Friday, May 30, 2008
This short work-week has been a bit of a round-up period, I’m doing a lot of these short reviews in long posts to try to cover a lot of the candy I have.
I first had these a couple of years ago, at a time when I was gobbling up every Japanese black sugar candy I could get my hands on. Japanese black sugar (kuro sato) traditionally comes from Okinawa and is similar to molasses or muscovado sugar.
I couldn’t resist buying a few boxes of the Morinaga Black Sugar Caramel (Kokutou) in my last order from JList, mostly because I was also ordering other black sugar items and wanted to remind myself.
They don’t look like much, but the little bullion cube sized morsels are packed with dark creamy flavor. Not too sweet and just slightly rummy at the end. They come in oodles of other flavors. I’ve tried the original Milk Caramel, Matcha, Black Sesame and Azuki, but I always come back to the Black Sugar.
Rating: 8 out of 10
While Morinaga has their line of milk caramels, Meiji has their toffee squares called Chelsea that similarly come in many varieties: Yogurt Scotch, Butterscotch, Matcha, Azuki and even mixes like Dessert.
When I saw that the Black Sugar Chelsea variety was available in the single flavor box, I jumped and ordered three packs.
The design aesthetic of the Chelsea line can’t be beat. The little box with it’s slide tray & bronzy flower design is easily distinguished from the other flavors, yet easily identified from a distance as Chelsea.
The flat pack box is easy to stash in a pocket as well, and the individual wrappers keep it all fresh.
The smooth tile of candy has no voids. Though it’s sweet, it’s pretty mellow and milky, kind of like a chai without the spice. There’s a background of woodsy flavors like brown sugar. It’s not as intensely “black sugar” as I’d like, but these are really refreshing. They don’t feel heavy and have a sort of jasmine tea finish that feels so fresh.
Chelsea also comes in bags with plastic wrapped pieces. I don’t like those as much, I really like the foil wrappers (though they’ve done a nice job of designing the sealed wraps).
Rating: 9 out of 10
Even though I already had two packs of Banana HiCHEW sitting around from a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace earlier this year, I just had to order the Tropical Mix along with the Pineapple.
The Tropical Mix package seems to promise peach, white grape, banana and pineapple. I’d assumed that this was a mixed flavor package. But when I opened it I found that each piece was identically wrapped. Sadly (well for me and my silly expectations) it was a fruit punch and not a mixed pack. The flavor of the fruit punch is actually quite nice, I can actually detect the peachy and banana flavors in there.
My Pineapple HiCHEW were backordered (probably because I bought three packs). I was certain they were good and I wasn’t disappointed. They have a light yellow center and were extremely fresh and soft.
They start sweet then build with a tangy and kind of woodsy pine essence. The flavor lasts all the way to the end and still leaves a fresh feeling in the mouth.
Banana Rating: 7 out of 10
I bought these on a lark. Last year I picked up something called UHA Puccho Baked Custard, which sounds dreadful but it was pretty dreamily good. Of course I wanted to buy it again and have had no luck finding it. (It probably said limited edition on the wrapper, but I don’t read Japanese.)
So when I saw this Tsubu Tsubu HiCHEW Chocolate Banana, I thought that sounded something like a custard-like chew. For $1.25 I could take a chance.
It’s a HiCHEW banana base, soft and bouncy and included in the chew are little things that look like large nonpariels (sprinkles). I guess that’s supposed to be the chocolate part. It’s not really. The crunch is nice but not as well defined as the Puccho does with their gummi & crunchy inclusions.
While I think that HiCHEW is made for people of all ages, my guess is that the Tsubu Tsubu is probably for kids and my grown-up palate just couldn’t get into it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
I’ve been cleaning up my studio space and going through all my unreviewed items. Let me say that there are a lot of them so I’m going to devote the rest of the week to clearing them out of the queue.
I don’t know where they came from. My neighbor Robin gave them to me from one of her friends at work who travels a lot. The back of the package has a translation on it, unfortunately into another Asian language. The only thing in English on the package besides the calorie info is the words “Half Cut Chocolate.”
