Western candies, especially American varieties, have a reputation of being too sweet for the Japanese, and as such you won't find many of them in your local grocery or convenience store. One candy bar which has managed to overcome the odds and make itself a lasting presence in the Japanese okashi market is Kit Kat. Perhaps it's the simplicity; they're just chocolate and wafer without all the caramel, nougat, or other extravagances which seem to overload Japanese taste buds. Or maybe the company execs actually understand the market and have molded the product to fit their consumer base.
This second theory would seem to be true as Japanese Kit Kats have built a reputation for coming up with all sorts of flavor varieties, which fits with the Japanese approach of marketing seasonal flavors and generally putting out new products at a steady pace. In this article we will introduce several limited time varieties and some which represent famous regional cuisine.
Eastern and Western Japan variety boxes.
Each of these packages contains six flavors which represent delicacies from their respective regions. The eastern box offers rum raisin, Yahataya Isogoro ichimi (a type of spice used with savory food), wasabi (the notorious fiery green paste), Shinshu apple, strawberry cheesecake, and azuki (red bean jam) sandwich.
First off, let's get the two spicy flavors out of the way.
Even most Japanese would be put off by the idea of ichimi or wasabi flavored chocolate, but the developers obviously took the time to get them right because the wasab(above left)i has only the mildest spicy aftertaste, and the ichimi(above right) is just a bit more powerful. They're both perfectly edible as dessert, and a unique curiosity.
The rum raisin(below left) and strawberry cheesecake(below right) taste like what they claim to and are quite delicious, but the apple really stands out as something totally new.
The apple flavor(below left) is so strong that you probably won't even taste chocolate at first. This is definitely the most memorable member of the box.
Unfortunately, although I happen to love azuki sandwiches(above right), the transition to chocolate didn't go over so well; it can only be described as bland. We'll just have to stick with the real thing.
Now to the western box. You can sample hojicha (a distinct flavor of tea), uji matcha (a variety of Japanese green tea), citrus blend, amaou strawberry, beni imo (purple potato), and, once again, wasabi! It must be a trend. Most of these are based on distinctly Japanese products, let's see how they hold up.
Western Japan must be the place for tea, since they dedicated one third of the box to tea flavors.
Hojicha tea(above left) has a memorable flavor stronger than barley (mugicha) tea, and somehow they managed to get the flavor into a Kit Kat perfectly. I was really surprised at the quality of this one, it could easily compete with the more commonly found milk tea flavored chocolate. Uji matcha(above right) is also a strong version of green tea, but the Kit Kat-ified flavor can't invoke its defining bitterness. The quest for a really memorable matcha flavored chocolate continues.
The amaou strawberry(above right), a Kyushu exclusive, really hits you with the fruit sensation. It's a little overpowering. The citrus blend(above right) is somehow more palatable, probably since you would expect the usual impact of citrus. In fact it's excellent, deserving of the limited time naming, and you'd be hard pressed to say whether orange, lemon, or lime is the dominant flavor.
'Purple potato' may sound a bit odd to a non-Japanese at first, but it is actually a well known cuisine from Okinawa and used as a flavoring for many desserts like cookies and cakes. The flavor is subtle, and the Kit Kat version captures it quite well. It's a worthy addition to the lineup.
Both boxes have an equal number of great, good, and not so memorable flavors. If I had to choose one, it would be the Western Japan series, for the sake of uniqueness if nothing else. As for individual flavors, I can confidently say Shinshu apple and hojicha are the winners.
Otona no Amasa series
The naming of this lineup means 'sweetness for adults', which, for Japanese, indicates that they are not overly sweet or likely use bittersweet chocolate. These can easily be found in convenience stores and grocery stores by the casual consumer. There are six varieties: regular dark chocolate, uji matcha, amaou strawberry(left), and the Feuillantine subgroup(below) with standard, hazelnut, and almond flavors.
The Feuillantines (is that a real word?) have a crispier wafer than standard Kit Kats and claim to invoke the flavor of a crepe. They also contain trace amounts of alcohol. The dark chocolate is satisfying, but to be honest the difference in the three varieties is hardly noticeable. The chocolate flavor is milder in the hazelnut and almond varieties.
Kit Kat Chocolatory Specials
Finally, I had the opportunity to try some of the most extravagant Kit Kat varieties only available at their Chocolatory (Kit Kat only!) shop. These are flavors you won't find in other stores, so let's find out if they're worth the effort.The shop's most promoted product is its 'sublime' series(below), limited to only 300 bars a day. Apparently they never fail to sell out, despite running a whopping ￥300 for one small stick.
I tried the regular bittersweet chocolate and raspberry flavors. And the verdict? Well, they are definitely above and beyond traditional Kit Kats; the bittersweet chocolate is striking at first and the aftertaste is smooth, almost like ganache. These are more appropriately compared to chocolate truffles than to regular Kit Kats. Since going to the shop is almost like visiting a museum, you can't go wrong by trying one. But get there early.
The last thing on my plate was a sample of five different flavors exclusive to the Kit Kat Chocolatory: cream cheese, ginger, strawberry maple, orange cocktail, and green tea kinako (soybean powder).
Luckily, I can sum up my feelings for the entire group with one sentence - these are extraordinary and well worth the time it takes to visit the shop! Whether or not you like Kit Kats in general these flavors are very delicate and all taste just like how you would want them to, blending perfectly with the chocolate. The ginger is not too spicy, and the orange cocktail is an absolute must try. Strawberry maple is an inventive combination that, hopefully, will stick around for a while and maybe even become a seasonal flavor available in convenience stores. Readers should definitely go and try these before they get rotated out for whatever is next on the Kit Kat agenda.
Impressive to think that at any given time there are more varieties of Kit Kat on the market than we can count on both hands. Any okashi connoisseur should definitely acquaint themselves with some of these while the options are so plentiful.
Daimaru Tokyo store
B1 Daimaru Tokyo 1-9-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Seibu Ikebukuro store
B1 Seibu Ikebukuro 1-28-1, Minamiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo