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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogThe Legacy of Umaibo – a Must Try Japanese Snack

The Legacy of Umaibo – a Must Try Japanese Snack

Yen RadeckiYen Radecki
Published Time
Posted on 
January 06, 2021
Modified Time
Updated last 
July 27, 2022

If you are a big fan of Japanese snacks, you must have known or tried Umaibo – one of the most popular and iconic snacks in Japan since 1979.

When it comes to classic Japanese snacks, chewy mochi and matcha Kit Kats are probably some of the first examples that spring to mind. However, one of the most popular and iconic snacks in Japan today is in fact a far more simple creation: umaibo. Umaibo was first created in 1979 and sold in traditional Japanese candy shops called dagashi-ya. 

Japanese snack Umaibo in its Cinnamon Apple Pie flavor.
Umaibo, a classic Japanese dagashi that literally means delicious stick. Here’s a Tokyo limited edition Cinnamon Apple Pie flavor!

Today, with dagashi-ya on the decline, umaibo can be found in convenience stores and supermarkets across Japan. But what makes this snack so special? Besides being a delicious staple of Japanese snack food, umaibo are famous for being affordable, fun, and versatile. As a result, many Japanese people today have fond memories of eating umaibo growing up, helping to establish umaibo’s reputation in Japan as the ultimate nostalgic snack.

What is Umaibo?

Umaibo, (which literally means ‘‘delicious stick’ in Japanese), is a puffed corn snack in the shape of an airy, puffed cylinder. The texture is crispy, similar to Cheetos, and generously seasoned with flavoring powder. The end result is a crunchy, addictive snack food that’s both tasty and light. Plus, while not exactly healthy, each umaibo ranges from just 25-50 calories, making it a great alternative to potato chips.  

A Japanese snack called Umaibo in its popular chocolate flavor.
One classic flavor for Umaibo is chocolate, even though most are savory flavors!

In order to appeal to children, umaibo is sold at an affordable price and wrapped in fun, eye-catching packaging. Each stick is sold individually and sometimes includes a toy to further entice young customers. Umaibo’s bright, colourful packaging is instantly recognisable thanks to the snack’s mascot, a cat named ‘Umaemon’. Umaemon’s name and appearance are a reference to the iconic mascot from the popular children’s anime Doraemon, which aired the same year that umaibo launched. 

A big box of Japanese snack Umaibo with a number of different flavors.
This classic Japanese snack comes in a large range of flavors!

The popular Japanese snack comes in a variety of flavors that can be divided into three distinct categories.

Umaibo Flavors that are Available All Year Long

First, there are the regular flavors, the core set of umaibo that can be found whatever the time and wherever the place: common varieties like cheese, teriyaki, and chocolate. Many of these are long-running, well-established flavors, in circulation since the 1980s. 

A white packaging for Umaibo cheese flavor, Japanese snack dagashi.
The true OG of Umaibo is the cheese flavor. There’s a tasty reason it’s still around!

Limited Time Only Umaibo Flavors

Next, there are regional flavors, which are exclusive to certain parts of Japan. In Tokyo, for example, monjayaki-flavored umaibo can be found, while the okonomiyaki flavor is only available in the southern Kansai region. This is because monjayaki—okonomiyaki’s less known, more liquid cousin—is said to have originated in the Tsukishima district of Tokyo, while okonomiyaki comes from Osaka, the largest city in Kansai. 

3 Halloween designed Japanese snack Umaibo sticks
Every year, you can expect to see a Halloween edition of Umaibo!

Wondering what a beef tongue flavored snack really tastes like? Give it a try! Umaibo is just one of the many tasty dagashi available in TokyoTreat’s monthly snack boxes.

TokyoTreat is the utlimate Japanese snack box! Experience Japan with TokyoTreat!
Red Umaibo packaging for its Christmas design
Can’t forget Umaibo’s Christmas designed packaging! Any guesses on the flavor?

Finally, there are also limited edition flavors, which are only produced for a brief time and may never reappear. In fact, there are already more than a dozen umaibo flavors that have been completely discontinued since their initial release, including intriguing options such as red lobster and American hot dog. While it’s a shame that these charmingly odd varieties no longer populate the shelves, new flavors of umaibo continue to hit the market regularly. 

Umaibo Premium Japanese snack in a blue and luxurious looking packaging
Umaibo’s Premium Mozzarella & Camembert Cheese flavor! It’s dagashi, but make it fancy.

Luckily, many of the tastiest, most interesting flavors of umaibo are still readily available in Japan today. 

On the more traditional front, you can find salami, salad, and sugar rusk umaibo, along with other uniquely Japanese classics such as with tonkatsu sauce and shrimp mayonnaise. Finally, there are the more experimental flavors, with options such as corn potage, natto, mentai, beef tongue, and chicken curry. 

Purple Mentai flavored Umaibo Japanese snack packaging
Another Umaibo classic: Mentai flavor! Mentai is pollock fish!

Some of these, like corn potage and mentai, are familiar flavors in Japan, while others, like beef tongue and natto, are likely to be just as confronting at home as abroad! What’s more, umaibo has a reputation for uncannily accurate flavorings! From the tangy, BBQ flavor of beef tongue to the infamously slimy texture of natto – make sure to prepare your palate before you give one of these flavors a try!

Light and crispy Japanese snack Umaibo stacked on top of each other, and shown in many different flavors and colors.
Umaibo comes in so many different flavors, you’ll definitely have at least one you fall in love with!

No matter your taste, the best thing about umaibo is that you’re sure to find one you’ll love! Cheap, cheerful, and seriously tasty, umaibo is the ultimate Japanese snack food—and the constant rotation of flavors only makes it better. Let us know what flavor you’re most curious about below!

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