Friday, August 29, 2008
Back in May I got a fabulous box of goodies from All Candy Expo that included this package of Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice. I dutifully took photos of it.
And then ate it all. And promptly forgot what it was like so I couldn’t review it.
So today I went out and bought a new bag, just so I could finish up this review. (My office is dangerously close to a Cost Plus World Market now.)
When I opened it up I remember why I didn’t review it.
I cut the bag open and stuck my nose in there to get a good lung-full of the scent and there it was ... it smells like curry. Not in a bad way, by any means, but that’s why I didn’t review the first bag ... I wasn’t sure if that’s the way it was supposed to be.
So here I am with a second bag and I’m gonna have to say, “hey folks, this stuff really smells like and Indian spice shop!” It makes my mouth water, it’s a mix of curry, coriander, anise and black tea.
The pieces are kind of awkward - they’re long fingers. Thick and soft, they’re about three inches long and a matte black.
The flavor is dark and smoky. The molasses is pronounced but has a great mellow licorice mixed with a little hint of those spices I mentioned earlier. The chew is soft without being too sticky like Dots can be. Not too sweet and really munchable but satisfying.
Pretty good overall and certainly distinctive enough that I think I could tell this apart from most of the other Aussie style licorices I’ve had over the years. And I plan on finishing this package pretty soon as well.
Rating: 8 out of 10
There are a lot of different licorice twist flavors out there, but most of them are fruity. So I was pretty excited to find this Soft Eating Ginger Liquorice at Cost Plus World Market (I bought these a couple of days ago and then realized I should review the black stuff, too, and went back.) If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Australia through candy, it’s that Australians make good licorice and ginger products.
Like the rest of their line, it comes in a kraft paper looking package, mellow and muted and boldly stating that it’s flavored naturally. The ingredients bear that out: Raw sugar, wheat glucose syrup, wheat flour, cane sugar, ginger puree (4%), water, modified food starch, palm oil, natural flavor, mono & di-glycerides, salt, citric acid, malic acid, spinach extract (color), liquorice extract, sodium bicarbonate, beta carotene (color) and sulphur dioxide (preservative).
This one didn’t smell quite as appealing. Like the Buderim Ginger Gummi Bears, I found that this bag smelled a bit like Elmer’s Glue.
But I got over it.
The little fingers in this version are a little shorter at about 2 1/2 inches each but a little bigger around. The texture is different as well, though still soft they’re not as pliable and just a bit drier on the outside. But singly they smell less like wood glue and more like ginger tea.
The bite is a smidge less smooth, but boy howdy is it spicy. Right away there’s the woodsy peppery taste of ginger and then a throat warming burn. It’s not very sweet at all, much less than the other ginger chews that I like so much from Chimes and the Ginger People.
The wheat base of the chew makes it a little starchy in a way, but it also makes them rather filling and I think cuts through what might be a very spicy affair. It would be cool if they actually used molasses in these, they’d be like gingerbread (without the extra spices). But for ginger fans, this is a great new way to enjoy it. It’s a good munching food for movies, especially mixed with something salty like popcorn (I tried it with pretzels and it went well).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Darrell Lea has a pretty big range, I saw the Green Apple and Strawberry versions at Cost Plus as well. There is another version that are chocolate covered smaller nibs but their Australian website shows a much larger range of products (most of which sound fabulous). They’re Kosher and have no artificial colors or flavors.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Even though I adore high end chocolate, I have a hard time plunking down $5 to $12 without knowing what I’m going to get. So I’m often quite happy to fork over for tasting square versions even though they’re even more expensive when you figure out the cost per ounce. (And hey, it helps with portion control, too.)
I was happy to find some tasting squares from Amadei, one of the most highly reviewed chocolate makers in the world at Mel & Roses. Even though they were 85 cents each for the 4.5 gram squares, I at least got to sample a broad spectrum of their product line which will help to guide me when I decide to finally buy one of their bars.
As a little bonus I decided to try Amadei’s milk chocolate offering as well:
Overall, I was most pleased with the Madagascar and Porcelana but all were exceptional. I’m still not quite convinced enough to spend $11 for one of their bars, but I’m leaning in that direction. But for now the little selections in this format are enough for me and well worth the pocket change.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It was big news this month when Hershey Co. announced that it was raising its wholesale candy prices by 11%. This is the second price jump for them this year, in January they raised prices by 13% for select products in their line as well.
