Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I was surprised at readers’ passion for Nips, so I thought I’d try a few more varieties.
I found Nips Caramel and Nips Dulce de Leche at the Rite Aid for only 99 cents (same price as the 99 Cent Only Store, see you don’t have to look far for a bargain).
Though the candy is described as rich & creamy hard candy on the front of the box, I don’t think it quite qualifies as hard since it’s not crunchable. It’s also not a caramel, because it’s not chewable. It’s just a Nip, I guess.
Caramel Nips look pretty similar to Coffee Nips, but just a smidge lighter in color. They have the same ultra smooth texture, light burnt sugar flavors and slow dissolve.
They’re creamy and milky without being cloying or sticky. They fit well in the mouth, too.
It’s taken me a while to retrain myself when eating Nips that they’re not like Werther’s Originals, I can’t crunch them, instead I’d end up cementing my teeth together.
Overall, not quite as good as the Coffee ones, but that’s a personal preference thing, these are still quite tasty and an excellent candy that belongs in everyone’s candy dish. (Except in really humid climates.)
Readers were lamenting that they thought that the Dulce de Leche Nips were possibly discontinued. I was quite happy to see a large inventory of them at Rite Aid, so I’m just guessing that they focus on regions where dulce de leche is a more recognizable. (Large Latino populations - I’m guessing because the packages for both of these are in both English and Spanish.)
I was a little nervous about these, I do remember having the chocolate parfait ones years ago and not caring much for the grainy and flavorless filling (but that could have been a bad or old batch). There’s no real description on the box either, just the banner that says dulce de leche (which means milk candy and is usually made from sweetened condensed milk boiled slowly to caramelize both the sugar and the milk sugars and served either as a sauce or fudge).
In this case it’s a shell like the Caramel Nip but inside is a layer of a sort of creme like the filling of an Oreo, a little grainy, sweet and chalky.
The overall flavor here is not really caramelized milk to me, instead it’s maple or pecan. It’s woodsy and sweet and nice, but doesn’t really enter into the dulce de leche zone for me. So if they’re looking for a way to make these appealing to other regions, maybe in New England they’d call it Country Maple and in the South they’d call it Toasted Pecan.
The cream made the candy disappear much faster, which wasn’t as fun either. They weren’t as consistent, some had a little cream sticking out of the sides. I’ll stick with the solid ones.
The other flavors still out there: Butter Rum, Chocolate Parfait, Peanut Butter Parfait and Mocha.
Monday, August 18, 2008
They’ve gathered up the best beans from the ends of the earth: Venezuela, Trinidad and Madagascar. The bar is 72% cacao and comes only in the 3 ounce tall tablet bar. As part of the celebration the package says that they will donation a portion of the bar’s proceeds to un-named “cacao non-profit organizations.”
I’ve always enjoyed Scharffen Berger’s packaging and design aesthetic. The package has a lightly striped paper outer wrap with a pleasing muted purple cacao pod design. Inside the paper wrap is a nice, heavy foil that makes it easy to save some of the bar for later.
A lot has happened for Scharffen Berger in the past 10 years. They’ve gone from a tiny facility in South San Francisco to their present factory in Emeryville (near Berkeley) and another plant in Northern California (anyone has toured the plant in the East Bay realizes they can’t possibly make it all there). Further, back in 2005 Hershey’s bought Scharffen Berger as part of their Artisan Confections line (which now includes Dagoba and Joseph Schmidt).
The bar has a wonderful reddish tone to the nicely tempered brown chocolate. It has a very rich and dark scent: raisins, olives, coffee, charcoal, cardamom and limes.
The melt is quite nice, creamy and smooth with a rather strong dryness to it without being chalky.
The flavors are intense and riotous. I was catching lavender, citrus, raisins and an overwhelming tanginess to it that I find in all Scharffen Berger chocolate. Though it’s a 72%, I find it rather sweet at the front and with a long and lingering mid-tone bitterness towards the end.
I know that I’m more sensitive to strong sour and bitter things than some other folks, so your mileage may vary. I didn’t find them unpleasant, but quite pronounced, so it’s a major part of the experience of this bar.
It was by far a more satisfying dark bar for me than the usual Scharffen Berger dark (there’s a reason the only thing I really eat from them is the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs), but still an extreme bar and a nice way to celebrate their success.
Friday, August 15, 2008
On my continuing quest to try off brands of confections to see if saving a little money means sacrificing taste, I came upon this bar at the Walgreen’s, mixed in with the other upscale chocolate bars: Regal Dynasty European Chocolate. This bar was called simply Dark Chocolate. For $1.29 and clocking in at 6.3 ounces, I was more than curious how well it could compare.
