The History Of Pocky Sticks

A sweet snap heard around the world

Lining supermarket shelves around the world, the brightly colored graphic boxes of Pocky have become synonymous with sugary Japanese snacking. While the formula—skinny cookies dipped in a creamy coating—might sound fairly simple, their international appeal, culled over a 40-year history, has reached cult-snack status.

Pocky made its debut in 1966, an era when the only chocolate available in Japan came in the form of clunky bars, imported from either the U.S. or Europe. Manufactured by Ezaki Glico, the original Pocky recipe was a straightforward combo of thin, sticklike biscuits covered from top to bottom in smooth chocolate. The target market for this pioneering snack was young females looking for a light and convenient snack to enjoy on the go.  

As it turned out, fingertips sticky from chocolate weren't particularly appealing to Pocky eaters. Leaving a fraction of the biscuit naked made for a tidier snacking experience and, thus, solidified Pocky's signature look.

As Pocky's popularity ballooned in the late 1960s, it went global with a subsidiary in Thailand (1970), and then began rolling out new flavors: first, almond (1971), followed by strawberry ('77).  

In the subsequent years, Pocky conquered Asian markets and made its way west to Europe and North America. This migration made for both a wealth of new flavors, as well as a handful of Pocky aliases.

Although the snack began its life as Chocotek, within the first two years of production, it was changed to Pocky, a name stemming from pokkīn, an onomatopoeic word describing the snapping sound one hears when breaking a stick in two. While most markets chose to stick with the Pocky moniker, a few locales adopted other aliases. European countries know the snack as Mikado, named for a game of pickup sticks. And up until recently, the snack was known as Rocky in Malaysia, due to the rather vulgar connotations of the word pocky in Malay.

These days, Pocky's output is upward of 500 million, with chocolate, strawberry, and cookies and cream leading sales. But that classic trifecta hardly represents the vast world of weird and wonderful flavors. Depending where you're picking up your Pocky, you might find seasonal, limited-edition boxes, such as kiwi mango and purple sweet potato, not to mention regional variants flavored with cantaloupe-like Yubari melon.

Of course, if you'd like to balance out your sweet Pocky habit with something savory, Pretz, also owned by Ezaki Glico, is the way to go. Introduced a few years before Pocky, these salty crisps run the gamut from sweet corn and pizza to tom yum soup, hot chile and even a salad flavor that's reminiscent of a tart vinaigrette.

Caroline Coral is a food and travel writer who splits her time between Philadelphia and the Caribbean. Follow her on Instagram at @caroline.f.coral.