A non-carbonated soft drink, with a milky texture and a sweet, but slightly sour finish describes the unique but delicious flavor of the Japanese drink Calpico (known as Calpis in Japan). The slight tanginess, often described by drinkers as a “citrusey” taste comes from the fermentation process used to create the drink and is a definitely a note that sets Calpico apart.
Calpico has its start at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1902, the company’s founder, Kaiun Mishima, traveled to mainland China on a sort of sabbatical. During his time on the Asian continent, he stopped for a while in Mongolia where he had the opportunity to try a local fermented milk drink called kumis. Mishima was not only impressed by the flavor of the drink, but the active cultures present in it restored the digestive upset he had sustained from travelling. In 1915, Mishima returned to Japan, determined to create a fermented milk drink of his own. After a period of recipe experimentation, in 1919, Calpico was released to the public, at the time sold as a concentrate. It didn’t take long for Calpico’s popularity to skyrocket, and it has remained a favorite drink ever since. In its original, concentrate form, Calpico does not need to be refrigerated, which contributed greatly to its popularity in pre-war Japan where refrigeration was not yet common.
Like kumis, the drink that inspired it, Calpico is made through a process of fermenting milk with live, active cultures. First, fresh, skimmed milk is combined with a proprietary starter culture made from yeast and lactobacillus bacteria. The milk is left to ferment and the flavor is allowed to age before sugar is added to begin a second stage of fermentation. This second stage of fermentation is responsible for distinct sweet and citrus notes that make Calpico’s unique flavor. Once the fermentation process is complete, the now concentrated form of Calpico is bottled, distributed and sold.
Today, Calpico concentrate has made a place for itself in the Japanese food scene numerous ways. It is a popular topping for kakigori, or Japanese shaved ice, and as a sweetener in cocktails. It is even used to flavor and tenderize meat on occasion! In addition to being sold in its original concentrated form, Calpico is available in several ready-to-drink flavors and varieties. Calpico Water, which is made by diluting the concentrate with a 1:4 ratio with water, is available in several flavors, including peach, lychee, mango, and strawberry and is considered a refreshing accompaniment to any meal. Calpico Soda is similar to Calpico Water, but is made with seltzer for a fizzy, more stereotypical soft-drink texture.
With its unique taste, and wide variety of uses, Calpico has remained popular throughout Japan for over 100 years. It’s deliciousness and versatility have spread it’s popularity around the entire world. There is truly nothing quite like it in the world of soft drinks, and this uniqueness is sure to keep it’s popularity going for years to come. Be sure to grab a bottle or two on your next trip to Maido, at a discount! All 500ml Calpico Water flavors are on sale until the end of August, while supplies last.