Monday, June 4, 2012

Sugar Butter Tree Sand

The tagline under this poster advertising "Sugar Butter Tree Sand" says, "the cereal sweets". I like how they use the definite article in English, as if they need to differentiate it from all of the other cereal sweets as the one and only. 

There is a category of snacks and sweets in Japan that I haven't really seen in the United States which this particular snack falls into. Granted, I've been back in the U.S. for only two months and I've spent that time largely on one small island with two stores in the San Juan Islands, but I'm not sure that I'm wrong when I say that there is a layer of snacking in Japan that lies between what you buy at the local market or convenience store (like a KitKat) and what you buy in a department store (e.g., Godiva or Leonidas chocolates). The closest I can come to something akin to this in the U.S. is the Whitman's Sampler, though that's probably a low-rent purchase compared to the sort of mid-priced, elegantly packaged type of food that is sold in Japan. In general, I'm talking about the sort of thing you might buy for someone else, but are unlikely to buy for yourself and which is not a regional souvenir food gift.

My feeling is that this level of snacks exists because of the way in which gift-giving operates in Japanese society. There is a fairly big niche market which does not exist in American culture because they lubricate their social relationships with nicely wrapped parcels containing atypical delights. If you visit your in-laws or have a reunion with your childhood piano teacher, these types of snacks are one of the more appropriate offerings. The "Sugar Butter Tree" line (by Ginnobudo) falls into this category. They aren't pedestrian, but they also aren't high class. They're just right to show respect, but not to embarrass the recipient or the giver with an ostentatious display of a big label or an indication that you inappropriately spent a lot of money based on your relative statuses. No, you save ostentatious displays of wasted cash  for your valued clients or sucking up to the boss.

Image taken from Ginnobudo's site, because my infamous issues with taking pictures of light/white food ensured that my picture pretty much sucked.

It's important not to confuse the nice packaging and the high price tag with some sort of amazing gustatory experience. I've had a lot of these types of snacks and they are surprisingly pedestrian in their tastes. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to review the "Sugar Butter Tree Sand(wich)" cookie is that it really is a classy, modified version of a Rice Krispies treat. It lacks the marshmallow component so it is not gooey and sticky, but it does taste an awful lot like a version of said cereal with a white chocolate filling that packs a sweetness punch. The crispy cookie planks are even slightly soft like the infamous cereal treats. There is a funky flavor to them which I might identify as fake vanilla, but I think is actually something about the white chocolate used in the filling.

My husband bought a box of 10 of these cookies and it took us a very long time to eat them. It wasn't that they weren't relatively decent as a snack. It's merely that they weren't all that spectacular and, at about 80 calories each, we often felt we'd rather "spend" those empty calories somewhere else. Still, I think that curiosity seekers and Rice Krispies treats fans who can't get their fix in Japan may want to give them a try. At the very least, you could buy them as a hostess gift if you go to a Japanese person's home as they'd likely fit the bill without embarrassing yourself or the host.


irma said...

Recently my boss got back from Japan and bought us a box of Sugar Butter Tree snacks (unfortunately I don't know its type). It's so sweet with milky taste. I am impressed with the box and wrapping paper. Maybe the wrapping is a part of their service?

cherfromtheridge said...

I have received a box of Sugar Butter Tree from a visitor from Japan who is staying with us. When I first tasted them, I thought they tasted like rice krispies. So I'm glad to see I agree with you! They are delicious and my visitor says his wife is addicted to them. She eats them every day! The box and wrapping is gorgeous! We have received many gifts in pretty boxes from Japan and Korea, this seems to be a theme.

Orchid64 said...

Irma: The wrapping is definitely part of the service. These are clearly meant as gifts, and the price to some extent reflects that.

cherfromtheridge: They are tasty, no doubt. I think that Rice Krispie Treats colored my impression. Buying something which looks and is priced as a sophisticated snack and then finding it tastes a lot like something we used to make at home when I was a kid (for a fraction of the cost) made me think "meh". As I said, they were tasty enough, but they didn't "wow" me, and I knew I wouldn't buy them again (hence the indifferent rating).

Thanks to both of you for commenting!