Monday, May 19, 2014

Nestle Strawberry Adult Sweetness KitKat (mini)

I received today's item free from CandyWarehouse, which is actually pretty awesome... at least for me.

My mother had a Japanese pen pal when she was in high school. I believe he lived in  Hiroshima and at one point he sent her a Japanese doll in a glass case. I knew about this because there was a black and white picture of this man with his two children leaning against what looked like a fairly old-fashioned Japanese house in one of our photo albums for years. At that time, I didn't think much about Japan or this man. It would never have occurred to me that I'd ever visit Japan, let alone end up living there for most of my adult life.

This pen pal stopped writing to my mother at one point and she told me he had been killed in an earthquake. I accepted this at face value for many years, but now I realize she simply made this up. She never heard any news of a major earthquake, but this was the explanation she chose to work with to explain why he got bored with or tired of writing to her. Unfortunately, making things up is something my mother did and continues to do habitually.

Most of my mother's knowledge of Japan comes from her correspondence many moons ago (from the 1950's) when Japan was a very different place. Her notion of life there was (and may still be) frozen in what that pen pal told her. When I first arrived there and talked about the logistical complexity of getting myself, my husband and seven enormous pieces of luggage from the airport to our new apartment in 1989, her response was, "can't you just get a rickshaw?"

Getting my mother to change her notions of what life in Japan was like 30-40 years after she corresponded with one of the natives was nearly impossible. People do tend to have difficulty abandoning a notion once they've settled upon it. One such notion that persists and I'm sure will continue to persist is the "crazy KitKat flavors" releases.

Nestle appears to have stopped rapidly running a treadmill of releases of freaky flavors and settled on a new strategy. However, people still believe otherwise. The occasional odd flavor release as well as the existence of unusual regional flavors (which are available year-round) will reinforce such notions, but the truth is that things have changed a lot. The marketing has skewed to reflect changes in the demographics in Japan. There are more older people and fewer younger people. Japanese people have endured a long period of relative economic decline and take comfort in more old-fashioned and conservative flavors.

The days of ginger ale, apple, cola, and lemon squash KitKats are likely over. It's not that we'll never see another weird flavor again, but just that the extremes are less likely and less frequent. As a point of comparison, I will say that, at its height, such strange flavor releases appeared to hit the convenience stores every 2-3 months.

The core line-up of KitKats these days strongly reflects the conservatism of the company's choices now. Their main releases are the plain chocolate KitKat and various similar big bars and the "adult sweetness" line-up which includes bittersweet chocolate, milk/vanilla, green tea, and strawberry with a very occasional new flavor (like passionfruit or raspberry). Mostly, these are available as individually wrapped mini bars either in boxes or bags. The whole position of these KitKats is that they are less sweet to cater to adult tastes since kids tend to like things much sweeter than grown-ups. The size is also meant to cater to the smaller adult appetite for treats.

Of these "adult sweetness" options, the only ones that I had not already tried were passionfruit and strawberry. Fortunately, CandyWarehouse offered me the opportunity to sample the strawberry without having to fork over a pile of cash to buy a bag at a Japanese market. Generally, it costs $6-$7 to buy them locally. They are, obviously, much cheaper in Japan as compared to buying them as an import.

The bar is a little soft on the outside, which is often the case with white chocolate, but the inside has nicely crispy and super fresh-tasting wafers. The chocolate lives up to the claim of reduced sweetness and lacks the cloying and weird artificial notes that white chocolate blends sometimes possess. The strawberry flavor is nicely blended in and neither too potent nor too weak. It's exceptionally balanced in terms of giving just enough sweetness to be a good experience, but not so much as to be overpowering. There is good flavor depth - you can detect the white chocolate, the strawberry, the sugar, and the wafers - and good textural variation with the wafers crispness and the creaminess of the white chocolate.

The entire adult sweetness line is a winner and this surprised me because I'm not a fan of either white chocolate or strawberry chocolate, but the balance on this is perfect. I could definitely see having this again and will be quite pleased to finish the bag. I wish Nestle would provide a similar line for the American market, but I'm guessing that the "all or nothing" nature of American tastes - that is, either eschewing sweets altogether or wanting them to put you into sugar shock - would make them too unpopular to survive here. This is a fresh and pleasant way to get your sweet on, and at only 70 calories per bar, a nicely portioned treat.

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