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Taza Coffee Chocolate Mexicano

For those of you following Sweet’s Reporter, you may have realized that I haven’t posted in quite some time. Truly, it’s been over 4 months since my last post, since I’ve been busy with another blog project and other things.

I’ve also been having mostly the same old sweets, so I didn’t have much to report – excepting the products I tried that weren’t really report-worthy.

Until now.

I recently got my hands on Taza’ Organic Coffee Chocolate Mexicano, and to be honest it’s almost like a new class of chocolate to me.

The ingredients are suspiciously simple, containing the trio of cacao beans, cane sugar, and coffee beans (all organic). There is 55% cocoa content.

The disc shape of the chocolate caught my eye, but whats really great about this product is the texture. The package declares it is “stone ground”, and normally I’d write off such marketing speak as a desperate attempt to sell a product in a hyper-competive market.  The discs texture seems pretty typical from the outside, but after breaking off a piece you can see it’s not quite as solid as other chocolates.  Once you sink your teeth into it, you experience something which I can only call decidedly gritty and unlike anything I’ve had before. Letting the it melt on your tongue (my typical way of enjoying chocolate products) enhances the sensation such that I’d like to call up the grounding stones and thank them. What was initially a “strange but unique” texture quickly became an addiction to me.

The price of this chocolate is usually around $8.00, a bit on the expensive side for this weight of organic chocolate, but I managed to pick it up for around $5.00 on a sale at Whole Foods a week or two ago.

Even if the product is not on sale, I highly recommend chocolate lovers to try this out once.

Overall Rating: 8.5

 

References

http://www.tazachocolate.com/store/Products/CoffMexDisc

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Store Review: Le Macaron French Pastries (Tampa, Florida)

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I stumbled upon the “le macaron” store in Tampa’s International Plaza mall on a recent family trip. In addition to various flavors of french macarons, there are also fine chocolates sold here. I don’t remember the exact prices, but each of these sells for roughly $2 dollars a piece. We purchased 6 macaroons and 4 chocolates (shown in the below pictures) for around $22.

I have only tried macarons once or twice in my life, but the ones at “le macaron” were pretty typical. The rose and raspberry flavors really tasted and smelled like the real thing, but it’s hard to say if that taste is made from “natural ingredients” or the real thing. The coffee-flavored macaron really didn’t taste too much like coffee, so I doubt there much, if any, real coffee present.

My biggest issue with macarons in general is that there is always some slightly odd flavor I can’t put my finger on, and that applies to these sweets as well. But if you like macarons I’m sure you’ll enjoy the one’s sold here.

The chocolates were very impressive visually, with everything from patterns in the likeness of leopard spots to shiny metallic balls. There was a variety of fillings, including caramel- and fruit-like. While I have to admit they were all tasty, I know a load of sugar when I taste it. Macarons are relatively rare in the world of sweets but chocolates are a dime a dozen, so they have to hold up to more scrutiny. The pretty designs and (typical) good flavor don’t win over the high price and high sugar content.

As for the ingredients, I wasn’t able to find anywhere the full ingredient list was published for either product. However, the company’s website (which is a franchise, interestingly enough) states all macarons are gluten free with no artificial flavors or preservatives. This puts them in the mid range of ingredient quality, but I wish they published the entire list. I couldn’t find any information about the fine chocolates.

Overall, I feel both product lines are mediocre, but they are tasty enough to try once, and the fine chocolates are novel enough to buy for a friend or family member as a gift. The Internal Plaza is a great shopping center with many stores and restaurants, so if you happen to be traveling in Tampa be sure to check it out, and maybe stop by “le macaron” while you are there.

References

http://lemacaron-us.com/

http://www.shopinternationalplaza.com/

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Product Review: Japanese Candy Bar “Choco Indulge Crunch” (チョコにがっつけパキッツ)

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I happened to find this product at the Morikami Japanse Museum & Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, and decided to pick it up.

