Friday, August 31, 2018

ZenPop Sweets Pack August 2018 unboxing

It may seem these days that the only Japanese snacks that I review come from ZenPop. Well, that's because that's the case. They provide the best value box for the money and they also send me free boxes. If I had to pay, I'd buy from them, but I'm just as happy not to pay.

When I lived in the Bay Area (of California), I was lucky to have access to shops that sold Japanese food at seriously inflated prices. There is one Asian market about an hour away from where I presently live, but its selection is weak and the prices are even higher than those I'd previously paid. That has dampened my enthusiasm for seeking out new snacks as it's frankly depressing seeing the same bags of KiKat matcha mini bars for $12 and little else during every visit. These boxes are a spirit lifter when they show up with an assortment of things I haven't seen for many years now.

This box includes a mix of salty and sweet with an emphasis on things which won't melt in the heat of summer. Since I'm currently living in a place where temperatures at their highest can reach 100 degrees, this is something I'm grateful for. There are a few chocolates in the box and I'll be curious to see how they fared on the trip when I get tto reviewing them.

As always, there is a pamphlet inside which details all of the items in English with some descriptions and I'll be talking more about each item when I post the individual reviews. Here is the breakdown:

Don Tacos grilled corn chips, Calbee "conomme punch" chips, "salad" sembei, karu jaga umashio (crispy rolled potato snacks, salt flavored)

Pineapple hi-chew, "Soda" puchitto (candy balls), ramune in a plastic bottle, mini home pies (a flaky French-style "cookie"), Juice-C color balls (soda flavored), coconut pies, orange marble gum, caramel corn chocolate mint flavored (a puffy corn snack), Hello kitty peach lollipop, lemon "fettucine" gummies, unchoco (milk chocolates shaped like poop)

In terms of what I'm excited about, the first thing is the chocolate mint caramel corn. The regular caramel corn is already one of the most enjoyable snacks you can get from Japan (and overlooked in favor of the flashier, but often less enjoyable KitKats) and a variation on the flavor has great potential. This isn't like other corn puff snacks. It's light, crispy and almost melt-in-your-mouth.

I am also quite interested in fettucine gummies and seeing how they differ from regular ones in texture. Japanese gummies, in general tend to be more flavorful, less sweet, and have a better chew than American ones. The shape may also lend a different experience to them.

Of course, because I became a sembei fan late in my time in Japan, I'm looking forward tot he "salad" sembei. "Salad" is a funny flavor in Japan. It doesn't seem to mean anything related to what we'd call salad and my experience with it has meant a more "salad dressing" (vinegrette) type of experience. We'll see how this one tastes.

In terms of things I'm fairly indifferent to in this box, that would be the kid's stuff and the orange marble gum in particular. It's not that the gum isn't tasty. It actually is, but I've had it before and the flavor lasts about a minute then it's just plain jaw exercise. I think the dagashi (kid's) snacks are more appealing to people who haven't lived in Japan for a long time compared to me. They are the most colorful and often the most unique, but they also have the simplest flavor profile. Still, I will be reviewing them with an eye toward their intended market and as novelties and not through my very narrow lens.

Luna plush box for September

If you'd like to get your own sweets box, the September box is available for ordering at ZenPop and it has a nice bonus compared to the one I'm reviewing. There's a "Luna" plush which is adorable that is included with that box (at the same price as regular boxes). It's a pretty good deal in general, but it's even better in the coming month.

I'll be back very soon with a flurry of reviews of the contents of this box.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Coris SonoManma Peach Fuzen Gum and Kanro Fruit Rich Peach Candy

The peach on the bottom candy reminds me of "Call Me By Your Name." If you haven't seen it, don't ask. The defilement of fruit is just too disturbing to relive.

Like a runner struggling after a long, hard run to reach the finish line, I am slowing down on my progress with my ZenPop box, but I am determined to finish! However, I'm being slowed down by plans to take a very brief trip for vacation and the looming specter of grand jury duty. If I seem to be in a hurry, you'll understand why.

