Tuesday, September 16, 2008
"Oishi" (Delicious) Black Sugar "Marshmallow" Sticks
When you first arrive in Japan, there is a cornucopia of food items which look pretty strange. Some of them you will be brave enough to sample and others look just too strange to even consider. The snack item pictured above looks like something you might find floating in a toilet. The funny thing is that this is one of the better looking varieties of this particular snack.
The "translation" of this particular food is pretty weak. These aren't marshmallows, but, like sushi, there isn't a good word to describe this treat simply and easily. There are many varieties of these in Japan and they all are coated on the outside with brown sugar, or, as the Japanese call it, "black sugar". Some varieties are a little hard on the outside and firm on the inside and others are very soft on the inside and a little soft on the outside. The cheapest varieties are white on the inside. I'm guessing that they have less flavor and that's why they're cheaper. I have read that these are a specialty of Kyushu and it's possible that the more pedestrian varieties are knock-offs rather than the real deal.
My hunch regarding the reason these are (at least sometimes) translated as 'marshmallow' is that they are a bit spongy like a marshmallow and they are quite sweet. The process by which they are made is likely very different as the ingredients are different and these are more like a super airy coarse cake inside than a marshmallow though there is a certain textural resemblance when you bite into one. These are, essentially, a type of baked good. The information I found on them states that their origin in Japan is unclear, but that the speculation is that they are a sweet inspired by the West rather than something absolutely indigenous to Japan.
If you love brown sugar or molasses, these are an incredible treat. They are sugary and light. The firm texture on the outside makes an excellent contrast to the airy interior. They smell like molasses, but don't have an oppressively sweet smell. They aren't chewy and are a bit like eating a super soft, spongy biscotti. Though they feel quite hard if you press on one through the bag, they are actually very easy to bite into.
The main ingredient is flour followed by various types of sugar (brown (black) sugar, sugar, and grape sugar), eggs and a leavening agent. These are not nutritious, but they are also not high in calories. Each little bite (about 1.25 inches) is about 20 calories and you'd be hard-pressed to eat too many at one time given how sweet they are. They are very satisfying when you have a craving for something sweet and I can see how they'd pair well with coffee or tea.
This particular variety is a little more expensive than the types that are geared toward kids or families. This bag has 3 packages of about 16 bites (80 grams or 2.8 oz.) for 350 yen ($3.24 USD). It's worth every yen of it. I'm certain to buy these again. This variety is made by Nagashima (ナガシマ) and they are 'carefully' "handmade" in Kagoshima and have been making them for 70 years with flour and brown sugar made in Kyushu, Japan. I searched a bit on the Internet to see if I could find any on-line sellers who might be selling them in the U.S. and not only could I not find an agent that sold them abroad, but I couldn't locate them at Amazon Japan. You can get them direct from some of the manufacturers if you can deal with Japanese web sites, but the easiest way is to visit Japan or have a friend here pick you up some. I'd highly recommend giving them a try despite their suspect appearance.