Friday, June 15, 2007
One of the things I like so much about some of the Japanese candies is that they’re incredibly flavorful. I couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at JBox telling me about a new UHA Shigekix product called Aha! Brain. It comes in a few different flavors, including “Energy Drink Flavor”, which puzzled me and scared me enough to prompt me to stick to the comfortably familiar flavor called Citrus Flavor.
I tried Shigekix a couple of years ago in the Cola flavor and found them kind of fun. This package doesn’t have the familiar schmoo character on the front, instead a PacMan type character with some sort of electrified brain.
The little gumdrop shaped candies are covered in a light and uneven candy shell. The shell is merely sweet and carries no flavor as far as I can tell. The gummi center, however, is jam packed with flavor. The gummi is much softer than the regular Shigekix, rather like a slightly stale Haribo Bear.
The citrus flavor is just bursting with complexity. It has the zesty notes of grapefruit and perhaps yuzu and lemon then the tart bite and a bit of sweet juiciness. I have no idea if my brain is more awake than before, but my salivary glands are working overtime here.
I probably wouldn’t go popping this to solve problems, but I could see it being a good treat for long car trips where I need to stay alert.
Shigegix Aha! Brain also comes in Muscat flavor.
Check out the JBox site where they feature four different ads from Japan for the product. I have no idea what’s going on (I believe the dancing woman in the yellow helmet is caused by eating Aha! Brain). Now I want that helmet (I rode my bike to work today and my plain white helmet just isn’t doing it for me ... well, except for protecting my now super-Aha’ed brain).
Friday, May 25, 2007
I’ve been looking at Crunky for a few years now. It’s not the name that threw me, it just didn’t seem that appealing. Why buy a Japanese or Korean cheap chocolate bar when we have plenty of them here in the States. But I knew I had to give it a try eventually.
Lotte is a huge company, based in both South Korea and Japan, so there are lots of places where you may see these bars in Asia.
Crunky Chocolate - Salted Caramel - the description on JBox said that this was a salted caramel bar. I was expecting, as the picture seems to have, some chocolate and some caramel. Instead it’s some sort of a white chocolate bar with a salty and caramelized flavor. It also has the malted crunchies.
The wrapper isn’t in English so I’m at a loss to read the rest of the description, but as far as I’m concerned, this is not chocolate. It doesn’t taste like chocolate, it doesn’t look like chocolate. It might be shaped like chocolate, but it’s not. Perhaps it’s off-white chocolate.
My feelings of betrayal aside ... it’s nice, and I actually grew rather fond of the not-so-sweet taste. The slightly burnt flavor was also nice as were the crunchies with their malty hit. But the texture of the chocolate itself wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t creamy, it didn’t melt in my mouth. It got soft, it was rather smooth, but it felt more fudgy than chocolatey.
Crunky Chocolate - my feelings for the first bar I tried were set aside for this experience. It looks rather traditional, like a Krackle or Nestle Crunch bar, but the chocolate is definitely lighter. It’s certainly well packaged. The easy to open
box reveals a large flat bar (well, mine got a little bent in transit from Japan) wrapped in a light matte foil.
The chocolate is a little waxy, but very smooth. The flavor is more milky and perhaps a little burnt tasting as several people have mentioned to me. The quality is no better than Hershey’s or Nestle’s standard consumer fare, but perhaps a bit different. I liked the format of the bar, I’ve always found Crunch bars a little too flat, I want the crispies to be really surrounded (I rather prefer the Easter egg versions).
Neither of these set my world on fire. Every country has to have a crispy chocolate bar. I like the name, it has a good onomatopoeiaic sense to it. If I were in Japan or South Korea I would probably pick these up as a “safe” choice, but I don’t know if I’d mail order them again. (But they could probably sucker me with some limited edition variety ... because I’m a sucker like that.)
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
These are freakish, disarming and charming all at once. I don’t know why I ordered them from JBox, but I’m certainly glad I did.
I thought that the Puccho line is really inventive. If you’ve never had them they’re a chew studded with bits of gummi and then other candy, usually little sour or fizzy nuggets. I know it sounds weird but it really works.
JBox.com called this variety Baked Puccho—Custard Cream. But from the package and taste I’ve decided it’s really creme brulee.
The chew is a light vanilla, smooth though not quite as bouncy as HiCHEW. Then as the chew continues there are little grainy sparkles of caramelized sugar and then soft and dense nuggets of caramel flavored gummis. Creamy and crunchy and chewy.
