Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Morinaga has created a huge array of flavors of their popular Japanese HiCHEW candies. Most of their standard flavors can be found easily in the United States and Canada. I’ve spotted them in convenience stores, Target, Cost Plus World Market and of course specialty grocers. The most recent one I picked up was Aloe Yogurt on a trip to Little Tokyo.
Depending on where I pick up my Japanese candy, sometimes the label has a translation on it (a sticker applied by the importer). In this case it went like this:
As an American, I have very little experience with aloe as a flavor. I’ve had prickly pear but eating aloe isn’t really something I’ve considered. It’s for soothing sunburn. While I’ve seen aloe vera juice at health food stores, I’ve certainly never seen Aloe Yogurt.
Most HiCHEW have a white chew outside and a lightly colored chew in the center. In this case it was all the same color, or so subtle I couldn’t tell.
The chew is smooth and latexy - a little bouncy and not the least bit sticky. It’s kind of like chewing gum except that it slowly dissolves. It’s a bit creamier than some of the straight fruit flavors. I credit the milk sauce for that.
The flavor is mild, a little citrusy and tangy, it reminds me more of Ramune (lemon soda) than yogurt or aloe. It’s fresh but that fresh taste also reminds me of bathroom cleaner - it’s a little too much like it’s covering something up than actually cleaning anything.
Overall, not my favorite HiCHEW. I think I’ll stick to the fruit flavors. I enjoy real yogurt, but I’m finding that I’m not that keen on yogurt inspired candy. (Including those “yogurt covered dried fruit” things from the bulk bins at health food stores.) But your mileage may vary.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Meiji, one of Japan’s major candy & snack companies uses white and flavored white chocolates in many of their confections. The flavors range from berry and flower flavors (sakura) to green tea and caramel.
I found this Meiji Rich Strawberry Chocolate bar in Little Tokyo at Murukai Market, but every store seemed to carry them.
The bar is much deeper in color than the KitKats or even the limited edition Hershey’s flavored white chocolate bars that I’ve had. And the intensity of the color matches the flavor. It’s much more in the berry range than the “light touch of berries”. It’s both tangy and sweet, with that woodsy flavor of seeds in there as well.
I wasn’t as fond of it as a I’d hoped. Something about the tangy mixed with the sweetness and a bit of grain from the real berry in there made me miss the cocoa butter and milk base. But for $1.29, it was a great buy for a little more exotic taste than the ordinary.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I wasn’t sure what these would be, I thought something like the Skoolkrijt that I’ve come to love. I assumed it was a licorice center with a candy coating. I found a description online that said, “Salty Salmiak & Mint Flavor with a crunchy outer shell” which didn’t really capture it all (except that it included that it was salted licorice, not the straight sweet kind).
There are three shapes, a dark and a light jelly bean style and a larger, um, rock. I didn’t even know there was a third shape at first, as there were only two in the bag so I didn’t photograph it.
The beans are two different flavors. The light one is a peppermint, menthol and licorice mix of flavors. There’s a lot of crunch outside, it’s a bit grainy. The inside isn’t a molasses/wheat chewy licorice. Instead it’s a gelatin gummi flavored with licorice (and salt). The combo isn’t bad, a little metallic but the mint helps kind of smooth it all together.
The gray ones were similar but more on the straight licorice side. (They might not have been minted, but the proximity made them so.)
The lumps were a piece of the wheat based chew, again a little salted and covered with the minty crunch. That was my favorite.
They’re a little confusing for me. Not enough of one thing or another and the lack of the molasses punch to go with the licorice (my favorite combo) just didn’t make me want more and I never finished the bag.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
I was saddened several years ago to see that Wrigley’s altered their time-tested favorites: Wrigley’s Spearmint, Doublemint, Juicyfruit and Big Red gums to include those sorts of things. But then at Munchies in Los Angeles I stumbled across this little treasure - Juicy Fruit Gum, not only is it Kosher (which I don’t really need) but it’s also made with sugar and on top of that, they’re candy coated chicklets!
The box was cute and held 20 pellets. I usually chew three pieces at a time, so at 50 cents it’s no different in price than the regular pack.
I liked the crunch of the sugar shell and the indeterminate mellow fruity flavor of the chew. The flavor doesn’t last very long, but I don’t usually chew gum for a long time, just long enough to get most of the sugar out then I rinse and repeat.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I have about half left.
But a morning browse on eBay a couple of weeks ago led to an auction of some Mentos from Japan in a yellow package simply flavored Grapefruit. I had to have them. So I placed an order with JBox and they arrived earlier this week.
