Japanese Kit Kats are in a category of their own. While Japan still has classic flavors of Kit Kat like milk chocolate and dark chocolate, the variety of flavors on offer differ wildly from their classic counterpart. Instead of getting a larger chocolate bar with four breakable chocolate wafer sections, you’d receive multiple mini individually wrapped wafers. The packaging on the boxes is colorful with beautiful illustrations depicting what flavor the Kit Kat is.
But we should rewind a little and explain how Kit Kats became so popular in Japan in the first place. Kit Kats were initially introduced to Japan in 1973 and have been a hit since. The Japanese name for Kit Kat is “Kitto Katto,” sounds like “kitto katsu,” which means “you’ll surely win.” Because of this, Kit Kats are often given as good luck charms or gifts for test-taking students. In fact, most Japanese Kit Kats have a blank spot on the back where you can write an encouraging message. The smaller size of Japanese Kit Kats also makes them perfect for between test snack breaks.
It wasn’t until 2000 Nestle Japan began experimenting with flavors to create Kit Kats that would suit local tastes. Thus the Japanese Kit Kat was born with the introduction of the strawberry flavored Kit Kat. Hokkaido acted as the test market for the initial release of the strawberry Kit Kat. Luckily for Nestle Japan their release date serendipitously aligned with the start of strawberry season.
Because of the success of the strawberry Kit Kat in Hokkaido, Nestle Japan conducted a test market. They found that the strawberry Kit Kat wasn’t just popular with Japanese locals but also with tourists visiting from abroad. As a result they began to develop flavors of Kit Kats that represented regional specialty foods, which could be purchased as omiyage. Omiyage are specially packaged food souvenirs that are purchased by travelers to give to friends and family. In Hiroshima you’ll find a Kit Kat flavored after momiji manju, a steamed maple leaf shaped cake. Okinawa is famous for its purple sweet potatoes, so many souvenir shops will display beni-imo (purple sweet potato) Kit Kats.
There is even a luxury Kit Kat shop in Tokyo, the Kit Kat Chocolatory that sells more luxurious versions of the Kit Kats. These high-end Kit Kats are developed by classically trained pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi and made using finer chocolates and premium ingredients. These chocolate bars are designed with more sophisticated adult tastes in mind varying both form and sweetness levels.
The mainstay flavors are green tea Kit Kats, strawberry Kit Kats, and then the classic milk chocolate and dark chocolate. In fact, green tea Kit Kats are so popular that there are often different riffs off the classic matcha flavor. There is matcha latte flavored Kit Kats, Otona no Amasa matcha (a more complex and bitter matcha), and even green tea tiramisu Kit Kats.
Beyond that new seasonal flavors are constantly being introduced for a limited time, many of which do not translate to international tastes. For example, flavors like red bean, kinako or soybean powder, and soy sauce. Sakura season was a few months ago and with that came a flurry of sakura or cherry blossom flavored snacks and sweets. Sakura Kit Kats were also released and came dressed up in beautiful pale pink packaging appropriately adorned with cherry blossom branches.
What makes Japanese Kit Kats more appealing than their international counterparts is the constant release of inventive flavor combinations. In the U.S. new flavors are rare and typically fall under the tried and true category like mint chocolate and birthday cake. Whereas Japanese Kit Kats aren’t afraid to take risks with flavors you wouldn’t normally associate with a candy bar like sake and wasabi. Some Japanese Kit Kats even play with how you would consume the Kit Kat. In 2014, Nestle Japan released a few flavors of Kit Kat, such as cheesecake, custard, and soft serve, that were intended to be toasted for ideal consumption. On the other side of the spectrum, other Japanese Kit Kats have been released with the intended purpose of eating them frozen, such as the cookies and cream flavor. The steady release of limited edition flavors makes it fun to try to see how many new and interesting flavors of Japanese Kit Kats you can. To riff off the Pokemon catchphrase, gotta try them all!