Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I just wanted to follow up with the news that of the grand prize in the Keep it Real Raffle.
I’ll have more word on other prizes soon!
I buy the vast majority of the candy I review here right in Los Angeles. Nearly all of it is from the normal places where most people buy their candy: Drug Stores, Grocery Stores and Convenience Stores and a few other specialty spots.
I frequent the following in no particular order:
Walgreen’s: this chain started popping up in Southern California more than six years ago, but didn’t appear in my neighborhood until the Pioneer Market in Echo Park on Sunset Blvd. closed and they took over the spot. They have a nicely organized candy section with a good variety, regular sales and the store is frequented enough that the inventory turns over quickly. I like it after the various candy holidays as their goods go on deeper sale much quicker. (I got Valentine’s candy for 75% off on the 18th and Easter candy the following Saturday.)
CVS: This chain just bought out our old chain called Sav-On. Sav-Ons were on and off of my poop list. I’ve bought expired candy there (before I learned how to read the expiration codes), even bloomed chocolate that was supposed to still be fresh and have found their selection a little lacking. CVS hasn’t been around long enough for me to develop an opinion of them yet, but I like how they don’t treat you like a criminal when you try to enter or exit the store, so points there. (They used to have these gates you had to go through with turnstiles to get in and the only way to get out of the store if you weren’t buying anything was to scoot past people in the checkout line.)
Target: there are several in the area now, each with slightly different layouts and selection. Some of the prices are very good, especially when you find it on sale. They carry their own line of Choxie and can have some incredible after holiday clearances. My favorite one to shop at for candy was in Harbor City and torn down to make way for a newer double-decker model later this year. Holiday clearances can be hit or miss because people make this one of their first stops.
Von’s: this is not my favorite grocery store, but they do have a rather good candy selection, especially when it comes to mid-range candies and gourmet bars (Ritter Sport, for one). The layout of the store that I frequent on Sunset Blvd. in Los Feliz happens to have a season candy display right at the entry of the store, so it’s an easy stop for me to make on my way home from work. They also seem to carry a lot of limited edition candies.
Trader Joe’s: this store chain has lots of fans for good reason. Good quality food at great prices. They make you work for it though, with narrow, crowded aisles, difficult parking and long lines. They carry house-brand candies as well as great imported and domestic items at unheard of prices.
Ralph’s: there are a few locations near to me, but I usually go a bit further afield to a location in Glendale (near the Petco and Cost Plus World Market). They usually have a huge selection of holiday candies (and companion clearance) as well as one of the few bulk candy selections I’ve found in SoCal. I don’t use the bulk bins, only the dump feeder bins (that way I know no one else has been putting their greasy paws on the goodies).
7-11: the largest convenience store chain in the US, they’re known not only for a location for a quick drink fix, but also their inventory of single-serving candies but also as one of the best sources for limited edition candies. When choosing a regular store, I look for one that has a candy aisle that does not face the large plate glass windows, which can cause chocolate candies to bloom. Prices are steep but if the store has good foot-traffic they candy is always fresh.
Cost Plus World Market: an import market that features furniture, housewares and food. Their candy selection is excellent, though the freshness is sometimes questionable for the niche candies. Prices can range from reasonable to strangely high. At Christmas they have a wide selection of imported sweeties from all over the world and an equally fun post-holiday sale.
Munchies: In West Los Angeles in an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, they have an amazing selection of bulk goods but also a lot of Israeli stuff. Pretty low key place with decent prices. Skip the ordinary stuff here and take a risk on the imported goodies.
Mel & Rose’s Wine & Spirits: If you’re in the mood for seeing a great selection of high-end chocolate bars & boxed chocolates, check out Mel & Rose’s Wine & Spirits on Melrose Blvd. They also have a huge selection of imported consumer candies from Australia and Europe at decent prices. They’re not far from the Beverly Center and Pacific Design Center just on the border of Beverly Hills.
The Candy Baron: This is a small chain in California, I found them to be pretty good, they carry a lot of regional favorites and of course bulk goods. They’re in Santa Monica. I don’t recommend a special trip for them, but if you’re down by the Promenade/Third Street/The Pier it might be worth it:
The Grove and the Farmers Market is a great option for “one stop shopping” in LA. The Grove is an upscale mall attached to the original LA Farmers Market.
In the Farmers Market there’s a stand called Ultimate Nut & Candy. No great shakes (but they do have good toffee popcorn) but an admirable selection of bulk candies behind the counter along with dipped dried fruits and nostaligic fare.
There’s also a Fudge & Toffee shop called Littlejohns. I’ve had their fudge, which I think is decent, but their pecan pralines & caramel marshmallow kisses are my favorites. (I haven’t tried their toffee yet.)
Tucked inside the south east corner is a place called Mr. Marcels - it’s the upscale grocer for the market and they carry quite a few imported candies. Prices are a bit inflated for imported mass-produced goodies, but a good selection and they seem to have a good turnover of product to keep it fresh.
Also in the compound is Cost Plus World Market (see above) Around the corner from that is a place called Duck Soup that carries regional candy bars and retro favorites.
India Sweets & Spices: this is a small chain of vegetarian India food served cafeteria-style along with a grocery store. I’ve visited the location in Los Feliz and found a decent selection of European (mostly UK) candy bars. For some reason they keep them in the refrigerator case all year round.
Little Tokyo is the ultimate location for candy in Los Angeles not just for Japanese goodies (though that’s the best reason to go there).
Mitsuwa: a grocery chain, found mostly in California but also a New Jersey location. They have all the standard Japanese fare (Pocky, HI-Chew, KitKat, etc.) plus Hawaiian goodies and some Chinese. Excellent prices, especially given that these are imported. (Most times I get regular Pocky for 99 cents a box.) I go to the one on Alameda and 3rd Street.
Nijiya Market: a small grocer in the Japanese Village Plaza with an excellent selection of take-away meals, snacks and candies. Good prices, fresh inventory and great location in the heart of the pedestrian area.
Marukai: clean and bright, excellent selection and location in Weller Court. They also carry a large selection of American consumer candies.
Fugetsu-Do: Los Angeles’ oldest purveyor of fresh-made Wagashi and Mochi. Red bean, white bean, soy and even peanut butter. They also have a moderate selection of Japanese candy standards.
Chinatown is also an excellent source of sweets, I’ve not fully explored it though I’ve made plenty of visits.
Okay, if you live in Los Angeles or have visited, where is a good place to get candy? (I’m still looking for a good store to get bulk candies at a decent price.)
I bought this package of the new Twizzlers Rainbow Twists as couple of months ago but I just had to wait for the crush of Easter to be over before I could open them up. They are stunning. The colors are vivid and opaque, a little less shiny than the regular Twizzlers.
I’ve always been fond of black licorice and find red licorice passably good. You know, if someone puts one of those tubs on my desk, I’ll eat it. For a while I was obsessed with weird twist flavors. There was a fruit stand I would stop at on the 126 somewhere between Piru and Fillmore that had Root Beer flavored vines.
When I think about it, non-licorice twists are one of the few flour-based candies out there (except for candies like Twix or KitKat that have actual cookies in them).
Each color of the Rainbow is a different flavor.
Grape (magenta) - a little tangy and pretty much tastes like a grape soda.
I was worried that the fake and plastic appearance of the candy reflected a lack of flavor, but they were all pretty punchy. But almost all of them had a weird metallic/bitter aftertaste to me. As a variety pack, I wasn’t fond of all the flavors, but this is pretty much always the way with mixes. I’m just not keen on them. I’m not alone either, the comments on this Slashfood post echo some of my sentiments.
While I had a good time photographing them (check out Sugar-Bliss-Gnome’s cool use of Twizzlers Rainbow Twists for cupcake decorations), I have no desire to finish any of the twists.
Here’s an alternate review that you might want to read (because it’s funny and does not endorse these).
Monday, April 16, 2007
In my bargain hunting last weekend I was able to secure bags of the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs and the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs at rock bottom prices.
I picked up the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs mostly because folks are still commenting on the Wonka Oompas (currently fruity) post lamenting the loss of the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
First, a rewind to the old Peanut Butter Oompas (see wrapper here) from Wonka. Introduced in 1972 after the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, they were larger than M&Ms but the same ovoid shape. The top half was peanut butter and the bottom half was mockolate then it was all covered with a crisp candy shell. (There may have been other flavor varieties.) The separation of the peanut butter and chocolate meant that you could cleave them in half in your teeth if you wanted, or suck the shell off and then melt away the chocolate creme to have only the stiff peanut butter left. I liked them and recall buying them rather often (there was no such thing as a Peanut Butter M&M at the time and Reese’s Pieces didn’t come along until 1978).