“Choco Indulge Crunch” is my own translation. Literally translated, the title is closer to “Indulge in Chocolate! Crunch”. The translated English packaging calls the product “Pakitz<Nuts & Crunch>”, but I like my translation better. For those curious, “Pakitz” comes from the Japanese  “パキッツ” which refers to the sound of something like a cracker crunching when bitten into.

This product is made by Glico, a Japanese company, and imported by JFC International Inc.

I want to take this opportunity to mention my other blog, “Self Taught Japanese”, where I have a series of articles aimed at Japanese learners of various skill levels. For those who are interested you check it out here: http://selftaughtjapanese.com/

Flavor

The two halves of this bar are each wrapped separately in sealed packs, which is a nice trend I’ve seen in other Japanese candies. One disadvantage of this, however, is that there is less actual candy that you would expect from the size of the package.

Like many typical chocolate bars, this product is separated into little rectangular nuggets which are connected together in a 3×4 array in each serving. The top half of each nugget is a ‘gaufrette’ wafer (see ingredients section below for details), with a mild taste and crunchy texture not unlike that used in many typical American cookies.

The bottom part is made from pretty typical sweet chocolate, which tastes as if it has a low cocoa count (around 50-60%). It has some small peanut slivers in it that give it a mild crunch. The picture on the front of the wrapper, shown in the picture at the top of this post, gives a good idea of what both parts look like.

This bar does an excellent job of fulfilling my requirement of two or more contrasting flavors and textures, and the end result is quite different than anything I’ve had before. If I had to compare, I’d say that it’s a distant cousin of the classic KitKat bar.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One serving is 25.5 grams and there are two servings per package. In one serving there are 140 calories (60 from fat), and 9 sugars. This is definitely below average for this type of product.

Unfortunately the ingredient list is quite long and contains a few suspect items, such as high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, acelsulfame potassium, ammonium bicarbonate, and artificial flavors. This product is clearly not marketed at those concerned with natural and safe ingredients. Ironically, the text above the manufacturer’s name says “taste and health” in Japanese.

The first ingredient is sugar and the second is ‘gaufrette’, which is defined online as “a wafer of crisply fried potato cut to resemble a small waffle”. However, if you look at the original untranslated ingredient list (in Japanese), it contains flour, starch, sugar, chocolate, vegetable oil, and salt as sub-ingredients of this item. The term “wheat cracker” is also used in the translated English text though it doesn’t taste like a typical wheat cracker to me.

This product also contains several types of nuts – peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, but they contribute more to texture than taste.

For the entire list (in English), see the image at the bottom of this post.

Price/Availability

I bought this at the Morikami Museum’s gift shop for only $3.00. Since this is an imported product I consider it a pretty good price, equal if not cheaper to something domestically produced. One reason for the low price is that the wafer portion is very light (filled with air) and so there is a bit of filler.

For those who want to learn more about the Morikami museum you can check out my review of it here.

Ratings:   Flavor: 7.0 Nutrition/Ingredients:  5.0 Price: 9.0  Overall: 7.0

Summary

This Japanese import candy has a unique texture and flavor, but several debatable ingredients make it hard to recommend to those who are concerned about the safety of the ingredients they consume.

References

http://www.morikami.org/

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaufrette

http://www.glico.co.jp/pakitz/

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/

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Justin’s White Chocolate Organic Peanut Butter Cups [Limited Time Only]

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I’m a huge fan of Justin’s products because of their great taste and natural, simple ingredients. I reviewed their Chocolate Hazelnut spread and their Maple Almond Butter spread previously.

Flavor

These peanut butter cups consist of a white chocolate shell surrounding a peanut butter filling. Honestly, I usually prefer dark or semi-sweet chocolate to white, but the buttery flavor of white chocolate fits well with the earthy peanut butter taste.

The peanut butter filling seems like the same mixture they sell as a separate product, with a smooth, rich flavor and no strange overtones.

