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.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
The window in the bag is nice in that it shows the big, beefy looking pieces. I really wasn’t sure what the candy was, but I was pretty sure they were chocolate (or in this case decent quality mockolate) covered corn puffs.
The package is proud to state that it contains 63 grams. Is this an appealing amount? But what drew me to look closer were the little icons of milk, corn and soy. And then above that was the motto for the company:
More comfortable, you say? Well, I could be more comfortable when I’m relaxing (not that I actually know how to relax).
The nuggets are like lumpy, nubby chocolate thumbs. They smell like cocoa cereal, like Cocoa Krispies - a little chalky and sweet. The ingredients are okay, I think it’s a mockolate coating because the first five ingredients are sugar, cacao, palm oil, corn, lactose. I suspect it’s chocolate with additional palm oil, the smell and texture is convincing the the flavor not so much.
At the center of each 1.5” long piece is a foamy corn puff. They’re about the size and shape of a foam packing peanut. The centers are airy and crunchy but lacking a definitive corn meal flavor. In fact there’s very little to the center at all - just some texture. Not even a hint of salt. The chocolatey coating is mild and has a good creamy melt, but the cocoa flavors are a little thin and watery.
I’ve had them for a few months and find myself drawn to them expecting a good mix of textures ... and it does provide that. But the flavors just don’t rise to the occasion. I really enjoyed my Choco Mugi, which is chocolate covered barley or wheat puffs and was hoping these would be a corn version. (I’ve had several brands of the Choco Mugi and even though some are mockolate, I find it still satisfies my cereal & chocolate craving.) So I’ll stick with the Mugi in the future or maybe try to find the Kimmie Milk Chocolate Kettle Corn Nuggets.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I’m gaga for Meiji’s Gummy Choco, which are little gummi beans of various natural fruit flavors covered in milk and flavored white chocolate. But I’ve also wondered what it’d be like to just eat the gummi centers.
The gummi jellybean centers are called Poifull and are rather harder to find in the United States.
I picked up a few boxes via JBox.com and then ended up finding some more at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo a few weeks later. The flavors vary from time to time. (Sometimes the yellow ones are pineapple as shown in this box and other times they’re lemon or white peach.)
While it’s tempting to call these jelly beans, they’re not. Jelly beans have jelly centers - that means that they’re a thickened candy syrup, usually gelled using corn starch but good quality ones use pectin, a natural fruit product. Poifull are a gummi product, so the centers are bouncy and chewy and thickened with gelatin. (So my vegetarian friends, you can’t have these.)
They come in four flavors and all are equally fresh and transcendent. The shell is light and a little grainy after chewing, it mostly seals in the soft and fresh flavors of the gummis themselves.
Pineapple - is sweet and bright but more like canned pineapple than the fresh stuff. Not quite as acidic but still quite credible.
Grape - is the darker purple color. The flavor is amazing, like a condensed droplet of concord grape juice. Vivid, sweet and tangy.
Muscat Grape - is the green one and like the grape has an authentic juice flavor. Muscat is a white grape so is often a little milder in its juice form. This one was tasty but didn’t wow me like the others by comparison.
Apple - is the lighter pink one. It’s definitely just like a fresh glass of apple juice, or actually, more like cider. Tangy and with a good touch of apple peel flavors in there.
(I had another box & can review the Lemon - is a mild and marmalade-like flavor. The sugar notes are boiled and toasted and the zest is still quite authentic but lacking most of the bitter qualities. It’s not terribly tart, but still has a nice snap.)
The flavors are much more intense than even Jelly Belly, very well rounded and of course the gummi texture makes them last longer. I didn’t find myself gulping them down like I do with some jelly candies, they’re absolutely more in the gummi style of eating for me. I’ve only found them in these small boxes (and sometimes in the tiny boxes for the Meiji Mini Mix - photo).
They’re pretty expensive since they’re an import product, but as far as I can tell they’re also all natural - so parents can feel good about a super-flavorful product that comes in small portions. They’d make a great addition to an Easter basket.
Friday, November 6, 2009
This summer Morinaga came out with a limited edition line of World Fruit flavors of HiCHEW. I tried to collect all of them. Shown here is the Blood Orange I reviewed over the summer.
HiCHEW, originally from Japan but now sold all over Asia and now in North America, are a soft chew made from sugar, glucose syrup, palm oil and gelatin. They’re rather like Starburst, but with a much smoother chew and a bouncy texture. It’s kind of like soft bubble gum that you can swallow. The flavors are usually very faithful to the real fruits.
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. I like peaches but peach candy often ends up tasting either too much like the skin or like a bland version of the flesh but rarely an authentic combination of the two.
