Monday, April 14, 2008
KitKat in Japan has been hard at work churning out new limited edition and seasonal flavors. I’ve been kind of picky about which ones I want to buy and review, so here was one that I was particularly interested in: KitKat Vanilla Beans.
As with all of the premium limited edition KitKats in the single serve size, this comes in a box with two individually wrapped finger pairs.
It’s basically a white chocolate KitKat. I picked it up because the ingredients listed real cocoa butter, so this is true white chocolate instead of some partially hydrogenated/tropical oil mess.
It features real flecks of vanilla beans in the coating as well, which I’d hoped would be like the rich bourbon flavors of the Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar.
It smells quite milky and sweet, almost cloyingly so. The melt is nice, it does have a good dairy flavor and it’s not as sweet as I’d feared. The vanilla flavor is true and well rounded (not single-noted like the nature-identical vanillin).
The wafers balance it all out ... but I think I could have used a little bit of salt in the cream or something to keep it from being throat burningly sugary.
It’s not spectacularly better than a regular US white chocolate KitKat, certainly not for the price. In fact for the price per ounce the Green & Black’s is a better deal and ethically traded (but you’ll have to add your own crispy element). Rating: 6 out of 10
Like the KitKat, Nestle goes through a lot of different limited editions of their popular Aero Bar for Japan. Aeros are available in the UK, Canada and Australia but for some reason have never been introduced in the US. (There was a Nestle chocolate bar called the Choco-Lite back in the 70s-early 80s.)
I’ve reviewed the Mint and Milk Chocolate Aero before and have a Caramel Aero in my review queue. The UK also has a version of little spheres (about the size of malted milk balls) called Aero Bubbles. I find the UK Aeros at import shops including Cost Plus World Market pretty regularly.
It’s the Japanese Aeros that are so fun though, especially since they have these cute little individually wrapped nuggets in the Limited Edition versions. I found these at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Little Tokyo but they’re also available online through eBay and JBox. This one is called Aero Bitter Orange and has a companion KitKat bar that came out last year as well. (I tried them but didn’t review them. Pretty tasty milk chocolate with a mellow orange cream filling between the wafers.)
It lives up to the Aero name. It is a fluffed bite of chocolate. The orange topping is orangy, not in the least tangy or complexly zesty but slightly bitter as promised.
The bubbles in Aero give it an interesting texture, more fudgy than chocolatey, it’s still a nice confectionery experience. The box makes them seem like a nicer candy treat than perhaps they actually are, as does the price ($1.99 for 1.76 ounces.) Rating: 7 out of 10
Friday, April 11, 2008
I’m hearing a lot of hatin’ on black licorice in the entries for the Red Vines Giveaway. Which makes me sad. I think a lot of folks are very attached to their favorite candies and I’m probably one of those people and maybe I take it a little personally when someone calls something that I appreciate disgusting. (But I’m not a converter or anything, I don’t like to force candy on people who say that they don’t like something.)
Licorice has a long and wonderful history as a confection and even a medicine. It’s also very flexible, used as a flavoring in hundreds of different sweet and savory items. It has some companion flavors as well, such as anise and fennel. One of the more commonly found licorices is the Red Vines Black Licorice Twists.
The most common kind of licorice here in the United States is the twist. It has a wheat base and is usually flavored and sweetened with molasses (and in this case, corn syrup too). Molasses is a great companion to licorice. While pure licorice is very sweet and soft on the tongue, molasses is deep and only mildly sweet with some interesting mineral notes.
The earthy combination and less sticky complexity to it all makes Red Vines Black Licorice Twists a nice treat. They’re not very licoricey, but that’s okay, they do have a nice texture and feel more like a snack than a candy sometimes. (Wheat-based candies can do that.) I think they’re best when they’re fresh, but stale is okay. I’ve revived stale licorice before by placing it in the microwave on top of a very lightly damp paper towel, covered with another paper towel and zap it for 10 seconds.
Licorice and licorice-like candies are increasing in popularity, probably because of their low caloric density and satisfying chew. As a grocery store purchase of licorice, I prefer Good and Plenty, but if you put Red Vines Black Licorice in front of me, I’ll definitely eat it.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’d never had them until I started the blog. I picked them up two years ago to try and found the bag was so horribly stale that it wouldn’t have been fair. So again with full warning this time that National Licorice Day was approaching, I picked up another bag.
It’s mind boggling. I don’t even know where to begin with how confused, anxious and actually angry these make me.