The packaging is less than exciting, in fact it looks dated, like some sort packet of cheap stationery from the Office Max circa 1993. The paper is rather flimsy and the foil wrapper inside is similarly thin, though both seem to do their job of protecting the bar well enough. So I can look past that (especially since I’ve had some very expensive bars that I don’t think have very attractive or useful packaging).
The ingredients however are a big old red flag: sugar, cocoa mass, vegetable fat, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, flavor. It states that the cocoa solids are a minimum of 45%. But it never says what those vegetable fats are or if that flavor is natural.
The bar is lovely. It’s well molded and has a crisp snap.
It has a sweet and slightly cinnamon & cereal smell to it. It has a difficult melt though, but as it does soften, it is very sweet but at least not chalky or gritty. But it’s cool on the tongue, which usually means substitute fats or substitute sugars and always makes me a bit uneasy.
The chocolate notes aren’t deep or complex or satisfying. I would probably find this passable in a chocolate croissant, but standing alone as a piece of confection, it tastes watery and empty of nuance.
The simple fact is that it’s not chocolate. I’d hazard that since the vegetable fats come before the cocoa butter on the ingredients list that it wouldn’t even qualify under the laxer rules in Europe that allow veggie fats up to 5%. No, this is a plain old false label. It’s not chocolate. Not even close. But in an odd twist, it doesn’t have any dairy fats so can be considered vegan!
Even though I liked it a bit more than the Carlos V Chocolate Style Bar and it was cheaper, I can’t get past the fact that its downright false label.
Hopefully it will make passable brownies (which is what happens to many of the bars that I can’t bring myself to eat). Oddly enough, I can see myself buying this again though if I need a really nice looking, generic chocolate bar for a photo shoot. But if you’re looking for something you can actually eat that doesn’t cost too much, wait for a sale on something you know you like or just settle for a smaller package.
UPDATE November 3, 2009: Walgreen’s is discontinuing this bar. In it’s place you can buy an even more dreadful bar from R.M. Palmer called 2 Buck Choc, which has awful and unappealing graphics on the wrapper and of course doesn’t taste nearly as good as this (which I didn’t like but at least give it credit).
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The box is busy and a little confusing. When I hear term fruit snacks, I usually expect some sort of fruit puree candy, like a fruit leather or fruit roll up. But these go on to say that they have a Juicy Center made with Real Fruit Juice & 100% Vitamin C.
The first ingredient actually is fruit juice from concentrate (apple, cherry, grape, lemon) followed by corn syrup, sucrose and gelatin ... then some ascorbic acid and artificial colors later on the list. So really, they’re gummis made with real fruit juice. Which is cool, I love really intensely flavored gummi.
The little packages also say that they’re only 80 calories. Pretty easy really, considering they’re only .9 ounces and have no fat.
Each packet has seven pieces of candy in it. In my experience opening three of the packages, all were heavy on the green and each had only one. Lemonhead has a lot of friends! (And to be fair, the lemonhead on the box is singular and friends is plural.)
Each piece is both colored and shaped like the fruit it’s supposed to taste like:
Purple = Grape - though they may have put real grape juice in there, this tastes like Kool-Aid or grape soda. Tangy, sweet and completely artificial. Not that it’s a bad thing, pretty much like the old Alexander the Grape.
Green = Apple - as the most common one in my assortments, I tried more of these than any other. The apple flavor as really pleasant, kind of like a granny smith. The chew of the gummi part is kind of short and less bouncy than some other gummi, but the flavor center is similarly flavorful and less like a sugar goo.
Red = Cherry - he looked kind of like a pumpkin to me, except for the color. The flavor is pretty tangy cherry, very artificial and rather unpleasant for me.
Yellow = Lemon - nicely rounded, it has a lot of zest to it, a nice soft chew and a mellow tangy component.
As a comparison, I tried some Starburst Gummibursts again and found the Ferrara Pan to be moister plus far deeper and more intensely flavored. But of course the flavor assortment is different (cherry and lemon being the only ones in common).
My big beef here is that there’s no orange. Maybe Orangehead and Lemohead aren’t friends any longer. I also wanted more Lemonheads, because they’re my favorite.
As a healthy snack, well, they’re portion controlled and the worst damage you can do is eat the whole box which’d be 480 calories and of course be stocked up with enough vitamin C to last the week (well, if you were able to store Vitamin C for a week in your body ... a better way is to store it in these little candies and portion them out over a longer period of time). There’s nothing else redeeming about them, so I’m happy calling them candy. Really inexpensive candy.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
When I was a teenager I discovered Pearson Coffee Nips. Like my other favorite at the time, Andes Mints, they represented a sophisticated taste in an easy to share individually wrapped portion. I’d buy them by the box, usually for about a dollar and they’d last forever.