Justin’s also sells milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions of this product which are also quite tasty. What I really like about this set of products is that they are easy to eat on the go and make portion control easy.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One serving is two cups (40 grams), and contains 180 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.

These cups pack a hefty sweetness in a small package, but after all they are considered a candy and meant to be eaten only a pack at a time.

As with Justin’s other products, the ingredients are top class and are all organic, all natural, with no artifical/natural flavors or colorings of any sort. They are also fair-trade which means buying this product helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses, another thing which should make you feel good about this product.

Ingredients: Organic White Chocolate (Organic Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Whole Milk Powder, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla), Organic Peanuts, Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt.

Price/Availability

According to Justin’s web site, these are only available via Whole Foods Market for a limited time. I have only seen them in the stores very recently, so I guess they are intended for the holiday season, possibly for a “white christmas” concept.

Ratings:   Flavor:  7.5  Nutrition/Ingredients:  8.5  Price:  8.0  Overall: 8.0

Summary

These sweet peanut butter cups are a great healthy snack with ingredients you don’t have to fret about. Be sure to try a pack or two before they stop production.

References

http://www.justins.com/faq.php?s=2

http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade

Product review : Royce Prafeuille Chocolat “Maccha”

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This is the first of two products I will be reviewing from the Japanese chocolatier Royce, whose store I discussed here.

I purchased this because its’ one of the few products sold in the US which is flavored with real green tea powder.

Flavor / Appearance

Each of the 30 chocolate wafers is individually wrapped and stacked in 6 bins. I’ve noticed this type of packaging is pretty common in Japanese candies, and has the advantages of maintaining freshness and cleanliness, in addition to adding to the ‘gourmet chocolate’ feeling. On the other hand, it contributes to extra waste and adds time to the process of eating each one.

Opening one of these little packs reveals a light green candy in the shape of a perfect square. It’s slightly larger than a quarter and has  name ‘Royce’ printed across several times diagonally. It’s also extremely thin, surely the thinnest chocolate I have seen in my life, roughly three or four times  shorter than your average chocolate bar.

Before you take a bite, you may notice a buttery smell reminiscent of white chocolate, with a definite note of green tea. The flavor and texture are also very similar to white chocolate, again with a subtle taste of green tea powder, almost what I would call an aftertaste but nevertheless the real thing.

Inside each thin wafer there is an even smaller portion of “maccha sauce” (translated directly from the Japanese text inside the package), which is basically like a maccha-flavored jelly with an extra touch of sweetness. The practically microscopic size of this jelly makes it difficult to appreciate, however.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In one serving (7 pieces / 30 grams), there is 180 calories, half from fat, and 11 grams of sugars. This amount of sugar roughly corresponds to a chocolate with 60% cocoa.

This product is essentially a white chocolate, and therefore does not contain cocoa solids, only cocoa butter. Unfortunately this means it also lacks many of the antioxidant properties of dark or semi-sweet chocolate.

The ingredients are fairly commonplace, and not particularly unhealthy, except for “artificial flavor” which is even worse than my pet peeve “natural flavor”. I generally try to avoid any artificial flavors, which are basically chemicals cooked up in a lab which try to simulate the taste of real, organic substances. The composition of these compounds could technically be the same as their organic counterparts, however they were created via some form of chemistry magic, so cannot be considered “natural”.

While Royce does a good job putting out a high class chocolate image, its clear they are not catering to the health-seeking crowd, with artificial flavorings and no other special qualifications (organic,vegan, etc.).

Ingredients: cocoa butter, sugar, glucose syrup, skim milk powder, whole milk powder, lactose, powdered green tea, soy lechitin, artificial flavor

Price/Availability

In America, this is only officially available via one of their two (soon to be three) New York stores, where it sells for $18. You may be able to find third parties importing it from Japan, but there is usually a very high mark-up, on the order of 200%-300%.

