Japan's Strange Love for Strange and Unusual Snacks
The possibly maybe good, the I bet that's bad, and the no-way Jose that's just plain ugly...
The Japanese are well-known for their love of outrageous, sometimes excessive, and even downright silly, creativity. This creativity can produce both extraordinary and peculiar results.
Japanese snacks are no exception. Article upon article has been written about them. Instagram and Facebook are are filled with photographs of them. Some "strange" snacks have been around for years, while others come and go with the seasons. The flavor combinations food designers come up with seem to defy all logic; Japan is practically the crazy mad scientist of the snack world.
Whether it's Pepsi's "Salty Watermelon" cola, Haagen-Dazs' vegetable ice creams, or Glico's salad-flavoured crisps, stay in Japan long enough and you're sure to encounter some of the most bizzare edibles on the planet.
But what's going on here? What gives?
First, it's not just Japan. Singapore has dried pork and seaweed donuts. In Denmark you can find Mojito Pepsi, and in Europe and Russia - Cappuccino Pepsi. India and Pakistan enjoy mint-flavoured Lay's crisps, in the U.K. prawn-flavoured Pringles.
Mint-flavoured Lay's crisps not your thing? Head on over to France for Lay's Spaghetti bolognese! The list goes on and on.
And it's not simply for novelty. These quirky combinations are a product of a international food trend called "flavour-mashing", and it's here to stay.
Mixing extreme flavors "speaks to consumers' short attention spans," says Lynn Dornblaser, new products guru at the research firm Mintel. "Consumers all want something absolutely new that's never been seen before." That, after all, may be about the best way to stand out from the estimated 20,000 food and drink products introduced each year in the U.S. alone.
There's a food-industry term for how consumers respond to product mashes: mouth surprise. "The mouth doesn't anticipate the combo, which actually makes it more pleasurable to the brain," says food scientist Steven Witherly, author of Why Humans Like Junk Food: The Inside Story on Why You Like Your Favorite Foods.
And there you have it.
Perhaps no other company knows this better than KitKat, which, in addition to being Japan's most popular confectionary, has been mixing and inventing new flavour combinations for years. From soybean to hot chili, purple sweet potato to red bean sandwich, seasonal KitKat flavours have become collector items and are hotly sought after from buyers all over the world.
Did you know? KitKat is a portmanteau of "Kitto" (surely) and "Katsu" (win) - to mean "good luck", which explains why you'll see students hungrily devouring them before taking their exams!
Former Deep Japan Writer