I'll never forget the first time I tried Choco Boy. Oh yes. Last year while browsing a local Chinese supermarket, my cheap-ass self locked onto the box's 99¢ price tag and thought, "Hey, only 99¢! It looks like a slightly wonky version of that other mushroom chocolate-and-biscuit snack I like so much. How could I lose?"
Lose, I did. Its taste lived up to its price. Or lived down to its price. I'm not even sure I finished the whole box. All I remember is that I told myself to never buy it again.
...Until now, because it's taste test time, original versus imitator.
I thought a battle between Choco Boy (by South Korean company Orion) and Kinoko No Yama (by Japanese company Meiji) would be a straightforward victory for Kinoko No Yama, but I underestimated the mushroom-haired boy-creature. When both snacks were presented to the Serious Eats tasting panel, most people ended up preferring Choco Boy, although only by a smidge. Here are the results.
Kinoko No Yama
Kinoko No Yama ("Mushroom Mountain") is the classic Japanese snack of my youth that has been leading the "sweets that look like mushrooms" market since 1975 (admittedly, a very small market). These bite-sized snacks feature a crisp biscuit stem topped with a chocolate mushroom cap made of two layers of chocolate, milk and bittersweet.
Nearly all tasters noted that Kinoko's chocolate tasted better than Choco Boy's—more bitter and cocoa-y, with a richer, creamier texture—but they didn't prefer the biscuit stick, which was blander than Choco Boy's. A few tasters also thought there was too much chocolate, throwing off the chocolate-to-biscuit ratio.
Speaking for those who preferred Kinoko, the chocolate's flavor was the deal breaker for me. I didn't have a problem with the biscuit's blandness, nor the slightly chocolate-heavy ratio.
Nine years after Kinoko No Yama was born, Orion released Choco Boy (according to Wikipedia), a pretty straight-up knock-off. It only features one kind of chocolate instead of two, but the failure to align the mushroom caps straight up with the stems persists here as it does with Kinoko.
Despite the chocolate being waxier (one taster described it as "crayon") and less, well, chocolaty, more tasters preferred Choco Boy because of its sweeter, more flavorful biscuit. It also appealed more to those who don't like bitter chocolate. A few tasters said they only liked Choco Boy slightly more than Kinoko; they'd be happy eating either one.
Maybe their opinions would've been stronger if I had told them about the price difference. At my local Chinese supermarket, Choco Boy was 99¢ for a 50-gram box, while Kinoko was $3.19 for an 82-gram box. That's about 2¢ per gram versus about 4¢ per gram. If you consider pieces instead of grams, $1 of Choco Boy gets you about 23 pieces while $1 of the slightly heavier Kinoko gets you about 10 pieces. I'd rather spend my money on Kinoko, but if you don't have a strong preference, you may as well go for Choco Boy.
About the author: Robyn Lee is the editor of A Hamburger Today and takes many of the photos for Serious Eats. She'll also doodle cute stuff when necessary. Read more from Robyn at her personal food blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.