Ratings:   Flavor: 7   Nutrition/Ingredients: 7   Price: 6.0   Overall: 6.66

Summary

Royce has put great effort into the appearance and packaging of this product, but the taste itself is basically white chocolate with some green tea powder added in. Artificial flavors, plus a high price, makes it hard to recommend it for most people except green tea fans who are more likely to appreciate the flavor.

References

http://royceconfectusa.com/portfolio/maccha-prafeuille-chocolat/

Product Review – Goo Goo Cluster Peanut Butter flavor – “The original southern confection with real milk chocolate”

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I bought this product at the same time as this one which I reviewed recently. It was something I hadn’t seen before, and I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with a cluster of peanut butter and chocolate

The Standard Candy Company has been around for over 100 years, and the GooGoo cluster was invented in 1912, in Nashville.  Although the peanut butter variant wasn’t created until 1991, this line of candy can be seen as a true southern classic because it was the world’s first ever combination candy bar.

Flavor

This candy has three parts: a layer of thick peanut butter, whole peanuts placed here and there above the layer, and a sweet, nutty icing surrounding the two and creamily filling in the spaces between. As you might expect, the combination of chocolate and peanut butter is very similar to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, though the texture of the crunchy peanuts and icing make the overall taste experience very different. The bumpy, irregular shape gives a little surprise to each bite as you try to guess how many peanuts you’ll gobble up.

I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious treat, but things ended a bit too quick for my liking because the size is small for the amount of calories (230) and sugar packed within (to be fair, I was biased because I had read the calorie count before taking my first bite). I had to stop myself from eating a second, and then a third. The package is also a bit oversized for the volume of the three clusters inside (individually wrapped), but what company doesn’t do this? It’s better than some chip products where, after settling, half of the bag is empty air.

This product also isn’t very filling, at least considering the amount of calories. That’s probably because the amount of whole peanuts is relatively small and there is a large ratio of sugar to other ingredients. Compare to Clif Crunch Peanut Butter bar, which contains only 190 calories and feels two to three times as filling. A product like that, designed more to nourish than as a sweet treat, also takes longer to eat.

Nutrition/Ingredients

The more I discuss calorie and sugar content, the more I feel it is becoming less relevant, especially for those who eat candy once in a while. I may omit the discussion of nutrition metrics completely in the future and focus just on ingredients, but for the short term I’ll continue to at least report the basic figures.

A single serving (43 grams) contains 230 calories and 17 grams of sugars. These values are pretty standard for this type of candy, though the calories from fat is somewhat high (140). Protein per serving is 6 grams. There isn’t much else unique about the nutritional profile.

The ingredients are all pretty typical, and reasonably healthy with no artificial flavorings or colorings. The unique thing about this is it actually contains eight ingredients derived from nuts (or the nuts themselves), including peanuts, almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, and hazelnuts. Most of these are used in relatively small proportions (except peanuts which are listed as the most prominent ingredient), but with all the potential health benefits of nuts this gives me a good feeling.

I’m starting to tolerate natural flavor more as it’s been in so many products I’ve reviewed lately, but I still wish it would be one of the last ingredients or eliminated completely. Here it is used in a higher proportion than many of the other nuts or nut-based ingredients.

Sugar is the second most prominent ingredient, but for a candy (especially a classic one) this is to be expected.

Full ingredient list: Peanut Butter (Dry Roasted Peanuts, Dextrose, Hydrogenated Cottonseed, Rapeseed Oil and Salt), Sugar, Peanuts, Dextrose, Cocoa butter, Fractionless Palm Kernel Oil, Chocolate Liquor, Whole Milk Powder,  Soy Lechitin, Cocoa (processed with Alkali), Whey Powder, Nonfat Dry Milk, Salt, Cornstarch, Natural Flavor,  Peanut Flour, Soy Protein Isolate, Wheat Starch, Almond Flour, Pecans, Walnuts, Cashews, Hazelnuts.

Price/Availability

I got this 3-pack carton at the Nashville airport for $6.99, but you can get this online directly at the company’s website for $4.25. They also sell this product in 12- and 72-pack cartons, for a significant savings on unit price.

