Karintou aka Japanese brown sugar crunchy treats

“Care for some poopy senbei?”

Japanese sugar snack

Would you give these a try?

Having only met the guy offering me something questionable a few hours before, stalling for a response was automatic.

He pointed to a small pile of rounded, semi-thick, stick-like objects sitting on a tissue that looked like, well, poop!

Were they edible? Was this a trick? Had I been plopped into a new universe by mistake? This last theory wasn’t far off having arrived in Japan less than 24 hours before and now getting oriented at my new workplace.

My fresh coworker piped up in his unmistakable Kiwi tone, “Help yourself! Don’t be shy, mate.”

Japanese burnt sugar snack

What are these?!

Showing up in Japan with zero knowledge of Japanese was perhaps unwise. “Poopy” was well known but “senbei” was a mystery. Unsure of what I might be sticking in my mouth, since that seemed what I was supposed to do, I hesitated again.

But then my adventurous side took over. Eating jellied pigs blood, intestine, and jellyfish in Thailand before coming to Japan were memorable. Drinking collected rain water from massive jugs along with the resident floaty green and pink bits for three months hadn’t knocked me sideways, yet. A bite of an odd blob or two of whatever was lying on the table would be a-okay.

Gingerly grasping a piece of “poop”, it felt hard, knobbly and light! Lifting the stalk towards my teeth, I slowly bit down and…

Wow! The little stick exploded with a crack and filled my mouth with deep sugary delight. Having a sweet tooth for life, this Japanese snack would become one of my favorites.

What exactly did you eat?

The real name for my co-worker’s “poopy senbei” is karintou. Size, texture and taste vary with brands but dark brown, high crunch, sweet pleasure are ever-present.

Ingredients on a recently consumed package (see the Aeon brand below) include flour, brown sugar, white sugar, rice oil, Japanese syrup, sesame, shortening, yeast, salt and malt. Yuuuu-my!

Japanese snack

look at those little malt bits!

An informal review

During our last trip to Japan in early 2014, I brought back some poopy senbei to write about. It wasn’t until after inhaling the package that I discovered the photographic evidence was terribly unappetizing.

My Japanese relatives then mailed me three brands for my research. A food photography blog helped get treats from the first bag looking edible. And then the remaining bags were rapidly ingested during sleep-deprived periods where I was as zany as a caged bat. This left me with only photo ops of the empty bags.

  • Bag 1 – Brand: Aeon, TopValu; special feature: fried in rice oil

The first taste of my favorite Japanese snack after far too long had to be crunched and munched quickly. If I could choose only one word to describe the experience, it would be “sweet”. Straight up, in your face, slightly cheap, sweet.

This is by no means a negative review. Aeon’s TopValu brand ranges from organic food to beer to Glamatical. It’s often a less expensive option compared to name brands and this brown sugar treat is no exception.

Aeon TopValu burnt sugar senbei

Basic and it does the trick.

  • Bag 2 – Brand: Tokyo Karintou; special feature: honey flavor

Hmmm… this tastes like honey… mmm…. it’s good…. mmm… I like it.

In my haste to gobble up this bag of snackies, I missed the little honey bee and the large, golden swirls in the background. When the honey flavour persisted, I took a closer look at the packaging.

This brand was lighter in texture and crunch than bag 1. The honey flavour was just enough to say, “Hi!” but not overpower the introduction. Well done!

Japanese burnt sugar snack

Bzzzzzzz! Honey delish!

  • Bag 3 – Brand: Tokyo Karintou; special feature: double coated

Knowing that this would be the last bag of karintou for an unknown period didn’t stop me from diving in and making no attempt to savour the experience. Exhausted, hungry and frayed at both ends, this treat was going to be utilitarian.

Eating bags of karintou back to back made for an unintentional taste test and this last bag flew high about the others. The sweetness was perfectly balanced. Bitter notes firmly backed up the sweet to create a fully developed flavour. The crunch was the same – neither too strong nor too crumbly. There was no powdery, gluey aftertaste. The obvious differences compared to the previous bags made me pay attention, slow down and really enjoy what was left.

Japanese snack

The grand winner of the unofficial showdown of sugary snacks.

And the winner is….

My glowing review of bag 3 doesn’t mean you have to hunt it down. I recommend eating any and every brand you can get your paws on. Differences were not discernible until eating three bags side by side. Before that, they were enjoyed for what they were.

By the way, if you are health conscious/squeamish, stay away from the nutritional information. You have been warned.

Have you tried a snack in a new land that turned out to be something you never expected? Have you tried poopy senbei and love, love, love it?

42 thoughts on “Karintou aka Japanese brown sugar crunchy treats

    • Oh NO! Ha ha ha ha! I’m sorry to have corrupted you. And as for calling it a “dark sugary doughnut”, that’s a stretch if I’ve ever heard one! 😀

      Those black sugar poopy snacks look amazing! I wonder if my inlaws can order a case or two for me. He he he!

    • That’s a great question! I’m not sure. You’re in Finland, right? I haven’t seen it here, but I also haven’t really looked. I’m heading to a Korean store tomorrow that sells some Japanese treats. I’ll see if I can find any!

