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

choko

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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Product Review: Green Tea Mochi ice cream

mochi 

When at a sushi restaurant recently with my family, we saw mochi ice cream on the menu and had to try a few. Both the azuki and green tea flavors tasted great, so when we saw the latter sold in a nearby asian grocer, we couldn’t help but pick up a box of six.

Flavor

When I pulled one from the package I had kept in the freezer, it was covered by a frosty ice coating. This isn’t too appealing in terms of taste of texture, but it it’s easy to wipe off with a wet towel, or by running it quickly under running water.

This dessert consists of green tea ice cream wrapped in a very thin layer of Japanese-style ‘mochi’, made from sticky, glutinous rice. The stickiness and the creaminess really strike a perfect balance here.  The ice cream is extremely sweet, with an equally strong flavor of authentic green tea.

I find I get the most enjoyment when I cut this into little slices using a knife, and then pop them into my mouth one at a time to savor. It helps  me to appreciate the bold sweetness without getting overloaded.

All in all, great taste in a unique package.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One serving is 2 pieces (80 grams), and has 180 calories with 2 grams of protein.  A single serving also has 22 sugars. The sugar/weight ratio is pretty close to high-sugar ice creams such as some of the Talenti products, but the density is much higher here because all that sweetness is packed into a tiny ball.

The ingredient list is pretty safe, with real green tea used in the flavoring and no artificial flavorings. The one exception is “mono & diglycerides”, which are used as emulsifying agents to extend shelf life and to help certain ingredients blend well together, such as oil & water. It is said that these contain fatty acids, which have had a lot of bad press lately because of their tendency to promote obesity and raise bad cholesterol.

Ingredient list: ice cream mix (cream, milk, sugar, corn syrup solids, nonfat dry milk, locust bean gum, guar gum, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan), water, maltose, sugar, rice flour, green tea and pasteurized egg whites.

Price/Availability

I bought this at a local asian grocery store in South Florida for around $8.00.

Though the packaging contains the words “ice cream” in Japanese script (アイス  クリーム), the product is actually made within the USA by a company called “Sweet Novelty Inc” based in California.

Ratings:   Flavor:  8.5  Nutrition/Ingredients: 7.0   Price: 7.0    Overall: 7.5

Summary

Though a little pricey, each of these frozen mochi balls is packed with a strikingly sweet green tea flavor inside a gummy mochi shell. I highly recommend it for green tea lovers, or anyone looking for a new way to experience ice cream.

References

http://www.livestrong.com/article/445850-what-is-bad-about-mono-diglycerides/

Spirulina Special Report: Should we give it to the children of the Fukushima accident? [Part 3]

This is the last part of a special series of posts on spirulina. See the other posts here and here. The references at the end apply to all three posts.

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So let’s get back to the original question: Does it make sense to give Spirulina to the children of the Fukushima accident as a means to treat ailments caused by long term radiation exposure?

As with most important questions, things are not black and white so I’ll rephrase this into a few sub questions and discuss each in turn.

Q: If a Spirulina producer offered to donate a large bundle of Spirulina to the children of Fukushima, would that be a good idea?

A: Yes, assuming a third party verifies there are no contaminants in the spirulina being donated. I don’t think anyone would argue with the fact Spirulina has alot of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and I haven’t read about any known side effects.

Q: If someone has money and wants to donate it to the children of Fukushima, is purchasing Spirulina and sending it the best use of these funds?

A: No, based on the limited studies I have researched which only give inconclusive evidence for Spirulina’s efficacy against radiation-induced ailments, I think this would not be the best way to spend your money. While it is true spirulina has a good amount of protein by weight, you may remember the U.S. National Library of Medicine quote that stated its protein quality is no better than meat or milk, and yet can cost 30 times as much. Because of this high markup (with spirulina being a so-called “super food”), it is not a cost effective way to supply protein.

I would recommend instead focusing on things that will more likely have a positive effect for a reasonable price – food, shelter, and in some cases relocation. There are even programs which send these children on a short term field trip to northern Japan where they radiation level is much lower and they can safely play outside (see here).

Q: Isn’t there some other way Spirulina producers can help?

Rather than just donating spirulina, I recommend spirulina producers, the government, as well as unbiased third parties, work together to establish programs where groups of children are given spirulina in a controlled environment and the effects of spirulina can be observed. If the results come out positive the group size can be ramped up and many children’s lives may be improved. If the studies don’t show major improvements little is lost.