Using their online store locator, a quick search shows that there only a handful of places in South Florida which carry this, mostly Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. I take this limited availability as a good thing – it gives the product a feeling of being special and fits with its image of being a southern classic candy.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5    Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0   Price: 8.0    Overall: 8.2

Summary

Apart from its small size (which pained me all the more because of the great taste), I have little to complain about this product with it’s unique texture and generally healthy ingredients. Highly recommended for fans of peanut butter and chocolate, this item also has historical significance tied to Nashville, Tennessee.

References

http://www.googoo.com/

https://www.googoo.com/online-store/candy/peanut-butter-3-pack-carton/

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/11/01/product-review-clif-crunch-peanut-butter-granola-bar/

Is Fruit Really Unconditionally Better Than Desserts? (the answer may surprise you)

I commonly read that sugar in products such as ice cream and cookies is unhealthy, and those with a craving for sweets should redirect their urges to fruits which are healthier and more natural.

But why are fruits healthier? A good place to start is this article, where a food scientist/R.D. (registered dietitian) talks about the health advantages of fruit over candy and desserts. I’ll quote a few of the key points here but I recommend you read the entire article for proper context.

  • “fruit offers good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants and water, while candy and desserts are nutritionally void”
  • “Fruit also tends to have less sugar by volume.”
  • “whole fruit has a lot of fiber”

Let’s look at each of these points in turn with actual fruit and dessert examples.

First, no one will deny that fruit has vitamins, antioxidants, water, and a whole bunch of other things we haven’t even identified yet. Since this stuff is natural, it seems logical that much of it is good for the body, and I’m sure there are studies out there that show how certain fruits have various beneficial effects.

But stating candy and desserts are “nutritionally void” is an extreme exaggeration that is clearly not true for all products. Sure, many of the popular candy products (think ‘Halloween candy’) and desserts contain a good portion of lab-made chemicals and heavily processed ingredients. But is there any candies or desserts with any nutritional value?

Thanks to the health movement which has gained popularly in the last few years, we now see entire grocery stores dedicated to healthy, natural food. In my area there is Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Foods, and many smaller ones. With this there is are loads of healthier products flooding the markets, those with organic, natural ingredients, and an absence of things like artificial colors and flavors. I would say at least half of the products I’ve reviewed in this blog I would consider healthy, if not more.

To give one recent example of a recently reviewed healthy product, take So Delicious’s coconut milk mint chip frozen dessert. It contains several ingredients which are known to have good amounts of minerals and vitamins such as coconut (oil and cream), cocoa, and spearmint. It also contains water, which was another of the items mentioned in the article. This is just one example which clearly has many vitamins and nutrients, and until someone shows me a clinical study comparing specific deserts and fruits showing the actual long-term effects of each, I am not convinced fruits have more vitamins and minerals in all cases.

I mentioned one desert product, but there are many like this including those made with cashews, nuts, almonds, soy, rice, and other things thought to be nutritionally rich.

The next point is whether fruit has less sugar by volume. I will first list the sugar per weight for a few fruits based on the figures from sugarstacks.com.

  • Grapes: 16%
  • Cantaloupe: 8%
  • Navel Orange: 9%
  • Apple slices: 10%
  • Banana: 12%
  • Watermelon: 13%
  • Average: 11.3%

Next I’ll show the values for a few ice cream/frozen desserts.

  • Talenti Argentine Caramel: 33%
  • Talenti Caribbean Coconut: 25%
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Chocolate: 14%
  • So Delicious No Sugar Added Mint Chip: 1%
  • Laloos Vanilla Snowflake: 22%
  • Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan: 20%
  • Average: 19.1%

Overall there is about 70% more sugar in these products, which is consistent with the article’s claim that desserts have more sugar than fruits. Keep in mind, this is just a small sample of frozen desserts, and does not include many other sweet products that have significantly more (or less) sugar levels. Although I only included one product with no sugar added, there are many others of this type, some using sweeteners which may have negative effects on the body (though I would say those are not well known yet).

