Thursday, August 23, 2007
I reviewed Smarties a couple of years ago, but they were the Canadian version and I thought they merited a revisit with the originals ... especially since they’re so wildly popular around the world with sales topping $140,000,000 a year!
Smarties were introduced by Rowntree in the UK back in 1937. Legend has it that Forrest Mars and a Rowntree family member were traveling through Spain in the mid-1930s and saw the soldiers there would eat chocolate that was covered in sugar to keep it from melting. Both men saw the merits of this novel way of serving candies, especially when combined with the French and Italian panning processes that provides an attractive colored shell. Rowntree first named their new chocolate lentils “Chocolate Niblet Beans” but changed next year to Smarties.
They’re not sold in the United States owing mostly to the fact that the name Smarties is already taken here (and perhaps some sort of gentleman’s agreement between Rowntree & Mars ... I can’t find any record of it though).
Smarties offer a wide variety of colors in their flat chocolate candies and recently change from artificial colors to all natural ones in hopes that it will reduce reticence among moms because of concerns about artificial colors being linked to hyperactivity.
The hexagonal tubes that hold the Smarties are certainly cute. They’re easy to dispense from and they don’t roll around. The candies themselves are attractive, if now a little mottled in color.
Smarties shells are a little thicker than M&Ms and have a light flavor to them that I can only call cookie flavored (maybe ‘Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers). The chocolate inside is rather unremarkable - not terribly rich or creamy.
What’s most surprising and pleasant about the Smarties is the flavor of the orange ones. They’re actually orange. Kind of a middle-of-the-road orange, not terribly deep or zesty, more like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The colors are remarkably different than they used to be. I tossed out a little array with some M&Ms ColorWorks as a comparison. The difference is pretty easy to see - the Smarties lack a depth to the color. However, it gives them a little artisan, homespun quality that certainly doesn’t turn me off.
Brits are fierce about their Smarties, and even the little changes in the packaging and colors seem to get people all fired up. Here’s a commercial from last year when the Hex tube replaced the round one with the collectible caps.
Here’s another earlier one that might lead one to believe that there’s something really psychedelic about these candies!
While parents may be happy that the artificial colors are gone, vegetarians aren’t. They now use carminic acid to make the reds, which is made from cochineal insects. (It also means that they’re not Kosher.)
Further, it’s not what Americans would consider “pure chocolate” as it contains whey and vegetable fat fillers. Ingredients are: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, dried skimmed milk, butterfat, whey powder, vegetable fat, lactose and soy lecithin. The coating is: sugar, wheat flour, modified starch, colors (titanium dioxide, mixed carotenes, carminic acid, vegetable carbon, riboflavin, copper, complexes of chlorophyllins), glazing agents, beetroot juice and flavourings.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I was thinking back when I wrote the review of the new 3 Musketeers Mint about the original 3 Musketeers. I’ve been searching high and low for images of it, but alas there are none to be found via my diligent use of google. What struck me as so wonderful about the concept was that it was much like the long-gone 7up Bar and the still here Sky Bar - a combination of segmented flavors.
The old 3 Musketeers would have been the Neapolitan nougat of candy bars.
Imagine my surprise as I ducked in the Rite Aid on Friday to pick up some things for my vacation (yes, I’m on vacation right now as I type this) that not only did the store have much of their Halloween candy on display, they also had this Autumn Minis Mix. It doesn’t say limited edition or anything. Perhaps it’s seasonal, there are golden leaves on it, after all.
Here’s an old commercial I found from the days of black and white television animation:
All for fun, and fun for all! Alexander Dumas would be proud.
The little mini bars are tiny, about the size of a normal boxed chocolate. Take them out of the wrapper and put it on an elegant plate and it might even pass for one at a glance.
While I’ve never quite understood what French Vanilla is (and it’s often used as a description for candles and ice cream), I appreciate that this 3 Musketeers is a little lighter tasting. Where a regular one has a rather malty and dark salt flavor to it, this is light. It doesn’t quite have vanilla oozing from its pores as a flavor (more like the absence of any other flavors distinguishes this one), it’s still pleasant.
Against my better judgment, I love the Strawberry. It absolutely reminds me of Neapolitan ice cream! The strawberry is sweet and has a light caramelized sugar touch to it, a little floral-y and certainly on the fake side. But the soft, fluffy and rather foamy nougat pulls it off. The chocolate is passable enough as an enclosure and adds the cocoa flavor to bring it together (I can certainly see me hating it if it were covered in white chocolate).
The pink color of the insides is a little shocking and I’m guessing where the artificial colors listed in the ingredients are used. Kind of unnecessary in my book (especially since it seems that folks accepted the uncolored insides to the new Mint bar).