I was hoping that the larger format of the Speck-tacular Eggs would be similar to the old Oompas.
The normal M&Ms Peanut Butter have a core of peanut butter and a covering of milk chocolate then a shell. A little larger than a regular M&M, they average about the same size as a Peanut M&M. The Speck-Tacular Eggs are larger still and thus have a larger proportion of the peanut butter center since the chocolate coating seems about the same thickness.
It’s been at least thirty years since I’ve had the old Peanut Butter Oompas, so I can’t say that the Speck-Tacular Eggs are as good or even the same, but the proportions feel better to me. I’m going to say that this is the best modern day equivalent to the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
I don’t eat Reese’s Pieces much, though I do recall loving them as a kid. I used to buy bags of M&Ms and mix them with Reese’s Pieces. I could always pick the Reese’s Pieces out on my tongue by feel because their shells were ultrasmooth. (Ah, the ways I used to amuse myself.)
While the Speck-Tacular Eggs were rather uneven in size, the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are exceptionally regular. The colors are pretty much the same as the Hershey’s Pastel Eggs, though a little more egg shaped (with a pointier end).
The shells on the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are thicker than the regular Reese’s Pieces and provide a satisfying sharp crunch. The larger mass of peanut butter creme allowed me to really taste it. It has a slight floral taste to it and reminds me a bit of eating peanut butter cookie dough. Sweet with a little dash of salt. Pretty smooth and not as roasted tasting as the M&Ms Speck-Tacular Eggs.
I liked both varieties of eggs equally well. As appearances go, I preferred the Reese’s. But the freak-tacular price of only 52 cents for the Speck-Tacular Eggs is hard to argue with. They are both being added to my repertoire of Easter Candies to pick up at ridiculous prices.
Note: both products are certified Kosher.
I’ve been puzzling over this candy bar for years. It’s called the Eat-More and is sold in Canada. It was originally made by Lowney but later Nabisco took them over but since 1987 they’ve been made by Hershey’s.
The description of Dark Toffee Peanut Chew sounded to me like the inside of a Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew (now Chew-ets), which I find pretty spectacular and the prospect of having that without the mockolate made me want one.
Amber brought two for me direct from Canada, and in the King Size to boot. I have to say that the bar isn’t that attractive out of the package, which is probably
The King Sized bar is huge - 8.5” long. The slab is soft and chewy and has a pleasant smoky and roasted peanut scent. It’s not a caramelly chew exactly as the bar contains chocolate, which gives the toffee a bit of a stiff crumble.
It’s actually really satisfying and not at all sticky sweet. The 75 gram bar contains 8 grams of protein from the peanuts, so it’s a pretty satisfying snack. I wouldn’t say I wanted to eat more after about half the bar, but it was easy to just eat more later. As for the comparison to the inside of a Goldenberg’s, it’s not as smooth and doesn’t have that molasses kick. But the dark and robust flavors will probably appeal to Goldenberg’s lovers.
Since there’s nothing else in the States to compare this to, I have to recommend anyone who has been looking for a dark chewy toffee with nuts and chocolate to seek out this bar. It’s odd that something that I consider an “all weather” bar comes out of Canada. Since there’s no chocolate coating, it should travel well and stand up to temperature extremes.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I did a little more shopping this weekend and picked up some good deals since Easter goodies were now 75% off.
Rite Aid (Hollywood) - only 50% off on Thursday night but I was stopping for batteries because the power was out
Target (Burbank Empire Center):
Walgreen’s (Echo Park):
Long’s Drugs (Glendale) - this location is in the basement parking area of a shopping plaza. They had a WHOLE aisle of Easter goodies, all in good condition and with a pretty good selection. They had cases and cases of Mini Eggs left for any of those folks who live in the area
The one thing I’ve found when shopping after holidays is you have to go where people aren’t planning on stocking up on candy. I know this seems like a weird thing to consider, but the Walgreen’s in Echo Park seems to be the best place for me to find a good selection even after the deeper discounts, while the one in Hollywood on Sunset Blvd was cleaned out on Monday. The Long’s in Glendale seemed to be the same way, excellent selection left (and still pretty neatly organized) and great prices. I was on the prowl for Lindt items, but I guess you have to get there early for those (or maybe they ship them out). Cost Plus World Market didn’t have a single candy item left and the Ralph’s and Von’s I stopped at also didn’t have any marked down candies - or perhaps they put them someplace I don’t go, like the meat department.
