I'd like to continue on with the halloween theme for the month, and as I have had quite enough scary stories and movies, I am moving on to candy. After all, isn't candy what made halloween a favorite holiday all those years ago? Back when filling a pillowcase with candy was tantamount to finding a pot of gold. We didn't really grow up eating candy in my family, good chocolate and homemade cookies, sure, but not commercial candy. Therefore, halloween was the only time of year that I got to try all the varieties of candies. Now that I am grown up and haven't trick-or-treated since I was sixteen, the candy worshipping halloween has become more of a secular holiday for me.
That being said, when I was planning out the Nippon Day posts for October, my sister suggested that I do one on candy and I leapt on the opportunity to try more Japanese sweets. I went onto Mitsuwa.com and picked out seven types of candy from their confections section. Even though I selected them, it was still a bit of a mystery what I was getting since I only had the garbled English subtitles to go by, but I looked forward to a little bit of a blind tasting. I waited eagerly for the package to arrive, and when it did I broke into it with fervor.
Before I tell you more about the candies I tried, let me tell you a little bit about the history of candy in Japan. Remember when I told you about the influences of Portuguese cuisine on pre-Tokugawa Japanese cooking? Well deep frying was not their only contribution, in the early 1500s they also introduced candy making techniques. Sugar production and processing was still not high in Japan, which meant that konpeito, little sugar candies, were ridiculously expensive. Candy was not a food of the people by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it was so rare that Oda Nobunaga (one of the major players in the end of the waring states period) allowed christian missionaries to work in his territory after receiving a glass flask of konpeito.
Once sugar became more widely available in Japan the candy gained popularity and by the Meiji Period it was firmly established as a standard Japanese sweet. It's still popular today, though I have never eaten any myself, their little star shapes and mix of glass-like colors makes them look amazing.
As far as candies go, konpeito and a few others expensive types made from beans or honey were your only options in Japan until the twentieth century. However, candy pioneer Taichiro Morinaga changed all that when he became the first Japanese chocolate maker and founded the first commercial candy company, Morinaga & Co., in 1918. Taichiro was born on Kyushu in 1865, one year after the isolation of the Edo Period came to an end. He had no formal education and was originally a pottery seller but after some failing business ventures he decided to try and make it in America. So in 1888, Taichiro moved to San Francisco and opened a hardware store. His business didn't go very well, since it was boycotted because it was owned by a Japanese man. He was soon forced to close shop but undeterred, Taichiro turned to candy.
He had been given a piece by someone whose name was lost to history. It was the first time he had tried something so sweet, since his modest background hadn't enabled him to buy Japanese sweets. Taichiro tried to get an apprenticeship with an American candy maker, once again on account of his race he was rejected. Instead he took a job as a janitor in a candy factory and kept his eyes open. He also sought out other Japanese people living in the United States to ask about candy preferences. By the time he moved back to Japan in 1899, Taichiro was ready to start up as a candy seller from a push cart. Later, that very same year, he opened a confections shop in Tokyo with a partner. They had great success and soon started Morinaga & Co., the very first modern candy company in Japan.
Many other companies were soon formed by other candy enthusiasts and today in Japan there is a staggering variety. Unlike American companies that have more or less the same selection all the time, or maybe the option of almonds or peanuts (the agony of choice!), Japanese companies seem to revel in seasonal flavors and limited additions. The American Kit Kat has capitalized on this in Japan with over 50 flavors. If you're having a hard time thinking of 50 candy flavors, try adding things like grilled potatoes and apple vinegar to your list and you'll find it expands a bit.
So now that you have a little background, on to my selection. I got Hana No Kuchizuke Milk & Peach Flavor Candy, Strawberry Milk Candies, Cubyrop Assorted Candy, Macadamia Chocolate, Kinoko No Yama Chocolate and Cookies, Gummy Choco: Fruits Mix, and Chelsea Yogurt Scotch Candy (which did actually taste like yogurt). One of my favorite things about these candies was the fact that they were not as sweet as American candy. I really don't like how there is so much sugar in candy that you can't detect any other flavors. This was not the case with this selection, especially the Hana No Kuchizuke, which were mild and subtly flavored.
I enjoyed all of them very much, but if I had to pick a favorite I would go for Gummy Choco, which consisted of fruit flavored gummy balls, covered in chocolate. The combination of textures was very different from anything I've eaten before and I loved it. There were a couple of varieties available, but I got the fruit mix to get more bang for my $4.79. The flavors were strawberry, orange, and muscat (which I was surprised to find out was grape, not some sort of rodent). All the flavors were subtle and actually tasted a bit like fruit, which is kind of rare in the candy-verse.
I hope this halloween you are able to try some Japanese candies, or at the very least, enjoy some chocolates. Next week, just before the actual holiday, I'm going to tell you all about how in ten years halloween went from, that day when you see weird foreigners walking around in costume, to one of the craziest holidays in its lexicon.
Until next time, keep that sweet-tooth happy!