Friday, April 27, 2012
I have learned more about the fruits of the world through candy than all of my trips to grocery stores and farmers markets. Japanese confectionery, in particular, includes a lot of these lesser known fruits and flavors. HiCHEW from Morinaga have been particularly good at introducing me to new fruits through their limited edition regional flavors.
The Haskap Berry is native to Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan. The berries grew wild and were an important source of vitamin C for the locals but were only domesticated and more widely cultivated starting in the late 1960. Relatives of the Haskap, known commonly as honey berries, are grown in Russia, Northern Europe, Canada and the United States. The berries themselves are shaped kind of like bullets, long and sometimes with a flat bottom. The Haskap, from the photos and descriptions I’ve seen, is more football shaped. The great selling point with the Haskap variety is that after being frozen, the skin melts away, so making sauces or ice creams means there’s no bitter skin or unattractive flecks in the resulting sweet.
The flavor of the fresh berry is said to be similar to blueberries, but more tart. It’s too sour for some people that they prefer to use the berries in jams, preserves or within baked good. Basically, they’re not for eating fresh off the bush.
The Haskap Berry HiCHEW look a little bland out of the wrapper. They’re a sort of grayish purple. The flavor is also less distinctive than I’d hoped. It tastes like a cross between black raspberry and cranberry with a little note of concord grape skin. It’s tart and has a good floral flavor to it with some grassy notes of blueberry seeds. They’re good HiCHEW, but the flavor isn’t really any better or distinct enough to warrant me forking over $4 again plus shipping from Japan to get this taste again.
However, if you were from Hokkaido and remember the berries fondly or perhaps you’ve had Haskap Berry ice cream, this is a portable and inexpensive way to get your fix.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Pocky, the popular Japanese sweet snack, comes in a wide variety of flavors. One of the more popular versions has been the Almond Crush (which also spawned a tastyCookie Crush version). It only makes sense that other nuts would be tried, so today I have Glico Pocky Chocolate Peanut Crush.
The package is big (and came with a similarly hefty price tag) with six little packages of four sticks in a cool flip top box. The serving suggestion is black coffee served in fine china on a gold tray. I’m going to just eat it out of the cellophane package with some water.
They smell great. It’s a dark roasted scent that’s fresh and reminded me immediately (oddly enough) of a really good Nutty Buddy ice cream cone. The crushed peanuts adhere to the short cookie stick with some middling milk chocolate (it might be mockolate, a chocolate compound with some extra vegetable fat in it). The flavors really are about the peanuts and the chocolate is just there to keep it all stuck together and add a little sweet creamy note.
The cookie stick of Pocky isn’t very sweet and though it’s crispy, I woudn’t really call it light either. It has a light toasted flavor ... think of it as the difference between a biscuit and a scone.
The whole thing is barely sweet, more like a snack, thought’s not salty either. I would definitely buy these again if not for the expense - it was $5.49 for the box which means almost a buck for each little packet inside. But each package was rather filling and satisfying, a good blend of protein, carbs and easy sugar.
I have no idea about Glico’s environmental standing or their ethical sourcing of ingredients. The product contains peanuts, wheat, dairy, almonds and soy. But maybe it’s shellfish and egg free, you’ll have to check with the maker.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Morinaga caramels from Japan are classics; they’ve been around for about a hundred years. They’re cute little cubes made with real milk in the traditional style. They come in seasonal and limited edition flavors. Some return like Black Sugar, Adzuki and Matcha. The new one I found this year is Morinaga Satsumaimo Caramels, which are sweet potato flavored. I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me.
They come boxed just like the other varieties. It’s sealed in cellophane to keep the caramels fresh, so once the box is open, it’s best to eat them within a few weeks. The little sleeve holds a tray with a dozen foil wrapped cubes.
It smells milky and a little earthy, like pumpkin or adzuki. The flavor is rather like squash or yam. The milky notes are caramelized and toasty with only a faint hint of bitterness. The sweet potato flavor is rooty and earthy without tasting like beets. It’s a wholesome and satisfying flavor that isn’t overtly sweet.
