The Japanese sweets scene is heating up and getting salty to boot.
Check out a unique chocolate cake offered since April by Organic Cyber Store, an online food store run by Demain Co., which markets Forbidden Sweets Lucky Bags.
The cake is covered by dark chocolate containing cocoa powder.
It looks like a regular chocolate cake, maybe a bit darker. But there is a red pepper on top, and what’s more the cake contains habanero powder.
Spokeswoman Atsuko Mugikura said Demain came up with a devil theme and made a habanero chocolate cake for a collection different from its Forbidden Sweets series.
The company also wanted to create something that had never been tried before.
“When we sampled the cake, we tried both, one with habanero and one without,” Mugikura said.
“Some liked the plain one, and some the habanero. But we all seemed to agree we had never tasted anything like the habanero one before.
“That was the kind of thing we wanted,” she said.
The chocolate cake with habanero tastes sweet like chocolate at first. But the hot chili soon kicks in, and then the sweet and spicy tastes form a unique mix.
The cake is not too hot, and people who usually avoid such spicy fare can eat it, Mugikura said, adding however that it may not be suitable for children.
The buzz is not just about hot sweets. So-called salt sweets have also become popular.
Salty sweet does not mean a strong salt taste. Just a bit is added to sweets to accentuate the sweetness of the chocolate, ice cream, candy, cake or other treats available at many confectioners and convenience stores.
Another type of sweet with saltiness is a fusion with a traditional all-time favorite Japanese ingredient — soy sauce.
Confectioner Waraku Beniya has been selling soy sauce Swiss rolls since October 2005.
Soy sauce is mixed into the sponge cake and its custard.
The soy sauce used for this roll is made in the city of Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, the home of renowned pastry chef Hironobu Tsujiguchi, who runs H-Tsujiguchi Co., which manages various sweets shops, including Waraku Beniya.
According to the company’s public relations, Tsujiguchi, who specializes in French pastry and hails from a family of confectioners, thought a traditional Japanese salty ingredient like soy sauce ought to match sweets, just as French cuisine has caramel sale, a mixture of caramel and salt.
Yamato Soy Sauce and Miso Co., established in 1911 and located in the Onomachi district of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, a district famous for producing soy sauce, has also been making soy sauce sweets.
President Seiich Yamamoto said the company created soy sauce-flavored soft ice cream in 1995 to energize the district with a locally made product. Three years later, it made soy sauce flavored hard ice cream to take home.
“We thought we should create soy sauce specially made for ice cream topping,” said Yamamoto, who came up with the idea when he saw people eating tofu ice cream with soy sauce and green onion in Nagoya.
Yamamoto said it was hard to find the right balance of saltiness.
“If it was too salty, it would not match with the ice cream. (But) if it was too sweet, it wouldn’t really be soy sauce,” he said.
The company’s Web site explains that the product has much less saltiness and is rather sweet for soy sauce. It goes well not only with ice cream but with “mochi” (rice cake), cream puffs and crepes as well.
The soy sauce ice cream topping debuted locally at an event at the end of April, and 200 bottles were sold over two days, Yamamoto said.
He underscored the importance of using naturally brewed high-quality soy sauce for these products.
The company’s Web site says this kind of soy sauce has many different rich aromas that can enhance the smell of soy sauce-flavored ice cream.
However, he said he thinks the soy sauce’s quality should be gauged via a regular meal, not from sweets.
“In a way, it’s a little sad if quality soy sauce is only experienced in ice cream,” said Yamamoto, whose company maintains a traditional production method.
Yet Yamamoto said part of the reason the company makes somewhat unconventional soy sauce products is to get more people interested in the taste of traditional soy sauce.
“It would be good if people began to use more soy sauce in their daily lives (by trying the company’s products).”