Monday, June 18, 2012
D-Plus Koshi Anpan
"D-Plus" is not a grade, though by the end of this review, we'll see if there is a double-meaning to this product's maker's name. It stands for "day plus" which could mean a great many things or nothing at all. I'm told that using English names for products is just to make them seem cooler somehow. I think that it refers to the fact that these are "long life bread" products that last more than a day. I'm not sure, but I think this one was issued on May 25, and I bought it on June 11, so, that's quite a "plus" if my assumptions are correct. The company's web site says that these are designed to last up to 60 days, so this is about the middle-aged period of this bun's life.
This is my first experience with this particular manufacturer of Japanese snacks and that is due to the fact that, as I mentioned in my post on Japanese bakeries, I rarely ate anpan (sweet bean jam buns) because I was never a fan of the hamburger-bun-like casings. The thing that changed all of that was having been away from Japan for 3 months and finding myself a bit on the "starved" side when it comes to anything with anko (sweet bean jam). I found this at "Daiso Japan" in Mountain View, California and snapped it up in a fit of snack purchasing. For those who don't know, "Daiso" is a chain of 100-yen shops in Japan that has a few branches elsewhere. That place is essentially a transplant of the Japanese shops and even carried the same types of visors that I bought in Japan for pretty much the same price.
Since everything in the Daiso Japan store is a $1.50 (120 yen), that's what I paid for this and it was pretty gratifying to be paying almost the same amount for this here as I would if I had picked it up in Tokyo. My experiences so far have shown that that is rare. Usually, things are at least 50% more expensive, if not double the price of those in Tokyo.
The company that makes these is located in Gunma prefecture and has only been doing business since 2003. They take pride in using natural yeast germinated in brown rice and talk about how it produces lactobacillus cultures, though they also mention that the cultures are killed when the bread is baked so I'm not sure why they bother to mention it. It's like they're trying to add an aura of healthfulness to their products.
I've had many experiences with packaged bread products and knew this wasn't going to be the greatest thing on earth. That's okay. Not everything I eat has to be the best of the best. In this case, I was really just looking at the experience of having anpan without tracking down a specialty bakery in the Bay Area. Also, for the price, one has to set ones expectations at the right place.
One interesting thing about buying things in America is that I don't have to translate the ingredients or nutrition information. I've read kanji for years that say "fruit sugar" on them and have wondered if that was the way the Japanese say "high fructose corn syrup", but I know it could also be "grape sugar", which is a less nutritionally suspect substance. In the case of this cake, it is the dreaded HFCS. However, I'm not really the sort who gets worked up about that because I don't eat much processed food and don't drink sodas with sugar. I figure that I'm not in much danger with what little I do eat, but those who feel it is the devil's liquid refreshment may want to steer clear of anything in Japan saying "fruit sugar". One other odd thing about the translation is that it says the bun has 260 calories in the English information, but 288 in the Japanese information. It seems that 28 calories were lost in translation.
I tried half of the bun at room temperature straight out of the package. The bean jam is smooth, sweet, and very tasty, though it does tend to settle into a cake in the middle rather than distribute nicely throughout the bun. The bun, well, it wasn't terrible, but did taste like a day-old hamburger bun. It wasn't exactly stale, but it also wasn't exactly fresh tasting either. I ate the other half after putting it in the microwave for about 10 seconds. Sometimes, a little zap will freshen up dubious bread and I believe it did improve the overall texture a bit by softening it up. It was about 15% better with a bit of a warming.
It's hard to render a verdict on this given my spotty access to such Japanese snacks. If I was deprived of anko snacks for a long time again, I'd certainly buy this again. In Tokyo, I loved manju that offered me a soft mochi wrapper around the bean jam and had all I could want from traditional sweets shops. Here, I'm in the "beggars can't be choosers" position. The bottom line is that I might buy this again, but only out of nostalgia for the taste of bean jam, but if I can find ready access to a better source, I wouldn't buy this again. It's not that it's so bad, but simply that the bread is not very good.