Saturday, September 20, 2008
I’ve gotten a few comments and emails and I thought I’d address them:
1. Palm Oil
Environmental matters aside, consider the health effects of merely eating Palm Oil. The World Health Organization believes it contributes to cardiovascular disease. New research reveals that not only does cocoa butter not harm us, it actually increases the antioxidant properties of chocolate and is neutral to our blood cholesterol levels. (But it’s not like the health benefits of a milk chocolate coating on a candy bar are in any way remarkable.)
There are a lot of stories, web pages and sites devoted to the issue, so you can read up on it elsewhere for a fuller picture than I can paint. (And in various posts I’ve made other helpful readers have left links to websites they recommend.)
2. Hershey’s New Facility in Mexico
UPDATE 8/14/2009: Hershey’s is now making the Hershey’s Miniatures in Mexico as well as the York Peppermint Pattie.
3. The Word Mockolate
Basically mockolate is any product which pretends to be chocolate but doesn’t qualify for one reason or another due to the FDA definition of chocolate. In the case of the Friends episode, I believe that product had absolutely no Theobroma cacao content at all. The present Hershey’s products do actually “contain” chocolate but for the most part the cocoa butter has been replaced completely or in part by other vegetable oils.
I use the word because in many of the cases where it appears in a confection it’s intended to act like chocolate. (And might have been a real chocolate product at one time.)
I did mention the Nestle mockolate products to the producers of Today, but that was not the focus of the piece (and that’s certainly their prerogative). So I confined my examples to Hershey’s products. There are also companies that have always made poor quality chocolate and mockolate. That’s not what this story was about either.
I provided as many candy products as I could find over the weekend that were both the old and new formula. That was pretty much the Kissables and Almond Joy (and since Hershey’s confirmed that they went back to milk chocolate, that became moot). Everything else was representative items of the “new versions”. I referred the producers to some great sources of what the wrappers used to look like: Mike’s Candy Wrappers and Brad Kent’s Wrappers (and even Flickr).
I think the Kissables change was a good example of how subtle it was ... removing one word and putting in a different one. Milk Chocolate became Chocolate Candy. It would have been great to have the old and new Mr. Goodbar, because the print is so much smaller for the new “made with CHOCOLATE AND PEANUTS” versus the former “PEANUTS IN CHOCOLATE.” (As of today the Hershey’s Mr. Goodbar page still displays both versions - the new one on the top of the page and the little one in the middle of the page.)
Kirk Saville, spokesman for Hershey Company said later to the Harrisburg Patriot News, “The Mr. Goodbar formula was changed to allow the peanut flavor to come through.” I take issue with this because there was never any change to the wrapper except for the legally obligated ones. No big splashy “better tasting!” or “more peanut flavor.” Instead it was done quietly and subtly.
Hershey’s has not left the venerable Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kisses and KitKat untouched. While they are still milk chocolate products, the formula has changed. If you want to tell for yourself we’re in another crossover right now. The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar now has PGPR in it. It’s an additional emulsifier to the soy lecithin that nearly all chocolate products have.
If you look sharp you should be able to find both products (and the previous PGPR free ones still fresh) and can compare for yourself.
(Long ago I called Hershey’s to ask about this PGPR stuff that I saw in the Kisses ingredients list, it took a lot of wrangling to find out the origin of the product, theirs comes from castor beans. For some reason they always state where the lecithin comes from but not the PGPR.)
While I don’t know if there is a real difference in the flavor or texture, but I have gotten two notes from readers that say that the Hershey’s Kisses do not behave the same when baking. (Specifically when making those thumbprint cookies the Kiss comes out chalky instead of fudgy.)
I never said boycott Hershey’s. I said that I will not be buying the inferior products any longer (basically the Kissables and Take 5 - I stopped buying the 5th Avenue years ago), I’ve not taken all Hershey’s products off my list. A boycott is not when you simply don’t like a product any longer and don’t recommend it. I will still be buying products for review - that’s kind of what I do here.