First, I opened the bag and it smelled like sweet musk. Yes. Like the Australian Musk Lollies. And I know this smell because I recently bought a bag.
At first I thought I was crazy. I’ve had smell hallucinations and I’ve heard that simply coloring a food one way will make someone expect that flavor, so maybe I was just having some sort of synapse malfunction.
But it’s been a full week and I’ve checked with others. The reaction to the smell ranges from “It smells like my grandmother’s purse” to “that’s like a bad candle shop.”
None of it gets better. The colors are odd, like slightly bleached by the sun or perhaps rinsed in the colander with some fresh veggies and they’ve run.
The texture is like eating surgical tubing ... that’s been sitting next to leaking perfume samples for several months. They candy is made of little tubes of a similar wheat-based licorice vine (no twist to it) that is then coated on the outside with a candy shell (I can’t call it crunchy, only colorful). After chewing a bit the flavor does kind of warm up, after the musk has gone away it’s a little bit like licorice, but lacking the anise punch and the deep earthy molasses flavors.
The American Licorice Company explains them this way:
Maybe it’s just because I don’t like musk. But someone must like these candies or they wouldn’t be making them for those rabid fans. Or maybe people just use them for craft projects. They might make some decent kid-safe chunky beads for stringing on some embroidery thread.
I just ... don’t know what else ... to write about them. I can only assume that those people who hate licorice have tasted this and I can’t blame them for their hostility towards the stuff. (Go ahead and call me hypocritical for hatin’ on this stuff, I can take it.)
Rating: 2 out of 10
The Red Vines Giveaway closes on Saturday, April 12th, so enter if you want some! (Don’t worry, there will be no Snaps in the winner packages.)
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Since my first post on April 9th called Adventures in Candy, things have changed quite a bit. I was not new to blogging at that point, I’d been keeping Fast Fiction since 2001 and blog regularly for blogging.la since early 2004.
I’m not sure I realized how much it would take over my life.
I was at a wedding that day in downtown Los Angeles of my friends & neighbors Amy & Robin (mentioned here often). My husband had laryngitis so I did a lot of the talking and much of it seemed to be about candy. (I can’t recall what we were talking about.) My passion for the sugary stuff impressed my table-mates and they mentioned that I should blog about it. I came home and started that night.
There was something about blogging about candy. It just clicked. People I’d never met started reading. I had fun and I realized that I’d been writing about candy my whole life. From the short story in 5th grade to essays in high school to my masters thesis, a river of candy ran through it.
The default template and limited features I was using on Blogger were suddenly insufficient to hold all the possibilities of blog about candy. I decided to broaden my goals, I wanted to become a recognized candy expert from the consumer’s viewpoint. (I also wanted to go to the All Candy Expo, where you could only get in as a member of the press, a difficult thing to score as a blogger at that time.)
So I hired Hop Studios in late 2005 to redesign the blog which meant great new features like following comment conversations, the regular polls, related candies, search, the fun ratings & specs chart and intensive category tags.
At first I envisioned Candy Blog as a place to experience new candy, or at least candy that was new to me. Part of what I wanted Candy Blog to be was something that I couldn’t find on the internet then, someone to tell me what was really inside that package. This was especially true for regional candies and foreign items. As the years have gone by I realized that I needed to revisit the tried and true favorites in order to give the new items perspective. There are still plenty of classic candies missing from the blog. I will get around to them eventually.
I continue to work with Hop Studios, tweaking functionality, adding new features and of course just fluffing it up once in a while.
There are over 1,200 posts here on Candy Blog so far. I don’t know for sure how many products I’ve reviewed (some posts include multiple reviews), but I put that number at about 800. My flickr Candy photoset has documentation of over 2,100 product photos (including at least 200 things that I’ve tried but never reviewed) .
That was the one thing I didn’t expect with Candy Blog: the photography. I wanted the photos on the blog because it was what would make the blog unique (not just the wrapper) and would satisfy the one thing that I’d want to know when thinking about a new candy ... what does it look like?. Little did I realize that I’d take so many photos and that I’d actually get good at it. (Take minute and look at some of the early photos ... not really up to the current standards.)
Readers are a big part of things here too, there are 12,700 comments logged here from you (and another 800 or so responses from me). I have no idea of the number of people who have visited the blog over the years. My statcounter says 4.6 million page loads since November of 2005 (and that doesn’t count me). The best part is that I’ve come to know so many of Candy Blog’s readers by name, via emails and through their blogs linked in the comments.