The chew is smooth, with a slight grain to it, not as distinct as fudge and certainly creamy and chewier than a Kraft caramel. It didn’t matter how long I chewed it, it maintained its texture instead of disintegrating into grainy bits. It was a slow and smooth dissolve.
I easily ate the whole package shortly after taking the photos, holding off on the last two in order to finish up the review. And then last weekend I popped down to Little Tokyo and found another box ... and promptly ate those within a day. (I also bought a Coffee Caramel version, which I started eating without photographing. All I can say on that is that I recommend them.) They’re expensive for just a plain old box of caramels, but they’re certainly distinctive and an easily afforded treat to share.
Friday, February 10, 2012
My new favorite gummis, Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone, might be pretty hard to find, but at least they’re rather inexpensive. My other new favorite might be Kanro Pure Lemon Cola from Japan.
The pieces are little, flat hearts, about the size of a quarter.
The first flavors are definitely citrus - the bitterness of the zest is front and center on the sour coating. The gummi center is stiff and chewy and quite juicy after getting through the almost-crunchy sanding. The cola flavors are subtle, spicy and earthy with a little hint of honey and that cinnamon-cola flavor. The lemon really gives it a sparkle.
The gummi uses a few gelling agents in addition to gelatin. There’s pectin and something translated as collagen peptide. (Japanese functional foods often contain collagen, as if you can get more collagen into your skin by eating it.) So they’re just a little less bouncy and rubbery than some gummis, but not quite as sticky as most jelly candies. (Think of them as a cross between the Haribo Grapefruit Slices and Swedish Fish.)
I liked the mix of textures and flavors, and appreciated that the bag had a little zip top to keep them fresh. But 1.6 ounces is hardly a lot for the price, when the Haribo I’ve been buying is less than that for over 6 ounces. I do prefer this cola combination to the Haribo Fizzy Cola though, and I don’t need to gobble up too many to be satisfied.
The Kanro website helpfully provides dietary info about their product in pictogram form. There are no shellfish, wheat, eggs, dairy or peanuts in the product. So it sounds like they’re fine for those with nut and gluten issues ... but of course the collagen/gelatin means they’re off limits for vegetarians. There was another pictogram on the list ... but I didn’t know what it meant, it was either coffee or soy.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
One of the charming candies that I’ve sampled over the years from Japan is from Fujiya. Fujiya makes confections as well as running a series of cafes. Their mascot is Peko-Chan, little chubby cheeked girl in pig tails, which is now a well recognized icon around the world and appears on the Milky brand of chocolate candies.
Fujiya also makes a line of inexpensive chocolate candies more for adults under the Look line. These are usually little trays of individual pieces, often with multiple flavors in one package. I was attracted to this new introduction of single flavors. The Fujiya Look Crepe in Chocolate comes in a nicely sealed flat package and retails for less than $2.00 usually.
The tray inside holds 12 pristine and lovely little chocolate squares. They’re a little over 3/4 of an inch square and a half an inch tall. They’re shiny and fresh. So far, so good.
The English translation sticker on the back lists the ingredients and the nutritional panel. Instead of giving the calories for a serving, it says that one piece has 24 calories. So they’re kind of high in fat since they clock in at a calculated 158 calories per ounce. The other thing that the ingredients revealed is that this isn’t quite real chocolate. It’s made with cocoa butter, but there’s added vegetable fat. After eating them, I wouldn’t have needed to be told.
Again, they look great. They smell great. The bit is soft, the “crepe” inside is like an ice cream cone or feuilletine. It’s crispy and has a slight toffee flavor to it. It’s airy, you know, because there’s that big void in the middle ... a great mix of textures. But the problem becomes the chocolate coating. It looks great and even has a rich chocolate flavor, but the texture is just weird. It’s gummy, thick but without that smooth melt that real cocoa butter delivers. I’d call it waxy, but because it does actually melt, it’s hard to pin that on it.