White Peach HiCHEW are extraordinary. They’re sweet, a little tangy and have that strange peach skin flavor which is some kind of cross between popsicle stick, rosemary sprig and Christmas tree. Though some folks say that the outside and inside have different flavor intensities, as far as I can tell it’s all the same.
Rating: 8 out of 10
When I ordered this I’d never had a real dragonfruit before. I didn’t know what they were and thought they were far too exotic to find at my local farmers market. Well, that turned out to be untrue. I did find dragonfruit at the Los Angeles Farmers Market and though it was expensive ($3.99 for one, which was about the size of a large pear) I bought it to try. What I found out is that a dragonfruit is just a prickly pear fruit (something I have in the back yard). The one I got was rather bland. It tasted like a cross between Kiwi (lightly tangy with a crunch of seeds), Fig (a fresh and clean flavor) and Musk Melon (sweet with a touch of honey) but not nearly as good as any of those on their own. Not worth the bucks.
The Dragonfruit HiCHEW package looked a bit more exotic than my real dragonfruit. The flesh of mine was white with little black seeds, the one on the wrapper had magenta flesh. Inside the foil the pieces are an intense pink with little black flecks, which I assumed would emulate the seeds. The flavor is fruity, like fruit punch, cantaloupe, peach and strawberry. It’s a little tart, but not nearly as intense as the peach from above or citrus flavor HiCHEW I usually prefer.
Though I enjoyed it, the flavor wasn’t as distinct and innovative as I’d hoped. (I guess part of me is hoping there’s a fruit out there that I’ve never tasted that will blow my mind.) The seed bits provided only a tiny bit of texture, like those in kiwi usually do. Certainly tasty enough to keep eating them, but not something I’m going to put on my list to seek out.
Rating: 6 out of 10
CamuCamu HiCHEW was a complete mystery to me. One of the things that is so compelling about tasting candies from around the world is that it exposes me to fruits, spices and flavors that I would probably never encounter otherwise. Camu camu is a bush native to the Amazon River basin and the berries (the size of grapes) don’t travel well, so the chance that I’ll run across them in the grocery story is pretty slim. They are available as frozen pulp or juice. Most of the information I could find about camu camu makes it look like it’s the next superfruit, another acai. (It can cure herpes! Detoxifies the liver, improves mood balance and promotes healthy brains.)
The pieces were white on the outside with pink from the inside kind of peeking through the not-quite-opaqueness. It’s immediately tangy: really really tart and smooth. It made my mouth water and gave me that tingle in the corners of my jaw. The flavor is a bit like cranberries, sour grapes and apples. I enjoyed it quite a bit, not really because of the flavor but because of the nicely rounded sourness that wasn’t a screaming acidity.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The final on the list is Durian HiCHEW. For those of you who don’t know what durian is, well, as far as I’m concerned you’re not missing anything. (You can read more about durian here.)
My personal experience with durian candies is limited. I’ve had a few hard candies that I mentioned here and some durian taffy another friend gave me that I couldn’t even bring myself because it smelled so bad. Neither of those, combined with what I’ve read about it, has compelled me to seek out the real thing. (They’re available frozen whole at several local markets in Los Angeles and seasonally in Chinatown.)
Oh sure, this HiCHEW looked benign, even smelled a little like vanilla. It was all white, no different colored center. Biting into it, it was a little tangy like a yogurt chew. But then the real durian flavor. It’s a mix of strawberry and mirepoix. The onion notes weren’t completely revolting, it was like eating ice cream that had been stored in a smelly freezer ... just off and not something that you’d think flavor-ologists would slave over and present to their bosses as something that should be placed in production.
If you’re durian-curious, I think candy is a great way to expose yourself to it and maybe even check it off of that omnivore list you have. As far as I’m concerned this was the best durian candy I’ve ever had.
Rating: 4 out of 10
HiCHEW use all natural colors, but I don’t think the flavors are all natural. They contain gelatin so are unsuitable for vegetarians and those who are looking for a Kosher/Halal chew.
Friday, September 25, 2009
I’ve been on a HiCHEW spree lately. Partly because Morinaga went on a binge and released about a dozen flavors. Besides their traditional array of 6 or 7 standard flavors they have another half a dozen single flavor packs out.
HiCHEW is one of those rare Japanese candies that’s being distributed around the world. Here in Los Angeles, I can get Lemon, Mango, Strawberry or Green Apple HiCHEWs at just about any 7-11 or Cost Plus World Market. But the limited edition flavors, the seasonal and the specialty assortments are a little harder to come by and require either an order directly from Japan (I’ve been using JBox and Asian Food Grocer) or a visit to Little Tokyo to Marukai Market, Mitsuwa Marketplace or Nijiya Market.
