October 26, 2018 1:06 PM   Subscribe

In Japan, the Kit Kat isn't just chocolate, it's an obsession.

More on Japanese Kit Kats
- NextShark: Why Japan is so obsessed with Kit Kat.
- Food Republic (2015): There Are More Than 200 Different Flavors Of Kit Kat In Japan. Here’s Why."
- Document Journal: "Hunting for Kit Kats in Japan by Ann Binlot

More from the New York Times Magazine's "Candy" Issue:
- Behind the Cover
- Candy Crush: "Candy is controversial. Scouring the globe in search of the sweet stuff reveals just how different our palates are — and how much we have in common." by Mary H. K. Choi
- Taste Test: "I learned how to take candy tasting as seriously as wine tasting. What I discovered surprised me." by Samin Nosrat
- Home Sweet Home: "Nations have flags and anthems — but they also have their defining treats. Here are some candies that capture the spirit of the countries they come from." by Elise Craig
- Salty Tooth: "My journey to the dark heart of salmiakki — the uniquely savory, deeply strange licorice that Finland just can’t quit." by Mark Binelli
- Sugar Works: "For millions of Latin Americans, the Colombina factory in La Paila is the place where sweet moments are made." This article is also available in Spanish. By Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
posted by zarq (52 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Does anyone know where to buy shingen mochi and specialized kitkat in the US? Asking for a friend. (The friend is me.)
posted by perplexion at 1:10 PM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Candysan is a Tokyo-based company (they're owned by Ici Japon) which ships to North America.
posted by zarq at 1:12 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, if you're in New York City, the Dainobu chain sells imported Japanese sweets.
posted by zarq at 1:15 PM on October 26, 2018

Japanese Kit Kats must be made with better couverture. I see there's a specialty gourmet shop, but besides that, it must just be better quality, because the American Kit Kat is, at best, what I would describe as "fine." I get to palm one at Halloween or maybe in some waiting room somewhere, and that holds me for a whole year, as far as Kit Kats are concerned.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

What a coincidence, green tea and strawberries were my favorite KitKat flavors. Also, I like the food bandsaw and now I want one.
posted by BeeDo at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2018

Wasabi was eh.
posted by BeeDo at 1:19 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Correction: I credited all the other NYT authors, but left out the writer of the 'Kit Kats in Japan' piece. She is Tejal Rao.
posted by zarq at 1:36 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Matcha Kit Kats are basically the ultimate perfection of mass-produced candy.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2018 [11 favorites]

Yamanashi is green, dense with red pine and white oak forest and beautifully kept orchards that cut deep into its slopes. Fruit hunters pay to eat as much ripe, seasonal fruit as they like in a short span of time. Say, 30 minutes of thin-skinned peaches, or fat pink grapes, or strawberries, warmed from the sun, dipped into pools of sweetened condensed milk.

Unlike apple-picking in the fall in the United States, the fruit doesn’t really function as a souvenir, carried home in baskets to commemorate an idyllic, well-documented visit to the countryside. Fruit hunters travel to eat the fruit on site, right off the trees, in their allotted time.

That sounds amazing.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:41 PM on October 26, 2018 [24 favorites]

If you have access to a Japanese grocery store, they usually have a variety of KitKats. Los Angeles is full of these (but then we have the second-highest Japanese population in the US after Hawaii).

the American Kit Kat is, at best, what I would describe as "fine."

It's not really that much different. I think America has, at least in urban areas, fully jumped on the "quality chocolate" train. Even at my regular grocery store, there are a lot of "high quality" chocolates, lots of dark chocolate, etc.

Japan has mostly not, so I'd say overall the chocolate available to most people is more like what was available here 10-20 years ago.

(I do think the Japanese KitKats might be a little better... but I've never done a direct head to head taste test, so its hard to be sure)
posted by thefoxgod at 1:43 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

(Although yes, you can get fancy chocolate in Tokyo of course, but I know many more Americans who care about that than Japanese and it seems much less common. My sample may be biased, however)
posted by thefoxgod at 1:44 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

the American Kit Kat is, at best, what I would describe as "fine."

