Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
KitKat candy bars in the United States are made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. Everywhere else in the world, they’re made by Nestle. The most vibrant culture for KitKats is undoubtedly Japan, but Europe has their share of KitKat variations.
I found this KitKat Hazelnut Cream at a grocery store called Golden Farms in Glendale, CA. There’s a large Armenian population there, so the local grocers in the area tend to carry a lot of Eastern European and Middle Eastern confections. This particular bar, though in English on the front, was made in Bulgaria. The bar is the single, chunky version of the bar which clocks in at 1.48 ounces (42 grams).
Hazelnuts are much more popular in Europe and Eurasia than in the US, in part, I think, because they do not have the far cheaper peanuts in such ready supplies as we do in North America. Italy has made the chocolate and hazelnut combination world-famous with the innovation of gianduia.
First, I’m not a fan of the big, single finger chunky KitKat style of bar. There ratios are completely off, the chocolate is too thick and the cookie wafers are less delicate. Now, don’t get me wrong, thick chocolate and wafers are still a great combination. They just lack the essential properties that define the classic KitKat, the lightness and balance.
The construction of this bar is a little odd in and of itself. It’s about 4.5” long and a little over an inch wide at the base. There’s a little stack of thick, light wafers in the center with a milky cream between them. Then it’s all topped with another layer of hazelnut chocolate and then encased in milk chocolate. The thick hazelnut topper is what’s odd here, it’s a lot of chocolate flavor and texture and much less wafer.
The bite is, well, thick. It breaks easily, the milk chocolate is well tempered and this was definitely a fresh bar. The three layers of wafer cookies are crunchy and airy, and the cream between then just slightly grainy and cool on the tongue. The centerpiece of this bar is the thick cap of hazelnut chocolate on top of that though. It’s not a pasty giandiua or Nutella style hazelnut chocolate though, it’s more solid, like Milka. It’s sweet but not sticky, there’s a light toasted nutty note to it, but it doesn’t scream hazelnut to me. The chocolate overall is much creamier with more milk flavors than the American version.
It’s an admirable bar and has a lot more flavor depth with some richer caramel notes and of course the light touch of hazelnut. But my hopes were rather above that, I wanted a powerful punch of hazelnut in there, thick ribbons of cream inside those wafers. But for folks looking for a more decadent KitKat, this is actually much better than the plain KitKat Chunky bar. It’s been around for a few years, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find if you’re in the right area.
See review from Rosa at ZOMG Candy.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I love the combination of chocolate and cookies. The KitKat bar is a great confectionery combination of the two. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve craved sweets less and come to appreciate texture and taste a bit more. So an ordinary milk chocolate KitKat can be a little sweet for many snacking situations (and there are many snacking situations).
I picked up the KitKat Otonano Amasa, which is the “adult taste” version - a little less sweet and with more cookie texture.
KitKats from Japan come in smart little boxes instead of plain old plastic packaging. I suppose it’s wasteful, but they do protect the contents well. On the back there’s a little “To” and “From” section for gifting.
Inside the box are two individually packaged two-finger pieces. Each is listed as 95 calories each.
The bars are just like any other KitKat, cream filled wafers covered in chocolate. But the chocolate here has little bits of dark chocolate cookies incorporated. The taste is similar to the Oreo Bitter Bar I tried recently. But in this case the texture at the front is is the creaminess of the chocolate. The flavor is slightly bitter like charcoal or, well, Oreos. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless.
It was a great combination, I liked it so much that I bought another bag of the snack sized ones. Which is goofy because they’re ridiculously expensive for KitKats. The package here was $2.25 for 1.19 ounces, the bag was $5.89 for 5.29 ounces. I could get some fine chocolates (well, See’s) for about $16 a pound.
Which is what leads me to the trepidation I have about the bar. The ingredients.
Palm oil. That’s what the bar is. Most of the time I find palm oil candies to be greasy and stiff, but this was really well done for a rainforest destroying confection. Oh, and palm oil is bad for you. Far worse than cocoa butter. So if I’m going for a candy that has a whopping 160 calories per ounce (which is about as high as the scale goes), it’d better be exceptional. So while I enjoyed this candy physically like it was a 10 out of 10, the price and ingredients knock it back to 8 out of 10.
Friday, November 12, 2010
In Japan (and everywhere else besides the United States), KitKats are made by Nestle. Nestle has the ability to make great chocolate and candy, but also possesses the ability and fortitude to make cheap tasting and inconsistent candy.
The first is the SemiSweet KitKat which sounds pretty boring. But just look at the package! It’s a beautifully done design in just black and red (except for the real-color image of the KitKat finger itself.) The bar is just a mellow semi sweet chocolate version of the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
The bars were perfect. I know I criticize the over-packaging of many of these Japanese items, but in this case it really did its job of both enticing me to buy and protecting the contents.
