“I nonetheless drink Yakult for dessert. Really, I drink 5 bottles in a row,” my Korean American roommate mentioned proudly at dinner. 

Each certainly one of us—principally Asian People—not solely knew what Yakult was, however had an opinion on the drink. “Isn’t Yakult for teenagers?” a Chinese language American good friend requested. “I’ve heard it’s alleged to be wholesome,” a Korean Brazilian good friend mused, to the shock of my roommate and others, who had been beneath the impression it was dangerous for you. 

That night time we’d been reminiscing concerning the roster of candy treats we grew up on: creme-filled Good day Panda cookies, Hello-Chew candies, chocolate-dipped YanYan biscuits, Jin Jin lychee jellies, and—apparently essentially the most polarizing—Yakult.

I couldn’t cease eager about Yakult the next day and headed to New York’s Hong Kong Grocery store to see if it was nonetheless round. Would it not style like I remembered? Akin to kombucha or yogurt, it falls someplace between dairy and citrus: milky clean and candy with fruity undertones. Contemporary from the fridge, it was like liquid sweet however with simply sufficient tartness for stability. It struck me that Yakult was a singular beverage unto itself, and I started to surprise about its origins.

Yakult arrived in America in 1990 on the heels of an Asian grocery growth within the U.S. that introduced us 99 Ranch, H-Mart, and Seafood Metropolis. As an Asian American child rising up within the ‘90s and early 2000s, I used to be Yakult’s prime buyer. It was one of many few drinks my native Asian grocery carried that wasn’t tea or soda. 5-year-old me was as drawn to its taste as to its lovely 2.7-ounce bottle capped with purple foil that match into my small hand. Twenty years later, that packaging is so distinct in my reminiscence that, standing within the refrigerated aisle of the grocery, I acknowledged the drink from afar and made a beeline for it.

Then I did one thing I’d by no means completed as a child: I seemed on the diet label. The substances had been: water, sugar, nonfat milk, glucose, “pure flavors,” and L. paracasei pressure Shirota. That final one stood out—I later discovered it was a singular pressure of probiotic lactobacillus named after Dr. Minoru Shirota, the Japanese microbiologist who based Yakult in 1935. The corporate has made small changes to the recipe through the years, however Shirota’s namesake bacterium has remained.

Yakult’s picture as a well being meals model explains, partially, why it’s been so profitable. The corporate is valued at a staggering $2.8 billion and sells to greater than 40 nations. (Comparatively, GT Dwelling Meals, the biggest kombucha model within the U.S., is valued at simply over $900 million.) The web site recommends consuming one to 2 bottles every day as a part of a nutritious diet. And with buzzwords like “intestine biome” and “probiotic” seemingly in every single place, the model is properly positioned to achieve the U.S. So why hasn’t it caught on? 

Yakult and kombucha are each probiotic drinks with Asian origins, however most of my non-Asian mates know solely the latter. Maybe that’s as a result of kombucha’s Asian origins have been largely erased by the mainstream discourse. Kombucha arrived within the U.S. through Europe, the place it received its first foothold exterior of Asia. By the point corporations like GT Dwelling Meals and Well being-Ade started producing kombucha Stateside, its picture had already been “Westernized,” thereby avoiding the stigmas Asian meals have traditionally confronted. In contrast, Yakult’s identification has remained firmly Asian—to its detriment within the U.S., the place it’s not often bought exterior Asian groceries. American gross sales of Yakult quantity to 463,000 bottles per day, compared to 3,496,000 bottles in neighboring Mexico, the place far fewer Asians dwell. 

However Yakult discovered its U.S. market amongst Asian American youngsters like me who noticed it on grocery retailer cabinets and loved it as a scrumptious, child-sized deal with. The beverage turned a delicate level of pleasure and identification that we might declare as our personal—this distinctive bottle neatly packed in our lunchboxes.

Nowadays, the beverage isn’t solely in lunchboxes. Strolling again from the grocery via Koreatown, I noticed Yakult-flavored boba drinks, fro-yo, and soju on window indicators and storefront menus. In recent times, Asian People’ nostalgia has given the beverage new life. The 2018 Netflix rom-com To All of the Boys I’ve Cherished Earlier than featured the drink as a favourite of its Korean American protagonist, Lara Jean. Its couple of minutes on display sparked recollections that younger Asian audiences took to social media to share—and even spurred an increase within the firm’s inventory value because the beverage bought out in shops. Yakult went on to seem in one other Netflix movie, The Half of It, and is continuously on the set of Korean dramas, which have discovered footing with Western audiences in recent times. These appearances in eating places, films, and popular culture constantly remind us that the Asian American child of the ‘90s has grown up.

Nostalgia often faucets right into a faraway previous, but for a lot of Asian People, our historical past is intangible—throughout an ocean, in a unique language, filtered via generations of a far-reaching diaspora. So as an alternative, we search to rebuild our personal cultural historical past proper right here, the place our previous finds our current: in childhood anecdotes shared over dinner, in Asian groceries, and beneath the crinkly purple cap of a bottle of Yakult.