Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Pino Sweet Potato Ice Cream
Pino is a bit of an institution in Japan and yet I think this is only the second time that I have purchased it in my 22 years in Japan. The basic version is vanilla ice cream with a chocolate shell, but like a standard ice cream bar back home. Because this is Japan, and the people stay tiny by making it easy to eat tiny portions, the folks behind Pino (that would be confectionery mega-maker, Morinaga) took the basic bar idea and created tiny little bon-bons that you can spear on a plastic toothpick.
While this idea may sound quite simple, Morinaga appears to have applied some careful considerations to the product design. They're the sort of formula touches that you wouldn't consider unless you bought the product, tried to eat it, and had some messy problems. For instance, a chocolate coating which is too hard will shatter when you spear the bon-bon with the plastic spear, so the coating can't get too brittle when frozen. The ice cream also cannot become so hard that you have a lot of problems penetrating it with the pick. Both of these were surprisingly not an issue when I sampled this sweet potato Pino. Though the ice cream gets pretty firm, the shell only fractures around the insertion point and you don't have to fight too hard to stab the heart of it so you can deliver it to your waiting mouth.
The odd thing about this particular Pino is that it is labeled "Dessert". It makes me wonder how the other varieties are conceptualized. Aren't they all "dessert" or do the fine folks at Morinaga think the other versions are meal varieties? At any rate, the coating on this is labeled as "chocolate" but it is actually also sweet-potato-flavored and slightly purple in color. The interior is slightly yellow to help emulate the coloring of a typical Japanese sweet potato.
The flavor is quite sweet and there is a strong element of sweet potato that borders on, but doesn't go over the edge of overbearing. I detected a "baked" flavor which I strongly associate with sweet potato cakes (one of which is pictured on the box cover) and found that to be quite surprising. That must be a tricky element to include. I also thought there might be a hint of cinnamon, but my taste buds may have been deceiving me. The ice cream is fairly average. In fact, I've had creamier ice milk, but that doesn't make this in any way unacceptable as mass-produced ice cream. Since you get 6 (10 ml.) bon-bons per box for a mere 100 yen ($1.20), you can't really expect the ice cream to blow off your socks. It is good, just not fantastic.
I don't buy much ice cream because I am afraid I'll either gobble it all down or leave it to develop a thick layer of freezer burn in an effort to save myself from its caloric load, but I really should sample more Pino as each bon-bon is only 32 calories and portion control is so easy. This was good, but a bit too sweet in general for me. That being said, I'd probably buy it again if it is seasonally re-released in autumn/winter of next year. I just can't see buying it too terribly often.