American Kit Kats are made by Hershey. Everywhere else it's made by Nestle.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:51 PM on October 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Our local H-Mart, though techically a Korean grocery chain, carries a few extra flavors of kitkat.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:51 PM on October 26, 2018

If anybody knows where to get Baked Kit Kat without a plane ticket, that's my hard get.
posted by rhizome at 1:52 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I woulda swapped my last Kit Kat to see zarq posting on MetaFilter again!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:56 PM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Japanese Kit Kats must be made with better couverture.

I've had them and they're really also "fine" but I have not done a head-to-head comparison.
posted by GuyZero at 2:16 PM on October 26, 2018

Baked Kit Kat? Hmm …

If you're really quick with a crème brûlée torch, you can make white chocolate go toasty and puffy and kinda better than crème brûlée itself. Too slow, and all you end up with is a melty puddle with charred bits in it.
posted by scruss at 2:21 PM on October 26, 2018

Hey, I've actually had the baked ones as well!

It's fun, they get a bit of that creme brulee vibe, if you follow the directions it's pretty foolproof.

But did I go back to buy more? I did not.
posted by GuyZero at 2:28 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

If anybody knows where to get Baked Kit Kat without a plane ticket, that's my hard get.

It looks like Nijiya Market used to carry them in California until Nestle told them to stop.

Some flavors of Japanese Kit Kats also appear to be available on Amazon. I don't see any baked versions, though. :(
posted by zarq at 2:32 PM on October 26, 2018

Timely! Two days ago I got three huge bags of Hong Yuan guava, lychee, and pineapple hard candy from China and 12 bags of Lion Noisy Soda from Japan. The latter are the best candy I've ever had.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:34 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have to say that raw cacao bar from the new line of gourmet Kit-Kats are really, really good. They're only sold in five or six places, but I didn't know that when I bought a set from the counter at Daimaru in August. They came to around $4 a bar, which is insane for a single Kit-Kat, but also kind of an affordable luxury?

It was three months ago and I'm still thinking about how good it was. I'm going to buy that exact flavor as stocking stuffers for my entire family this year.

Also, I'm not usually a fan of really wild Kit-Kat flavors, but the almond/cranberry topped ones really hit the spot.
posted by Alison at 2:37 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I got mine at Marukai Market in Cupertino but I haven't seen them lately so maybe they got the same message from Nestle as Nijiya.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on October 26, 2018

This article had me breaking open the bag of Halloween candy five days early. Sadly, there were no Japanese Kit-Kats. Not even American Kit-Kats. Only Twix. Still, no regrets. Eating chocolate with a cup of coffee is a fine way to begin the weekend.
posted by kozad at 2:56 PM on October 26, 2018

The article is missing the story of how a few years back they tried to introduce the novelty flavours in the UK and sales of *all Kit Kats combined* went down as a result. We don't want that fancy rubbish here!
posted by grahamparks at 3:08 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went to Japan in 2016, and before I left, friends had told me about the KitKat obsession and implored me to bring back some exotic flavors. I think I ended up buying 15 - 20 different flavors—basically a small duffel bag full of KitKats. The oddest one was called “Happy Easter” and I think tasted something vaguely like pancakes? Reviews were mixed.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:09 PM on October 26, 2018

I'm unimpressed with the wasabi, strawberry, and sake flavors, and green tea is fine, but hojicha is my fave. Regardless, I'm a sucker for this crap - I see Nagano apple flavor in the assortment image and I desperately want to try it even though I know I won't like it, because OMG LOCAL OMIYAGE. Ooh, and is that melon I spy at the bottom?

I also got these for my boyfriend once. Mos Burger KitKats! I don't understand what white chocolate has to do with burgers but this is pure Japan.
posted by sunset in snow country at 3:18 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kam Man Asian Market in East Hanover NJ has many kinds of Kit Kats but they are expensive.
posted by mermayd at 3:19 PM on October 26, 2018

Did I imagine it or was there a squid flavored kitcat once upon a time? Maybe that was a salvia trip. But I'd not be surprised to find out it existed in Japan.
posted by some loser at 3:35 PM on October 26, 2018

Did I imagine it or was there a squid flavored kitcat once upon a time?

I think that was an April Fool's joke.

But chocolate covered squid is a thing.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:55 PM on October 26, 2018

12 bags of Lion Noisy Soda

oooooh now we're talking -- I'm not as into wafers-and-chocolate, but hard candies and chewy candies are a beloved vice of mine. And relatedly, I really really want to try the Hi-Chew Fizzies.
posted by halation at 3:58 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

American Kit Kats are made by Hershey. Everywhere else it's made by Nestle.

