Tuesday, June 9, 2009
There’s this berry called the Miracle Fruit because it makes sour things taste sweet. A few years ago a candy finally took advantage of this little chemical reaction and Sour Extinguisher was born. (Though I don’t think it actually has any “Miracle Fruit” in it.)
I tried the original version and found it fun, though not really a candy I’d eat on a regular basis ... and the sourest of the sour wasn’t quite as powerful as I’d hoped (I really wanted to need the extinguisher).
Since then Big BOING, the candy company that invented this little candy kit, sold it to American Licorice Company (Red Vines). They’ve relaunched the product now with two flavor sets: Sour Fruit (with Berry Sweet Relief) and Sour Citrus (with Berry Sweet Relief).
Instead of being mixed into a bag, the flavors are now divided up. There’s a tray inside a cardboard sleeve that holds to sections, the largest 2/3 holds the mixed sour flavors and the little 1/3 side cubby holds the blue sour extinguisher.
Chewy Extinguisher Sour Fruit comes in a vibrant acidic green box with purple & blue accents. The flavors are: tangy watermelon (light red), sour strawberry (deep red) and super sour green apple (green).
The original candy was a little pillow shaped piece, the new version is a bit more like the old fashioned Good n’ Fruity. It’s a little wheat-based chew (like a red licorice) covered with a thick panned candy coating with a sour & flavor layer.
The shell isn’t crunchy, it’s shiny and hard at first, the pieces look like the present day Gobstoppers only a little more rustic in their shape. The candy coating is a bit grainy & easy to bite ... rather like the outside of a jelly bean.
Watermelon was very mild, it tastes more like bubble gum than melon, but still it was pleasant. Certainly it didn’t necessitate a berry sweet relief.
Strawberry was more vivid, extremely artificial tasting but still quite tart. I liked that the center, though not strongly flavored wasn’t just a bland wad, it did have a little tangy kick to it.
Green apple had an intense fake apple taste to it, and though it was sour, it wasn’t even enough to get my glands all a-tingly.
Still, I followed a couple of the green apples up with a blue berry piece. It does negate the tartness pretty quickly. On its own the flavor is a fake raspberry with a kind of bitter note to it that I can only think is the food coloring.
Chewy Extinguisher Sour Citrus has three sour flavors: tangy tangerine, sour lemon and super sour lime plus the berry sweet relief. What I liked about this assortment was that it followed the natural qualities of these fruits. They really do progress in that fashion as far as tartness goes.
The quality control on these candies wasn’t quite as nice as the Sour Fruit variety. The green ones were pock marked and had little pink marks on them.
Tangerine was really tasty. It has the pleasant juicy flavors mixed with a little zest. It was tangy, but not much more than a glass of OJ would be.
Lemon was also similarly accurate. It reminded me of Lemonheads, but chewy on the inside (but no quite like the newer Chewy Lemonheads, which have a jelly center instead of a thicker center).
Lime is quite sour, probably the most sour of of all six flavors I tried.
The extinguisher never quite really eliminated the sourness (which, granted, wasn’t all that sour) which would have been the really cool part.
The candy was conceived as a fun interactive candy for kids to “play with” so in that sense, I think it succeeds. Naturally I love the fact that there’s an actual citrus mix and found those flavors really good ... they might warrant a package of just those and dump the whole extinguisher part.
The packaging change, though it seems like a bit much, does aid in the actual picking of the pieces and of course makes sharing a little more sanitary (no dumping the bag into your hand, picking what you want and putting the rest back for later).
Not Kosher and possibly not vegan (depending on how the glycerol monostearate is sourced).
Monday, June 8, 2009
The Special Dark bar was introduced in 1971 (though Hershey’s made a dark chocolate bar on and off before that). With the news of dark chocolate’s high antioxidant content the line of Special Dark products has been expanding to include baking chips, its own assortment of Miniatures, Kisses, Syrup, Cocoa and Kissables.
It seems kind of odd that not only are Kissables being discontinued, but that this new Pieces line doesn’t have a simple milk chocolate version. Further, the Special Dark Pieces are the only product in the line that has a comparable item in the M&Ms line.
