Friday, December 28, 2007
For a couple of years, over in the snack aisle of the Japanese market, I’ve noticed these larger bags of chocolate covered grains on the bottom shelf. Most are wheat, some are rice. They’re usually in rather generic looking bags and not as demanding of my attention as the other Japanese candies on the other side of the aisle. But last time I just had to pick this up. It was called by the very simple name of Wheat Chocolate (Mugi Chocolate).
It looks like it’s a puffed wheat covered in shiny milk chocolate. And that’s pretty much what it is.
The English nutrition label says that the ingredients are barley puffs, not wheat. These are a little small, about half the size of the wheat puffs you might be familiar with if you eat Sugar Smacks. Of course the idea of barley was pretty appealing to me (I’m a barley nut).
Whatever grain they are, they’re all perfectly crisped and coated with a thin layer of milk chocolate and then given a shiny confectioners glaze.
They’re all about the size of a green pea, though a few are doubles stuck together. The chocolate is sweet and thin with a pretty strong milky flavor to it. This goes perfectly with the strong malty puffed grain inside. Each is foamy and crisp.
The bag held 5.46 ounces and I ate it in two days. Seriously addictive stuff. I couldn’t stop popping them in my mouth and I have to wonder why I can’t get an American version of these. The package was really charming too, mostly clear cellophane to display the lovely chocolate and bordered with pink and some little drawings of people and houses. (It felt kind of Dutch to me, honestly.)
Oddly enough I also had another puffed grain candy from the other side of the world recently too. It’s called Kinder Country made by Ferrero. It’s a small bar (23 grams - a little more than 3/4 of an ounce), about half the size of a regular Hershey’s (though a bit thicker). I got this at Mel & Rose’s Wine & Spirits on Melrose in Los Angeles.
The outside is a milk chocolate shell, which is that really sticky sweet milk chocolate that Kinder is known for. Inside is a smooth and buttery cream filling. It’s not quite white chocolate, much more dairy flavored and not too sweet. The fun part is that it’s studded with puffed rice. (Not crisped rice.) The flavor combination is like cereal and milk. The puffs are so light and airy, it makes this tiny bar pretty satisfying. (Sera also reviewed it this week - her wrapper looked different than this import though.)
It’s a tasty bar. Not quite as addictive as the Wheat Chocolate, but certainly different from our usual American crisped rice goodies.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A few months ago I was contacted by JBox, the webstore that lets North Americans buy Japanese snacks directly from Japan. I’ve ordered from them before, so I was happy to have some personal contact from them and I suggested they start carrying some items that I know readers here are interested in. (Juntsuyu for one and Mentos.) They also gave me a sassy gift certificate so that I could try a wider variety of their products. (I’ve already reviewed HiCHEW Yuzu & Valencia Orange, UHA Puccho Custard, Lotte Crunky and Shigekix Aha! Brain on their dime.)
After my wonderful experience with the Asian Sour Mentos that had pineapple in the mix, I had to try the Japanese Pine Fresh Mentos.
I was so encouraged that I ordered three rolls of the Pine Fresh. Can I just say that I’m sorry I only ordered three?
The package is so funny. Usually the upper corner above the local says “Chewy Dragee” or “Chewy Mint”. In this case it says “The Chewy Pine Fresh.”
The color is a delicate and soft yellow. They don’t smell like much, but Mentos rarely do.
Upon biting into them I get a nice burst of floral fruitiness - it reminds me of freesias (which remind me of Froot Loops).
Then there’s a tart bite and a good rounded flavor of pineapple.
I love ‘em. I’m out of ‘em.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
These are from Japan and come in a few different varieties. They’re called Inside Out KitKats. I was calling them Naked KitKats for a while until I found out the real name.
They’re a KitKat without the coating. The bar is longer (about 5.5”) and generally larger. The center filling is lightly flavored. I think the one pictured is Chestnut.
A few KitKat variations out there seem to be breaking the rules of KitKats ... KitKats are supposed to be multi-bars that can be snapped into fingers to share or enjoy slowly. (I’ve never met anyone who just chomps on a whole KitKat.)
But this comes down to the discussion of what should be included under a particular candy “brand”. When I think of Reese’s, the essential element is peanut butter and the secondary element is cups ... the third element is chocolate. You can add things in there, but but taking away more than one of those essentials just mucks with it so much that it ceases to be a Reese’s.
The same goes with KitKat. It has to be fingers (even if the fingers are sold individually), it has to have crispy wafers and it has to have some sort of chocolate coating (be it white, milk or dark). Here we’ve lost the coating and the “fingers” have become as large as rods.
Okay, so maybe they’re not KitKats. What are they? They’re cookies. Cookie wafers with a cream filling and I dare say it, they’re no longer candy. They fall into the confectionery category, but out of my realm of specialization.
Naming and placement on the taxonomic chart of candy aside, these are okay. The wafers are certainly crispy, but they’re also dry. There’s not enough cream filling to give them much of a flavor, and subtle is fine, but there’s so little going on here. I’d say they’re the perfect summer candy bar because there’s no worries about melting, but there’s also so little moisture here I’m worried about dehydration and these sucking what little fluids I have left out of my system.
