Japan has a wide range of delicious treats and snacks; salty and hearty, sweet and tasty, soft or chewy, crunchy or jelly-like. There is so much out there to choose from!!
Some treats are lesser know than others and today I want to tell you about a snack, that is one of my favorites, but is unfortunately now so well know and sometimes even snubbed as "old people's snack" (or maybe I just have to face that I'm getting older... *sigh*).
Karinto is a snack that has been around in Japan for quite a long time and is even said to have been sold by merchants as early as 1850.
The basic ingredients are flour, yeast and brown sugar which are then deep fried. Classic karinto has a short cylindrical form, with a deep-brown crust-like surface. They have perfect bite size which is great in summer since they tend to get sticky when the temperatures rise.
When you purchase a bag of these classic style karinto and open it, you'll smell the brown sugar first. It does smell slightly burnt but not unpleasant, more like a very deep caramel. The texture can be compared with a fried corn snack, although I think karinto is a bit on the firmer side. Since it contains quite a bit of sugar, it is a great match for green tea since the tea's slight bitterness balances the karinto's sweet taste out perfectly.
Yes, I admit that the classic karinto might not look too appealing.
But there are other version out there, with my personal favorite being the okara karinto, that don't share the classic karinto's look and are, in my opinion, superior.
Okara karinto are, as the name says, made from okara, soy pulp, a byproduct of soymilk production. They come in various flavors such as my favorites kabocha (pumpkin) and ichigo-tonyu (strawberry-soymilk). Due to the okara, this type of karinto contains a higher amount of protein and is considered healthier than the classic karinto and many other sweets. They also look more appealing as you can see from the picture; they are flatter and longer and don't have that crackly brown sugar crust. Instead they are more cookie-like, but crunchier. These particular karinto are produced by a social welfare company named Harakara. Their goal is it to give their employees a fair payment and a meaningful job within the workforce. Check out their website here (Japanese only) http://www.harakara.jp/
I personally love this type of karinto since it is less sweet and has a nice crunch to it. Paired with a nice hot cup of green tea, this is a great snack for the afternoon! You can find the classic karinto in many supermarkets or shops, whereas the okara karinto seem to be sold at either farmer's markets or even shrines sometimes!
So if you want to try a different type of typical Japanese snack, then try out some cookie karinto with a nice cup of green tea!