You really have to hand it to the little convenience store downstairs from my office–Bashir brings in some really varied treats. Plus, he keeps me in functioning headphones–without which I would probably snap and end up on the news.
Recently, he started carrying a whole bunch of Hi-Chew flavors. I’ll admit, I didn’t know what the hell they were. At a glance, I thought it was gum, and regular readers know how I feel about gum. But they had a banana flavor, so after a few trips, I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, once I looked closer, I couldn’t see anything telling me that it actually WAS gum. So, chewy, banana flavor…maybe something like Laffy Taffy, one of my favorite childhood candies? I figured I’d give it a go, and pick up some tropical Now & Later to round out the experience.
Thus steeled for the experience, I went back to my desk and began the taste test. The Hi-Chew were in a damn durable foil pack, so it’s a good thing they had one of those “pull to open” string things, otherwise this would have been a short post. I don’t have a knife at my desk to open them otherwise (see previous comment about headphones).
Once I finally worked my way down to the candy, I was unimpressed with the visual presentation. It looked a bit like a small, rectangular rubber eraser.
Then I put it in my mouth.
This did not help the rubber eraser impression.
I won’t lie to you gentle readers–my first thought was, “Huh. People eat these? On purpose?”
It was enough of a WTF for my tongue that I immediately looked Hi-Chew up online to get a bit of context. Then it all started to make sense. Hi-Chew is a Japanese candy.
Don’t get me wrong. It didn’t make sense in a, “Those people are seriously deranged. No wonder they like this!” It made sense in a, “Oh! It’s like Botan Rice Candy in texture! And it’s not super-sweet like an American candy would be.” So put down the pitchforks and let’s ride this through to the end like adults.
See, in Japanese culture, they don’t take food out of their mouth after it’s gone in. This makes gum sort of a non-starter over there. To remedy that, a candy was created that had a lot of the chewiness of gum, but you could swallow it. The candy, invented by Taichiro Morinaga, was called Chewlets when it debuted in 1931, and was renamed Hi-Chew after the factory was rebuilt following the end of WWII. Yeah. We bombed a candy factory. What kind of dicks bomb a candy factory, unless it’s staffed by Ooompa-Loompas?
There are seven flavors of Hi-Chew available in the states (where you can find it at all): Strawberry, Green Apple, Mango, Melon, Grape, Peach, and Banana. While the Banana didn’t have the same strong artificial sweetness of Laffy Taffy (which I love), it still tastes pretty good. The texture, while a surprise, was the biggest shocker. American candy just doesn’t have anything that quite matches that mouth-feel. But if you’ve had rice candy, you’ve had something close. It’s not quite gum, and not quite taffy. It’s just what it is. And knowing that, I’m looking forward to trying some of the other flavors–Melon in particular.
In its home country, they have more flavors than I could reliably list. It’s like the Kit-Kat. Japan gets all the cool flavors; we get Pralines & Dick. Really. Check the sidebar on the link and try not to feel a bit cheated. Even if I wouldn’t care about half those flavors, just knowing of the choices I’m denied is crap.
Would I suggest Hi-Chew to a casual candy consumer? You know, it doesn’t cost anything more than a regular and boring candy bar, or a pack of Mamba or Now & Later. And you might like the subtleties of flavor, and the lighter mouth-feel.
Really, after a few of the Banana Hi-Chew, the tropical Now & Later were way too aggressive. Like a creepy dude at a bar who keeps insisting he buy you a drink even though you’re there with your friends, don’t want his number, and have to go to work in the morning. I just wanted the flavor of the Now & Later to back off, play it light and casual.
It’s not gum. Not quite taffy. It’s kind of a mutant. But it’s a mutant which rewards the adventurous tastes.