Friday, May 30, 2008
This short work-week has been a bit of a round-up period, I’m doing a lot of these short reviews in long posts to try to cover a lot of the candy I have.
I first had these a couple of years ago, at a time when I was gobbling up every Japanese black sugar candy I could get my hands on. Japanese black sugar (kuro sato) traditionally comes from Okinawa and is similar to molasses or muscovado sugar.
I couldn’t resist buying a few boxes of the Morinaga Black Sugar Caramel (Kokutou) in my last order from JList, mostly because I was also ordering other black sugar items and wanted to remind myself.
They don’t look like much, but the little bullion cube sized morsels are packed with dark creamy flavor. Not too sweet and just slightly rummy at the end. They come in oodles of other flavors. I’ve tried the original Milk Caramel, Matcha, Black Sesame and Azuki, but I always come back to the Black Sugar.
Rating: 8 out of 10
While Morinaga has their line of milk caramels, Meiji has their toffee squares called Chelsea that similarly come in many varieties: Yogurt Scotch, Butterscotch, Matcha, Azuki and even mixes like Dessert.
When I saw that the Black Sugar Chelsea variety was available in the single flavor box, I jumped and ordered three packs.
The design aesthetic of the Chelsea line can’t be beat. The little box with it’s slide tray & bronzy flower design is easily distinguished from the other flavors, yet easily identified from a distance as Chelsea.
The flat pack box is easy to stash in a pocket as well, and the individual wrappers keep it all fresh.
The smooth tile of candy has no voids. Though it’s sweet, it’s pretty mellow and milky, kind of like a chai without the spice. There’s a background of woodsy flavors like brown sugar. It’s not as intensely “black sugar” as I’d like, but these are really refreshing. They don’t feel heavy and have a sort of jasmine tea finish that feels so fresh.
Chelsea also comes in bags with plastic wrapped pieces. I don’t like those as much, I really like the foil wrappers (though they’ve done a nice job of designing the sealed wraps).
Rating: 9 out of 10
Even though I already had two packs of Banana HiCHEW sitting around from a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace earlier this year, I just had to order the Tropical Mix along with the Pineapple.
The Tropical Mix package seems to promise peach, white grape, banana and pineapple. I’d assumed that this was a mixed flavor package. But when I opened it I found that each piece was identically wrapped. Sadly (well for me and my silly expectations) it was a fruit punch and not a mixed pack. The flavor of the fruit punch is actually quite nice, I can actually detect the peachy and banana flavors in there.
My Pineapple HiCHEW were backordered (probably because I bought three packs). I was certain they were good and I wasn’t disappointed. They have a light yellow center and were extremely fresh and soft.
They start sweet then build with a tangy and kind of woodsy pine essence. The flavor lasts all the way to the end and still leaves a fresh feeling in the mouth.
Banana Rating: 7 out of 10
I bought these on a lark. Last year I picked up something called UHA Puccho Baked Custard, which sounds dreadful but it was pretty dreamily good. Of course I wanted to buy it again and have had no luck finding it. (It probably said limited edition on the wrapper, but I don’t read Japanese.)
So when I saw this Tsubu Tsubu HiCHEW Chocolate Banana, I thought that sounded something like a custard-like chew. For $1.25 I could take a chance.
It’s a HiCHEW banana base, soft and bouncy and included in the chew are little things that look like large nonpariels (sprinkles). I guess that’s supposed to be the chocolate part. It’s not really. The crunch is nice but not as well defined as the Puccho does with their gummi & crunchy inclusions.
While I think that HiCHEW is made for people of all ages, my guess is that the Tsubu Tsubu is probably for kids and my grown-up palate just couldn’t get into it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Please note, I’m not a gamer. I do play, but not enough to be anything more than personally aware of how addictive and fun these things can be, but it takes a special game to suck me in. At home we have an XBOX 360 right now (loved the Lego Star Wars last summer), before that it was a PS2 and before that it was a Turbo Grafx (well, that wasn’t technically mine, I was “storing” it for my brother while he was living in Europe).
