Wednesday, April 21, 2010

QBB Candy Cheese

One of the mistakes that is easy to make when you come to Japan is to assume truth in advertising. That is, if something says "candy cheese", you're expecting cheese candy. When we encounter similar naming conventions at home, like a "chocolate orange", we don't really expect some sort of mutant fruit hybrid to be in the package. I'm thinking I expected candy cheese to be some funky candy because, like many people, I expect weirdness in every corner of Japanese culture.

For that reason, I have avoided candy cheese for the duration of my stay in Japan. I've noticed it since shopping in markets in my first year here. It was only after doing this blog that I decided to get to know this peculiarly named snack better.

As you may have guessed from my introduction, candy cheese is not candy at all. It's simply cheese presented in a size and package which looks like hard candy. The main idea behind this is to offer up a snacking cheese so that people can consume a Calcium-rich product. Since many Japanese people find themselves with bone problems (and many poor old ladies walk around hunched over due to osteoporosis), Calcium is always used as a marketing tool to sell food.

I picked up this 150 gram (5.3 oz.) bag for 328 yen ($3.59) at a discount green grocer that I frequent called Yutakaraya. You can find candy cheese nearly anywhere in Tokyo though including convenience stores and more upscale markets. I decided on this bag on impulse both because I was in the mood for some cheese and it is made by QBB. While you can get candy cheese anywhere, the stuff at 100-yen shops is made by "no-name" companies. With QBB, there's a good chance it'll be palatable as they're a major maker of dairy products and processed cheese. Previously, I reviewed their almond flavor "baby cheese".

Note that the wrappers on these are standard twist wrappers. Once you open the bag, air will easily creep n through the unsealed edges. That means you'd better be prepared to consume it with some alacrity. This isn't the kind of thing that will last for several weeks. When you untwist the wrapper, it has the familiar slightly pungent smell of cheese. The texture is firm, yet easy to bite into. The taste has a bit of an edge (but it's not really sharp) with a processed cheese aftertaste (think Velveeta). It's not at all unpleasant, but that processed flavor kicks in more clearly as you eat more. Each little piece is about the size of a hard candy, unsurprisingly, and there are 50 calories in 3 pieces

I'm giving this a lukewarm "will buy again/happy" rating. I like the concept of these little bits of snacking cheese on a couple of levels. First of all, as a snack, 50 calories for 3 pieces is very reasonable. Second, they are more nutritious and filling than a piece of chocolate or a handful of chips. Third, they have Calcium, and I don't think women can ever really overdose on that. Finally, cheese has enzymes in it which will neutralize sugars on your teeth. If you want just a bite of cheese to accomplish this when oral hygiene activity is not possible, these will do the trick very well.

The provisional "happy" rating comes because they are expensive for what they are, and this is processed cheese. They're tasty, but there is that funny aftertaste. I enjoyed them just fine, but I know what really good cheese tastes like and these don't hold a candle to the real deal. Still, if you live in Japan, you're essentially a "beggar" when it comes to cheese, and beggars can't be too choosy.


C said...

Wow, this is something that I've never seen before and it's pretty fascinating! But again, small little pieces of processed cheese with a candy-type wrapping? Seems pretty useless & wasteful to me! But then again, I'm comparing these to the string cheese snacks here have here in the States...

Orchid64 said...

You certainly have a very valid point about the packaging waste, C. When I first came to Japan, I found it quite troubling. Now, I'm rather torn about it. On the one hand, the environmental aspects trouble me. On the other hand, I think that this sort of packaging reduces consumption and wonder if the issues with obesity in many countries may be related to bulk packaging and our inability to conceptualize portion sizes as a result. I want to do a post on this at some point covering various thoughts and angles, but I am concerned about the waste. That being said, I live in a market where I have no options but to buy what I am offered. The plastic is recycled, but that's still one step removed from what is best (reducing waste).

Regarding this product and string cheese in the U.S., it's an interesting comparison which does point to portion issues. Most string cheese is sold in long tube-shaped sticks which are around 100 calories each. The size and packaging means most people eat 100 calories as a serving (which is quite reasonable). The QBB candy cheese is 50 calories per serving (3 pieces). The packaging differences tend to encourage one to eat a 50-calorie serving.

I'm in no way arguing that this is worthwhile from an environmental viewpoint, but I can at least see some positive aspects from a dietary behavior viewpoint.

Thanks so much for your comment. It really spurred me to think about things!