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June 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Mars Factory Closed by Health Inspectors

On June 21st the Oak Park, IL Mars factory that makes M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way & 3 Musketeers was warned by health inspectors after they found “‘infestation’ of fruit flies in the food production area as well as gaps in doors that might allow rodent access to the facility, officials said.”

(Talk about your Snickers Extreme!)

Yesterday the follow up inspection found that they not only didn’t fix those problems, but they also found mouse feces in the food production area.

Pirate Pearls and now Mouse Gifts! Hooray, more limited edition items!

See news articles:
Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Tribune
and a rather comprehensive one from ABC7 Chicago with video.

UPDATE: The factory remains closed after another inspection and inspectors noted that Mars had not taken steps to prevent rodents from re-entering the plant by installing strips on the bottom of the doors. Read more at CBS2 Chicago.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:28 am     MarsNews

Bookshelf: Dirty Sugar Cookies

I’ve been reading a lot of candy books lately, so it was nice to be approached to read something a little different: a virtual book tour.

imageThe book is Dirty Sugar Cookies by Ayun Halliday. Think of it as Erma Bombeck meets David Sedaris.

Much of the book speaks to me for the sole reason that Ayun is a scant two years older than I am, so we have many of the same perspectives on pop culture and experiences with food (and candy). It traces her life from picky eater with a gourmet cook mother to ‘food adventurer’ to mother who has a picky eating daughter of her own.

(Though I was also a picky eater as a child, I chalk that up to bad, recurring throat infections that sapped the fun out of eating. But the book did capture the parental battles about eating very well, no matter the reason for why we wouldn’t even put the stuff in our mouth.)

Ayun has far more fun with her pickiness and, of course, uses those incidents to full effect in her book.

Here’s a bit of our discussion on the book and perspectives:

Candy Blog: Do you think that you were picky when it came to candy or just when it came to meals?

Ayun: candy? no. the only thing i didn’t like was black licorice and conversation hearts. they both made me feel like I was going to throw up in the car. I got over the conversation heart thing when we used them as props in a short NeoFuturist play called “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. I would eat so many of them backstage that we’d wind up with a shortage - they were to be smashed with a hammer at certain strategic points in the song, “My Funny Valentine” but somehow we always kept coming up short, the hearts giving out long before the final line.

Candy Blog: What are your daughter’s favorite candies now? Does she share some or your loves/hates?

Ayun: Watermelon gum balls from the laundromat, lollipops that the guy at the liquor store gives her, and m&ms. Anything she can get her hands on, basically. She loves it when there’s a pinata at a birthday party. She stashes her portion on this little shelf at the head of her top bunk, where I can’t effectively monitor it. On those rare occasions that I change the sheet, I find a goodie bag full of empty wrappers.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

God, I loved camp.

Feasting on sugar was hardly limited to mealtime. Twice a day, a bell summoned us to a wonderful thing called ?commissary?. At the start of the session, parents had the option of depositing funds in a commissary account that would entitle their camper to ?purchase? candy after swim and before campfire. Perhaps because I had no siblings, I always felt hesitant to ask my parents for gum, quarters for the pinball machine and all the minor expenses my friends treated as their due. I could never have brought myself to lobby for something so extraordinary as the candy of my choice, dispensed twice daily for fourteen days, but fortunately, my father saw all the other fathers coughing up an extra ten bucks for their children?s commissaries and did likewise without comment. I was in!

I spent a good portion of every swim session drifting around the lake on an army surplus inner tube, deliberating on what to choose from the bulk candy cartons the commissary counselors would set out upon our return. Fads sprang up around the preferences of popular campers, but for the most part, I preferred to explore the unwholesome fringes. As much as I loved chocolate, I couldn?t help gravitating toward whatever would last the longest. My miserly side was attracted to things that came in multiple units: Spree, Sweet Tarts, Hot Tamales and Bottle Caps, which looked like their namesake and tasted nothing like the root beer, orange soda and cola they were supposed to, though they did seem vaguely carbonated, provided one ate enough of them. My temperament steered me toward the Stix family which came in many flavors, Green Apple and Fire being my favorites. Stix were basically just Jolly Ranchers elongated into six-inch lengths. They shattered easily, were difficult to separate from their cellophane wrappers and gave a satisfyingly loud report when bitten, though clearly, they’d been designed for sucking. In other words, they were perfect. Long after my bunkmates had wolfed down their frozen Snickers, my stick prevailed, honed to lethal pointiness. When the bell rang for dinner, I’d refold the torn cellophane over the inch or so remaining and tuck it away under the eaves, between my flashlight and the bottle of Apricot-scented Earthborn for which I had snubbed Prell, our de facto family shampoo. While I was out, my candy stash would invariably attract swarms of tiny brown ants, whom I?d later discover partying like Bacchants beneath the untidy wrapper.