I’ve never played the Wii, but I totally see the attraction and I love the selection of games.
To capitalize on the affection folks have for their platforms, Au’some has these cute little Wii Klik-on Candy Dispensers shaped like the innovative game controllers (Wiimote).
It’s just a dispenser, like PEZ, and it comes with four rolls of candy - two Smarties-like rolls and two mini-rolls of Smarties Bubble Gum. The rolls fit in the battery compartment (because they’re the same size as batteries).
In order to load the candy package, just slide the faceplate up and it reveals a small empty space (probably where there’d be some circuitry if it worked). The candies are placed flat then the controller tipped down slightly, the little trigger button on the underside of the top is pressed, and bingo, a piece of candy comes out.
PEZ does not fit in the Wii Candy Dispenser, just like Nintendo Wii games don’t work in XBox 360.
I think the design of the item is pretty cute. I wish it put out really cool candy, it’s like they spent all that time on the plastic box and then said, “Eh, throw some Smarties in there.” It doesn’t even hold a whole roll of Smarties at once (though the battery compartment holding more is pretty ingenious). Filling it with something better would improve the appeal of this.
The retail price on these is $2 or so, but who knows what they’re going for in the wild. I got this one as a sample from All Candy Expo. They can be found on the internet and at places like Urban Outfitters.
Rating: 5 out of 10
On the other side of things, Au’some has another line of candies also themed off of a more classic Nintendo product: Mario Bros. They’re called Nintendo 3D Gummy Candies.
The Donkey Kong & Mario Bros. characters have been around since 1981 and have become recurring characters in the Nintendo game pantheon, so these aren’t some flash in the pan licensing tie-ins. Even if you’ve never played or haven’t in years, most of us have great affection for the little Italian plumber who battles the strange ape named Donkey.
Mario is a hardworking guy. Not only does he hold a contractors license and perform excellent plumbing work, in the original version of the game he was a carpenter. He’s also a superhero. He can rescue a damsel in distress or vanquish an infestation of angry apes all on the clock.
The Mario 3D Gummi is, well, awesome. It’s actually three dimensional. At about 2.75 inches tall, he’s the same height as his gummi brethren, though pretty narrow (I guess he slimmed down for his session with the mold-maker). His little hat has an M on it and he has big work boots.
The texture of the gummis short, that is, biting into it, it’s not at all stringy. It’s more like Jell-O than Swedish Fish.
Mario is Strawberry. He’s sweet and slightly floral, a little tangy and has a well-rounded artificial berry flavor. I think he’s two bites, but it’s up to you.
Donkey Kong actually started this whole thing with his game named after him. Mario was simply known as Jumpman back then. Donkey didn’t have much of a personality either, he was just angry and grabby.
In later years Donkey Kong started wearing a tie, which might have caused part of his anger issue (it was the go-go-eighties, even Donkey Kong learned a lot from Gordon Gecko). But Donkey Kong never really returned to his primary role, this is the sad fate of monsters.
In this gummi Donkey Kong is Orange in both color and flavor. He’s actually rather sparkly. The flavor of the gummi isn’t particularly complex, rather like concentrated Tang.
Definitely one of my favorites and it wouldn’t be a batch of gummis without Donkey Kong or an orange flavor.
Diddy Kong is probably not even technically a Kong. (I think they call him a nephew somewhere, but that’s like saying that humans and orangutans are cousins.) Though he’s some sort of ape, he’s not the same species as Donkey Kong. I think he’s some sort of chimp, as far as I can tell (he has smaller, narrower chest).
But he also wears a cap and tee shirt. While Donkey Kong was the big bad guy in many of the adventures, Diddy is the one who sets off to rescue Donkey Kong, in a way redeeming the Kong family name.
(For a while I thought it was Donkey Kong Junior, feel free to dispute this in the comments.)
He’s a lovely aqua color and Raspberry flavored. Tangy, pretty zesty and flavorful.