The chocolate flavor, however, for a milk chocolate product, is especially rich, like a really decadent cocoa drink. It’s also not overly sweet. But still, since so much of the candy is made up of the chocolate, it’s just too disappointing to keep eating.
Like the blue packaged Crepe in Chocolate, the pink packaged Fujiya Look Wafers in Chocolate have it all going on in the looks department. The packaging is sharp and accurate. It’s bold and even has enough English on the wrapper to keep me from being confused.
This version is a little lighter, each piece has 22 calories. The construction is like a KitKat bar, a series of light wafers with cream between them. There are 12 little pieces in a segmented tray in the package.
The wafers are great, airy and crispy with a slight vanilla and malt note. The cream between them ... hardly noticeable. It’s all overshadowed by that same, weird, not-quite-chocolate stuff. It’s too bad, because I really wanted to love these, especially the Crepe since it’s such an uncommon combination in the United States. At least I know that I wasn’t imagining it or it was some anomaly with one package. Both had the same qualities, both were within the expiry and obviously were stored properly.
I might give Look another try, as they try new flavor combinations very often, but I’ll be careful to read the package first so I don’t get my hopes up for good chocolate.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The Meiji Creamy Marshmallow Chocolate has been around for a while in Japan, though it’s not easy to find in stores in the United States. I happened upon a display of them in Little Tokyo and got the last one on the shelf.
The first thing I have to ask about this bar is why we don’t have anything like this in the United States?
The bar is very simple, a single serving of milk chocolate in bar format with mini marshmallows dotted throughout. In North America we have plenty of options for chocolate covered single marshmallows (Rocky Road, various seasonal novelties) but nothing with this specific ratio.
The bar is nicely boxes, like many of Meiji’s other candy products. Inside the sturdy paperboard box is a mylar pouch with the bar in it. Mine was in excellent condition - no scuffs, not even broken.
The bar is thicker than the standard Meiji Milk Chocolate bar, and has lightly defined sections.
The bar has varying amounts of the little marshmallows in it. Around the edges, it was hard to find marshmallows, but deeper into the bar, they were quite dense. The marshmallows are small, about the size of a pencil eraser or a green pea.
The chocolate is not quite the same formula as the classic Milk Chocolate Meiji bar, which is too bad, because I really enjoy that bar. This bar is technically not even chocolate, as it contains some other vegetable oils in addition to cocoa butter, such as sunflower, shea nut and illpe butter. This gives the chocolate a smooth melt, but a very cool feeling on the tongue. The flavors are dominated by a dried milk dairy taste. The marshmallows are soft and bouncy, a little tacky and chewy around the edges of the bar.
My disappointment with the bar is with the chocolate itself. I was fully expecting the deep, smoky Meiji Milk Chocolate that I’ve tried before. What I got was a little less than that, and when paying the full import prices, it’s a little steep. Next time I’ll just get the milk chocolate bar and some other marshmallows and do the rest myself.
Still, there’s something to be learned here .... there’s a product out there that our confectionery giants are neglecting. (Though it could also use some little salty pretzel bits to complete it.)
Friday, August 19, 2011
One of my favorite Japanese products are the Meiji Poilful. They’re not as easy to find in the United States as some other Japanese candies and are often quite expensive for a sugar candy. Every once in a while Meiji issues a new flavor variety. I found this Poifull Mint at the Japanese grocery store a few weeks ago. It features two flavors, Lemon and Muscat with an added dash of Mint.
These are not mere jelly beans, though they look like it. Instead they’re gummi beans. Inside the typical grainy sugar shell there’s a small gummi. Like gourmet jelly beans, the center is flavored, not just a plain sugary center.
I have to say that I find the flavors a little odd. The idea of mint and lemon is not that uncommon, though it’s something I associate with cough drops more than candy. (Though I admit that I do eat cough drops like candy sometimes.)
Lemon & Mint (yellow) starts out very tangy and zesty but the mint comes in like a strong menthol. It is absolutely like a cough drop but could probably use a little touch of honey to put it over the top. I liked the intensity of it, I was satisfied with one or two of them as the zest and menthol lingered.
