Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I love the combination of chocolate and cookies. The KitKat bar is a great confectionery combination of the two. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve craved sweets less and come to appreciate texture and taste a bit more. So an ordinary milk chocolate KitKat can be a little sweet for many snacking situations (and there are many snacking situations).
I picked up the KitKat Otonano Amasa, which is the “adult taste” version - a little less sweet and with more cookie texture.
KitKats from Japan come in smart little boxes instead of plain old plastic packaging. I suppose it’s wasteful, but they do protect the contents well. On the back there’s a little “To” and “From” section for gifting.
Inside the box are two individually packaged two-finger pieces. Each is listed as 95 calories each.
The bars are just like any other KitKat, cream filled wafers covered in chocolate. But the chocolate here has little bits of dark chocolate cookies incorporated. The taste is similar to the Oreo Bitter Bar I tried recently. But in this case the texture at the front is is the creaminess of the chocolate. The flavor is slightly bitter like charcoal or, well, Oreos. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless.
It was a great combination, I liked it so much that I bought another bag of the snack sized ones. Which is goofy because they’re ridiculously expensive for KitKats. The package here was $2.25 for 1.19 ounces, the bag was $5.89 for 5.29 ounces. I could get some fine chocolates (well, See’s) for about $16 a pound.
Which is what leads me to the trepidation I have about the bar. The ingredients.
Palm oil. That’s what the bar is. Most of the time I find palm oil candies to be greasy and stiff, but this was really well done for a rainforest destroying confection. Oh, and palm oil is bad for you. Far worse than cocoa butter. So if I’m going for a candy that has a whopping 160 calories per ounce (which is about as high as the scale goes), it’d better be exceptional. So while I enjoyed this candy physically like it was a 10 out of 10, the price and ingredients knock it back to 8 out of 10.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Nabisco Oreos were one of my favorite cookies. Most of what I like though is the crispy and crumbly dark chocolate cookie. Their initial form, the Oreo Biscuit, was introduced in 1912 and later became the format we know today with the molded sandwich cookie in 1952. One of the best mashups ever invented using Oreos was Cookies ‘n’ Cream Ice Cream. There are so many things you can do with Oreos, so it seems a little odd that Nabisco never came out with their own Oreo chocolate bar in the United States. Perhaps it’s their complacency that they’re the most popular cookie in the country. In Asia though, Nabisco tries harder. They have Oreo Chocolate Bars.
I picked up the Nabisco Oreo Bitter Bar at the Japanese market. The standard Oreo Bar has a cream filling with bits of chocolate cookies embedded in it, then the whole thing is covered in chocolate. When I looked at the ingredients on this bitter bar, I was pleased to see the intensity of the chocolate ingredients and decided that maybe this could be the ideal marriage of the Oreo Cookie and the candy bar.
The wrapper is in the familiar Oreo Blue color but decorated with a cacao pod and a little gold ribbon that says bitter in the center. The back of the wrapper is in Japanese though my imported one has a little English sticker on it with the ingredients & nutritional panel.
The bar isn’t that big, it’s only 1.35 ounces, so it weighs less than a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (1.5 ounces) but still manages to contain 216 calories. The wrapper is 6.5” long but the actual bar is only 4.5”. I can’t complain since the bars I bought were pretty flawless looking, so it must have done a nice job of protecting the contents.
The bar smells toasty and sweet, like a cup of hot chocolate. The bite is firm, the center isn’t a soft truffle, instead it’s kind of like a firm cream, like the center of a Frango. There are cookie bits mixed into the dark chocolate center, so the melt isn’t quite smooth because of the crumbs. There is a distinct bitter note of charcoal and deep cocoa
The chocolate coating outside is not terribly dark but is really creamy and smooth.
The ingredients impressed me for the most part, no tropical oils, no partially hydrogenated fats. It’s all milk and cocoa butter. Sure there’s sugar in there and even a small amount of high fructose corn syrup (in the cookie part, I believe), but I overlooked that.
