Showing posts with label Sequoia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sequoia. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2013

Furuta Torukeru White Chocolate Bar

"Torukeru" means "melty" or "melting" and is often used by Japanese candy makers to say that there is soft, ganache-like chocolate involved in their candy-making alchemy. Often, that means it's either oozing all over your fingers or soft, but solid. You can see by the illustration on the package above that they're trying to convey the idea that there is soft, creamy filling trying to escape the evil clutches of the brittle wafers in which they are trapped between. 

The problem with this concept is that you're putting something which is essentially absorbent between something absorb-able. Over time, the wafers are going to suck some of the moisture out of the cream and disable all of its capacity to be anything resembling "melty". That is what happened to my bar, if indeed it ever was full of soft, melting cream in the first place. Fortunately, this in now way detracted from the textural elements which included the easily cleaved exterior chocolate coating and several crispy wafers with a very thin layer of chocolate cream between them.

This was surprisingly good considering its white chocolate exterior and my general aversion to said substance. The not so sweet and slightly bitter interior wafers and chocolate filling balance out the fairly sweet white chocolate exterior. Surprisingly, at room temperature, the outside is quite firm. I've had problems with Sequoia chocolate bars being too soft, but this was good and reminded me of one of the better KitKat variations that I've experienced in the past.

One can pick up Sequoia bars for near a dollar at Japanese markets in California and they're quite cheap in Japan as well. The "specialty" bars like this one tend to be about 50 yen or about 50 cents at convenience stores. They are a cheap way to try something a little off the beaten path and I was not disappointed in this. At 141 calories for a single large finger-sized bar, it also offers good portion control.

Though I liked this quite fine, it wasn't exotic enough or "good" enough to make me want to have it again. As a one-off sampling, I have no regrets, but I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to try it. Though it's a nice enough wafer-chocolate combo, it's probably not worth choosing over more interesting options. Still, if you're in Japan and crave a KitKat, but don't want to have a whole bar around to tempt you, this is a really good alternative and better than the regular chocolate Sequoia bars (which are actually pretty good, too) by a small margin. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Furuta Green Tea Sequoia

There's a video my husband and I shot in 1995 which we made to show our family and friends what it was like to live there at the time. I don't remember who we sent it to, but part of it includes a trek around our local shopping street (shotengai) and the shops that were on offer at the time. I recently watched that video again for the first time in a very long time and I was shocked at how few of the shops survived to 2012. In fact, I'm pretty sure that only the biggest markets (e.g., Peacock, Seiyu, etc.) made it to the present day.

One of the sites caught on camera on that video were several girls eating green tea "soft cream" (soft serve) in a tea shop. On the video, my response to the idea of green tea flavored sweets was "yuck!" At that time, the thought of bitter, grassy green tea being mixed with sugar rubbed me completely the wrong way. I think there are still plenty of Western folks out there who feel the same way.

I think green tea seems stranger as a flavoring for sweets as compared to black tea (English tea) or coffee because you don't see people putting sugar and milk in green tea, but you do find people adding them to those beverages which Western folks regard as more mainstream. Sweet coffee is common. Sweet green tea is unheard of, at least in Japan.

As time has gone by, the notion of green tea sweets has grown on me, though it still hasn't blossomed into the sort of passion that I've seen others display. I sometimes like it, and sometimes don't care for it. A lot depends on the intensity and the flavor mix. Generally, green tea plus chocolate isn't as good as green tea chocolate, if you know what I mean. That is, if it's white chocolate which has green tea flavoring, it's not as dangerous to the taste buds as milk or dark chocolate with some green tea component.

You can imagine my concern when I started to unwrap this Sequoia wafer chocolate bar and saw that the bottom was what appeared to be semi-sweet chocolate. The top is olive green (and had bloomed a bit to boot, that's the white stuff on it) and the illustration tells us that there is green tea cream between the wafers.

A sniff revealed a discordant mix of chocolate and tea aromas. A bite revealed that it was indeed semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate on the bottom. This meant that there was a turf war on my tongue for which bitter flavor got to dominate, the tea's or the chocolate's. Neither one. They kicked up a lot of dirt, made a mess, and it was a draw. I really didn't care for the mixture of these two flavors. Though there is ample sweetness on hand to off-set them, it just tasted "wrong" to me.

