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Turn the page and pass the salt . . .Japan develops books to be gobbled

Eaten any good books lately? The question is not as silly as it may sound, as a leading Japanese biochemical firm has developed a space-age food that looks like strips of paper and may be sold in book form.

Hayashibara Company says that in the future you won't have to consult a cookbook for the family evening meal, but simply may be able to serve a few pages from it.

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A pack of edible paper about the size of a good novel would keep you alive for at least six months, claims biochemist Naoto Ogimoto. He has helped develop several flavors already, including coffee, spinach, curry, garlic, and saccharin. The most likely form will be laminated folders of thin sheets looking like colored cellophane.

''You simply peel off a page of curry and eat it. There is no cooking involved,'' Ogimoto says. A sampling by this reporter revealed that the product melts easily in the mouth, and was quite filling. But it does not seem like something you could find appealing unless absolutely starving. It tastes just like you would expect cold curry or day-old coffee to taste.

This culinary breakthrough is based on pullulan, a starch-based polysaccharide which has been around for at least 10 years as a chemical base for a number of products including film and medicines. It is a white powder without taste or smell that dissolves easily in water. The powdered food is mixed with the compound, which is then dried and processed into thin pages of instant meals.

''The sheets will keep for ages,'' says Ogimoto. ''They are light and easy to carry and so would be ideal as emergency rations or for soldiers and campers. . . .''

One drawback at present is the high cost of almost $2 a sheet, but mass production is expected to make it more economical. The product will not be commercially available until nutrition tests have been carried out to meet Japanese and US government requirements.

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