Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Here I was lamenting that Starburst wasn’t making the flavors I wanted when there are companies out there that make exactly what I like: strong citrus flavored chews. A couple of weeks ago I ordered from JBox. Even though my local Japanese markets in Little Tokyo stock a huge variety of candies, they always seem to miss the fringy things.
The first item I wanted to try was Valencia Orange HiCHEW.
The candy is fresh and has that inimitable bounce that HiCHEWs always deliver. The orange flavor is well rounded, sweet and a little tangy with a good juicy zest bite to it. It’s not quite tangy enough for me, though it gets tangier and more latexy as the chew goes on.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The one that really got me off my duff to place an order was Yuzu HiCHEW. I didn’t even know what that was, but it had a sliced yellow fruit on the front.
Yuzu is an Asian citrus that most of us know from Ponzu sauce. It’s kind of like grapefruit with a little lime and a little tangerine thrown in. Technically I guess the fruit is a hybrid of the Papeda Lemon and the Mandarin Orange. It’s an exceptionally hardy citrus that can tolerate frost and freezing temperatures, though not particularly attractive, it’s treasured for its peel.
The lemon notes come out loud and clear early on, then the mellow tangerine juice kicks in and at the end of the chew a really enticing grapefruit zest come out and ends with a slight bitterness. I bought two packs of both of these and as I write this, the Yuzu has three pieces left.
Rating: 9 out of 10
JBox sells them for $1.40 (plus shipping) which is a bit more than the dollar or so that I pay at the local markets. But if you don’t have a local market, that hardly matters. Full disclosure: JBox gave me a gift certificate so that I could try more of the stuff in their inventory, I’ve ordered from them before and like their selection. Even though everything was shipped slowboat, it arrived in great condition. They don’t always have all items in stock, but they just launched a new feature where you can get an RSS feed for all new items or just create a search for the items you’re waiting to be in stock. (A very dangerous feature ... the Pineapple Mentos are in!)
Monday, May 14, 2007
The news broke this weekend that Mars quietly changed the recipe for some of their most popular candy bars in Europe which now makes them verboten for strict vegetarians.
Up until now those vegetarians who eat dairy were able to enjoy Mars Bars, Twix, Milky Way and Bounty bars. Though they do contain milk products, there were no products in the ingredients derived from dead animals.
Not so as of this month. Mars switched to a whey product that uses rennet. Rennet is an enzyme harvested from slaughtered calves’ stomachs. It’s often used in the production of cheeses.
I’m not a vegetarian though I don’t eat meat from mammals. However I will eat products that contain some animal by-products such as gelatin or rennet (cheese). I don’t really like the idea of eating boiled down animal joints, but I like my gummi bears an awful lot.
The big question at the moment is how this revelation will effect the fight to Keep Chocolate Real with the FDA and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The new proposal not only would allow the swapping of cocoa butter for vegetable fats, it would also allow the use of whey in chocolate products as well. Whey is a cheap filler. Though nutritionally it may improve the profile of a chocolate bar (it’s protein instead of sugar or fat) it can also be made, as mentioned above, using rennet. Wouldn’t it be sad if suddenly so many mass-manufactured chocolate bars were suddenly off limits to so many people?
UPDATE: It looks like Mars underestimated their vegetarian clientelle and have reversed their previous decision and will now use whey made in an all vegetarian way. Masterfoods was innundated with 6,000 emails. It makes me wonder what else we could get companies to do if we just told them what we wanted or would accept. More news here.
It’s summer movie season. I’m not much of a movie-goer, mostly because I don’t like to go out (I have this same problem with vacations), but I do enjoy movie cuisine of the sweets variety. (Nachos and hot dogs do not belong at the movies ... those are ballpark foods.) Today I have three classics.
Sno-Caps were introduced in the twenties by the Blumenthal Chocolate Company. These are just tiny chocolate chips with a coating of white nonpareils. The combination of the mellow semi-sweet chocolate with the sweet crunchy white dots makes them ideal for munching for two hours. The box encourages me to “Mix it Up! with Popcorn” but I’m kind of a sweets purist at the movies ... just candy, thanks!
