Tuesday, January 31, 2006
In my continuing effort to bring you timely reviews of new products (that’s a joke), I finally found some Darth M&Ms at the 99 Cent Only Store. I picked up collector’s pack 18 of 72. In fact, they were all 18 of 72 at the 99 Cent Only Store. I’m not certain if these are still available, the website is still up.
I was a little confused at how these are considered dark chocolate, as they have milk in them, but that’s probably part of the evil Sith plan. The colors are actually pretty nice. Navy Blue, Maroon, Gray, Black and Lavender. All great colors for a snazzy sweater or scarf.
As long as I’ve brought up the subject of color, this is probably a good time to talk about consumption techniques. There are those people who like to eat M&Ms by color. Eating your candies by color of course makes sense with Skittles where they’re different flavors. But M&Ms are not. Still, when I dump a bunch out on my desk for snacking, I divide them up by color. Plain M&Ms are consumed in lots of three, all the same color and when I get to the end, there are particular pairings of colors that are acceptable. I have no idea why I do this, but I’m guessing it’s a way of taking full advantage of the colors as a feature.
Anyway, these are darker-than-milk chocolate M&Ms. Their colors are bright and shells crunchy but the centers are strangely grainy. Not grainy in the sense of the sugar is not completely dissolved, they’re grainy like someone left some ground up oyster shells in them. They’re slightly less sweet than the regular plain M&Ms and do have a bit more complex, chocolatey flavor. But they somehow lack the punch of a regular M&M. I wouldn’t mind them trying this chocolate on the Almond M&Ms, but I don’t really think they work in this format. Maybe the Peanut ones are better (Writers & Artists Snacking at Work liked them). There’s little benefit here either for Vegans or those with nut allergies as it’s not a suitable candy for either. I also resent dark chocolate being represented as evil. I mean, as candy goes, it’s more pure.
For the record, the colors are: Dooku Blue, Grievous Silver, Emperor Red, Vader Black & Maul Purple.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Here I go again with the KitKats. But this time I thought I’d give you a domestic comparison. It’s not exactly a head-to-head post, just two reviews in one.
There are whole groups of folks devoted to the various iterations of KitKats and I have to admit I’ve fallen under the spell, too. I picked up the KitKat Strawberry a few weeks ago. It’s a very pretty bar, the Japanese version of KitKats are sold in a box that holds two individually wrapped minibars of two fingers each. They’re also quite a bit pricier. I don’t know how much they sell for in Japan, but $1.89 for a rather ordinary candy bar is kind of extreme.
Everything about this bar screams strawberry. The pink wrapper, the smell and the appearance of the bar. It smells like strawberry waffles or ice cream. The crisp is really good and has its own wheaty flavor. The cream between the cookie layers is also strawberry and the strawberry coating is very smooth. There is no cocoa butter in this concoction though.
I’m not usually a big fan of White Chocolate. I like misty mints, but generally white chocolate is just too sweet and bland for me. This bar has an overwhelmingly berry smell along with plenty of sweet notes and a touch of fake vanilla. I like it. I was really surprised, because I’ve been ignoring this bar for months, but I actually liked it. Once I started writing this and tasting it as I went along, I ate the whole thing.
The berry particles were actually there and give the white chocolate a definitely pink cast with little red bits. They weren’t as big as the berry bits in the KitKat though. They provided a little tart respite from the otherwise sweet and slightly tangy chocolate. It also reminded me of strawberry yogurt or maybe strawberry ice cream. But most Hershey’s chocolate reminds me of yogurt. The strawberry bits also include seeds. So you get fiber with your bar! (They don’t mention any fiber on the nutrition info but they do say that it has 10% of my daily calcium!)
On the whole the bars had a very definite berry taste that eased the usual sickly sweetness of white chocolate that I’ve never enjoyed. I also have a Hershey’s Raspberries ‘n’ Creme bar that I’ll review in a few days. Canada also has a Milkshake (Malt) version of KitKat I need to get a hold of.
Other reviews: Candy Is Awesome - Hersey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme had some disgusting children and Candy Addict has positive feelings - Strawberry & White Maple. I haven’t even scratched the surface with my reviews here of KitKats, check out Wikipedia.
Friday, January 27, 2006
Razzles are an oddity. They seem to be the jack-of-all trades of the candy world. Billed, “First it’s Candy ... Then It’s Gum!” I have to admit it doesn’t do either particularly well.
The package for these Razzles is particularly attractive, and that’s often enough to get me to buy something. That’s the wonder of candy, even if you’re disappointed, you’re rarely out more than a dollar.
The package, of course, makes the Razzles look better than they actually are. They’re not the sassy looking, colorful pieces on the package. Theyr’e rather grainy looking and kind of crumbly. Chewing them gives a burst of sweetness followed by some tart. I chose three orange ones for my first Razzles in probably 20 years. They were disappointingly bland, but did turn into gum more faithfully than I remember when I was a kid. The gum has a nice lingering essence, but little sugar to jazz it up. This is not bubble gum either, in case you were going to make some attempts.