On the best of days, Sequoia's wafer-based chocolate bars can disappoint, but this was really more unpleasant than usual from my viewpoint. I think that my reaction was an extremely subjective one. This isn't a bad bar overall, and I'm sure some people will enjoy it, but it simply was not for me. I ended up throwing the rest away after eating a little less than half.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sequoia Chocolate Milk Bar

Some products come across as the "poor man's" version of a better-known brand name item. Drinks like RC Cola or Shasta cola come to mind as Coca-Cola wannabes. The Sequoia chocolate wafer bar comes across as the poor man's KitKat, though I don't know if it actually came before everyone's favorite chocolate-covered wafer. The company that makes Sequoia, Furuta, has been in business since 1952, but Furuta doesn't have a full product history on its site so I can't give them credit for being first if credit is indeed due.

You can buy Sequoia bars in 3-packs for 99 yen ($1.16) or as single bars for about 40 yen (47 cents). The multi-packs are available only in certain types of stores. A single Sequoia is about the size of 2.5 fingers of a KitKat, so they cost quite a bit less.

Since I last tried a Sequoia chocolate bar, they seem to have changed. I remember them being coated in thing chocolate which had little flavor and was rather thin. I recall the wafers being very brittle and overly flaky. To be fair, this was 18-19 years ago so they may have changed a long time ago and I just took a long time to revisit one.

The bar now is covered in relatively thick, solid chocolate. It is covered in typical Japanese milk chocolate (marginally bittersweet) which includes cocoa butter. When you look at a cross section, it seems to have a layer of a different sort of chocolate above the top wafer, but I couldn't taste any difference in texture or taste. This is unlike the caramel Sequoia which had a rather softer bit of caramel above the top wafer which yielded easily when bitten into.

The bar smells faintly of cocoa and has a fairly strong, but somehow flat flavor. Some chocolate has a nutty, milky, or fruity flavor, but this doesn't. It's like a strong cup of hot chocolate made with cheap cocoa powder. It's quite sweet, though rich and slightly bittersweet and that helps offset the sugary nature. The wafers are crispy, but you lose the sense of them in the firm chocolate. I think that the KitKat formula works better to reveal the nature of the wafers because it's softer and yields as you bite into it.

In my opinion, this bar could do with less chocolate coating and more wafer and with a softer chocolate coating, but it's fine overall. The portion control is pretty good. One bar is 131 calories and it feels substantial enough that you won't want another. I think this is a resistible bar which wouldn't be bad to keep in your desk or kitchen for times when you really, really want something sweet. I'd buy it again, but only if I were trying to make it easier on myself not to indulge and intentionally bought a less than optimal bar. So, I can only provisionally offer a "happy sumo" (would buy again) rating.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sequoia Baked Apple Chocolate

While Nestle is grinding out new KitKat flavors as if the bar's consumers had the gustatory attention span of a 2-year-old, Furuta releases a couple of new and unique Sequoia chocolate wafer bars a year. Even though I have been less than thrilled at times with the Sequoia offerings, the scarcity of new variants always makes it more exciting to come across one. Perhaps absence does actually make the heart grow fonder, even when the one you're missing is the red-headed stepchild of the wafer-based chocolate family.

I found this bar at Family Mart for about 50 yen (55 cents). It's the same size and weight as regular Sequoia bars which is about 10 cm x 2.5 cm (about 4 in. x 1 in.). These bars are pretty solid, but the weight is not given on the wrapper. The package describes the composition of the bar as an outer shell of baked apple chocolate (including cinnamon), "milk cream" around the wafers, and milk chocolate on the bottom. When you open the packet, you can smell the apple flavor.

This bar is good on some levels, and less so on others. On the plus side, the flavor has depth and the texture has complexity. You can taste apple, wafers, sweet white chocolate, and bittersweet chocolate to varying degrees. Unfortunately, the overly sweet white chocolate flavor dominates such that there are only hints of the apple and bittersweet flavors. The texture is an interesting mix of almost fudgey or ganache-like interior filling, grainy sugary goodness, crispy wafers, and a slightly firm chocolate coating. Both my husband and I were disappointed that cinnamon did not figure very much at all in the flavor profile despite it being mentioned as a relevant component.