Sporting and expiry date of 2010, these puppies must be fresh. The package is much like the others from around the world, the large Mentos logo, a picture of the fruit flavor on the right end and, of course, the name of the flavor in both English and Japanese.
They’re a nice yellow color and have the crunchy shell and soft chew inside. They’re tart and fragrant and have a good mix of citrus oil and zest notes. They’re not quite like the Pamplemousse though. The citrus is a bit more generic, a little floral and less bitter. Still extremely satisfying. I have two more rolls and if this were a permanent Japanese flavor, JBox could count on more orders. At a dollar fifty a package (instead of the 75 cents or so for my remaining Pink Grapefruit), I wouldn’t buy a lot of them though. (Mentos, can you make Yuzu flavored next?)
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
I bought this package of Kasugai Pineapple Gummy Candy back in January on a trip to Little Tokyo that I’d hoped would cheer me up. After all, the most widely accepted definition of candy is sweetened, concentrated and read-to-eat fun .
The package is dominated by a photo of two real pineapples. Pineapples are the symbol of hospitality in Western culture and their Indian name, anana  means simply excellent fruit . So what better combination to make lightly sweetened, concentrated and edible fun than to make it from the most excellent fruit?
The ingredients list goes like this: sugar, corn syrup, pineapple juice, gelatin, oblate powder, sorbitol, citric acid/malic acid, pectin, artificial pineapple flavor, palm oil, emulsifier, coloring (beta carotene).
Each gummi is individually wrapped. This keeps them fresh, which is good because I don’t usually eat a whole bag of gummis in one sitting. (But then again I have no problem eating stale gummis.)
The pieces are rounded, with a little crease in the top that might even make this look like a heart to some. Or maybe a peach.
Opening the little packet and the gummi is super soft, a little most but most of all, heavily scented. It smells like opening a can of pineapple: sweet but very deep. The chew is soft and pliable, almost like a Jell-O dessert.
It’s tangy and has a little sizzle to it with a good fruity burst. If I have a complaint about them, it might be that they’re just too fruity. After about five of them I get that same tongue burn. No, wait, that’s not a complaint. I love them. They make me happy. They’re concentrated bits of sunshine and tropical beaches. My misgivings are the fact that I find them hard to find and they’re pretty expensive for gummis.
Kasugai makes a pretty large array of flavors, most of them tropical including Lychee, Kiwi & Mango as well as the more middle-of-the road like Orange, Apple, Muscat (white grape), Peach and Strawberry.
 - This definition first appeared on Candy Blog on August 6th 2008, so may not be as widely accepted as I might hope.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Kai’s Candies has a line of candidate sets. The one for Barack Obama is currently available and includes lollipops with Obama’s likeness on them plus little single candies that either say VOTE or have an image of a donkey.
Later in August they’ll have a set for John McCain that features a lollipop with his face plus red elephant candies.
The images are made by hand. Basically sugar and syrup are boiled, a little flavor or color is added and then the different hunks of colored candy are assembled into a large blob that is rolled thinner and thinner - little slices are cut that reveal the design created by stacking the different colors. This is the same traditional technique used to make swirled & twisted lollipops, starlight mints and candy canes.
In Japan this technique is called Kumi Ame (rolled candy), where these are made to Kai’s Candies specifications.
Kai’s Candy has a nice post on their blog that shows photos of the process.
In the case of Kai’s Candies, the background is a translucent candy instead of an opaque color, which adds to the appeal of these, like they’re enamel.
The Obama pop is attractive, I recognize it as Obama, though the flesh tone is a bit light and his lips should be darker as well. It’s about 1 1/2 inches across and about 1/4 inch deep. The stick is a stiff plastic, white with a twirl of color. They’re a bit longer than usual lollipop sticks at almost eight inches, so you could put them in a vase or something as a centerpiece.
The design goes through and through, it’s not an imprint or a raised design.
However, as the candy dissolves the different kinds that make it up dissolve at different rates. The clear candy background seems to be the hardest, so Obama’s face disappeared more quickly (as did the donkey in the little piece).
As a piece of edible propaganda, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. It’s good quality stuff and the company takes great pride in their work. The packaging is spare but appropriate. (I liked that the donkey, elephant & vote were not only in clear wrappers but had color coded ends.)
They are expensive ($14.95 for a set that includes 4 pops and 14 little candies) but they’re also hand made. There are also mini-sets for only $3.95 but of course it makes the per item charge higher ... and don’t forget shipping. There’s nothing on the site about just ordering the vote and party affiliate animals (though I bet you could contact them directly for that).
