While Americans are just warming up to the idea of oddly flavored snacks like Key lime pie Oreos, chicken-and-waffles Lays potato chips and birthday-cake Pop Tarts, Japan has shown a total mastery of Kit Kats for years. The country has launched more than 200 flavors in 15 years. That’s four times the number of Jelly Belly flavors and almost seven times the number of Pringles varieties.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century that Japan started getting wild and inventive with the Kit Kats. Nestlé Japan launched strawberry as the first special-edition flavor in 2000. Before that, Kit Kats with almonds were sold in 1996.
Those are pretty tame compared to some of the newer flavors — remember that eel-flavored soda we reported on? These candy bars come in all sorts of varieties from intriguing, delicious-sounding flavors like sakura green tea, lemon cheesecake, ramune (that complicated soda with the marble) and Royal Milk Tea to more bizarre and oddly specific varieties like ginger ale, European cheese, caramel macchiato McFlurry and, of course, wasabi.
Miki Kanoh, a media representative from Nestlé Japan, says the reason for this wild creativity has roots in a convenience-store business model that requires stores to bring in new products every two to three weeks. So special-edition flavors usually live on Japanese store shelves for two to three weeks and can be brought back by popular demand, as was the case with strawberry and green tea, the most popular flavors to date.
Many of the flavors are only sold in specific areas of Japan, created to mimic regional specialties like hojicha, or roasted green tea, from famous teahouse Kyuemon Ito in Kyoto, ogura toast (red bean sandwich) from Tokai and yahataya isogoro, a spicy, bitter pepper from Shinshu. If Nestlé USA were to adopt this model, just think what could be accomplished! Dutch Crunch–flavored Kit Kats from the San Francisco Bay Area! King cake from New Orleans or…lutefisk flavor from Minnesota. Maybe we should stick to what we know.
Kanoh says that this focus on regional specialties allows Nestlé to package the candy bars as souvenirs for travelers to bring back to their friends and family. So instead of bringing back the actual Kyuemon Ito roasted green tea, bring back a Kit Kat bar.
There’s even something called a baked Kit Kat, and no, it’s not infused with marijuana (although, perhaps for Nestlé Netherlands?). These pudding-flavored bars are made to be baked briefly in a toaster oven. The chocolate melts and creates a caramel sugar base, according to LA Weekly. Check out the tutorial below.
The love that Japanese have for flavored Kit Kats is so great that a boutique dedicated to the chocolate-covered wafers opened in Tokyo last year.