Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Yaokin Yaki Imo Youkan
Only after typing the name of this blog post did I realize what a tongue twister it might be. Perhaps it would be an enjoyable exercise to attempt to say it five times fast. Perhaps, not.
Youkan is a traditional Japanese sweet which is usually made of jellied beans and sugar. It's sold in brown, green, or yellowish bricks in a variety of shops. I have had red-bean-based youkan before (which looks brownish), though I have never purchased it myself. Salesmen at my former office used to buy it occasionally and give it to the office staff who remained in the office as a treat from whatever city they traveled to for business. Note that this sort of procuring of regional treats for the office-bound coworkers is a very common thing in Japan.
I remember feeling that youkan was okay, but too sweet and lacking in strong flavor. Sure, it tasted like beans, but red beans don't necessarily carry a strong taste by themselves, and less so in youkan form. I think the fact that youkan is made with agar (a seaweed derivative used for gelatin-style foods) dilutes the overall concentration of whatever the main flavoring element is. If you look at the youkan samples on the Wikipedia page, some of them are translucent rather than opaque, which shows that the beans or whatever are thinned and therefore not as intense in taste. To me, youkan tasted a bit like intensely flavored sweetened water drained off of beans you'd cooked.
Since I can't imagine buying youkan in a large quantity (which is how it's generally sold, though not always) for myself, I jumped at the chance to sample this single-serving (26 grams/.9 oz.) sweet potato version when I found it at Seiyu department store. I can't remember the price, but this was in the kid's sweets section and couldn't have been more than 50 yen (55 cents).This is made by Yaokin, a company whose kid's snacks I have reviewed on several previous occasions.
It annoys me that there is no nutrition information on the package or in the company's catalog (which I downloaded specifically in the hopes of getting such information) since I like to keep tabs on the calories of snacks I eat. I found a web site which offers basic nutritional information on Japanese foods which asserts that youkan in general has 89 calories per 30 grams, which would make this snack weigh in at 77 calories (if their stats are correct). The site also asserts that youkan is rich in fiber.
This youkan actually tasted like, well, sweet potato. It's a bit sweeter because it's made with sugar, but it also has an intensity or aftertaste to it which is either a result of the processing of the youkan, or the way in which the sweet potato itself is handled. It's not a bad taste necessarily, but it takes some getting used to and may not appeal to everyone. It tastes like concentrated Japanese sweet potato skin, though only as an aftertaste, so it's not too overwhelming but I could easily see how some might actively find it unpleasant.
The texture is one of the main reasons to choose to consume youkan. It's smooth, easy to bite into, and a bit like very firm, finely grainy gelatin. I think that it's supposed to be appealing in summer if you chill it, though I ate this at room temperature. It's good, but may be an acquired taste.
I was rather torn about this as a treat. I enjoyed the flavor and texture, and felt the sweetness balance was just right. The main problem I have is that the second ingredient (after sweet potato) is sugar and the aftertaste issue. That being said, if I were in the proper mood, I could definitely seeing buying this again. I can't say that it has inspired me to sample all sorts of youkan, but this sweet potato version is worth a revisit.
If you'd like to share your experiences with weird foods and enter a contest for a chance to win a silly prize, please read this post and make a comment.