      • Oh I ont live in Finland anymore, now it is germany ( need to update some certain information …). I know that we have tons of Asia stores just 60km in the next big city so I bet I could find something there however we have so seldomly time to go to that city that we are stucked here in my little town without any real asia store…

        • Ha ha! Yes, they are pretty sweet. I have had some that are closer to a savory senbei but for the most part, it’s all sugar, sugar, delicious, sweet sugar. 😀 Do you like Japanese cakes and sweets? I found the idea of sweetness was different than I grew up with. Unless it’s to pair with matcha, and then it’s that over-the-top, intense, dense, sweet, most of the sweet was a more rounded flavor that wasn’t overpowering. I found this especially with chocolate covered ice cream!

          • I do like Japanese cakes and sweets in general. I can handle Japanese sweetness, it’s a nice amount. I can’t handle North-American sweetness it was way too much for me. Regular chocolate, chocolate cake, birthday cake, candy all these things I hated when I lived in the States. Too overpowering and just too much sugar. But I remember I wasn’t a big fan of Japanese chocolate either, too similar to American and Belgian chocolate to me. I prefer the Dutch/German kind of chocolate. I do love Japanese ice cream and cakes! Hmm, now I’m hungry.

            • I know what you mean about NA and sugary things! I have a super sweet tooth and so I don’t mind it but I’ve found, as the years have gone by, that I prefer something that has more depth to it. Cheap chocolate is not on my list anymore. I went to Germany in my teens and fell in love with a specific chocolate bar that had me buzzing far into the night. (My host family left one on my pillow in my room for my arrival.) I could have eaten that kind of chocolate nonstop. I had never tasted anything like it. And yes! Japanese ice cream is really outstanding. Rich, creamy and again, not too sweet. And the cakes… swoon! Aren’t they incredible?? My favorite hangout is the dessert section in Seibu in Ikebukuro station in Tokyo. Do you have any Asian bakeries around where you live? I was surprised to find a few in Canada! While the quality hasn’t always been high, the presentation has been lovely.

              • We had an entire Japantown when we lived in San Francisco, which was amazing. But here in England we have nothing, not even a good Asian supermarket. It’s sad. We should really move back to Japan, just for the ice cream and cakes ;).

                • Oh no! It must be hard. I heard about this shop in the UK called Japan something or other. Hmmm… ha ha! Suppose I should not be writing this when I’m sleepy but… Dosirakbento has mentioned them a few times (I think I saw you comment on one of her posts before?? Or maybe I’m making that up)… and I think they sell food. http://www.japancentre.com/ and http://www.thejapaneseshop.co.uk/ Are these two any good? Yes! Ice cream and cakes really are the best reasons to move back to Japan. Hmmm… potential blog post brewing in response to https://japancanmix.com/2014/10/29/top-four-real-reasons-to-move-to-japan/ 😀

                  • Yes, we have been to the Japan Centre website a bunch of times, intending to buy something, but it is just so pricey (especially including shipping) that we keep procrastinating… Didn’t know about the other one though, I will check it out, thanks! Your top 4 real reasons made me giggle, but yeah cakes and ice cream need to be on that list as well!

                    • So true about those cakes and ice cream! Did you fall dreamily and intoxicatingly in love with Parm? Oh how I wish that could be exported. And Brier’s (?) ice cream cakes. They were discontined in Canada and the US a while back. I think they are still in Europe though??

                    • I had no idea what you were talking about. Google to the rescue. Now I remember having seen Parm ice cream in Japan and Breyer’s ice cream in the States but neither ever in Europe. I don’t I have ever eaten ice cream cake actually… I have seen them when I lived in the States, never tried it. Shame on me.

                    • Ha ha! Yes, for shame! ;D Dairy Queen has decent ice cream cake as well as Baskin Robbins aka 31. Hold on… I don’t even know if Baskin Robbins exists anymore in Canada. Anyway, the ice cream cake I’m talking about is Viennetta… oops! No Breyers there. I had it for the first time in Finland way back in the 90s. It’s no longer sold in Canada and maybe not the US either?? We did see it in Japan the last time and shame on us for not buying it! By the way, you can make an ice cream cake at home!

                    • Ooooh Viennetta! Yes I do know that! And yes, I have had that. We often had that at Christmas time. But it was slightly ‘boring’ just vanilla taste with some chocolate decorations. Those American cakes I never tried looked more interesting. And yeah I have seen them at Baskin and Robbins in Japan as well. I love Baskin and Robbins! I want to eat their icecream cake!

                    • Ha ha! Yes, those Viennetta are so novel and desirable and probably moreso since I can’t get them here. The American cakes are, of course, far sweeter and slathered in icing. The ice cream on the inside can be any flavour you want so I suppose with all that, it does sound more interesting! 😀

    • Oh, Annette! I’m so thrilled to hear you are going to Japan. When? Karintou is easy to find and as you know, packaging in Japan tells all about the innards so you will be able to find it easily. Another kind I like is a puffed rice style. They look like large chunks of brown styrofoam. Yes! How lovely, eh? But they are a nice snack. It’s called fu-gashi.

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