Battle of the Black Burgers
As with many things (geopolitical conflict, musical movements), nothing is real until it goes viral on the internet.
Although Burger King Japan introduced the Kuro Burger (kuro is 'black' in Japanese) two years ago, it was only this fall that the English speaking interwebs became obsessed. Granted, I did live in Japan for the better part of last year so my facebook feed may be a bit abnormal, but it became cluttered with links to various sites that were mostly (in the grand tradition of doing as little work as possible) just publishing the pics from Burger King Japan's site and adding their commentary, "hey look - that's pretty weird" and not much else.
Part of the reason that I believe it became more visible is McDonald's Japan got fed up (ho ho) with Burger King Japan's domination of the special edition black burger game. In Japan, 'Special Editions' of anything rule the world. Last year I went to a pop-up store selling Special Edition Kit Kats. While at first this sounds, well basically amazing - it was actually quite disappointing as this Special Edition (like many in Japan) included a slightly different label and not a single change to the product.
Yet in the highly competitive Japanese fast food game, they can't just slap a different label on it. Thus the battle of the black burgers.
I photographed and consumed these burgers several months ago not that long after they were introduced (both in the same day for comparison's sake and gluttony's sake) but I think it took quite awhile for them to fully digest, so my apologies for the delay.
The answering volley to the Burger King Kuro Burger is the McDonald's Ikasumi Halloween Burger (ika means squid, sumi means ink). McDonald's also has a Squid Ink Camembert Chicken Burger, but that is outside the scope of this website. Let the chicken burger blogs take on that one.
Let me just stick a pin in this and let some of the magic out right here. The artwork on these burgers is quite well done - McDonald's going with a more Halloween theme and Burger King trying to be minimal and fancy. Either way, good photography and even better retouching because these burgers look nothing like most of the pictures circulating on the web.
I'm a huge fan of burgers (duh) and I'm even a big fan of visual gimmicks, but these things give burgers a bad name.
First of all, the bread doesn't look very black to me anywhere except on the in-store displays. McDonald's is blue-grey, reminiscent of a nice grocery store bun after two weeks of mold accumulation. Burger King's is quite a bit darker, rendering a nice shade of dark brown (to contrast with the strangely light brown patty). Although the McDonalds ads do show the bun in a lighter shade than the Burger King ads - so maybe they're lying in equal amounts. Unfortunately while Burger King gets closer to black, the presentation of the burger looks like it was run over a few times while the McDonald's burger is quite well assembled.
Of course taste is paramount even in gimmicky black burgers, so we don't have to worry too much about visuals because they both taste disgusting. I don't really like McDonalds or Burger King all that much anyways, but these left me fondly craving Big Macs and Whoppers.
Steve Martin summed it up in LA Story when giving helpful feedback about his neighbor's juicing habit: "It's exactly like licking a shag carpet."
In truth, one is like licking a shag carpet (Burger King) and the other is like licking an Ikea area rug (McDonalds). In other words, if I were captured by ISIS and forced to choose - I would go for the McDonald's Ikasumi Burger, but it wouldn't be an easy choice.
As far as I can tell from the various marketing materials, the burgers are made in roughly the same way - bamboo charcoal is used to make the buns black (and BK black cheese) and squid ink is used to make the sauces black.
McDonald's comes out ahead, but it's still terrible. The little fried onions give a nice bit of crunch while offering no taste at all (which means it's the best tasting thing on the burger). Luckily the charcoal in the dough also offers no taste leaving the bun utterly forgettable. Unfortunately the sauce does have a taste, but not one I'd care to repeat. It's artificial and cloying, even when compared to the rest of McDonald's offerings. The patty is of a rubbery variety, albeit a slightly better and chewier rubber than Burger King's version.
Somehow Burger King still brings up the rear with it's more convincingly colored bun and, well - let's call it a burger for lack of a better term. The cheese looks fantastically black (the only thing that actually does look jet black) but is tasteless. The theoretically all-beef patty has an unpleasant aftertaste and the sauce adds a nice counterbalancing unpleasant taste. Similarly to the McDonalds offering, 'artificial' is the word that best describes the overall taste. How I imagine the first prototype for lab grown 'beef' tasted.
This is where I try to say something nice about BK and McDonalds since my mom raised me to say something nice or nothing at all - oops, sorry. Judging by some passed out salarymen, McDonalds is the preferred spot for the face down on the table nap. The Burger King I visited is underneath Shinjuku Station so it's one of the tiny ones. It's quite close to a 7-11 if you need to buy something to cover up that awful taste.
Anyways, if you're craving bamboo charcoal, squid ink and rubbery fast food patties, have I got a fantastic recommendation for you!
McDonalds Black Burger • Ambience N/A, Burger 3/10, Fries N/A
Burger King Black Burger • Ambience N/A, Burger 2/10, Fries N/A