Muscat & Mint (green) is much more subdued. The white grape flavor is tart and robust, with notes of grape juice and grape skin in there. The mint tastes more like mint than menthol, though still has that same cooling tingle. I still find it a strange and incongruous combination that I wouldn’t choose as a single flavor package, but I can enjoy as part of a mix.
Overall, I love how intense and authentic Meiji makes all of their fruit flavored candies, these are no exception. They’re a little fringe but make a nice change up for a little mouth freshener that’s different from Altoids. The box is nicely designed, unlike some other Meiji products where the box isn’t full, this one is and has a nice little flip top with a dispenser hole for sharing easily.
On a side note, one of the hazards of buying these import candies are the little translated labels they put on them. The box is quite small, but the label is even smaller with microprint. I had to take this photograph and then zoom in on it in order to read the label.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Meiji is one of the major confectionery companies of Japan with recognizable brands like Yan Yan, Hello Panda, Chelsea and my favorite GummyChoco. I admire their products quite a bit, their flavors are bright and authentic and the attention to detail is excellent. Last year I reviewed their standard Meiji Milk Chocolate bar and found I really liked their intense flavor style. So I picked up this box called Meiji Corot which simply called them chocolate ball in English on the otherwise Japanese package.
Meiji also packages their candies well, but this is the first one I’ve really had an issue with. The box is large, it’s 4.25 inches high and 2.75 inches wide, that’s larger than a deck of poker cards or a box of cigarettes. Inside the box is a little mylar packet. It protects the candy well and certainly kept it fresh, but there’s only 1.48 ounces of candy in here - a standard bag of Milk Chocolate M&Ms as 1.69 ounces.
Hershey’s came out with a similar product last year, called Hershey’s Drops. They’re also big disks of solid chocolate with a light, shiny glaze to keep them from sticking together.
The chocolate balls are actually oblate spheroids - a squashed ball. The aspect ratio or flatness of the spheroid is determined by the dimensions. The major axis is 1.5 times the length as the minor axis. (They’re .75 inches across and about .5 inches thick at the center.)
The candies are 3.5 grams each, so a hefty little bite of chocolate compared to an M&M which are about .85 grams.
They’re creamy and milky with a chocolate pudding flavor to them. The dairy flavors are distinct and the chocolate is quite powerful, certainly a more dominant note. There’s a strong bitterness that I don’t think I get with most consumer milk chocolate products. It’s toasted and maybe even a little smoky with notes of plain old charcoal. I enjoy the flavor, it’s munchable with a great texture but a little more sophisticated than a standard milk chocolate candy.
The ingredients are not quite as desirable as the plain Meiji Milk Chocolate bar. This version of Meiji’s milk chocolate also contains some vegetable oil filler (though there’s also plenty of cocoa butter in there). The curious ingredient towards the end of the list was trehalose. Trehalose is a sugar, a disaccharide made of two glucose molecules. It’s only 40% as sweet as the standard sucrose (a disaccharide made of one glucose and one fructose molecule). I’m not quite sure what its purpose here is, it’s not here in great quantities, as it’s on the list after the soy lecithin (which is usually less than 2% of the overall mass of any chocolate product).
I also recently picked up some of Meiji’s 40th Anniversary editions of their popular Meiji CoffeeBeat chocolate candies. I’ve reviewed them before, but these versions were in different packaging and came in two versions - a milk and dark version.
The Milk version, in the tube, has a great sweet latte flavor to it. The coffee is quite strong and rich and the sugar and milk mixture is reminiscent of caramel. The one in the box didn’t come with any additional English descriptions but I can say that the milk flavors are downplayed at the coffee flavor is extremely strong, yet the texture is still creamy and smooth with a lingering charcoal bitterness.
I love these little nuggets. They’re about the size of a real coffee bean or an M&M and feature a solid coffee flavored chocolate core covered in a thin crunchy shell. I don’t know why we don’t have these or something like these widely available in the United States.
The Meiji CoffeeBeat keep their 9 out of 10 rating. (If they were more affordable and easier to find, they might get a 10 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.