Also, some research could be done into more cost-effective ways of producing spirulina. The cheaper it can be made, the more likely it will be used as a nutritional supplement, especially for those in need.

I’m always open to new information and interpretations of existing information, so please feel free to leave any comments and we can discuss. I also welcome references to any important studies I missed.

Notes

1. I generally use only photos taken personally, but for this article I used a spirulina photograph taken from Wikimedia Commons, which was released into the public domain.

2. I am not promoting and spirulina supplier, any such ads you see on this page have been put there by WordPress (Yes, I need to upgrade my account).

3. I haven’t put many references inline in the text so if you want to quickly know where I got some information feel free to leave a comment. All the references I used are below but it may be tedious to search through them for a specific fact.

References

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

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/09/spirulina-reversed-radiation-damage-in-chernobyl-children-in-just-20-days.aspx

http://www.naturalnews.com/036101_spirulina_superfood_nutrients.html

http://www.superfoodsforlife.com/page/103407

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-03/30/content_14947780.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirulina_%28dietary_supplement%29

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/923.html

http://www.phyco.org.tw/caa/Reduces%20effects%20of%20radiation%20by%20Spirulina.pdf

http://iimsam.org/publications_and_reports.php

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina

http://www.akins.com/ns/DisplayMonograph.asp?StoreID=a59a6b1c10e44c9e9420a7a75b27460a&DocID=bottomline-spirulina

http://books.google.com/books?id=Vz7SpjEsE3IC&pg=PA83&lpg=PA83&dq=ige+spirulina&source=bl&ots=O_2JJFUwyb&sig=DEihIxNUNHqOO-gtu_PL9RJ6yPU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YSVhUpeyEI_G9gTiuoDYAw&ved=0CEoQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=chernob&f=false

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/http-fukushima-kids-org/

http://www.incrediblesmoothies.com/nutrition/spirulina-nutrition-health-benefits-is-it-worth-the-cost/

http://www.theness.com/index.php/blue-green-algae-natures-perfect-scam/

Studies mentioned

1.Loseva, L.P. and Dardynskaya, I.V. Spirulina- natural sorbent of radionucleides. Research Institute of Radiation Medicine, Minsk, Belarus. 6th Intl Congress of Applied Algology, Czech Republic, Sep. 9, 1993.

2. Belookaya, T. Corres. from Chairman of Byelorussian Committee “Children of Chernobyl” May 31, 1991.

3. Evets, P. et. al. Means to normalize the levels of immunoglobulin E, using the food supplement spirulina. Grodenski State Medical Univ. Russian Fed Comm Patents and Trade. Patent (19)RU (11)2005486. Jan. 15, 1994.

Spirulina Special Report: Should we give it to the children of the Fukushima accident? [Part 2]

This is the second part of a special series of posts on spirulina. See the first post here. The full set of references will be saved to the last post which will be available within a week.

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I was able to find only a few studies quoted which gave good indication Spirulina might be of use to children in Japan. One of these was done in 1993 and is titled “Spirulina – natural sorbent of radionucleides” This study is very important because it involves treatment of children in Belarus, who suffered from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. The children were given 5 grams a day of spirulina and in 20 days radiation levels in their urine decreased 50%. Specifically,  “Use of spirulina decreases radioaction dose load received from food contaminated with radionuclides, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90.”

On the surface this is an amazing result and looks like Spirulina has real potential in treating radiation-induced sickness. However I have many questions about this study:

1) Was there any other metric of health recorded in addition to radiation levels?

2) What happened to these children a month later, or a year later?

3) Did the radiation levels return to normal after stopping spirulina?

4) Were any other medicines or placebos given to the children? In particular, were other less expensive nutritional sources tested in parallel?

I searched for the full papers on PubMed, a site that indexes more than 23 million citations from biomedical literature, but could not find any of them. I also had someone help me search for the full paper on several other databases, including LexusNexus Academic and MedScape, but no luck there. I am not saying this paper doesn’t exist, but until I see details I cannot say on how strong evidence this paper gives for Spirulina’s efficacy. Dr. Belay, the CTO of Earthrise (a major producer of spiralina), told me in an email communication that only the abstract of this study was published.