It sounds weird, I know, but they’re completely addictive and I’m sorry I didn’t buy more (especially since they’re currently out of them). They’re satisfying in that they make me feel like I’ve had a decadent fatty custard but they’re also so engaging because of the chew that I want to keep it going.
The other flavor they have in stock at JBox right now is Mikakuto Baked Puccho—Baked Apple & Cinnamon which also sounds pretty weird, but judging by my first impression of these, they’re probably very good.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Here I was lamenting that Starburst wasn’t making the flavors I wanted when there are companies out there that make exactly what I like: strong citrus flavored chews. A couple of weeks ago I ordered from JBox. Even though my local Japanese markets in Little Tokyo stock a huge variety of candies, they always seem to miss the fringy things.
The first item I wanted to try was Valencia Orange HiCHEW.
The candy is fresh and has that inimitable bounce that HiCHEWs always deliver. The orange flavor is well rounded, sweet and a little tangy with a good juicy zest bite to it. It’s not quite tangy enough for me, though it gets tangier and more latexy as the chew goes on.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The one that really got me off my duff to place an order was Yuzu HiCHEW. I didn’t even know what that was, but it had a sliced yellow fruit on the front.
Yuzu is an Asian citrus that most of us know from Ponzu sauce. It’s kind of like grapefruit with a little lime and a little tangerine thrown in. Technically I guess the fruit is a hybrid of the Papeda Lemon and the Mandarin Orange. It’s an exceptionally hardy citrus that can tolerate frost and freezing temperatures, though not particularly attractive, it’s treasured for its peel.
The lemon notes come out loud and clear early on, then the mellow tangerine juice kicks in and at the end of the chew a really enticing grapefruit zest come out and ends with a slight bitterness. I bought two packs of both of these and as I write this, the Yuzu has three pieces left.
Rating: 9 out of 10
JBox sells them for $1.40 (plus shipping) which is a bit more than the dollar or so that I pay at the local markets. But if you don’t have a local market, that hardly matters. Full disclosure: JBox gave me a gift certificate so that I could try more of the stuff in their inventory, I’ve ordered from them before and like their selection. Even though everything was shipped slowboat, it arrived in great condition. They don’t always have all items in stock, but they just launched a new feature where you can get an RSS feed for all new items or just create a search for the items you’re waiting to be in stock. (A very dangerous feature ... the Pineapple Mentos are in!)
Friday, April 13, 2007
Koakuma from UHA are a curious little candy. They’ve taken their wildly popular Puccho and combined them with the flavors and colors of the Gothic Lolita style popular in Japan. Koakuma means “little devil” and the package sports the little character all over it. With a heart shaped face, little bat wings and on the bottom of the pleated bag, she rides a trident like a broom.
These little candies come individually wrapped inside larger pouches. The taffy base is black with rich colored stripes and then studded with gummis.
Koakuma Peach Rose
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a huge fan of fresh peaches, canned peaches and even dried peaches. There’s just something about many peach flavored candies I’m just not fond of.
No matter, because these don’t taste like peaches. It smells like peaches, but it tastes like mildly tart floral berries.
The little gummy bits provide and interesting texture to the bouncy chew. It was very fresh and soft and pretty darn good. I was really surprised I ate most of the bag.
Koakuma Blueberry Rose
I’ve never really been that impressed with blueberry as a flavor. I often get it confused with raspberry in candies, and this one is no exception. It tastes like raspberry and a little floral note thrown in there with the rose. But I have to say that I’m impressed that the color actually looks like blueberries instead of like something pharmaceutical.
Again, bouncy and chewy and fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.
Both of them were nice, but the specific flavors just weren’t my favorites. I think I’d like a strawberry with rose or maybe a grape and violet. I bet they’d make a fun gift for someone who’s intro Goth though. (Who doesn’t like candies that match their nail polish?) There is another flavor called Cassis & Grape that I saw on JList for $1.80 (which has lots of other Gothic Lolita cosplay stuff to complete the look).
Monday, March 12, 2007
I’m a mochi fan. When I’m down in Little Tokyo here in Los Angeles I like to pop into Fugetsu-Do and buy some wagashi with red bean paste (they do a lemon one with white bean that’s pretty good too). It’s not a mainstream taste for the American market though.
I was pretty excited to hear about the KitKat Azuki, though I had my doubts about how well it’d go with chocolate.
As KitKats out of the package go, this has to be the most unappealing. It has a base of white chocolate but the little sticks are a light pink with some dusty mauve tones, just kind of mousey looking. It smells milky with a little touch of an earthy quality to it.