These lovely little hemispheres look just like itty bitty cantaloupes. They each come individually wrapped in cellophane. Even though they’re wrapped, the bag smells of a light melon flavor. Once opened, they do smell a lot like cantaloupe. The white confection base is sweet and a good complement for the flavor. They’re a little bland, but so incredibly cute and of course so unusual.
I was rather unsure of how melon would go with chocolate, but it’s a perfectly natural combo for white chocolate.
Rating: 5 out of 10
I’m not a big fan of sesame flavored things. I enjoy sesame snaps (basically, sesame brittle) and the odd seed on a bun ... well, I also like halvah. Okay, I might just love sesame!
I was kind of on the fence about these. They tasted a lot like toasted sesame oil used in Japanese cooking, which always tastes a little burnt to me. But they were very smooth and creamy and after chewing for a minute or so they become very rich. But the smell put me off each and every time.
I ordered this box from JList.
(I realize now that I carelessly photographed this package upside down. Even though I don’t read Japanese, it’s not like I couldn’t have figured out that the little angel went at the top.)
Rating: 6 out of 10
I had high hopes for the red bean flavored caramels. They package was easy to spot, pretty much kidney bean red.
The Morinaga caramels have always had a slight grain (kind of a short caramel or dry caramel). This worked particularly well with the red bean flavor, which of course I always expect a little bean mealiness. It’s so smooth though and has such a consistent texture, it really works. It reminded me a lot of adzuki ice cream in that it got that creamy texture, but it’s much less sweet and more flavorful.
I really liked this and was looking forward to buying more, but I haven’t seen them again. I got this box in Little Tokyo after lunch one day when I was on jury duty.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was one of the products I was looking forward to at the All Candy Expo. I didn’t make it over to their booth until the last day and all they had left was their original flavor. Their Creamy Pralines also come in Bananas Foster, Chocolate and Cafe au Lait but all they had left was the original.
Aunt Sally’s makes two different kinds of Pralines (pronounced PRAH-leens), this Creamy kind and a Creole kind.
The Creamy Pralines are a nice size, 3/4 of an ounce, like a small chocolate chip cookie. The nuts are abundant and smell fresh and kind of like maple. The sugary praline base is soft and kind of chewy like a fudge, but not quite caramel. It’s very smooth with only a slight grain to it.
I’m much more fond of either the straight chewy pralines or the sandier version (I think that’s Creole), but these were still very nice. I’m still curious to try the Bananas Foster version. At $2 each on the website, they’re a little pricey. I get one that’s almost triple the size at Littlejohn’s Toffee at the Farmers Market for $2.50 (it’s the sandy style).
I still haven’t been able to find them in person anywhere, SugarHog.net found them at the Albanese Candy Factory store.
Rating: 7 out of 10
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!)
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
More HiCHEW! This assortment was courtesy of a friend traveling in Japan though I’ve seen similar assortments at the Japanese grocers in Los Angeles. Since the label was all in Japanese (because it wasn’t imported), some of this stuff may be made up or perhaps pictures really are the universal language.
Grape is rather like the Grape Mentos I had late last year, it tastes more like concord grapes (most especially the skins of concord grapes). It grows more intense and complex as the chew goes along and it made me wish that there were more of them in the assortment.
It also makes me wish that we had a truer “grape” flavor in the States.
Litchi is odd. It’s a cross between a honeydew melon and a citrus aromatherapy candle. It’s fragrant and flowery and a little soapy but it also has a nice tangy quality with a bit of musk to it. It also tastes kind of creamy towards the end, like a yogurt.
I’ve decided I’m not a big fan of lichis. Maybe I’ve nust never had them prepared properly, but like macadamias, they’re not bad, just not for me.
Strawberry is sweet and tangy that begins with a strong natural flavor that makes me wonder if there’s a little stem in there somewhere. Later in the chew it starts to taste a little artificial, but still sweet and floral.
It’s less tart than a Starburst, and has a longer chew that doesn’t break down into a little grainy blob.
Like the Grape, it has a slight essence of the apple peel in it.