Nature?s invasion would have amounted to tragedy had it happened at home where there was no commissary, but here, I could head for the trash pail with an unemotional if revolted shrug. At camp, there was always more where that came from, for me as well as the ants.

Candy Blog: I’ve often regarded candy for children as one of the first ways that we express our independence from our parents. We’re given allowance or sometimes free run in a store to pick out one thing ... you remarked in the section on camp that you didn’t really have that luxury before. Did you notice this among your peers, that they had more discretionary cash or greater abilities to procure the snackstuffs that they loved?

Ayun: Yes. I was a very late bloomer with regard to bicycles. I had this little green Schwinn from which I refused to let the training wheels be removed. One weekend, we went to visit my father’s longtime friends, the Ackermans in Columbus Ohio, whose youngest child Sally, was a year my junior. Mrs Ackerman gave each of the kids, including me, a dollar - a princely amount - so that we could ride bikes to the drugstore for candy. Well, I was sort of stricken, because none of their bikes had training wheels, but they did have this old red bike named Rosie, who had no rubber left on her wheels, just the metal rims. These were wide enough, and unyielding enough, to give me the confidence it required to ride to the store with the rest of the herd, where following Sally’s example, I bought my first Marathon Bar. And when we got back to Indianapolis, I had my father remove the training wheels from my green bike and immediately pedaled away.

Candy Blog: You write in several instances about your consumption of raw materials when in search of a sugar fix. I, too, discovered Jello-O powder (pineapple was my favorite) at an early age, and my frugality meant that I could find them on sale at 10 for a dollar and stock up on quite a bit of it with my paper route money. What sorts of pantry items would you eat dry?

Ayun: Tang. My grandmother always took a jar of it with us when we drove to Florida. I had to be extra sly when mainlining that stuff, what with my mother and both grandparents on the other side of the vinyl accordion curtain separating the vanity outside the bathroom from the rest of the motel room. The thing about dry Tang is it was so light, it looked like it was steaming. There was always a cloud of these micro-fine crystals hovering above the spoon.

When that sour Super Lemon candy started appearing in all the Asia markets, I thought, “Oh, no problem. I can handle that molehill.” I’d spent years training with Tang.

I also liked eating Nestles Quik straight from the can.

About a month ago, after reading the excerpt above I agreed to do this little featurette, so I send Ayun a little box of candies. It had some SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy, Chewy SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and other pure sugar concoctions.

Candy Blog: So, what did you eat from the package I sent? What did your daughter consume and what do you see in her tastes as with yours?

Ayun: I don’t think the kids got a single piece of it. It has been a pinata-heavy month. As for myself, I started out with the gummy insects, a Sweet Tart product apparently, and I felt guilty for gnashing them up so mindlessly, while watching Deadwood. I cleansed my palate with some Laffy Taffys (I slowed down long enough to see that there’s a joke printed on each wrapper. I’d always assumed that Laffy was the only thing marketing could come up with to rhyme with Taffy.) Then I started on the Chewy Sweet Tarts. We had the big ones at Gnawbone, but they were never Chewy. Chewy is new(y). Then I got kind of disgusted with myself and worried that my spleen would give out from all that sugar, so I boxed it back up and then we took it to Coney Island with us for the kids to throw at the crowd when we marched in the Mermaid Parade. Now THAT was a good use of cheap, artificially flavored candy.

Candy Blog: What do you think about candy today? There are certainly more “wholesome” candies available now that actually taste good, in addition to some really disgusting indulgences of course. Are there things you wish you could have had when you were a kid? Are there things you wish they still made or that you miss being able to have?

Ayun: Those little Gummi candys that resemble miniature versions of non-candy type foods are pretty cunning, the sushi and pizzas and such. Milo received a gummi Crabby Patty, and it was quite the hit until he tasted it.

You know what I miss? Zots. Their packaging was so imperfect, but it was so worth it when you sucked a hole through the hard candy and that citric acid stuff inside started to effervesce. A few years ago, I got it into my head to make homemade bath bombs and I went to every restaurant supply on the Bowery looking for citric acid to no avail. Found it at an herb store in the Village that leans rather heavily on whimsical ceramic teapots and fairy-related merchandise. When did citric acid go so out of style?