There is another study from 1994 which is also of interest: “Means to normalize the levels of immunoglobulin E, using the food supplement Spirulina.” This study involved 35 preschool children living in highly radioactive areas who were given 5 grams of Spirulina day for 6 weeks. At the end of this period, Immunoglobulin E was found to be reduced, which is a marker for high allergy sensitivity. This study also shows great promise that Spirulina may be appropriate in treating certain types of problems caused by long-term exposure to radiation.

I was able to find a rough translation of the patent description for this, and it gave the detail that the children’s immunoglobulin E level range was 15 mkg/l – 6663 mkg/l  before treatment, and 12 mkg/l – 5416 mkg/l after. There is also a few examples quoted, such as Child A who went from 5183 mkg/l to 767 mkg/l and one who went from 73 mkg/l to 177 mkg/l. You may have noticed that the latter set of figures actually shows a major increase of IgE level, which is counter to the desired effect. Of course any study has a statistical variation where some patients react positively and some negatively, but its surprising out of the few actual data points given one of them had a negative effect.  If I was to administer this supplement to patients I would like to know more information about how many of those tested had a negative effect. The patent description also reports P < 0.005, which is a measure that the change observed is likely not from random chance.

I found it odd that the overall average (or median) of IgE before and after treatment was given. Without this, there is no indication how great the effect was, and we cannot infer it from the ranges given. Also, there was apparently no placebo group, and the untreated group was only 15 people, less than half the size of the treated group (35). I have seen tests where the untreated group is proportionally larger and wonder how this effects the overall results.

A final study of interest is “from Chairman of Byelorussian Committee “Children of Chernobyl” May 31, 1991″. In this study, Spirulina was given to 49 children in Beryozova aged 3 to 7 years old for 45 days. Beneficial hormones and T-cell suppressors rose, and in 83% of the children radioactivity of their urine decreased.

As with the first study I mentioned, these other two studies leave a lot of questions. I wasn’t able to find the full text of these either using various online sources. The CTO of Earthrise, who provided me the rough translation of the 1994 study, said that he could not find the 1991 study (“Childen of Chernobyl”) anywhere, but is appeared to be letter or report based on the 1993 study (the first one referenced in this article).

Several of these appear to be in Russian, but if I am ever able to find them and translate them into English, I’ll write another post.

(To be continued in a followup post)

Spirulina Special Report: Should we give it to the children of the Fukushima accident? [Part 1]

Up until now I have tried to keep this blog very focused on things related to sweets, but I felt a need to make an exception. This is the first part of a special series of posts on spirulina. I will be posting the others shortly. The full set of references will be saved to the last post which should be available within a week.

I have written the full article as a unit, but because it extends over 2000 words I thought it would be easier to digest in several parts. 

===

Recently I came across an article which made claims that Spirulina reversed radiation damage in children and should be given to the children of Fukushima who are struggling through this terrible accident. I had only heard of Spirulina in passing, but I decided to do some research on it to determine whether it really made sense to start giving it to Japanese children.

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium which is identified by some sources as a blue-green algae, although some disagree and claim it is technically not algae. In any case, it was harvested from Lake Texcoco by Aztecs up until the 16th century and is generally thought be very nutritionally rich. Approximately 60% of it is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and there is a large variety of lipids (GLA, ALA, LA, etc.) as well as vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, etc.) and minerals (potassium, calcium, iron, etc.), among others.

With such a rich nutrient profile, Spirulina has been called “The Magic Food”, a “Superfood”, and even “The Most Nutritious Food On the Planet”.
As you can imagine, many companies have taken advantage of this and selling nutrient supplements of Spirulia, either by itself or with other nutrients added in. If you do a web search you will find hundreds, if not thousands of articles talking about its myriad of health benefits.

Though there is some exaggeration of “amazing” health benefits, and even some have even claimed Spirulina is a flat out scam, there is no doubt to me that there is abundant nutrition in this cyanobacterium. In fact, many types of algae are known to be nutritionally rich and are consumed by many countries. China consumes over 70 species and Japan over 20, including nori, aonori, and wakame.

Some of the various health claims for spirulina are backed by scientific studies. In this series of articles I’d like to focus on the studies and evidence which indicate it has a beneficial effect on radiation victims.

Before I talk about specific studies, I decided I would check to see what medical institutions had to say about Spirulina. First of all, the US National Library of Medicine’s website on Spirulina, last updated 12/09/2011, does not mention anything about effects of reversing radiation damage. It only lists a set of serious medical ailments (diabetes, depression, weight loss, etc.) and notes that there is insufficient medical evidence to rate effectiveness regarding treatment of these. It also remarks that contaminants, such as toxic microcystins and bacteria, maybe present in spirulina so one should be careful to obtain safe spirulina without these, especially when children are consuming it. This is not empty paranoia – in a study published in 2012, several Spirulina products marketed in China were found to have excessive lead.