I kept half of them and put the other half in the family stockings ... I haven’t heard anything back from the family one way or another about them.
Here are my other HiCHEW reviews: Grapefruit (fantastic) and Strawberry (Doh, I didn’t realize I’d had them before. I wonder what I said.) There are lots of other flavors and one of these days I’m going to try the other citrus flavors because I’m pretty sure they’ll go over well.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I’ve been a little depressed lately and I figured the thing to cheer me up would be some bouncy candy. So I headed down to Little Tokyo over the weekend to buy myself some candy. I was lucky enough to find the Juntsuyu that I love so much (they were out the last time I was in there) so I bought two packages. I also scoured the aisles for something new to lift my spirits.
I enjoyed the Strawberry Hi-CHEW I had last year and a friend at the office recently gave me some green apple ones that were equally lifting. I found a new variety I hadn’t seen before, Grapefruit!
Flavored with real grapefruit juice, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. They’d be like a super soft version of the Pampelmousse Mentos.
These did not disappoint. The chew is soft and smooth and has a sort of pleasant rubbery quality that I can only report as ‘bounce’. The flavor is complex, with sweet and tart notes and some of the grapefruit oil essence in there, too.
If you’re ever confused about Japanese candy, so far I can say that the Morinaga brand is one that doesn’t disappoint. The candy has always been of high quality, the flavors good and the packaging is great. So if you’re standing in front of a big display of Japanese candy, try something Morinaga. (I like Meiji, too.)
If you wanted to try the Pink Grapefruit Mentos but you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be happy to hear that there is no gelatin in Hi-CHEW, it’s all vegatable ingredients in there!
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!
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Name: Dars Bitter Chocolate
This was one of the purchases from Japan I was most worried about ordering through the mail because of the summer heat. Luckily it made the trip in perfect condition.
Morinaga makes excellent consumer chocolate and for a decent price. I’ve had their Hi-CROWN chocolate and liked it very much. This one is about half the price and still comes in a snazzy package great for sharing. (In fact, I shared about a third of this with others.)
Inside the box is a mylar sealed tray with an array of a dozen chocolate nuggets, each a diminuitive bite of chocolate. Because I ordered this directly from Japan, there is no English wrapper on it and I can only glean a few things from the packaging. One is that it’s 45% cocoa solids and the other is that it’s dark chocolate. I have to say, if they’re not putting a lot of sugar in it, and it’s only 45% cocoa everything else must be cocoa butter and that’s a good thing. This is exceptionally creamy and smooth dark chocolate with a wonderful smokey chocolate flavor with a slight cognac note to it. Not too sweet and not at all grainy.
Bonus to Morinaga for putting a freshness date on there too.
Rating - 9 out of 10 ... if only I could find it easily nearby
Friday, July 08, 2005
Name: Green Tea and Black Sugar Caramels
I know, you must think me obsessed with caramels. But they are one of the most perfect expressions of sugar and fat. Soft, yielding, bursting with sugary flavor that lingers in the crevices of your mouth. They’re great for summer too, since they’re not subject to the temperature extremes of chocolate.
As promised, I’m ready to share my Japanese finds from my recent shipment.
First is Morinaga’s Kokutou Caramel. This is what’s known as a black sugar caramel, or probably what westerners know of as brown sugar or molasses. This caramel is darker than the milk caramels I’ve tried from Japan. It has a slightly rummy aroma and a definite molasses bite to it when chewing. It’s a really nice, smooth caramel with a good finish. There’s no molasses bitterness either. It’s not sticky, but plenty chewy with a good milky consistency.
Morinaga also makes a Matcha Caramel, which is a green tea flavored caramel. The nugget is definitely green. It smells of green tea and tastes just like green tea ice cream, with that same smooth roasted flavor and slight bitter tinge. Unfortunately after chewing for a while, it feels a little grainy and slightly bitter, like there are real ground up leaves in there. That aside, they’re quite addictive and both caramels complement each other well - so I can just alternate between the two all afternoon.
Rating: Kokutou Caramel - 8 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.