If you’re a Japanophile, a chocoholic, or you just live in Japan yourself, no doubt you’re aware of the unmistakable popularity of Nestlé’s Kit Kat chocolate here.
But did you know there's more to that popularity than just "chocolate tastes nice"?
In this post we'll explore one of the main reasons why Kit Kat is so cherished here in Japan — as well as take a look at the exclusive Japanese flavors you won't be able to find anywhere else.
Beware the sugar rush!
A Quick History of Kit Kat
A very Kit Kat-chy name
Kit Kats were created by British confectionery company Rowntree’s in 1935. They were first introduced to the public simply as “Chocolate Crisp,” which — though a fair indication of what lay in store for your taste buds — is definitely not as catchy (or should that be Katchy?) or as easy to remember as “Kit Kat.”
It wasn’t until 1937 that "Kit Kat" started accompanying the Chocolate Crisp name, before completely replacing it altogether in 1949.
Journey to the East: Kit Kat comes to Japan
Kit Kat made its way to the Land of the Rising Sun in 1973. Nestlé acquired Rowntree's in 1988 and has been at the helm of Kit Kat's production, expansion, and surge in popularity ever since. In fact, the total consumption of Kit Kats in Japan is second only to one country: the United Kingdom, where the chocolate originally comes from!
Why Is Kit Kat Now So Popular in Japan?
By 2014, some 40 years after first arriving in Japan, Kit Kat had become the highest selling chocolate in the whole country. Obviously it takes some seriously shrewd business sense, amazing taste, and effective marketing for popularity (and sales!) to surge like that — but is that really all there is to it?
Apart from the hundreds of flavors you can (or, up till now, have been able to) get in Japan, there's also a cultural reason as to why Kit Kats are so popular here: people (especially students) see them as good luck charms!
It all comes down to Japan's penchant for gift giving and encouragement, not to mention a sprinkling of clever wordplay.
In Japan, Kit Kat is pronounced “kitto katto.” This sounds like the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu”, which translates to “you will surely win.” The Japanese market took advantage of this and created Kit Kat’s “Lucky Charm” campaign, with words of encouragement and other well wishes written on either the packaging or the chocolates themselves (or both!). Many of these messages feature the aforementioned “kitto” expression — such as “it’ll surely be all right” — which further solidified the chocolate’s position in the minds of consumers and businesses alike.
Top 15 Japanese Kit Kat Flavors
From seasonal staples to regional delicacies — and even “I can’t believe they put that in a Kit Kat!” levels of uniqueness — you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to Kit Kats in Japan.
Here’s our picks, in no particular order, for 15 of the best Japanese Kit Kat flavors out there!
Wasabi Kit Kats are a collaboration between Nestlé and renowned wasabi foodstuff company Tamaruya Honten in Shizuoka.
Sushi lovers will no doubt be familiar with “wasabi,” a green condiment that delivers a great big burning punch to the senses — particularly inside your nose. But oftentimes that “wasabi” will simply be a mix of horseradish, hot mustard, and green food coloring.
Real wasabi flavoring is actually made from the stem of the wasabi plant, either prepared as a paste or as a dried powder. The latter is what you’ll find in these Wasabi Kit Kats — so we’d like to think they’re a more subtle, balanced blend of sweet and spicy.
Definitely one breed of Kit Kat you’ll want to try for yourself!
#14: Everlasting Summer Mango
Speaking of hot and spicy, who doesn’t love a good ol’ mango to cool them down in the blistering summer heat? (Or at least feel like that’s the case during the cold, harsh winter?)
Some locally grown mango varieties can go for more than 12,000 yen (about 100 USD) a pop here in Japan due to their sheer size, weight, and sweetness. No wonder they’re known as “Eggs of the Sun” (taiyou no tamago)!
For those of you who don’t need that sort of luxury, there’s always the humble (and affordable) Everlasting Summer Mango Kit Kat. While the Kit Kat’s crispy wafer texture is admittedly a far cry from the juicy tropical goodness of a real mango, it still captures the fruit’s delicious smell and sweetness to a T.
Recommended if you’re in the mood to be whisked away to a tropical island paradise!
#13: Peach Parfait
Parfaits are big in Japan — both in terms of popularity and actual size. But with generous dollops of ice cream, whipped cream, and other sweet sensations, who’s complaining?
Peaches (momo) are a summer staple in their own right, with July and August being the best time of the year to enjoy the real deal.
But limiting yourself to only certain times of the year for delicious food is such a waste, so why not try some Peach Parfait Kit Kats?
