Sunday, August 24, 2008

Twinkies and Krispies

America has an interesting relationship with the Twinkie. It is held up as a nutritional scourge and those who consume it are viewed as polluting their body by ingesting one the deadliest of high fructose corn syrup and sugar delivery methods. All that being said, Twinkies seem to sell pretty well and remain a favored bit of junk food. If their nutritional value had anything to do with sales, they'd be long gone by now.

Personally, I've never been a huge Twinkie fan. When I was a kid, I recall eating them at exceptionally infrequent intervals because Hostess snack foods were far too expensive for my family. In fact, having much of any sort of pre-made snack cake around was rather rare for us because of the cost involved. On most occasions when we did have such types of snack cakes, they were store brands, "Little Debbie" or Hostess knock-offs. The only time we had the real deal was when Hostess goods were purchased from the "day old" bread store where semi-squashed and almost outdated baked goods were sold at bargain basement prices. For me, I can enjoy a Twinkie once in a blue moon, but a box doesn't beckon to me. There isn't enough creamy filling and the cake is a bit sticky and a little greasy for my tastes.

My CH, on the other hand, really likes them. When one of his students said she was going to the U.S., she told him she'd bring him back Twinkies or Reese's Peanut Butter cups. Since we can get Reese's (miniatures only) from the Foreign Buyer's Club, he requested the Twinkies. Getting any sort of Hostess snack in Japan is very difficult or prohibitively expensive so this was a very rare (like, one time in years, literally) chance to enjoy a favorite from his childhood and young adulthood.

There's something very peculiar about seeing American-made goods like this after so many years in Japan. The packaging seems much clearer, bolder, and more eye-catching than Japanese package design. I've been told that one of the reasons for this is that the Japanese designers design with an eye toward getting as much information as possible right in front of the customer without forcing the customer to look around. I noticed a similar difference in packaging with imported U.S. butter which is being sold for an absurd price at a local market. The design of a lot of U.S. packaging is bolder, cleaner, and more vivid than Japanese packaging in many cases.

Apparently, their services are not required in Japan.

The same student also bought my husband the exceptionally plain-looking box of Rice Krispies pictured with the Twinkies. Rice Krispies are not sold in Japanese stores and the student bought this through a special outlet which caters to restaurants or other businesses. I guess that such businesses don't need the added incentive of seeing "Snap, Crackle, and Pop" to encourage them to purchase the cereal.

The fact that Rice Krispies are offered to restaurants or related businesses (bakeries?) is a curious one to me. I don't think I've ever bought anything made with Rice Krispies that originated in Japan. It is a nice type of cereal just for eating plain though. It's not too sweet and has a good texture, so I'm surprised that it isn't more popular as a regular breakfast cereal in Japan.

The student bought them, incidentally, because she had eaten Rice Krispies squares in America. She tried to make her own in Japan, but they didn't turn out as well. I'm guessing that's because she used Japanese marshmallows which are firmer, denser, and less sweet than American ones. You can't get a good melt out of most Japanese marshmallows and they're a bit rubbery when you eat them plain. You can be down on sugar all you want, but the truth is that it plays a critical role in adding to the texture and moisture content of various foods that it is used in (as well as adding to caramelizing, melting and browning).

We'll probably use some of that box of cereal to make Rice Krispies squares and hopefully at such a time that my CH can share them with the student who gave him these gifts. Of course, when and whether they get made depends as much on being able to get some imported marshmallows as anything else.


Emsk said...

We have Rice Krispies here as well and they were a popular staple of my childhood. Nowadays though, we're discouraged from eating these as they have little nutritional value.

I tried a few western imports of edible goods while I was in Japan, such as Cadbury's chocolate. But it always had that travelled taste. The high point was seeing a bottle of curry sauce, complete with a 'V' on the label. This told me it had most likely been bottled in the UK, where the Vegetarian Society were successful in persuading the government to regulate that all food must be labelled if it was suitable for vegetarians. Do you have this in the US as well? I can't remember.

I think we have a great need for a bit of familiarity when we're so far from home. But how weird to se the packaging without the snap, crackle and pop!

1tess said...

I've not tried it, but quite a few people, on a cooking forum that I read, make marshmallows all the time. Their recipes (from Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, etc.) don't look difficult.

On the other hand, I found an old, old un-opened box of Rice Krispies in the odd space behind the roll-out shelf of one of my lower cabinets. I don't use that cabinet much because the door opens so you have to squeeze against the wall to see into it. It has stuff like a tortilla press, spatzen maker, an old pasta machine, raviolli thingy, etc. I must have planned to make the RK squares but never got around to it. No excuse since I didn't have to contemplate making my own marshmallows...