The Pieces are simple. Dark chocolate lentils with a candy shell. The colors are muted and dark: maroon, red and brown.
The shell is quite crunchy and has only a slight “cereal” flavor to it, for the most part it’s just sweet.
The center is smooth and has an excellent melt. The chocolate flavor is rather ordinary - a mix of coffee notes, a light touch of raisin or berry with a dose of smoke. It’s quite sweet, so any lingering bitterness is covered up completely.
I pretty much did the above review a couple of weeks ago when I first got my Pieces samples. I was hanging onto it because I wanted to do a full comparison of the product to both Dark Chocolate M&Ms as well as the Kissables Dark which came out in 2007.
So I went to the store to buy some.
And I came up empty handed. I went to a lot of stores. I couldn’t find any Kissables in any variety anywhere, except for a wrinkly old pack of original Milk Chocolate Kissables at the 99 Cent Only Store in Mid Wilshire and some Valentine’s that were likely as old. It’s like someone combed the country and pulled all Kissables from all stores. (I don’t think this is any loss for the confectionery world seeing that the Pieces line is far superior in quality.)
Comparing them side by side with M&Ms, it’s easy to see now how the shapes are slightly different.
The Pieces, though they have the same diameter as the M&Ms, are meatier. They’re thicker & puffier.
The shells on the Pieces are slightly thicker, which gives them more crunch but also makes them a bit sweeter and hides the chocolate flavor a little longer.
The chocolate punch of the M&Ms is a bit bolder, but the flavor is also chalkier/dryer. The Pieces have a smooth melt on the tongue and a mellow cocoa note.
I can’t say that one product is better than the other. I found myself preferring the Special Dark Pieces to the Dark Chocolate M&Ms, even though they were sweeter. I liked the consistent crunch and the buttery melt. The M&Ms, though, did have a good dark chocolate flavor to them though a little bitter towards the end.
Final Thoughts on Pieces Line:
Now that I’ve tried them all, I thought I’d give a bit of a review of the new line, that won’t be out in stores until December 2009.
The Pieces line is based on some of Hershey’s most popular candies: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Almond Joy, York Peppermint Patties and the Special Dark bar.
The creation of a lentil version doesn’t quite measure up to the combination of textural elements in quite the same way as the previous Bites line did, but these are definitely a winning confectionery creation. Instead these are more “inspired by” than just a new shape & ratio.
My only comments on how this could have been done better would be to set themselves apart further from M&Ms by enlarging their customer base to people who can’t eat M&Ms. That would be using all natural food colorings for the shells (granted, a tough proposition seeing that two of the three lines employ blue shells) and to be gluten free & nut-free (even the Almond Joy could be peanut-free, one of the most common allergy issues in candy).
I’m looking forward to the product launch later this year.
Friday, June 5, 2009
It seemed odd to me that Dove never had any peanut butter items in their line. While most of us probably think that Reese’s has the corner on peanut butter, Mars has been doing a pretty good job with peanut confections with Snickers, Peanut M&Ms and PB Twix.
The new Dove Peanut Butter Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate comes in both in the form of a single-serving bar and the foil wrapped Promises. I found the bar at 7-11 but the Promises were sent to me by Mars.
The bar, like all Dove single serve bars, is rather small. It looks like a series of conjoined Dove Promises. Inside each little domed piece is a bit of peanut butter filling.
The Promises are wrapped in orange foil (the universal color for peanut butter).
The silky & sweet milk chocolate stands up well flavor-wise to the peanut butter filling. The filling is a smooth peanut butter paste that’s both sweet and salty. Both of those qualities overshadow the peanut butter flavors, which exhibit a nice even roasting but a bit of blandness.
The bar seems to have less peanut butter filling, for some reason, than the Promises, so overall I preferred them. (I also like foil wrapped things.)
Because they were introduced at virtually the same time, I had to do a little comparison between the Dove Peanut Butter Promises and the Reese’s Select Cremes.