There are even some cases where fruits have more sugar than a frozen dessert, such as grapes (16%) compared to So Delicious’s chocolate frozen dessert (14%). This product utilizes agave as its main sweetener, which some say is healthier than white sugar. There are others which say simply say ‘sugar is sugar’ which would also mean the sugar from fruits and desserts is the same in terms of how the body digests is.

I cannot dispute the article’s final point that whole fruit has alot of fiber. However, taking the mint chip frozen dessert I discussed above as an example, it has 6 grams of sugar in 85 grams, which gives around 7% fiber of total weight. Much of this fiber comes from chicory root extract.

Here is the fiber per total weight ratios of a few common fruits:

  • Apple: 2.4%
  • Oranges: 2%
  • Raspberries: 7%
  • Peaches: 1.5%
  • Pears: 3.1%
  • Average:3.2%

In this case we can see a dessert has over twice the fiber as several fruits, a few of these were listed as “high fiber fruits”.

Just from this quick analysis, it seems obvious to me that fruits do not have an unconditional win in the fight against desserts and candies. By no means am I saying fruits are not worth eating, since studies (plus common sense) say that eating a variety of fruits is best. But if you are careful about which desserts you choose, focusing on those with natural, nutritious ingredients, I think you can still maintain a healthy diet. It make take a little time to get used to these “healthier” desserts after a lifetime of eating the unhealthy, popular ones, but its worth it since then you can eat (nearly) guilt free.

My biggest concern about desserts is the high fat and calorie content, though this completely depends on how much you eat. From a weight gaining perspective, its clearly less healthy to eat a gallon of ice cream a day versus a banana. But a quarter-pint (single serving) of most ice creams a day shouldn’t cause significant weight gain.

Don’t let an “expert” tell you that you shouldn’t eat desserts. I’m not going to completely stop eating sweets and go all fruit until there is sufficient clinical evidence showing that seemingly healthy products line coconut milk frozen desserts are actually harmful in some way.

Do your own research and enjoy the sweetness that desserts bring to your life!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/fruit-sugar-versus-white-sugar_n_3497795.html

http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm

http://www.fitsugar.com/Fiber-Fruits-209893

http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-dietary-fiber.php

Wakakusa Daifuku (若草大福) – Japanese sweet candy (product review)

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Introduction

As a I did research for each of my sweets reports, I discovered that there are a huge amount of other blogs reviewing many of the same products. That it itself isn’t a major surprise, but it got me thinking that if I really want to distinguish myself from other blogs, I need to work hard on not only top-quality, detailed reviews, but also on targeting new products or those that are not as popular yet in the mainstream.

My product selection this time, a Japanese confection from Adachi Sangyo, is an attempt to introduce a niche product to a wider audience. I’m hoping that those unfamiliar with ‘daifuku’ will be happy to learn about one more way to indulge in your craving for sweets.

Food products from other countries are always interesting. Not only do you get a unique flavor not found in everyday American foods, but you also get a unique set of ingredients that has potentially to be different, if not healthier, than typical ingredients used in domestic foods.

Nutrients / Ingredients

So what is a ‘daifuku’ anyway? It’s a traditional Japanese sweet existing for over two centuries which consists of a sweetened red bean paste (anko) wrapped by a layer of glutinous rice cake (mochi). They are in flattened sphere form, and these daifuku are small enough to fit in the circle made by my thumb and forefinger.

One bag contains 7 daifuku and each one is 16 grams (1 serving). Each serving is only 50 calories, but that hides the fact that over 80% of this product (13 grams) is sugar. The first two ingredients are sugar and starch syrup, the latter being made in a process similar to corn syrup where starch is converted to syrup. If that didn’t make you run screaming then the rest of the story isn’t quite as bad.

This product is pretty nutritionally barren, in both a positive and negative sense: no sodium, no fat, no protein, and no fiber.