Finally we have Yoshi. Yoshi is some sort of baby dinosaur and is one of the only characters who displays any sense of self preservation (when you’re not in control of course) and actually runs from danger.
His large snout makes it nearly impossible to sit this gummi upright (if you feel like lining them all up like some sort of action figure display). I took this photo by holding him in place, releasing my finger, then snapping the shot before he fell over.
While he’s cute and has wonderful detail with his little crest and buggy eyes, the flavor is weird. I think it’s supposed to be watermelon or green apple. It’s kind of metallic but tangy. It’s not bad as long as you don’t get too hung up on what it is.
The Nintendo 3D Gummy Candies are available in bags at grocery stores, drug stores and at other specialty shops. I got mine from CandyWarehouse, who sells them in bulk, just individually wrapped. (Of course you also end up with a 100 of them.) It’s a much better price than most of the smaller packages. Individual wrapping means they stay fresh and you can throw them in a bowl at a party or gaming night.
Rating: 7 out of 10
(If video games aren’t your bag but you think that this 3-D Gummi technology is cool enough to eat, try the Wildlife ones where they also say that they’re donating money to protect endangered species.)
Victoria has a cool list of other Nintendo-themed candies at Candy Addict.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This was a sample from All Candy Expo that I kind of ate before finishing the photo shoot. (I got the box obviously, but never did the unwrapped version.) I also shared most of it, even though I could have easily eaten it all by myself.
It’s a handsome light milk chocolate bar that lives up to the illustration on the package. It’s thick, each little section in the bar has a creamy peanut butter meltaway center (with crushed nut chunks).
I was dubious. But this won me over. Extremely creamy, so much so that it was like the milk chocolate and peanut butter were one. It didn’t feel greasy at all, even though it was thick and rich.
I have a bunch of other Ghirardelli filled bars (from the last ACE) that I still haven’t tried, this might push me to start opening them (I promise full photography on those though).
Rating: 8 out of 10
I hadn’t had any White Rabbit in a while, so when I saw that it was on sale at Cost Plus World Market, I figured when it’s $1.50 a bag is the time to give it another go. Instead I spotted this Red Bean (Azuki) version and scooped that up instead.
The wrapper has little dark red stripes on it. Inside it still has the same delicate rice paper wrapper that melts in the mouth to form a slick, gelatinous good. The milk taffy inside is a slight & natural looking pink. The red bean flavor is light and woodsy and pleasant. It seems to mellow out the sometimes sweet taffy and mixes really well with the milk flavors.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I picked these up at the Fancy Food Show. They look like just about any other peppermint pattie. The interesting proposition here is that the center is creamed honey with a touch of mint instead of a sugar-based fondant.
The other interesting bit about this is that the dark chocolate shell is completely unsweetened. The sweetness of the center completely balances out the could-be-bitter coating. I tried a few times to just nibble off the chocolate bits, but these are pretty small (about the size of the York Peppermint Pattie minis) and I wasn’t getting a bit enough chunk to really tell. (And as I’ve found, 100% chocolate doesn’t have to be unpalatable.) The center is smooth and a little cool on the tongue, with that beeswax taste & texture added to the mix.
It’s a great little mint. Artisan Sweets is the only place I’ve seen them for sale. But if you do come upon them, especially if you can buy only one or two, it’s an interesting combination of the musky honey tones with the mellow mint and the pop of creamy dark chocolate.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Jungle Chocolate from Yachana Gourmet
I don’t know if this is considered candy. It’s called Jungle Chocolate and I’d probably put it in the trail mix or snack category. It’s just cacao nibs, lightly glazed with sugar cane juice and then mixed with some other jungle-grown edibles. The four varieties I tried were:
While the mixes themselves didn’t wow me, I think I’d like to just try a plain old box of lightly sweetened nibs. (Or maybe lightly caramelized.)
The selling point here is that they don’t melt. I’ve put these through the paces. They’ve sat in the car, they’ve been in my house in the 100 degree heat. It doesn’t melt, instead, like a stew, it just makes all the flavors even better. This is chocolate that goes places that chocolate can’t go. It has all that stuff that you crave, even if it doesn’t quite have the texture.