I’m really into the Aji Ichiban stores in Chinatown. though the dried, salted plums took some getting used to, even for someone like me, who is constitutionally bound to order things like salted plum soda in Vietnamese restaurant, because it’s a more vibrant part of the experience than say, Diet Coke. Every year, they have these compelling little capsules that you can fill with hard candy. One year it was pigs. This year it seems to be metallic pineapples…

Read some more excerpts here and then if you like what you see, buy Dirty Sugar Cookies at Powell’s.

Title: Dirty Sugar Cookies
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 4 BENIGN
Author: Ayun Halliday
Place Purchased: sample
Price: $14.95
Size: 256 pages
Calories per ounce: none (but high in fiber!)
Categories: United States

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:51 am    

Rolly Pop

This is what they call a novelty item.

imageI don’t have a real review for it, because I’m a stodgy old fart and I refuse to roll my candy syrup onto my tongue. But it also might be that it really looks like my incredibly unappetizing Ban unscented roll on antiperspirant/deodorant.

However, I did give my nephew this grape Rolly Pop for his opinion. Because he’s almost seven years old, there are a lot of things he’s more willing to try than I am.

First, what is it?

A Rolly Pop is a bottle, not unlike a small bottle of Ban Roll On, that contains a sweet and tangy syrup that you apply directly to your tongue.

We tried it out on my last visit two weeks ago and it went over pretty well. It seems that it might be easier to just suck on the roll top than roll it around on your tongue. He didn’t finish it all in one sitting, so he put the cap back on and when he came down for breakfast the next morning, the roller ball wouldn’t roll. A little time under the tap with some warm water did the trick.

Honestly, I’m worried about the sanitary aspects of this candy. You roll it on your tongue! (It’s kind of like backwash ... maybe it’s back rub ... no, that doesn’t sound right.)

Anyway, the syrup doesn’t change the color of your tongue, which is a big thing with kids these days. It’s probably better that it doesn’t though, since I’m sure that means that it’d stain things, too. At the end of my nephew’s evaluation of this I asked if he would buy it again and he kind of shrugged. He said he wished it was more sour (he’s a sour fan) but I read that they are coming out with a set of sour flavors for Halloween. He did finish it, so that’s a positive sign that means I’ll give this one a five out of ten on his behalf.

Name: Rolly Pop Roller Candy
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 4 BENIGN
Brand: Ford Gum
Place Purchased: All Candy Expo sample
Price: MSRP $.79
Size: 1.23 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: United States

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:18 am    

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mini Chewy Spree

I’ve been a fan of Sprees since they first came out. They’re the more attractive out-of-town cousin of the SweeTart (who is of course your mousy best friend). They’re tasty and drop dead gorgeous when spread out on your desk in neat rows of colors like some sort of stereo equalizer display.

imageChewy Sprees happened onto the scene a while back, but I never paid much attention to them. But then I got a hold of these Mini Chewy Spree. They come in these cool little plastic packages that look kind of like popsicles and have a little flip top.

The color array is exactly the same as their larger, harder counterparts. Red is cherry, Yellow is lemon, Purple is grape, Orange is orange and Green is now apple (though it used to be lime back in the day).

Chewy Spree are, well, chewy. The outside of them is lightly flavored and completely sweet. But there’s no candy shell to it, just an inside that’s soft and chewy. They’re actually easily crushed with your fingers, like M&Ms are. But they’re lacking the “Kick in the Mouth” that the package heralds. (It says the same for the rolls of regular hard Spree.)

They’re just not as sour, not as flavorful. They’re not bad, they’re just ... I dunno, shallow.

As cool as the plastic tube they come in (that says “flip your lid!”), I feel a little bad about the overpackaging. But to allay my guilt about that, I looked around on the Nestle website and they have crafts that you can do with the empties (a Rain Gauge). At the moment I’ve got one filled with band-aids and alcohol wipes as a little first aid kit. You could store little things in there too, or refill with bulk candies. I think you also might be able to make your own popsicles with them, too.

But as the price difference goes, I think I’ll stick with the regular roll of Sprees and their minimal packaging and true “kick in the mouth” taste.

Name: Mini Chewy Spree
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 4 BENIGN
Brand: Nestle
Place Purchased: samples from CandyWarehouse.com
Price: ~$1.50 each
Size: 1.73 ounces
Calories per ounce: 113
Categories: Chew, sour, United States, Nestle

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:35 am    

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ritter Darks

Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.

I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.

First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?


Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.


Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.


Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).

After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).

Name: Feinherb, Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts & Fine Extra Dark Chocolate
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 4 BENIGN
Brand: Ritter Sport
Place Purchased: All Candy Expo samples
Price: ~$2.50 each
Size: 3.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Nuts, Germany, Ritter

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:30 am    

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Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.





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