Mocha Capuccino are surprisingly nice. Not too sweet, a good texture and creamy counterpoint of the chocolate to the nougat. However, they don’t taste like coffee. Nope, they taste like pecans or maple, but not like coffee.
I don’t mind the flavor in the slightest, and considered it my second favorite of this bunch, but someone really needs to tweak their “coffee flavor” that they’re selling to these candy companies. (It could have been much worse, it could have been that dastardly Mocha that those limited edition KitKats had.)
Overall, these are a nice change up from the standard 3 Musketeers and the simplicity of the bar in the first place makes the flavor changes perfectly acceptable.
The price point on these, $3.79 for a 9 ounce bag was a bit hard to swallow. I prefer paying about $2.50 for these sorts of things, but I figured, I’m on vacation (or will be).
Monday, August 20, 2007
When I was a kid I didn’t like Chunky bars. There was just something about raisins and chocolate that reminded me of those carob covered raisins that were foisted upon me as an alternative to candy (which makes it sound like there was a choice). As I got older I think I appreciated them more, mostly because the texture of such a “thickerer” slab of chocolate offers a different taste experience.
Back when they were first introduced in the 1930s they were larger (of course) and featured Brazil nuts, cashews and raisins. Today they’re made with raisins and peanuts ... I’ve always thought of them as what would happen if you dumped your Goobers and Raisinets into a dish and let them melt & reform into a bar.
The bars were originally made by Philip Silvershein and through a gentleman’s agreement with Wrigley, delivered and marketed along with their gums. Later the company was sold to the Ward-Johnson Division of the Terson Company, which oddly enough also bought up the Blumenthal candy group which made Goobers & Raisinets. Nestle bought the Chunky bar and friends in 1984. They changed it from a single chunk to four segmented chunks, I’m guessing in an effort to promote sharing.
The bar is beefy looking. Even though it’s thick, the sections are truly easy to snap apart (I don’t know how easy it’d be to break up otherwise). It smells rather sweet and more of rum and peanuts than chocolate. The chocolate is okay, it seems creamier than the stuff in Crunch bars. The bar reminds me of a cheap version of the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss. Since it’s a fraction of the price (at 33 cents) I can’t really complain of it not living up to a bar that’s usually three times the price.
For your enjoyment I dug up some old commercials.
This jingle from the early eighties says “you’ve gotta open wide to get a Chunky inside. Open wide for a chunkier bite.” The commercial also reminds me that they were actually one big piece back then instead of the four segmented block.
This one also references that same tagline, open wide.
This commercial is from the mid or late eighties ... and I’m guessing by the content that it’s from around the time that Nestle bought the candy bar. Note that the varieties available is down to two at the end tag. This one also shows the four segments for the first time. See how YouTube has become and candy archaeologist’s best resource?
Links: Retroland, Patti at CandyYumYum has an actual wrapper to prove that there was a Pecan version & JCruelty’s reviews of a variety of enduring candies (strong language)
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The FDA and the new chocolate labeling standards may be years away, but there is a bigger threat to candy right now. Actually, there are several threads. First, energy prices have gone through the roof and industrious people are looking for alternatives, especially biofuels. But biofuels use some of the very same crops that we actually eat. So enter the huge competition going on right now for corn products (corn syrup). Add to that that the United States has a little thing called The Farm Bill and subsidies that make sugar strangely expensive in this country.
Look for the competition for corn to heat up amongst meat producers, food producers and energy makers. You’ll feel the pinch at the checkout stand in higher prices. You may also notice that some of our American candy will be made in other countries.
This isn’t just limited to to the United States. Haribo recently gave notice that their prices will be going up as a direct result of the fight over food and energy. Sure, candy is a low priority use, but it’s not going to end there. Gummi bears are the canary in the coal mine of food.
Chow took on the topic of Licorice, that other black gold.
The story mentions the resurgence of interest in the traditional candy and goes on to mention that Economy Candy has added 10-12 new varieties in just that past two months. Looks like I’ll need to make another trip. (Here are my licorice reviews.)
In other stories around the blogs:
This week’s candy review recap:
Monday: Amano Single Origin Bars (8 out of 10)
Tuesday: Bit-O-Honey (6 out of 10)
Wednesday: Craves Chocolate Sticks (8 out of 10)
Thursday: Goodbye Tart n Tiny (9 out of 10)
Friday: Crown Jewel Orange Chocolate Truffles (5 out of 10)
Weekly average: 7.20 (60% chocolate content)
Friday, August 17, 2007
I was feeling a little restless (and warm) so I went to the 99 Cent Only Store looking for something fun and outside of my normal scope.
