Thursday, December 26, 2013
Morinaga’s has created a morsel version of their popular HiCHEW candies. They’re called HiCHEW Mini and feature four flavors to the cute little 1.4 ounce box.
There are four flavors: pineapple, green apple, grape and strawberry. The box is a great design, it’s overwrapped with cellophane to keep the contents fresh, once opened there’s a little perforated tab that opens a dispenser to get one candy at a time. The pieces are chunky, a little larger than Skittles, and kind of drum shaped.
The green apple is like most of the apple candies from Japan. It’s more about the flavor of apple juice than the artificial thing typified by Jolly Ranchers in the United States. These are sweet and tangy, the chew lasts a long time and doesn’t descend into a grainy mess.
The pineapple is the star, partly because there are no regularly found pineapple Skittles. It’s immediately floral and tangy with that deep honey note. It’s quite intense.
The candy shell, though, is lacking something. There’s no crunch, there’s no boost of texture from the shell. Instead the shell becomes tacky and kind of waxy, like it’s just shellac (though it is a little tangy and does seem to have the same flavor as the chew).
The grape is lovely and reminiscent of concord grapes. It has those skin flavors of a concord grape and the green fruity note of the juice.
The strawberry was the least impressive of the set. It’s not floral or jammy, just kind of tangy but lacking any different levels.
I wanted to love these. I wanted them to be everything that Skittles aren’t: naturally flavored, more intense chew with great packaging. Instead they’re expensive and leave a weird waxy residue in my molars. I still might buy them again if I see them in another flavor assortment. I like the assortment notion, as most HiCHEW are single flavor packages (unless you get the bagged candies) and the fact that there’s less packaging overall.
Note: I ordered these from JBox.com (or JList.com, as they’re also known) and found the experience to be unsatisfactory in enough different ways (payment is taken immediately even if the items aren’t shipped for a month, lack of communication via email and their twitter account, slow & conflicting information and unilateral cancellation of one of the items I’d ordered) that I do not plan on shopping with them again.
Friday, April 26, 2013
One of my favorite items I picked up for Candy Blog review early on were some chocolate sticks from Japan. I thought their packaging was so clever and chic, I’ve been hoping to find them again. (Mostly I find they package their chocolate in little squares like the US.)
I was excited to see Meiji Dark Rum Milk Chocolate on eBay, so when my friends Robin & Amy were going to Japan, I put it on my wishlist. I got two boxes, which is good, because I ate the whole first box before even doing this review.
The box has a curious design, featuring a cut crystal goblet with rum as the main element below a medallion with the name of the candy. I’m not that familiar with how to serve rum straight, as I usually mix it, but in a goblet or even a more petite appertif size would still not be the way I’d go. (I’d probably serve it in a snifter or a lowball.)
Inside the box, each stick of chocolate is in a little individual wrapper. The box is not really full, they’re loosely packed in there and the whole thing weighs barely more than an ounce, so there’s no way to overindulge here.
Most of the package is in Japanese, so I can’t say for sure what the weight actually is but the figure 2.2% is mentioned on the front, I’m guessing that’s the alcohol content ... and there is real alcohol in here.
The sticks are three inches long and an ideal size (about 3.3 grams) for a very light treat.
One of my favorite candy bars is the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss, which also has real rum in it. This is a bit more pure, as it doesn’t have any fussy nuts or dried fruit in it. The sticks have a soft bite to them, this is not a dense or intense chocolate, though the rum notes are quite apparent when I opened it.
The chocolate has a quick and oily melt, a smooth and slick texture and a strange warm and cold sensation all at once. The oils in the chocolate (I suspect there are some other tropical oils in there) give it a cooling effect on the tongue, but the rum has a sort of warming effect on my throat. The chocolate isn’t very strong, it’s not terribly sweet and has a well rounded woodsy and milky profile.
I like my rum dark, I go for blackstrap because it has more of the smoky and toffee flavors. The rum here was more medicinal, more light, not quite smooth.
