From recess treats to soju mixers, Yakult has been our loyal companion through the years. It’s refreshingly sweet and tantalisingly tangy – and tbh, 1 is never enough. But not all Yakult chuggers know of the giant effort that is poured into each palm-sized bottle.
Thankfully, Yakult Factory Singapore’s free tours are back from their 2-year Covid-19 hiatus, which means we can finally get the inside scoop on how they are made.
For more exclusive behind-the-scenes:
The term “bacteria” is often filed under “dirty” or “unhygienic” in our mental dictionaries. However, like most things in life, there are good ones and bad ones. Of course, Yakult uses one of the good bacteria that aids in digestion and intestinal health for its cultured milk drink that we know and love.
The Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS) strain, AKA Yakult’s good bacteria, which was also discovered by and made exclusive to the company, is able to cruise through gastric juice and bile to reach our intestines while stayin’ alive. And that’s 10 billion of them per bottle, keeping it real in your gut.
If that’s hard to visualise, look to Yakult Man for some clarity. The cape-wearing bottle is Yakult’s newest mascot, who is a self proclaimed “Friend of the Tummy” and “Defender of the Peace”. He even has his own mini-series where he answers FAQs in the most adorable and hilarious of skits.
Yakult is also sold worldwide and in different bottle sizes. For instance, it’s 65ml in Japan and India, and 80ml in South Korea and Malaysia. In perhaps what is an unexpected twist, it’s Singapore that has the largest size – 100ml of pure pride.
And for those who are still unsatisfied with the amount, Yakult explains that each bottle is designed with a capacity that allows for easy everyday drinking. But then again, there’s no limit – and no judgement – to how many bottles you can drink in a day.
First, milk powder is dissolved in 55°C of water before being transferred into a culture tank. There, it is cooled and introduced to a LcS culture starter that will grow until it reaches an ideal concentration. At this stage, the solution has a curd-like texture and a funky smell.
The seed room where LcS starter bacteria are cultivated.
Alas, syrup is added to offset the sourness in the storage tank, which can hold up to 360,000 bottles’ worth of Yakult at a time. After chilling in 5°C for a while, the concentrated curds are then sent to the mixing tank where they are diluted, coloured, and flavoured.
In the quality control lab, each Yakult flavour is taste-tested to ensure that they are of the same quality, yesterday, today, and perhaps forevermore. If you didn’t already know, Yakult flavours come in grape, apple, orange, and original, and have long been a subject of debate as to which is best.
The process in which the formless Polystyrene resin becomes a Yakult bottle.
Back to the factory line, 7,000 Yakult bottles are moulded per hour thanks to the teamwork of air blowers and food-grade polystyrene. They used to be made of glass, but have since been evolved into a lighter material so that the Yakult delivery aunties wouldn’t strain their backs.
The iconic shape that the bottles have are also deliberately designed for a comfortable grip and a smooth flow into our eager mouths.
Finally, the bottles are printed, filled, and sealed with aluminium foil as they line up to be shrink-wrapped in groups of 5 or 10. Depending on factory orders, these groups are either a mix of flavours or just one. The packs are then loaded into crates and relocated to a cold storage unit via a conveyor belt.
And, voila! The Yakult bottles are then distributed on refrigerated trucks to ensure that they’ll be in tip-top condition before entering our tummies.
As evident from the many refrigeration units in their factory, Yakult is best served cold. This is also so the LcS bacteria won’t die in the Singapore heat. Many people also forget to give their Yakult a good shake before gulping it down. This is to prevent the milk sediments from getting stuck at the bottom of the bottle.
Yakult is also a bona fide family drink, which means it’s suitable for all ages to enjoy. A pack of 5 comes at $3.50, which means there’s one for lactose-intolerant Grandpa, another for pregnant Mommy, and one more for weaning Baby. And if your home has more than 5 people, just add Yakult’s newest 10-bottle family pack ($6.80) to the cart the next time you check out.
If you’d like to get up close and personal to the action, Yakult is offering free factory tours in Singapore to the public. From Mondays to Fridays, you can book a 1.5-hour session for your group of colleagues, students, or friends. Physical tours can host up to 40 people at once, and virtual tours require a minimum of 15 people in attendance.
The tour consists of 2 parts – a short presentation and a factory walk through a glass-walled viewing gallery. This year, Yakult Singapore has also added new TV monitors along the gallery to showcase some of the machinery in close-up action.
There’ll also be some free Yakult at the beginning of the tour, and a bunch of perky freebies like keychains and fridge magnets starring Yakult Man himself.
Enough of me yakking about Yakult. If you’re looking for something fun and free to do, sign up for some exclusive backstage access to the BTS of a household favourite.
P.S. As I’m writing this, I’m on my 4th bottle of Yakult elixir.
Address: 7 Senoko Avenue, Singapore 758300
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10am-3.30pm (Closed on Weekends and PH)
Contact: 6257 7882
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Photography by Ian Sim.
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