After decades and dozens of great fruit flavors, the latest version of the candy is Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor.

If someone asked you to describe Japanese confectioner Morinaga’s Hi-Chews and you said, “They’re chewy fruit-flavored candies,” up until a month ago you’d have been absolutely right. But while that’s still a mostly excellent description, it wouldn’t be correct in the newest version, Hi-Chew Sono Manma-aji.

Sono manma translates to “just as it is,” and in creating the Hi-Chew Sono Manma-aji/Just As It Is Flavor, Morinaga skipped grape, strawberry, lemon, and all the other fruit flavors that have been applied so deliciously to Hi-Chews over the year. But since Hi-Chews up to now have been defined by their added fruit flavor, what does a Hi-Chew, “just as it is,” taste like, and does it have any reason to exist?

These were questions we needed to find the answers to, so after Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor went on sale in the latter half of March, we grabbed a few packs for taste-testing.

▼ Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor

The packaging provided no hints as to what we were in for. “A texture that makes you feel happy the more you chew,” promised the wrapper. “That’s what we want you to enjoy, so we’ve made it as simple as possible.”

Unwrapping a piece gave us no clues either. In addition to no fruit flavoring, Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor has no added colors or aromas. It’s a plain white block, although when we went in for a sniff, we could sense a slight sweet scent, but not one that resembled any particular kind of produce.

So there was nothing left to do but pop a piece in our mouth and start chewing, and the more we chewed, the more aware we became of a softly sweet flavor. It was simple and straightforward, and once we stopped chewing it quickly faded down to an echo of sweetness, mild enough that even calling it an “aftertaste” feels too strong.

The lack of sharp citrus, tangy berry, or other strong flavors really did make the texture more noticeable and compelling, so Morinaga definitely succeeded on that goal. And yet, low-key as the flavor of Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor is, it’s still an enjoyable taste. But just what is it? Chewing on a piece again, we thought we could detect some milk-like notes, so we went to the wrapper again to check the list of ingredients, which turned out to be extremely short, with just four:

● Mizuame (starch syrup)
● Sugar
● Plant-based oil
● Gelatin

After reading the ingredient list, we could now recognize some similarities between the Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor and the mizuame coating of candied apples and fruit skewers sold at Japanese festival food stalls, but with the intensity dialed way down. But milk? There’s not a drop of it in these Hi-Chews. That had all been in our head, maybe because of the white color of the candies. So not only is Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor subtly satisfying, it’s also an intriguing exercise in how preconception can shape your mental impressions of flavor, so we’re happy to still have a few pieces to chew on.

Unfortunately for anyone interested in trying them for themselves, Hi-Chew Just As It Is Flavor was a limited-quantity Amazon Japan exclusive, and it looks like all the packs have been snapped up. That said, a 100-percent sales rate is something Morinaga will definitely take note of, so maybe we’ll see them come back again in a wider release.

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