Monday, February 24, 2014

Eiwa Blueberry Marshmallows

I once read a little blurb in an article about a woman who had a conversation with her grandmother about food in her childhood. She said that her grandmother loved sugar cane. She said that she had a stalk of it that she kept under her pillow and would savor over time when she was a child. Her granny spoke of it as if it were the most magical and sublime food experience that she ever had. The granddaughter was so impressed by what her grandmother said about how good sugar cane was that she obtained some to try. When she got it, she found that it tasted like sugar. It wasn't the most fantastic food experience ever. It just tasted like sugar.

I remembered this story because I think about old-fashioned vs. modern sweets sometimes. I think that things like marshmallows are not as popular because they entered our food culture at a point in time when the types of sweets that we now have access to either did not exist at all (because of a lack of diverse ingredients on hand) or were not mass produced due to cost issues. How can the lowly, simple marshmallow compete with the fatty, sugary, salty, greasy complexity of a peanut butter cup?

I'm an enormous fan of all things marshmallow, but the truth is that, even I don't crave them all of the time. Since returning to the U.S., I've had more marshmallows because there is a plethora of varieties compared to Japan. I'm not only talking about the short-lived joys of a fresh, sugar-coated Peep (once they're stale, then the rainbow has gone away), but also the unique flavor offerings that come out seasonally like gingerbread or pumpkin spice marshmallows. From my childhood, incidentally, my favorite candy was Mallow Cups and I only recently came across and sampled the joys of Vallomilk. Both are pleasures I've revisited on a few occasions since coming home.

In Japan, I didn't really care for the texture and the funky aftertaste of Japanese marshmallows, so I tended to just avoid them, but I decided that it was time to give them a better chance. I was convinced both by the flavor combination of blueberry and marshmallow and the price. I found these on sale for under a dollar (100 yen) at one of the Japanese markets in our area (Marukai, I believe).

A whiff inside the bag when opened reveals the scent of fake blueberry. The marshmallows are small and soft. They are a little chewier than an American marshmallow, but less sticky. If you try to pull them apart with your fingers, they're tougher than what I'm used to.

The marshmallows themselves are overwhelmed by the blueberry jam flavoring. I don't think they're incredibly sweet on their own, but the jam inside is quite concentrated both in terms of flavor potency and added sweetness. I'd prefer a bit more mashmallow in the mix to try and offeset the nearly cloying nature of the blueberry filling.

The ingredients list starts with "corn syrup" followed by "sugar" so the sweetness is not surprising. Other ingredients include dextrose, water, gelatin, corn starch, sorbitol, concentrated blueberry juice, pectin, and citric acid. The coloring comes from beet root. As I've mentioned on my other blog, the Japanese rarely, at least in my experience, use artificial colors.

Because these are so sweet, it's no surprise that the manufacturer recommends as a serving suggestion that you pour plain yogurt over them and wait 4-5 hours. I tried this "recipe" twice. The first time, I waited about 4 hours, but it just seemed like blobs of chewy marshmallow covered with a yogurt topping. I had hoped that the moisture of the yogurt would break down the marshmallows a bit and create a different texture. I found that leaving them overnight accomplished this and it was actually quite good. It still tasted like there was candy in my yogurt but the textural blend was more enjoyable.

Frankly, I'm a bit on the fence about these. I liked them fine, but I can't see craving them or wanting to have them again. My criteria for an "indifferent" rating is that I don't mind having them, but am very unlikely to buy the same thing once more. I could see sampling another flavor, but I think one small bag of blueberry was enough.

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