It’s not a candy for everyone, I find them pretty indulgent and a little weird, but I also enjoy rum balls.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Monday, September 17, 2012
A few months back I went on a little buying spree on eBay for some Japanese candies I was having trouble finding here in the United States. I paid far more than I usually would for mass-produced candies, but I also haven’t bought much candy on eBay and wanted to see what that experience was like so I could share it.
I did a “buy it now” purchase from the storefront of jappy11. The prices were steep, about $2.00 to $2.50 per item and then there was the international shipping, which averaged out to about $1.10 additional per item. These were the small HiCHEW packages, something that I usually spend about $1.25 for here. The key to value for me is to find a seller with a large enough selection that buying multiple items that I simply can’t find anywhere else makes sense. Invoicing, payment and shipping was quick and easy. The items arrived quite quickly (but I’m on the West Coast).
Grape was always my favorite soda flavor as a kid. I love to drink Shasta Grape from a matching purple anodized aluminum tumbler at my grandmother’s house. There’s nothing quite like fake grape soda.The HiChew Fanta Grape is achingly close. The tangy start has some actual authentic notes of concord grape at first. In addition to the layered look of the pieces (a light colored center and a creamy lavender colored outer layer, there are little crunchy bits that emulate the pop of effervescence.
The chew is smooth and lasts a long time, without losing its flavor at the end. I enjoyed these so much that I was sure to pick up another package when I finally found them at a local Japanese grocery store.
Orange soda was probably my second favorite as a kid. The HiCHEW Fanta Orange is less distinct than the grape, but still fun and refreshing. The citrusy taste is a mix of Tang drink mix and orange SweeTarts. It has a little bit of zest in it, but it’s mostly a juicy flavor, also with the little crunchy pops of candy inside.
Even though it’s not a Fanta flavor, I’ve been aching to try the HiCHEW Cola flavor for a long time and could never find it in the States.
These pieces look more mundane, a dull brown that could well be a caramel. The flavor is deep and well defined. What I like about Japanese cola candies it that they’re more intense and concentrated than actual cola soda. This version is actually quite caramelly, with some good lemon/citrus note and a hint of cinnamon. I would definitely buy these more often if they were part of the American release of HiCHEW flavors. (They aren’t they?)
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Yuzu is rare in the United States but a popular and hardy variety of citrus in Japan. The flavor is a cross between grapefruit, tangerine with a little note of lemon and bergamot. For the most part the rind of the citrus is used though the juice is also included but not as notable. I was so entranced with the candies and marmalades I’ve been eating that I got a tree for my back yard. (Here’s a photo of a couple that I picked from my tree.)
So when I saw that Kasugai, a makers of one of the best gummis in the world, I bought up two packages. The gummis are more expensive than the European and American varieties, but also a bit more precious and special. The Kasugai Yuzu Gummy Candy comes in a rather light bag, with only 3.59 ounces inside. Each piece is individually wrapped and a bit larger than the mass of an ordinary gummi bear.
The gummis are nearly one inch in diameter, a cute little domed disk. They have a soft, powdery skin instead of a glaze of oil or wax. They smell like lemonade. The flavor inside is a bit more complex. The tartness is good, the texture is smooth with a jello-like chew that dissolves quickly. It’s truly a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, the bitterness of the grapefruit and harsh oily flavor is combined with the fruity, sunny flavors of the tangerine juice.
They’re really satisfying and have a fresh, zesty lingering note. Two or three were plenty as a little treat between meals for me. The individual wrapping means I can throw a few in my bag or just throw them in a dish.
They are ridiculously expensive, I think I spent $3.49 for a bag. But it’s easy to moderate my consumption, I’ve managed to make my two bags last quite while. The intensity of the flavor and the wrappers mean these are more of a solitary treat than the kind that I might mindlessly nibble on during a movie. There are no artificial colors but they do use artificial flavors. They’re made on shared equipment with milk, wheat, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Lately I’ve been feeling the need for novelty in candy. I want to try new fruits, new combinations of flavors. So when I was browsing around on eBay and saw Mentos Lemon Squash I thought that fit the bill.