The fun part is that I’m no longer alone with my obsession. (When I started CandyCritic.org and Writers and Artists Snacking at Work had not been updated in a while and most of the current big food blogs hadn’t even started.) I love having other voices and views of the candy world and enjoy updating my blog roll with new candy reads. The amazing part is how long so many of us continue to write about candy, owing to the enduring passion that we share.
I’ve traveled for Candy Blog, covering the 2006 & 2007 All Candy Expo (the largest trade candy show in North America), the 2007 & 2008 Fancy Food Show, the 2007 & 2008 Natural & Organic Products Expo and trips to candy factories in Pennsylvania & California. No matter where I go in the country, I try to see what’s going on in the local confectionery.
Since its inception, Candy Blog has become more than just reviews. Though I’ve never considered Candy Blog to be a global candy zeitgeist, mostly it just reflects my transient obsessions (often inspired by your suggestions). This is what I hope keeps me sincere and authentic. But then sometimes it’s not all frothy fun; readers helped get out the word last year about the threat to real chocolate and helped Gary Guittard to mobilize 34,000 people to respond to the Citizen’s Petition the FDA received from the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
But for the most part Candy Blog has become a faithful review site, five a week ... sometimes more, every once in a while I take a day off.
Candy Blog accepts direct advertising now (which covers the above trips & some of my equipment and candy purchases plus the growing hosting costs & programming of the blog), but I never accept money in exchange for a review and will always tell you when any product has been comped so that you can judge my objectivity for yourself. I also never use affiliate links, so you’ll never see me benefiting directly for a review or from a link to any store, source or manufacturer of candy.
Late last year I did add an extra layer of insulation from advertising concerns by taking on my husband as my publisher. He talks directly to people interested in advertising (in case they may be manufacturers) so that I don’t have to worry about that stuff.
At the moment my plans are modest. Simply to gain readers by writing the best that I can muster, try more candy (my list is pretty long) and visit some more candy cities. I’m flirting with the idea of forums so that you have a place to expand your discussions (poll over there to the right until April 12th) and some better search options to help you find the candy you’re looking for.
So now it’s your turn, this is an open thread for you to request things from me. More giveaways? Forums? More recipes (though I fail at most of them)? Factory tours? Candy destinations? News? Buyer’s guides? Company profiles? More history ... it’s your call.
I was looking forward to this bar when I heard about it at All Candy Expo last September. It was teased, “Satisfy your taste for adventure! Rich chocolate. Crunchy nuts. And a cliffhanger kick of exotic spice and a hint of sweet coconut flavor.” That description doesn’t sound that gripping, but still a tasty combo.
The bars began showing up on store shelves in the past few weeks, along with the other tie-in items like the new color & icons in the Milk Chocolate M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms as well as the Mint Crisp M&Ms.
Here’s the obligatory and gratuitous cross-section:
It looks like a regular Snickers, it has the same milk chocolate coating and two layers inside. The top layer is caramel studded with peanuts and the bottom is a fluffed nougat.
There is a faint whiff of coconut, but I’m not getting any chai spices in there.
Still, all I’m getting is a bit saltier nougat and the coconut flavor mixed into the caramel.
It’s not bad, but certainly doesn’t live up to its name. If you’ve always wanted a coconut Snickers (and I know a few people mentioned a love of coconut in the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Ideal Candy Bar question) this might be the bar for you. Of course it may also be a big disappointment for true coconut fans, as there is no actual coconut in there. You might just want to pick up an Almond Joy and smash it on top of a regular Snickers for a better effect (and a true mash up!).
While this may have disappointed me (and the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar didn’t), I’ve got to give them props for trying some new things instead of just using the same ingredients in different ways (like the Snickers Nut ‘n Butter Crunch) or taking away an element (like the Snickers Xtreme).
The package design is a bit better on this one, I think, than the Mint Crisp M&Ms. Don’t forget to check out the new colors of M&Ms, too.
The Milk Chocolate M&Ms are in a muted color palatte: Red, Brown, Amber and Cream.
They all have assorted new icons on them, integrated with the letter M in some way. I like the one that’s wearing the Indiana Jones hat and the map ordinal. There are also various pyramids and native masks. Some of them feel a bit like a retread of the Pirates of the Caribbean, including the skull. But I guess that’s the genre of movie. The Peanut ones rarely have a legible icon on them as well, but hey, that’s the hazard with using a real peanut center.