The US National Library of Medicine also makes an important statement about spirulina as a protein source: “You may have been told that blue-green algae are an excellent source of protein. But, in reality, blue-green algae is no better than meat or milk as a protein source and costs about 30 times as much per gram”. Take note of this, I’ll come back to it a little later.

The University of Maryland Medical Center web site lists similar precautions about contaminants, and also lists a few preliminary studies that give evidence for spirulina’s positive effects on oral cancer, liver disorders, and other ailments. However there is no discussion about its radio-protective properties.

Using Amazon’s online search tool, I also did some searching through the 2007 published work “Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health”, but was only able to find mention of spirulina’s radio-protective effect with respect to studies about mice and dogs. There was discussion about a study which showed good results for spirulina helping pulmonary function and Immunoglobulin E (an antibody related to allergies) levels.

Searching around the net, I found many articles which referred to Spirulina’s benefical effects of protecting from or reversing problems caused by radiation. However if you look closely into the studies quoted, most of them are either done in test tubes on or animals, were unpublished, or were studies where spirulina was used in combination with other suppliments.

(To be continued in a followup post)

Product review: Royce Chocolate “Black” (Imported Japanese Chocolate)

c1 

This is the last review of a product I purchased in New York on a recent business trip there. I’ve reviewed one of the Royce stores, and also a green-tea flavored white chocolate of theirs.

The reason I bought this is because I felt like trying their dark chocolate, and many of their other products were much more expensive. This has only 63% cocoa content, but their products with higher percentage were either not in bar form or required refrigeration which was a no-go for a traveller like me.

The product name “Black” is actually not listed in English on the front of the package, though the black font does convey this image. It is listed at the bottom in Japanese (ブラック /  burak-ku).

The descriptive text for this product on their website says “Authentic dark chocolate with a superb balance of bitter”.

Flavor

The chocolate bar is contained in a airtight, plastic bag inside of the external wrapper. Many other chocolatiers make similar efforts, but this is the best job I’ve seen in terms of keeping the chocolate in perfect shape right up until you take your first bite.

The little square nuggets this chocolate is segmented into (32 total) are a little thicker than I usually prefer, but I quickly got over this minor issue as I placed one gently into my mouth. Just like the marketing material, the bitterness of cocoa was balanced with a succulent chocolaty sweetness that was out of this world.

I usually eat higher concentration chocolate so this tasted extra sweet to me, but in my memory of eating bars in the 60-70% range this was the best tasting. Having said that, I hope to review another chocolate bar in the near future with the same cocoa content and see how it stacks up in a side-by-side taste test.

There isn’t much else to say about this bar – there isn’t any special texture or add-ins. But for semi-sweet chocolate lovers there is little to complain about and lots to love!

Nutrition/Ingredients

A 130g package contains 4.5 servings, each composed of 7 blocks (30 g) of chocolate. One serving has 180, with 120 of those from fat.

The 63% of cocoa in this product is really at the low end of what is considered “dark” (60-70% is the typical minimum). As a lover of chocolate in the range 75-90%, I wish they would put out a bar with higher concentration. However, as I mentioned in another of my reviews on Lindt chocolates, the strong bitterness of hardcore dark chocolate is an acquired taste, so it makes sense for producers to pick a mixture that everyone can enjoy.

There is 11 grams of sugar per serving, typical for semi-sweet chocolate.  There is also 2 grams of protein, and 2 of fiber.

Containing two of ingredients I dislike for health reasons, “natural flavor” and “artificial flavor”, I can’t recommend this to anyone who is picky about whats in the food you eat. But for those who don’t care (or those that do but can make an exception time to time), the extra flavor resulting from these mysterious ingredients is well worth it.

Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor.

Price/Availability

This sells for $7.99 and is only available by going directly to the Royce stores in New York, which were recently established in 2012.

Doing a quick price comparison against Lindt’s 50% bar, we see the price for Royce “Dark” is about 1.5 times higher. I feel the price is worth it for a rare, imported product.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5  Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0   Price: 6.5   Overall: 7.0

Summary

Though a little pricy, this refined chocolate imported from Japan packs a savory taste that’s top class. Just be aware that the ingredients contained are not fully disclosed and are certainly not natural.