So, what you're saying is that it's the evil that improves the flavor?
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:05 PM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Purple sweet potato Kit Kats are the best - they pair exceptionally well with a nice sake. And I have one of the ruby red chocolate single-stick Kit Kats waiting for a good excuse to break open. Upon Googling it appears you can actually buy these at Tesco's now, for much less than I paid in Japan.
posted by Gortuk at 4:29 PM on October 26, 2018

A fun youtube channel referenced here previously is all about "Irish people taste-test [a thing]", and sure enough, they did Japanese Kit-Kat flavors. (They recently re-branded from calling themselves "Facts" to "Try", and are re-shooting some of the older ideas so they may do it again.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 PM on October 26, 2018

Every flight back from Japan, at least half my bag is full of whatever this year's new, strange Kit Kat flavors are. And the bake-able ones are fun, yes. There are (or have been) at least three kinds. If I had any left right now I'd offer to mail them out as MeFiXmas gifts, but sadly they're all gone for the year. Next time I will keep extra.

And not to derail the Hershey-Nestle subthread, but note that most of these flavors do not contain anything resembling chocolate, anyway. A "normal" Japanese Kit-Kat is about the same as a normal UK/European one.

Mitsuwa in NJ and Uwajimaya in Seattle both have them sometimes, usually right about now, in the window between Xmas and Halloween, but I have not checked this year. I imagine any region's biggest Japanese grocery store will be the best bet.

Wasabi Kit Kat is a great prank flavor. Looks just like the Green Tea package.
posted by rokusan at 4:42 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I expected to want snacks after reading that, but now I’m desperate to go fruit hunting.
posted by palomar at 8:02 PM on October 26, 2018

I have had wasabi, sake, strawberry, matcha, dark chocolate and regular, brought in by a coworker. My favorite by far is the matcha, but I enjoyed them all. I was so excited to find a japanese grocery store in Honolulu, but they didn’t have any Kit Kats at all :(
posted by gryphonlover at 8:05 PM on October 26, 2018

Actually, the sake ones are surprisingly good, too.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:32 PM on October 26, 2018

A celiac aquaintence of mine won a bag of Matcha Kit Kats and given he can't eat wheat they were passed down to us, the only way I'm going to have them given how evil Nestle is and how I refuse to give them money. Better in my belly than in the bin! And goodness, they're just sublime. I eat a lot of Japanese chocolate - it seems airier and less rich than Australian brands - and those tiny Kit Kats were just otherworldly in how perfectly all the flavours balanced.
posted by Jilder at 9:22 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wasabi Kit Kat is a great prank flavor. Looks just like the Green Tea package.

posted by rhizome at 9:31 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I miss the shinsu apple one... I should've brought back more.

The funny thing is that because Japanese anything sells well here, we've even got a KitKat Chocolatory in KL as well. I should go check it out...
posted by cendawanita at 10:40 PM on October 26, 2018

No mention of how Kvikk Lunsj is better than Kit Kat? Metafilter, I am disappoint.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:56 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't buy Nestle products anyway, but look at how the recipe has changed for the worse:

KitKat 1995 bar ingredients:
Milk chocolate, Wheat Flour, Sugar, vegetable fat, cocoa mass, yeast, raising agent (Sodium bicarbonate), emulsifier (lecithin), Flavouring.

KitKat 2018 bar ingredients:
Sugar, Wheat Flour (contains Calcium, Iron, Thiamin and Niacin), Whole and Skimmed Milk Powder (13%), Cocoa Mass (9%), Cocoa Butter, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Palm Kernel, Shea/Illipe/Mango Kernel/Kokum Gurgi/Sal), Lactose and Proteins from Whey (from Milk), Whey Powder (from Milk), Emulsifiers (Sunflower Lecithin, Soya Lecithin), Yeast, Raising Agent (Sodium Bicarbonate), Natural Vanilla Flavourings, Salt, Butterfat (from Milk), Natural Flavourings
posted by Lanark at 8:19 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

American Kit Kats are made by Hershey. Everywhere else it's made by Nestle.

Hershey's versions of other brands of chocolates—e.g. Rolos and Cadbury bars—taste the way cover bands sound.