UPDATE 8/18/2008: Kai’s Candy has lowered the prices, the regular set is now $13.95. They also include lettered pops that say “Obama” or “McCain” and mixes that have both Obama and McCain face and name pops mixed.
UPDATE 2/20/2009: Kai’s Candy has a message on their website: Kai’s Candy Company Is No Longer In Business. We’d like to thank our customers who helped launch our business, but like many others, we haven’t been able to sustain our business through the recent economic downturn.
Friday, May 30, 2008
This short work-week has been a bit of a round-up period, I’m doing a lot of these short reviews in long posts to try to cover a lot of the candy I have.
I first had these a couple of years ago, at a time when I was gobbling up every Japanese black sugar candy I could get my hands on. Japanese black sugar (kuro sato) traditionally comes from Okinawa and is similar to molasses or muscovado sugar.
I couldn’t resist buying a few boxes of the Morinaga Black Sugar Caramel (Kokutou) in my last order from JList, mostly because I was also ordering other black sugar items and wanted to remind myself.
They don’t look like much, but the little bullion cube sized morsels are packed with dark creamy flavor. Not too sweet and just slightly rummy at the end. They come in oodles of other flavors. I’ve tried the original Milk Caramel, Matcha, Black Sesame and Azuki, but I always come back to the Black Sugar.
Rating: 8 out of 10
While Morinaga has their line of milk caramels, Meiji has their toffee squares called Chelsea that similarly come in many varieties: Yogurt Scotch, Butterscotch, Matcha, Azuki and even mixes like Dessert.
When I saw that the Black Sugar Chelsea variety was available in the single flavor box, I jumped and ordered three packs.
The design aesthetic of the Chelsea line can’t be beat. The little box with it’s slide tray & bronzy flower design is easily distinguished from the other flavors, yet easily identified from a distance as Chelsea.
The flat pack box is easy to stash in a pocket as well, and the individual wrappers keep it all fresh.
The smooth tile of candy has no voids. Though it’s sweet, it’s pretty mellow and milky, kind of like a chai without the spice. There’s a background of woodsy flavors like brown sugar. It’s not as intensely “black sugar” as I’d like, but these are really refreshing. They don’t feel heavy and have a sort of jasmine tea finish that feels so fresh.
Chelsea also comes in bags with plastic wrapped pieces. I don’t like those as much, I really like the foil wrappers (though they’ve done a nice job of designing the sealed wraps).
Rating: 9 out of 10
Even though I already had two packs of Banana HiCHEW sitting around from a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace earlier this year, I just had to order the Tropical Mix along with the Pineapple.
The Tropical Mix package seems to promise peach, white grape, banana and pineapple. I’d assumed that this was a mixed flavor package. But when I opened it I found that each piece was identically wrapped. Sadly (well for me and my silly expectations) it was a fruit punch and not a mixed pack. The flavor of the fruit punch is actually quite nice, I can actually detect the peachy and banana flavors in there.
My Pineapple HiCHEW were backordered (probably because I bought three packs). I was certain they were good and I wasn’t disappointed. They have a light yellow center and were extremely fresh and soft.
They start sweet then build with a tangy and kind of woodsy pine essence. The flavor lasts all the way to the end and still leaves a fresh feeling in the mouth.
Banana Rating: 7 out of 10
I bought these on a lark. Last year I picked up something called UHA Puccho Baked Custard, which sounds dreadful but it was pretty dreamily good. Of course I wanted to buy it again and have had no luck finding it. (It probably said limited edition on the wrapper, but I don’t read Japanese.)
So when I saw this Tsubu Tsubu HiCHEW Chocolate Banana, I thought that sounded something like a custard-like chew. For $1.25 I could take a chance.
It’s a HiCHEW banana base, soft and bouncy and included in the chew are little things that look like large nonpariels (sprinkles). I guess that’s supposed to be the chocolate part. It’s not really. The crunch is nice but not as well defined as the Puccho does with their gummi & crunchy inclusions.
While I think that HiCHEW is made for people of all ages, my guess is that the Tsubu Tsubu is probably for kids and my grown-up palate just couldn’t get into it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Monday, April 28, 2008
I’ve had my eye out as I’ve been traveling for other versions of Mentos. Once I ran across the pink grapefruit at a gas station outside of Stockton, so you never know. The cool thing was that I knew that I had a package from Japan waiting for me when I returned from my Bay Area Confectionery Escapade (tm).