The Reese’s Cremes are a bit bigger (same footprint but taller). The ingredients are similar (especially use of salt, partially hydrogenated palm oil & TBHQ) ... but surprisingly Dove uses PGPR in their chocolate while the Reese’s Cremes don’t plus use real vanilla instead of artificial flavorings.
The centers are different - the Reese’s Cremes are whipped-smooth but shockingly salty and of course the larger reservoir of filling makes it more of a counterpoint to the chocolate. The Dove Promises are more of an even ratio of chocolate & filling, but a similarly salty center.
I don’t think either quite rise to the level of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures (when fresh) but the Dove Promises are quite elegant and definitely an item to satisfy folks who like both milk chocolate and peanut butter. However, since I had both a bag of the Reese’s Cremes and a dozen of the Dove Peanut Butter Promises sitting around as a test, the Reese’s Cremes disappeared first.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Honestly, it seems odd that Nestle hadn’t entered the gummi category up to this point, especially since the Wonka brand is all about straight sugar candy (every once in a while they have a chocolate product). They’ve returned to the Roald Dahl book for some inspiration on the name. They’re called Sluggles (I’m guessing a vamp off the Arthur Slugworth character combined with the critter theme.)
But once I saw the package it kind of made sense. The says they’re from WONKA’S Edible Garden which sounds like fun! They come in four flavors: grape, orange, lemon & strawberry and say they’re made with natural ingredients and 25% real fruit juice. Yes, naturally flavored and no artificial colors ... from Nestle!
The Sluggles are shaped like little invertebrate creatures. The shapes I could discern looked like chitins, millipedes, snails and larvae. (They’re not exactly named on the package so forgive me if I gravitate towards the sea creature indentifications.)
I was really excited about the flavor array, mostly because there was no cherry, but also because they included grape, which is pretty rare in the gummi area.
Most of the gummis smelled the same, as it’s a mixed bag. The flavor is immediately tangy with a nice berry flavor, though not specifically strawberry and lacking that fragrant floral note.
The tartness has a slight fizzy quality to it towards the end.
Though the colors are all natural, gummis use gelatin so are not for vegetarians ... and in this case the red coloring is cochineal in addition to beta carotene.
I had a little trouble telling these from the strawberry at first glance because the colors aren’t as vibrant.
They’re mostly sweet with a light orange flavor to them, rather like orange drink with a little sprinkling of zest. While I sound underwhelmed, I thought these were the nicest of the bunch.
Wow, grape gummis! I can count on one hand the grape gummis that I know about (Albanese, the Japanese muscat varieties and the Big Bite Giant Gummi Bear).
Since this is a naturally flavored assortment, the grape flavor is much more like concord grape juice (not that there is actually any grape juice in here, the 25% is apple juice) than “artificial grape candy”. It has the deep jelly flavor but is much more sour than a jam. The exterior of the candies isn’t greasy at all, rather soft & dry but the chew is pliable and has a nice soft but rubbery bite.
The lemon flavored Sluggles were a little on the sweet side for a tangy citrus. The zest was mellow, the whole thing reminding me more of canned frozen lemonade than anything made with real lemons. It’s kind of a boiled sweet taste.
Still, they were tasty and all of the flavors went together well, I didn’t feel the need to look at the pieces before popping them in my mouth and any combinations of the flavors were acceptable.
The other product in this “edible garden” line is Puckerooms, which I’ll review soon. The other new items introduced this year are two different flavors of Kazoozles (which are not exactly in the garden theme and are definitely not all natural).
The package I got is a “sales sample” so this may not be the final package, ingredients & nutrition info. They’re made in the Czech Republic on equipment that processes milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sulfites.
I think these are a great option for families that want to shy away from artificial ingredients but still want mainstream treat. (I also expect them to be priced very well.) The information from the All Candy Expo indicates that these should be hitting store shelves in June.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I like York Peppermint Patties, so I was pretty excited to hear about York Pieces (more here). Especially since I disappointed when Hershey’s discontinued the York Bites, I thought this would be a great “morsel” version of the Peppermint Pattie ... great for snacking & sharing.
The new Hershey’s Pieces line takes classic candy bars and makes them into little lentils covered in a candy shell.