The semi-sweet chocolate isn’t terribly smooth, but it has a good chocolate flavor to it and a little dry and bitter hit towards the end. Of course the sweet little sugar spheres mellow that out pretty quick. The crunchies encourage me to chew these instead of letting them melt. But sometimes I like to let them all melt in my mouth so I’m left with a mess-o-nonpareils for some real crunching.
At the very end things can get a little messy with the orphaned nonpareils at the bottom of the box ... or the bottom of my purse if the box isn’t sealed completely. A quick tip of the box and I have some good crunching. If I miss my mouth, well, luckily they’re rather inert.
(Note: Sno-Caps semi-sweet chocolate now contains milkfat, so is not suitable for vegans.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Goobers came along in 1925, though the idea of chocolate covered nuts had already been around for centuries (though not very affordable until the turn of the century). To me Goober was a character on The Andy Griffith Show. It wasn’t until years later I found out that goober is actually slang for peanuts. (That was about the time that I started seeing Goober from Smuckers on the store shelves (peanut butter and jelly in the same jar).
Goobers are one of those easy to eat candies that don’t get you all hopped up. There’s a lot of protein in there from the nuts, so they don’t get my blood sugar all in a tizzy. The chocolate is very sweet and not terribly smooth, but with the crunch of the nuts in there I rarely suck the chocolate off, so it’s not very noticeable. My only complaint with Goobers is that sometimes the peanuts aren’t very good. It could be that I’m getting an old box or the peanuts quality control isn’t that good. A bad peanut is, well, bad.
There was a jingle for Goobers & Raisinets which has always stuck in my head (probably from around the same time as the Mounds & Almond Joy song).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Raisinets were the third part of the movie candy puzzle, they were introduced in 1927. The idea of Raisinets had been around for years, often sold as part of a mix of panned nuts and dried fruits known as “Bridge Mix”.
These are nicely sized raisins, soft and chewy, sweet and tangy. The chocolate, on the other hand, is super sweet, slightly grain and rather bland. As a kid I pretty much detested Raisinets. I eat them far more often now, but unless the chocolate is really good, I’d rather eat raisins.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nestle has a strange website to promote these candies, called Nestle Classics which emphasizes them as good movie candy. It’s kind of odd, since the only candy in their “Classic” lineup that they originated is the Nestle bar. All the other bars and candies in the array were acquired from other companies (Chunky & Oh Henry).
So, what are you eating at the movies this summer?
Friday, May 11, 2007
Sometimes I don’t read the directions. Especially when it comes to things like Ikea furniture and software. On an evening walk a couple of weeks ago with the neighbors and my lovely site programming/design team, we stopped at the 7-11. I scanned the racks for something new and sure enough found the Limited Edition Retro Starburst Fruit Chews. Or so I thought.
I got them home and the next morning went to take their picture. As you can see, that went pretty well. Then I opened the pack only to find that it was the regular flavors with just one of the limited edition array inside. Drat! Not only did I have to buy keep searching, I’d have to buy another package ... and take another photo. Drat!
As luck would have it (I do have plenty) I got an email from a similarly snack-obsessed reader in Colorado who said that they had the large bags at Safeway (called Von’s in my area). So I stopped at Von’s on my way home and lo and behold they serviced all my limited edition needs on sale.
I’ve decided after living with them in a jar on my desk all week that I LOVE the Skittles Carnival flavors. For that same period of time I’ve had the Starburst Retro bag on my desk as well. Granted, they fruit chews are not in a pretty glass jar, but I have to admit the tie-dye look of the package is pretty fun and tasty looking.
The package shows a slice of watermelon, a mango, a lime and some cherries. Not really a good sign for me. The concept of retro confuses me as well. From the package design I was expecting something from the sixties and seventies; perhaps the original Starbust flavors (which would be lame as originally the Cherry chew was Lime).
Or maybe retro is just anything that used to be a fad and is no longer popular.