The chocolate smells wonderful, a little sweet but rich and bold. The first thing I noticed was the melt. There was a good snap to the chocolate but it melted quite readily. It’s a little sticky but has a lot of flavor, a combination of strong woodsy flavors, a hint of coffee and prunes. The wafers are crispy and don’t let the combination get too sweet or thick.
The KitKat Bitter Almond is what got me out to the stores in Little Tokyo. I saw Bitter Almond KitKat mentioned on Japanese Snack Reviews and thought it sounded right up my alley.
The ingredients say that it’s made with real dark chocolate (44% cacao), almond paste and almonds. While I’m not usually a big fan of the amaretto note in marzipan, I do love almonds. The limited edition KitKats have largely ignored nuts as a flavor, so this is a refreshing change.
The box had the logo for TBC on it, which I had to look up (thanks again to Japanese Snack Reviews) to find out it’s a cross promotion with Tokyo Beauty Centers. TBC is a chain of spas that offer all sorts of aesthetic treatments, make up and consultations. I haven’t the foggiest what that has to do with KitKats so I’m going to just make something up, like you can get marzipan facial treatments for a limited time when you present your empty KitKat box.
The chocolate is strong, slightly bitter and has a light acidic bite. The almond flavors come and go but are light and more on the side of nutty than amaretto. What struck me as so great, aside from the smooth and lightly dry finish of the chocolate itself was the freshness of the wafers. They were delicate and crispy. There was no cereal taste to them (not that I mind that), which allowed both the chocolate and almond to dominate. Every once in a while I got a little texture of some crushed almonds.
I loved this bar. I don’t know if the factory was just having a really good day and had exceptional ingredients converge in that moment in time on that particular bar but I felt like I was finally getting my money’s worth for these expensive imported KitKat bars. Texture, flavors and mouthfeel were simply exceptional. All other KitKats will disappoint me now. (And it’s always good to stop on a high note.)
But I’m left feeling that I should stop pursuing the fleeting perfection of limited edition bars (which are often less than perfect) and concentrate on quality candies that are available more reliably. Plus, the import premium I pay for these means that they’re over $30 a pound. If I’m willing to pay that much, I can get some really good chocolate.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
While the news that KitKat is now available in both Dark and Milk Chocolate is hot news here in the United States, Nestle continues to churn out fantastically inventive versions for Japan.
Japanese KitKat are getting easier to find in the United States, I picked up mine in Little Tokyo at various grocery stores. The price is a bit steeper than an ordinary KitKat, usually between $2.00 and $3.00 depending on the variety and the store. (Here’s one store in Little Tokyo.)
I get the impression that Royal Milk Tea is the Japanese version of what we know here in the US as Thai Iced Tea, a strong black tea mixed with lot of sugar and milk (in the case of Thai Iced Tea the shortcut is sweetened condensed milk).
It smells lovely though, like a cross between Jasmine and Earl Grey Tea. There are sweet vanilla notes and a little roasted barley or lapsang suchong in there. The actual texture of the white confection (a mixture of milk, palm oil and sugar) is a little greasy but otherwise smooth. The flavoring of the coating is mellow and a little spicy, like a hint of chai. Inside there’s more of a darker tea. It’s quite milky, as the whole Royal Milk Tea name might imply. I’m not much for milk in my tea, so that part of the confectionery simulation is lost on me.
I didn’t know that Ginger Ale was that popular in Japan, but I guess it must be if there’s a KitKat for it. Or Nestle has run out of ideas to make into KitKats. (Where are my Pixy Stix KitKats?)
The flavor of the white confection outside is sweet and a little lemony. Inside the cream has a warm and woodsy burn of ginger. There are little specks and pops of sour, like carbonation.
It’s a weird bar. It’s not comforting like I find actual ginger ale. But then again it’s more exciting, probably because I’ve never had a candy bar like this before. I can’t say that I’d buy it again, but I can see where it has its place.
I wasn’t quite sure what the actual flavor was, is there a strawberry soda that it was referencing, like those Ramune ones? Was it supposed to be like strawberries in champagne?
After opening I at least found out that it was a pink, strawberry flavored confectionery coating with the standard wafers and a tangy strawberry creme between.
The berry confection is milky and has less of a strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s kind of like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Frankenberry. The startling and inventive part of this bar is the cream filling. There are little “pops” of flavor which emulate carbonation well. They’re not pop rocks or fizzing powder. Instead they’re granules of what I’m guessing is citric acid and/or salt. So the tongue gets lots of little explosions of intense sour or salt. It’s a good mix and fun to eat. I would have preferred more strawberry flavor or even dark chocolate (so it’d be like a dark chocolate covered strawberry with a glass of champagne).
