Thursday, March 23, 2006
What’s truly baffling in the whole confectionery world is that most sweets are made from the same ingredients. Yet the processes applied to them and the combinations can yield vastly different results. The Bunny Basket Eggs reviewed last week are an excellent example of sugar done wrong.
Konpeito (or Kompeito) is just sugar, and done so well. These little rocks, about the size of a pea and simply rock sugar with a little food coloring. And when you compare iit to those awful marshmallow Easter eggs, it makes no sense.
If you ever saw Spirited Away, you may have seen this candy. They’re little multi-faceted sugar crystal lumps that look like three dimensional stars.
There’s not much else to say about them except that they’re sweet and cute. If you’re looking for a special little something exotic for an Easter basket, these might fit the bill, the packaging is pink and pretty and of course the little pastel morsels of sugar are, well, rock candy. And rock candy rocks. You can even pick up a package and use it when you serve tea or coffee as a cuter version of the old sugar cubes.
See also: CandyAddict.com review, JunkFoodBlog has more on the cultural significance and limited edition versions and Wikipedia has a full entry including the references to Kompeito in media.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
As is often the case when I’m buying Japanese candy at Mitsuwa, I wasn’t quite sure what these were. Some good pictures on the package are always helpful and I figured that these were just coffee flavored chocolate shaped like coffee beans. They are, and so much more.
The candies come in a sassy cardboard tube (wrapped in plastic to keep them fresh). The name, coffeebeat is in English, as I believe that the word ‘coffee’ is pretty recognizable in the Japanese market. The font is funky and reminds me of the ‘70s. Inside the tube are little coffee bean shaped (but slightly larger) chocolate candies with a hard candy shell like an M&M. They even have the little crease on the flat side like a real coffee bean.
The shell is sweet and crunchy and very thin. The center is chocolate with strong milky flavor to it and of course a hit of coffee. It tastes like a mocha. Sweet, smooth, milky and with an excellent coffee flavor that doesn’t feel like a “flavor.” In fact, it’s less chocolate than it is coffee - the chocolate is just a medium to deliver the milky coffee flavor. If you’re a black coffee person, I can see that this might not be the coffee candy for you.
The package is cute, makes it easy to share and the quality is very good. Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the Meiji brand. The products are well priced, use quality ingredients, have logical yet innovative packaging and of course they all taste great. The website seems to indicate they’re for kids, but maybe I’m just a kid at heart.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I haven’t the foggiest on the name on this one, so I’m gonna call these Chestnut Pocky and if anyone else knows what those alternating Japanese and French words add up to, please let me know. (I know that Mont Blanc means white mountain, but that’s not a flavor!)
This is Super Thick Pocky. There are two coatings, the bottom coat is a milky sweet, kinda caramelly coating. The zig-zaggy top coat is similar, but has more of a nutty taste to it, which I’m guessing is where the chestnut comes in. But after tasting it (well, by that I mean eating half the box) I checked with JBox which always has nice descriptions:
It’s been years since I’ve had chestnuts but I remember them being rather sweet and chewy, unlike other nuts.
These are rich and sweet and not as addictively snackable as many of the other Pocky that I’ve had. They’re nice and all, and maybe in a Pocky mix I’d find them a nice change, but I can’t give them the highest marks as a snack. But I can confirm that there are no hydrogenated fish oils in this ingredients list, so that’s a bonus.
(Sorry for any feed duplication today, I’ve been traveling and I scheduled these reviews to launch but something went screwy.)
Friday, February 24, 2006
I’m traveling this week, and when I was at Mitsuwa picking up some things I looked for something to take along that might be considered “traveling Pocky.” I did find some Winter Pocky, which is appropriate because it’s winter here in Pennsylvania. I’m guessing it’s the same as our Limited Editions that Hershey’s and Nestle have been playing around with, they just call it “Seasonal.”
This is a regular milk chocolate Pocky rolled in cocoa. The chocolate seems sweeter than the regular chocolate Pockies and have a slightly more “dairy” flavor to the chocolate than the Men’s or regular Chocolate. It came in four small packets and is a bit more expensive than regular Pocky.