I saw a display on the top shelf of the candy aisle of these chocolate truffles from Crown Jewels. They came in three flavors: chocolate, mint and orange.
The box says, Exquisite Milk Chocolate - Individually Wrapped in Beautiful Foil. Wow, real foil? And that’s the biggest selling point, not the flavor or quality ingredients or hand-crafting?
The ingredients didn’t scare me away: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Whey, Whole Milk Powder, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla, Coconut Oil and Orange Oil. Sure it’s not a truffle made with heavy cream, but at least there weren’t a lot of hydrogenated oils in there. The ingredients list for Frangos was far longer. The foil wasn’t quite as beautiful as promised, but a simple orange mylar pouch. (I was figuring they’d be twisted or something like the Dove Jewels are.)
I was expecting them to be like a Frango, and they are at least in size and shape. But they’re much softer. Not in a creamy sort of way, just in a “how can they be melted at 75 degrees” kind of way. They smell much like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The chocolate is a little on the fudgy side, not deeply flavored with a slight milky flavor to it. The orange truffle center is soft and melts quickly and even feels a little cool on the tongue. The orange flavor is balanced pretty well except for the candy being so darned sweet.
As a purchase for 99 cents, it’s not disappointing at all. I wouldn’t say that I’m going to buy the rest of the flavors, but they didn’t overpromise or underdeliver. As something to buy and keep in a candy dish, they’re a great alternative to regular mass-produced miniatures. But beware, they don’t do well in even moderate heat conditions (over 85 degrees). The box contains about eight individually wrapped pieces and is made in Salt Lake City, UT.
Taquitos.net liked the Mint variety.
I just noticed going through the archives at my best 99 Cent Store finds that they’ve all been orange flavored items ... hmmm: Terry’s Chocolate Orange Confection and Queen Anne Chocolate Covered Orange.
This post is dedicated to Meg at the now defunct SickCandy.com. She used to write little posts every once in a while with her finds from the 99 Cent Only Store (underwear, coffee drinks, etc.) and it actually made me want to visit one of their stores to see if there was anything there that was edible. I’ve been happy to report that they do have good finds.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Way back in the day there was a cute little candy called Tart n Tinys. They were tiny little pellets of tart candy, kind of like SweeTart, only sold in a small cigarette-pack-sized box that dispensed the candies from a little slip-tab at the top. (Nerds are still sold in this format.) They were made by Willy Wonka Candy Company, which was founded by Breaker Confections in 1971 just in advance of the feature film, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The book (called Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published in 1964 and already wildly popular as was James and the Giant Peach which came out in ‘61.)
The Wonka line of candies were largely a marketing invention, the only candy in the original line up of confections that was actually mentioned in the book were Everlasting Gobstoppers.
However loosely tied Tart n Tinys were to Wonka’s imagination, I loved them. The little chalky pellets were fun to sort and stack, simple to share and easy to portion. The original flavors were Cherry, Lemon, Lime, Grape and Orange. The texture always seemed a bit smoother than SweeTart, which had a chunky and gritty texture (which I also appreciate).
In 1988 Breaker Confections sold the brand to Nestle. Nestle eventually made some changes to the candies, mostly because they had also recently acquired the Sunline brand of SweeTart confections in their takeover of Rowntree (who bought Sunline in 1986). Sunline products (SweeTart, Sprees and Bottle Caps) were then branded under the Wonka label as well. In the early 1990s Tart n Tinys were reintroduced with a new colorful candy shell (more like mini Spree than mini SweeTart now). The most interesting part of the candy shell addition is that the grape ones were no longer purple, they’re now blue (but thank goodness they’re not the blue punch flavor of SweeTart).
The new candy coated variety were also a little rounded, so they roll. No more stacking. But I have to admit they were fun to look at, and probably a little easier to sort even in dim lighting conditions.
So, you may have noticed that I started this post with, “Goodbye.” This is because Nestle has decided to discontinue both Tart n Tinys and Chewy Tart n Tinys.
It makes sense that Nestle thinks that the line is redundant (as I found with the head to head comparison between the Chewy Mini SweeTart and the Chewy Tart n Tiny) to products they already produce. The marketing on them was never particular strong, they don’t do seasonal editions (no pastel Tart n Tinys for Easter, no red & green for Christmas) so it’s easy to see why people have not responded to them as much as other products like SweeTart, Sprees and Runts.
I’ve enjoyed Tart n Tinys since their introduction but rarely buy them simply because I never find them in stores. Runts have been more available, even in the movie style box. I don’t think I’ve actually bought Tart n Tinys in five years for this reason. How successful can a candy be if you can’t find it in the first place? There are still a few online vendors who still have inventory left, so if you’re a fan, get ‘em now!
