Two years ago, if anyone had told me I’d soon be ordering sweet potato flavoured ice cream of my own free will, on multiple occasions, and totally loving the taste, I would’ve probably gagged just at the thought.
There are a lot of unique flavours in Japan, most of which I personally had never even heard of (let alone tasted) before I came here. There are also some flavours which I had tasted before and didn’t like back in my home country of New Zealand, but for some reason I love them here in Japan! I may have sworn that anko (red bean paste) should not qualify as a ‘sweet,’ but now it’s one of the first sweets I’m always drawn to. There’s a whole new world of food to enjoy in Japan, and here’s my take on the top 5 unique Japanese flavours you should definitely go out and try!
Kinako is roasted soybean flour. It has a dry powdery texture, and a somewhat nutty taste. It’s often dusted on Japanese sweets, such as dango, where the mochimochi (chewy) texture of the sweet stops the kinako from drying out your mouth.
Try this: Sprinkle kinako over vanilla ice cream and then drizzle some kuromitsu (black sugar honey) on top. One of my absolute favourite desserts in Japan! My brother thought the taste resembled a snickers.
Of course sakura (cherry blossom) flowers blooming in spring are one of the most beautiful symbols of Japan, but did you know sakura is also a delicious seasonal flavour? Most sakura trees do not actually produce fruit, so the flavour isn’t a cherry flavour at all. It’s actually the flavour of the flowers and leaves themselves.
They have been used in traditional Japanese sweets, such as sakuramochi, for hundreds of years. These days the flavour is incorporated into all kinds of sweets such as cakes, macarons, and even Kit Kats and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. The flowers/leaves are often pickled when used in traditional sweets, giving them a very strong, salty flavour. For more modern food, they usually give off a lightly sweet, floral flavour.
Try this: Starbucks in Japan releases a seasonal range of drinks based on sakura flavour every year. Stock often runs out fast, so be in quick to try them! Last year’s sakura frappacino was my favourite limited flavour of the entire year.
How could I call myself a Tochigi-an without promoting the pride of our prefecture, tochiotome? Tochigi is Japan’s #1 producer of strawberries (producing 16% of the country’s supply) so you’d better believe these guys know what they’re doing. Farmers in Tochigi breed a superior-tasting strawberry called tochiotome. To me, the taste is stronger than regular strawberries. It’s slightly sour, but mainly sweet. It also has a very strong scent – I can always smell them in the supermarket when they’re in season!
Try this: Nothing beats fresh strawberries, so why not have a fun day strawberry-picking with friends? If you’re in Japan, there are a number of farms (or parks such as Romantic Mura) which allow you to pay to pick and eat as many strawberries as you like. They’ll teach you the best way to pick them, and then you can go crazy!
It’s time for a break from the sweet flavours. Matcha is powdered green tea which is used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Like sakura, matcha is a traditional foodstuff which is now popularly used as a flavour in many modern and western products. The taste is usually a little bitter, which is why matcha tea is usually served with a traditional sweet during a tea ceremony. Higher-quality matcha can be slightly sweet.
Try this: Matcha flavoured Kit Kats have to be one of the best novelty treats to share with friends from other countries. There’s nothing like seeing a bright green kit kat! The taste hasn’t been popular with most of my friends, but it’s fun to try.
Imagine a cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit, and you’ve got (only slightly arguably) the best Japanese fruit ever – yuzu. It’s got some kick to it for sure, but it’s well worth trying on its own, as a flavour in other foods, or as a bath accessory. Yeah, you read that right. A yuzu bath is possible whenever yuzu are in season, but traditionally on the winter solstice (December 21/22), Japanese people will float whole yuzu in their hot bath as they relax. It gives off a wonderful aroma, is said to ward off colds, be good for the skin, and…let’s face it, it makes a unique bath toy. As a flavour, yuzu is especially common in drinks (both alcoholic and as a tea), and dressings/seasonings.
Try this: Personally, if I see yuzu-flavoured anything at a bar, it’ll be my first choice, and should be yours, too! But if you’re not in Japan and would like to get an idea of yuzu, I have another fun recommendation. Elizabeth Arden released a new fragrance, Green Tea Yuzu, about one year ago. It’s a lovely refreshing citrus perfume, perfect if you want something light and unique.
Have you ever tried any of these flavours? Any more to add? Let us know some of your favourite foreign flavours or foods in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or submit an article to us yourself.
A version of this post originally appeared on Origami Kiwi.