Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
There are many surprising things about Circus Peanuts. In fact, everything is so incongruous that there’s nothing that’s not surprising. That’s how jam-packed full of nonsense they are.
They’re shaped like peanuts, big big peanuts in the shell. But they’re orange in color. The orange color bears no relationship to the flavor, banana. And why even call them Circus Peanuts? Because they’re jumbo sized and you might feed them to an elephant ... come on, that’s a serious stretch.
They’re one of the most enduring candies in the United States, made first in the 1800s. Kind of like the Candy Corn of marshmallows, no one really knows when they started for sure. Except in the case of Candy Corn where many companies have tried to take credit, no one really bothers to try to brand Circus Peanuts. You don’t even see a TM after the name! No one knows the history of Circus Peanuts because everyone is so confused by them that they wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to clear much up. We can all continue to live in blissful mild confusion (and perhaps irritation that so many niblets of corn are wasted on so many Circus Peanuts).
Circus Peanuts are made by at least four different companies in the United States: Brach’s, Melster, Farley and Spangler. Melster, based in Wisconsin makes more than Brach’s & Spangler put together, though often you don’t see them packaged under the Melster brand, they’ll be done for grocery stores and drug store chains or maybe just found in bulk. In this article from 2003, it turns out that Spangler alone makes nearly 4 MILLION POUNDS a year. What? Who the heck is eating all these ... or are they just used as decoration or perhaps packing materials.
Circus Peanuts are shaped like peanuts, usually light orange/peach in color and banana-flavored. When fresh, a bag of Circus Peanuts can smell more like fingernail polish remover. When stale they can smell like, well, nothing at all. The artificial banana flavor must be some volatile compound that evaporates when exposed to air or perhaps a fierce stare.
Technically they’re a marshmallow: they’re sugar, corn syrup (and/or high fructose corn sweetener) and gelatin with some color and flavor thrown in. The gelatin helps the whipped sugar keep its foam. But instead of being extruded as most marshmallows are, these are molded, which might explain some of their density. Because of the high amount of corn syrup in them, they’re rather moist when fresh and can become stale and pretty firm. They’re not quite smooth in texture like most marshmallows, instead there’s a bit of graininess to them. The look like they’re made of fine porcelain of terra cotta. They can even make that clinking sound if you wait for them to get very stale.
I have bought Circus Peanuts before, usually when I find them ridiculously on sale, like 25 cents for a 10 ounce bag. Then I open the bag, get woozy from the fumes and remember why I don’t hang out in nail salons. Then I eat one or two and curse myself for buying them. Later I’ll find myself sneaking into the bag and eating them one or two at a time. When eaten with other candy or salty treats like popcorn, they’re not so bad. (Try Twizzlers or Cheetos.) Not a ringing endorsement.
If there’s one thing to be celebrated about Circus Peanuts it’s that they led to the creation of Lucky Charms. A General Mills team was charged with creating a kids cereal in only six months. So they sat down with everything available to them, from Cheerios and Wheaties to a bunch of candy from the store shelves (apparently that’s what a kid’s cereal is made from). They put bits of stale Circus Peanuts (now called “marbits” in the industry for marshmallow bits) in a sugared Cheerios and everyone loved the idea. A cartoon mascot and bit of Americana was born. So if you find yourself stuck with some extra Circus Peanuts, perhaps chop them up and throw them in your breakfast bowl.
Some brief facts:
Other thoughts around the ‘net:
Monday, June 11, 2007
Music may be called ear candy at times, but it really doesn’t intersect with candy much. I’m not sure why, they’re easy to enjoy together, though candy always won out for my spending money as a kid. (I owned very little music as a teen, the only singles I remember buying were Blondie’s Call Me & John Lennon’s Starting Over, instead I just listened to whatever albums were in the house, hence my love of the Beatles and The Who.)
Besides the Charleston Chew, which is named after a dance and song, I don’t think there are many music-themed candy bars out there. Even though there’s not much proof of concept, Hershey’s has high hopes for their limited edition Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Cream Cups. The early announcement of them last year sent quite a wave of enthusiasm through the internet, especially blogs where people were searching desperately. They are slated to go on sale in advance of the 30th anniversary of his death on July 7th.
The cups showed up earlier this year on eBay, as merchants where were given preview cups to try before they buy sold them off for a quick buck or two. (Some were going as high as $5.00 a piece.) I’ll admit that I bid on a few. As luck would have it, the same contact at Hershey’s who sent me the Fresh From The Factory Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came through last week with these beauties. A whole tin filled with the Big Cup (King Size!) Elvis-themed cups.
The packaging for this variety features Hawaiian Elvis, sporting sideburns and a purple lei. The back of the package features trivia about Elvis: “Priscilla Ann Beaulieu was 14 years old when she met Elvis Presley.” Ah, give the young girls something to aspire to. (Other packages mention his record sales and movie career.) None mentioned the King’s love of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the progenitor for this candy.
The cups smell like roasted peanuts with a slight sweet tinge of chocolate. Before biting into them, there’s really no indication that they’re different. The Big Cups are pretty hefty, and after eating the smaller-than-normal Fresh From the Factory Cups, I feel rather huge.
Once I bit into them though, the banana-ness was apparent. It’s a soft and floral banana taste in a “banana cream” that’s rather firm, kind of like a banana white chocolate, but not as smooth. The label lists banana flakes as an ingredient. (As well as artificial flavor and artificial color.)
I tried these several ways. I ate them fresh out of the package, I tried them frozen and I tried them a gooey melted mess after letting them sit under the hot studio light. Frozen the banana lacks zing, but of course the texture is great. At room temperature, the banana has a nice mellow flavor. At body temperature the banana cream gets really thick and creamy and tastes a lot more like banana.
I was kind of hoping that they’d use the model of the Caramel Cup and just make the caramel banana flavored. The cream is interesting and carries the flavor well over the very strong peanut butter. All I can say is that it works for me. I don’t know if I’d buy these instead of the regular Reese’s, but I’m curious what the miniatures are going to be like and I’ll probably give those a try.
For another preview of the Elvis Cups, check out Patti at Candy Yum Yum.
Now comes the time where I share the wealth. Yes, you too can be the first on your block to try the new Elvis King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Cups. I’ll do a drawing on Saturday, June 16th at Noon Pacific ... the grand prize will be FIVE fresh packages. Just leave a comment here with your favorite Elvis tune or Elvis Cup sighting ... I’ve heard that they’re already showing up in stores like Dollar General. Use a real email address if you’d like me to contact you if you win, and I’d advise not checking the box for notification of comments, cuz there may be a few. I also reserve the right to throw more candy into the winner package, depending on my whim and inventory at the moment. North American addresses only.
(Ooh, thanks to the comments, I found this on the Hershey’s Gift Site, you can order them right now, a tin of 16 packages of the King Sized cups is $25.)
UPDATE: We have a winner (Lisa!) ... but you’re free to comment. If you’re looking for tips on where to find Elvis Cups, check out this post called Elvis Spotting.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Things I want to make (but probably never will):
In Revival News:
Here’s the recap of Candy Blog reviews this week:
Monday: KitKat Temptations: Hazelnut Praline & Coconut Eclair (5 out of 10)
Tuesday: Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels (7 out of 10)
Wednesday: Nutpatch Nougats (10 out of 10)
Thursday: Tiny Size Chiclets (5 out of 10)
Friday: Chocotelegram & Chocolate Dispatch (7 out of 10)
Weekly Average: 6.8 ... 40% chocolate content.
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.