I don’t think that this issue has enough traction to be a successful boycott anyway. However, as was demonstrated with the information at the end of the segment, Hershey’s did bring the milk chocolate coating back to the Almond Joy after consumer feedback. So maybe that’s all that’s required here.
Have you eaten something you weren’t happy with? Have a concern about an ingredient? Don’t like the way something’s advertised? Call them or send them a note.
Or via their online contact form (be prepared to tell them how old you are and they’ll ask you lots of other personal info that you probably don’t have to answer).
Friday, September 19, 2008
This is a tedious post and I don’t really expect folks to read it in earnest. It’s here for my reference and yours.
Since the whole change in Kissables, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Hershey’s website and even did a screen grab on August 27th, 2008 before they started changing it in the past couple weeks after the ABCNews.com story. (I don’t know that was definitely the motivator.)
While Hershey’s has a clear disclaimer on the product pages with the nutrition information that reads: Hershey’s goal is to keep each product’s nutrition information up-to-date and accurate but please consult the label on the product’s packaging before using. If you notice that something is different on a product’s label than appears on our website, please call us for more information at (800) 468-1714. I can tell you from personal experience that getting information about Hershey’s about what’s actually in their products isn’t as easy as calling or emailing.
I understand that often in times of product formulation transition that the website needs to reflect what a consumer is most likely to find, some of the items on the Hershey’s website are far from just out of date, they’re inaccurate to the point of misleading. Here’s the last saved version of products page from March 2008 via Archive.org. (Images are not archived, so they may be linking to current images, not those that appeared during the time the archive was made.)
Plainly put, the descriptions on the Hershey’s Chocolate Products page don’t match what’s currently available in stores, further, what they say is in the products is inaccurate.
The first was the 5th Avenue, which shifted from a milk chocolate coated bar to a rich chocolatey coating bar back in 2006. The image on the site and the text both said that it was milk chocolate. The image has since been changed out, Google’s cache from September 4th still showed it as a milk chocolate bar image & text), but the text still reads:
While it’s accurate to say that it was a chocolate bar in 1936, they’re not exactly saying that it’s not any longer - you have to look at the picture and the caption just says “chocolate.”
The next is the Kissables description:
While the classic Kisses are still considered milk chocolate, the Kissables are not, so saying that they’re just mini Kisses covered with candy is misleading because, well, it’s simply not true.
Hershey’s Miniatures were a recent disappointment to me. I don’t know if they can get away with calling the product Hershey’s Miniature chocolate bars when I found that 41% of my package were not chocolate bars at all.
Milk Duds haven’t been chocolate for years, but the description is still there:
The Mr. Goodbar section is full of inaccuracies. The name of it is Mr. Goodbar chocolate bar and the image on the directory page says peanuts in chocolate and the description says:
On the actual product page the header image shows made with chocolate and peanuts but the image below it and the caption still say peanuts in milk chocolate. The description there goes further into the history which confuses matters because it once was a real chocolate bar:
The final one in the Hershey’s repertoire is the Take 5. The description is shown there in the screengrab and it says that it’s covered in milk chocolate. (Which I’m guessing is a selling point, it was for me.)
The Hershey’s product page for the Take 5 has been heavily edited now. There were four versions of the bars (White, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookie and for a while a Marshmallow) listed there earlier this year. The current product page is now completely accurate with its images and description. I can only be disappointed by my memories.
Hershey’s has several mini-sites. One of the major ones is for their Reese’s line of products. It was relaunched just last week with an intricate flash-based page (which means no way to link to individual product pages). I would expect that this would mean that the info would be especially accurate. Sadly it’s not so.
The Reese’s subsite lists 11 Reese’s products. Four are characterized erroneously as real chocolate products in the copy that accompanies them.
