Taste Test: Pocky and Other Chocolate-Covered Biscuit Sticks from AsiaJuly 16, 2017
Snacks that pair chocolate with some sort of biscuit come in many, many forms around the globe. Here in Asia we are suckers for chocolate-covered biscuit sticks—most well-known and longest-standing of which is Japanese brand Pocky. The said snack, first introduced by Japanese snack house Glico in the 60’s, has its roots in another Glico snack called Pretz—a crisp biscuit stick introduced in 1963 and, three years later, would come in a variation that came dipped head-to-toe in chocolate. But Glico realized this made for messy, chocolate-stained fingers, and—as a classic example of Japanese ingenuity—made the small but clever decision of leaving the ends bare, as a “handle” for stain-free snacking. Pocky has since expanded its flavors (from the original chocolate, to almond and strawberry a few years later—and to the massive array you’ll find today) and has become so deeply ingrained in Japanese pop culture that it not only has a day dedicated to it (November 11, to be exact—but more on this below), it also appears just about everywhere and developed a cult following both locally and abroad (especially among anime lovers around the world).
Like with most things popular however, other brands would come to spew their own versions that make use of the same format (and notably, the same bare “handle”). While we don’t necessarily think original should always be considered the best of all time, our Pocky-loving selves got curious how these other variations fare. Here are our thoughts:
The OG chocolate biscuit stick is a classic for a reason. You get a toasty, lightly sweet biscuit with a distinct firmness that makes for a satisfying crunch, and chocolate coating just midway between semi-sweet and milky with a fruity, cacao-y depth. Together, each stick delivers a balanced bite that’s just indulgent enough to appease the sweet tooth during snacktime without being cloying. Though simple at its core, Pocky just executes both components so well—it’s no wonder that its popularity hasn’t waned to this day.
The Thai version is sold for much cheaper in these parts than its Japanese counterpart. But they make use of a different formula on this version, with a less-toasty, milkier biscuit, and a “chocolate” coating (likely of the compound sort) that might appear darker but actually tastes sweeter, flatter, and barely even chocolate-y. Though technically just as “legitimate” a Pocky, just coming from the Glico’s Thai leg, it feels like a compromise compared to the original. Get these if you’re just looking for something thin and biscuit-y to munch on.
Pepero may well be Pocky’s Korean counterpart (or rival), not only resembling Pocky in its physical form and packaging, but also in how long it’s been around (it was launched in 1983, which—though almost 20 years past Pocky’s debut—is still much longer ago of a year compared to the other brands) and how deeply it has become embedded in Korean culture (to the point that Koreans, too, celebrate “Pepero Day” on the 11th of November every year—some claim it was actually Pepero, rather than Pocky, that first established the holiday on the said date). While the author admits to still preferring Pocky, Pepero’s not too bad either: its biscuits are just a touch lighter, carrying a particular savory aftertaste we can best describe as tasting like pizza-flavored crackers; and its coating, though a touch less prominently cocoa-y in flavor and coming in a thinner coat than Pocky, is still among the better ones in this lineup.
Lucky Stick is made by the Indonesian leg of Japanese chocolate brand Meiji. Though also a stick with a chocolate-esque coating, it’s a bit of a departure from the previous three. Not only is each stick wider in diameter, it also makes use of a stick base with a lighter, airier texture that reminds us of the biscuit part of Yan Yan snacks from the same brand, but with a sweet-and-salty, malty, cocoa-y flavor even on its own. The chocolate coating unfortunately was not the Meiji milk chocolate we were hoping for, and instead a cheap (likely compound chocolate-based) substitute that hardly contributes much flavor aside from an oily sweetness. Still, it does the job of moistening the biscuit and bringing out its subtle cocoa notes for an milky, malty, chocolate-y overall bite that brings to mind the instant hot chocolate packs of our childhood (e.g., Swiss Miss).
This Thai brand is similar to Lucky Stick in that each stick is wide in diameter. The stick base’s texture is unique though, in that it just about crosses over to the rich tea end of the biscuit spectrum that lies between Pocky and Lucky Stick in firmness, but tastes a richer and milkier than that of the other brands in this lineup. The coating, though hardly bitter and generally not that chocolate-y tasting, carries a berry-like note that brings to mind Meiji’s Apollo candies (which is totally nostalgic, for us).
Though what constitutes a ‘better’ product is subjective at the end of the day, it’s safe to say that the original Japanese Pocky is a one-of-a-kind gem that remains, to this day, unmatched for what it is. But that’s not to say that the other brands don’t hold their own appeal. Pepero, for one, is a relatively easier-to-find brand which is just a tad lighter in chocolate and biscuit, but nevertheless enjoyable. Meiji Lucky Sticks, though different in style, delivers a good dose of milky, malty, cocoa-y flavor with a more delicate texture. Finally, Ticky isn’t bad at all, with a richer biscuit that takes well to a freshly-brewed cup of joe. Whichever one you choose, you can at least be assured your fingers stay clean.