References

http://royceconfectusa.com/portfolio/black-chocolate-bar/

http://royceconfectusa.com/about-royce/

Product review : Royce Prafeuille Chocolat “Maccha”

 g1

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/

Store Review: Royce (Japanese Chocolatier)

One thing I have become slightly disappointed lately is the state of the various chocolate producers and their product lineups. While there are a few companies, such as Green & Blacks, which make a variety of creative, tasty chocolate products, there are countless other companies that put up a big marketing show for run-of-the-mill chocolate without any special characteristics (flavor, ingredients, etc.) . I don’t know how some of these companies can stay in business with so many competitors putting out nearly identical products. My guess is that most of it comes down to marketing and connections, and as long as a company can hook a niche market they can survive for some time.

Near the end of a recent business trip, I happened to be browsing through New York’s Bryant Park, searching for food and sweets in the many stores in the park and in the nearby area. I walked by one store and as I peered in through its window some very unique chocolate caught my eye. Not just the stylistic packaging, thin square boxes with monotone coloring, but the chocolates themselves were something I had never seen before. There was a dark-chocolate looking one covered with powdered cocoa, and a green one covered with something that looked like green tea powder. Unfortunately the store was closed at the time (it was sometime after 8pm on a weekday), but I decided I would research this place and come back later. The name “Royce” was easy to remember if I associated it with “Rolls Royce”.

When I got back to my hotel and did a bit of research I discovered Royce was a high quality Japanese chocolate maker, established in Sapporo in 1983. Their Japanese name is pronounced something like “royz”. That explained the green tea chocolate – the Japanese really love their green tea. The company’s website said there was only stores available in the US, and both were in New York. Lucky me! I decided to head there the next day, which was my last opportunity to shop before returning home.

Getting there was a bit tricky since I got off at work at 6pm and they closed at 7. I ended up taking the Metro and having to run through the city until I arrived around 6:30pm with just enough time to browse.

The store is set inside a building with others, such that a double entrance is required to get inside. The actual square footage of the place was very small, but with a sparse design they somehow managed to make it feel much bigger. There was a large shelf against one wall with various products on display, and a long square table in the middle. Everything was very modern, very bright, and very clean. Essentially, very Japanese. If you check out this link, you can see their other store to get a feel for the design used. (Interesting linguistic note: one word for ‘beautiful’ in Japanese is ‘kirei’ which also means ‘clean’)

Upon closer inspection, the middle table contained both products I had seen in the window, “Nama Chocolate Bitter” and “Nama Chocolate Maccha”. Both were only $18 which I considered cheap for these rare and unique products. I felt even better about this price after I heard from one of the saleswomen that they do not sell their products online. (Note: I did find at least two of their products sold on Amazon, but they were by third parties and had very high markups of over 200%. Here is one.)

After taking in the beauty of the store for some time, I become concerned when I realized the middle table was actually refrigerated, and when I asked one of the saleswomen she said the products will last 7 hours outside a refrigerator, and 11 hours inside a special bag which they provide free of charge. Unfortunately my hotel didn’t have a refrigerator, so these wouldn’t do for a souvenir to bring home to the family. It would be a waste of money to buy and eat only a few myself before throwing it away, so I decided on skipping these altogether. I was given a small sample of the bitter one which had an amazing flavor, something like light fudge with cocoa powder. A second sample which I couldn’t refuse was one of their marshmallow products. It was surprisingly tough but had a taste like nothing I’ve had before.

In retrospect I feel a bit stupid, because although the products displayed in the window were not in a refrigerator, the product name “nama” means “raw” in Japanese, so I could have of guessed refrigeration was required.

I ended up purchasing two other products which didn’t require refrigeration. I haven’t tried these yet but planning on tasting and reviewing soon.

Summary

A very unique chocolatier only available in New York – highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a consumer of high quality, high class chocolates.

Note: They are working on opening a third store, and one of the other stores was closed for construction, so be sure to check their website before heading over.

