Taste Test: Japanese KitKats
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at email@example.com.
KitKat: Soy Sauce, Cherry Blossom, Green Tea, Banana, Strawberry, Soy Flour, Exotic Tokyo
The KitKat originated in England 70 years ago, but it was the Japanese who unleashed its flavor potential. Japan is home to a kaleidoscopic variety of KitKats, and not just the humdrum flavor tweaks like "mint chocolate" we get here in the States. Soy sauce. Brown sugar. Apple. Kiwi. Strawberry. There are too many to list here (though Wikipedia, of course, delivers a comprehensive list of them), many of which popped up as limited editions. In Japan, I bought every variety I saw, which included a few limited editions (Soy Sauce, Exotic Tokyo, Cherry Blossom) along with others that are mundane to the Japanese but exotic to Americans, particularly those of us so blinded by Orientalism that we'll fetishize anything related to Japanese culture. Even their KitKat website is cooler than ours.
Why is the American version of KitKat so averse to change? Well, probably because of who owns it: According to Wikipedia, the KitKat brand belongs to Nestlé, which has to license it to competitor Hershey's, which had an agreement with the company that owned KitKat prior to Nestlé. Although the candy is especially popular here (not to mention everywhere else the world), perhaps Hershey's isn't inclined to tinker much with a brand it doesn't own. Wikipedia attributes part of KitKat's popularity in Japan to its name: The phrase "kitto katsu" means "You will surely win!"—but the similar "kitto katto" means "You will surely miss the cut," so maybe that's not it. But we all know KitKat is popular because it's so damn tasty; even if its name meant "hog anus," the world would devour KitKat by the ton.
Unsurprisingly, KitKat Day was far more popular than Eel Spine, Squid, And Dried Sardine Day in The A.V. Club's Taste Test labs. On tap were a staggering seven varieties of the wafer candy: Green Tea, Strawberry, Banana, Soy Sauce, Kinako (soybean flour), Exotic Tokyo (their name, not ours, you members of the PC Police), and Cherry Blossom.
Of them, Banana and Soy Sauce pulled in the highest ratings. Soy Sauce had a distinct maple-syrup flavor and very little "soy sauce" taste, at least to our unrefined Orientalist taste buds. Kinako had a similarly distinct, unassociated flavor: peanut butter, which made the whole package similar to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Exotic Tokyo drew the strongest reactions, as its mix of passion fruit, raspberry, strawberry, cherry, black currant, and pepper (with milk chocolate) gave it the boldest flavor of the bunch. Cherry Blossom was the least popular, earning the dreaded Cherry Robitussin comparisons.
Banana (neither a white nor milk chocolate base—it may not be chocolate at all; eaten in KitKat Bite form, i.e., tiny little cubes):
— "It tastes exactly like antibiotics I had when I was a child."
— "I think this is like the best candy bar I've ever had. It's very good."
— "These have that really intense fake-banana smell—like banana pudding."
— "Which is exactly what they taste like. You know that dessert people make, with bananas and banana pudding and Vanilla wafers? This is like that, in bite-sized form."
— "These are really good. I want more of them. This may be the best thing we've ever taste-tested."
— "The banana ones are so bright and sunshiny yellow! They even look appealing. America, get on importing these right the hell now."
— "I didn't know that I wanted a banana KitKat, but now I know that I do."
— "The aftertaste is really not so good. It really tastes like something I've had before—circus peanuts? It lingers and lingers and lingers."
— "I do believe I could eat an entire bag of those and not even feel sick afterward. A ringing endorsement!"
— "The banana smells kinda sickly, but it's actually pretty mild. It doesn't overpower the crunch/chocolate contingent."
Strawberry (milk chocolate base; eaten in Mini form, i.e., tiny bars)
— "The strawberry ones smell fairly nasty."
— "And it tastes medicine-y. Has that fake-berry flavor always tasted like medicine, or is it just that there's so much berry-flavored medicine out there that we associate fake berry with choking down cough syrup?"
— "The strawberry ones taste exactly like stale Crunchberries."
— "Ooh, bad aftertaste."
— "It's a stronger chocolate; it's not very strawberry."
— "It's really artificial; it's not natural at all. It's like a faux strawberry flavor. But you put it front of me, and I'll eat it."
— "Did anybody like that one?"
— "Very reminiscent of those wafer-cream cookies you could get in strawberry, but covered in chocolate. Another triumph!"
— "This tasted more like cherry to me. In any case, this wasn't for me."
— "The strawberry flavor seems a little strong and unbalanced. Basically a strawberry-yogurt KitKat."
— "Man, the aftertaste on both the banana and now the strawberry KitKats is completely insidious. Usually, when you look at the ingredients that go into a candy bar, it's the chocolate that's most apparent, but this is the rare case where the dominant taste is sodium bicarbonate or calcium sulfate or some other grim chemical."
Tokyo Exotic (dark chocolate base; eaten in regular form, though the bars were smaller)
— "The Tokyo ones are okay. Not great, but better than the strawberry."
— "They taste a little like Raspberry Newtons, but with a completely different texture."