Today I have the two from the Summer Festival (Matsuri) line: Candied Apple & Cotton Candy. (I don’t know if there were more than these two ... maybe a Kettle Corn or Deep Fried Butter version escaped my view.)
The packages are compact, they have only 7 pieces in them instead of the longer packs that have 10. Even without knowing Japanese the packages are bold and easy to understand. There’s a little picture of a man selling candied apples with some stylized fireworks above him. Then of course the big candied apple (which seems to be dipped upside down to the way I’ve always had them, the stem is a the top, not where the stick enters the apple).
On the side of the package is the little diagram of what the candy looks like. A pink outside and white core with little flecks of what I’m guessing are the candied coating bits.
It smells softly sweet, a little like milk tea. Biting into it there’s an immediate apple juice flavor then a background of sweet sugar.
The little flecks are sparkly crunches of sugar. I couldn’t quite get an actual flavor from them. It becomes quite juicy. The texture is quite smooth except for the crunches.
I don’t think I’ve had a candied apple in over 15 years, so I can’t say for sure that this is an authentic representation contained within a 1 inch by 1/2 inch block. But it was still fun.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cotton Candy HiCHEW smells simply like sweet. Pretty much the same as the Candied Apple.
It’s sweet, but not sticky sweet or cloying. It’s simply fresh. Not quite vanilla, which can be a little boozy and not quite a toasted sugar flavor either. It’s creamy without being milky. It’s clean without being flavorless. It’s a mystery wrapped in foil and stuffed with little crunchy bits.
The combination of the texture of the HiCHEW which is a taffy/gummi product that’s at once bouncy and smooth and the little cotton candy grainy bits is odd. Really nicely done cotton candy always has these little bits of grain where either the sugar didn’t melt & reform properly or moisture has caused it to recombine into a hard candy bit. Yes, it’s grainy, but the grains give way to soft sugar flavors.
It’s like cotton candy in all the right ways. And it leaves out the sticky paper cone.
It’s just so hard to describe that all I can say is that after I took the photos of the first pack I got from JBox, I made sure to pick up two more packs when I saw them in Little Tokyo.
It’s difficult to say but this is the best colorless and flavorless candy I’ve ever had. How do the Japanese do it? (I’m also still obsessed with the Juntsuyu I wrote about several years ago and add it to my order at JBoxevery time.)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here are a few of those items that I can at least tell you a little about.
Blood Orange HiCHEW from Morinaga are tasty little taffy-like chews I picked up in Little Tokyo about a month ago.
Like most HiCHEW, they’re individually wrapped and come in a single flavor pack. They also have a different color center.
The blood orange flavor wasn’t distinctively different from the other orange flavors I’ve had like Tangerine and Orange. It was juicy and had a nice mix of zest and tang ... but ultimately it wasn’t quite as exotic as I’d hoped.
Not that it kept me from finishing the package.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I went to Munchies on Pico a few weeks ago looking for some Israeli candy (reviews to come). I was pleased to find these little Paskesz Nutty Chews which were available in the bulk bins in these little individually wrapped pieces. I thought, How cool! They sound like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews! (They were also available in a “bar format” which held I think five or six of these in a package.)
At about 25 cents each, it was a nice little chewy morsel, a vegan caramel with a good note of molasses with very dark roasted peanuts all covered in a dark mockolate.
After reading the ingredients, and noting that they’re made in the United States I’ve concluded that these ARE simply repackaged Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. sigh
Rating: 8 out of 10 (same as Goldenberg’s)
I’ve been craving butter and sugar ever since my vacation when I started thinking about Bananas Foster. What doesn’t help is that Littlejohn Toffee is at the Farmers Market ... walking distance from my office.
So one day I was over there and decided to pick up a couple of their Pecan Pralines for review. They’re large puddles over four inches across (shaped in a shallow fluted cup) studded with pecans. Instead of the chewy style of praline, these are the sandy style. The recipe tastes pretty simple, butter, sugar and pecans (though I can’t be sure).
They melt in my mouth and the pecan provide a nice chewy, even fattier punch to the whole thing. You’d think it’d be too sweet, but the nuts seem to moderate it. It sandy and crumbly and doesn’t even look that good, but it smells like sweet buttery caramel sauce. Something about the texture wins me over.
After my first purchase of them (and failed photo shoot because I had my camera settings wrong) I had to go back and buy another one. And I’m sure it won’t be the last - it sounds like they’re expensive at $2.50 each, but after having one I’d probably pay double.
Rating: 9 out of 10
This was an impulse purchase at Robitaille’s Fine Candies while on vacation.