Most of this is due to increased cost across the board. Rising fuel prices in all sectors means that it costs more to buy energy to operate their factory candy kitchens, air condition their warehouses and drive trucks around. Add to that the biggest change, the raw materials cost more because of their vast distances from the Pennsylvania confectioner on top of their actual costs which have risen 20% - 45% this year alone.
The falling value of the dollar hasn’t helped much either, as all cocoa products are imported and there is more competition for quality cocoa beans. Even though they’ve trimmed their workforce within the past 18 months, rising health care costs are a huge burden for companies lately as well.
The change in the wholesale price for Hershey Co. is different than their tactics in the past when dealing with this sort of volatility. It seems kind of quaint now how Milton S. Hershey tried to lock down his costs by entering into long term buying deals for cocoa beans and even building his own sugar plantations in Cuba (and a community named Hershey there too, complete with schools, libraries and a railroad system). Back then attempts were made to keep the price of the candy the same, so they would change its size as needed.
The green line at the top represents the size of the chocolate bars (shown in grams). It’s easy to see that through the early years the price of the bar increased steadily (though slowly) but the size of the bar sold was volatile, even when taking the price per ounce into consideration. Oddly enough, the bar did become a better value quite often, both growing in size and dropping in price, though that trend ended after WWII and shortages and price swings in raw materials normalized.
Often though when the price went up, so did the size of the bar as a way to offset the perception of poor value.
The trend more recently, in the past 20 years though, has been to keep the bar the same size but simply raise the prices as needed. This means that things like slots in store shelves, wrappers, nutrition panels and manufacturing equipment stays the same.
While the icon of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate is fun to use as a benchmark, what is important to recognize is that Hershey’s doesn’t just play with the size and price of their products. They also change the manufacturing process (Hershey’s no longer roasts their own beans or processes them into chocolate liquor, they’ve subcontracted that to Barry Callebaut), alter how long products are conched and lately have even started substituting substandard ingredients. In 2006 Hershey’s began using PGPR, which is an emulsifier and extender, in some of their milk chocolate products, but it wasn’t until this year that it finally appeared in the formula for the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar.
To demonstrate how else Hershey’s has begun to cut corners, I only needed to look at Hershey’s classic Hershey’s Miniatures to discover that two of their iconic and early chocolate brands, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel, are no longer chocolate bars at all. Hershey’s was a strong and vocal supporter of The Grocery Manufacturers Association’s attempt to change the definition of chocolate from its present and not terribly stringent one (chocolate must contain cocoa solids and cocoa butter and no additional vegetable oils). In order to get chocolate products from Hershey’s now, consumers have to opt for their premium lines like Bliss and Cacao Reserve or pay true premium prices for their Dagoba or Scharffen Berger product lines.
Other changes to Hershey’s products over the past three years include:
Other products which have never been real chocolate (so you’re not confused):
Hershey’s has not completely made this switch over and their website still contains erroneous graphics and text that mislead consumers (UPDATE: I’ve documented more of that here), as an example, the 5th Avenue bar has not been made with a milk chocolate coating since at least early 2007, yet the main product listing and the product page still say that it is a milk chocolate & crunchy peanut butter. I cannot say if this is intentional, but based on my experience with calling Hershey’s customer service hotline and emailing them, they do not seem to understand that consumers should get up-to-date and accurate information when contacting a manufacturer.
While Hershey’s seems to be concentrating a great deal of effort on honing their efficiency, based on the fact that they’re subcontracting, eliminating factories and a percentage of their workforce while manufacturing more in Mexico, they seem to have neglected their primary mission: making good chocolate. Milton Hershey was often derided for not embracing advertising for his products. He said, “Give them quality, that’s the best kind of advertising in the world.” But presently they’re advertising quality with their new Pure Chocolate campaign but neglecting to actually deliver it.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Long before Jelly Belly made jelly beans, they made all sorts of other kinds of candy including dozens of different fondant-type confections. The Goelitz Bros. Candy Company made buttercream candies which took many different shapes and flavors - the best known is candy corn.
One lesser-known version of those buttercreams were little treats like these Mint Cremes (there is no butter in there).
Looking at the through the cellophane wrapper they were exceptionally regular. About the size of a quarter they came in four colors: yellow, pink, white and green.
They’re smooth and firm to the touch (the hand crafted variety break easily).
