Saturday, June 17, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--An Austrian Dessert and Soft Drink

     Two more finds from Wegman's grocery for this week.  It is truly the supermarket that keeps on giving.
     After confirming it was made in Austria, I snapped Mezzo Mix right up.  But then when I investigated a little more closely, I realized it was actually a Coca-Cola product.  Mezzo Mix is only made and marketed in Europe though--mostly Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, although evidently a little bit in Spain and Sweden, too.  Mezzo Mix is a relatively recent development, dating back to 1973.  It's basically Coke with orange juice, and orange flavor.  A version with lemon used to be sold, but then it was discontinued.  A lemon/Coke hybrid was then reintroduced in 2003.  In February, around Valentine's Day, a raspberry "berry love" Mezzo Mix is produced, since 2013.  The slogan for the orange Mezzo Mix flavor is, "Cola kusst orange," or "Cola kisses orange" in German.
     Conversely, the manufacturer for the dessert I ate, Manner, is an Austrian company, and is somewhat old, dating back to 1890.  Although it's become more cosmopolitan--in 2012 Manner products were sold in over 50 countries around the world, including the U.S., Russia, the Middle East, and several countries in North Africa.  The company is known for its distinctive pink colored packaging, and founder Josef Manner's stated vision of "chocolate for everyone!".  Manner sells mostly what we Americans refer to as "cookies," (aka "biscuits" in some areas).  Flavors include the flagship hazelnut, vanilla, whole grain, hazelnut/chocolate, and bite-sized versions of the same.
     The Mezzo Mix flavor I had was the orange.  It came in an average 330 ml. (11.15 ounces) can, which was both colored orange and had a drawing of the fruit on it.  And it was disappointingly similar to regular Coke.  I didn't detect much of an orange flavor.  There's only 1.5% orange juice in it, so I guess that's the main reason.  I find Coke okay--neither great nor terrible, and I regarded the Mezzo Mix to be about the same.  But clearly I was hoping for something more distinctive.
     The Manner cookies I tried were the original hazelnut cream filled wafers.  They broke down in small (about 5 cm./2 inch by 1.5 cm./.5 inch) pieces.  Each piece consisted of four layers of the brown hazelnut cream encased by five layers of yellowish brown wafer slices.  The outer yellowish brown layers had a cross hatch design on them.  They reminded me of other wafer-type cookies I've had over the years, including the fruity Brazilian ones (see May 25, 2016 post).  But the hazelnut cream filling was new, and very pleasant.  They were quite solid, and tasty.  So of the two Austrian products I definitely prefer the Manner wafers, mostly because they had a distinct, and detectable flavor.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Hibiscus