Unlike all the other Pockies I’ve had, this one did not look like the picture on the package. The package made them look textured, but these were just more matte looking and no cocoa came off the sticks (none in the bottom of the little plastic wrapping even). The cocoa adds a nice little bitter and salty hit to the whole thing, which is nice because now that I’ve had Men’s Pocky, I think that regular chocolate Pocky is a little too sweet.
There’s no listing on the ingredients that it contains hydrogenated fish oils, but it does have “shortening” listed on the ingredients, which isn’t prefaced with “vegetable” so it might be in here. It also lists monosodium glutamate.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Sometimes I’ve just gotta buy something because of the way it looks. I saw someone posting photos of this candy on Flickr a few months back. If I hadn’t seen what was inside the box, I’m not sure I would have bought it. The box is 5” wide and 4.5” deep (and only .75” high). The little candies are depicted on the package as well as a diagram of them (in Japanese) on the back (see the website for the text if you’re curious).
I’ve always been pleased with Morinaga’s products. They’re one of Japan’s finer mass-market candymakers. Their ingredients are good quality and they have a fantastic way with packaging.
The candies are “white chocolate” (made with real cocoa butter) with green tea in it (matcha). They’re shaped into pretty little candies - a fan, a flower, a leaf.
There are two different kinds - a dark matcha shape with a chocolate base and then a version with a white chocolate outside with a green tea inside. Though they look different, besides the little bit of dark chocolate on some of them, they taste the same. If you’ve ever had green tea ice cream, that’s basically what this tastes like. Sweet, milky green tea in a solid creamy form.
Some matcha treats have a grain to them, but these are pretty smooth with a mellow, earthy flavor that has only a slight bitter note in the middle. The floral notes stay with you long after you’ve finished them, it’s a pleasant feeling, not like coffee breath. As white chocolates go, this is the way to eat them. They’re pretty, they have an actual flavor and they probably give you a good boost of antioxidants. These are the perfect little gift for someone. The packaging is sweet but they’re not too expensive (even for an import). They’d also be a nice finish to a Japanese-style meal. The package says that a single serving is the whole box, but at 167 calories per ounce, you’ll be doing your heart a favor if you share.
Note: You can order them online from JBox or scour the Japanese markets for them. They may be a seasonal item. This post is pretty much a blatant photography exhibition, they were just so ding-dang cute!
Friday, February 17, 2006
There are some candy aficionados who turn up their noses at hard candy. Sure, they might think a candy cane is nice as decoration, but certainly not meant to be eaten and savored. I actually like hard candy a lot. I like Lifesavers (or did until they mucked around with the flavors in the standard five flavor roll), I like starlite mints, lemon drops and I love barley sugar candy. When I saw these at the Japanese market, I was hoping they were barley sugar, though it didn’t say that was part of the ingredients. In fact, I’m not sure what they are except for solidified, cello-wrapped heaven.
These little morsels look like drops of honey. There are two flavors, the golden ones and the darker ones. I have no idea what flavor they are, but the dark ones taste like sweet black iced tea. The lighter ones taste like sweet sugar with a hint of jasmine. The little bottom of them forms a pentagon and has a little hole in it. There are virtually no air bubbles or voids anywhere in the candy, which makes them exceptionally smooth.
The little cones (about one inch tall) fit nicely in the mouth and have no sharpness to them that can cut the roof of your mouth, which has always been the danger with cheap sour balls. These dissolve slowly and release a delicately sweet flavor across your mouth that will linger for hours after you eat them. They’re crunchable too, as I am prone to chewing up my hard candies. The black tea ones (which I’ve already eaten all of) have a strong tea flavor to them with not a hint of bitterness. The sweet aromatic jasmine in the light ones (or whatever flavor it might be) is clean and fresh.
For some reason these were strangely expensive. At $2.29 for a scant three and a half ounces, I’ve gone and gotten myself addicted to some pricey boiled sugar. The brand, Shirakiku, is known as a tea and snack brand in Japan and to many Americans who buy Japanese teas (like my favorite Genmaicha) and those seaweed rice crackers. I have not been able to find anything about this candy anywhere online, though it’s possible that the English word “juntsuyu” isn’t quite accurate (as is often the case with the American labels slapped on the back of these import packages). So if any of my sweet Japanese readers can help me figure out what these are, I’d be ever so grateful.
