Kelp, have you once again found a way to work gelatin into the Bay Area Kei Bibliotheca Blog Newsletter theme? No! Today we’re talking about flan! (But yeah also gelatin.) There’s no recipe to jump to here, since we’re making something out of a box.
You see, if you go to buy a flavored gelatin mix at my local grocery store, you really have a maximum of two options — brand name Jell-O🄬, and the store brand. But occasionally, I can find a different brand called Royal. Because they aren’t really stocked well where I am, I don’t often use their gelatin mixes; my resident grocery shopper did track down their Pineapple flavor for me once, but I’ve yet to try it. (Jell-O’s “Island Pineapple” is…not recommended. Combining Lemon flavor with pineapple juice will give you much better results.)
Perusing their website, I noticed they have a Blackberry flavor, which Jell-O did make at one time but sadly discontinued. (Unfortunately, Royal’s Blackberry flavor is fairly reddish in hue, so we’re still left with the medicinal Jell-O Grape as the only readymade purple option.) They also list a Strawberry-Banana flavor, a flavor that Jell-O allegedly produces but I have never seen in stores.
That’s not to say I’ve never tried Royal’s products. In fact, there’s one product of theirs I’ve eaten countless times.
There’s no gelatin in this. Or eggs. Or much of anything, honest. In terms of gelling agents, the box lists both carrageenan and locust bean gum. But it tastes pretty good! I enjoy rich desserts — my favorite type of cheesecake is New York style. But I have to be in a certain mood to devour an eggy custard, and I think this synthetic version is a nice little “lite” version of the Real Thing.
Purin (not pudding)
I got notified recently that it’s time for the annual Sanrio Grand Prix- wait, I promise this is relevant. Stay with me.
Cinnamoroll (who is a Dog. Not a Rabbit.) has had their cold blue grip on the top spots for years now, but one of their biggest perennial challengers is another food-dog heavyweight, PomPomPurin.
I Have Consumed Him and So We Are One
Aah, so it’s like that, huh. I understand everything now.
プリン purin comes from the English word “pudding”. Normally I would stop there, but if you’re here, I’m guessing you won’t mind a linguistic sidetrack. Most borrowings from English into Japanese nowadays use more-or-less standardized conventions when written in katakana. These conventions rely a lot on what sometimes is called “spelling pronunciation”, but there’s also a lot more going on I won’t bore you with. Basically, <pudding> should end up as something like プディング pudingu, and a quick google search reveals that yes, if you’re looking for Japanese recipes for “bread pudding”, ブレッドプディング bureddo pudingu is what you want.
You know, I’m not sure there’s an attractive way to photograph bread pudding
So why the ‘r’ in purin? Welcome to the wide world of rhotics! (Rhotic is a fancy word for ‘R sounds’.) We’re going to ignore the American English <r> sound, which is notoriously one of the most complicated, messy sounds in the entirety of human language. Instead, we’re gonna talk about t/d flapping, a process in American English that people love to make fun of while simultaneously failing to understand what it even is.
(You know when Brits make fun of how we say “water”? It’s that.)
What most people know as a [t] or [d] sound is specifically an alveolar stop (voiceless and voiced, repsectively). These sounds are called stops because you produce them by completely stopping the airflow in your mouth, before releasing it. (They’re also called ‘plosives’, as in ‘gonna make a small little air explosion in my mouth’.) The alveolar part refers to the alveolar ridge, right behind your teeth, where you stop the air. In some varieties of English, including most spoken in the United States, if you have a [t] or [d] sound between vowels*, like in the word <pudding>, it turns into an ‘alveolar flap’ instead, where you just quickly tap your tongue instead of making the full stop. This means for a lot of speakers, pairs like <latter>/<ladder> and <writer>/<rider> are homophones.
*Not gonna deal with syllabic consonants, don’t at me, etc.
