Friday, February 20, 2009
Sequoia Caramel Flavor
Sequoia is one of those candy bars that has been around since I first arrived in Japan 20 years ago. In fact, I vaguely recall sampling it when it could only be purchased in chocolate and cost only 20 yen and being singularly unimpressed. I've passed on the numerous bars I've seen in both chocolate and strawberry flavor at the local 100 yen store despite their taunting me with their shiny plastic packaging and low, low price of 33 yen (35 cents) a bar. Because of this low estimation, I never would have chosen to purchase this caramel bar for myself, but my husband saw it as a new product and bought it for 40 yen (43 cents) at a Lawson's convenience store near his job.
The Sequoia brand bars are named for their resemblance to a log of wood (the Sequoia tree). This seems like a strange marketing idea as food products that bring to mind splinters, moss, and sap, not to mention something so hard you can't bite through it, don't tend to get mouths watering. All of the bars have simulated wood grain embossed into them. This works particularly well with the caramel bar because its lighter color makes it resemble a log rather than a chocolate bar with grooves pressed into it.
Sequoia is what I'd regard as the signature product of Furuta, a company which makes a lot of candy in small portions for kids. Furuta evolved from a chocolate and cookie business in 1952, though it didn't officially become a corporation until about 10 years later. Their original product line was "candy toys" and they make chocolate eggs with toys inside. They also make small Thomas the Tank and Mario toys as well as "collections" of various animals (dinosaurs, dogs, cats, etc.) that adults and kids alike collect and display in plastic cases in their homes. The toys are sold near the candy in supermarkets for around 300 yen ($3.25). Though I've never bought the toys so I can't say for certain, I don't think they contain any actual candy.
Since I had a so-so experience with Sequoia and rather bad experiences with caramel Japanese candy, I was expecting very little of this bar. I was surprised when I opened the wrapper and saw that it's not all caramel and that there's a chocolate base. I was also encouraged to not smell a super strong or fake caramel scent. There is a hint of caramel and chocolate, but mostly, it just smells "sweet".
One thing which is surprising about the bar is that the wafers have the look of authentic sugar wafers. While you can buy all sorts of wafers in Japan, none of them resemble classic sugar wafers with a firm white layer of cream between layers that you can buy in the U.S. This is likely because they'd be too sweet for the Japanese market. Most of the wafers in Japan are very bland and, for some reason, fortified with vitamin E.
The texture is different based on what part of the bar you're eating. The top is very soft and yields easily. The white chocolate under the caramel coating is almost soft enough to be ganache. The bottom is solid and firm chocolate. The wafer is crisp and fresh with a super sugary cream. This is quite sweet, but with a bittersweet chocolate finish that helps balance out the sweetness. It has a mild caramel flavor which is not overly artificial or overwhelming. This bar completely works because the sweetness is carried by the wafers and their filling and not by the chocolate or the caramel coating.
I rather expected to hate this, but I loved it. It is very sweet, but it didn't burn my throat. The balance of flavors and texture just come together very well and the mix of caramel, chocolate, and vanilla adds depth to the flavors. If you can stand some pretty sweet stuff once in awhile, I'd strongly recommend this. I can say without reservation that this is the best caramel candy bar I've had in Japan.