Have you ever tried a doughy wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet) covered in an addictive brown sugar coating, aka Karinto? If not, you may wonder, "What is karinto?" and "Where can I find it?". This delightful treat is hundreds, if not thousands, of years old and one of the most underrated Japanese snack foods around.
Let's explore everything related to this tasty snack, including where it came from, what it tastes like, and where you can purchase it.
So, What is Karinto?
This treat has a distinct burnt appearance and crunchy texture, making it addictive. It's only requires a few simple ingredients, yeast, flour, and sugar, which form a yeast dough. This dough is cut into sticks and then deep-fried to create its crispy texture. Afterward, it's covered in brown sugar, which adds to the crunchiness of the snack. It's finished by allowing the sticks to cool.
Karinto is part snack, part candy. In Japan, you'll see this treat at candy shops specializing in nostalgic goodies and bowls at bars, inns, and other similar locations.
Origin of Karinto: Where Did These Japanese Traditional Snacks Come From?
Like many traditional Japanese snacks, the origin of karinto is a bit mysterious. Some claim this snack appeared in the Edo era (1603 - 1867). While others believe karinto has a longer history that dates back a few thousand years to the Nara era (710-794 AD). Those who believe this snack is two thousand years old think this snack was initially served to the nobles and elite people in Japan. Eventually, it transitioned through the years to a common treat enjoyed by anyone and everyone, especially as it is quite an affordable snack choice.
Others who believe it was created in the Edo era think it started as a street food. Either way, these brown sugar sticks have been in Japan's food scene for many years.
What Does Karinto Taste Like?
The tasty brown sugar coating balances out the flavor of the yeast dough sticks. Each bite offers a slightly sweet yet savory taste. It's crunchy and offers a rich sweetness from the sugar. You'll also notice a bit of a deep-fried taste like other fried chips.
Karinto has different flavors and toppings, like black sesame seeds or white sugar instead of brown. Some flavor options, like sweet potato or burdock, have a more subtle taste. However, you'll also find bold options, like wasabi.
What Are Some Popular Flavors?
As mentioned, there are savory and sweet options available for karinto snacks. Let's dive into some of the options you might see in Japan.
Chopped Burdock Root
Also known as kinpira-gobo, this version includes thinly sliced burdock root fried with oil to create a savory, delicious karinto. It's typically slightly spicy and is seasoned with soy sauce for an umami flavor. This is one of the most popular flavors in Japan.
Yasai, aka vegetable karinto, are another option for those who prefer savory to sweet. It's made with a mixture of dried veggies added into the dough before it is deep-fried. This tasty version is usually multi-colored (due to the vegetables) and is considered a healthy treat.
White honey is a great option for those who want a more decadent version of this snack. You can expect a richer, creamier flavor depending on your chosen brand. Even though it's made with a white honey taste, it's never a snack that's too sweet.
Both regular and purple sweet potatoes have been known to make an appearance in karinto. Since these root veggies are naturally sweet, this flavor is considered one of the sweeter options available. This is a great option if you prefer snacks that are more sweet than savory.
Additional flavors include yuzu (known for its sour taste), ginger, sesame, and sakura (during cherry blossom season).
How to Make Karinto at Home
While karinto is traditionally made from yeast dough, you can easily recreate these snacks at home with easy-to-find ingredients. To create karinto, you'll need flour, baking powder, brown sugar, vegetable oil, and salt.
- Mix the flour and baking powder first, then sift it.
- Stir a portion of the brown sugar into hot water until it dissolves.
- Add a small amount of vegetable oil to the water mixture.
- Once combined, stir in the dry mixture.
- Knead the dough and let it rest for a few minutes.
- Roll the dough out and cut it into even sticks.
- Deep fry in vegetable oil for about four minutes and remove once done.
- Add brown sugar (or white sugar) to a pan with water and simmer until it turns into syrup.
- Add the dough sticks to the brown sugar syrup and continue cooking until there is no liquid in the pan.
- Separate the sticks on a greased pan and allow them to cool completely.
- Don't forget to add your favorite toppings, like toasted black sesame seeds.
How to Eat Karinto
Japanese people enjoy karinto for all occasions, from more relaxed gatherings to vacations and even tea ceremonies. So, it's not a faux pas to eat it whenever a craving hits. It's a great snack as-is due to its complex flavor. However, this treat also pairs well with tea. It's also great alongside a latte. You could even get creative and turn it into a trail mix by adding nuts, chocolate bits, and dried fruit.
Where Can I find this Fried Dough and Brown Sugar Snack?
If you live in Japan, you're in luck. This tasty snack is found in various locations, including shops and stores. There are even shops dedicated to only producing different karinto varieties.
While you likely won't find this same availability in other countries (like America), you can still get your hands on karinto! Multiple online retailers offer karinto snack options, like Bokksu. You can also try new, exciting snacks monthly by subscribing to a Japanese snack box. With each delivery, you'll receive 20+ sweet and savory items. Learn more about Japanese food and culture through a Bokksu subscription!