Reviewer’s Note: A sample of the product discussed here was provided to me for reviewing purposes at no cost.
As a Foodbuzz Tastemaker, I am privileged to test food items provided to me for the purpose, and share my impressions with you. The latest product I received was Kikkoman Kara-Áge Soy-Ginger Seasoned Coating Mix. Kara áge is a Japanese method of coating marinated meat and/or seafood in seasoned flour and then deep-frying it in hot oil. The marinade tends to be made of soy sauce, ginger, and garlic.
In evaluating this product, I opted for a pound of boneless chicken tenderloin and a pound of jumbo shrimp. The first thing I noticed about the product was that its instructions are clear and accurate. In terms of preparation ease, it doesn’t get much simpler than this: you empty a packet of kara áge mix into a plastic kitchen storage bag along with your meat or seafood, seal the bag, and shake until the food is thoroughly coated. Kikkoman’s mix coats evenly and the food cooked quickly, underscoring truthful advertising in the claim “Ready in 5 minutes” printed on the box.
The finished products cooked to an eye-pleasing golden brown certain to whet the appetite of any onlooker that enjoys meat and seafood. On tasting, my first impression of the product was that I noted more ginger than soy in its flavor, and tasted no discernible garlic. In both the chicken and the shrimp I felt that the ginger dominated, making any hint of soy seem like an afterthought. Of course, this may be less of an issue for people who cannot get enough of the taste of ginger. My fondness of ginger, by comparison, does not exceed that which I feel for any of the other flavors one would expect good kara áge to present. I detected a disappointing lack of flavor balance, with one taking the lead while the other remained very much a footnote.
Having tasted traditional kara áge, I found Kikkoman’s version less impressive than the real thing. This product might be worth trying for home cooks making that first foray into preparing ‘exotic’ cuisine, or those seeking to put a time-saving twist on their nightly dinner routine. Children and people tasting kara áge for the first time are likely to find its flavor intriguing, but should not be fooled into thinking it is representative of kara áge at its best. There’s something to be said for taking the time to do food the way it should be done. Some shortcuts are less worth taking than others, particularly when flavor potential becomes a casualty of said shortcuts. People familiar with kara áge might dislike how lightly this mix treads on flavors other than ginger, and when seeking kara áge that is great or even good, rather than just passable as I found this product to be, might do well to look for it elsewhere.