Kinako Ohagi KitKat shows a mochi with kinako (and probably bean paste inside). The idea of converting that into a KitKat, honestly, isn’t that appealing to me. I thought the red bean KitKat I tried a few years ago was interesting, but putting all the flavors of mochi into a KitKat just seems like too much. A KitKat is a KitKat and needs to maintain certain aspects. Throwing too many things into the mix just means that something is going to be done poorly and that leads to disappointment.
I was relieved to see that this was at least a milk chocolate bar.
It smells deep and roasted, milky and a little like corn chips. The milk chocolate is soft and fudgy but passably good. The wafers are crisp and crunchy and the kinako is, well, like soy powder. It’s a cross between the flavor of corn meal and peanut butter - it reminds me of protein supplements. The toasty flavors go very well with the wafers and milk chocolate. But the traditional KitKat was good before. This doesn’t make it better.
The last one confused me (and I didn’t take a picture of it, but you can safely substitute the Royal Milk Tea. It’s Milk Coffee KitKat but based on the box I thought it was Sakura Tea or something. What I also didn’t properly note was that this was on of the KitKat mailers, a box that has a little “dear” and “from” form on the back so that you can give it to a student to wish them luck on exams.
It smells sweet and milky and just slightly off. Biting into it the first time, I thought I was being poisoned and had a bad package. The center cream was just intensely bitter. Then when I caught on that it wasn’t cherry and it was coffee the bitterness didn’t seem so caustic. But still intense. Too intense to allow actual coffee flavors.
At least it was called Milk Coffee, with the milk first I was getting much more of the sweet white confection than coffee notes. Chewing helped, instead of my usual eating of the cream as a layer. It just didn’t have the rounded and complex coffee notes, it reminded me instead of what I thought coffee was when I was seven or eight years old - expensive bitterness.
Overall I was less than impressed with the heavy use of white confection instead of actual chocolate. (Nestle has been in trouble lately with animal activists over its use of poorly/unethically/unsustainably farmed palm oil - their response here.) I guess I’ve found after all this exploration (trying about three dozen different kinds over the years) that the plain old ones are great and the ones made with even better chocolate are phenomenal. They don’t need fancy flavors. But I’m not going to begrudge anyone who wants to have a little fun now and then.
Monday, May 3, 2010
The idea of a dark chocolate KitKat Bar is nothing new. The new part right now might be that Hershey’s is introducing this KitKat Dark not as a limited edition item but as a regular product. (Though that is never a guarantee that it will continue to be produced.)
It follows on the coattails of Hershey’s introduction of the Dark Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup after also flirting with various limited edition releases. The construction is just as you’d suspect: a semi-sweet chocolate covered stack of chocolate-cream filled wafers all molded into a four finger bar.
Some folks who also spend an inordinate time not only eating candy but also reading about it may remember that the bar is one of Steve Almond’s obsessions mentioned in Candy Freak.
The package isn’t terribly exciting, it’s the same as the milk chocolate variety but instead of a beige swirl that says Crisp Wafers in Milk Chocolate it’s a bolder dark brown that says Dark and then followed by Crisp Wafers in Dark Chocolate. It may be hard to spot on store shelves if you didn’t know it was there.
It smells like sweet cocoa and cereal. The wafers are crisp and rather bland but provide and airiness to the candy. The cream center has a little bit of a greasy grain to it that I like so much that I often pry the planks apart with my teeth and lick it separately. The dark chocolate is quite sweet but has a woodsy and berry note to it that gives the candy a different flavor profile, it’s less about milk and more about cocoa. It wouldn’t call the quality great, but this is candy, not fine chocolate.
The ingredients don’t break out the difference between the chocolate coating and the wafers with cream, so it’s hard to tell what kind of chocolate is in there.
Hershey’s brings these out as miniatures from time to time, I’ve picked them up around Halloween before (2007 & 2008) but the mini size has different chocolate ratios. For the most part when I want a dark KitKat I was buying this 100 Calorie KitKat Singles Dark version from Canada.
It’s hard to top the Japanese KitKat Bitter I had about three years ago which used actually good chocolate. But this is a nice change of pace if I couldn’t get the Q.bel Double Dark Wafer Bar.
Candy for Dinner has some good photos of all the various domestic KitKat versions including two introductions of the limited edition darks. For reviews of the UK version made by Nestle check out Jim’s Chocolate Mission and Chocablog.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
I first experienced it in candy with the Yuzu HiCHEW and have eagerly consumed anything Yuzu I can get my hands on since. (And am considering planting a Yuzu tree in my back yard.)
So the Yuzu KitKat was enough to get me to place a pre-Christmas order with JBox. However, they were pretty expensive. $4.25 for 150 grams.