I loved this bar. Absolutely loved it. I bought one while shopping with my sister in Little Tokyo with no intention of reviewing it, then after eating it I went back and bought three more. They were $2.19 each, and I’m pretty price conscious, so that alone is an endorsement. However, most other reviews I saw of it online were underwhelming. I can see their point, it is a little dry and kind of single note with the bitter chocolate cookie dominating.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
One of the earliest international candy obsessions I developed because of Candy Blog was HiCHEW. They’re made by Morinaga in Japan and come in a wide variety of fruity flavors. The packages are flat, contain only one flavor and feature individually wrapped pieces that are easy to share.
They’ve been popular in Japan for since 1975 (and existed in different formats for at least 40 years before that). Lately they’ve become more widely available in the United States and Canada, starting with large metropolitan areas with large Japanese populations. Now they’re pretty commonplace here in Los Angeles, I can get them at 7-11 or Target and the packaging has been Americanized with English wrapper and full nutrition facts.
The American ones are made in Taiwan and feature slightly smaller packages at 1.76 ounces and sporting a price of about $1.00. The flavor set is rather ordinary with strawberry, orange, green apple, mango, lemon and melon (and sometimes banana) available. The Japanese also come in similar flavors with seasonal or limited edition varieties coming out all the time.
I decided to pick up a package of each and really put them to the test.
The Taiwanese version is more intensely pink in the center. The chew is stiff at first, but still smooth. It’s slightly tangy and has a good strawberry flavor that errs more on the tart side than the floral sweetness though it does get a little jammy towards the end with cooked strawberry notes. The chew lasts a long time and never gets grainy.
The Japanese version is a little softer and chewier. The flavor is also a well rounded berry with good sweet and sour notes, a little hint of floral and a creamy component (which might be attributed to a splash of yogurt in there). Instead of strawberry jam it was more like a strawberry smoothie.
Given a choice, I would pick up the Japanese version. Yes, I like to be able read my packages, but I also like my flavors bold and as authentic as they were originally conceived. I feel like the Taiwanese HiCHEW is like the Turkish Haribo Gummi Bear, not as good as those made in their homeland. However, I love the fact that this candy is able to get a wider audience. It’s a good introduction and perhaps die hard fans will work towards getting the real thing released in North America.
Friday, November 12, 2010
In Japan (and everywhere else besides the United States), KitKats are made by Nestle. Nestle has the ability to make great chocolate and candy, but also possesses the ability and fortitude to make cheap tasting and inconsistent candy.
The first is the SemiSweet KitKat which sounds pretty boring. But just look at the package! It’s a beautifully done design in just black and red (except for the real-color image of the KitKat finger itself.) The bar is just a mellow semi sweet chocolate version of the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
The bars were perfect. I know I criticize the over-packaging of many of these Japanese items, but in this case it really did its job of both enticing me to buy and protecting the contents.
The chocolate smells wonderful, a little sweet but rich and bold. The first thing I noticed was the melt. There was a good snap to the chocolate but it melted quite readily. It’s a little sticky but has a lot of flavor, a combination of strong woodsy flavors, a hint of coffee and prunes. The wafers are crispy and don’t let the combination get too sweet or thick.
The KitKat Bitter Almond is what got me out to the stores in Little Tokyo. I saw Bitter Almond KitKat mentioned on Japanese Snack Reviews and thought it sounded right up my alley.
The ingredients say that it’s made with real dark chocolate (44% cacao), almond paste and almonds. While I’m not usually a big fan of the amaretto note in marzipan, I do love almonds. The limited edition KitKats have largely ignored nuts as a flavor, so this is a refreshing change.
The box had the logo for TBC on it, which I had to look up (thanks again to Japanese Snack Reviews) to find out it’s a cross promotion with Tokyo Beauty Centers. TBC is a chain of spas that offer all sorts of aesthetic treatments, make up and consultations. I haven’t the foggiest what that has to do with KitKats so I’m going to just make something up, like you can get marzipan facial treatments for a limited time when you present your empty KitKat box.
