Sticky grey liquid comes through tubes and quietly drips from nozzles, forming tiny balls that look like black caviar at the workshop in the city of Aomori, some 600 kilometres north of Tokyo.
The imitation caviar, named Cavianne, is made from an unlikely mix of ingredients -squid ink, pectin from apples, extract of sea urchin, oyster and scallop as well as a type of gum derived from kelp.
Inventor Susumu Mikami, 75, said it took him two years to come up with the right mix of ingredients to produce small balls which he contends have almost the same size and taste as top-notch Beluga caviar.
Mikami, a former maker of traditional Japanese sweets, invented Cavianne a decade ago and set up Hokuyu Foods Co. Ltd., which has five workers including himself as president.
Hokuyu Foods is the only maker of artificial black caviar in Japan. The company produces four tonnes of it a year, equal to one-fifth of the estimated consumption of real black caviar in Japan, according to Mikami.
Few Japanese know the name Cavianne but the fake caviar has been mostly for wholesale for use at restaurants and hotels.
Cavianne looks like the prized Beluga caviar but Mikami himself admits the biggest problem is that the skin is too thick and gummy to be real.
One 50-gramme jar of Cavianne is priced at some 1,000 yen (R80), up to 10 times less than real black caviar.