Thursday, October 16, 2008
Morinaga Black Sugar Milk Caramels
The packaging on a lot of Japanese sweets is pretty clear cut and designed to give you a good idea of what is inside. Most of it is also modern-looking. Morinaga, which has been in business since 1899, has quite a few products with rather old-fashioned packaging. One of my former students was married to a man who worked at Morinaga and she told me that the company was deeply steeped in old-style thinking and culture and reluctant to change their ways.
If you look at the box for these caramels, you can see a lot of their old-fashioned design on them. The same goes for their plain chocolate bars which come in a plain brown wrapper with an ornate frame design around the name of the company. The company's old-style logo (an angel holding an "M" can be seen in a square at the top of the box). There is a more modern-looking logo on other products, but its line of caramels, retains the old-fashioned design. This is probably because caramels were the first confection the company made and can be considered a signature product. They may also not appeal to young folks so much as nostalgic older people. I've noticed that the caramels are much harder to find than other Morinaga sweets.
At the moment, there are three types of these caramels on the market: the original milk caramel, black sugar and adzuki. I've never seen the red adzuki flavor box in any store, and I can only locate the black sugar ones in one of the 4 markets in my immediate area. "Black sugar" is what Western folks call "brown sugar", though it seems more heavily influenced by molasses than the "brown sugar" you buy in bags (to cook with) in Japanese markets. In fact, brown sugar sold for baking and whatnot is very light and only a stone's throw from white sugar in taste.
The black sugar sweets you can buy, on the other hand, are very richly flavored. These caramels are no exception. When you unwrap the foil, there's a smooth bit of caramel which is only the tiniest bit sticky to the touch so your fingers don't get messy. It smells sweet, milky and somewhat of honey. In fact, the American candy that it very much reminds me of is "Bit O' Honey."
Though the blocks are firms, they quickly soften up once you put them in your mouth and start to chew. They're also rather nice to just allow to melt a bit by sucking on them like a piece of hard candy. While it is sticky like most caramel, it doesn't stick terribly to your teeth. I'm not sure how Morinaga manages this feat, but it's appreciated. The caramel is rich and floods your mouth with a sweet, buttery, brown sugary flavor. It's delicious.
The ingredients include sugar water, brown sugar (60% grown in Hokkaido), milk with added sugar, sugar, vegetable oil, rice flour, salt, sorbitol, caramel coloring, and flavoring. As you might expect, you're essentially getting a whole lot of sugar in these. The size of the caramels is rather small which makes them much easier to chew as well as provides good portion control. There are 12 candies per box and a box costs about 130 yen ($1.24). The whole box is 245 calories so they weigh in at 20 calories apiece.
Given that these are both traditional and tasty, they are a great item to sample if you have a chance. I'm guessing they'd also be the ideal thing to just toss in a bag and keep around for awhile for those times when you'd like a little sugary pick-me-up.