I tried two flavor sets: chestnut and mango. Chestnut is pleasant because the sweet nutty flavors go with the cream sweetness. The mango was just weird, the pine-type flavors of the cream just seemed to fight with the bar on the whole. Perhaps if it had a bit of a tang to it or recognized more of the juiciness of the fruit instead of just the flavor, it might have worked more. Of course that would be an even larger departure from the KitKat-ness.
I still have a few of these left (and I’ve had them since January - both Amy in Japan and Santos gave them to me) and even when I eat them and find them okay, I keep forgetting I have them and when I see them sitting there I have no impulse to eat them.
Friday, July 6, 2007
This is just a bunch of candy that I photographed but never got around to reviewing. I ate it and everything, but I couldn’t come up with more than 50 words about it and that seemed like a slight for regular readers. (Okay, now that I’ve finished writing this very long post, it seems that I am able to come up with more than 50 words.)
Chocovic is one of my favorite brands of Single Origin chocolate. They’re not even that expensive when you find them at Trader Joes and the Ocumare is smooth and buttery. I was excited that they were adding milk chocolate to their line with the Jade 40% Cocoa Solids Milk Chocolate Bar. The bar was nice, a little acidic and maybe tasted a bit like raisins. It was not as smooth and creamy as I’d hoped but really rich. I loved the package.
This one got a little broken when I brought it back from Chicago, so I thought I’d wait around until I saw another one before I gave it a full review. It’s been a full year and I havne’t seen them anywhere.
These are just a wee little treat from Fauchon that Santos at Scent of Green Bananas gave me last year. They’re so cute!
I was going to review them, and then Sugar Savvy did, so I thought I’d wait and well, here it is, July.
They’re little guanduias, just hazelnut chocolates. They’re rather like the Caffarel ones I reviewed, and I’ve since found that this little “hat” shaped chocolate is pretty common in Europe.
There were two little candies in each pink “purse”. While I thought these were adorable, they’re also fantastically expensive. This is something that’s confused me for a while. Guanduia was invented as a way to “extend” chocolate supplies, so while hazelnuts themselves aren’t cheap, they aren’t that expensive either. But these are. ($6.50 for two pieces of chocolate?)
It’s all in the packaging. The price and branding led me to believe that these would be top notch. Sadly they weren’t. I found them a little chalky. Now, I’ve had plenty of bloomed chocolate, but this wasn’t like a bloom, it was just like it was a little dry.
But the nuts were fresh and crunchy. If you’re really in the mood for some guanduia, just pick some plain old stuff up. Or get one of these and a big bag of Caffarel and keep refilling the pretty pink purse for portion control and fashion.
Last year at All Candy Expo I came across a company that was showing off some really nice candies. They had several lines, they included all natural gummies and some little fruit chews called Gazillions that I really loved. Their booth was pretty cool too, spacious and inviting and pretty sassy with the candy displayed in giganto martini glasses.
The company is called Value Quest Foods ... no website, really, no info out there.
It’s a shame, because I could see a lot of their products going places if they were packaged for the North American market a little better. Candy is really a tough business.
Gazillions are little chewy candy morsels that look like itty bitty pieces of popcorn. They’re about the size of a lentil. They’ve got a slight crackly shell and inside it’s a chew. They came in a bunch of different flavors but I liked Pineapple best. Kind of like an itty bitty Starburst or fruit Mentos. I didn’t care much for the box, which was about the size of a box of matches. I think they’d do better in a little tin or a more appealing box.
They come in Green Apple, Pineapple, Orange, Lemon, Fruity Punch, Raspberry and Strawberry. But that doesn’t matter because I’ve never seen them for sale. Great name though.
The other cool item that they later sent me as a sample was something called Fruities, which I have to say are stunning to look at. They’re also like the Gazillions in that they’re a fruit chew, a little latexy, kind of like HiCHEW with a hard, crunchy shell. And of course the selling point is that they look like real fruit, down to the variations in the colored candy shell. The scale is a little weird, that the limes are bigger than pears ... but hey, they were lovely.
Tasty? Not quite as flavorful as I would have hoped and not really in the flavors I would like.
Last year in Chinatown in New York City I found these things called Fruitips. They’re a long tube, almost as long as a paper towel core and filled with sugar sanded jellies and weighs about 5 ounces. That’s it. They’re fruit jellies. They’re nice and come a few different varieties, I chose the mixed fruits. I like all of them except for purple, which is blackcurrant.
I mention this one because I actually saw these for sale at Big Lots. I can attest that even stale as they are now, these were pretty good, so if you can get a tube for less than $1.50 (what I paid) then I say give them a whirl.
Everything here gets a solid 6 out of 10 for whatever reason. If you’re ever curious what I have sitting around that I might be preparing to review, check out my Flickr set of photos called “Unreviewed”.
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!)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.