Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Dairy Free Mochi
Trader Joe's, $3.49/6
It wasn't so long ago that mochi was unknown in most of the US. I was introduced to the pounded rice confection by an Asian friend in college and went to on eat my body weight in the stuff on trips to Japan. I was always surprised that Americans hadn't fallen hard for a treat that's delicious, relatively healthy, and not so far removed from rice cakes. Even as sushi mania swept the country and raw fish and seaweed became every 5-year-old's favorite food, mochi continued to lurk in the shadows. Some people have told me that it wasn't so much the mochi they couldn't stomach, but the sweetened bean paste that's a standard filling.
Then came ice cream mochi, nuggets of ice cream inside a puffy mochi jacket: red bean flavor for the traditionalist, a dozen choices for everyone else. Suddenly mochi was on everyone's lips--and mochi starch on everyone's faces.
The real irony of ice cream mochi hadn't occured to me until I saw the "Dairy Free Mochi" in the freezer at Trader Joe's: the vast majority of Asians are lactose intolerant. The TJ's treats are filled with a coconut-based ice cream and come in three flavors: coconut, mango, and chocolate. They're rich and creamy and more than tasty enough to induce the lactose-intolerant to join the eat-a-box-of-ice-cream-mochi-in-a-single-sitting club.
The faux ice cream was fine but what really struck me was the mochi: slippery and dense, it was unlike any mochi I'd ever eaten. A look at the ingredients revealed that what they're calling "mochi" isn't mochi at all: "mochi starch" is composed of tapioca starch, water, coconut milk, sugar, and flavoring. A little misleading, sure, but by genercizing the concept of "mochi" Trader Joe's is actually jumping on a very Japanese bandwagon.
Mochi, the doughy confection, takes its name from mochigome, the glutinous "sweet" rice that is traditionally steamed and pounded to produce it. Other starches have since been used to produce non-rice variations on mochi, such as fern-based warabi mochi and kudzu-based kuzu mochi. One thing that these and many other foods have in common is a particular and pleasing type of chewiness--a quality known in Japanese as "mochimochi".
Trader Joe's Dairy Free, Mochigome Free Mochimochi Mochi: yum.