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.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.