As a mix I wasn’t that fond of these. Lime was nice, well, they were all nice, but I never felt like picking out a particular flavor and preferred to eat the Skittles all week. What I really want is a good Citrus Mix. Grapefruit ... why haven’t they done grapefruit? They could put in a tangy tangerine, zesty lemon, biting grapefruit and a key lime.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I’m not sure how it is that there’s an actual novelty candy category for Bug Jars, but perhaps I underestimate the fascination people have with insects. Okay, I like insects too and spent many an hour catching fireflies and watching ants. I like the idea of a candy container having a life after the candy is gone and the candy being themed to the package is a nice touch.
The Buggin’ Glow Pop by Impact Confections doesn’t really provide much candy. It’s a hard candy pop mounted to the underside of a plastic jar lid. The 21st century bonus here is that there’s a little button on the top that turns on an LED.
I struggled with the little button for a while because I wanted to figure out a way to keep it turned on. Alas, the button is too sensitive and I never did find a way.
The pop itself is shaped like some sort of bug. I think it looks like a potato bug (not something I want to put in my mouth) or perhaps a chubby dragon fly. He’s holding his little hands together ala Mr. Burns saying, “Excellent.” This one is watermelon flavored. Which is a good summer flavor.
It’s tasty. Very sweet, not at all tangy. When you’re not eating it, it sits back on top of the jar easily or just set it upright. It’s little abdomen glows when you press the button. The whole jar is nice clear plastic, about the size of a large baby food jar. The plastic label comes off it quite easily so it’s a completely unbranded jar with a light on the top (and a few non-functioning air holes).
I was most interested in finishing the candy so I could see the inner works of the LED. It wasn’t easy once the candy was dissolved down to the base. This is not easy stuff to crunch when it’s so close to the batteries and light. The LED itself is encased in some tough plastic. The LED itself is white, not green like the candy (which makes sense because the pops are available in some other flavors that were of no interest to me when I picked this out and have since forgotten).
So now I have a jar that’s great for putting change in and I can actually tell what’s in there without turning on the lights. Maybe I’ll keep it in my purse.
The jar is slightly bigger than the Buggin’ Glow Pop one and has a little purple flip top. Inside the jar are oodles of little compressed dextrose candies. (Like SweeTarts.) They’re shaped like little bug characters, vaguely related to the pictures on the label.
It’s a little disconcerting that these look like Flintstone’s Chewable Vitamins. Luckily they don’t taste like them. The candies come in three colors and flavors:
The flip top has an inner thin foam liner that can be removed so that the air holes actually work and you can put bugs in the jar.
These were both cute and fun and I’d buy either again if I had a kid and back yard to share them with. They were a little pricey at the Dollar General (um, a dollar each) but perhaps you’ll find them cheaper. As summer is coming up, candies that support kid’s curiosity and non-programmed play should have a place in most homes. Either one might make fun favors for a themed birthday party or tiny take-along item for a camping trip.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
I tried the Theo Chocolate BonBons earlier this year and have had the bars sitting around for a while. I’m feeling quite pressured to eat them all (though they need to be savored) before Los Angeles gets so hot it bursts into flames (oops, we’re already on fire).
Theo makes chocolate from bean to bar (actually roasting their own beans on site) using fair trade and organic ingredients. Don’t let all that squishy-hippy stuff fool you, this is quality stuff without compromise.
Even the wrappers are sassy and fun (designed by KittenChops) instead of making you feel like you did a good deed. Come on! Half the fun is feeling that your chocolate bar is an indulgence ... a wrapper that tells you how many lives you may have saved, how many species will continue to exist because of your support ... all the wonderful skin-clarifying, artery-blasting ingredients that are contained within might be nice (and might get you to buy it) but they aren’t going to get your salivary glands going.
The dark bars contain 65% cocoa solids, so these are dark, but not too intense.
The Theo Chocolate bars are actually called 3400 Phinney Bars, named after the address of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle. Not only are they not afraid of you knowing where they are, they actually welcome visitors and offer tours with tastings, of course, as well as a factory store. I’m hoping to get up there next fall to really dive into their complete chocolate experience.