The pairings on my double reviews are not random. They make a sort of pointless logic to my mind. This one is a grouping of "stuff designed to keep your mouth entertained for a long time" or "stuff designed to remove bad tastes from your mouth." Choose whichever one seems more suitable.

The maker of the peach gum, Coris, specializes in dagashi (kid's snacks) and I've only reviewed a few of their items previously. If this gum is any indication, they are designed to be short-lived joys. The immediate sense is that this is the nicest, softests bubble gum I have ever had and it has a good, natural burst of peach flavor both from the gum itself and the little dab of goo in the center.

For about three minutes, this is a great chewing experience. After that, the flavor is tapped out and you're done. At that point it's time for another little ball of (peach-shaped) gum, or to focus on blowing bubbles. I can't say it's reasonable to expect a gum designed for kids to go the distance in flavor, but I never claimed to be reasonable.

Kanro's "Fruit Rich" peach candy is a decidely more adult and long-lasting experience. The candy is less sweet and intense than the gum, but it unfolds beautifully on the tongue and it's far easier to enjoy than sucking on a peach pit. Oddly, this includes herb extracts and menthol, but I couldn't taste those elements at all. Their inclusion means this is designed for soothing sore throats as much as for occupying a bored mouth.

If this were sugar-free, it would have my undying love rather than a brief flirtation. My teeth cannot only tolerate so much bathing in sugar before they cry "Uncle." So, while I'm happy for the lack of artificial sweetner aftertaste (or even present taste), I have to be careful not to overdo this lest I develop a cavity.

Coris Peach Gum:

Karno Fruit Rich hard candy:

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shimi Choco Corn and Anpanman Pero Pero Choco

I'm headed close to the finish line in my race to review all of my ZenPop box treats before I loose my free time to jury duty (which is coming up on May 2nd). I have to say that it's been quite refreshing to get back in the groove of steady reviewing, though I know that I'll run out of things to review pretty soon.

If aliens came to earth and looked at our food, would they be confused by the fact that we shape our food like humans and then eat them? There are chocolate Santas at Christmas in the U.S. Why would we want to cannibalize a jolly guy who wants nothing more than to give us free toys?

These are the thoughts that occur to me when I look at snacks like the Anpanman chocolate lollipop. He looks so happy, and I just snapped his head in half, took my picture, and then took a bite out of him. If it is any consolation, he didn't taste especially good.

Incidentally, "pero pero" means "lick, lick" which I guess refers to the fact that this is on a stick. However, this isn't really designed for licking. It's barely designed for eating at all because the texture is too soft and the chocolate flavor is fairly muted, especially toward the center where there is more pink chocolate. It's balanced in sweetness. It's vaguely milky, but mostly seems to be too adulterated with vegetable oil to have any sort of pure flavor elements. It looks cute, and it doesn't taste terrible, but this is largely for novelty rather than for flavor. I had my husband sample it and he said, "It tastes like inferior chocolate." That about sums it up.

The other item in this double review is best known for it's tasty animal crackers. The "shimi corn" like is made up of various flavors of a cereal like corn base. It sounds very unimpressive, but it actually was very satisfying. The flavor of the chocolate was excellent and the texture of the star-shaped corn tube was perfect. It was neither too dense nor too crispy. If you like eating sugar cereal dry out of the box (and I do), this is going to be the bee's knees. This was unexpectedly tasty and I wish I had a case of them around for future noshing. It just really played into my tastes.

So, the moral of the story? Cannabalism is wrong in every way. Don't go around eating the heads of fictional characters. It will not be nearly as much fun as you anticipate. The other moral? Corn is always king!

Anpanman Pero Pero Choco:

Shim Choco Corn:

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Orihiro "Standing" Jelly

The latest in my continuing marathon of reviews of my ZenPop box is a "health" drink/snack from Orihiro. Orihiro specializes in food targeted toward women who are calorie-conscious and up on all the latest food fads that are supposed to keep you younger looking and in the pink. These are the women that keep the price of Manuka honey in the stratosphere because someone told them it'll cure every illness known to man and they believe much in the same way Fox Mulder believes in aliens - they want to believe.

