Friday, April 2, 2010
I first learned about bontan ame from Kyoto Foodie's post on it. I had seen it in multiple shops, but the old-fashioned packaging sort of faded into the scenery of treats on display. For the record, I found these in a local market for 98 yen (about a dollar). The point about this which most made me want to try it was the fact that it has edible wrapping.
I've read many times about candies produced in Asia that have wrappers that melt away, but I'd never knowingly sampled one before starting this blog and sampling some jelly candies with them. This is a bit of an old-fashioned concept that many modern snack manufacturer's do not follow.
You can tell by the packaging that this candy is based on a citrus fruit. I've seen it translated as "bontan", "buntan" and "bontang", but that probably matters less than the fact that it's a tangy lemon and orange flavor fruit which grows in Southern Japan. I'm guessing folks can buy the fruit in shops there, but personally I've never seen it in markets in Tokyo and therefore never tasted the real fruit.
This candy was first released in 1926 and the maker, Seika Foods, asserts that this is an original candy and not a copy of another confection. That seems like a pretty reasonable assertion. I don't think I've had anything quite like it in my experiences either in Japan or the United States.
The manufacturer's web site and Japanese Wikipedia pages both describe this as "caramel-like", but I think Kyoto Foodie's description of it as "mochi-like" is more apt. The texture to me seemed like a cross between a gummy or jelly candy and mochi. It's not quite as chewy as mochi. It's like a really thick gummy, but not as tough. The external wrapper, incidentally, is like glue when it melts in your mouth. It doesn't have the taste of glue, mind you, just the stickiness.
The flavor is like a mellow orange, with a hint of lemon. It's mildly sweet and has the barest whisper of citrus sourness. It reminds me a lot of a far, far less sugary and chewier, thicker version of a Sunkist fruit gem. For the record, I love Sunkist fruit gems. As it turns out, I liked this even more than the gems because the subdued sweetness was more to my liking. Each candy is 17 calories and I'm guessing that is a better calorie count than the gems as well.
At first, I thought these were incredibly weird because of the edible wrapper's bizarre glue-like dissolve and because they're so thick and chewy. Once I got used to the texture though, I loved them. In fact, I had to force myself to stop after eating three of them (there are 14 in the box) and I'm certain I'm going to buy them again and again. Without a doubt, they are going to be the biggest threat to my teeth since I gave up sugar sodas over two decades ago.
I recommend that anyone who likes citrus fruit gems, jelly candies, or gummies give these a try. I do put a caveat on that suggestion though about the texture. I can see how the texture (and wrapper) can be a big turn-off for some people. I'm going to try and get my husband to try one, but I think I may tell him to remove the wrapper first since he's pretty fussy about such things.