UPDATE 4/18/07: JBox is now carrying Juntsuyu (at my request, thankee-thankee). For the record, since I did this review I’ve eaten three more bags of these and also put them in the Christmas Stockings last year.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:40 am
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
Oh, some dear readers (and neighbor) have led me astray ... they’ve raved about the Black Sesame Pocky and I believed them! (See comments in this post.)
Now, I’m a huge fan of halvah and those sesame snaps (like a sesame nut brittle). Sprinkle a little on my sushi rolls too, while you’re at it. But there’s something about toasted sesame, specifically that sesame oil that I’ve just never liked. It’s actually banned from my house (well, my husband sneaks in deli sesame noodles sometimes). It smells like something wrong, something burnt, something rancid or perhaps something toxic. A combination of burnt hair and plastics.
This is just like that: a crunchy and mild cracker stick covered with milky sweet white coating and mixed with every vile black seed known to create an acrid tasting treat. (Okay, I overstated that. I actually ate one of the four packets in the interest of giving a full-featured review, so it can’t be all that bad.)
But there are other things that cause me to hesitate to recommend this, and they involve reading the label. Here are the ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, palm oil, powdered (black sesame, black rice, black bean, black pine seed, black Chinese quince), lactose, whole milk powder, shortening (hydrogenated fish oil), nonfat dry milk, malt extract, salt, yeast, butter, soya lecithin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), artificial flavor.
Maybe there are some omega3 fatty acids in there.
Besides my innate displeasure for toasted sesame, the Pocky were nice. This variety comes in four smaller packets instead of the two large packets like the Men’s and traditional chocolate (so that you may give them away more easily without being offended by the smell).
I am happy to report that this bad review is just because of my personal tastes - it has nothing to do with this being a good product. Feel free to defend the Black Sesame Pocky. If you like toasted sesame, you’ll probably be ga-ga for this, too. I know some folks think I’m nuts for liking the stuff I do, and I think it’s great that the planet affords such a variety of products. And I will be passing along the rest of this package to my dear neighbor how does happen to like the stuff. I’m also happy to report that I picked up several other varieties at the same time and they’re all delightful and you can look forward to nice statements about them.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Here I go again with the KitKats. But this time I thought I’d give you a domestic comparison. It’s not exactly a head-to-head post, just two reviews in one.
There are whole groups of folks devoted to the various iterations of KitKats and I have to admit I’ve fallen under the spell, too. I picked up the KitKat Strawberry a few weeks ago. It’s a very pretty bar, the Japanese version of KitKats are sold in a box that holds two individually wrapped minibars of two fingers each. They’re also quite a bit pricier. I don’t know how much they sell for in Japan, but $1.89 for a rather ordinary candy bar is kind of extreme.
Everything about this bar screams strawberry. The pink wrapper, the smell and the appearance of the bar. It smells like strawberry waffles or ice cream. The crisp is really good and has its own wheaty flavor. The cream between the cookie layers is also strawberry and the strawberry coating is very smooth. There is no cocoa butter in this concoction though.
I’m not usually a big fan of White Chocolate. I like misty mints, but generally white chocolate is just too sweet and bland for me. This bar has an overwhelmingly berry smell along with plenty of sweet notes and a touch of fake vanilla. I like it. I was really surprised, because I’ve been ignoring this bar for months, but I actually liked it. Once I started writing this and tasting it as I went along, I ate the whole thing.
The berry particles were actually there and give the white chocolate a definitely pink cast with little red bits. They weren’t as big as the berry bits in the KitKat though. They provided a little tart respite from the otherwise sweet and slightly tangy chocolate. It also reminded me of strawberry yogurt or maybe strawberry ice cream. But most Hershey’s chocolate reminds me of yogurt. The strawberry bits also include seeds. So you get fiber with your bar! (They don’t mention any fiber on the nutrition info but they do say that it has 10% of my daily calcium!)
On the whole the bars had a very definite berry taste that eased the usual sickly sweetness of white chocolate that I’ve never enjoyed. I also have a Hershey’s Raspberries ‘n’ Creme bar that I’ll review in a few days. Canada also has a Milkshake (Malt) version of KitKat I need to get a hold of.
Other reviews: Candy Is Awesome - Hersey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme had some disgusting children and Candy Addict has positive feelings - Strawberry & White Maple. I haven’t even scratched the surface with my reviews here of KitKats, check out Wikipedia.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.