrrestible to just about anyone. Its espresso or coffee flavor appeals to all of us coffee lovers in particular! Over the past four and a half decades since its birth in its home country of Italy, it has created a few booms in the countries which it has taken root, such as in the USA during the 1980s. But no country has experienced a tiramisu boom like the one Japan experienced in 1990 and 1991. Nor has tiramisu become a huge fashion phenomenon in any other country like it became in Japan during this time.
The Gurume Movement During the 1980s
If you considered yourself a trendy person and/or one of the Japanese nouveau riche living in Japan during the 1980s and early 1990s, chances were good that you were eating pricey European meals at one of the many posh Western-style restaurants that popped up across the country during this time. That is, the period of time when Japan was the world’s second largest economy and wallets were growing fatter by the day. During the ’80s, more people than ever before were enjoying the finer things in life in Japan…..and in particular, the finer things that came from beyond Japan’s shores.
One of those indulgences was fine foods. With all the extra money they had to spend, the Japanese public was eager to try new and exotic foods that they either never heard of before, or they could only dream of tasting before now. Thus, out of Japan’s economic boom, the “gurume [gourmet – グルメ] movement” was born.
Scores of French, Italian, and other European-style restaurants opened up in virtually every city across the country. Cooking shows exposed viewers to exquisite foreign dishes. Culinary art classes teaching the art of Western cooking proved to be very popular with the public. The genre of gourmet manga (グルメ漫画) came about as a result of the gurume movement and even some cooking video games proved to be big hits during the late 1980s and 1990s. Many of the gourmet manga series are still alive and popular today.
By the end of the 1980s, the public was very infatuated with European cooking in more ways than one, and they were interested in Italian cuisine in particular.
Tiramisu Before 1990
Prior to the boom of the early 1990s, tiramisu had actually been a dessert that was at least a little popular in some Italian and other Western-style restaurants across Japan. Also, many employees of the major Japanese corporations who were working abroad in Europe and the USA tried tiramisu at the local restaurants in their host countries and immediately fell in love with it.
The Creation of Masukapone
In 1988, Fuji Oil developed a mascarpone substitute called “Masukapone” which was vegetable-based and was created using various emulsification and fermentation technologies. Unlike genuine mascarpone, which had to be imported from Italy, was often expensive for restaurants and bakeries to use on a daily basis, and tends to expire quickly, Masukapone had a shelf life of 60 days and was much cheaper. When the Tiramisu Boom began two years later, Masukapone helped businesses cope with the swelling tide of diners who wanted tiramisu. Or at least helped them cope somewhat……
The Birth of the Tiramisu Boom
It was in the midst of the ’80s Gurume Movement and the Itameshi (Italian) cuisine “sub-boom” it sparked that Japan’s “Tiramisu Boom” of 1990-1991 had its roots. Not to mention America’s ’80s tiramisu boom, which also played a large role in helping the Japanese public take notice of this decadent treat from Italy!