Monday, September 24, 2012
Taiko Brown Sugar Sticks
The translation of the word "bo" to English from Japanese is usually "stick", but a better translation of these would be "tube". In America, I can't think of any snack that is commonly sold in this format, to be honest. In Japan, there are both savory and sweet airy, crispy tubes to be had. The style allows you to present a large-sized snack without giving a heavy volume. It's easy to eat one or two and be satisfied and have the illusion that you've eaten a decent amount without putting away too many calories. I'm sure that really has nothing to do with why these are formed as tubes, but it is a little side benefit.
Thinking about this makes me wish I could have visited a factory at which this style of snack was made. The most popular "bo" snacks are made by Yaokin, a maker of oily, spicy corn-based tubes sold in foil packages with colorful cartoons on them. I'm guessing they would have been the most likely to allow for a factory tour, but I'm not sure they'd want my gaijin (foreigner) cooties nosing around their nice, clean corn snack facility. At the very least, they probably would require me to put on a hazmat suit and an industrial-sized hair net (I have a lot of hair).
Getting back to the point, I'm guessing these are tube-shaped because they are prepared on some sort of spindle. The hole in the center is likely whatever pole they're baked around. The fact that they're oblong means the batter droops off of the stick they're hanging on as they're prepared. It is likely an old-fashioned way of making things which America never adapted as it's a younger culture and most of what we have is shaped by the cold hand of technology and the assembly line rather than a process designed to be manipulated by human hands. It feels like a bit of cultural anthropology to over-think this, but it does seem that older cultures that build their cuisine on what was once a single portion size made by and sold by hand and sold to individuals that continue the same size even in the mechanical age have a leg up on portion control. History plays a part in such things, I believe.
This is my second go at Taiko's stick snacks and they earned my trust with the sweet potato cookies I sampled before. Just as I scored those at the Daiso Japan in Mountain View, I scored these. It was a toss up between a vanilla flavor and brown sugar and this won by virtue of being on sale for a dollar/78 yen (marked down from $1.50/117 yen). Also, I love brown sugar, though it's important to note that Japanese brown sugar is different from that in America. It's hard to quantify a flavor difference, but there is either less molasses in it or a different sort in the Japanese variety.
These sticks didn't taste as I expected. Mainly, I expected a more profound sweetness (though they are sweet, don't get me wrong) and stronger brown sugar flavor. The odd thing is that they were rather less sweet than the sweet potato ones despite being essentially sugar-flavored. I also felt that, while black sesame seeds (goma) paired extremely well with the sweet potato version, it wasn't quite so natural a complement to brown sugar. That is not to say that these are bad at all. They're perfectly serviceable and have the same satisfying crispiness and light airy quality as the other one I tried and less sweetness didn't necessarily mean they weren't good. The main drawback was that there was an odd taste which I would say was somewhat caramel-like or coffee-like which I could not pin down. I didn't care much for that flavor. I'm guessing it is something about how they are baked that creates it, not an actual additive since the ingredients list is brown sugar, sugar, wheat flour, bread crumbs, corn grits, vegetable oil, sesame, caramel color and soybeans.
I liked these pretty well, but not as much as the sweet potato variety. I love the texture and crunch of this line of snacks and will definitely try other varieties, but this isn't a flavor I'm likely to try again if I have other options. If I have no other choice, I would definitely get these again though rather than eschew them.