Of course when ordering candy to be shipped from another country, it’s good to order a lot. So I got plenty of HiCHEW flavors and all the Mentos I could find in the webstore that I hadn’t tried before. It was expensive and took a while to arrive, but anticipation is part of the fun with foreign novelty flavors.
As far as the exotic flavors, by far the Mentos Ume wins, mostly because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan but nearly unheard of in North America outside of population centers with a lot of Asians.
Plum as a flavor is rare in American candies. It’s hard to explain why. We have plenty of peach, nectarine and other stone fruits like apricots. But Plum is, well, plums become prunes. And prune are just not appealing to the Mentos demographic, no matter how much Worf extolled their virtues as a warrior drink.
In this case the Ume is a sour plum, a different variety than the American type like Santa Rosa or Blackamber, the Ume is more closely related to the Apricot. I’ve had salted dried plums before but found them, well, salty, tangy and bitter. The Ume Mentos are rather like that, though not salty, they’re intense and distilled. There’s a tartness that taste more fresh than prunes or raisins. There’s also a peppery hint of spice, like the peel of a plum and maybe a hint of spice like clove. Then there’s an overriding floral quality, like roses.
They’re quite different, though I didn’t find it appealing. It could be the complexity of it, it could by the sort of grassy note that’s also there that I found unpleasant. But it’s definitely unique and I’m glad I spent the bucks to get it.
The Mentos Honeyed Apple was a flavor I hadn’t heard of before, but did notice a trend of honey flavored candies becoming more popular in Japanese candy I saw available in the United States and online. As with this flavor, it’s often combined with other fruits.
The general flavor profile is soft, the apple notes are more like applesauce than tangy green apples. The honey isn’t very apparent, except that the sweetness is much more subdued and syrupy than regular apple Mentos. Japanese candy, and even Mentos, have always taken pains to create authentic fruit flavors. This tastes like real apples, not that chemical invention called “green apple” that seems to have spread around the world. (That’s a good flavor too, but not the same.)
The Mentos Lemon Squash really made no sense to me at all. At first I thought it was about the game squash (like racquetball), that it was a particular sports drink. But then I looked it up and found out that squash is really just a spritzer or fruit soda. There were no gourds associated with this. The flavor, with that in perspective, is exactly what I’d expect for a citrus soda. It’s tangy and has a lemony flavor, but not a lot of herbal or zesty notes. There’s a strange calcium sort of note to it, like key lime juice can have. It was pleasant but nothing I’d pay oodles of money for in the future.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I have learned more about the fruits of the world through candy than all of my trips to grocery stores and farmers markets. Japanese confectionery, in particular, includes a lot of these lesser known fruits and flavors. HiCHEW from Morinaga have been particularly good at introducing me to new fruits through their limited edition regional flavors.
The Haskap Berry is native to Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan. The berries grew wild and were an important source of vitamin C for the locals but were only domesticated and more widely cultivated starting in the late 1960. Relatives of the Haskap, known commonly as honey berries, are grown in Russia, Northern Europe, Canada and the United States. The berries themselves are shaped kind of like bullets, long and sometimes with a flat bottom. The Haskap, from the photos and descriptions I’ve seen, is more football shaped. The great selling point with the Haskap variety is that after being frozen, the skin melts away, so making sauces or ice creams means there’s no bitter skin or unattractive flecks in the resulting sweet.
The flavor of the fresh berry is said to be similar to blueberries, but more tart. It’s too sour for some people that they prefer to use the berries in jams, preserves or within baked good. Basically, they’re not for eating fresh off the bush.
The Haskap Berry HiCHEW look a little bland out of the wrapper. They’re a sort of grayish purple. The flavor is also less distinctive than I’d hoped. It tastes like a cross between black raspberry and cranberry with a little note of concord grape skin. It’s tart and has a good floral flavor to it with some grassy notes of blueberry seeds. They’re good HiCHEW, but the flavor isn’t really any better or distinct enough to warrant me forking over $4 again plus shipping from Japan to get this taste again.
However, if you were from Hokkaido and remember the berries fondly or perhaps you’ve had Haskap Berry ice cream, this is a portable and inexpensive way to get your fix.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.