     Recently I was in a Central New Jersey Shop Rite grocery, and beheld something a bit odd in the fruit section--dried, edible flowers.  I'd heard of hibiscus as a tea flavoring, but I wasn't aware that the flowers themselves were edible, or at least palatable.  Needless to say, I snapped them up and gave them a try.
     Hibiscus, which includes dozens of species and subspecies, is a plant that lives in warm or hot areas all around the globe.  This plant is best known for its large, showy flowers, which can be up to 18 cm. (about 7 inches) in diameter, and whose colors range from white, purple, yellow, orange, and pink.  Their original home isn't conclusively known, but probably candidates for their various ancestor species include Madagascar, Fiji, Hawaii, Mauritius, India, and China.  They're a popular choice for gardens, because of their pretty flowers, and because these flowers help attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.  As I mentioned earlier, they're a common flavoring for both hot and cold teas, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, and Thailand.  More rarely, in the Philippines people sometimes use them as a souring agent for soups and vegetables.  The Chinese enjoy their leaves as a cooked dish similar to spinach, and others eat their raw leaves in salads.  And, in Mexico the dried flowers are considered a delicacy.
     As far as the plant's medical benefits or detriments, there's a lot of disagreement.  Hibiscus is thought to have health benefits in traditional Chinese folk medicine.  Studies have suggested that it may lower blood pressure, and perhaps cholesterol.  On the negative side, hibiscus has been proven to have adverse effects on pregnant rats.  While a corresponding effect hasn't been proven in humans, doctors still advise pregnant or breastfeeding women  to avoid hibiscus to be on the safe side.  It also reacts badly with some drugs, such as chloroquine and acetaminophen.  So take this under advisement before consuming it.
    The hibiscus I got was made by the Nutty & Fruity company out of California.  Unlike many of the companies I discuss on this blog, their website was sparse and not very helpful.  It was basically a section on which supermarkets stock their products, a contact page, and little else.  They don't even have a good product list--it just has a series of images that flashed by very quickly.  So I can't include any interesting or funny tidbits about the company's history or anything.  Other food shopping websites included their other offered products, and not surprisingly, their output consists of dried fruits (kiwi, strawberry, tangerine, banana, golden berries (see June 13th, 2015 post), passion fruit, figs, etc.) or nuts (flavored almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc.).
     The container I bought was 5 ounces (141 grams) and cost about $5.  The dried flowers were a purplish-red color, and about 4 cm. (about 1.5 inches) in diameter.  Their dried petals were curled down, and resembled tentacles.  Each one reminded me of a baby octopus, or should I say pentapus, given that there were 5 "arms" per flower.  They tasted, and had a texture that was very much akin to raisins.  They were a little tart, and chewy. I like raisins okay, so I also thought the hibiscus was alright.  Not awesome, but a solid snack--I had no trouble finishing up the package, and would consider buying these again.  I was amused by something on on the outside label, though.  It proudly proclaimed that there's "no flavors added," but then the ingredient lists mentions "cane sugar."  So a bit of a discrepancy there!  Their claims to be gluten, GMO, and fat free are more legit, it seems.  All in all, then, unless you hate raisins, I would recommend dried hibiscus flowers to eat.  Unless you're pregnant, or are on certain medications, etc.
     Finally, in traditional Hawaiian and Tahitian culture, hibiscus flowers were reportedly used by women as a social signal.  A flower behind her left ear meant the woman was married, or in a relationship,  One behind her right ear meant she was available.  I don't know what a flower behind both ears indicated, or if a flower awkwardly jammed up one or both nostrils meant anything.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

NBA Trivia

     With the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals underway, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss some of this league's trivia.  Bear in mind that I'm an extremely casual NBA fan--I've done my best to confirm all of this, but it's possible I've overlooked some things.  As usual, if any mistakes are noticed, I'd appreciate any readers bringing these to my attention, and I'll fix them.  Most of these will be bits about the playoffs, or even the finals.

1) Since the NBA went to its 16 team playoff format for the 1983-84 season, only one #8 seed has made it to the finals--the 1998-99 New York Knicks (who lost to the San Antonio Spurs).  This was an unusual season, though, shortened significantly from a labor dispute.

2) Three teams with losing regular season records made it to the finals.  These were the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks (regular season record of 34-38), the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers (33-39), and the 1980-81 Houston Rockets (40-42).  All of these teams lost in the finals, although the Hawks did take the Boston Celtics to 7 games.

3) The lowest seeded team to win the NBA title was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, versus the Orlando Magic.  As a #6 seed, the Rockets didn't have the home court advantage in any of the playoff series that year.

4) The team with the worst record to make the playoffs was the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets, who finished a putrid 16-54 (.229 winning percentage).  How was this possible, you might ask?  Back in those early NBA days, the top four teams in each 5 team division qualified for the playoffs, meaning only 2 of the total 10 teams didn't qualify for the postseason.  And to think people now complain that the regular season doesn't mean that much, that too many teams make the playoffs!

5) The team who has won the most NBA titles is the Boston Celtics, with 17.  The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers are a close second with 16 titles.  These two are also the top two in total finals appearances, although it's flipped.  The Lakers are first with 31 appearances (record of 16-15), while the Celtics have 21, with a record of 17-4.

6) The Celtics were the most dominant U.S. major pro sports league team ever, winning an incredible 8 consecutive titles between 1959-66 (and 11 in 13 years!).  For comparison, the MLB record is 5 in a row, for the 1949-53 New York Yankees, and the NHL record is 5 consecutive, for the 1956-60 Montreal Canadians.  For college teams, the UCLA Bruins won 7 in a row from 1967-73 (and 10 in 12 years) in men's basketball, and the North Carolina Tar Heels women's soccer team won 9 national titles in a row from 1986-94.

7) Moving in the opposite way, 7 current teams have never even made it to the finals, much less won one.  These are the Buffalo Braves/San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers (around since 1970), the Denver Nuggets (since 1976), the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats (since 1988), the Minnesota Timberwolves  (since 1989), the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (since 1995), the Toronto Raptors (also 1995), and the New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans (since 2002).

