Saturday, July 12, 2014

Ghirardelli Cabernet Matinee

Cabernet Matinee

Even when I'm not blogging regularly, it is very rare not to have chocolate in the house. I found myself in that unpleasant situation just a few weeks ago, so I went to the nearest drugstore to restock. It was like going grocery shopping while hungry - I came home with 4 chocolate bars and a bag of Twizzlers Pull 'N' Peel. In any case, I had never tried this Ghirardelli bar before, so it was one of the lucky bars that came home with me.

I couldn't find any specific information on the cocoa content of this bar, but it was marked Intense Dark. Semi-sweet chocolate was listed as the first ingredient, but that's as far as the information on the package went. For a bar to be called Intense Dark, I would expect a minimum of 70% cocoa, but this bar was actually pretty light.

Cabernet Matinee

All of the flavors in this bar comes from extracts, and the chocolate was smooth, uniform, and very pretty. I didn't really sense a wine flavor from this bar (maybe I wasn't supposed to) - it reminded me more of grape fruit snacks. The bar was fairly soft for dark chocolate rather than snappy. All of the flavors were mellow and mild - I guess that's the "matinee" part of the bar - but I didn't love the combination.

Nothing stuck out about the cocoa. It wasn't milky or sweet, but it also wasn't bitter, nor did it have much of a fruity flavor outside of the tart and juice coctail-like flavor from the grapes. I couldn't taste much in the way of blackberry, maybe just a hint on the finish. It was pretty basic and boring. Not bad, but not particularly dark or intense. My husband enjoyed this bar much more than I did, but he likes lighter chocolate than I do.

Here's another take on this bar from ZOMG, Candy.

B-

Ghirardelli website

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Morinaga Super Sour Ume Hi-chew

image

As a kid, I could never get enough sour candy. I could eat it until the insides of my cheeks were raw! These days, I still love a sour sweet, but my self control is a bit better. As far as sour foods go, it doesn't get much more extreme than umeboshi. Umeboshi is one of those polarizing foods that people either seem to love or hate (like black licorice or natto). It's an extremely sour and salty pickled plum (though the fruit is apparently closer to an apricot) that's often served with rice. I like them, but I don't think I could just eat one by itself. This Hi-chu flavor actually just calls itself ume and not umeboshi, but sour plum is a natural fit for Japanese candy.

It's interesting to see Hi-chew coming out with lots of new flavors and textures, perhaps to compete with Puccho. This particular flavor has crunchy sugar crystals in the center. Actually, this isn't just regular Hi-chew, it's Suppai-chew, which is a cute play on words because suppai means sour in Japanese. Furthermore, these aren't just sour, they're 超/SUPER sour! Just look at the puckered face on the logo around the パ! With that lead in, I was expecting at least a Warheads level punch in the mouth.

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Sadly, it was not so. The Hi-chu smelled and tasted like ume candy, which is to say it sort of tasted like sour cherry. It was sour, but I wouldn't say super sour. There was definitely a citric acid-like flavor, along with the fruity flavor of the plum. While I really did like the taste and found myself eating a lot of them in one sitting, the mild to moderate sourness was a bit of a letdown when I was expecting a kick.

The closest western analog to the texture of Hi-chew might be salt water taffy or Starburst, but Hi-chew are actually a bit chewier and don't tend to break down as easily. This flavor softened easier than normal Hi-chew because of the large sugar crystals in the center. The sugar crystals were extremely sweet and crunchy and actually made it a bit painful to chew. I don't think it would have bothered me as a kid, but it was a bit unpleasant on my adult teeth.

B-

Morinaga website

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fujiya LOOK Chocolate Premium Matcha

極み抹茶

The temptation to punctuate the name of this snack is too strong to resist, so here goes. Look, Chocolate! I'm going to guess that's where the name came from, because otherwise, it doesn't make much sense. Not that English brand names in Japan always make sense. Crunky, anyone?

LOOK's matcha varieties haven't always impressed me, but this is Premium Matcha. Fujiya, the manufacturer of LOOK, released several Premium Matcha snacks this spring, but this was the only one I could find online. I liked the simple, old-fashioned package design.

LOOK Premium Matcha

The chocolate smelled mild, sweet, and milky. It was a soft and slightly sticky milk chocolate with a mild cocoa flavor. In the center was a slightly bitter matcha creme that was almost like a ganache. The mild chocolate was a perfect companion for the subtly bitter flavor of the smooth matcha center; stronger cocoa would have overpowered the tea.