The description from the press release was a little vague: Peppermint Flavored Dark Chocolate Candy in a Crunchy Shell, so I wasn’t sure what they would be like until I got my hands on these sales samples direct from Hershey’s. Would they have the classic fondant center? It begs the question, what is the essence of a York Peppermint Pattie?
It turns out, to my disappointment, that they are exactly as described above. Mint flavored dark chocolate with a candy shell. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but where’s the fondant?
The Pieces come in two colors in this assortment: royal blue and white. The grey package with blue accents and the yellow logo was easily identifiable as York Peppermint.
The shell is pleasant & crunchy, the chocolate inside is quite smooth and has a nice peppermint pop to it. The cocoa flavors come out really well, and is very close to the chocolate flavor profile of the York chocolate coating.
While M&Ms have their holiday Mint version, this year round dark chocolate mint lentil will definitely have a unique selling position. I prefer the naturally less sweet dark chocolate of the York Pieces to the very sweet but a touch salty Mint Chocolate M&Ms. (Though they end up with the same rating.)
I got to thinking about whether or not it’d be possible to make a fondant centered lentil and then I remembered that the York Mints (and Dutch Mints or Holland Mints) were just that.
So I picked up some York Mints just to compare them. (Luckily I found them at the 99 Cent Only Store ... which means that they’re only three months from their expiry and who knows what conditions they were stored under.)
The shell on the York Mints is thinner than the York Pieces. But the York Mints, with their not-quite-soft-and-crumbly fondant are quite minty ... enough to be called breath mints. The York Pieces, on the other hand, do not freshen the breath to the point where I’d think it was perceptible by others.
The point though is that a lentil version is possible, at least in my eyes, but for some reason (perhaps the fact that they sell 1.35 ounces for more than $2.00) they decided to go with a much easier to produce product: the York Pieces.
That said, I think I prefer the York Pieces anyway. They’re certainly different from most other minty lentils, which are usually mockolate or milk chocolate.
Candy Addict also previewed these last week and found them to be nice.
These won’t be hitting shelves until December 2009. (I didn’t have nutrition info on them either and there was no Kosher status on the package but it did mention that it was processed on equipment that handles peanuts, tree nuts, egg & wheat ... plus they contain milk & soy.)
The bag, at first glance, looked a bit like the Caramel or Almond Kisses. The big difference here is the large oval New in the corner.
They’re described to be velvety smooth chocolate center in milk chocolate.
The first sample I got of these, they were rolling around in the bottom of a bag of items from All Candy Expo. The little flags said “center” and that was it ... I thought maybe they were just customized little flags that were from the McCormick Center (the host to All Candy Expo ... which is actually called McCormick Place, but I was really grasping to figure these things out).
Later I got the press release from Hershey’s with the announcement of the new product ... and then I saw the full bags in stores (Target & Long’s have them so far).
I find these a little confusing. Hershey’s came out with their new Bliss line, which includes milk chocolate meltaway. Why make a Kiss version?
That aside, the Kisses are molded, so they’re nicely uniform and shiny. The gold tinged foil has amber waves on it. The little flag, when fully unfurled says Meltaway Center. (Nice name for a chocolate themed spa, if you ask me.)
They smell like Hershey’s chocolate, a bit sour and like hot cocoa.
They’re a very soft bite, rather fudgy and a little grainy but a consistent melt. The center has a slight salty note to it, but overall it’s sweet enough to burn my throat.
The ingredients are a bit different from the previous Kisses too, they’ve completely eliminated all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.
With all that milk in there, maybe I’m not surprised that there’s 8% of your daily RDA of calcium for a serving of 9 Kisses.
I’ve had a few of these soft-centered Kisses now: Hot Cocoa and Chocolate Truffle and I’m sure if I tasted them in an array (a flight, is what the fine establishments call them these days) I could tell the difference. But at the moment it seems like a rehash of the same thing. I don’t know if these are supposed to take the place of the Chocolate Truffle (which is still listed on the Hershey’s site) but I don’t think it’d be a big deal if they did ... except that I liked the blue & silver foil on those.