All of the Indiana Jones tie in Mars products are available in stores now. I found mine at CVS and Walgreen’s.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Last year Mike and Ike let us vote for a new flavor blend and when the winner was clear, they announced the new Mike and Ike Lemonade Blends. But it wasn’t just a new flavor set, this one has a tie in with the foundation called Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which supports research into pediatric cancers.
There was also a stunning candy buffet, as you can see, that featured all the Mike and Ike flavors and little bags where you could design your own mix. (Mine was mostly pineapple from the Tangy Twister mix and some strawberry-banana from Tropical Twister and a strong dose of the new Lemonade Blends.)
I went to a press reveal at All Candy Expo last September where Alexandra Scott’s father told the story of his little girl who started a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research, all while she was battling the cancer that would ultimately take her life at the age of eight. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, it’s an amazing story of a selfless kid.)
Just Born will be making a minimum donation of $100,000 a year for three years. (And this mix will return each spring/summer as well.)
Finally the candies are hitting stores and I can post my review!
I was pleased with the quality of the Mike and Ike Tangy Twister, but didn’t care much for the set of flavors. Since citrus is one of my favorite flavor sets, I had a much better feeling about the new Lemonade Mix.
The new assortment has the following flavors: Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Lime Lemonade, and Tangerine Lemonade flavors. The odd part is that these flavors aren’t mentioned on the package, or even on the website, unless you dig deep into the Just Born press release archive. But there are little images of five different fruits on the package, so I guess folks need to make the jump themselves.
Yellow - Lemonade - a good zesty and really sour lemon. After chewing, as with most Mike and Ike, the flavor fades and it’s just pleasant and bland jelly candy.
Green - Lime Lemonade - not as tart as the lemonade, but has a good rounded lime flavor.
Orange - Tangerine Lemonade - I was hoping this one would be really tart but it didn’t quite rise to that. It’s definitely tangerine and not orange though.
Light Pink - Strawberry Lemonade - I enjoy real strawberry lemonade and this has a nice mix of the fragrant berry and the tangy lemon-ness.
Purplish Pink - Raspberry Lemonade - not as tart as the strawberry, this has a more floral berry essence to it.
They’re all tasty and all have that lemony zazz to them. It’s easy to eat them together or separate your colors. I liked all the flavors ... I wish they were just a little more flavorful, but that would be wishing away one of the essential parts of Mike and Ike, which is the mellow jelly center. (Which is made with pear juice.)
Mariko at Candy Addict also had a preview of these and found them so good she’ll be happy to hear that they’re on shelves so she can get more now. For more fun Mike and Ike adoration, check out Jason Liebig’s photo set of his collection of boxes.
The package says that these are Gluten Free. The colors are all artificial, so I guess these are also Vegan.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
It’s fun to see some more inventive materials used. Every Burger (or maybe it’s all one word, Everyburger) is two little sesame cookies with a dollop of chocolate to simulate the burger and a dollop of white confection to simulate the cheese.
I’m not sure if they count as candy or if they’re just cookies sold in the candy aisle.
The cookies are very sesame. Probably too much for me. I love halvah and those sesame snaps, but I just don’t like the darker taste of toasted sesame, and these have that.
But how can I not love the little detail of the seeds on the bun?
The chocolate is sweet and less than chocolatey - mostly it just has a cool and buttery feeling on the tongue. The cookie isn’t very sweet, it’s kind of like a sesame animal cracker.
Overall, it’s a fun little treat, in a convenient package (about 1.2 ounces per tray and 182 calories per tray).
They’re kind of like Pocky. Just a bland cookie and some chocolate. But in this case, it’s a really fun bit of tromp l’oeil.
There is (or was) a Bitter version and Caramel and if you’re looking for them, the packaging can vary depending on the size. Here’s an earlier version of the package from Robyn in 2005 and really old school and a current single-serve version.
Bourbon, the Japanese manufacturer of EveryBurger also makes the wildly popular CubyRop.
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Mars has a series of candies coming out with a marketing tie-in to the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie. (Which is set to premiere in the US on May 22nd.) This is rather similar to the stunt last year with Shrek the Third and the Pirates of the Caribbean movie the year before.
The standard Milk Chocolate & Peanut M&Ms got a new skin: a fun shift in their colors and little Indiana Jones inspired icons on some of them. Then, of course, to really excite candy fans they’ve done something completely new, the Limited Edition Mint Crisp M&Ms.
It’s not like they’re completely new though, there were once Crispy M&Ms in the United States (go to Australia if you miss them) and the seasonal Mint M&Ms.