8) Now let's list the individual players who won the most NBA titles.
     11  Bill Russell, center, with those dominant late 50's/60's Boston Celtics.
     10  Sam Jones, guard, also with those Celtics.
      8 (tie)  Tom Heinsohn, forward/center, same Celtics.
      8    K.C. Jones, guard, Celtics.
      8  John Havlicek, forward/guard, Celtics.
      7 (tie) Jim Loscutoff, forward, Celtics (played in 6 ).
      7  Frank Ramsey, forward/guard, Celtics.
      7 Robert Horry, forward, with the Houston Rockets (2), Los Angeles Lakers (3), and San Antonio
         Spurs (2).
      6  Bob Cousy, guard, with those same Celtics.
      6  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, center with the Milwaukee Bucks (1), and Los Angeles Lakers (5).
      6 Michael Jordan, guard, all with the Chicago Bulls.
      6 Scottie Pippen, forward, with those same Bulls.

9) Since the 1968-69 season, the NBA has named a NBA finals Most Valuable Player (MVP).  Michael Jordan has won the most, with 6, or every Bulls title.  Four players are tied for second, with 3 MVP's.  These are Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and Lebron James.  James, of course, is still active, and could add to his total.

10) Only one man has been named the finals MVP for a year in which his team lost the series, or the equivalent to the NFL's Chuck Howley.  This would be Jerry West, with the 1968-69 Los Angeles Lakers.

11) The record for finals futility is 8 appearances, no wins, for poor Elgin Baylor, with the Los Angles Lakers.  It gets worse--Baylor retired during the regular season in 1971-72.  That same team finally broke through and won it all a few months later.

12) Now let's go to the list of most titles won by a head coach.
     11 Phil Jackson, with the Chicago Bulls (6), and the Los Angeles Lakers (5).
      9 Red Auerbach, all with the Boston Celtics.
      5 (tie) John Kundla, all with the Minneapolis Lakers.
      5 Pat Riley, with the Los Angeles Lakers (4), and the Miami Heat (1).
      5 Gregg Popovich, all with the San Antonio Spurs.
            No other coach has more than 2.  Popovich is the only man still actively coaching.

13) I was unable to confirm this definitively, but allegedly, power forward/center Rasheed Wallace (1995-2010, 2012-13) had his 2003-4 Detroit Pistons title ring refitted for his middle finger.  Perhaps the (in)famously combative Wallace wanted to aggravate anyone who asked to see his ring.  To be fair, current center Andrew Bogut, who won a title with the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, supposedly did the same thing.

Now let's switch from playoff/finals related trivia, into general NBA fun facts.

14) Obviously, basketball players are justifiably known for being significantly taller than most other athletes, or people in general.  But sometimes shorter guys managed to make the NBA.  The shortest ever was Muggsy Bogues, who played, at point guard, for 4 teams from 1987-2001, most notably with the Charlotte Hornets.  Bogues was only 5'3".  The next shortest was  guard Earl Boykins, who stands 5'5".  He played from 1999-2010 with 10 teams, most notably with the Denver Nuggets.

15) Conversely, the tallest NBA player ever was 7'7" Gheorghe Muresan, who played from 1993-97 with the Washington Bullets and New Jersey Nets.  Manute Bol is sometimes listed as also being 7'7", but other sources claim he was "only" 7'6 and three-quarters of an inch.  Bol played from 1985-95, most notably with the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers.

16) The record holder for most assists dished out in one game is not a great player, like John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, etc., but the fairly mediocre Scott Skiles, who played from 1986-97 as a point guard.  On December 30, 1990 he had 30 assists while playing for the Orlando Magic, versus  the Denver Nuggets.

17) Similarly, the record for most steals in a game is held by two fairly pedestrian players.  Larry Kenon, a forward who played from 1972-83, had 11 in a game for the San Antonio Spurs versus the Kansas City Kings on December 26, 1976.  Kendall Gill, a shooting guard/small forward, had 11 in a game for the New Jersey Nets versus the Miami Heat on April 3, 1999.  Gill played from 1990-2005.

18) The youngest man to play in an NBA game was the recently retired center Andrew Bynum, who was 18 years, 6 days, when he suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2, 2005.