I liked this despite the indifferent rating I'm giving it. The main question I have to ask myself though is, 'would I buy it again?' The answer is no and that's mainly because it's just too sweet. I only ate about 1/3 of it for this review and I consumed it in 3 bites with a cup of tea. I could easily see this being just too sweet if I didn't have a beverage or ate more at once. I would recommend this as a curiosity to anyone inclined to sample it, but I doubt anyone will be missing it when it's finished with it's run on convenience store shelves.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sequoia Tiramisu Chocolate Wafer

Sequoia wafer bars (made by Furuta) have a lot to offer which is attractive to me. For one thing, I like the size and the bars look great and are nicely packaged. It's about the size of two and a half KitKat fingers combined. It also carries a fair amount of heft to it and has a more prominent wafer component than a KitKat. It's also cheap. One bar is between 40-60 yen. I got mine for 53 yen (about 50 cents) at a Family Mart near my apartment.

The main problem with the Sequoia bar is that the cheapness carries a lot of the same issues that cheap chocolate worldwide has. That is, it tends to mistake sweetness for good quality and flavor. I've tried 4 types of Sequoia previously (chocolate, strawberry, caramel, and salty vanilla), and the only one I was really pleased with was the caramel one. My expectations were pretty low of this bar.

Unfortunately, this was an okay candy bar, but not great. A really good tiramisu candy experience should have complexity to it. It should offer the coffee, chocolate, and Mascarpone cheese flavors in layers. Since this bar has a chocolate shell, a white chocolate filling, and wafers, you'd think it'd be possible to pull this off. Unfortunately, it all just tastes like coffee-flavored chocolate. If it was good, smooth, and deep coffee flavor, that'd probably be enough, but it tastes like instant coffee chocolate.

On the bright side, the texture of the bar is great. The chocolate is smooth and the wafers are fresh and crispy. The inner white chocolate is a little soft. The only thing is that my front teeth hurt after eating half of it from where the sugar built up on my teeth. It's that sweet.

If you like really sweet chocolate covered wafers and cheap coffee chocolates, this might really do something for you. If you want something with some depth of flavor, you might want to look elsewhere.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sequoia Strawberry

There's something about a multi-pack that makes food more attractive. I'd normally refuse to buy a strawberry Sequoia bar, but seeing 3 of them for 100 yen (a dollar) at the local 99 yen shop lured me into an impulse buy. It must be the aesthetic of the repeated packages lined up so nicely. It helps that my husband will at least try almost anything that is strawberry flavored and sweet.

The main problem for my husband is that a lot of Japanese sweets aren't sweet enough. He's pretty much in line with the market that makes candy bars back home whereas I'm always whining about things being too much. At any rate, anything that is based on white chocolate has a higher chance of meeting his approval and a lower chance of meeting mine. With that in mind, let me say that he liked these quite a lot, and me, well, not so much.

A sniff of these bars revealed the vague smell of strawberries and sugar. The flavor was decently of strawberries, but it's very sweet. There's not quite enough of a tart strawberry edge to offset the sweetness. The texture was pleasant enough because the wafers were nice and crispy. The pink and white coating though was quite soft.

For my tastes, this was too mild on the strawberry front and too strong on the sweet chocolate going on. It reminded me quite a lot of the Senga Sengana KitKat, though it actually didn't possess the same throat burning sugary qualities. I wouldn't buy this again for myself, but if you love super sweet candy and strawberry, it may be something worth sampling.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sequoia Salty Vanilla Chocolate

My husband and I were meandering around a Family Mart convenience store when he spied this "salty vanilla" Sequoia bar. For those who don't know, Sequoia is an original Japanese brand of wafer bar. It isn't a KitKat knock-off. It just looks like one. He said, "this looks like something I'd like," and hence a review was born. I'm always much more likely to try something if I know I'll just have a bit and he'll finish the rest. This is one way to keep the sweets consumption under control for me, though I can't say it works so well for him. It's not that Sequoia bars are too huge for one person to eat, mind you. They're about the total volume of two and a half KitKat fingers.