ReeseSticks (which I revisted in today’s review) is described as milk chocolate though the image is correct
Nutrageous is described as a “chocolatey candy” on the wrapper (and in the image) but the accompanying text says that it’s, “loaded with crunchy roasted peanuts, smooth rich caramel, chocolate and the distinctive taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter.”
Reese’s Whipps is a new product and has never had a smooth milk chocolate on it. So while this whole “transition” thing with new products might be forgiveable, this is not.
Reese’s Crispy Crunchy is a little older than the Whipps, but also never sported a “smooth chocolate coating.”
So there you have it. Hershey’s says that their changes are transparent to the consumers and that everything is clearly marked on the packages. While going straight from the package, with no previous experience with the product might mean that consumers understand fully what they’re eating, the rest of this noise - the fact that the wrappers are designed to look so incredibly similar and that the supporting materials like the Hershey’s website don’t reflect what’s truly in the bar - provides evidence the Hershey’s wants us to be confused.
I fully expect that many of these inaccuracies will be rectified soon. I know that Hershey’s staff members and their PR companies read this site.
The above web images were taken on September 18, 2008 for the Reese’s Whipps page and September 17, 2008 for the Hershey’s items.
Those of us on the West Coast did not get to see the Today show segment that they promoted as Kissed Off! because of The President’s address on the financial crises.
Good news though, they put the whole thing online (and I just got to watch it):
I went on a strange little odyssey. It all started with an interview I was prepping for with NBC’s Today show. Hershey’s was changing some of their products, swapping out real milk chocolate for coatings that used other oils instead of the native cocoa butter in chocolate.
I gathered up all the products I could find, including the ReeseSticks (previous review here). I found the single serve package at the drug store, but it was expired and I didn’t think that was fair, so I found this Reese’s Lovers Assortment (photo here) at CVS’s freshly stocked Halloween aisle. I found exactly what I wanted ... but I was a little surprised because the front of the package said that the ReeseSticks were crispy wafers | peanut butter | milk chocolate.
Well, that didn’t match what I had. This is happy news, right? The milk chocolate is back!
But when I opened up my Reese’s Lovers Assortment I was more than disappointed. The little single finger packages of ReeseSticks were quite clear, they said only crispy wafers | peanut butter. What are they pulling?
Well, I’ve already bought them, so I may as well try them and add them to my list of re-reviewed items.
Flipping over the bag, they do list all the ingredients for the products separately and though the front and both sides of the package mention milk chocolate, the ingredients tell the full story:
The old ingredients (courtesy of Mike’s Candy Wrappers) from 2003:
The little sticks in the assortment are a little smaller than the regular twin pack. These are .6 ounces each, but are still pretty substantial feeling.
The possibly-chocolate coating (well, the ingredients say that there may be cocoa butter in there and no other oils) looks pretty good, a little greasy but a nice medium color. It smells like peanuts and Easter grass. Sweet and artificial and, well, comforting.
Unless chilled the coating was pretty soft and sticky. The crunch of the foamy and flavorless wafers allowed the peanut butter to come through. Without much chocolate flavor, these reminded me of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, without all the sharp mouth-wounding bits. It’s pretty salty though, saltier than I would like. (135 mgs in a current twin pack versus 110 mgs in the original one.)
Overall, I prefer the memory of the real chocolate one - less salty and I recall it having some chocolate flavor input. I don’t like ingredients lists that tell me what might be in there in there. I don’t want to eat palm oil, I want cocoa butter. But it’s still a pretty good candy product and not as noticeable a change as the Kissables.
Final note: Though the package deceptively promised me milk chocolate in my ReeseSticks, it also said that the Fast Break was not real chocolate on the outside ... but on the inside and the reverse of the package it was.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Several readers have emailed me telling me that I must try Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Pretzel Bites. I usually avoid the tubs of TJ’s chocolate goodies in the summer, but things have cooled off and I was hot on their trail.
