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Earlier this week, netizens in Japan started going nuts about a new range of popcorn on sale at 7-Eleven. Unlike in some countries, 7-Eleven Japan takes great pride in regularly launching new, limited-edition snacks, and more often than not they’re surprisingly tasty. The response its latest product garnered, however, was ludicrously enthusiastic.

When netizens got wind of the “amazingly delicious” new caramel and (curiously) cheddar cheese flavoured popcorn on sale at their local Sebun, people apparently started bulk-buying, resulting hundreds of tweets going out bemoaning a lack of stock and pestering 7-Eleven – who then added fuel to the fire by acknowledging that the snack was indeed hard to come by – and demanding to know where they could get it.

Curious to find out what all the fuss was about, we procured a couple of bags and sat down to conduct a little taste test. I can tell you right off the bat, though, that the super-amazing mecha-delicious popcorn pretty much everyone in Japan – including our own Japanese staff – is raving about really isn’t worth all the hype.

“OMG!!! Cant find the popcorns NEwhere!!!”

“Cheeze is all sold out! FML!”

“Will trade son/kittens/ear lobes for 7-Eleven popcorn. Anyone selling???”

OK, so I’m made those quotes up, but either 7-Eleven has been, shall we say ‘encouraging’ positive tweets about its new popcorn, or netizens in Japan really need to get out more and expand their palates, because the king of the combinis’ latest offering, while perfectly edible (or rather half of it is), really isn’t all that.

The two flavours (Caramel 189 yen/US$1.85 and Cheddar Cheese 159 yen/$1.59) went on sale earlier this month and have been flying off shelves like emo lemmings, racking up five-star reviews from snack fans who seemingly can’t get enough of the stuff.

Suffice it to say, I was excited to try the popcorn for myself, partly because I’m a sucker for delicious junk that my body in no way needs, and partly because, to quote the great comedian Bill Bailey, “I’m English and as such crave disappointment.” By the time I’d dusted the crumbs off my face and made my keyboard sticky enough to attract a colony of ants as soon as the weather gets a bit warmer, I realised that I was enjoying myself on both fronts.

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Both varieties come in plastic pouches that look rather like those swanky “we’ve got real vegetables in us and not just recycled newspaper” soups you can buy at health food shops, complete with easy-tear bags. They also have resealable tops, most likely designed with petite Japanese in mind or to help guilty snackers kid themselves into thinking that they’ll only eat half a bag at a time. Considering the bags’ meagre size (they’re just 33 grams each), it’s a slightly unnecessary addition at the expense of the environment, but it’s at least better than wrapping each individual kernel in plastic in the name of freshness.

The thought of cheese-flavoured popcorn made me slightly uneasy, so I began with the caramel variety.

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The popcorn itself is actually far denser than I had expected. If you’re the kind of person who loves warm, fluffy movie theatre popcorn, then this definitely isn’t for you. It’s surprisingly weighty for what is essentially nuggets of corn that have flipped themselves inside-out, and the sugar – which the packaging tells me is “natural brown” and is designed to evoke a “wonderful time” – leaps from the popcorn to your teeth in a single crunch, which depending on how often you like visiting the dentist may or may not be an issue.

 ▼ “Hope this food will bring you a wonderful time.” Is that a wish or an instruction!?

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For all of its processed flavour, though, 7-Eleven’s caramel popcorn is surprisingly moreish, and it has a rich aftertaste not unlike treacle (or molasses if that’s how your lexicon rolls) rather than caramel. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had another flavour to try, I might have polished the whole bag off without realising it.

So it is actually any good?

Meh. I could happily snack on this without giving it any thought, and if offered I’d absolutely take a handful from a friend (but remember, kids, never from strangers!). But would I be disappointed if, during some kind of death row last meal/being king for the day/bedridden-and-in-need-of-a-snack scenario, I asked my wife to bring me some popcorn and it wasn’t 7-Eleven’s new stuff? Not in the slightest. It’s by no means bad, but it’s not going to win any awards either. Three thumbs up.

The convenience store giant’s cheddar cheese popcorn, however, is just plain bad.

▼ “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

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Growing up in the northwest of England, I had plain cheddar cheese sandwiches for lunch every other day at school. Where I come from, you can buy a block of the stuff the size of your own head for sixpence and still have change left over for a lime twizzler and a game of bat the rat at the village fair. Nevertheless, the lowly cheddar is surprisingly revered here in Japan, where processed cheese is often the only kind on offer in your average supermarket and it’s perfectly normal to find a slither of cheddar sitting proudly between a morsel of Stilton or wisp of Wensleydale on an after-dinner cheese board in some swanky bistro, so the packaging for 7-Eleven’s cheesy popcorn does its best to show off the fact that it’s made with the stuff.

Having never experienced cheese-flavour popcorn before, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I tore the top off the second packet and peered inside, expecting a wave of cheesy air to waft over me at any moment.

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But the cheese wave never came. Instead, what struck me was the bizarre, almost flourescent orange colour of the popcorn inside.

I poured a few kernels out into a bowl to better inspect them, thinking that perhaps it was a trick of the light as it bounced around inside the foil-lined bag. They still looked ludicrously orange.

▼ I swear, I haven’t tampered with the colours in this photo. The popcorn is just that orange.

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Thinking that this popcorn looked unlike any cheddar cheese I’d ever encountered in my years of packed lunches or grated onto baked potatoes in my university days, I took a quick peek at the list of ingredients printed on the packet. Sure enough, I discovered additional colouring listed. Quite why 7-Eleven opted to do this, particularly when they are promoting their popcorn as a superior product in their range, I have no idea. Perhaps “ORAAAAAANGE!!!!” better conveys a cheesy image?

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Lest I come off as some kind of snack snob here, let it be known that I have absolutely no qualms about going on a junk-food bender from time to time. I’ve been known to shovel an entire family-size bag of 7-Eleven cheese rings – which, it should be noted, are nowhere near as orange as this new popcorn – into my ravenous shout-hole before the opening credits of a film have ended, and I’ll happily eat an entire clutch of Cadbury Creme Eggs for breakfast if left unsupervised on an Easter morning. But no food should be this colour.

The popcorn’s taste, too, leaves an awful lot to be desired. Depending on whether you pluck one from the bag that was especially blessed by the Cheese Fairy or exiled from her kingdom for crimes against dairy, you’ll find yourself either chewing on something that has all the palate-teasing charisma of a piece of spray-painted polystyrene or wondering if you’ll ever be able to taste anything other than cheese again. To make matters worse, unlike its caramel-coated brethren, the cheese popcorn’s texture is incredibly rubbery, so it squeaks and creaks with every bite. It’s a genuinely unsettling sensation and makes me think, for some reason, of cotton wool balls. Yum!

▼ Too long; didn’t read? This stuff, dear reader, is nasty.

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Perhaps it’s all down to cultural differences. Maybe I am a snack snob and should just go back where I came from if the cheese here isn’t good enough for me. But it would seem that I stand alone in my opinion that 7-Eleven’s new popcorn is decidedly average (caramel) and nasty, processed crap (cheese). The internet continues to be ablaze with people singing the convenience store’s praises and demanding that they restock their shelves immediately, and even the guys over at our Japanese sister site – including our own revered reporter Mr Sato – are declaring it “mecha umai” (incredibly tasty). In my opinion, though, you can do a lot better than this.

Save your yennies and buy a tub of the real thing at a movie theatre. Or purchase something online made of glass and chew on the protective packaging it comes in, if you’re thinking about giving the cheese variety a go. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have half a packet of cheese popcorn to palm off on someone. Thank goodness it came with a resealable top…

Photos: RocketNews24