The well-balanced combination was delicate and tasty. Neither the coating nor the filling was overwhelmingly sweet. Both the chocolate and the filling melted smoothly and creamily on the tongue. Premium Matcha LOOK was simple, classic, and delicious.

A

Fujiya LOOK Website

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tirol Chocolates

Tirol Chocolates

Here's another bit of my recent napaJapan order. One of the reasons Tirol chocolates are so fun is that Tirol is always putting out new limited edition package designs and flavors. Sometimes, these limited edition Tirol chocolates are themed, and two of the Tirol in this review feature Kumamon, the mascot for Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan. You can probably guess which two.

Tirol chocolates mainly come in two sizes, and the ones pictured and reviewed here are the larger size. Many of those limited edition flavors I mentioned above only come in the larger size, and unfortunately, I have yet to see this size make it to import stores in the United States. On the bright side, it's relatively easy to find variety/mix packs of the smaller size in larger cities in the US and Canada. These packs usually have one or two rotating special flavors along with the classic Tirol flavors, so you're

Jersey Milk Soft Serve Tirol Jersey Milk Soft Serve Tirol

First up is Jersey Milk Soft Serve. I had no idea what Jersey milk was, but according to Wikipedia, Jersey cattle are known for their high milkfat milk and their "genial disposition." They sure sound like nice cows! But having never tasted Jersey milk, I can't say whether or not these Tirol hit the mark. The chocolate smelled a bit like sweet cheese, and pieces of ice cream cone were visible in the white chocolate. Overall, the flavors were fairly plain. The chocolate tasted milky and lightly sweet, and it had a creamy, smooth melt. I really enjoyed the bits of cone, which had a fun crunch. B

Tirol Ikinari Dango Tirol Ikinari Dango

I've never had Ikinari Dango, but they are rice dumplings made with sweet potato and sweet red bean. This Tirol has been released before, and you can check out Tasty Japan's review here. The chocolate had a somewhat starchy smell that reminded me of prepackaged manju. The chocolate and filling had a slightly grainy, vegetal texture. The chewy mochi center was more like bland jelly candy than actual mochi. Overall, the flavors were very mild, but this also meant that the chocolate wasn't too sweet. B

Tirol Strawberry Cheese Pie Tirol Strawberry Pie

This Tirol was stamped with a P, perhaps for pie? I could smell the cheese and just a hint of strawberry. As you can see from the picture, this Tirol had several layers: white chocolate, an oozy, gooey strawberry gel, a soft, almost chewy cracker, and a strawberry chocolate bottom. The strawberry syrup almost tasted more like cherry hard candy to me (and was it ever sweet), but the cheese flavor in the background was nice. I have to give extra points for ambition. B+

Tirol Website

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mitarashi Dango Choco Ball

Mitarashi Dango Choco Ball

There are some Japanese sweets that are just hard to come by in other countries (unless there is a large Japanese population in the immediate area), and dango is one of them. Prepackaged dango from a store is okay, but you just can't beat the fresh stuff that you can buy at traditional sweet shops or festivals in Japan. Even making dango yourself can be a tricky venture, because you need to track down specific Japanese rice flours to get the texture just right.

Mitarashi dango are rice dumplings covered with a sweetened soy sauce glaze. The end result is a lovely mixture of sweet caramelized sugar and savory soy sauce. The closest analog to the sauce might be maple syrup, although the mitarashi sauce tends to be less sweet and more savory. Rather than being a spin on the usual Choco Ball, this variety is more of a nod to actual mitarashi dango: there is a chewy mochi-like center wrapped in flavored white chocolate. I purchased these from napaJapan right before it started to get too hot to ship chocolate.

Mitarashi Dango Choco Ball
The balls come out of Kyoro-chan's beak! Too cute.

After pulling open Kyoro-chan's beak, I was hit by a scent that reminded me of maple syrup. The white chocolate shell tasted just like it smelled, like a slightly more savory maple. It melted slowly, so when I chewed the candy, the coating stayed a bit crisp. It did taste like a very mild, sweet version of mitarashi sauce.

The chewy "mochi" center had a texture more like that of gummy candy than actual mochi. It was firm and bouncy and had almost no flavor (just a slight sweetness). Overall, the Mitarashi Dango Choco Balls were fun to eat and brought back nice memories of eating mitarashi dango. More than anything, though, these made me want the real thing.

B

Morinaga Website