But after biting into the first one it was clear, these are a very stiff fondant, flavored strongly with peppermint.
They’re all the same flavor.
The outer shell is glossy and seals in the flavor and scent and keeps them a bit softer than I think they’d be otherwise. It’s a combination of carnauba wax, beeswax and confectioners glaze.
Inside the center is dense, like a mello creme or candy corn but with a strong and heavy mint. Not as strong as an Altoid, but a bit more than a peppermint starlight. It’s pretty much the inside of a York Peppermint Pattie.
I was hoping they’d have a more “melt in my mouth” quality than I got. They’re a bit stiff and lacking some personality. But they’re very pretty and would make a different offering in a wedding favor mix or at the end of a meal at a restaurant with the check. I was hoping for a bit more creamy consistency, especially since they’re called cremes like the Romanego Fondants I had last year as well, but considering the price of these, I really shouldn’t have been expecting something that delicate. But it’s not as though these were cheap either. At $12 a pound I’m entitled to expect something.
In the end, I think I prefer good old fashioned pillow mints (after dinner style).
These have a confectioners glaze so may not be appropriate for vegetarians who don’t wish to consume shellac.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Hershey’s makes several varieties of their Miniatures line. I picked up Hershey’s Special Dark Miniatures as I’d never seen them before and they seemed to promise dark chocolate versions of the old favorites Krackel and Mr. Goodbar (though not by name).
The bag was a bit larger than the other Hershey’s Miniatures that I bought at the same time and has only three varieties instead of four.
But the most notable part is the appearance of the little seal that Hershey’s puts on some of their dark chocolate confections, it says that this is a “natural source of flavinol antioxidants.” At only about 45% cacao content, yes, I guess it qualifies as a source, though not a terribly dense one. Hershey’s has some wonderfully convincing documentation about this on their website, though they’re probably purposefully vague about how much of these beneficial compounds are in any given serving.
The assortment here is rather balanced between the three varieties: 13 Special Dark, 11 Special Dark with Crisp Rice and 12 Special Dark with Peanuts.
I just reviewed the Special Dark on Friday, but for those who don’t feel like clicking over, here are the relevant parts of that again:
It smells sweet, a little woodsy.
The texture is rather chalky and doesn’t melt into a creamy puddle in my mouth. Instead it just tastes sweet and more like hot cocoa made with water than real rich chocolate ... there’s a thin-ness to it all, probably because Hershey’s now uses milk fat.
There’s a dry finish with a slight metallic bite to it.
Rating: 4 out of 10
The Special Dark with Peanuts comes in a mustard yellow wrapper, which I figured is to remind us of the Mr. Goodbar. Why they don’t just call it Mr. Goodbar Dark or Mr. Darkbar or something, I have no clue.
Though the ingredients on the wrapper are not broken out for each of the individually wrapped varieties, the list is clear, these are all real chocolate. There are no additional oils present except for those native to the chocolate or dairy ones (permissable in present definitions).
The little bars are cute and look really just like you’d expect a dark Mr. Goodbar - dark sheen and little nuts poking through.
It smells like dark roasted peanuts and cocoa.
The bite has a good snap and an immediate mix of bitter notes from both the peanuts (which look like they’re roasted very dark) and the chocolate. The texture isn’t super creamy, but is consistent with an okay melt.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
I brought a lot of my own baggage to the Special Dark with Crisp Rice as I was hoping Hershey’s could be redeemed. Perhaps with the one hand they’d taken away a beloved favorite but with the other they’d snuck a glorious replacement into this mix.
It looks much like the Peanut version, but smells much sweeter with only the lightest whiff of malt.
The crunch isn’t as pronounced as the old Milk Chocolate or present Mockolate version, but has a nice texture. The malty flavor of the rice is completely lost in the thin cocoa flavor and sweetness. The texture doesn’t seem as creamy or melt as easily for some reason, but I can’t call it waxy.
It’s less bitter than the others though, so provides a nice counterpoint.
Is the Krackel and Hershey’s redeemed? No. But it’s a passable effort.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
I didn’t even try asking Hershey’s what the ingredients for the individual pieces are, because I’m not entitled to know should I decide to pick only one of the variety to eat.
If I needed to buy a chocolate miniature assortment from Hershey’s again, I’d have to pick this one up instead of the old favorites. But even with the higher ratings than that one, I don’t see myself picking this up again.
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