Meiji Hokkaido Azuki (Red Bean & Condensed Milk) – product review
Last time I stopped by the neighborhood Asian grocery store I picked up Wakakusa Daifuku (a japanese sweet which was the subject of my last report), and my wife picked the product which I’ll highlight this time – Meiji’s Hokkaido Azuki ice cream bar. Meiji is a major producer of various food items – sweets, milk, juices, and soups to name a few. For those history buffs, ‘Meiji’ also represents an era in Japan from September 1868 through July 1912, where Japan’s society evolved from feudalism to a more modern structure.
Unlike the daifuku which was made in Japan, this product actually comes from a factory in Taiwan (from what looks like a Taiwanese subsidiary of Meiji called ‘Poki’), which is probably the reason for the cheaper price and some lower caliber ingredients (colorings, etc.)
Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island, situated in the north, and it’s actually depicted on the package. I discovered that Azuki beans are in fact produced there, but I haven’t been able to verify if those used in this product are officially Hokkaido Azuki beans.
This ice cream bar has a azuki bean core surrounded by a milk coating, painted on very thin except near the tip where there is nearly an inch of solid coating. My sweet-tooth instincts compelled me to bite here first, and I was rewarded handsomely with a lusciously thick, creamy flavor, sweet but not overly so. The tip’s shape was deformed, likely a result of partial melting and re-freezing, but I got over this quirk immediately. I’ve attached a picture at the bottom of this article.
In the core, beans have been used in both whole bean and paste form. Unlike some azuki-based deserts which are overloaded by sugar, this one has a very mild sweetness which doesn’t overpower the strong, earthy azuki bean flavor. The rough texture here strikes an excellent balance with the outer coating’s creaminess. I was impressed by the surprising number of beans packed in, similar to the picture on the box.
Personally I’m not very found of ice cream bars where a wooden stick, serving as a handle, is submerged partway through. The first few bites are great, but as I get closer to the stick I have to bite carefully which takes away from the enjoyment. Neither the texture nor the flavor of wood fits with ice cream so accidental bites are unpleasant indeed.
Nutrition & Ingredients
Each box contains four bars, and each bar is 100g (1 serving). There isn’t a great deal of nutrition in this bar, with protein and fiber only 2 grams and 1 grams, respectively. There is also no trace of common vitamins such as A and C.
What really shines about this product is two of the most important nutrition metrics (to me, at least): calories and sugar content. In a single serving there is an below average amount of calories per serving size – only 173. But what’s even more amazing is the sugar content – only 5 grams! That’s the lowest I have seen in a product of this type and as a seeker of low-sugar sweets it really impresses me. I’m confounded on how they managed to create such a sweet flavor from only 5 grams of sugar, especially in the sugary milk coating.
One of the secrets of creating a low calorie, low sugar desert is to use water as a base, and that is done here with water as the most prevalent ingredient. Many of the top few ingredients are healthy and natural – milk powder, red beans, and coconut oil. Maltose, a sugar produced from grain and known by the name ‘malt sugar’, is used in higher proportion than normal sugar.
As you get to the less prevalent ingredients you start to run into “Natural Flavors” as well three artificial food colorings. These are disliked by the many of the health conscious, and for good reason. As an example, the blue coloring used is made from petroleum and is one of the dyes suspected of causing cancer (see link in references below for more info). Though legal in most countries, in the past it had been banned in over 10 countries. As a health skeptic, I’m more likely to believe that companies lobbied to get this legalized as opposed to researchers suddenly “discovering” they were not bad for health.
Besides the health angle, I think the colors themselves are a bit strange (as well as quite different from those used on the package), and would like to see how things look without any colorings. I’m sure it would still be appetizing and much better for the body.
The full ingredient list is: Water, Skimmed Milk Powder, Red Bean, Butter, Coconut Oil, Maltose, Sugar, Emulsifier, Salt, Nature [sic] flavor, Caramel, FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Red #20, FD&C Blue #1
[Update: Because many Japanese characters are derived from Chinese, I was able to partially read some of the original ingredients and nutrition information. First thing I noticed is that the order of ingredients is different. In the English translation some of the sugar-related ones are shown to be less prevalent. Also, the sugar content didn’t seem to be listed in the original ingredients. Without further research I can’t say definitely, but there is a chance the English translation is incorrect.]
Price and Availability
I purchased this at a local asian grocery store for around $3. I plan to verify the exact price next time I stop by there and update this blog.
Nutrition & Ingredients: 6.5
A superb mix of azuki beans and sweet milk, made with mostly natural ingredients and very low sugar. The main drawback is the presence of unknown natural flavors and the dreaded artificial food colorings.