The great thing is that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th ingredients are all made natural plants or grains – rice, red beans, and mugwort. The latter is a flowering herb whose extracts have been shown to inhibit a certain type of cancer cells in vitro. The name ‘Wakakusa’ means something like ‘young plant’ and refers to this Japanese mugwort (yomogi).

The package I bought contained an English translation of the ingredients and nutritional information along with the original text in Japanese. I was surprised to find that the original contained two ingredients not found in the English translation: coloring (Safflower and common gardenia ) and “flavoring”. I’m glad they decided to use natural coloring agents, but very nonplussed about the mysterious “flavoring”. Translation of this word (香料 “kouryou”)says it can refer to both natural and artificial flavoring.

Oddly, I couldn’t find the calorie count listed in the original Japanese text. Because of the omission with some ingredients in the translation I’m suspicious about this number.

Here is the full list of ingredients:

Sugar, starch syrup, rice cake powder, red bean paste, (japanese) mugwort, starch, trehalose, skim milk powder, antioxidant (vitamin e), coloring (from flowers), flavoring.

One interesting ingredient used here is ‘trehalose’, a sweetener that is roughly 45 percent as sweet as sucrose and a low insulin response. It has the nickname ‘mushroom sugar’ because it can be found in some mushrooms. I believe it is used here primary as a preservative since it is present in only a small amount.

Vitamin E is also used as a preservative to prevent oxidation and keep the food fresher. But for a product that is sold in a refrigerated section this seems unnecessary. Vitamin or not, I’d prefer less preservatives in my food.

Overall, the use of natural ingredients such a rice, beans, and mugwort are a great idea, but the extreme amount of sugar renders them practically useless from a nutritional point of view.

Flavor

Besides the light green color mixed with darker green colored spots, you’ll notice a fine powder covering the outside of each daifuku. This is most likely rice cake powder (or another type of flour) and is used to keep the confection from sticking to the little plastic wrapper containing it.

As you pick up one of the little daifuku, you’ll notice it has a gummy texture, and when you bite into it you are taken captive by the sticky, chewy sensation. That is the glutinous rice. Besides a moderate sweetness I don’t detect any other strong flavor in it.

When you reach its core there is a burst of extreme sweetness, as well as coldness, as your tongue savors the dark red azuki paste with its smooth texture. The contrast between the filling and the outer core is quite well balanced and keeps your senses busy.

I’m very familiar with azuki beans to the extent that I have made my own paste, so I quickly picked up on the subtle, but distinctive bean flavor of the filling. However, those less accustomed to this might just only perceive it as an ‘earthy’ taste. It doesn’t really taste like other beans (black, pinto, etc.), though the mashed texture is not too different.

Ironically, the mugwort (which the product was named after) didn’t have a strong taste.  I had the sensation of eating flowers/plants but with my a priori knowledge of the ingredients its hard to give an unbiased description of the flavor. For my future reports I’m considering eating the product before reading though the ingredients so I can have a more neutral impression.

As a side note, the packaging is very artistic and feels like more effort was put into designing it that many American sweets.

Price and Availability

I found these at a asian grocery store in south florida, and odds are you can find it at a similar place in your neighborhood.

Since these are somewhat of a specialty imported item, they are not cheap. For a bag of 7 the price is around $3-$4. I apologize for not keeping track of the exact price, I’ll check it next time I return to the store and update this entry.

You could probably buy it online but as an imported good the shipping would probably make it prohibitively expensive.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrients/Ingredients: 5.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 6.0

Summary

Great entry point into the world of exotic Japanese sweets, although the natural ingredients employed are offset by a load of sugar.

References

http://www.adachisangyo.co.jp/syohin/daifuku/index10.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_princeps

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daifuku

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%99%E3%83%8B%E3%83%90%E3%83%8A

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%AF%E3%83%81%E3%83%8A%E3%82%B7

http://www.caloriecontrol.org/sweeteners-and-lite/sugar-substitutes/other-sweeteners/trehalose

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