19) Small forward Charles "Bubba" Wells holds an unlikely NBA record.  He fouled out (was removed from the game after receiving 6 fouls called against him) in an incredible 3 minutes of playing time while with the Dallas Mavericks versus the Chicago Bulls on December 29, 1997.  There's a story behind this.  Bull player Dennis Rodman was notorious for being a very poor free throw shooter.  So, in an early version of the so-called "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy, Wells was instructed to intentionally foul Rodman, in the hopes that he wouldn't make many of the resulting free throws, and the Mavericks could get back in the game.  Alas, Rodman defeated this ruse by making 9 of the 12 free throws.  Center Travis Knight holds the playoff record for this, fouling out in 6 minutes of playing time while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 1999 game.

20) The lowest scoring NBA game was played on November 22, 1950, between the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Minneapolis Lakers.  The Pistons prevailed 19-18!.  Games like this helped prompt the development of the shot clock for the 1954-55 season.

21) The Jones family was the Delahantys of the NBA.  Four brothers played in the NBA (or one less than the number of Delahantys in MLB).  They were:
     Caldwell Jones, a center/power forward for 17 years (1973-90) in the ABA and NBA, most
                               notably with the Philadelphia 76ers.  He was both a starter and a reserve, and
                               was once named an All Star in the ABA.
     Charles Jones, another center/power forward, who played from 1983-98 (15 seasons) most
                             notably with the Washington Bullets and Houston Rockets.  Charles was mostly
                             a reserve player, but he did win a title with the Rockets in 1994-95.
     Major Jones, a power forward for 6 years, 1979-85, with the Houston Rockets and Detroit
                           Pistons.  He was also mostly a bench player.
     Wilbert Jones, a power forward/small forward for 9 years (1969-78) in the ABA and NBA.  He
                            played on several teams, including the Miami Floridians and the Memphis Tams.
                            (The ABA had some odd, comical team names.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Singaporean Sweet

     As has happened a time or two before, while the product I'll be discussing was technically manufactured in Singapore, the overall company is actually Japanese.  Obviously I'm counting it, but I understand if purists might not agree.  The company is Meiji Seika Kaisha, Ltd., which has been around, under various titles, since 1916.  In addition to candy, this company produces milk, ice cream, infant formula, and beauty supplements.  Also what the website calls, "functional yogurt."  Which leads me to question--are there nonfunctional yogurts?  And what is the function of these yogurts?  (I'll ignore the obvious scatological answer.)  This is yet another gift from the wonderful Wegman's grocery, whose ethnic aisles never fail to reward me with things to write about.
     To me, the most interesting aspect about Singapore is that it's one of the few remaining sovereign city-states, or, a nation that essentially consists of one city and a very limited surrounding area.  Think ancient classic places like Sparta, Athens, or Carthage, or more recently, Venice and Novgorod.  The exact definition of a city-state is debatable, but most geographers list only 3 current ones.  Monaco and Vatican City are the other two.   (Qatar, Brunei, Bahrain, Malta, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Macau, and even Dubai and Abu Dabhi are considered to be almost, but not quite city-states given their slightly too large sizes, and other features.)  Singapore is also the third most densely populated nation on Earth, after Macau and Monaco, with 5.6 million people living in 719.2 square kilometers (278 square miles).  It consists of one main island and 62 islets.
     The dessert food I tried was a type of Yan Yan.  This product is quite similar to Pocky sticks, which I talked about in my September 21, 2016 post about some Thai sweets.  There's one main difference.  Pocky sticks come covered with a flavored coating, such as green tea or chocolate.  The Yan Yan container holds cracker sticks on one side, and a sweet dipping sauce on the other.  The sticks are usually plain, but occasionally they are pre-flavored, too.  The dipping sauces range from chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mango, yogurt, and hazelnut.  I tried the strawberry kind.
     Additionally Yan Yans are noted for their "fun word" stamps on the crackers.  Most of these are associated with animals, like, "Seal loves to sun tan," "Bats only at night," Chick lucky color yellow," and, "Beetle love it."  (Rather unoriginally, they maintain that the octopus's lucky number is 8--I was hoping for something unexpected, like 12,763,003, or 5.75928.)
     The cracker sticks rods are about 10 cm. (about 4 inches) long, about the diameter of a pencil, and brownish yellow in color.  The dipping sauce was sticky and absurdly pink.  The Yan Yans were pretty good.  The rods by themselves were fairly plain and tasteless, but with the dip they were quite tasty.  Sweet, but not overly so.  I liked them a bit more than the best of the Pocky sticks.  I will try these again, and/or sample the other flavors if I can.  Finally, the label goes out of its way to mention that these Yan Yans do not contain pig fat, so these treats are appropriate for Muslim, Jewish, and vegetarian consumers to enjoy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Couple of Bermudian Diet Ginger Beers

