Thursday, June 16, 2011
When is mochi (pounded rice cake) not really mochi? It's when it's actually made from braken starch instead of rice. Warabi mochi is called "mochi" for the same reason that Pop Tarts get to be called "toaster pastries". There is a resemblance even if the components aren't exactly what they're supposed to be.
In the case of warabi mochi, it has similar textural qualites of mochi. It's soft and slightly stretchy, but not nearly as chewy. It's like a cross between gelatin and mochi, not that that's a breeding pair anyone is really clamoring for. These little cubes or spheres which are clear or covered with soy powder (kinako) are sold in many shops in Japan, but are particularly easy to find in major supermarkets like Seiyu. I bought the package I'm reviewing today at that particular place for 198 yen ($2.46). It's 200 grams (7 oz.), which you can either eat all at once and become logey from the carb bomb you've ingested or split into a couple of snacks. I did the former and had to struggle to keep my eyes open and stop yawning during a private lesson.
I've had warabi mochi in various forms before including some beautifully packaged souvenir forms. There is a small quality difference between the market versions and regional versions, but it's not enough to shy away from the cheap versions like I had today. The "mochi" itself mainly lends a textural quality and has very little flavor. They are like soft little pillows and actually fun to pick up, at least that is so before you squeeze the thin, dark, sweet syrup (mitsu) that accompanies them onto them.
I really like warabi mochi because I like kinako and the distinctive mitsu syrup. They're actually quite sweet despite their "healthy Japanese sweet" appearance. This is no surprise since the ingredients are mainly sugar, water, and braken root flour. I've also read that they're supposed to be "low calorie", but I read calorie values of between 135-180 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz.). It could be that they have a lot of sugar or that those values assume you'll use the entire syrup packet on what you eat. Since most old-fashioned Japanese sweets do not provide nutrition information, I can't confirm anything locally, except for the fact that these are delicious and have a nice texture.
If you like kinako and gelatin-like treats, I'd definitely recommend giving these a try. Whether or not they suit a particular person's palate is not something I can predict, but I find this particular treat quite enjoyable. If you have a chance to give it a try, I'd recommend sampling it regardless of the company that makes it. The only thing that is really important is that it be fresh because it isn't nearly as good after a few days, and in fact may change color and degrade.