References

http://royceconfectusa.com/

http://royceconfectusa.com/locations/

Product Review: Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

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[Note: I have taken a break from this blog to focus my energies on my new blog, which is about learning Japanese language. Please check it out here if you are interested: http://selftaughtjapanese.com ]

Green tea has been used in China since at least 2737 BC, and also has been drank for hundreds of years in other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand, and Korea. It is sold both as a beverage and as a treatment for a variety of medical ailments. Green tea is made from the same plant as everyday black tea, Camellia Sinensis, but there are major differences in how the plant is processed and grown. For example, green tea is processed with methods such as oven-drying or steaming to minimize the oxidation and fermentation. Also, certain types of green tea are made from tea plants grown in shade, including “matcha” which is the type of tea typically used for green tea ice cream (and also happens to be the same tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony). Because of these things, green tea has a very different taste and nutritional profile than other types of tea.

Grocery stores usually sell green tea from a few brands, though some of them are very diluted. If you want real green tea, try ordering some at an authentic Japanese restaurant (buffets that also serve Chinese food don’t count), or even better buy powdered matcha green tea at an Asian supermarket and mix it yourself. The flavor is very bitter, but tea lovers might just fall in love at first sip.

Green tea ice cream has been made in Japan for at least 100 years, if not longer, and has been sold in the US since the late 1970s. When it was first introduced there was some manufacturers using artificial flavors instead of real green tea powder, but that has declined greatly since. However, as I discovered recently when trying some green tea ice cream in a local Asian buffet, there is still some around that tastes nothing like green tea and shares only the deep green color.

Although many ice cream companies make green tea flavored products, in typical (non-Asian) grocery stores where I live it is pretty hard to find one on the shelves. We were lucky to discover a store recently that sold Haagen Dazs’s version, so we picked up a pint right away.

Flavor

This ice cream has a simple, creamy milk flavor with a good balance of cream that gives a nice texture without being overly fatty. If you have tried the same company’s vanilla ice cream you’ll find the texture is almost identical, which is no surprise considering the ingredients are mostly the same.

The attractive green color hints at the green tea hidden within, and there is a definite authentic green tea flavor. But in all honesty, it’s more of an aftertaste – the milk flavor dominates the experience for me.

Being a fan of green tea, I wish there was much more used. Of course, this would make the flavor significantly more bitter and possibly scare away all but the most hardcore green tea lovers.

Overall, the flavor is better than any I’ve eaten in a restaurant, but not quite as good as the homemade version we made at home. For those interested, you can simply add matcha green tea powder to a standard vanilla ice cream recipe and it should turn out great. You can even mix it into a store bought vanilla ice cream, though you have to make sure the ice cream doesn’t completely melt in this process and run the creamy texture. In our case, we added a good amount of green tea powder which may be why I am slightly disappointed in the flavor of this product. Having said that, the rest of my family loves this ice cream so maybe I’m just overly picky about the flavor.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single 102 gram serving contains 250 calories, which is about average for Haagen Dazs ice creams, but slightly higher than some other companies. Sugar is also pretty standard at 19 grams per serving.

There is 5 grams of protein per serving, a value typical of milk-based ice creams.

My favorite thing about this ice cream is that there is only 5 ingredients: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, and green tea. There is a few others made by Haagen Dazs (such as coffee) and I really appreciate their simplicity and lack of mysterious or unnecessary ingredients like colorings, natural flavor, or thickening agents. This fact alone puts this ice cream above over half of the products out there.

The other benefit of this is the green tea itself. It contains flavonoids and catechins, and research points to a large number of health benefits ranging from increased brain function and increased physical performance, to lower risk of certain cancer types and heart disease. Though further research on these nutritional benefits is still needed, some of the existing studies show impressive results. For example, a study of over 40,000 Japanese people showed that those who drank 5 or more cups a day were much less likely to die in an 11-year period.

The only catch is that, with green tea listed last on the label and a very mild green tea taste, the actual amount of green tea is probably very small. I sent an email to Haagen Dazs asking about the amount of green tea present and will write another blog post when I get the result.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Publix for around $5.00.

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

Summary

A very flavorful ice cream with simple, natural ingredients, and a taste of authentic great tea. Unfortunately for me its a bit lacking, and may leave some wishing for a slightly stronger concentration of green tea.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2781

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

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

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-difference-between-black-green-white-tea-7215974.html?cat=5

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16968850

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Meiji Hokkaido Azuki (Red Bean & Condensed Milk) – product review

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Introduction

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.

Flavor

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.

Ratings

Nutrition & Ingredients: 6.5

Flavor: 8.5

Price:7.0

Overall: 7.33

Summary

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.

References

http://www.meiji.co.jp/

http://www.poki-meiji.com.tw/product-detail.aspx?id=469

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

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

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/food-dyes-are-they-safe

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