— "I think it's worth noting that none of the chocolate ones have a strong enough chocolate flavor for it to matter. It's that same waxy, fake meh-chocolate from American KitKats. Which is why I like the banana ones so much—it's a completely different flavor that doesn't try to approximate chocolate."
— "Now this tastes like antibiotics. It tastes like cough syrup."
— "I don't like this at all."
— "KitKat just can't go wrong. Whatever you put in a KitKat, it'll be great."
— "I didn't think I liked these on first bite, but they have a nice tang that complements the chocolate really well. I think it might be guava, but it's too subtle to tell."
— "As a guava lover, I'm gonna say this tastes like guava."
"I'm getting grape."
— "Tokyo is delicious; the streets taste like raspberry."
— "When did raspberries become exotic? After the dark chocolate, a small burst of raspberry flavor. A little overpowering flavor-wise. I probably couldn't eat more than six or seven of these buggers."
Green Tea (white chocolate base; eaten in normal form)
— "Oh my God, it's completely green. There's no chocolate unless it's white chocolate."
— "I like it; it's sweeter than I thought it would be. It's subtly tea-flavored."
— "I like this the best. I love this one, actually."
— "Oh my God, that's so good I can't get over it."
"Are they paying you to say this?"
— "Boring. Why people keep trying to 'flavor' things with green tea when green tea has practically no flavor, I don't know. I guess if you like your mouth to taste vaguely like white chocolate and wax, green tea-flavored candies and ice creams are okay."
— "Very sweet—tastes more like sub-par white chocolate than green tea."
Soy Sauce (white chocolate base; eaten in normal form, though with smaller bars)
— "If this one's good, I'm getting a KitKat tattoo."
— "Eww, more white chocolate."
— "Ooh, I actually really like this. It tastes like pancakes and bacon!"
— "Maple syrup. It tastes kinda maple-y."
— "It tastes like crap soy sauce—like what you find next to the canned crispy things in the grocery store, the kind that tastes like caramel color and something else."
— "Yeah, the soy sauce ones are definitely maple-flavored. Maybe I've been missing out all these years by not dumping maple syrup on my stir-fry."
— "It tastes like pancakes and syrup! Oh my God, breakfast KitKat!"
— "Probably the most underwhelming KitKat in the bunch. I was looking forward to this all week, and it doesn't taste anything like soy sauce. Now I'm gonna have to continue dipping my KitKats in soy sauce the old-fashioned way to get my fix."
— "I taste maple syrup and butter. You could claim it was waffle-flavored, and I'd believe it. Put these on a plate with the bacon lollipops, and it's breakfast."
Cherry Blossom (white chocolate with subtle cherry swirl; eaten in normal form)
— "This is all Hello Kitty eats."
— "These things smell like conditioner and look like decorative soap."
— "I have no idea what that tastes like. Fake cherry, vanilla, and almond all swirled together, maybe, with a plastic Barbie aftertaste? It's actually kind of tasty, in an 'I have no idea what I'm eating or sensing' sort of way."
— "I think this is what it'd be like going down on Barbie's cherry blossom."
— "This one's quite pretty."
— "I don't think this needs to be eaten, really."
— "It smells like Tylenol."
— "This should be hanging on a 9-year-old girl's wall, not eaten."
— "Oh no! It tastes like cherry Robitussin! I'm gonna gag!"
— "If Halls made wafers, it would taste like this."
— "I feel like I'm eating a scented candle."
— "My breath smells like Pier 1 right now."
— "It has that weird cherry-popsicle artificiality to it. Cherry's the first one I really can't see eating another one of."
— "I love KitKats, but this one reminds me of mom cramming cherry Robitussin down my throat."
— "The cherry taste is very artificial. I think the Japanese have 'cherry' confused with 'Robitussin.'"
Kinako (milk chocolate; eaten in Mini form)
— "This is kinda how I expected the green tea to taste: peanuts crushed in a cup of coffee."
— "It's like something Starbucks would stick in the whipped cream of a high-end coffee."
— "I definitely enjoyed the coffee flavor."
— "The soy flour tastes like coffee residue and peanut butter stirred together. Sludgy and weird."
— "Okay, here's the thing about KitKats in general, as far as I'm concerned: They're a nothing candy. They're pleasantly crisp and crunchy and sugary, but otherwise they're completely generic. They taste like rice paper in wax."
— "In keeping with that, none of these flavors were offensive at all. They were just variations on pleasant but bland. Except for the banana. Those things are good. Because they actually taste like something."
— "It smells better than it tastes."
— "Peanut-y goodness. A good KitKat for the ballpark."
— "I taste nothing but a regular KitKat, except less sweet. My mouth feels a little dry after eating it. Strange."
Where to find them: Outside of Japan? Try eBay, where ex-pats and others have made a cottage industry of selling them. Available now: Red Bean, Hazelnut, Sweet Pudding, Banana, Caramel & Salt, Strawberry, Green Tea, Orange, Soy Sauce, White Milk, Apple, Grape, Koucha (black tea), and more. You can also find some flavors—including the rare Mango—via EyeOnDeals.