Friday, April 9, 2010
There has been much talk in the U.S. over the last several years about why poor people suffer from obesity more than richer ones. Some people have speculated that part of the reason for this is that healthy food is so much more expensive than junk. I haven't lived in America for a long time, so it's hard for me to speak about costs in the U.S. anymore, but I can say that it is definitely the case that healthy food is more expensive than junk in Japan.
I had seen dekopon (デコポン) for years in Japanese markets, but wasn't inclined to buy some unknown fruit because of the high cost of fruit here. The average apple, orange or pear (or similar fruit) is generally available for 100-250 ($1.10-$2.76) yen per piece. I bought this dekopon for an average of 120 yen ($1.33) per orange as part of a pack of four. Suffice it to say, I would have tried these a long time ago if I had ever been given them as a gift. Dekopon are not like persimmons, mikan or natsu mikan in Japan, which are often given away for free.
You can tell a dekpon by it's "outie" style navel (as opposed to the "innie" style of a navel orange). That being said, not all dekopon have this outward navel. In the package I bought, the top one was the only one with an extended navel on it. The other three were positioned to explicitly hide the fact that they didn't have the trademark protrusion. I guess they know people prefer to buy the ones that look like a proper dekopon so they hide the unfortunate ones that don't fit the profile. It's this sort of experience which casts doubt on the touted custom of "kodawari" (perfectionism) when it comes to food. Clearly, this was not packaged with perfection in mind, but rather to hide its imperfections.
The distinguishing feature of dekopon as a citrus fruit is supposed to be its sweetness. The fruit are picked and left to age to lower the acid and increase the sweetness level. Because of this, sometimes the skin on dekopon looks a little worse for wear. Since I'm not a particular fan of very acidic fruit (and this is why I generally don't care for oranges), I thought I might give these a try and see if they really were more palatable to me than the average orange.
I've purchased and consumed about 12 dekopon prior to writing this review (they are currently "in season" and are generally available between December and April) and I can say that they are sweeter than navel oranges, though they aren't "very sweet" as the Wikipedia entry would lead one to believe. I really enjoy them and would definitely buy them again and again as they show up seasonally. Note that they have a nice taste which is similar to an orange or tangerine, but they don't have much of a fragrance. I don't think the peel would be good for anything (cooking, potpourri).
If you see these oranges with the "outie" navel at a fruit market in Japan, I'd recommend giving them a try despite the slightly high cost. That being said, I will warn you that, as has been said on Seinfeld, "fruit is a gamble." Just because I've had a dozen of these and they were all fairly sweet, you can have sour ones. I follow a blog called "It Will Stop Raining" and its author has said that she's had some exceptionally sour ones. Also, be forewarned that some California oranges that look like small dekopon (but are not this variety) are often sold at the same time as dekopon so you'll need to check the katakana characters and make sure they match the ones in the picture at the top of this post.