The package is one of the busiest known, rivaled perhaps only Pirate Pearls. There are lots of leaves all over the front, which at first I thought were mint, but turned out to be various palm and jungle-y things (I haven’t the foggiest what’s going on with Indy’s arm and that big palm leaf though). We’re encouraged to “Dig New Mint Crisp M&Ms” in the top left of the package and down in the lower right we’re told to “Get M before they’re Lost”.
The Green M&M wearing a pith helmet is looking admiringly at Indy saying, “Treasure is a girl’s best friend.” At first I thought it was a little creepy that Green has the hots for Indy, then I realized that the Green M&M is actually a year older than Harrison Ford. (M&Ms were introduced in 1941, Harrison Ford in 1942.)
There’s only 1.4 ounces in the bag, but that little bit of air inside each center does wonders to bulk them up.
I was really looking forward to these, though it’s interesting to note that George Lucas has cautioned fans of the Indiana Jones movies not to build up their hopes to unreasonable levels. (And I think I know a bit about how much Lucas can let fans of a franchise down.)
They don’t look so great, some are horribly bumpy and the size variations are pretty extreme, from rather sphere-like ones smaller than a regular M&M all the way up to large ones that could be mistaken for Almond M&Ms.
The little icons are themed shapes that include the letter M. There are pyramids, masks, a compass ordinal and even a hat like Indiana Jones wears. They’re rather irregular as well, but more obvious on the themed Milk Chocolate M&Ms:
But shape and color aside, it’s what’s inside that counts, right?
They’re really easy to keep crunching away at ... a little chocolate, a little mint, a little crisped rice. Kind of like a Girl Scout Thin Mint.
I’d be happy to see these as a seasonal item, though I doubt I’d eat them as often as the Almond M&Ms. I suspect they’ll be a huge hit.
UPDATE: Sera at Candy Addict also has a review now & I have the Snickers Adventure Bar. These are also available as a limited edition in Japan, here’s a photo I found by CindyC81 (you too can share photos in the Candy Blog Flickr Photo Pool).
I get emails and comments all the time asking how I do the photographs for Candy Blog. So I thought I’d show you my home studio (yes, I cleaned up for the photo).
Camera: Sony DSC-V3. It’s 7.2 megapixels with a 4 x zoom and a very nice Carl Zeiss lens, I bought it gently used on eBay for $375 to replace my original DSC-V1 that bit the dust after taking about 26,000 photos.
Light: Arri 650 Watt Fresnel. It has a nice Chimera (diffuser) to give a less harsh light. It’s on a light stand that allows me to adjust angle and height. (It’s being anchored by an old messenger bag filled with cans of stewed tomatoes.)
Shooting Table: Interfit Photo Table. It has a large flat surface of matte white plexiglass with a curved background that gives that seamless look.
Scissors to cut open packages.
Tac ‘n Stik is a soft and rubbery putty.
Exacto Knife to cut products open, open packages and trim candies if needed
Fan Paint Brush is a little brush I use to dust of candies, especially chocolates when photographing
Draftsman’s Brush was a castoff from my husband that I only recently adopted for use in the studio, great for cleaning up after sugar sanded candies
Ruler is perfect for lining things up and of course checking the dimensions of objects
Other items in my arsenal: a floral frog (to hold up lollipops), tweezers and large sheets of white posterboard to bounce fill light
I store most of these underneath the table, which means that they’re always readily available.
The Tac ‘n Stick is indispensable stuff. I used to have a bunch of yellow stuff (I don’t know what brand) but switched when I found the white/gray stuff at the drug store a few months ago, since it blends in better with the background.
It’s completely moldable. I pull out little bits for propping up chocolate eggs or roll out a teensy string to put behind spherical candies like malted milk balls. I have a large wad of it on an old votive candle on both the base to keep it from slipping and on the face of it to stick the back of packages to, this gets them to sit up straight.
It’s probably the best $2 you can invest in your tools.
I also have a bunch of props and prop-em-ups sitting around. I have little glass vases, a selection of brandy snifters, wine glasses and ramekins. They don’t make it into the shots very often, but sometimes I like to play.
I usually keep a few small dishes ready too. As I’m photographing, as you may have observed, I take a bite out of a lot of things. I usually just set the rest aside on a plate or put it back in the package to finish later. But there’s usually a dish of leftover items for my reviews that I munch on later that day or the next.
Stay tuned for a tutorial on getting that white background look in photos.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.