Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Chewy Candies

     I have Wegman's supermarket yet again, and a local one in Virginia, Kroger, to thank for these.  Both have decent (Kroger) to great (Wegman's) foreign/ethnic food aisles, so I was able to snag a good selection.  Specifically, today I'll be discussing four types of Hi-Chew, made by Morinaga & Company, and a gummy candy from Kasugai.  The Hi-Chews were technically made in Taiwan, but it's a Japanese candy, licensed by a Japanese company.  The Kasugai offering was made in Japan.
    The website for Hi-Chew was quite good, I thought--easy to navigate, and with a surprisingly detailed company and founder history.  I'll pass along a shortened version.  Taichiro Morinaga was born in Japan in 1865, to a poor family.  After moving to the United States in 1888, to California, two eventful things happened to him.  First, he converted to Christianity.  Secondly, an unknown person gave him his first piece of candy.  Morinaga was so wowed by this second experience that he decided to make candy himself.  He set out to learn the trade of manufacturing and selling candy.  Alas, he wasn't able to get an apprenticeship, or even a particularly useful job at any of the candy factories due to racism.  The only employment he could get was as a janitor at a candy factory.  However, Morinaga was nonetheless able to pick up at least some information, and he returned to Japan in 1899.  After success at making and selling his own candy via a cart, he graduated to a store, and finally, his own company in 1918.  Research told him that Japanese customers particularly enjoyed marshmallow candies, but Japan's relatively hotter climate caused these to melt too easily.  So Morinaga concentrated on other products, such as chocolate, and then in 1956, an early version of Hi-Chew called Chew-lets.  In 1975 Chew-lets were updated to Hi-Chew, and they took off in popularity.  Over the years they've sold over 170 different flavors!  Additionally, the company campaigned to celebrate Mother's Day in Japan starting in 1937, and they teamed up with the Army Medical School to produce Japan's first penicillin in 1944.  The company also owns restaurants, coffee shops, dairies, and golf courses.  And in 2015 Hi-Chew was approved as food for astronauts by JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
     In contrast, I wasn't able to find out much about the Kasugai company.  They started in 1927, selling nuts and dried fruit.  In addition to the peach kind I had, they also sell kiwi, lychee, muscat (a type of grape), mango, strawberry, and yuzu (a local hybrid citrus fruit) flavored gummy candies.
     The four kinds of Hi-Chew I tried were the mango, green apple, strawberry, and grape.  All were packs containing small (about 1 cm. by 2 cm., or about .5 inch by 1 inch) rectangular, individually wrapped pieces.  All were whitish on the outside, with interiors the color of their flavor (purple for grape, yellow for the mango, etc.).  All did indeed exhibit their flavor as advertised.  But all were extremely disappointing.  They had a chewy, taffy-like texture.  But the taste was all off.  They were all sort of weird, and unpleasant.  It's rare that I have the same exact reaction to this many flavors of a food or drink type, but that's what happened.  I had a few of each kind and disliked them all.  And since a good sample size was consistently negative, I won't try any of the other flavors, like banana or cherry, or their sour kind.  I found their website to be fun, and their founder's biography to be inspiring, but the actual product was bad.  I didn't finish them.
     Kasugai's peach gummy candy, on the other hand, was pretty good.  These were small (nearly an inch in diameter, or about 2.5 cm.) pinkish-orange squat discs.  They were a more familiar texture, being similar to other gummy candies I've had, like gummy worms/bears, spearmint leaves, gum drops, or Chuckles.  They were slightly more fruity than the types I mentioned, and less sugary.  I prefer the American gummy varieties, but the Kasugai peach ones were definitely solid.  I would get these again, or try other flavors.  They also had an especially nice odor--a pleasantly strong peach smell.

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