People think wasabi KitKats are part of the "weird" Japan food culture. They've got nothing on this squeeze pouch of mutant gelatin snack. I have to say this one caught me by surprise in multiple respects. The first surprise was when I sqeezed the tube to see what popped out and some juice squirted me in the face. This is less a tube of jelly as it is thick gelatin globs floating in some sort of juice.

You have to make sure it is in your mouth when you squeeze it. It'll be a textural Russian roulette which one you get. My main problem was that I wanted to see what it looked like and get a picture for this blog. My loss is your gain since you won't have to actually have the bottle disgorge anything onto your body in order to know what is inside before you suckle on it.

In terms of how this tastes, the peach flavor is actually very pleasant and tastes a lot like nectar drinks. The ingredients list includes real peach juice. The main problem is that it is insanely sweet and you can taste the artificial sweetener all too well. It's made with both Sucralose and acesulfame K. Honestly, for something that is sold by a company with "health" in their URL, this is not especially healthy. It's a chemical cocktail to satisfy your sweet tooth with a low calorie load, but it's even sweeter than conventional sugar-free gelatin.

I wanted to like this, but it was just too fake-tasting for me, and I'm someone who uses Splenda everyday in hot beverages so it's not a sensitivity to sweeteners. I think they really just needed to dial back on the overall sweetness level and this could have been a nice way to satisfy a craving.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Poteko Cherry Blossom Salt Potato Rings and Calbee Sea Salt Hard Chips

I'm continuing my brisk jaunt through the box of snacks ZenPop sent me with two of the salted potato snacks. Besides being made of potato and containing salt, they really don't have much in common, but it's not like I'm matchmaking them or engaging in little mock wedding ceremonies where in which I put a tiny veil on the rings and a bow tie on the chips - at least not yet. Constructing these things takes time.

The first time I tried Himalayan sea salt, I wondered why anyone would like the taste and smell of sulfur on their food. Sure, it's pink and looks pretty, but - at least to my taste buds - it added nothing to the experience and really took things away. I dismissed it as one of those things all the cool kids were into because other cool kids told them to be into it.

As weird as I found Himalayan sea salt to be, the sakura (cherry blossom) salt on Tohato's potato rings is like a mutant version of salt. Maybe it was formed when Godzilla was percolated decades ago. When I opened the bag, the smell was strongly cherry-blossom-like. It just did not fit the sense of what should come with a potato snack.

Smell isn't everything though. People who eat Durian know that. Taste is where it's at. Unfortunately, this didn't fare much better on the taste front. The first ring is especially odd as it hits you full force with the cherry-like flavor of the salt. After you eat a few, you get a little acclimated and it's more of a bad aftertaste that you tolerate.

I'm not sure what Tohato was thinking with this one. I guess that the fact that this is a holiday release connected to the "doll's festival" for girls (hinamatsuri) made them think the whole cherry blossom concept was a good one. They should have saved it for their sweet snacks rather than Poteko.

While the Poteko aren't inedible, they aren't nearly as much fun as they should be. I'm giving them a little credit there. I think the best use for these is to take them around to your unsuspecting friends and tell them it's a Japanese potato ring snack and ask them if they can guess what flavor it is. Have your camera ready because you'll want to catch the faces they make and post them on social media or future blackmail purposes.

The Calbee chips, by comparison, are a much tamer beast. The "hard" part comes from chips made with a thicker cut potato. Most Japanese potato chips are super thin, light and crispy. These are still crispy, but the bite is definitely less crumbly and more crunchy.

All Japanese potato chips have a particular fresh scent and taste which is unique and these have that going for them. I'm guessing this comes from the oil. However, the bag I had also had an unusual and not necessarily welcome. Honestly, it reminded me of sour milk. I don't know where that came from and I've never experienced that with Calbee's chips before. They're supposed to have Vitamin C added, which is also a bit strange. That might have something to do with it.

Poteko Cherry Blossom Salt:

Calbee Sea Salt Hard Chips: