Thursday, May 2, 2013

Angry Birds on the Menu

"Hahaha no! Haha no! Why?! I feel like this is just a night of poison. That's what I feel like." This is from Eat Korea's high tech research assistant, The NetBot. 

She was coerced into tasting a number of products scavenged from Korean supermarkets, Lotte Mart and Kim's Club: Angry Birds food.

Apple users have been enticed by Angry Birds since the game was released in 2009. Millions of people, game hours, dollars, and a franchise later, those charming, brightly colored balls of feathered vengeance adorn ball caps, plush toys, t-shirts, keychains and even bags of chips. 

Angry Birds fever is alive and well in South Korea where, for the last year, Korean snack companies have been feeding that fever with carb and sugar loaded snacks and beverages.

Here are some of the more common ones on the Korean market:

DIY Chocolate bars

Fans of Easy-Bake Ovens and Creepy Crawlers will appreciate Ice Chocolate (얼초코) — an Angry Birds DIY chocolate bar from Korean snack food giant Haitai (ㅎㅌㅐ). Squeeze chocolate sauce from a mini toothpaste bottle into a pig or bird shaped mould, shove in a stick, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes and voilà — you have a chocolate bar shaped like a video game character. Making it is unexpectedly fun, especially if you ignore the Korean directions. This seemingly straightforward craft develops unique challenges for those arrogant enough to believe themselves to be a secret, chocolate prodigy of Willy Wonka. A constipated, chocolate toothpaste bottle, for instance, is one obstacle. The end result, though, is smooth, chocolatey and a little fudgy. However, it does have a slight chemical aftertaste, and the longer it stays in the box the more intense that flavor becomes. In the test were two boxes purchased at least four months ago. The printed expiration date was in September, but the bars tasted like chocolate coated iPod batteries. The NetBot said it well when she exclaimed, "It tastes freezer burned even though they weren't in the freezer that long." 


Teachers have been scraping gum from the bottom of desks for generations. Considering the large academic audience of this blogazine, in addition to the normal slew of evaluations, two varieties of Angry Birds gum produced by Haitai were tested on various surfaces to determine their stick properties. The first style of gum, Angry Birds TongTong (통통), a craft store flavored stick gum, was stuck under a coffee table and wedged between two bathroom tiles on a line of grout. This gum, which gave consistent flavor for the fifteen minutes it was chewed before application and was hardy enough to stand up to vigorous bubble blowing, stuck easily to the surfaces and remained there without falling overnight. Approximately ten hours after application, the gum under the table was still soft and sticky. Unfortunately, it stretched upon removal, leaving small clumps behind that had to be scraped off with an old steak knife. Luckily, though, the glob in the bathroom came off without issue.

The second style of gum, called Angry Birds BerryBerry TongTong (베리베리 통통), looks like a chiclet. It comes in an addictingly fun, Pez-memory-evoking dispenser that can be clipped to the belt, and it tastes remarkably like a bowl of Fruit Loops or, alternatively, vomit. "Apparently, [it tastes like] sugary, yummy throw-up," said The NetBot, a gum expert who nearly broke her jaw in high school from chewing it so much. "It's got that sickly sweet, burning acid type deal," she later clarified. 

Like the stick gum, the Angry Birds chiclet was applied to a bathroom tile and under a coffee table. In neither case did the gum, which is too soft to produce a good bubble and doesn't keep its flavor as long as the other gum, stay adhered to the surface it was on. As a last resort, a blob of it was violently smushed into a rough, unstained surface under a different coffee table where it finally stuck. Ten hours later, however, it was discovered on the floor. It had hardened overnight and fallen off without any noticeable damage to the table. 

Fruit Juice

Haitai is not the only Korean company capitalizing off cravings for sugar and Angry Birds. Health food company Erom (이롬) is known for producing such health sustaining beverages as 6-Year-Old Red Ginseng Forte Juice. In Korea, Red Ginseng, which is downed by old people in the middle of pharmacies and found in every 7-11 from Seoul to Busan, is used like an essential vitamin. Even desperate ESL teachers fighting the cold or flu have been known to open a bottle or two. Given this reputation, who would have guessed that Erom's line of Angry Birds fruit juices taste more like sugar water than juice? 

The drinks, which are known simply as "Angry Birds (insert fruit name)," come in four colorfully bottled, juice-defying flavors: strawberry, pineapple, grape and apple. Off the shelf, strawberry is by far the most popular. It is consistently the least stocked flavor at the local Kim's Club, whereas the other flavors don't vanish off the shelf nearly as fast. It is hard to say if the strawberry flavor really is the best, though. They are all truly insipid. After trying all four The NetBot asked, "Are these supposed to be sports drinks?" She was told they were juice. "These are not juice."

In Erom's defense, however, the labels on the bottles do claim to contain anywhere from 0.6 to 12.24 percent juice. The grape juice even contains 1.24 percent of grape juice concentrate! On the other hand, they do contain less sugar (18 grams per 240ml) than the next beverage on the list. 


Korean instant noodles and beverage company, Paldo (팔도), in contrast, actually produces decent Angry Birds drinks: Angry Birds Vitamin Ssoda (비타민쏘다) and Angry Birds Taurine Ssoda (타우린 쏘다). Vitamin Ssoda, despite a health crushing 28 grams of sugar per 240 ml can, packs an immune system boosting burst of 500mg of vitamin C. It's also refreshingly tart and citrusy. "It's got a lime-lemony bouquet if you will," claimed The NetBot who also likened it to Sprite. 

Taurine Ssoda, which smells and tastes like Sweet Tarts, is also surprisingly good. It has an advertised 500 mg of taurine as well. However, as an energy drink, it isn't effective enough to boost an ESL teacher unaccustomed to energy drinks through a three hour class filled with elementary students who probably got all their energy from Erom's sugar-water Angry Birds Juice. 


The parade of Type 2 Diabetes inducing snacks continues with Haitai's Angry Birds Original Egg Cookies (Original 겨란과자). They're called eggs, but they're not shaped like eggs. They don't taste like eggs either. They taste like really dry, crumbly, lemon sugar cookies. "They even taste, and dash me for even saying it, a little bit healthy," said The NetBot, who was not a fan. Dry and healthy tasting as they were, they made a fine accompaniment to a cup of tea. And, like the other Angry Birds products, the packaging was bright and gimmicky enough to bring up the cookies' entertainment value. For instance, under the lid of the box were printed six pop-out Angry Birds collector cards, each one with a different character and star ranking. 


Perhaps Haitai is secretly trying to make Koreans as chunky as the Angry Birds themselves. The names of the next snacks might be a clue. The "Tongtong" in Angry Birds Tongtong II Sweet and Spicy Flavored chips (앙그리버드 통통II 매콤달콤한맛) and Angry Birds Space Tongtong III Charcoal Grill Flavored Chips (앙그리버드 스페이스 통통III 숯불구이맛) literally translates as "chubby." And they're insidiously delicious enough to make you chubby in short time. The flavor of these tiny, nacho shaped chips is mild, but grows in intensity the faster you scarf them down. And you hardly notice you've eaten anything because this puffed rice snack is mostly air. "These are yummy," said The NetBot. "I would eat these. I am!" 

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