Friday, September 19, 2008
Mikan are small Japanese citrus fruits that resemble a tangerine or mandarin orange. They're easy to peel, have no seeds, and you can buy somewhat big bags of them ("big" by Japanese standards is about 8-12) in the winter. Some of my students have told me they can sit down and eat entire bags of 10 or so at one go. They're not incredibly juicy or sweet and have less of a sour or tart flavor than an orange.
My husband and I like mikan and add them into the rotation of affordable fruit we buy when they're in season. "Affordable" fruit in Japan at any given time is a pretty small pool to choose from as it's common for an apple, peach, orange, or grapefruit to cost $1 each for a small to medium-size one. The value of a bag of cheap mikan goes up in light of the cost of other fruit options. Unlike many Japanese folks, we can't eat a whole bag very quickly. One a day tends to be the limit.
Mikan has a distinctive flavor so, when I saw these mikan Pocky, I was rather skeptical about how well the flavor could be reproduced in the coating on a Pocky. Between the bland pretzel and a thin, mild orange-flavored coating, I thought these might be a bit of a dud in the flavor department.
The coating on each stick is extremely thin and translucent. You can see the pretzel marks through the coating in addition to little bits of orange. These Pocky are part of a temporary flavor campaign that boasts "pebbly" (tsubutsubu - つぶつぶ) varieties. Both the mikan variety and a strawberry variety have little bits of fruit in the coating. They state the percentage of real fruit in them on the box cover. The mikan variety has 20% and the strawberry 28%. If you look closely, you can see that even part of the box design has a pebbly surface on it. It's exceptionally detailed design which is so subtle that you only notice if you're paying close attention.
The sticks are only mildly sweet but have a very pleasant orange flavor (which really tastes like tangerines). The flavor balance is perfect. It's not so intense as to be overwhelming, but also not so mild as to be bland. Unlike some of the other sweeter Pocky, there is no artificial sweetener in these. There is "mikan juice powder" which may mean dehydrated fruit juice, but I can't be sure. The oddest ingredient is paprika coloring, but it does fit in with the oft-stated notion that the Japanese don't like artificial coloring so they use coloring derived from nature (beet juice is another coloring agent).
The sticks are light and crunchy and it's very easy to just eat a whole pack at once. Each box contains four 5-stick packs so you get four servings for around 150 yen ($1.40). Each serving is 67 calories so it's not too great an indulgence as long as you can stop at eating one pack.
This is also reviewed here by badmoodguy in paradise, Gigi Reviews, and at the Japanese Snack Food Review blog.