There’s a great new snack invading select UDF markets in Cincinnati. I predict that no border wall will prevent their immigration into our American Snack Lexicon. It’s called the Doritos Flavor Shot, and it’s based on a Japanese snack created in and still popular in Mexico City. They are deep fried, spicy wheat flour-coated Spanish peanuts and I am hooked. They’re sort of like a spicy, savory version of the French Burnt Peanut candy, but savory-spicy instead of crunchy sweet. They come for now in two flavors – Nacho Cheese and Flaming Hot Nacho Cheese – and were released by Frito Lay in early March of 2019. They’re a take on Japanese Peanuts, cacahuate japones in Spanish, created by a Japanese immigrant named Yoshigei Nakatami in Mexico City at the end of World War II in about 1945.
Generally I’m not a fan of adulterating a nut, but there’s something about the two different levels of crunch – the super crunchy, spicy outer coating and the softer crunch of the peanut. The original versions crated by Nakatami-san in Mexico City were originally a cripsy, soy flavored wheat coating, not a super spicy nacho cheese coating. While I’ve only found the Doritos version at select UDF markets where there are a lot of Hispanic immigrants who buy their breakfast or lunch. Oddly enough, they are available at the Hyde Park UDF, but not the Mt. Lookout UDF. And the original cacahuates japones, from Mexico, can be found at the many Hispanic markets on the West Side, like Tienda Y Carcinera GauataMex LLC next to St. Lawrence Bakery in Price Hill. They carry a brand called Manzelazo, which as a similar Geisha Girl logo similar to the original package of Nakatami-san’s company.
Nakatami-san arrived in Mexico City in 1932 from Osaka, Japan. He was under contract with Hejiro Katao , a wealthy businessman who owned a department store, La Nuevo Japon. He and other Osakan immigrants lived in the Merced neighborhood. It was here where he fell in love with a Mexican girl, Emma Avila, and married her in 1935.
Nakatani-san and his wife Emma.
When the War broke out, Kato’s business was closed because of anti-Japanese sentiment and Nakatami-san was unemployed. So to support his family, he turned to confectionery, a trade he had learned as an apprentice in his home village of Sumoto in the Hyogo Prefecture. He and his wife Emma began making traditional Mexican candies known as “muégano” in a small room in their neighborhood. The Muegano are fried-dough balls, stuck together with piloncillo syrup. The candies sold so well that the couple started making another fried wheat candy called “oranda.” The oranda was a Japanese confection imported from the Netherlands, called Oranda Senbei in Japan. It was sort of like a small, mildly sweet rice waffle -cracker, that was popular with fishermen in Nagasaki. It was kind of like a Japanese take on the Dutch Stroopwafel that Delta used to serve as an in flight snack.
Both candies were a wild success with people in their neighborhood. Encouraged by this, Yoshigei Nakatani attempted to make a snack with peanuts, rice flour and soy sauce that reminded him of his childhood. Unable to find rice flour in Mexico, he instead used wheat flour. This candy became popular with Mexicans in the proximity of the Merced Market and they had to get local blacksmiths to make machines for them to keep up with production. It was customers who started calling them Japanese Peanuts, and the name stuck.
The business gradually grew until the couple decided to rent another space in the Merced neighborhood, exclusively for snack production. The entire family took part in the business: Carlos, the oldest sibling, helped with dough prep; Alicia, the second-oldest, ran the house, cooking meals, washing clothes and babysitting; Graciela and Elvia, the youngest daughters, were the peanut baggers. Nakatani-san and Emma took charge of selling their confections on nearby streets.
In the 1950s, Yoshigei Nakatani named the family business Nipon, after his native Japan. They were able to afford branded cellophane bags printed with the company’s name. Nakatani-sans daughter Elvia, designed the geisha logo to identify the product.
By 1972, the company left La Merced, where it had been founded, and moved to a modern factgory, enabling introduction of a new line of salted and enchilada-flavored peanuts. The company also expanded its customer base throughout Mexico City.
In the 1980s Mexico endured a severe economic crisis affecting its industries. Productos Nipon faced unfair competition from new companies, some with multinational funding, that entered the market for Japanese peanuts. However, the company now led by his children Armando and Graciela, was able to navigate the waters by introducing new products like chamoy candies. In 2017 the brand was acquired by food conglomerate La Costeña, which led to the founding of a new family business known as Dulces Komiru.
Now, over 80 years later, Doritos is trying to reap the popularity of the snack in Mexico, with the growing Hispanic immigrant market in the States, as well as younger spice-seeking Gringos. I look forward to seeing more flavors of the product from Doritos.