Growing up, we probably all remember being told not to play with our food. However, did you know that in Japan, there’s a popular kind of candy that’s not only great for playing with—but actively encourages it?!
Japanese DIY candy kits are specially designed products that give customers the tools and instructions to make their candy themselves. Known in Japan as chiiku-gashi (literally “intellectual training candy”), these DIY candy kits provide everything necessary to easily make a wide range of different candies entirely from scratch, usually through the simple combination of flavored powder and water. As the name implies, these kits were originally aimed at children and marketed as educational, helping to teach kids the skills and virtues of coordination, patience, and following instructions. More recently, Japanese DIY candy kits have attracted a new following amongst sweet-toothed adults, who delight in showing off their confectionery creations via YouTube and TikTok how-to videos.
The Origins of Japanese Candy Kits
The first DIY candy kit to hit the Japanese market was called “Neru Neru Neru Ne,” developed in 1986 by Kracie, a Japanese company specialising in the unusual trifecta of toiletries, pharmaceuticals, and confectionery. The word neru means “to mix” or thicken by stirring, and this candy accordingly requires various packets of powder to be mixed together with water to form a smooth, sticky sugar paste. The paste changes color as well as consistency as it’s stirred, going from a vibrant blue to a light pink—providing consumers with the visual feedback that it’s ready to eat! Once the color has changed, all that remains is to spoon up a portion of the frothy paste with the provided plastic spoon, dip it into the candy toppings, and enjoy!
Apparently, the original idea for Neru Neru Neru Ne was inspired by seeing a group of children playing in a park. Left to their own devices, the children were mixing earth and water together to make compact shapes out of mud. Neru Neru Neru Ne attempts to replicate this simple, tactile form of play while also reproducing the feeling of satisfaction that comes with creating something from scratch. Since then, Kracie has built on this winning combination with an expanded range of Neru Neru Neru Ne products and their extensive Popin’ Cookin’ series, particularly popular on YouTube. Best of all, because these candy kits were crafted with an educational intent, they’re completely preservative-free, and use only natural colorings.
DIY Candy Kits Today
Like so much classic Japanese candy, DIY candy kits today are steeped in nostalgia. As such, they’ve recently been gaining popularity with an older demographic, adults keen to revisit the pleasures of their childhood as well as social media influencers who’ve made an art out of following package instructions! That said, these candy kits are still predominantly aimed at children and families, and they can be commonly found at theme parks and events, where helpful attendants are often stationed to assist kids with the creation process.
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The theme of Japanese candy kits, as well as their audience, has also expanded considerably since their invention. Once limited to replica food and carefully molded gumdrops, you can now find candy kits for creating edible versions of such diverse objects as Bonsai trees, sand castles, and of course, a miniature, foaming candy toilet. Despite this diverse range, however, do-it-yourself candy kits can be separated into a few broad categories.
Many DIY candy kits take the form of a color-by-numbers style kit. These products typically come with a plastic tray embossed with various cute shapes and character silhouettes. With these kits, making the candy involves spreading powder from a provided sachet evenly within the plastic molds and topping them off with colored liquids using a provided pipette. The combination of powder and liquid then hardens into a chewy gummy that can be popped out of the mold and eaten.
In some ways, this type of kit is one of the most straightforward ones available, but don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity! Making beautiful gummies is sure to require a steady hand, a good eye for color, and a lot of creativity.
Some DIY kits require the use of a microwave in order to teach kids the fundamentals of baking! One such kit is the Popin’ Cookin’ Kuru Kuru Takoyaki kit, a DIY candy kit that lets you create small, soft candy balls in the shape of Japanese takoyaki. To pull off this incredible feat, you’ll need to start by making the octopus pieces. First mix the water and powder into a pink paste, press it into the provided mold to shape it, and then separate it into bite-sized pieces. Then mix together the candy takoyaki dough and divide it into the provided takoyaki molds and top with a piece of octopus. Finally, microwave the lot for 40 seconds and you’ll see the takoyaki balls rise into a soft, springy pancake shape. As a finishing touch, arrange the takoyaki balls on the provided tray, top with pre-mixed sauce and mayonnaise, and sprinkle with seaweed powder for a perfect candy reproduction of Osaka’s regional specialty!
Of course, there’re plenty of drinks that are DIY, too! Usually, these drink candy kits are designed to produce milkshakes or jelly, but one of the most famous varieties, called Namaiki, makes a frothy, golden soft drink with an uncanny resemblance to draft beer. This similarity is deliberate: Namaiki is a pun on nama, the word meaning draft, while namaiki as a whole means cheeky or impudent. In other words, this is a beer designed for cheeky kids!
While drink kits tend to be a little more simplistic than other candy kits, they don’t skimp on the attention to detail. To begin with, DIY candy drink products usually come with a plastic drinking vessel suitable to their theme: such as a collectable beer stein in the case of Namaiki, or a laboratory flask for the science-themed Shinchan Jikken (“experiment”) drink. Most importantly of all, just like other candy kits, these drinks are designed to be fun to make. Whether it’s mixing in various powders to watch the color change, or pouring water over tablets to make them froth up into a head of beer, DIY candy drink kits strike the perfect balance between process and play.
Finally, some DIY candy kits open up the floodgates of creativity by simply providing tools, ideas, and basic instructions before letting you get on with the act of creation! Rather than provide extensive user-guides, shaping molds, and myriad powder sachets, these kits instead provide several differently colored candy blocks you can use to make anything you like. In this way, these candy kits are a lot like Play-Doh and modeling putty: you’ll find yourself rolling, shaping, combining, and layering candy blocks to make the different shapes and colors you need. Best of all, unlike Play-Doh, your final masterpiece is 100% edible!
Japan has no shortage of colorful, delicious, and surprising candy products. Japanese DIY candy kits take this one step further, providing a unique candy experience where your imagination is the only real limit! These cheap, fun candy kits combine basic chemistry, arts and crafts, and just a little bit of cookery for a one-of-a-kind snack guaranteed to be different every time you try it.