Orange: bland and lacking in any zesty punch. Lemon: Solid, good mix of essence and tart. Grape: not as chemical as some others, had an odd sort of ginseng/root flavor to it. Blueberry: pretty good, kind of grapey and kind of like raspberry. Raspberry: nice and flowery tasting with some good tart bite to it and a little hint of cotton candy but it doesn’t wear well, the flavor is gone before the sugar is.
The color when it becomes gum is far more vibrant - the lemon became a lusturous saffron yellow and the dirty looking grape became, um, inky and the blueberry was positively turquoise.
These had a pretty powerful smell of chemicals. And they are SOUR. This package had more defects in it - three of the candies were noticeably darker than the others and just didn’t seem “right” so I didn’t eat them.
Lime: puckeringly sour with a good hint of lime essence. The sour stays with the gum well after the rest of the flavor is gone. Blue Raspberry pretty much like the regular raspberry but intensely sour with a rather salty taste to it as well (I know there’s no sodium in there). Orange: straight up sour with some nice fruity flavors. Lemon: I figured this one was going to be really sour after those lime ones and I wasn’t disappointed. Much better than the regular Razzle, if you could just buy these, I think they’d do very well. I didn’t get any Cherry ones in this batch for some reason, so I can’t comment on that flavor.
I don’t think Razzles have won me over. They’re a nice novelty and the gum part isn’t bad, but the candy part is pretty awful. It’s not smooth and the flavors are uneven. The appearance is also kind of off-putting. I wonder if they’ve ever considered candy coating them like a Spree or Chicklet.
UPDATE: for even more confusing “candy/gum” see CandyAddict’s recent review of Japanese Wata Gum
I got this fantastic single origin tasting kit from E. Guittard. The photos are deceptive, these are tiny little bars, each is 10 grams (a little over a third of an ounce) and measured a mere 2.5” x 1.25”. There were four different varieties that came in a box of 16 wee bars. What was most stunning about these bars is the packaging. The little labels are lively and elegant with their gold leaf and description of the flavor of the particular varietal. Inside, the foil wrappers were beautiful too, with a delicate pattern featuring an impressive bas relief style scene of heaven knows what with three figures probably worshipping the cocoa bean or something. (The comprehensive press kit and tasting kit brochure made no mention of the scene.)
Each of the bars looks slightly different as well (except for the Sur del Lago and Quevedo) from different molds. All bars were 65% cacao, which is a good midrange for dark chocolate, allowing for lots of room for cocoa butter to give a nice fatty background to support the complex flavors.
Ambanja - notes from package: You’re in for a rich chocolate experience! Made primarily from rare Criollo beans from the fertile Sambriano Valley in Madagascar, Ambanja mingles sour essences with deep rich, chocolate flavor.
Dark with a slight amber/red tint, this bar was buttery and smooth. There were overwhelming raisin and cherry notes in this bar. It definitely has an acidic tone to it, but not in an unpleasant, bitter or acrid way. It’s really very nice.
Sur del Lago - notes from package: Complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit. Cacao beans used to make this chocolate were harvested from trees of Criollo and Trinitario heritage in Venezuela’s Sur del Lago region.
This one started out rather woodsy and sour. It reminded me of the zesty smell of piles of fresh sawdust from a fruit tree. Then the other notes started coming out, including the light berries and maybe some grape. It’s pretty mellow and pleasant, but the high sour note is a little odd.
Chucuri - notes from package: Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. The Trinitario cacao beans used to make this chocolate were grown in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of Santader in Colombia.
Deep flavors dominate this little bar. It starts out woodsy with some balsam notes of juniper or rosemary. Then it’s got some very strong cherry notes that linger for the rest of the melt on the tongue. It’s got a high little topnote of lavender or maybe it’s bergamot. It gives this bar the best balance of the four.
Quevedo notes from package: Quevedo’s extremely dark color forshadows its powerful but flowery chocolate taste. The intensity of this rarefied Forestero varietal produces rich green forest, tea and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and pound cake finish.
Smooth but with a notable bitter dryness at first. Rich and woodsy with an exceptionally buttery texture that makes it feel almost fluffy and buoyant on the tongue. I’m getting the tea notes, but I’m totally missing the pound cake the wrapper promises.
If you’re looking for single origin chocolate that doesn’t skimp on the cocoa butter and is so dry that it leaves you gasping for water, this might be the stuff. At only 65% cocoa solids, there’s an excellent mix of flavor and texture that’s not too sweet. All of the bars are exceptionally smooth without a hint of grain. Here’s a tip: this would make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift for someone. It’s sensual, educational and you can share it.
