Few people ever forget their first time in the sweets section of a Don Kihōte super store in Japan. Imagine literal mountains of snacks pressing in on you as you scan the endless aisles of equally endless varieties of Japanese chocolate and candy. It is not for the faint of heart.
Yet, among the mountains of snacks is a smaller mountain, a bite sized mountain that will fill your taste buds with delight. Kinoko no yama is a tiny Japanese snack made up of a biscuit stem and a milk chocolate mushroom cap, merging the salty flavor of a biscuit with the sweet and bitter notes of chocolate. The name kinoko no yama literally translates to “mushroom mountain,” presumably giving the impression that the 74g box of mushroom shaped biscuits is your own little mushroom grove.
What is Kinoko no Yama?
Kinoko no yama chocolate is simply delicious. The subtle and oxymoronic “soft crunch” of the biscuit backed up with a solid milk chocolate node of a mushroom cap is impossible to stop yourself from eating. Perhaps the most annoying thing about the snack is that by the time you are done with a box, you still can’t shake the urge to throw a few more little mushrooms into your mouth, meaning it is not just cuteness alone that makes these snacks so popular.
Typical of Japanese snacks, kinoko no yama come in a staggering variety of flavors that keep lovers of the treat quite literally mushroom hunting for new and rare offerings. You can find white chocolate, caramel, strawberry, chocolate dipped in strawberry, cookies and cream, matcha, sweet potato, and even “mystery white,” which is a white capped mushroom with an undisclosed flavor of various kinds with the answer to the mystery flavor written on the inside of the box.
Kiniko no Yama appeals to snack lovers of all ages. The size and shape of the snack naturally make a splash with primary school kids, which in turn grants a nostalgic place in the heart of most Japanese adults.
Nostalgia is no stranger to the Meiji Group, Japan’s monolithic and century-old food and healthcare conglomerate. Kinoko no yama joins the famous Meiji snack product ranks of the Meiji Chocolate Bar, Yan Yan, Hello Panda, Choco Baby , Marble , and the Apollo chocolate snacks.
The History Behind Kinoko no Yama
The Meiji Group began its history of pleasing taste buds back in 1916. It was a company that represented the rapid growth of Japan at the time, showcasing rapid growth and the adoption of mass production techniques that would define this era.
Meiji’s standing in chocolate treats was already over 50 years old when it decided in 1975 to launch the kinoko no yama snack line, which was previously a closely guarded prototype spin-off of the Apollo chocolates developed in Meiji’s Osaka factory in 1969. Meiji had been sitting on the prototype for over 5 years, unconvinced that the mushroom shaped snack would sell. When they finally launched, the snack quickly sprouted into the hearts of the public. This year marks 46 years since kinoko no yama production started, and as of today they are firmly considered one of the top representatives of Japanese snack-dom.
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While many feel that the Japanese chocolate mushroom is their favorite snack among the many chocolate biscuit products (such as Pocky), there is one specific competitor from the Meiji product line that fuels a spirited snack-time debate.
In 1976 Meiji launched a sister line to the kinoko no yama called takenoko no sato, translating to “bamboo shoot village.” The snack concept of takenoko no sato is similar, in that it is a small biscuit covered in chocolate, but in this case it is in the flowerbud shape of a bamboo shoot. Similar concept, but the debate over flavor is anything but similar.
The Great Meiji Chocolate Debate
In an attempt to democratically select a winner of the great debate, Meiji conducted a nationwide election event in September of 2018 to let the people’s voice be heard. For much of the election cycle both kinoko no yama and takenoko no sato were neck and neck, but in the end, takenoko no sato was crowned the nations favorite by the smallest of majority. (As far as we know there are no allegations of election fraud in this race, but many kinoko no yama supporters dispute the results to this day.)
All jokes aside though, a far less combative and far less well known look into the debate over kinoko no yama and takenoko no sato is a 2014 study done by a Netorabo (ねとらぼ) blogger Tomomi Ota and Keio University researcher Ryuichi Suzuki. They used a state-of-the-art taste machine at the university called “Leo” to analyze the flavor index of each snack and came back with some insight into the heart of the preference debate.
They found that the chocolate in kinoko no yama is 0.21 levels sweeter than takenoko no sato, but takenoko no sato’s chocolate is 1.82 levels saltier than kinoko no yama. Go figure. Also, they found that takenoko no sato’s biscuit is 0.26 levels sweeter and saltier than the more mild kinoko no yama biscuit. In other words, it is all a debate about saltiness and sweetness preference between the biscuit and chocolate combination. And, that settles it, right?