The chocolate is strong, slightly bitter and has a light acidic bite. The almond flavors come and go but are light and more on the side of nutty than amaretto. What struck me as so great, aside from the smooth and lightly dry finish of the chocolate itself was the freshness of the wafers. They were delicate and crispy. There was no cereal taste to them (not that I mind that), which allowed both the chocolate and almond to dominate. Every once in a while I got a little texture of some crushed almonds.
I loved this bar. I don’t know if the factory was just having a really good day and had exceptional ingredients converge in that moment in time on that particular bar but I felt like I was finally getting my money’s worth for these expensive imported KitKat bars. Texture, flavors and mouthfeel were simply exceptional. All other KitKats will disappoint me now. (And it’s always good to stop on a high note.)
But I’m left feeling that I should stop pursuing the fleeting perfection of limited edition bars (which are often less than perfect) and concentrate on quality candies that are available more reliably. Plus, the import premium I pay for these means that they’re over $30 a pound. If I’m willing to pay that much, I can get some really good chocolate.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
The pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. Back in the early days of commercial cultivation in the eighteenth century they were extremely expensive, so when a host provided pineapple as part of a meal, guests were honored. Eventually the images of pineapples were also used in decorating, probably because of the tastiness of the fruit as well as the fun shape and symmetry. I mention this because of the charming image on the Hello Kitty Tropical Pineapple Marshmallow is of the white cat holding a pineapple, dressed in a sharp polka dotted blue dress and sporting a blue hibiscus flower at her ear.
Japan does marvelous things with marshmallow, I feel like they’re an extension of their gummi culture (after all, most of the ingredients are the same). Part of it, I think, is that marshmallows are formulated & marketed for people of all ages. Hello Kitty is obviously aimed at tweens and folks who are young at heart. But other varieties of marshmallows go for anime fans and there are even “beauty marshmallows” in Japan that purport to have rejuvenating collagen in them.
The marshmallows are light and about 1.25 inches around. They have little pinch points on the ends so they remind me of little sausages of balloons. The outside is soft and lightly powdery (corn starch).
The smell sweet and lightly floral, like a ripe pineapple in the store. The marshmallow texture is soft and latexy with a light bounce.
Biting into them I know that the center was going to have a little jelly reservoir. It was still surprising and ultimately nice. The marshmallow itself is sweet and has that pineapple floral thing going on, but the jam center definitely gave it some pop. The goo was a bit like the pineapple sauce on an ice cream sundae. It was sweet and tangy and had little bits of real pineapple in it.
After popping a few of them, I wondered what they were like toasted.
The aroma was amazing, I like toasted marshmallows, but this had an added flowery note that really smelled delicious. The outside toasted well, though the jam center didn’t get quite as molten gooey as I hoped. The toasting seemed to make it all a bit sweeter than it was at room temperature. They might make an excellent addition to a S’more - though the Strawberry version is probably a bit better flavor-wise.
As far as marshmallows go, I prefer them either covered in chocolate and used as an element in a larger candy (Scotchmallows) but my second choice is flavored. The jam center gives some texture variation and reminds me of a Westernized mochi. For someone who’s watching their weight or wants to give a small treat to a kid, marshmallows fit the bill - they’re low in calories plus there’s a lot of air in there. So you could eat the whole bag and it’s only 300 calories. (The other plus is there are no artificial colors in this version - though they do use artificial flavors but mostly real pineapple.) The whole Hello Kitty thing is really just about the packaging, but in this case I think the choice of licensing was at least with a quality product. I picked these up at a market in Little Tokyo, but I’ve seen the Strawberry ones at Cost Plus World Market.
Monday, June 7, 2010
I couple of months ago I went on a buying spree in Little Tokyo and bought this Meiji Milk Chocolate bar. I photographed the packaged but then ate it without taking a picture of the contents. After consuming it, I thought, I should really review this.
I don’t know much about Meiji as a company. Everything I know about them is what I have experience interacting (eating) their products that I can get a hold of in the United States. I don’t know their politics, I don’t know how the Japanese regard the products and company and I don’t know anything about their history (except that they’re over 80 years old). It’s kind of a strange approach for me, as I often like to immerse myself with a lot of context when it comes to candy.
