Monday, 8 August 2011

Koume and Friends: Japanese Seasonal Sweets

Koume plum-flavoured sweets are one of my favourite Japanese treats. The little round boiled sweets with a gooey sour ume centre have an unusual flavour compered to the confectionary flavours that we are used to here in the west but I think they are delicious. Maybe you've tried them. But did you also know that Koume-chan, the sweets' mascot, has four friends each with their own seasonal flavour?

Image: Lotte
Koume, written with these kanji 小梅, means 'little plum' and is not only the name of the small, round sweets but also the character created as a mascot for the brand. Little facts and stories about Koume-chan, who first appeared on the packaging in 1982, are printed on the sweet's wrappers including her age, blood type and hobbies. Lotte, the company that makes the sweets, even created a handsome boyfriend for her. She is a traditional girl at heart, always seen in kimono with an ume-blossom in her hair.

Though original plum-favoured Koume are available all year round Lotte also created limited-release, seasonal variations of the sweets each with their own mascot character:
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小春 Koharu or 'little spring' have been released in apricot and almond and peach flavours in the past and feature Koharu-chan on the wrapper who wears a pretty dress with a large fluttering bow and sometimes a wide-brimmed hat.

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小夏 Konatsu or 'little summer' are usually released as lemon or Sicilian lemon flavour and have Koatsu-chan as their tomboy mascot who wears her hair in pigtails, has tanned skin and lives by the sea.

小彩 Koaya sweets are released in the autumn and are usually pear-flavoured. The kanji 彩 'aya' means 'colour' or 'colouring' and refers to the celebrated colours of the changing trees in Japan in the autumn. Koaya-chan stands amidst falling pear blossoms and wears traditional kimono and hakama.

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小雪 Koyuki or 'little snow' are, of course, released in winter and have had yuzu, mandarin and strawberry flavours. Their mascot, Koyuki-chan, wears a shawl over her kimono and lives in the north of Japan though she dreams of Tokyo.

The celebration of the changing seasons through food is a popular practice in Japan. Traditionally it would entail eating and cooking with seasonal ingredients to show a sophisticated knowledge and appreciation of nature. Today the practice continues through the limited release of special seasonal flavour varieties of popular sweets and other foods such as Koume, Kit Kat and Haagen Dazs ice creams.

This post has been submitted to J-Festa August 2011 for the theme 'Food in Japan'.


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