I’m going to do a roundup review of those things that are new here.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
I’ve been madly typing away on an editorial for the LA Times for the past week. Honing it, submitting it, editing it.
And I’m feeling pretty good. I’m taking a stand, getting the word out. Because I was feeling like this topic was neglected in the mass media.
So I ran into my neighbor this morning, who happens to work at the LA Times (no, she’s not the one who spits things out) and she said, “Did you see the LATimes this morning?”
She said I should read it because there is an article on the front page about the cocoa butter substitution proposal.
(Sigh. So my editorial is a no-go at the moment. Maybe some retooling.)
Here are some highlights of the article with my commentary:
Think about that for a moment. So a quarter of what we’re eating when we consume chocolate is actually cocoa butter. And replacing that huge proportion with an ingredient that doesn’t make it taste better also isn’t going to improve the nutritional profile of chocolate. It’s going to make it worse. Sure, chocolate is high in fat (hello? it’s 25% fat) but it has been found to be neutral when it comes to our cholesterol profile (that’s just plain cocoa butter, chocolate itself as a combination of both cocoa solids high in antioxidants and the neutral butter lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol). The fats they want to put in place of cocoa butter are nasty. They contain higher levels of saturated fats and can even contain trans fatty acids.
That flexibility already exists. Hershey is free to make products without cocoa butter in them right now. In fact, they do. They put a vegetable oil based coating on the current version of the 5th Avenue Bar. I’ve had it. And as a consumer with taste, I prefer the old version. I resent the fact that if this proposal goes through they can take the current mockolate formulation and put a big banner across the front of the package that says “Now with Real Chocolate” without changing a thing in the actual ingredients. Tell me they’re doing it becuaseof my preference and I will laugh in your face.
Oh, and it could be years? Yes, but the open comment period for the public to respond is now, so that sort of mollifying comment is like saying, “don’t worry your pretty little head about it. We’ll do what’s right for you. Look at how much we have your interests at heart, because we’ve already publicly stated that customers may actually prefer a version of chocolate that don’t have cocoa butter in it.”
Honestly, this sums it up so well. Industry is overthinking this. It’s a simple thing that we want, we just want chocolate. Keep it real, guys. Don’t mess with out chocolate.
Note: Jerry Hirsch’s article also appeared in the Seattle Times.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Koakuma from UHA are a curious little candy. They’ve taken their wildly popular Puccho and combined them with the flavors and colors of the Gothic Lolita style popular in Japan. Koakuma means “little devil” and the package sports the little character all over it. With a heart shaped face, little bat wings and on the bottom of the pleated bag, she rides a trident like a broom.
These little candies come individually wrapped inside larger pouches. The taffy base is black with rich colored stripes and then studded with gummis.
Koakuma Peach Rose
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. Don’t misunderstand, I’m a huge fan of fresh peaches, canned peaches and even dried peaches. There’s just something about many peach flavored candies I’m just not fond of.
No matter, because these don’t taste like peaches. It smells like peaches, but it tastes like mildly tart floral berries.
The little gummy bits provide and interesting texture to the bouncy chew. It was very fresh and soft and pretty darn good. I was really surprised I ate most of the bag.
Koakuma Blueberry Rose
I’ve never really been that impressed with blueberry as a flavor. I often get it confused with raspberry in candies, and this one is no exception. It tastes like raspberry and a little floral note thrown in there with the rose. But I have to say that I’m impressed that the color actually looks like blueberries instead of like something pharmaceutical.
Again, bouncy and chewy and fresh and thoroughly enjoyable.
Both of them were nice, but the specific flavors just weren’t my favorites. I think I’d like a strawberry with rose or maybe a grape and violet. I bet they’d make a fun gift for someone who’s intro Goth though. (Who doesn’t like candies that match their nail polish?) There is another flavor called Cassis & Grape that I saw on JList for $1.80 (which has lots of other Gothic Lolita cosplay stuff to complete the look).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.