     Sometimes I encounter exotics, or disgustings, even when I'm not actively looking for them.  For the past month or so I'd been drinking probably gallons of a diet ginger beer I'd found up in Massachusetts, called, awkwardly enough, Cock n' Bull.  On a whim, I checked out the soft drink aisles in two Shop Rites near me, and came upon some other brands of this same soda.  It turns out that both (Barritts and Goslings) are Bermudian companies.  (It seems that both may bottle their products in plants in the U.S., too, but since it's under the authority of the parent companies, using their recipe, ingredients, etc., I'm counting them as Bermudian.)
     So I'll begin with a very brief background about Bermuda.  This island chain, consisting of 181 islands/islets, is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1070 km. (665 miles) South/Southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The first sea captain to record his encounter with it was Juan de Bermudez of Spain, back in 1503.  Although the islands were named for him, he never actually set foot on them.  The first human settlement was from the English Virginia Company, in 1609.  It's still affiliated with England, being a British Overseas Territory.  The capital city of Bermuda is Hamilton,  The main industry of Bermuda is tourism--the island's pink sandy beaches are a particular draw.  One oddity of Bermuda, perhaps explaining why it was settled so late, relatively, is its lack of fresh water.  To this day Bermudian residences are required to collect and utilize rainwater that falls on their roofs.  The only indigenous mammals are five species of bat.  One famous Bermudian (she was born there, and left at age 5) is actress Lena Headey, probably best known for films like "The Remains of the Day" (1993), "300" (2006), "Dredd" (2012), and the HBO series, "Game of Thrones."
     The history of ginger beer itself isn't well known.  Humans have been using ginger in food and beverages for thousands of years, but the drink probably was invented in England in the mid 1700's or so.  The Barritts website claims ginger beer is derived from mead and metheglin, which are both honey-based beverages (Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, period).  Early versions of ginger beer were also flavored with honey.  And were strong--up until the mid 1800's they could be 11% alcohol, or as powerful as wines or super strong IPAs and barley wines.  However, in 1855 England limited ginger beers to 2% alcohol, and so it became more of a soft drink.  (This law was obviously relaxed at some point, since currently you can buy English ginger beers that are akin to regular beers in strength, about 5% alcohol.)  Additionally, ginger beer is clearly very similar to ginger ale, but it is different--among other things it's known for its more robust taste.  Aside from England and Bermuda, ginger beer is also popular in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and South and East Africa.
     The Barritts company dates back to 1874.  William John Barritt arrived in Bermuda in 1839, from England, and spent several decades as the head jailer of the Hamilton jail.  However, his family expanded to 12 children, and his request for a raise was rejected.  In 1874 he opened up a dry goods store, which also included a bottling machine which he used to make ginger beer.  Alas, he died that same year, but his descendants have kept up the family beverage.  The website included many drink recipes which incorporate their ginger beer, many of which are (country/city name) Mules.  To describe a few, a Moscow Mule is vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.  A Mexican Mule is tequila, lime juice, and ginger beer.  An Irish Mule is, you guessed it, Irish whiskey, and ginger beer.
     Goslings is an even older Bermudian company, dating back to 1806.  This company is known for making several versions of rum as well as their ginger beer.  Yet another alcoholic drink, the Dark 'N' Stormy, is a registered trademark of Goslings.  This drink is made with dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.
     As for my ratings, I found Barritts diet ginger beer and Goslings diet ginger beer to be very similar.  Both were cloudy and light yellowish in color, carbonated, and tasted about the same.  Both were gingery, but not that intense, and had a lemon-y, citrus-y flavor to them as well.  Both of which, sadly, I found somewhat disappointing.  They weren't terrible or anything, but they weren't great, either.  I don't plan on drinking more of them.  The (U.S. made) brand I mentioned earlier, Cock 'n Bull diet ginger beer, was vastly superior, in my opinion.  It had a very strong, spicy ginger bite to it, and was delicious.  Now, to be fair, we have to acknowledge the obvious point that diet soft drinks are pretty much always worse than their regular counterparts.  So I will try the regular versions for both Barritts and Goslings if/when I have the chance. (Update.  That chance for the Goslings came literally the day after I wrote this.  It was similar to the diet version, only with a stronger ginger taste, and odor.  I liked it better than the diet version, but it still wasn't great.)  Plus I've had, and enjoyed, the Dark 'N" Stormy I had a couple of years ago.  (Oops, for legal reasons I'll refer to it as a dark and stormy, or as a Dark 'N' Stormy--like equivalent, since it wasn't made with official Goslings dark rum and official Goslings ginger beer.)  But, at this point, trying what I've tried to date, I think England's Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (see June 9, 2013 post) is still the best regular ginger beer I've had, and the Cock 'n Bull is the best diet ginger beer.  And the England's Crabbies is the best alcoholic ginger beer.
     Finally, I was amused to see that a bad bottle of ginger beer led to a landmark legal case concerning negligence in the U.K. back in 1932.  In Donaghue vs. Stevenson, a Mrs. Donaghue was sickened by a snail found in a Stevenson's ginger beer, while in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  There's even a documentary about it.  (And for anyone worried about/perversely intrigued by this story, I couldn't find evidence that Stevenson's is still in business.  Presumably the fine settlement, legal bills, and the notoriety severely hurt their business.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Few Baked Goods from the U.K.