It’s all fair trade, vegan and all natural. It’s a little expensive, but then again, knowing that the money goes right to a sustainable project in Ecuador may make it taste even sweeter. I wouldn’t call this a replacement for chocolate, but perhaps a replacement for other snack mixes. Retail is about $3.00 to 3.50 for a 2 ounce bag (that’s well packaged - protects the product, but not overpackaged).
Rating: 7 out of 10
I finally found these at Target, hiding on the backside of a display in the Valentine’s area (well, it was the Valentine’s area, but was then the Easter area). The package looks a heckuva lot like the Vanilla Creme Kisses that I might have seen them already and just passed them by.
Cheesecake as a “flavor” seems a little odd, but then again, so does Buttered Popcorn, Apple Pie and Chili & Chocolate, so never judge a flavor by its name.
They’re, I dunno, like the Vanilla Creme, a little more tangy. I think they’re more like yogurt. Or yellow birthday cake.
It doesn’t matter much to me, this Kiss has brought back that limited edition weariness that I experience from time to time. I haven’t been fond of any of the more subtle filled Kisses. While I like subtle and respectful balances in my haut chocolate, I kind of like my mass manufactured stuff loud & proud. I’ve had them sitting in my desk for months and I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about them. I could take them or leave them, but mostly I left them.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Here’s one of those items that I never figured I’d see: Fairhaven Candy has created not only an all-natural flaked peanut butter, but it’s also Kosher, Gluten Free and Vegan. I tried it back in March at ExpoWest and have been waiting to get my hands on a full bag for the detailed review.
They’ve appropriately named them Crumblzsoft, flaky peanut butter treat. It’s pretty much the center of a Butterfinger bar, minus the hydrogenated fats, minus the whey & nonfat milk, and of course minus the preservative TBHQ.
So while they took out all those crazy additional ingredients, all that’s left in this little candy is this: peanut butter (peanuts & salt), organic sugar, non-GMO corn syrup, peanuts, water, vanilla, baking soda. This particular version also has squiggles of dark chocolate on it.
If that looks like it’s really a lot of dense peanut butter, it’s much lighter than I expected.
The pieces come in little scored quads. Each piece, when broken off is a nice two bite chunk (or a big mouthful). Inside are layers of the nutty flakes plus whole peanuts.
While they don’t look particularly appealing by themselves, I can tell you that they smell mouthwateringly good. Roasted nuts, some toasty sugar notes and a little dash of salt ... like fresh baked peanut butter cookies. It remindes me of Halvah.
They don’t quite have the flaky chew that something like the center of a Fifth Avenue, but then again, they don’t stick to your teeth the way that a Butterfinger can. And no mockolate! (You can even get them without any chocolate at all, if you’re all about the peanut butter.)
Nutritionally, yeah, this stuff is loaded with calories because it has all that peanut fat in there, but the difference between this and plain peanut butter is negligible. It’s also really satisfying, because of, well, all that peanut fat and protein.
The only other bad news about these is probably the price and the ability to find them. You can order online but they’re about $4 a package. I’m sure they’re in shops like Whole Foods & natural product stores. If you’ve spotted them, how are the prices? I’d love it, honestly, if they just made a single serving bar. It gets a little messy pulling the pieces out of the bag.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Here are the last few stories that have trickled in about All Candy Expo. I expect that after everyone has gotten a little sleep over the holiday weekend there may be some more wrap ups.
Interesting news from the trade publications, this one about convenience stores from Convenience Store Petroleum magazine. The thing that caught my eye was this little factoid about how we approach the candy aisle: Shoppers shop first by segment (gum, chocolate, etc.), then by usage, then package type and finally by brand.
This makes perfect sense. I usually have something in mind like “I want something tangy!” and then go from there. I’m not sure what they mean by package type, I’m guessing size. (Though most convenience stores don’t have much choice in size of packages like grocery stores do.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.