The tub describes them as Crispy, crunchy, salty pretzels covered with rich dark chocolate and natural sprinkles. Okay, I’m curious what natural sprinkles are. A peek at the ingredients shows that they’re, well, sugar, corn starch and confectioners glaze. I’m guessing that unless sprinkles have some sort of artificial colors, they’re all natural.
The 7 ounce tub sounds generous, but let me just say right now, it’s not enough.
Many of my bites were fused together (enough in different linked chains that I wondered if I could create a Tetris layout). Instead of being panned (tumbled in a drum and coated with chocolate and then a sealing glaze) these are simply dipped so they have a flat spot on the bottom. This is helpful, as it keeps them from rolling around when I pull out a handful and put them on my desk. Each little bite is about the size of a plump garbanzo bean or hazelnut.
The chocolate looks especially dark and the ingredients shows that this is pretty good stuff; it even has real vanilla in it but does have some milk fat (sorry vegans, the confectioners glaze already spoiled this as a treat for you).
The tub smells smoky and sweet with a little hint of malt from the baked pretzels.
The chocolate melts easily and is smooth and creamy but has a dry and slightly bitter finish. The pretzels are crunchy and have a liberal dose of crunchy salt on them that’s echoed by the sweet crunch of the nonpariels.
At first I thought the sprinkles were silly, that they got in the way of the simplicity of the crunch and creamy components. But then I picked out some that had fewer crunchies on them and didn’t find them as satisfying ... maybe it’s just the little extra bit of sugar that puts it all together. Something about hitting a little crunch in your mouth and having this anticipation - will it be sweet or salty?
I love chocolate covered pretzels and this format is great. The issue I have with larger pretzels covered with chocolate is biting into it can make a mess, the pretzels make crumbs and the chocolate can crack and flake off. These go straight in the mouth whole, either one at a time or two or three even to make a mouthful. As a chocolate treat for someone who’s minding calories, the fact that there’s a large pretzel component there keeps the calories per ounce much lower than most chocolate candies.
My only major misgiving here is that it’s easy to eat the whole tub at once, so mind your portion control - maybe put a small handful in a little baggie or else you’ll find yourself mystified that there’s an empty tub sitting on your lap at the movies. (But is that really Trader Joe’s fault?)
UPDATE 2/9/2009: Trader Joe’s has stopped carrying these but I tracked down the manufacturer. They’re at Chocolate Potpourri and called Chocolate Pretzel Balls and are available in milk, dark and white.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Morinaga has created a huge array of flavors of their popular Japanese HiCHEW candies. Most of their standard flavors can be found easily in the United States and Canada. I’ve spotted them in convenience stores, Target, Cost Plus World Market and of course specialty grocers. The most recent one I picked up was Aloe Yogurt on a trip to Little Tokyo.
Depending on where I pick up my Japanese candy, sometimes the label has a translation on it (a sticker applied by the importer). In this case it went like this:
As an American, I have very little experience with aloe as a flavor. I’ve had prickly pear but eating aloe isn’t really something I’ve considered. It’s for soothing sunburn. While I’ve seen aloe vera juice at health food stores, I’ve certainly never seen Aloe Yogurt.
Most HiCHEW have a white chew outside and a lightly colored chew in the center. In this case it was all the same color, or so subtle I couldn’t tell.
The chew is smooth and latexy - a little bouncy and not the least bit sticky. It’s kind of like chewing gum except that it slowly dissolves. It’s a bit creamier than some of the straight fruit flavors. I credit the milk sauce for that.
The flavor is mild, a little citrusy and tangy, it reminds me more of Ramune (lemon soda) than yogurt or aloe. It’s fresh but that fresh taste also reminds me of bathroom cleaner - it’s a little too much like it’s covering something up than actually cleaning anything.
Overall, not my favorite HiCHEW. I think I’ll stick to the fruit flavors. I enjoy real yogurt, but I’m finding that I’m not that keen on yogurt inspired candy. (Including those “yogurt covered dried fruit” things from the bulk bins at health food stores.) But your mileage may vary.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Askinosie Chocolate makes Authentic Single Origin bars. They’re made with a very short list of ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter (they make their own facility from the same origin beans).