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Last year I reviewed some chocolate barks and enrobed goodies from Best Regards. Robert Duensing prides himself on his Signature Blend of chocolate, which is part milk and part dark and all creamy delicious.
He sent me a bunch of his new product months ago, Craves Chocolate Sticks, which come in three different flavors: Chocolate, Orange and Mint.
Each little clear plastic tube is crammed with these chocolate sticks. Each is easy to pull out and have a little bite; two or three sticks make a respectable portion. Dare I say they’re a little feminine? It’s the same amount as a square of chocolate, it just feels dainty and restrained.
I’ve had them in or on my desk for the past few months and find myself really drawn to the simplicity. Less wrapper to deal with, easier to take bites out of than a big tablet and rather pleasant to look at when not being consumed.
The plain chocolate is sweet but very creamy. It doesn’t have the rich dark notes that true dark chocolate has, but it does have a drier finish than a milk chocolate. The small amount of milk component to it does keep it smooth and creamy, but without the overt dairy tastes.
The orange is a light touch. One of my favorite combinations, it’s just a hint of zesty flavor.
The mint is refreshing, a little on the mild side and not quite pepperminty, but still allows the chocolate flavors to come through.
I honestly didn’t think I was going to like these much. Other than the different shape than most chocolates, I didn’t think there’d be much to it. However, the packaging is spare and lets the chocolate do the legwork and the little sticks are probably my new favorite shape for chocolate snacking.
This is something that would be great to get in a gift basket because it just begs to be eaten. They’d be a nice thing to set out with coffee service after a meal as well.
The Chocolate Sticks were a huge hit at my office, one of the most requested items if they weren’t sitting out (yes, I have a bunch of candy sitting on the corner of my desk at all times for folks to come and sample). Best Regards also redesigned their packaging for the chocolate barks (I loved the orange and cranberry one) which is more in keeping with the upscale position of these candies (though at a moderate price).
There’s also a raspberry flavor that I haven’t tried before (but I’ve had the Raspberry Bark). I’d like to be able to find these easily at Whole Foods or gourmet stores instead of ordering. Contains milk and soy ingredients and processed in a facility along with nuts and wheat.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Bit-O-Honey is one of those candies that I’m always surprised (and pleased) to see that they still make. And why wouldn’t they? There’s nothing else like it out there.
Bit-O-Honey was introduced in 1924 by a company called Schutter-Johnson Company in Chicago, Ill. Schutter and Johnson later split (Johnson went on to invent the PowerHouse bar which became a Peter Paul product, a nougat, peanuts and caramel product covered with chocolate, something I’ll have to write about further later).
Schutter’s made a nice variety of chewy goods including the Bit-O-Choc and the Bit-O-Coconut and a chocolate bar called Old Nick that featured milk chocolate over fudge and nuts.
In the 1960s Schutter’s sold out to the Chunky folks who discontinued the Old Nick citing that it competed with their much more popular Oh Henry! Then in 1984 Nestle bought Chunky and the now orphaned Bit-O-Honey. (There may have been some intermediate companies in there for a while too, candy history is mighty confusing!)
Nestle has kept the bar largely the same as when it was first introduced. They even still make the six segment bar with the wax wrapper dividers. This is an interesting way to sell the candy and solves one of the enduring problems for taffy bars ... how do you eat it? Many taffy bars are easy to smack on the corner of the table and break into pieces (but who knows how those pieces will be sized?). The assortment of bars from Annabelle’s and items like Laffy Taffy suffer from this (though Laffy Taffy also makes the ropes, which I think are probably the best format for a large quantity of taffy).
The Bit-O-Honey segments break apart pretty easily, though I always end up with a little smidge of paper on the back side of each piece where the candy has folded over the waxed paper. (It’s not the end of the world if it ends up in your mouth though ... not like the foil on a Hershey’s Kiss if you have fillings.)
As long as the candy is fresh and soft, it’s a pleasant and surprisingly long-lasting chew. There are notes of honey as you would expect, as well as a smooth and creamy flavor of almonds. The chew is consistent to the very end, instead of descending into some grainy mess as many caramels do. There’s a little egg white in there, which is part of what give it the smooth chew (a little different timing on the cooking and it could be nougat).
Bit-O-Honey are also sold individually wrapped, but I’ve never liked those as much (they’re a little boxier in shape). They tend to be firmer (or rock hard). There’s something about the bar that I’ve always loved.
I don’t buy them very often, for fear of pulling out fillings (though I’ve never actually lost a filling on candy ... I lost a filling once on scrambled eggs and cracked a tooth on a rock in a bean salad once). It was nice to see them on shelves again at the 99 Cent Only Store and even better to find the product virtually unchanged.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.