The Milk Chocolate bars boast 40% cacao content, so they’re pretty rich.
All the bars a welcome change from the ordinary candy bar. The two I would find myself munching on regularly would be the Nib Brittle and Chai Milk Chocolate. They are expensive though, so only for special occasions. I could see tucking these into a special picnic at Pt. Dume or going to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert, but I just can’t buy them every day ... but knowing that the cocoa is grown responsibly (socially & environmentally) would help me pony up the dough.
You can find the bars online at Theo, Chocosphere and at stores like Whole Foods. The bars are
now Kosher (as of March 2008).
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
I’m a licorice fan, so it’s hard to do it wrong. I’ll eat it as a hard candy, a chewy rope or classic pastille. What I thought was great about this Black Ace Licorice is that it fits into that niche of licorice products that just about everyone can enjoy. Until I saw this package it didn’t occur to me that so many gluten/wheat sensitive folks were missing out on some great chewy licorice goodness.
This licorice has no wheat flour in it, as most laces, twists and ropes do. Most mass-produced licorice products in the United States don’t even contain real licorice any longer, they use anise flavoring instead. Black Ace is all natural and contains real licorice (which is a good thing and a bad thing, I’ll get to that in a moment.) Licorice has been used for centuries in teas and medicinals. The extract is extremely sweet and has been used an alternative sweetener. It’s a natural expectorant as well, so it’s often found in cough remedies. Some of the effects of too much licorice can be welcome (laxative effect), unpleasant (green stool), or downright dangerous (high blood pressure & edema). Again ... that’d be too much licorice. What’s too much? More than six servings a day.
Black Ace are little dots of licorice. They’re soft and chewy, pretty much melting away in the mouth smoothly as you chew or dissolve them. They have corn starch in them, which I guess might make them a jelly product. They’re very sweet, but have a mellow peppery, woodsy taste to them. They’re sweetened with corn syrup and sugar, not molasses, so I miss some of the more earthy flavors. There’s also a little hit of salt in here that tones down the high sweet flavors of the licorice itself.
Black Ace also does a Red version, which also has a similarly pleasant, smooth and soft chew. The flavor is a good fruity/floral mix, something like raspberry. I’m not a big fan of Red in general, mostly because it reminds me I could be having black licorice. But these were definitely nice.
I enjoyed them quite a bit but would probably prefer a molasses & wheat based candy. But if you’re a fan of licorice and can’t have wheat and don’t want boring old hard candies, this might be a solution. Since they’re all natural, you can expect to find them places like Whole Foods as well as Beverages & More, Oakville Grocery or Bristol Farms and possibly TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
Note: though this is all natural, fat free, wheat and gluten free, the package states that they were made in a facility that processes peanuts & other nuts.
Monday, May 07, 2007
This bag of Limited Edition Carnival Flavor Skittles absolutely smells like a carnival midway: a combination of waffle cones, cotton candy and freshly shaken lemonade.
I was a little peeved that I couldn’t find these in a single-serve bag, but at least they were on sale. While many chocolate based products in large bags are only 11-14 ounces, Skittles still come in a full pound bag.
The only strange thing about all of the flavors is that the candy shell was every so slightly tangy when first placed on the tongue. While that’s fine for Red Vines and Slushie, it didn’t really belong on the Bubble Gum and Cotton Candy. I’m wondering if that sour bite is the ascorbic acid that gives each serving of Skittles its 45% RDA level of Vitamin C.
I didn’t care much for the extended flavors I reviewed last week, but I found myself happily munching away on this bag of Skittles without picking out particular flavors. Also, the flavor combinations pretty much all work with each other. Perhaps Slushy and Candy Apple are my least favorite combo but Cotton Candy and Bubble Gum are quite a nice mix. The other fun thing is that there’s not strange Skittles Breath after eating them. Often with the fruity Skittles I find coffee unpalatable. Though they’re not really coffee compatible, they don’t spoil the experience for me.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.