And yes, Hershey's own chocolate really does taste of baby puke.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:54 AM on October 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

The matcha kit kats are really special. Sadly I have never seen them in my local Mitsuwa, just matcha pocky which is awful. In general my Mitsuwa has had fewer and fewer flavors of snacks over the past couple of years. I am thinking of ordering through Bokksu.
posted by BibiRose at 9:17 AM on October 27, 2018

I have quoted this comment many times and it still holds true:

Yeah, when did Hershey start making chocolate? I thought those bars were kits for making your own scented candles.
posted by uosuaq at 4:56 PM on February 16, 2015

posted by vickyverky at 9:21 AM on October 27, 2018

I don't buy Nestle products anyway, but look at how the recipe has changed for the worse

So, interestingly enough, the formula probably hasn't changed much and the ingredients don't look worse to me (ymmv) but what I do see is an ingredient list is more accurate today than it was in 1985.

The first ingredient in the 1985 list is milk chocolate. But milk chocolate is a mix of several ingredients. Usually something like Sugar, Whole Milk Powder, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Lactose, Soy Lecithin Emulsifier and Natural Vanilla Flavor. (To get that I literally googled 'milk chocolate ingredients' and lifted the first result.)

In 2018, FDA regulations now require that all ingredients in a food product be listed individually. I don't know for sure, but it's possible that just saying "milk chocolate" isn't allowed anymore and they'd have to actually say, "Sugar, milk powder" etc.

So, the new ingredient list doesn't list "milk chocolate." It lists out its components. It notes and includes the percentages of two kinds of milk powder and places sugar where it belongs in the list: as the most plentiful ingredient. The vegetable fats are also broken down by source now.

Really, the biggest changes in the formula are the addition of sunflower lecithin, buttermilk fats, proteins from whey and possibly the addition of several kinds of vegetable fats. I honestly don't know if that means the bars are more or less healthy than they used to be. But speaking as someone with food allergies, greater detail in labeling is a good thing.
posted by zarq at 9:35 AM on October 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

THe big Asian supermarket near me rotates through several varieties of Kit Kat. We’ve tried Green Tea (good), Banana (yep), Baked Cheesecake (weird, but not the worst), and Baked Sweet Potato (glad I tried it, did not like it).

In looking up English directions for baking, I remember learning that the bakeable Kit Kats have a different formulation, I think so that that they carmelize sooner, and don’t melt into a sad, soggy, wafer puddle. Even so, it’s easy to get it wrong.
Nestle.com says please don’t bake normal Kit Kats.
posted by LEGO Damashii at 4:57 PM on October 27, 2018

I've seen several mentions of Nestle as "evil." I think the main reason for that is that they are accusing or using (or turning a blind eye to) child and slave labor in their supply chain. Hershey's and Mars do too.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:50 PM on October 28, 2018

I can't vouch for the source but this looks like an at-least-OK overview.
posted by rhizome at 2:01 AM on October 29, 2018

Oh man. Nestlé being evil is far deeper and broader than their chocolate supply chain issues. They have a long history of slave labour in their supply chains (outside of chocolate - there was reports of slave labour in their Thai fish supply chain a while back), they bottle water in drought stricken areas (California being the most recent) often without a legal right and they collapse aquifiers that locals depend on in order to sell the water for profit. They aggressively market infant formula to mothers in developing countries with unsafe water suplies using deceptive tactics, and produce formulas of varying qualities to be sold in varying markets, despite the fact newborns the world over have the same needs. They're involved in land clearing for cocoa beans and palm oil, squeezed Ethiopia for a 6 million dollar debt while the country was facing famine. And then there's the more run of the mill stuff they get up to with misleading labelling on their product, hiding contamination, causing pollution and land degradation, that kind of thing.

Like, slave labor in their chocolate supply is like, only one part of what makes Nestle such a shithouse company and why so many people, myself included, boycott them.

More detailed rundown here.
posted by Jilder at 4:56 AM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

I wasn't expecting to go down the Japanese candy rabbit hole on Amazon today, but here we are.
posted by slogger at 12:17 PM on October 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

update: I was unexpectedly given a shinshu apple kitkat and actually it was bomb and I want more. I thought it'd be like strawberry (that waxy flavorless white chocolate, dyed pink, blech) but it was regular milk chocolate with like essence of apple and mmmm

I actually got a whole bag, rum raisin was interesting, have yet to try the rest
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:27 AM on November 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

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