You might think you’ve never had Guittard chocolate, when you probably have. Guittard is one of the top chocolate makers in the country, but most of the business is making chocolate for other companies. Guittard makes the excellent chocolate that you find on See’s candies. It’s hard to know who they supply chocolate to, but they’re a huge operation and that chocolate is going somewhere tasty. I don’t see Guittard in the stores very often, except for their baking chips. They’re definitely worth going out of your way for. Most of the varietals from other brands that I’m seeing lately are higher cocoa percentages, so you’re missing out on the cocoa butter, which I think is an equal part of the chocolate experience.
They’re a little pricey directly from E. Guittard’s store, you can also find them at Chocosphere (throw some Dolfin and Dagoba in your cart while you’re there).
Thursday, January 26, 2006
In a strange marketing move, M&Ms started informing its online vendors that they will no longer be able to carry the M&Ms ColorWorks 21 color plain chocolate candies, effective immediately. I’ve been in contact with several “candy insiders” (who did not wish to be named here) but are alarmed at this turn of events.
ColorWorks are still available online at many candy stores, but consumers can expect supplies and variety to dwindle as vendors are not able to reorder through M&Ms’ wholesale division. I have not been able to ascertain if this will apply to brick and mortar stores like Candy Station and Sweets Factory that also sell the ColorWorks candies. I would expect this to be the case as M&Ms open more of their branded stores as their flagship store in Las Vegas has become and hot destination there.
M&Ms has been making great strides in the viral marketing of its custom printable M&Ms online along with the ColorWorks line. Their webstore has an incredible selection, though they are at the moment priced about the same as the online candy stores in the large quantities but when it comes to smaller quantities (one pound or less), buying directly from M&Ms means at least a 20% premium. (Yes, you’d think buying direct would mean you’d pay less, wouldn’t you?) When you knock out the middleman, I can imagine that M&Ms profits on these are pretty high. Even with economies of scale it’s clear that the ColorWorks are a huge moneymaker for Mars. A half pound of ColorWorks (whether part of a color blend or a single color) are $4.69 for eight ounces ($.59 an ounce). M&Ms cost about $3.50 for a 12 ounce bag (not on sale) at your local grocer ($.29 an ounce). Find an in-store sale on M&Ms for $1.99 a bag and you’ve brought it down to $.17 an ounce.
What does this mean to you and me? Well, less choice. If you want the expanded color selection that M&Ms offers, you’ll have to go directly to them from now on (unless they’re planning to create “official resellers”). This means that you’re beholden to their product pricing and their shipping fees.
It also means that shopping for candy just got harder. Say you want to plan a party or event and want to have some ColorWorks M&Ms as well as some Jordan Almonds or Pillow Mints. Well, you’re going to have to put in orders at two different places now. Those are some of the best things about webstores - selection and bulk discounts. It’s a pain in the ass, to say the least, as you’re not going to get the benefit of consolidating your shipping costs and then you’re stuck waiting around for two shipments instead of one. What else does it mean? It means that the price is now firmly controlled by M&Ms directly. Oddly enough, you can’t even buy Peanut M&Ms in bulk on the M&Ms website. You can only get the Plain ones, so forget about picking up some of the Almond, Crispy, Peanut Butter or Mega ones.
Also, M&Ms seems to be threatening resellers that they’re not allowed to buy from middlemen on this and I’m guessing anyone caught reselling ColorWorks would be in big trouble, too. It’s not clear if Mars wants to just reel in the selling of their premium ColorWorks or if this will eventually apply to all bulk buys of Mars products, such as Skittles, Starbursts, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way and Twix.
I understand the whole “official resellers” thing when it comes to products that require support and knowlegable staff, like computers or electronics—you know, things that require a certain amount of troubleshooting or perhaps expertise in installation. But this is candy. As long as their storing it correctly, it doesn’t require any support. Also, candy is not like soda. There aren’t candy stores that sell only Mars or Nestle products like when you go to a fast food restaurant and have to go with either the Pepsi sodas or the Coco-Cola sodas. Imagine a world where you can’t purchase a Twix bar at the same time as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I have to wonder if this is the direction we’re going.
As far as I can tell, this is a move on M&Ms part to control their product and corner their marketshare. Candy is a pretty cut-throat business. There are slotting fees paid by the candy companies to the major retailers like grocery chains and drug stores and the candy companies are fiercely protective of their trademarks and products. Witness Hershey’s reaction when a book was trying to use their candy logos. This is not limited to the United States either and it’s well known that Roald Dahl based the Charlie and the Chocolate factory book on the industrial espionage allegations between the UK candymakers of the time.
It may be coincidental that M&Ms made this move just after Hershey’s introduced their new candy-coated Kissables. I think they’re feeling threatened and are looking to maximize their profits. Maybe they’re looking to shift the current model of candy retailing to one more akin to soft drink manufacturer’s deals with fast food chains. Sugar prices are expected to go up markedly this year, which means they’ll have to reduce overhead (they’re already a very efficient company), raise prices, reduce product sizes or create new marketing models. At a time when markets are opening up world-wide and people have access to more of a selection of candy from all over the globe, M&Ms could benefit from making their candy more readily available for purchase, not less.
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