First, I’m very jealous of you all in Japan enjoying or about to enjoy the sakura food! I like to follow food trends, so, for posterity, here are some foods from cherry-blossom season 2014. Most of these are from international brands and chains that localize their products for Japan.
Just a heads up: I’m not sponsored or compensated by any of these brands (or any brands at all), so if you’re reading my review of a product, it’s either my opinion or FOR SCIENCE.
Starbucks Japan Sakura Chocolate Latte
The sakura “latte” is the Japanese equivalent of the cultural force that is the pumpkin-spice latte in the US: a seasonal drink with high demand that celebrates a national culinary and visual icon. The main difference, I would say, is that in the US, there is little change in the Starbucks offerings year to year: the “PSL” is a coffee latte with pumpkin-spice syrup. In Japan, however, the sakura drink changes yearly. This year, the chain offers two new drinks: Sakura Chocolate Latte with Strawberry-Flavored Topping [whipped cream with strawberry crunch] (さくら チョコレート ラテ with ストロベリー フレーバー トッピング) and Sakura Chocolate Frappuccino with Strawberry-Flavored Topping (さくら チョコレート フラペチーノ® with ストロベリー フレーバー トッピング).
According to the press release, the sakura series was developed as part of Starbucks’ world-wide effort to localize their products, and, as it comes before most of the country’s sakura have bloomed (Kanazawa’s is usually mid-April), it’s designed to get people excited for the return of spring. The drink is similar to last year’s Sakura White Hot Chocolate in that it is a white chocolate “latte” with no coffee; what’s new is that the drink is topped with “pale pink” strawberry whipped cream, which is decorated with strawberry-and-sakura candy crunch made from real sakura petals and leaves. The Frappuccino–a “dessert drink”– has the same strawberry-sakura candy.
The sakura drinks come out every Feb. 15 and are usually available until mid-March, depending on the supply. The 2013 drink was the Sakura White Chocolate, basically the same thing without strawberry; in 2010, it was the Sakura Steamer. Readers in Japan, please let me know what you think of the new drink!
One thing I’ve noticed recently is the pairing of strawberry with sakura, something Mister Donuts did in 2013, and it seems to be catching on. However, strawberry-harvesting season in Japan is in June; there is also the out-of-season strawberry-flavor boom every December, possibly because strawberries tend to be used for Christmas cake decorations. My guess is that the strawberry supply is less limited than the sakura supply since, out of all the types of sakura, only the Yae-zakura are used for eating, and since both of foods are pink, it’s a way to keep costs down and supplies up as well as a way to change things up year to year.
Not interested in white hot chocolate? Starbucks Japan also has a recipe for a Sakura Macchiato. It’s a promotion for their Via instant coffee and you’ll need sakura syrup (I can guess at how to make it but does Starbucks Japan actually sell it?). Or you can make my Sakura Steamer with dried sakura!
Edit: Vyxle blogged about the Frappuccino here.
Häagen-Dazs Sakura and Rose Ice Creams
Some of you may have seen this hilarious post over on the English version of RocketNews24 about the new sakura and rose ice creams by Häagen-Dazs. The two types of ice cream are both topped with a sort of flavor gel. As the author writes,
Checking the listed ingredients afterwards, it turned out that the top layer of sauce [in the sakura flavor] was a cherry and lemon purée blend. Raspberry sauce was marbled into the ice cream. The ingredients did list sakura powder, but having eaten the entire cup I still couldn’t tell you what sakura tasted like being buried under the fruit flavors.
If it’s not really sakura, why bother, HD? The official website confirms the ingredients and lists the ice cream as being topped with “sakura sauce” but also having “sour cherry sauce” mixed in as part of its “many types of sakura” flavor. Sakura, sakuranbo (Japanese cherries), and “American cherries” (Bing cherries) don’t taste the same at all, and Bing cherries are much bolder in flavor than the blossoms or sakuranbo. (Also, raspberries and lemon are not actually cherries….)
As for the rose:
It totally tasted like rose. That taste isn’t really unpleasant in and of itself, but I could immediately understand what everyone on Twitter was saying. We so often connect the smell of rose to thing like air fresheners and shampoo that it’s hard to associate it with food after knowing it in those contexts for so long.
My friends in Japan weighed in, too:
“I had it. I really liked it. But I’ve never really enjoyed traditional flavors.”
“I tried it and the flavor is really good, but overall too sweet for me. I wish it didn’t have the goo on top.”
Rose ice cream: “Not bad, once you get past the initial mouthful of feeling like you’re eating pot-pourri. The thin layer of goo at the top is strongly flavored but the ice cream itself if fine, not too overwhelming but still sufficiently Rose-y? Not like, amazing, but def not bad. Interesting.”
If you’re in Ishikawa and don’t like goo, I recommend trying sakura (March-April) or rose (May) ice cream at Malga or sakura soft cream at Kyokusuien (year round). Or try your local gelato/ice cream shop!
Mister Donuts: TBA!
I’ll be covering it because food anthropology. The sakura season there usually starts in March, so it dovetails Starbucks’ nicely.
Bonus Round: Top Pot Doughnuts Cherry Blossom Doughnut
Thanks to Seattle’s own cherry-blossom culture, I’m getting some of the benefits of sakura season here. Top Pot makes a cherry-blossom doughnut which is a plain cake doughnut with a cherry glaze. It’s very good, although it tastes more like cherries than cherry blossoms. (I’ll take what I can get until I can pop over to Uwajimaya.) I’ve been getting mine at the local QFC since it’s the Top Pot doughnut of the month in February. (Texas readers: Dallas is getting a location soon, too.)
Had any cherry-blossom food or drink you’d like to share–recipes, photos, recommendations? Leave a comment or send it to me via your favorite social media (see side bar).