Wednesday, August 15, 2012
As a kid I would eat brown sugar straight from the bag. I loved finding chunks of the stuff in my oatmeal. As an adult I discovered muscovado sugar and love finding new ways to use it in everyday food.
As a candy, this molasses rich sugar is quite popular in Japan, where Japanese prize their Okanawan Black Sugar. It’s mostly found in hard candies but sometimes used in caramels. I was excited to see the Meiji Chelsea line of hard butterscotch candies came out with a variety pack based on flavors of Kuro Sato called Chelsea Kokutou Black Sugar. The flavors are milk, black sugar and ginger.
The packaging is always charming. A stark black background with little calico inspired flowers dot the wrappers. In this case each wrapper is a different muted pastel with black flowers on it.
The candy comes in two different packaging styles. There are little flat boxes that hold foil wrapped pieces of butterscotch, then there are the bags, which often have assortments instead of a single flavor. The sealed wrappers are great because they keep the candies from becoming sticky. However, the candy is expensive. I think I paid 3.99 for this package that holds only 2.5 ounces. I’ve seen other packages for sale online for over $5 a package as well.
The light purple wrapper holds the Milk flavored piece. It looks like ordinary butterscotch but tastes like sweet, creamy rum. The texture of Chelsea is extraordinary. It’s smooth. The pieces always look and sound like glass. If you like to let your candy dissolve, these last a long time with consistent flavor all the way through. If you’re a cruncher, these are crispy and buttery.
The milk flavor mellows the strength of the black sugar, which can have bitter components to it. It’s fresh tasting, like a very mellow black tea.
The light red wrappers hold the best of all, the Black Sugar flavor. The pieces are very dark brown, glossy and hard. The flavor is dark and complex. It’s like that charcoal-like flavor of a toasted marshmallow. It’s more earthy and cereal-like than just molasses. It’s creamy and smooth, woodsy with a hint of toffee and coffee.
What’s so amazing about black sugar are all the flavors and nuances. It’s like chocolate, coffee or wine in that way.
The lightest looking piece of the set is the Ginger. This is less about the black sugar but an interesting combination of flavors. The ginger is woodsy and smooth with a warm component to it. The flavor is less of the tangy fresh juice flavor and more of the dried ginger with milk profile. The black sugar is lost, so the sugary notes are more like maple than molasses. Still, a great ginger candy, far and away better than most other toffee style gingers.
This was a great mix and I found it hard not to eat them all right away. I even tried going back to Little Tokyo to find more, but couldn’t find a single grocer that carried them still. I’m very sad, but hoping that Meiji will bring back the Black Sugar at least as a single flavor in the boxes at some point and I will stock up.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Yuzu is rare in the United States but a popular and hardy variety of citrus in Japan. The flavor is a cross between grapefruit, tangerine with a little note of lemon and bergamot. For the most part the rind of the citrus is used though the juice is also included but not as notable. I was so entranced with the candies and marmalades I’ve been eating that I got a tree for my back yard. (Here’s a photo of a couple that I picked from my tree.)
So when I saw that Kasugai, a makers of one of the best gummis in the world, I bought up two packages. The gummis are more expensive than the European and American varieties, but also a bit more precious and special. The Kasugai Yuzu Gummy Candy comes in a rather light bag, with only 3.59 ounces inside. Each piece is individually wrapped and a bit larger than the mass of an ordinary gummi bear.
The gummis are nearly one inch in diameter, a cute little domed disk. They have a soft, powdery skin instead of a glaze of oil or wax. They smell like lemonade. The flavor inside is a bit more complex. The tartness is good, the texture is smooth with a jello-like chew that dissolves quickly. It’s truly a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, the bitterness of the grapefruit and harsh oily flavor is combined with the fruity, sunny flavors of the tangerine juice.
They’re really satisfying and have a fresh, zesty lingering note. Two or three were plenty as a little treat between meals for me. The individual wrapping means I can throw a few in my bag or just throw them in a dish.
They are ridiculously expensive, I think I spent $3.49 for a bag. But it’s easy to moderate my consumption, I’ve managed to make my two bags last quite while. The intensity of the flavor and the wrappers mean these are more of a solitary treat than the kind that I might mindlessly nibble on during a movie. There are no artificial colors but they do use artificial flavors. They’re made on shared equipment with milk, wheat, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Lately I’ve been feeling the need for novelty in candy. I want to try new fruits, new combinations of flavors. So when I was browsing around on eBay and saw Mentos Lemon Squash I thought that fit the bill.
Of course when ordering candy to be shipped from another country, it’s good to order a lot. So I got plenty of HiCHEW flavors and all the Mentos I could find in the webstore that I hadn’t tried before. It was expensive and took a while to arrive, but anticipation is part of the fun with foreign novelty flavors.
As far as the exotic flavors, by far the Mentos Ume wins, mostly because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan but nearly unheard of in North America outside of population centers with a lot of Asians.
Plum as a flavor is rare in American candies. It’s hard to explain why. We have plenty of peach, nectarine and other stone fruits like apricots. But Plum is, well, plums become prunes. And prune are just not appealing to the Mentos demographic, no matter how much Worf extolled their virtues as a warrior drink.
In this case the Ume is a sour plum, a different variety than the American type like Santa Rosa or Blackamber, the Ume is more closely related to the Apricot. I’ve had salted dried plums before but found them, well, salty, tangy and bitter. The Ume Mentos are rather like that, though not salty, they’re intense and distilled. There’s a tartness that taste more fresh than prunes or raisins. There’s also a peppery hint of spice, like the peel of a plum and maybe a hint of spice like clove. Then there’s an overriding floral quality, like roses.
They’re quite different, though I didn’t find it appealing. It could be the complexity of it, it could by the sort of grassy note that’s also there that I found unpleasant. But it’s definitely unique and I’m glad I spent the bucks to get it.
The Mentos Honeyed Apple was a flavor I hadn’t heard of before, but did notice a trend of honey flavored candies becoming more popular in Japanese candy I saw available in the United States and online. As with this flavor, it’s often combined with other fruits.
The general flavor profile is soft, the apple notes are more like applesauce than tangy green apples. The honey isn’t very apparent, except that the sweetness is much more subdued and syrupy than regular apple Mentos. Japanese candy, and even Mentos, have always taken pains to create authentic fruit flavors. This tastes like real apples, not that chemical invention called “green apple” that seems to have spread around the world. (That’s a good flavor too, but not the same.)
The Mentos Lemon Squash really made no sense to me at all. At first I thought it was about the game squash (like racquetball), that it was a particular sports drink. But then I looked it up and found out that squash is really just a spritzer or fruit soda. There were no gourds associated with this. The flavor, with that in perspective, is exactly what I’d expect for a citrus soda. It’s tangy and has a lemony flavor, but not a lot of herbal or zesty notes. There’s a strange calcium sort of note to it, like key lime juice can have. It was pleasant but nothing I’d pay oodles of money for in the future.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.