Classic Japanese Candy: Sweet Potato Caramel. I have been a fan of bontan ame candy for some time and have written about it twice on KyotoFoodie. The company that makes it also makes another unique soft candy product made with the produce of Kyoto: sweet potato. I knew about this sweet potato caramel but had never been able to find it. I finally found some!
Classic Japanese Candy: Sweet Potato Caramel さつまいもキャラメル
This unique caramel is made by the same Kyushu based company that makes bontan ame, another meibutsu (meisan) product. It indeed has a ‘caramely’ taste but is not as sticky and chewy as Western caramel. It still has a tiny hint of the granular stringiness of sweet potatoes. As bontan ame, it is not that sweet, probably about the right sweetness to satisfy a sweet tooth but not enough to affect the waistline.
This soft candy, like bontan ame is wrapped in the edible cellophane called oblaat that came to Japan with Western medicine at the beginning of the Meiji era. The oblaat immediately melts on contact with the tongue.
The ingredients are; mizuame (lit. ‘water candy’, a traditional sweetener), satsuma imo sweet potato, butter, sugar and condensed milk. Sweet potato makes up about 1/3 of the volume of each soft candy.
This, like bontan ame is very fascinating to me because it is made with Japanese ingredients and to Japanese tastes, but it was very obviously inspired by Western candy. In the Taisho era (1912-1926) Japan was heavily influenced and inspired by the West but was still distinctly Japanese. Much of the art, design, fashion and products of this era are very interesting to Westerners because they are modern, but not quite exotic. There is a connection to us but also there is something unique that we could not have come up with. I think that this era was Japan’s modern ‘Golden Age’.
Nostalgic Package Design
Sweet Potato Caramel with Oblaat Wrapping
Satsuma Imo (Sweet Potato)
Sweet Potatoes in Japanese Culinary Culture
Sweet potatoes are more ubiquitous in Japan than you might imagined. They are used in all sorts of dishes, especially confections. Sweet potatoes came to Japan from South America through Southeast Asia, China and the Ryukyu Kingdom, present-day Okinawa and landed in Kyushu about 300 years ago.
Production of satsuma imo soon flourished on the southern tip of Japan (called Satsuma then) because of the volcanic soil and hot climate. Kyushu’s famed imo-jochu, the shochu distilled alcohol of the region, is made from these same sweet potatoes. Farther north in Japan wheat and rice is used.
Production of sweet potatoes was limited to the Satsuma region for some time until a horrible famine swept Japan. The people in present-day Kagoshima and Nagasaki prefectures fared significantly better than other areas because they had an abundant supply of rich and hardy sweet potatoes. After the famine, satsuma imo production was promoted by the Tokugawa Shogunate in Tokyo and quickly spread throughout the country.
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