Monday, February 11, 2013

Lotte Koala's March Chocolate Biscuits

One of the things I'm coming to realize after returning to the U.S. is that all of the ooohing and aaaahing over weird Japanese flavors accompanied by whining about how America's flavors are so boooooring was pretty badly misplaced. There are about a million different flavors of Pop-Tarts on the market, so many that I can't begin to track them all. Since I don't like Pop-Tarts, this isn't a big deal. Similarly, there appear to be special flavors of Oreos being released at regular intervals (and only at certain stores). America absolutely has its fair share of funky flavors, though the really obscure ones tend not to be embraced by mainstream producers. Nestle Japan used to really go out on a limb with KitKats (not so much these days). You can't say the same for Oreos or Pop-Tarts. Sure, you can get turkey-flavored soda pop, but it's not going to be made by Pepsi or Coke.

At any rate, one of the things I tended to do in Japan was review the odder or newer flavors of a product while passing on the tried and true version. This would be tantamount to reviewing gingerbread Oreos, but never covering the regular version. I thought of this because, while I've covered a few oddball versions of Koala's March, I never reviewed the more pedestrian chocolate version.

Part of the reason for this was that tried this product a long time ago, and it was not much to my liking. The main issue was that it was just too sweet for me. I decided to revisit it, however, when I read about a change in the recipe on some food forum or other. The claim was that the sweetness level had been dialed down. That gave me hope that I'd like them better. Also, I wanted to compare them directly to "Hello Panda", which I reviewed not too long ago. I wanted to test out whether they were essentially the same, but just focusing on different types of bears.

Aren't they adorable? Don't you just want to eat them up? ;-)

To address the first point about flavor, they are not as sweet as they used to be and this is an incredibly welcome turn of events. Now, remember when I say, "as they used to be", that I am likely comparing them to an experience I had more than 10 years ago. If you've had them more recently than that, this may be the same old biscuit that you've known all along. 

The chocolate inside of the almost wafer thin cookie shell is slightly bittersweet and has a pretty serviceable flavor depth for a consumer grade product. It's got good cocoa notes as well as a bitter bottom flavor. It's mellowed out by the creamy texture of the filling as well as the bland cookie shell. It's not strong on milky flavors, but those who hate darker chocolate flavors will probably be placated by the way the fatty filling seems to add in some buttery notes.

In terms of how it compares to "Hello Panda", though they look rather similar, they are absolutely two different experiences. These have a much thinner cookie shell which serves mainly as a delivery mechanism for the thick creamy filling. There isn't much of a sense that these are cookies so much as the cookie equivalent of an M & M. That is, you're eating chocolate in a way which is not messy. "Hello Panda" cookies taste like chocolate chip cookies with a much thicker outer shell, sparser chocolate filling, and a stronger "biscuit" flavor. Also, "Hello Panda" has a creamier filling which isn't nearly as close to solid chocolate as Koala's March.

These were either a lot better than I remember them being or they really have changed the recipe. I'd even buy these again some time since they are rather nice to have around as a small, chocolatey morsel to pop in your mouth when you have the urge. 

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