As the cute packaging implies, these Kit Kats pack the colossal scale of a mouthwatering peach-flavored parfait into delightful bite-sized pieces. When you think about it, that’s an amazing feat in itself — so kudos to Nestlé for being able to pull it off.
#12: Autumn Chestnut
Japan places a lot of importance on its four distinct seasons (shiki), as well as the bevy of quintessential food and drink that each season brings with it.
For autumn, that pretty much means one thing: chestnuts! It only takes a few minutes of casual strolling through suburb or city streets to see chestnuts on the menu — be it in cafes (marron, kuri-manju, and other desserts) or convenience stores (fresh roasted chestnuts by the bagful).
With that in mind, a chestnut-flavored Kit Kat is almost a given. That’s not to say that it’s not appreciated, though, as the taste is divine even if you’re not so big on chestnuts yourself!
#11: Uji Houjicha
From roasted chestnuts to roasted tea! As we explained in our quick guide on Japanese tea, the latter is exactly what houjicha translates to — so you can bet that aromatic roasted taste runs right through these Kit Kats.
The folks at Itohkyuemon (who created this flavor) are Japanese tea specialists. That means there’ll be no compromise on flavor or authenticity here — much like the Tamaruya wasabi flavor at the start of this list.
If you’re in the mood for something a little less sweet and a little more sophisticated to complement your afternoon break, give these a try!
#10: Matcha Tiramisu
Of course, we can’t talk about tea-flavored treats without mentioning the king of the mountain itself! Matcha pops up in just about any type of dessert you can think of — ice cream, cake, donuts, and even Swiss rolls — so matcha Kit Kats are no surprise.
It’s a huge case of East meets West with this Kit Kat, as tiramisu is of course a traditional Italian dessert containing bitter chocolate, sweet biscuit, espresso, and cheese.
The bittersweet tiramisu taste blends perfectly with the bitter umami flavor that matcha is known and loved for. Though you might have your doubts at first, once you take a bite of these delightful chocolates you’ll wonder how the two gourmet greats could ever exist separately!
#9: Japanese Sake
The official name for this flavor is Nihonshu Masuizumi Kit Kat. Nihonshu is the Japanese word for rice wine — the word often used for this drink in English, sake, is also actually a general term for alcohol in Japanese. Masuizumi is the brand of rice wine that the Kit Kats contain.
True to form, these Kit Kats actually do contain a small degree of alcohol (0.4%), so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of giving them to someone as a gift.
Much like the wasabi and matcha tiramisu Kit Kats, a sake flavor might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of potential complements to wafers and white chocolate. But, also much like those previous two varieties, it’s a decidedly Japanese concoction, so the novelty of that is reason alone for giving it a shot (no pun intended!).
Source: Kit Kat Twitter
#8: Cheese Soy & Salted Almonds
Moving on from alcohol-flavored Kit Kats, next on our list are ones that go great with alcohol itself.
Cheese, soybeans, and almonds are all common examples of otsumami — small nibbles that perfectly complement beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages. So put them together and what have you got? Heaven for your taste buds!
This flavor is a part of Kit Kat’s SNAX range, the chocolate’s first foray into the world of otsumami. The lineup even includes an original craft beer, Chocolate Almond Milk Stout!
Who says Kit Kats are just for children?
Source: PR Times
#7: Whole Wheat Flour
Continuing the theme of bucking the trend, next we have these cracker-flavored Kit Kats! They’ve got whole wheat biscuit on the inside and sprinkles of biscuit crumb on the outside as well for the full graham cracker experience.
As TimeOut Tokyo notes in its spotlight on the unique flavor, this Whole Wheat Flour Kit Kat is actually part of Nestlé’s ongoing plan to deliver healthier Kit Kat options in the future — ones with reduced sugar content that are still able to maintain the beloved Kit Kat taste you’ve known for years.
Given their digestive biscuit-like nature, we imagine these chocolates would be a viable afternoon tea or supper option that you won’t have to ever feel guilty about. Dunk them into coffee or milk for a relaxing timeout from the rollercoaster that is life!
#6: Purple Sweet Potato
With organic ingredients (and carbs) still on the agenda, let’s now take a look at Kit Kats containing purple sweet potato (beni imo), an Okinawan specialty!
These are part of the Gotouchi Kit Kat series, which roughly translates to Regional Delicacy Kit Kats. The lineup showcases local tastes and flavors that represent different parts of Japan.