There are no emulsifiers and not even any vanilla.
The package isn’t quite so simple. It’s a waxed paper envelope that folds over at the top with a little tie of recycled string from the bags that are used to transport cocoa beans. Inside is the bar itself, wrapped simply in a clear cellophane sleeve and an insert that details the origin of the cocoa beans.
The first bar that I tried is the San Jose del Tambo made from Arriba Nacional beans from Ecuador. At 70% this is a pretty dark bar.
The bar is absolutely gorgeous. The simple molding with the lettered squares format is inspired - each is the perfect sized portion for a bite and it’s fun to play with them to make new words if you’re Scrabble-y.
The snap is quite sharp and doesn’t quite melt readily, but when it does, it’s quite smooth.
The overall flavor was light and bright with notes of caramel, cardamom, coffee, black pepper, licorice & molasses. The finish is a little dry but also sweet.
The look of the bar was the same - beautifully shiny and with a bright snap.
This bar had a grassier scent of olives and black & green teas. The melt was smooth but had a very perceptible dryness right away. There were a few fruity notes of some berries, but overall it didn’t have the variation in elements that I like especially in the woodsy and balsam tones.
Askinosie makes a large variety of products including cocoa (which make sense if Shawn Asknosie is making his own cocoa butter, he’s gonna have a lot of cocoa solids left over) but there were two that I was especially interested in. His Nibble Bar which includes cacao nibs and the White Chocolate bars.
I found these Itty Bar Nibble Bars in Santa Barbara at Chocolate Maya a few weeks ago.
They’re not big, just two inches long and about an inch wide, but packaged in pairs. At only $1.00, I think they were a steal! (The big bars were $8 each.) They’re the same San Jose del Tambo but, obviously, with some same origin cocoa nibs scattered in.
They’re much more tangy than the large format bar but it still has the same caramelized sugar notes and coffee flavors with a light peppery finish.
It’s easy to say that $8 is too much for chocolate. But keep in mind that like many artisan chocolate makers, Shawn Askinosie is making his growers essentially his partners. It’s called a stake in the outcome and not only do they get fair prices, they also get a share in the final sales of the finished products.
Some fair trade products can make me feel like it’s charity, not an actual purchase for the sake of the quality. That’s far from the case here. The consumer of the chocolate gets both the full experience from the look and feel of the package down to the actual taste of the product there’s also so much more going on in the background.
I am a huge fan now and will probably seek out every product in the Askinosie line. (Except maybe this item.) Maybe someday Askinosie will do an Ocumare bar.
The Today Show contacted me a couple of weeks ago. They were pursuing the story of how some major manufacturers were quietly substituting their regular ingredients with cheaper ones. Of course the reason for emailing me was because of the recent news that Hershey’s has changed the formulation for some of their oldest bars: Hershey’s Mr. Goodbar and Krackel as well as their other candy products like Kissables, Reese’s Sticks, Almond Joy, 5th Avenue and Whatchamacallit.
The piece is scheduled to air
Thursday morning (September 18) between 7:40 and 8:15am.
The video should be available online after that (I’ll post it if I can).
An L.A.-based crew came to the house on Monday, September 8th. (I spent the whole weekend cleaning, and good thing, we shot bits in every room downstairs.) We did two interview segments and then some “B-roll” stuff of me and my process of reviewing candy. I have no idea if this will make it into the piece, the important part is that consumers need to read both the front and back of all their candy right now if they want to be confident that they’re getting the product they expect.
UPDATE: I just got word from the producer that the segment has been bumped to Friday’s show. I’ll update with the time as soon as I know.
UPDATE 09/17/2008: Word now is that the piece will air tomorrow, Friday, September 19 at 7:40 AM.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.