     Today I'll be talking about two products from McVitie's, and one from Jacob's.  More specifically, a couple of types of "digestives," as they're known in the U.K,. and a kind of cracker.
     Even my usual cursory look at the manufacturers quickly became complicated, and more than a little confusing.  Jacob's dates back to either 1850 or 1851 (sources vary) in Ireland.  However, they were bought out by United Biscuits in 2004.  McVitie's began in Scotland in 1803.  Both companies are now owned by pledis (no capital "P", for some reason), along with famous food brands like Godiva Chocolates, Ulker, and DeMets Candy.  Pledis in turn is owned by Yildiz Holdings, which is a Turkish/Middle Eastern company, and is the food wing of CEEMEA.  Between all of these the overall business operates in at least 120 countries, and employs over 50,000 people.  So we're talking about an absolutely immense company.
     To me, the McVitie's offerings I got, the milk chocolate with caramel digestives, and the milk chocolate with orange digestives, would be called "cookies," or a dessert-like baked good.  But they're called "digestives" because they were thought to aid in digestion.  Which is true, by the way.  They contain baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which does indeed help with indigestion.  Even learning this, I still find the name puzzling.  Referring to these by this term almost makes them sound like medicine, and not a pleasant culinary treat.  (What Americans call cookies are also sometimes called "biscuits" in the U.K.)  Clearly consumers in the U.K. don't care, though, as McVitie's are the most popular brand of this type of food.  They are often a major part of "tea time," sometimes dunked into the tea itself before being eaten.  A man name Alexander Grant developed digestives back in 1892.  Switching gears a bit, this product also allegedly sparked an argument between George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles.  Supposedly John's girlfriend Yoko Ono helped herself to some of George's McVitie's digestives during the recording sessions of the "Abbey Road" album in 1969, and Harrison protested, leading to a fight.
     The Jacob's crackers I tried were the cream crackers, first made in 1885.  There's no different names here--we Americans call this food type "crackers" as well.  (Although the Jacob's crackers also contain baking soda/sodium bicarbonate--don't know why they're not given credit for helping with digestion, too.)  I did read something controversial about the company, though.  Famous labor activist Rosie Hackett was once employed by Jacob's, and the company was one of the ones that she and her trade unions protested against, in 1911-13.  Hopefully the treatment of their workforce has improved significantly in the past century!
     But let's get to the food itself.  Both kinds of digestives were round, and a light brown color, with their company name stamped on one side, and with a milk chocolate coating on the other.  They had a diameter of about 6 cm. (or about 2.25 inches) and had a grid-like pattern under the chocolate.  The orange one had some orange flavor to it.  They were solid, but unspectacular.  Not as sweet as most American cookies.  They had a soft, chewy texture, layered like a candy bar.  The caramel kind was a bit better.  A little more sweet, and tastier.  I probably like caramel flavor more than orange in my cookies/digestives/biscuits, it appears.
     The Jacob's cream crackers were square, 7 cm (about 2.5 inches) to a side, whitish, with brown cooking marks on them.  They also had the brand name stamped on them.  I found these to be rather bland. With things on them (cheese, mustard, etc.) they were good, but they were rather boring by themselves, unadorned.  I like a typical saltine cracker better, as the greater salty taste has a little more pep.  To be fair, my mother quite enjoyed these crackers, more than me--she and my father remembered eating them when they lived in England for a year back in the early 1960's.
     Therefore, of the three baked goods, the cream crackers and the orange digestive were okay, but not dazzling.  Certainly not bad, but not especially memorable, either.   I would get the caramel digestives again, however.  And I would be willing to try other McVitie's/Jacob's/pledis products.  Given that there are over 300 brands under this company umbrella, that's quite an extensive choice!
     Also, maybe any U.K. readers can help me answer a question I have.  On the computer, some websites track your visits, and relay this info to your web browser.  We call these "cookies."  Do you call them "biscuits," or "digestives," or something else entirely?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Rice Candy