Though admittedly not the sort of color you’d come to expect from Kit Kat (or any chocolate, for that matter), don’t be fooled by its appearance — purple sweet potato is actually a superfood that’s incredibly good for you. Not only is it rich in fiber for a healthy working body, a single potato contains four times the adult daily requirement for vitamin A (and half the daily requirement for vitamin C).
The next time you hear somebody say chocolate is unhealthy, kindly point out this Kit Kat’s existence!
#5: Momiji Manju
Momiji manju are little red bean dough cakes shaped like momiji (red autumn leaves). They come from Hiroshima, where pioneers Takatsudo have been selling the confection for more than 100 years.
While the Kit Kats themselves retain their usual bar shape, the manju and red bean powder taste does an excellent job of recreating the authentic Hiroshima experience!
#4: Amaou Strawberry
Amaou is a special type of strawberry from Fukuoka Prefecture at the southern tip of Japan. The name is actually a portmanteau of several Japanese adjectives that convey what the so-called “King of Strawberries” is all about: sweet (amai), round (marui), large (ookii), and tasty (umai)!
The tagline on the elegant packaging sums it up quite nicely: “unforgettable full-bodied sweetness.”
If regular strawberry chocolates or other desserts just don’t cut it for you anymore, you definitely need to take Amaou Kit Kats for a spin!
#3: Shinshu Apple
Shinshu is the alternative name for Shinano, a province in Japan’s past that now forms part of Nagano Prefecture. And needless to say, the apples from this area are a thing of beauty! The region boasts what many feel is the ideal climate for apple production (warm days and cool nights), which results in a size, shape, and sweetness that has made them famous all throughout Japan.
Though it may be difficult to actually pay Nagano a visit and try its apples for yourself these days, the good news is that with Shinshu Apple Kit Kats and ZenPlus you can bring that taste directly to you!
Unlike some of the other exclusive Kit Kat flavors on this list that are a somewhat acquired taste, the lemonade-like freshness of ramune is beloved by children and adults alike — both for its sweetness and the nostalgic kick it provides.
Of course, pair that popularity with a juggernaut like Kit Kat, and you’ve got something that practically sells itself!
What’s always so incredible about limited Kit Kat flavors is the lengths to which Nestlé goes to recreate those other tastes. In the case of Ramune Kit Kats, the texture inside actually mimics the feeling you get in your mouth after downing soda or other carbonated drinks. Talk about an authentic ramune experience!
Source: Kit Kat Twitter
Sakura (cherry blossoms) are one of Japan’s most prominent cultural icons, so it’s only natural that they make their way into the country’s most popular chocolate! Kit Kat has had its fair share of sakura flavors over the years — including sakura mochi and sakura Japanese sake varieties, to name a few — but these Sakura Kit Kat Minis deserve a special mention.
With each purchase, 10 yen will be donated to Sakura Line 311, an NPO in Iwate Prefecture dedicated to helping communities affected by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (of which Iwate itself is one). Sakura Line 311 hopes that planting lines of beautiful sakura trees will help keep the memories of that day in people’s minds for generations.
A wonderful treat for a truly wonderful cause.
Recap: Top 15 Japanese Kit Kat Flavors
Here’s the full list of collaborations we explored in this post.
- Shinshu Apple
- Amaou Strawberry
- Momiji Manju
- Purple Sweet Potato
- Whole Wheat Flour
- Cheese Soy & Salted Almonds
- Japanese Sake
- Uji Houjicha
- Matcha Tiramisu
- Autumn Chestnut
- Peach Parfait
- Everlasting Mango
Japanese Kit Kats: The Perfect Present
As mentioned at the start of this post, the motivational kitto katsu message that comes ingrained into each and every Kit Kat makes them the perfect present for friends and family — hence their undeniable popularity in Japan.
Still, that obviously doesn't mean the rest of us around the world can't enjoy them. Not by a long shot!
Why? Because all the unique flavors you'll find in Japan just taste so darn good!
Normally you'd have to actually be in Japan to get your hands on all the various Kit Kat iterations that Nestlé has to offer. But at ZenPlus, we deliver the Kit Kat goodness direct to you.
Click the button below to browse all the Kit Kat listings on our online marketplace — no doubt you'll find some goodies that aren't even mentioned in this post!
Over to You!
Which Japanese Kit Kat flavor do you want to try the most from this list?
What other cakes and candies from Japan do you like?
ZenPlus is your one-stop shop for all things Japanese. Visit us for tons of authentic Japanese sweets and snacks, direct from Osaka to you!