Late last year Meiji’s chocolate bar line got a new look. (Here’s what the package used to look with along with Orchid64’s review and some other more professional evaluations of the redesign.) Here’s another view of their classic-style packages.
I loved their old wrapper, but I have to say, I really dig the new one. I like the font but what I really enjoy is the bold simplicity; partly because what’s inside is simple and partly because it stands out so well amongst the very chaotic and colorful candy packaging common in Japan.
The ingredients are great: sugar, cacao mass, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, artificial flavor.
The bar measures 6.25” long and 2.75” wide. There are 15 segments - five across and three down. They don’t really do much besides provide visual interest - I found the bar broke into pieces wherever it felt like, not along the supposed section dividers. Under the embossed paper sleeve the bar is wrapped in a rather thin and devilish foil. I found it difficult to get the bar out and even worse to get it back in. (Basically I just re-wrapped it the best I could and put it in a zipper plastic bag for later consumption.)
In Japan the bar is about a dollar, so it’s like the Hershey bar in that it’s widely available and cheap. (In the US I paid twice that though, $1.99 in Little Tokyo.) The bar is bigger than a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate which is 1.55 ounces and the Meiji Milk Chocolate is 2.04 ounces.
The flavor is deep and smoky. It’s much darker than ordinary milk chocolates, but also much less milky. It has charcoal and cocoa overtones, it reminds me of chocolate pudding I make at home - which is often very low in sugar and very high in chocolate (usually a mix of chocolate and cocoa). The melt is cool and exceptionally smooth - smoother and more consistent than Dove. It was actually comparable in mouthfeel to Amano’s Milk Chocolate bars. It’s thick but not sticky, silky but not greasy.
The toasty caramel and charcoal notes have a bitter aftertaste that’s quite pronounced. I enjoyed it quite a bit and found no problem eating a whole bar in one sitting. It’s not for everyone, but I applaud the good use of ingredients, fresh and unique flavor profile and decent price. The bar is extremely fatty - it clocks in at 167 calories per ounce, which is much higher than many milk chocolate bars which are known to be very sugary - but there’s also 15% of your calcium in each serving, 6% of your Vitamin C & Iron plus 2 grams of protein.
I’m willing to continue spending $2 for this bar and seeking it out in Japanese markets.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
A couple of years ago I picked up a package of Puccho that was creme brulee flavored (technically I think it was called Baked Puccho - Custard Cream). I love it so much and though I know it was a limited edition flavor, I’ve been looking for something like it. A chewy, milky and caramelized sort of thing.
When I saw this little package in Little Tokyo I thought I’d give it a go. It’s called simply Nama Carmel Gummy. I could palpate the pieces within the bag and could tell that they were firm but distinct pieces, like tiny little fleshy bricks.
It smells sweet and rather woodsy, like brown sugar and milk. The texture is soft and bouncy but quite firm. There’s a light dusting of what I’m guessing is corn starch, so they’re not shiny.
Honestly, they don’t look like much, but they’re quite dreamy. Instead of being caramel flavored, they’re actually made with milk and cream ... that’s not zinc oxide making it look milky, it is milky. It’s a toasty flavor, not too sweet. The texture is bouncy and chewy more like a Haribo than a Trolli. They’re crazy good though I admit they’re strange. It’s really like eating something that’s a cross between butterscotch pudding and jello. I would definitely buy these again if I can find them.
Of course I can’t find them online.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
While the news that KitKat is now available in both Dark and Milk Chocolate is hot news here in the United States, Nestle continues to churn out fantastically inventive versions for Japan.
Japanese KitKat are getting easier to find in the United States, I picked up mine in Little Tokyo at various grocery stores. The price is a bit steeper than an ordinary KitKat, usually between $2.00 and $3.00 depending on the variety and the store. (Here’s one store in Little Tokyo.)
I get the impression that Royal Milk Tea is the Japanese version of what we know here in the US as Thai Iced Tea, a strong black tea mixed with lot of sugar and milk (in the case of Thai Iced Tea the shortcut is sweetened condensed milk).