The first bite is crisp and sweet and it isn’t until later as it’s all mashed up in the mouth that the red bean notes come out. It’s not a loud and obvious flavor, just a light earthy quality, a little like beets or kidney beans. It’s not as unnerving as the Pumpkin ones from last year, but not something I’m terribly interested in again. This experience does not diminish my desire for mochi.
I have to admit that I liked this one. I saw other people chatting about it on the internet and I thought it sounded horrible. The Fruit Parfait KitKat seems to be a mix of banana, melon, orange, blueberry and strawberry flavors if the photo is accurate.
I can’t say I have a lot experience with fruit parfaits ... are they like a fruit tiramisu? (On a vaguely related note, in my youthful ignorance I thought that tiramisu was a Japanese dessert before I’d actually had it.)
It’s another one of those white chocolate KitKats.
The bars really aren’t that attractive with their rippled colors of white chocolate. They smell like a cross between bananas and yogurt. The taste is rather similar. The white coating isn’t too sickly sweet and has some nice berry flavors with an overall banana background. I even got some melon and blueberry flavors in there sometimes. The wafers are crisp and feature a cream filling that’s a little pink and has more of the berry flavors to it.
I liked it. I ate it. I hope I don’t run across any others, it’s one of those candies that doesn’t make me feel good about myself for liking it. (Is it the polka dots on the package? The smell? The word Parfait? Should I run a poll?)
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Japan is known for cars, Japan is known for electronics. Japan is known for cute. Japan is also home to some of the best KitKats in the world (okay, and some of the worst, but this is the price of innovation and an example of the bell curve).
What else can I say except that the KitKat Bitter is what a KitKat should be all day, every day.
Upon opening one of the two packets that have two-finger sticks, it’s obvious this candy is real. The chocolate is dark and glossy and smells like ... chocolate! The package says, in English, “High Grade Cacaomass”, which I’m guessing is their way of saying that’s it’s authentically dark chocolate.
The American dark chocolate KitKats were not nearly as good as these (not that it matters, as they’re long gone). The Canadian dark KitKats are close in flavor but lacking in the high-quality chocolate texture.
The wafers are crisp and have that light touch of sweet filling. Yes, the chocolate here is rich and dark and actually slightly bitter as the label advertises. It’s a little dry as well. But it’s just so real tasting, it just spoils me for any other KitKats.
The White KitKat says that it has Nasu Highland Milk. I’m not sure what that is, but I’m sure it’s a selling point.
It smells very milky and has a light milky look to it. Though it’s sweet, it’s not throat-burningly so. The crispy wafers are good and offset the sweetness of the milky coating. As white chocolate KitKats go, I prefer this one to the Matcha from last year that seemed excessively sweet and a bit greasy feeling.
I can’t see myself eating this regularly, but I finished the bar, which is a good recommendation for anything containing white chocolate for me (I have a tendency to like them at first but lose interest after a serving). The wafers seemed to be more of a highlight than in the Bitter bar, perhaps a little crispier or maybe I’m better able to discern the flavor of them without the overwhelming chocolate.
Friday, February 23, 2007
The pair I’ll review today are from the Chocolatier line from Japan: Strawberry, Pistachio, Almond and Thyme. These have been around for a few months and as international KitKats go, they’re not that hard to get a hold of, as many eBay vendors, JBox.com and even Amazon seem to have them in stock. They come in a pretty little lift-top box (about the same footprint as a box of tissues) and hold 16 little individually wrapped fingers.
These are slightly smaller than regular KitKats, they’re actually the same size as those minis I tried after Christmas in the Dark Mint Chocolate.
This little morsel smells like milk and sugar. There’s only the slightest hint of strawberry in there, without the tangy berry bite, just a vague floral taste. The nutty flavors are also very subtle. I got no sense of the thyme whatsoever.
That’s not to say that it wasn’t nice, it wasn’t as sweet as some other white chocolate versions of KitKat, such as the Matcha, it’s just so refined it’s beyond me. As fruity KitKats go, I think I liked the Strawberry KitKat from Japan a bit better, mostly because it was more strawberry-y.
The second little box is Ujimaccha, Kinako, Ume by Patissier Takagi. That’s green tea, soybean and sour plum.
The sour plum hits me more as a salty taste, which is good to cut through the sweet white chocolate coating.
The packaging on these is very nice, it’s easy to have one or two little fingers and then reclose the box. It’s also great for sharing, people think it’s a really nice bit of candy I’m offering them. Of course the packaging might be a little extreme, it feels like I’ve eaten a lot when I have three and there’s a huge pile of wrappers next to me and I’ve eaten less than an ounce.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.