Japan has great Mentos. Fuji Apple & Pine Fresh have to be some of the best. But their Grape has some devoted followers. I wasn’t sure what Banana ‘n Cream would be like, but I enjoyed my Banana HiCHEW recently (sorry, I never wrote about them).
The packages doesn’t even say banana on it, it just has pictures of the fruit on it. Upon tasting it, there’s no mistaking it. The chews are at first a soft banana flavor, then after chewing for a bit a tangy, kind of yogurt flavor emerges. Not quite green banana, but maybe a little lemony (like yogurt can often taste).
I never got the ‘n Cream part, just the banana. A nice taste and an interesting change of pace from the tangier fruits. It doesn’t have that freaky artificial taste like Circus Peanuts (that may be a plus or a minus depending on where you fall on the whole Circus Peanuts as valid confectionery debate).
Rating: 6 out of 10
I found these Red Orange Mentos at Holland’s Best in San Jose. I’m unsure of their age. The code at the end of the wrapper says 2007 E50264C, which is either a manufacture day, or a pull date (I suspect the latter since the banana ones said 2009 on them). Either way, they were still fresh enough for me to eat.
The color is more of a pink than an orange. The flavor is more of a tangerine than a blood orange (which is what I think red orange means in North America), but it’s still very tasty. It’s zesty and tangy. It’s not quite the dreamy dalandan & ponkan ones I’ve had, but at least these seem to be a regular product. I’m glad I bought two packages. There’s vitamin C in there, if I can do math properly in Dutch, it’s about 50 mg per roll.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I talked to Caitlin, who runs Miette Confiserie about the now-discontinued Pink Grapefruit Mentos. She spoke with Perfetti Van Melle about it, who said they were happy to make them again, if she could guarantee that she’d buy the minimum order directly from them. (Which is literally in the tons.) So it doesn’t look like they’re going to be coming back soon in the single flavor pack. (The Citrus Mix still exists in Asia/Australia though.)
Monday, April 14, 2008
KitKat in Japan has been hard at work churning out new limited edition and seasonal flavors. I’ve been kind of picky about which ones I want to buy and review, so here was one that I was particularly interested in: KitKat Vanilla Beans.
As with all of the premium limited edition KitKats in the single serve size, this comes in a box with two individually wrapped finger pairs.
It’s basically a white chocolate KitKat. I picked it up because the ingredients listed real cocoa butter, so this is true white chocolate instead of some partially hydrogenated/tropical oil mess.
It features real flecks of vanilla beans in the coating as well, which I’d hoped would be like the rich bourbon flavors of the Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar.
It smells quite milky and sweet, almost cloyingly so. The melt is nice, it does have a good dairy flavor and it’s not as sweet as I’d feared. The vanilla flavor is true and well rounded (not single-noted like the nature-identical vanillin).
The wafers balance it all out ... but I think I could have used a little bit of salt in the cream or something to keep it from being throat burningly sugary.
It’s not spectacularly better than a regular US white chocolate KitKat, certainly not for the price. In fact for the price per ounce the Green & Black’s is a better deal and ethically traded (but you’ll have to add your own crispy element). Rating: 6 out of 10
Like the KitKat, Nestle goes through a lot of different limited editions of their popular Aero Bar for Japan. Aeros are available in the UK, Canada and Australia but for some reason have never been introduced in the US. (There was a Nestle chocolate bar called the Choco-Lite back in the 70s-early 80s.)
I’ve reviewed the Mint and Milk Chocolate Aero before and have a Caramel Aero in my review queue. The UK also has a version of little spheres (about the size of malted milk balls) called Aero Bubbles. I find the UK Aeros at import shops including Cost Plus World Market pretty regularly.
It’s the Japanese Aeros that are so fun though, especially since they have these cute little individually wrapped nuggets in the Limited Edition versions. I found these at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Little Tokyo but they’re also available online through eBay and JBox. This one is called Aero Bitter Orange and has a companion KitKat bar that came out last year as well. (I tried them but didn’t review them. Pretty tasty milk chocolate with a mellow orange cream filling between the wafers.)
It lives up to the Aero name. It is a fluffed bite of chocolate. The orange topping is orangy, not in the least tangy or complexly zesty but slightly bitter as promised.
The bubbles in Aero give it an interesting texture, more fudgy than chocolatey, it’s still a nice confectionery experience. The box makes them seem like a nicer candy treat than perhaps they actually are, as does the price ($1.99 for 1.76 ounces.) 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.