I sort of wonder how someone decided that salt and vanilla would be a good combination. A comedic collision like the ones about gettings one's chocolate in another's peanut butter comes to mind, but I'm guessing this has more to do with the people at Furuta jumping on the salty vanilla bandwagon or just plain running out of ideas for what they could easily slap together without spending a fortunate on food coloring. I can see the buchos (higher level managers) brainstorming and talking about new flavors. Suggestions for grape, blueberry, or melon are bandied about but no one wants to buy purple, blue or green food dye. The guy who suggested salting down the white chocolate probably got an extra bonus.

I kept this bar in the refrigerator because the weather has been so hot lately. Nonetheless, this was very soft when I took it out for pictures. I wouldn't carry this around in my pocket for long in the summer.

The chocolate coating is advertised as "milk cream" and the "center is "vanilla cream". I think that part of the problem I had with this bar is that I couldn't taste either vanilla or salt much at all, and that is likely because the flavoring is not in the coating, but only between the wafers. Mainly, I could taste shattering white chocolate sweetness. This is an incredibly cloying bar. The strange thing is that I kind of liked it despite that, but probably only in the way that one sometimes really likes a super strong hit of sugar. The flavor had very little depth. I am confident that I wouldn't be so fond of it on a revisit.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sequoia Caramel Flavor

Sequoia is one of those candy bars that has been around since I first arrived in Japan 20 years ago. In fact, I vaguely recall sampling it when it could only be purchased in chocolate and cost only 20 yen and being singularly unimpressed. I've passed on the numerous bars I've seen in both chocolate and strawberry flavor at the local 100 yen store despite their taunting me with their shiny plastic packaging and low, low price of 33 yen (35 cents) a bar. Because of this low estimation, I never would have chosen to purchase this caramel bar for myself, but my husband saw it as a new product and bought it for 40 yen (43 cents) at a Lawson's convenience store near his job.

The Sequoia brand bars are named for their resemblance to a log of wood (the Sequoia tree). This seems like a strange marketing idea as food products that bring to mind splinters, moss, and sap, not to mention something so hard you can't bite through it, don't tend to get mouths watering. All of the bars have simulated wood grain embossed into them. This works particularly well with the caramel bar because its lighter color makes it resemble a log rather than a chocolate bar with grooves pressed into it.

Sequoia is what I'd regard as the signature product of Furuta, a company which makes a lot of candy in small portions for kids. Furuta evolved from a chocolate and cookie business in 1952, though it didn't officially become a corporation until about 10 years later. Their original product line was "candy toys" and they make chocolate eggs with toys inside. They also make small Thomas the Tank and Mario toys as well as "collections" of various animals (dinosaurs, dogs, cats, etc.) that adults and kids alike collect and display in plastic cases in their homes. The toys are sold near the candy in supermarkets for around 300 yen ($3.25). Though I've never bought the toys so I can't say for certain, I don't think they contain any actual candy.

Since I had a so-so experience with Sequoia and rather bad experiences with caramel Japanese candy, I was expecting very little of this bar. I was surprised when I opened the wrapper and saw that it's not all caramel and that there's a chocolate base. I was also encouraged to not smell a super strong or fake caramel scent. There is a hint of caramel and chocolate, but mostly, it just smells "sweet".

One thing which is surprising about the bar is that the wafers have the look of authentic sugar wafers. While you can buy all sorts of wafers in Japan, none of them resemble classic sugar wafers with a firm white layer of cream between layers that you can buy in the U.S. This is likely because they'd be too sweet for the Japanese market. Most of the wafers in Japan are very bland and, for some reason, fortified with vitamin E.

The texture is different based on what part of the bar you're eating. The top is very soft and yields easily. The white chocolate under the caramel coating is almost soft enough to be ganache. The bottom is solid and firm chocolate. The wafer is crisp and fresh with a super sugary cream. This is quite sweet, but with a bittersweet chocolate finish that helps balance out the sweetness. It has a mild caramel flavor which is not overly artificial or overwhelming. This bar completely works because the sweetness is carried by the wafers and their filling and not by the chocolate or the caramel coating.

I rather expected to hate this, but I loved it. It is very sweet, but it didn't burn my throat. The balance of flavors and texture just come together very well and the mix of caramel, chocolate, and vanilla adds depth to the flavors. If you can stand some pretty sweet stuff once in awhile, I'd strongly recommend this. I can say without reservation that this is the best caramel candy bar I've had in Japan.