Konpeito (confetti) (金平糖)
Konpeito is small ball-shaped candy with horn-like prongs on the surface made from sugar and flavored liquids.
Konpeito is written in kanji characters such as: "金米糖" (golden rice candy), "金餅糖" (golden cake candy) and "糖花" (flower candy). The origin of konpeito is the Portuguese word confeito. There are various opinions as to when konpeito was first introduced to Japan but it is considered that, konpeito, along with other Nanbangashi (Portuguese and Spanish confectioneries) such as kasutera sponge cake and aruheito (toffee), was introduced to Japan in 1550.
(See the section of Nanbangashi for more details.)
There is no established explanation as to why and how many of these characteristic prongs exist but there has been an attempt to establish a formula based on the Kuramoto-Sivashinsky Equation. The formal number of prongs of kompeito is 24.
The recipe for kompeito is as follows:
Make syrup by simmering rock sugar and water in a pan.
While keeping the rotating pan (referred to as dora, the Chinese gong after its shape) over a flame, add poppy seeds, which are often substituted by granulated sugar at present, that will become the core of konpeito.
With rotating the pan in constant motion, shower small amount of hot syrup over poppy seeds and slowly repeat the process for over 1 to 2 weeks until konpeito has grown to the desirable size and the prongs have been formed.
Today, kompeito is available in various colors and flavors.
The use of Konpeito other than candy
Konpeito, along with rock sugar, is often packed in a tin of sea biscuits as emergency provisions. Konpeito, included in the emergency food package, provides calories necessary for physical work as well as effective in encouraging salivation to moisten sea biscuits when eating in which it would be easier to ingest. Additionally, it is expected that the colorful and delightful looking kompeito will have an effect of reducing the stress response that people may suffer in a time of disaster when emergency food is needed. The menu including konpeito is found in the ration used by the Japan Self-Defense Forces for the similar reason.
With the main component of konpeito being granulated sugar, it sometimes substitutes sugar for coffee and tea at coffee shops.
Konpeito has been used as party favors or commemorative gifts for various occasions by the Imperial Family. When a bonbonniere (small candy box) is used as a gift, it is filled with konpeito to make it look more attractive.
Since this little strange looking candy can be colored in a wide range of colors, it is quite conspicuous regardless of its size. Further, because kompeito is made by going through the lengthy heating process at high temperatures, it has an exceptional shelf life whereby it is said that, in a dry condition, it will retain its original flavor for 20 to 30 years.
(The long shelf life, however, is applicable only to that made by the traditional method and, generally, the shelf life for konpeito is defined as one year.)
If konpeito is used as one of the free items for customers at coffee shops, having a long shelf life is an important factor.
When candy is stored in a high room temperature during summer or absorbs moisture, the surface of it becomes soft and it loses flavor in general but that is not the case with konpeito.
Since sugar is not tolerant of humidity by nature, konpeito is made by the process to ensure extremely low moisture content but, in recent years, the shochu (distilled spirit) injected konpeito like bonbons has been developed and sold. Strictly speaking, the shochu-injected variation is somewhat different from konpeito but, because konpeito has been used as party favors and commemorative gifts by the Imperial Family, some manufacturers refer to the variation as an 'auspicious confectionery,' which is available as a souvenir in the Kyushu area.
There are additional types of konpeito with various flavors including whiskey, Japanese sake, plum wine and other wide range of flavors that are made by other companies.
Kazoe uta (Counting song)
Konpeito has been a popular candy for children since long ago and so it is featured as the first item in the so-called 'Kazoe uta.'
The lyrics to this song are based on a kind of word association starting with konpeito, which is thought of as having the 'sweet taste' of sugar, which in turn leads us to think of melting snow (as sugar melts in the mouth), a white rabbit (as snow is white), a hopping frog (as rabbits hop), a green leaf (as frogs are green), and so on, continuing this word association based on various elements such as tastes, colors, actions and shapes.