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Soft Serve Comes in Many Flavors

Soft serve can be eaten throughout Japan and is a staple snack at vacation destinations.

Soft serve can be eaten throughout Japan and is a staple snack at vacation destinations.

Soft Serve ice cream is sold in numerous unique flavors at tourist sites throughout Japan from northernmost Hokkaido to southernmost Okinawa. It's something Japanese people enjoy while traveling, just like buying souvenirs when sightseeing.

Japanese soft serve doesn't just come in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Each local area has its own unique flavors, and it's a colorful and popular dessert enjoyed by everyone from kids to grownups. You can savor unique-flavored soft serves at freeway rest areas, historical sites such as shrines and temples, scenic areas and, of course, at local convenience stores.

40% of Japanese People Eat more than 12 Soft Serves a Year

The Japanese eat a lot of soft serve. Research by the Japan Softcream Organization in 2015 found that 40% of Japanese people eat more than 12 soft serves a year. In a questionnaire asking people their favorite soft serve flavors, the answers showed Japanese people enjoy diverse flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, green tea, strawberry, melon, coffee and mango.

Why has soft serve become so popular? Soft Serve came to Japan about 60 years ago. Since then, soft serve was sold in department store cafeterias and cafes, rapidly winning the hearts of the people; soon being sold from Tokyo throughout Japan.

Later on, there was a boom in soft serve made on dairy farms in Hokkaido. Luxurious soft serve made from milk fresh from dairy cows raised on vast Hokkaido pastures with a taste fresh as never before became trendy, and now dairy farms throughout Japan sell homemade soft serve. Nowadays, soft serve is being sold with local specialties in its ingredients too.

Tea Ceremony Matcha and Soft Serve Fusion

Recently, the rich matcha soft serve that specialty tea shops sell is also popular.

Recently, the rich matcha soft serve that specialty tea shops sell is also popular.

Soft serve, which was brought over from the United States, has evolved in a unique way in Japan.

Matcha (green tea powder), which came to Japan from China in the 12th century, is now an indispensable part of Japan's food culture; soft serve made with matcha is today a classic flavor.

Soft serve made with matcha from areas that are perfect for growing tea leaves like Kyoto are extremely popular with their dark green color, a distinct astringency and roundness in flavor, and smooth texture.

Green tea in Japan is considered something to set the heart at ease and to enjoy. Perhaps matcha soft serve is the perfect flavor for enjoying a relaxing moment while on vacation.

Unique Soft Serve that isn't just Sweet

Soft serve with grated fresh wasabi topping. ©Izu City

Soft serve with grated fresh wasabi topping. ©Izu City

Soft serve that's just like a cone full of noodles. Enjoy the mysterious taste of soy sauce and green onions. ©Nishikiya

Soft serve that's just like a cone full of noodles. Enjoy the mysterious taste of soy sauce and green onions. ©Nishikiya

Black soft serve made with cuttlefish ink. It doesn't taste fishy and it has a refreshing taste.  ©Minori

Black soft serve made with cuttlefish ink. It doesn't taste fishy and it has a refreshing taste. ©Minori

Sweet soft serve flavors like strawberry and chocolate are common, but Japan has also seen some unique flavor developments. In prefectures such as Shizuoka and Nagano, which are in the middle of Japan, there is soft serve made with the familiar, stimulating and fragrant Japanese native condiment wasabi (Japanese horseradish), the green condiment in sushi. The fresh wasabi is either grated and sprinkled on soft serve or it's mixed in, and its superb balance of sweetness and bitterness is popular.

In the south of Japan in Kagawa Prefecture, which is famous for udon (Japanese wheat noodles), there's a soft serve that's called udon soft serve and it comes out of the machine looking like udon noodles, which are long and slightly thicker than spaghetti. The cream has ginger mixed in it and is slightly yellow. Green onions, an udon topping, are also sprinkled on it, and it’s finished off with a dash of the classic Japanese seasoning, soy sauce. It's just like handheld cold udon with a mysterious taste where the saltiness of the soy sauce brings out the sweetness of the cream.

In Hakodate, Hokkaido, where a lot of cuttlefish are caught, you can find black soft serve with cuttlefish ink. There are many local delicacies with fresh cuttlefish in the area, but in Hakodate, soft serve combining fresh milk from local dairies and cuttlefish ink is a surprisingly not-fishy, refreshing and popular treat.

This is how Japan has used the specialties of many regions to make a wide variety of original soft serves. How about trying a unique soft serve at your destination?

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