I wasn’t quite developed enough at the time to drink coffee straight, about all I could stand was coffee floats (hot coffee with vanilla ice cream in it) but I loved the taste of the stuff.
That’s what attracted me to Coffee Nips. They combine the rich coffee taste with a creamy texture and a long lasting hard candy experience. And they were pretty inexpensive.
Pearson Coffee Nips were known simply as Pearson Nips when they were introduced over 70 years ago. But now they’re made in a wide variety of flavors (and some even have flavored goo centers). The Pearson line of Nips was sold to Nestle back in 1989 and looking closely on the package, they’re not even called Pearson any longer.
Even though they’ve changed hands, they’re the same as they ever were. A lump of hard caramel, made from a combination of sugar, corn syrups and milk products and a few tropical oils ... boiled down with some real coffee to become a slow dissolving bit of concentrated coffee. It’s almost a toffee, but more of a hard caramel.
They’re smooth and creamy and not too sweet (though far sweeter than I like my liquid coffee). They’re impossible to chew, which makes them last a long time (though I caution you to not try to chew them as they will cement your teeth together).
They’re an excellent summer candy because they travel well but provide a rich creamy experience and mimic a hot drink that many of us eschew on hot days. (Okay, I only eschew hot coffee in the middle of the day, I pretty much always drink hot coffee in the morning.)
Refreshing. Classic. I’ve never tried the other flavors which include Butter Rum, Caramel, Chocolate Parfait, Dulce de Leche, Mocha and Peanut Butter Parfait. The coffee suits me just fine.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I tried the Mexican import some years ago, back when it was just a milk chocolate bar and found it interesting, very milky and quite different from American or UK style chocolate.
What I found alarming about the new bars that Nestle’s is now selling in the US market is this nuevo dark chocolate style bar. Gotta wonder what the style of dark chocolate is. I’ve got to tip my hat to Nestle, dark chocolate style sounds much better than mockolate or chocolatey or chocolate flavored.
It reminds me of the Superfriends characters of Zan and Jayna when I was a kid. They’d activate their Wonder Twin Powers (tm), Zan would take the form of something made with water and Jayna would take the shape of an animal. See, they weren’t actually changing, Zan wouldn’t actually be a huge iceberg, he’d just be the shape of an iceberg with iceberg qualities but remain sentient and with the full power to change back. Same with Jayna, she’d become a sea eagle, but that wouldn’t mean that she’d suddenly lose her senses and eat Gleek.
So while I get that this is a bar that walks like a chocolate bar and talks like a chocolate bar, that doesn’t make it a chocolate bar.
The Nestle Carlos V Dark Knight is nicely packaged. The new version is full sized, 1.41 ounces instead of the old 3/4 of an ounce version. The bar is nicely domed and segmented.
The color is good though the snap is a bit soft.
As a chocolate style bar, it has a good amount of chocolate in it, the ingredients go like this:
So it’s not even vegan friendly (also it is made in a facility that processes peanuts and wheat products).
It smells like cocoa, sweet and kind of empty.
The taste is, well, similarly empty. It’s chocolatey, in the sense that it’s the flavor, but not much else qualifies it as such. It’s not creamy, it doesn’t really melt well though it is rather smooth once chewed up. But later there’s an aftertaste ... of vitamins. You know, those tasty large horsepills with a high B vitamin content. Oh, the aftertaste, kind of bitter and musty.
It has very little style, chocolate or otherwise, and it’s sad. The traditional Carlos V bar has also become milk chocolate style, Candy Snob reviewed the new version recently.
(No, I’m not even going to go into how cheesy I think naming the bar Dark Knight is.)
Monday, August 11, 2008
Called Perugina Nero, it looks like a pretty direct import, as the package was all in Italian except for a sticker on the back with the ingredients & nutrition facts in English. The sticker covered up the native descriptions though, so all I could glean was that they were thin tablets that appeared to be a little smaller than business cards made of chocolate.
The chocolate leaves come in three varieties: 70% Cacao, 85% Cacao and Gusto Arancia (Orange Flavor). I went for the Arancia because I really love the touch of orange essence combined with dark chocolate.
Inside the box is a tray sealed in cellophane. Four little compartments hold stacks of three little chocolate cards. It feels like a bit of overkill on the packaging, but I have to admit that it did a nice job, all my cards were pristine.
The pieces are 2.75” by 1.75”. Each piece is far thinner than a regular chocolate bar as well, even the tasting squares that I’ve picked up before, each is only 8 grams (most tasting squares are 7-12 grams but only 1” square at most).
The little leaves are quite pretty, with the stylized Pegasus emblem on each.
They smell of woodsy, smoky chocolate and quite strongly of orange.