What the heck does this have to do with ‘R sounds’? Well, alveolar flaps are found in many other languages’ sound inventories, such as Spanish. And in Spanish, the alveolar flap is written with the letter…R. The ‘single R sound’ that’s in <pero>, as opposed to the ‘double/trilled R’ in <perro>. Which is just, you guessed it, multiple flaps strung together.
Back to Japanese. You might have heard some hogwash like “the Japanese R sound is between an R and L”, which hopefully you now realize is a completely useless sequence of words. Welcome to the psychic damage I take on the regular when normies try to talk about language stuff. In reality, it’s a also an alveolar flap. Sorta. There’s some extra stuff going on I’m going to skip. (R sounds love to be complicated.)
The whole point of this sidetrack is that there’s some English borrowings in Japanese that came into the language less formally (i.e., no one was staring at the written form when deciding how to write it in katakana), and as such they don’t follow the standard rules. But they do follow rules! It does make sense to write purin with an R! Okay anyways.
Back to My Actual Point
I wouldn’t be surprised if none of you really ever cared to know why it’s purin and not pudingu. But I do know many people have pointed out “Hey, why is it always That Pudding?”
Is purin only ever flan? Yeah, pretty often. Most Japanese recipes for purin are for ‘crème caramel’, where you’re making a custard. But just like our egg-less, gelling agent-filled Royal flan mix, you can also get a readymade gelatinized version at the store, aka ケミカルプリン kemikaru purin ‘chemical pudding’.
Pucchin Purin ad, by Japanese food brand Glico
And yep, you guessed it — you can buy box mixes to make this stuff too. Which finally brings me to the actual purpose of this post: to compare and contrast Royal Flan mix to a Japanese purin mix.
Which Purin Will Reign Supreme?
In the Red Corner, we have Royal Flan, of course. I’m making it the default way listed on the box, cooked with milk on the stovetop, but I noticed there’s several variations included that involve reducing the amount of milk, adding more sugar, and even adding eggs! That last one made me think…do I always add eggs when I make it? Is that why Royal Flan is so good? [+egg]?
In the Blue Corner, we have プリンエル Purin L from Japanese brand House. House actually makes two different purin box mixes, the other being プリンミクス Purin Mix. Even if you can’t read Japanese, a quick glance at the lower left corner of the box reveals the difference: Purin Mix is made with just water, while Purin L is made with milk over the stovetop.
To keep things fair, I’ll refrain from adding the eggs to Royal Flan, which makes both box mixes pretty much the same in terms of added ingredients and prep. The only real difference is that Purin L has a powdered caramel you dissolve in hot water, while Royal Flan has a syrup packet. Doing the math, Royal Flan uses a bit more milk proportionally than Purin L (~473 ml to 400 ml), but there’s also instructions on the box to reduce the milk “for a firmer dessert” (ooh la la~), so theoretically you could go with the exact same amount. One last helpful difference is the color — Royal Flan is noticeably more yellow than Purin L once prepared, so even though I was careful to separate the two in the fridge, I appreciated the extra visual cue. I didn’t tell my two taste-testers which was which, though.
That cherry wasn’t leaning when I started…the perils of food photography
Both testers agreed that Purin L had a much smoother texture and mouthfeel than Royal Flan. I suspect the use of gelatin as opposed to carrageenan and locust bean gum is responsible. My more loquacious tester compared Purin L to more of a milk-based vanilla pudding, while Royal Flan seemed more “custard-like” (but still not comparable to a real egg-based flan you’d get in a restaurant). Lastly, it was noted that the caramel included with Purin L has a coffee note, which is a big negative for me, but potentially a positive for others. (Making the caramel from the powdered mix was also kind of an annoying extra step.)
All in all, we all agreed both were good, but I’d have to say overall Purin L edged out Royal Flan. The only category where Royal Flan won was ironically “how close is this to flan”, but honestly that makes sense. I’m pretty sure if I had made it with eggs (as I believe I customarily do), it would have scored higher. So in terms of ‘chemical purin’, Purin L takes the W, but if you’re looking to make flan proper, I think [+egg] Royal Flan is the way to go.