04 September 2010

Wasabi - A Sweet Surprise?


Flavors of Japanese Candy

When I travel I am always on the lookout for unique candy and other sweet creations. In Europe there is little challenge involved. Chocolate is well loved and from Cadbury to Cailler to Kinder Surprise Eggs can be found in many creative forms. Traveling in Japan I was on the same quest. I was looking, but finding a Japanese sweet to appreciate is more of a challenge to those steeped in western culture and preferences.

The candy in Japan is often beautiful. Tins or bags of hard candy shaped like flowers or beads or even sushi appeal to the eye, but are bland in taste. Beautiful sweets made of sweet bean paste are fashioned to reflect the seasons and locality as they accompany and balance the bitter refinement of matcha green tea but they are generally more upscale and sold in specialty shops or department store food halls.


In my search for sweets I generally try to avoid American brands but when it got down to finding a unique candy bar in Japan, one meant to stand on its own, I had to reconsider. In the airport, as we waited to board our flight home, I saw some Kit Kat bars I couldn’t resist. First I noticed the Green Tea flavored one. Interesting but, well, not unexpected. Green tea flavors many sweets in Japan. Then I looked closer and noticed that there were actually two varieties of green candy coated Kit Kats: Green Tea and Wasabi. Wasabi did sound interesting and unique! I bought a few just for the sake of novelty.

A Convergence of Asian Flavors

Before I had a chance to sample them I was off on another trip. This time it was domestic travel, through Chicago. There I stumbled over a Vosges Haut Chocolat shop and picked up a small assortment of their exotic truffles. One I had been eager to sample for years happened to be in the box. It also happened to contain a hint of wasabi. Coincidence?


I savored that truffle on the plane to Paducah. It was subtle but I could discern each element of the flavoring in this American take on Asian flavors. The wasabi was just a hint, the ginger a mild sensation, the black sesame seeds a matter of texture more than anything, all wrapped up in a luscious dark chocolate dipped ganache. It was delicate and complex, a thought piece, a flavor poem. I really enjoyed it.

Back home, having enjoyed my wasabi infused truffle from Vosges, I decided it was time to sample that Japanese Wasabi Kit Kat bar. I broke it open, took a bite. This one was anything but subtle. The bitter heat of the wasabi was low key, taking a moment to develop and identify, but the taste was unmistakeable. I actually enjoyed the lingering heat but the bitterness had a mitigating negative impact. Untempered with any other flavor but sweet and contrasted with the signature crunch of a Kit Kat the flavor was blunt, a single note slightly off key rather than a finely tuned chord.


Sublime Combinations

Still that Vosges truffle was sublime and overall I am convinced of the potential of wasabi as a sweet contrast. The wasabi does add an element of interest to chocolate and seems more promising to me as an enhancement to quality chocolate than as a theme flavor for a candy bar. In combination with other interesting flavors it can add a distinct and surprising low note to round out a well constructed chord.

The Wasabi Kit Kat was interesting but I wouldn’t go out of my way for a repeat performance. Once was enough. On the other hand I would seek out more Vosges Black Pearl truffles. It seems that others agree as it is one of Vosges’s most popular flavor combinations.

Based on my experience with those Black Pearl truffles (I picked up more on the way home) I am inclined to keep wasabi in mind as a flavor to experiment with in my own candy making and cooking. Like chile peppers and cinnamon in chocolate, wasabi makes a powerful contrast that can empower a fuller taste experience. And my serendipitous thematic introduction over the summer must mean something… We’ll see what comes of it.

4 comments:

theUngourmet said...

I saw those Kit Kats a while back on a blog. How wild! I'd love to give them a try!

Ivy said...

How cool! What are you going to make with wasabi? I have a wasabi powder that I like to use sometimes in cooking-never thought to use it in baking....hurrrmmm.

Delishhh said...

I hope you found some Japanese candy you liked. I could never find any. I think the candy you like is what you grew up with. I am Swedish and i still think most candy in the US is aweful. But when i bring candy back from sweden to the US my American friends like some but others they think are aweful.

grace said...

i can eat some super hot peppers and not break a sweat, but wasabi makes my sinuses burn and my eyes water. that kit kat would tear me up. :)