It smells lovely though, like a cross between Jasmine and Earl Grey Tea. There are sweet vanilla notes and a little roasted barley or lapsang suchong in there. The actual texture of the white confection (a mixture of milk, palm oil and sugar) is a little greasy but otherwise smooth. The flavoring of the coating is mellow and a little spicy, like a hint of chai. Inside there’s more of a darker tea. It’s quite milky, as the whole Royal Milk Tea name might imply. I’m not much for milk in my tea, so that part of the confectionery simulation is lost on me.
I didn’t know that Ginger Ale was that popular in Japan, but I guess it must be if there’s a KitKat for it. Or Nestle has run out of ideas to make into KitKats. (Where are my Pixy Stix KitKats?)
The flavor of the white confection outside is sweet and a little lemony. Inside the cream has a warm and woodsy burn of ginger. There are little specks and pops of sour, like carbonation.
It’s a weird bar. It’s not comforting like I find actual ginger ale. But then again it’s more exciting, probably because I’ve never had a candy bar like this before. I can’t say that I’d buy it again, but I can see where it has its place.
I wasn’t quite sure what the actual flavor was, is there a strawberry soda that it was referencing, like those Ramune ones? Was it supposed to be like strawberries in champagne?
After opening I at least found out that it was a pink, strawberry flavored confectionery coating with the standard wafers and a tangy strawberry creme between.
The berry confection is milky and has less of a strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s kind of like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Frankenberry. The startling and inventive part of this bar is the cream filling. There are little “pops” of flavor which emulate carbonation well. They’re not pop rocks or fizzing powder. Instead they’re granules of what I’m guessing is citric acid and/or salt. So the tongue gets lots of little explosions of intense sour or salt. It’s a good mix and fun to eat. I would have preferred more strawberry flavor or even dark chocolate (so it’d be like a dark chocolate covered strawberry with a glass of champagne).
Kinako Ohagi KitKat shows a mochi with kinako (and probably bean paste inside). The idea of converting that into a KitKat, honestly, isn’t that appealing to me. I thought the red bean KitKat I tried a few years ago was interesting, but putting all the flavors of mochi into a KitKat just seems like too much. A KitKat is a KitKat and needs to maintain certain aspects. Throwing too many things into the mix just means that something is going to be done poorly and that leads to disappointment.
I was relieved to see that this was at least a milk chocolate bar.
It smells deep and roasted, milky and a little like corn chips. The milk chocolate is soft and fudgy but passably good. The wafers are crisp and crunchy and the kinako is, well, like soy powder. It’s a cross between the flavor of corn meal and peanut butter - it reminds me of protein supplements. The toasty flavors go very well with the wafers and milk chocolate. But the traditional KitKat was good before. This doesn’t make it better.
The last one confused me (and I didn’t take a picture of it, but you can safely substitute the Royal Milk Tea. It’s Milk Coffee KitKat but based on the box I thought it was Sakura Tea or something. What I also didn’t properly note was that this was on of the KitKat mailers, a box that has a little “dear” and “from” form on the back so that you can give it to a student to wish them luck on exams.
It smells sweet and milky and just slightly off. Biting into it the first time, I thought I was being poisoned and had a bad package. The center cream was just intensely bitter. Then when I caught on that it wasn’t cherry and it was coffee the bitterness didn’t seem so caustic. But still intense. Too intense to allow actual coffee flavors.
At least it was called Milk Coffee, with the milk first I was getting much more of the sweet white confection than coffee notes. Chewing helped, instead of my usual eating of the cream as a layer. It just didn’t have the rounded and complex coffee notes, it reminded me instead of what I thought coffee was when I was seven or eight years old - expensive bitterness.
Overall I was less than impressed with the heavy use of white confection instead of actual chocolate. (Nestle has been in trouble lately with animal activists over its use of poorly/unethically/unsustainably farmed palm oil - their response here.) I guess I’ve found after all this exploration (trying about three dozen different kinds over the years) that the plain old ones are great and the ones made with even better chocolate are phenomenal. They don’t need fancy flavors. But I’m not going to begrudge anyone who wants to have a little fun now and then.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.