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.)
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