     We're heading back East again, back to a familiar destination on my blog--Japan.  The brand of candy I'll be discussing goes by a couple of names.  The box I picked up, the export, is called Botan rice candy.  "Botan" is Japanese for "peony," the type of flower, and a picture of this is on the box, alongside one of a traditional dog-shaped toy called a inu-hariko.  However, in Japan the brand is named Bonton ame.  "Bonton" means pomelo (see February 20, 2014 post for more info about this fruit) and the candy's flavor is thought to approximate this.  The overall company which produces Botan/Bonton ame is Seiko Foods.
     The Seiko company website was informative, at times amusing, and even a little depressing at one point.  The company has gone through several name changes over the years, but a precursor of it dates all the way back to 1903.  Once in the business of producing glutinous starch syrup, they now make various candies, desserts, and frozen meats and vegetables.  The website is very detailed, even going so far as to print which banks the company employs.  On the sad side, their Company Profile page also includes a "memories of the war" section.  To end on a lighter note, I really enjoyed some of the advertising slogans for Botan/Bonton ame over the years.  In the mid 1920's (the candy was developed in 1924) their catch phrase was "the long-nosed goblin's secret recipe."  Who can argue with that?  These hideous monsters are traditionally the best candy makers, after all!  A more recent slogan boasts that the candy is "known and tasted at least once by anyone and everyone in Japan."  The cynic in me is a little suspicious that this claim is 100% accurate.  (And if it is, that is truly amazing.)
     Anyway, the rice candy is made from glucose syrup (corn syrup, water), sugar, sweet rice, water, lemon flavor, orange flavor, and Allura Red AC food coloring.  Inside the box were six reddish-pink pieces, measuring about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (or about .75 inches by .5 inches)  And here's where I have to admit something a little embarrassing.  After taking off the outer wrapper I was confronted by an inner wrapper surrounding each piece of candy.  Or, really, stuck onto/into the candy.  I tried to peel off this inner wrapper without success.  I quickly grew frustrated, and angry.   I bit into the candy as I could.  But after only a few brief tastes I threw the lot into the trash, cursing and carrying on about the terrible packaging.  Well, it turns out I was being unobservant, and bit foolish.  On the website, later, I read that the inner wrapper is made from edible material, and is designed to dissolve in the consumer's mouth.  "Why don't they print this on the box?" I wondered.  Then I looked at the box more closely.  On the inside of the end flaps it does indeed read, "Each candy has an edible inner wrapper that melts in your mouth."  Oops.  For the record, what little of the candy I did eat wasn't that great.  Kind of average, and not very sweet.  Fruity, in a pedestrian way.  But I'd be lying if I said that the annoying-at-the-time packaging didn't influence my overall opinion, so take that into account.  The box also came with a sticker, featuring a wild haired waiter standing next to a brown dog.  Don't know if this is a character from some other entertainment medium, or original to Seika.
     Therefore, I don't know if I'll try this again, if/when I get the chance.  Part of me doesn't want to, since I wasn't blown away by the taste, and out of slight shame/spite about the weird inner wrapper.  I guess I'll go with another of their candies, or an ice pop, instead.  And, as I said, the Seika website is definitely a cut above most food company websites, with its comprehensive business details, entertaining historical anecdotes, and even a touch of pathos for balance.

    Apparently I'm not the only one who was put off by Botan's strange inner wrapper.  My friend Keith found an image, which I'm posting below.