Overall, they’re not exciting and they’re not new. But they are pretty good at what they’re doing. I don’t understand why Hershey’s has both Bliss Meltaways and Kiss Meltaways, but they’re making a profit in an overall down economy, so who am I to dissect their clouded marketing decisions?
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Since the introduction of chocolate covered espresso beans sometime in the seventies not much has changed. Oh sure, sometimes they’re milk chocolate covered ... sometimes dark chocolate and even white chocolate.
At the Fancy Food Show in January I did get to try what I thought was one of the best revisions of the classic caffeinated confection: JAVAZ.
First, they’re all natural and use organic, fair traded coffee beans. Second, they use good quality chocolate. Third, they have a candy shell. But most of all, they actually roast the coffee for eating. That is, instead of roasting it for optimal brewing, it’s roasted with the idea that someone is going to crunch & consume it.
They come in two varieties: Milk and Dark.
JAVAZ Milk are much larger than most chocolate covered coffee beans, so it’s a goodly dose of chocolate. I threw some coffee beans into the photo to show the scale.
They’re even larger than Peanut M&Ms.
They look like little bird eggs: a faint tan color with brown speckles.
The shell is thick and crunchy and the milk chocolate is sweet and has a strong dairy/milky flavor to it. The coffee bean at the center is crispy and light, I wasn’t getting the fibery, woody bits that some coffee candies seem to leave behind. The coffee beans don’t have that acrid, oily taste to them.
The whole thing tastes like coffee ice cream with crunchy bits.
Though there’s obviously caffeine in here it’s not as much as you might think: a 55 gram bag has about the same amount as a cup of coffee.
JAVAZ Dark are decorated in the reverse of the milk ones. The shell is brown with beige speckles.
The chocolate layer here is dark chocolate, though not “pure” in the sense that there’s some dairy in there (sorry vegans, but the confectioners glaze spoiled these for you anyway).
The chocolate is quite sweet and the punch of the coffee bean is nice and balances that sugary-ness quite well. I might have preferred a little more coffee flavor.
They’re substantially crunchy, I can’t say that these are a quiet way to get a caffeine boost.
I like how thick the shells are and how easy it is to hold them in my hand or just throw a few in my jacket pocket without the protection of the bag. As long as they stay dry, they do just fine. (Okay, maybe that’s not the most sanitary thing, but I’m just being honest about my road-testing of the product.)
The coffee is sourced from Indonesia and uses only Arabica beans and benefits the Indonesia Relief Fund.
They’re made in the USA and are Kosher. The packages are a little expensive ($3.00 for 1.94 ounces), but I expect that’s because they’re just starting out ... volume usually helps to even these things out and they’re only sold in the small package. Right now I can only find them on Foodzie, though they’ve been at some food trade shows so might be in cafes and gourmet delis as well.
Monday, June 1, 2009
The cream colored packet holds 1.5 ounces of green, white and brown milk chocolate morsels flavored with coconut.
As with most limited editions, the package is a bit slighter than the regular products. This one clocks in at 1.5 ounces instead of the normal 1.69 in a Milk Chocolate M&Ms pack.
The package is cute and playful, featuring Ms. Green reclining in the sand, leaning against a coconut filled with coconut M&Ms. In the background the Yellow Peanut M&M is falling out of a coconut palm laden with more coconuts.
The contents smell much like most M&Ms, sweet and slightly woodsy but only the slightest whiff of coconut.
The individual lentils are a bit puffier than regular M&Ms, though not as big as the Peanut Butter variety.
Inside they’re just milk chocolate but with an added touch of coconut flavoring (but no actual coconut to be found in the ingredients).
The chocolate is fudgy, the flavor is a little salty and tropical but with a strange yogurty tang (kind of like Hershey’s) ... the crunch of the shell is crisp.
On the whole, it’s a nice change-up, very appealing. It’s not something that I think deserves to be made part of the regular repertoire. But see the review on Hershey’s Almond Joy Pieces.
UPDATE 9/29/2009: Mars has announced that M&MS Coconut will become part of their permanent line of candies. You can expect them in stores starting in December 2009.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.