As you can see, it’s a deviled egg ... made of white confection. It was packaged in a tiny plastic bag with a curl of ribbon. No name, no ingredients ... the appearance was really all I needed. (I think I paid $1.85 for it ... more than I think I’d pay for a real deviled egg.)
The egg white is really white, something now found in real white chocolate (and knowing what they put into their Inaugural Mints, I’m going to guess that I’ve been eating all sorts of partially hydrogenated tropical oils). It’s smooth and rather pleasant.
The egg white is sweet, sweet with a touch of fake vanilla. The yolk cream is minted (with a few little nonpariels).
The only issue with the verisimilitude is the half egg doesn’t actually have a little depression for the yolk ... small quibble.
The Cafe Society - Candy Girls reviewed a similar version of this made with a crisped rice mixed in, which sounds much better. Of course best would be some really good quality white chocolate ... but I’m still swooning over my LEGOLAND white chocolate blocks and savoring the last few.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Often they come in different flavors, but the classic caramel has endured for nearly 100 years. One line is the Meiji Dice, which are little caramels that come in pairs inside cube boxes that also double as dice. More recently, as Meiji has acquired the Pokka Coffee company, they introduced the Pokka Coffee Caramel.
The cute packages feature half with icons of the Pokka coffee brand with their logo & seal. The other half are the dice - in this case using little coffee beans on each side to mark the numbers.
The caramels are bigger than the Morinaga ones I’ve had before, or the other, similar Meiji cubes.
They’re about 5/8 of an inch square with a distinct checkerboard texture on them. Each pair is wrapped in waxed paper and tucked into a box. So there are eight caramels total.
They smell very sweet and a lot like dark roasted coffee or espresso. There’s very little milk taste to it, though milk is a major ingredient. It’s definitely a sweet black coffee flavor. (Some coffee caramels taste like coffee ice cream.) I liked it much better than the grainy & gone texture of the Chewy Coffee Rio.
The dark, rich flavor and the soft, ample chew was really appealing to me. I found I ate three of the boxes before I was even ready to do this review. They were a bit on the expensive side for a mass-manufactured candy ... and the overpackaging is sweet for the first day or so, but silly and wasteful after that. I’ll likely stick with the Morinaga Caramels I know and love so well, or perhaps try the Meiji Chelsea Coffee if I can find them.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I first experienced it in candy with the Yuzu HiCHEW and have eagerly consumed anything Yuzu I can get my hands on since. (And am considering planting a Yuzu tree in my back yard.)
So the Yuzu KitKat was enough to get me to place a pre-Christmas order with JBox. However, they were pretty expensive. $4.25 for 150 grams.
These little minis are two short fingers in a package (66 calories).
They smell like tangerines, chocolate and Cheerios.
The chocolate is rich and creamy and the zesty notes of Yuzu, which include grapefruit, mandarin, lime and tangerine come across immediately. The crunchy and bland wafers give it a bit of crunch. Towards the end there’s even a little bit of a bitter aftertaste from the citrus zest.
One of my favorite Japanese KitKats ever.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Azuki beans are used to make many confections in Japan, including a thick and sweet paste filling for mochi and a dessert soup called Oshiruko. Oshiruko varies depending on where you get it, but the little picture on the box looks like a thin, sweet bean broth with azuki beans and a dumpling of mochi in the middle.
The first Azuki KitKat I had was a white chocolate version, so I was definitely curious to try the red bean and milk chocolate combo in the newest Limited Edition from Nestle Japan.
This is definitely the kind of KitKat that fits into my mantra of “open your mouth, expand your mind.” Before I started my candy obsessed website I was pretty content with my American and sometimes Italian candies. I stuck to flavors and combinations that seemed logical to me. Combining beans and sugar (besides perhaps molasses baked beans) didn’t seem very confectionery to me. But now that I’ve had a good amount of mochi and red bean caramels I can say that beans are a natural, earthy & textured base flavor for candy.
This KitKat comes in the lovely box that is common in the Asian KitKats. Each little portion holds a two fingered KitKat. The front of this wrapper also has the new style of nutritional labeling that includes the calories right there - 110.
They’re glossy and pretty out of the mylar wrapper.
They smell like dirt. There are notes of freshly sawn wood, beets, caramel and rusted iron. It’s quite a different experience.
The bite and textures are the same as other KitKats. The milk chocolate is sweet and pretty creamy. The wafers are light and crunchy. The flavor is just as it smells - beets, charcoal, a hint of milk chocolate and butterscotch pudding. The Azuki flavor doesn’t quite make it in there, in fact, if I didn’t know that it was a red bean KitKat I probably would have guessed beets.
It’s not bad, a little bitter at times (which I don’t usually experience with other red bean items) but overall a tasty experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.