Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Japan Goes Crazy Over Kit Kat

Kit Kat is big in Japan. I would go so far as to say the country goes crazy over the confectionery product from Nestle.

From cheesecake to wasabi to purple sweet potato, the crispy wafer bar is available in hundreds of varieties, according to Yuji Takeuchi, marketing manager for Nestlé Japan. 

And it’s up to Yasumasa Takagi (right) to keep the fresh flavors coming. The classically-trained pastry chef has added over 50 to the Kit Kat canon so far. 

Takagi invites us into his kitchen in Tokyo to see how he creates yummy new flavor profiles for customers who are always hungry for more.


The Kit Kat first came to Japan in 1973, but the first 100 percent, truly on-brand Japanese Kit Kat arrived at the turn of the millennium, when the marketing department of Nestlé Japan, the manufacturer of Kit Kats in the country, decided to experiment with new flavors, sweetness levels and types of packaging in an effort to increase sales. 

Strawberry! A pinkish, fruity Kit Kat would have been a gamble almost anywhere else in the world, but in Japan, strawberry-flavored sweets were established beyond the status of novelties. The strawberry Kit Kat was covered in milk chocolate tinted by the addition of a finely ground powder of dehydrated strawberry juice. It was first introduced in Hokkaido – coincidentally and serendipitously – at the start of strawberry season.


Since then, the company has released almost 400 more flavors, some of them available only in particular regions of the country, which tends to encourage a sense of rareness and collectibility. Bars flavored like Okinawan sweet potatoes, the starchy, deep purple Japanese tubers, are available in Kyushu and Okinawa. The adzuki bean-sandwich bars are associated with the city of Nagoya, where the sweet, toasted snack originated in a tea shop at the turn of the 20th century and slowly made its way to cafe menus in the area. Shizuoka, where gnarly rhizomes with heart-shaped leaves have been cultivated for centuries on the Pacific Ocean, is known for its wasabi-flavored bars. 

The most popular kind of Kit Kat in Japan is the mini – a bite-size package of two ingots – and Nestlé estimates that it sells about four million of these each day. In any given year, there are about 40 flavors available, including the core flavors – plain milk chocolate, strawberry, sake, wasabi, matcha, Tokyo Banana and a dark-chocolate variety called “sweetness for adults” – plus 20 to 30 rotating new ones. 

In case you didn’t know, the Kit Kat – first produced as a crisp, four-finger chocolate wafer bar in the 1930s, in the UK by the chocolate manufacturer Rowntree’s – was self-consciously packaged as a kind of workingman’s chocolate. Meaning, it was supposed to be plain and unpretentious. 

Today, it is so much more than that and to the Japanese, it is more than just an ordinary sweet treat!

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