Biting into a piece, it sits on the tongue and melts right away, releasing its flavors quickly. I got a rush of rich chocolate, bitter tones, woodsy flavors that combine bark, coffee and Popsicle sticks along with the bright notes of orange essence and then a low bitterness that echoes the orange zest and dark chocolate.
Even though the chocolate itself isn’t particularly buttery, the quick melt because of the format gives it a creamy component I often find difficult to tease out of big chunks of chocolate without chewing it a bit.
Since the box is essentially the equivalent of the large 100 gram tablet bar, this is a great solution to sharing. It’s a great option for serving with coffee or tea or even an aperitif. The pieces are lovely to look at, though serving right from the tray isn’t quite elegant, neither is cracking up a regular bar and flattening out the foil wrapper.
For those who are watching their calories, each leaf has 42 calories. The impression of a large portion if you were to eat two leaves would still only deliver 84 calories, a decadent treat without busting your diet. (Though they’re not individually wrapped or anything, so nothing to stop you from eating the whole box.)
Friday, August 8, 2008
In tough economic times it’s tempting to try to save a little money on items like candy. Buying in bulk is usually the most economical way to go, but some of us also recognize that a 5 lb bag of gummi bears will last as long as a 1 lb bag.
So another option is to find a generic or off-brand of a tried and true favorite. The bargain stores like 99 Cent Only are an excellent place to find these lesser known brands. While it’s understandable to assume that all the candy at 99 Cent Only or Dollar Tree or the like is past its prime, often these stores have special deals with candy companies to make sizes that can come in at their price point, so much of it is specially sized for value. (Well, either that or just be a reliable deal instead of waiting for the snack packs to come on sale at the grocery store.)
I found this line of snack sized candy bars at 99 Cent Only made by Bel. The package is a veritable Rosetta Stone with ingredients lists in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French with some other Arabic script on the wrapper as well. I found four varieties and bought three: Strawberry Burst, Vanilla Cookies and Toffee Taste. (The other flavor was some sort of Peanut Butter, but I stupidly grabbed two of the Toffee.)
Strawberry Burst is billed as milk chocolate compound coating with strawberry filling.
The wrapper is generic and simply says ChocBar. Only in tiny print stamped on the back does it have the expiry and variety (“STRAW”).
I knew going in that these are mockolate, but I also know that there are some decent candies out there with fake chocolate in them, so I was keeping an open mind. It’s a rather thin coating and around the edges I could see the pink nougat filling underneath. But still, it was a nice looking little plank. Each bar is about 2.5” inches long and .75 inches wide.
The nougat is soft and fluffy. It has the scent of berries, but very little taste besides sweet. The mockolate doesn’t add much, but it also doesn’t distract. It’s not terribly waxy or grainy or flavorful. Basically it just seals up the nougat fluff.
It’s, well, just not my kind of candy, even when well done. (Witness the 3 Musketeers Strawberry limited edition from last year.)
Rating: 3 out of 10
Vanilla Cookies is billed as vanilla candy with crispies and cookies coated in chocolate compound
I regarded this one as promising, I thought some Oreo type crunchies in an otherwise bland nougat might be good. (Seriously, why isn’t there a 3 Muskteers version of this?)
The format is pretty much the same as the Strawberry Burst, but a little lumpier, as you can imagine the chocolate cookie crunches are irregular.
The crunches are, well, crunchie. But they don’t taste like anything. The whole candy tastes like the marshmallows from Lucky Charms. While those are fine as little marbits mixed in with oaty sugar sweetened cereal, this is just fake vanilla sweetness with no chocolate crunch relief.
It’s too bad because I thought this was a really good package design for a cheap product.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
Toffee Taste is billed as milk chocolate compound coating with toffee filling.
The wrapper here was identical to the Strawberry Burst. It smelled like sugar cookies, which is a promising thing as far as I’m concerned.
The filling is a fluffed nougat, it looks like peanut butter but actually tastes a bit like sponge candy, but with a definite artificial bite to it. The burnt sugar notes were not authentic and the lack of a good chocolate component to balance it just kind of left this one hanging.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
If you’re looking for candy you can display in your house to demonstrate to people who barely know you that you have excellent self control (let’s face it, folks who you know will know the disposition of your self control, you’re reading a candy blog!), this is the stuff. The outer wrapper is enticing enough that someone might be impressed that you haven’t scarfed down all 12 in the package.
But if you’re looking for a great value, this isn’t it. You’re getting what you paid for, which is twice as much candy, but it’s only half as good as you’d like it to be. The previous week I bought some Almond Joy bars - 8 snack sized bars in the package for 4.8 ounces and only 99 cents ... this package has 12 bars but weighed only 5.5 ounces ... so really not that much more candy even. If you can’t afford to go upscale, at least get stuff that’s tried and true.
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