These little minis are two short fingers in a package (66 calories).
They smell like tangerines, chocolate and Cheerios.
The chocolate is rich and creamy and the zesty notes of Yuzu, which include grapefruit, mandarin, lime and tangerine come across immediately. The crunchy and bland wafers give it a bit of crunch. Towards the end there’s even a little bit of a bitter aftertaste from the citrus zest.
One of my favorite Japanese KitKats ever.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Azuki beans are used to make many confections in Japan, including a thick and sweet paste filling for mochi and a dessert soup called Oshiruko. Oshiruko varies depending on where you get it, but the little picture on the box looks like a thin, sweet bean broth with azuki beans and a dumpling of mochi in the middle.
The first Azuki KitKat I had was a white chocolate version, so I was definitely curious to try the red bean and milk chocolate combo in the newest Limited Edition from Nestle Japan.
This is definitely the kind of KitKat that fits into my mantra of “open your mouth, expand your mind.” Before I started my candy obsessed website I was pretty content with my American and sometimes Italian candies. I stuck to flavors and combinations that seemed logical to me. Combining beans and sugar (besides perhaps molasses baked beans) didn’t seem very confectionery to me. But now that I’ve had a good amount of mochi and red bean caramels I can say that beans are a natural, earthy & textured base flavor for candy.
This KitKat comes in the lovely box that is common in the Asian KitKats. Each little portion holds a two fingered KitKat. The front of this wrapper also has the new style of nutritional labeling that includes the calories right there - 110.
They’re glossy and pretty out of the mylar wrapper.
They smell like dirt. There are notes of freshly sawn wood, beets, caramel and rusted iron. It’s quite a different experience.
The bite and textures are the same as other KitKats. The milk chocolate is sweet and pretty creamy. The wafers are light and crunchy. The flavor is just as it smells - beets, charcoal, a hint of milk chocolate and butterscotch pudding. The Azuki flavor doesn’t quite make it in there, in fact, if I didn’t know that it was a red bean KitKat I probably would have guessed beets.
It’s not bad, a little bitter at times (which I don’t usually experience with other red bean items) but overall a tasty experience.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Monday, April 14, 2008
KitKat in Japan has been hard at work churning out new limited edition and seasonal flavors. I’ve been kind of picky about which ones I want to buy and review, so here was one that I was particularly interested in: KitKat Vanilla Beans.
As with all of the premium limited edition KitKats in the single serve size, this comes in a box with two individually wrapped finger pairs.
It’s basically a white chocolate KitKat. I picked it up because the ingredients listed real cocoa butter, so this is true white chocolate instead of some partially hydrogenated/tropical oil mess.
It features real flecks of vanilla beans in the coating as well, which I’d hoped would be like the rich bourbon flavors of the Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar.
It smells quite milky and sweet, almost cloyingly so. The melt is nice, it does have a good dairy flavor and it’s not as sweet as I’d feared. The vanilla flavor is true and well rounded (not single-noted like the nature-identical vanillin).
The wafers balance it all out ... but I think I could have used a little bit of salt in the cream or something to keep it from being throat burningly sugary.
It’s not spectacularly better than a regular US white chocolate KitKat, certainly not for the price. In fact for the price per ounce the Green & Black’s is a better deal and ethically traded (but you’ll have to add your own crispy element). Rating: 6 out of 10
Like the KitKat, Nestle goes through a lot of different limited editions of their popular Aero Bar for Japan. Aeros are available in the UK, Canada and Australia but for some reason have never been introduced in the US. (There was a Nestle chocolate bar called the Choco-Lite back in the 70s-early 80s.)
I’ve reviewed the Mint and Milk Chocolate Aero before and have a Caramel Aero in my review queue. The UK also has a version of little spheres (about the size of malted milk balls) called Aero Bubbles. I find the UK Aeros at import shops including Cost Plus World Market pretty regularly.
It’s the Japanese Aeros that are so fun though, especially since they have these cute little individually wrapped nuggets in the Limited Edition versions. I found these at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Little Tokyo but they’re also available online through eBay and JBox. This one is called Aero Bitter Orange and has a companion KitKat bar that came out last year as well. (I tried them but didn’t review them. Pretty tasty milk chocolate with a mellow orange cream filling between the wafers.)
It lives up to the Aero name. It is a fluffed bite of chocolate. The orange topping is orangy, not in the least tangy or complexly zesty but slightly bitter as promised.
The bubbles in Aero give it an interesting texture, more fudgy than chocolatey, it’s still a nice confectionery experience. The box makes them seem like a nicer candy treat than perhaps they actually are, as does the price ($1.99 for 1.76 ounces.) Rating: 7 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.