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Ancient confectionery hits Japan's sweet spot

Changing consumer tastes prompt shift to modern ingredients and techniques

These yokan sweets from Toraya depict the four seasons. While seasonality has long been a defining feature of wagashi Japanese confectionery, makers are discovering that innovation may be crucial to their survival at a time when tastes are changing. (Courtesy of Toraya)

TOKYO -- At first bite, there is a distinct flavor and aroma of raspberry. Then there are strong hints of lychee and rose as the smooth, sweet jelly dissolves in the mouth. The ingredients and flavors, as well as the name, Ispahan, suggest that this block of dark magenta confectionery is an exotic Middle Eastern delicacy.

In fact, Petite Yokan Ispahan is a Japanese sweet made by a traditional confectioner, Toraya, founded in the early 16th century, which built its reputation on time-honored sweets using beans, rice and other plant-based ingredients. But the sweet -- created earlier this year in collaboration with a French patisserie, Pierre Herme Paris -- is one of a growing array of products that break with long-established customs, using ingredients and production techniques that many traditionalists consider to be heresy.

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