Friday, June 19, 2009
If there’s one thing I think that’s might pull our government out of the red, it might Mars excessive registration of trademarks for their limited edition & marketing tie in candies.
For the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie this summer, Mars has created a line of collectible M&Ms packages that feature different characters from the Transformers pantheon plus M&Ms in Transformers-styled outfits.
The seven packages:
(Yeah, I’m missing some package images, but that’s all that came with the press kit Mars gave me ... how odd.)
What I think is most interesting about this is that the package is the only thing that’s different (besides, of course the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms). Open up the packet of the M&Ms (mine was Bumblebee 2 of 7) and there’s no fun new design of the M imprint with a twist on the Transformers like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean Pirate Pearls, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Shrek II (basically Mega M&Ms). The Star Wars ones, though introducing Dark Chocolate M&Ms, did not have fancy imprints.
What is good news is that the packages are no smaller. With many of the limited editions what you get in addition to “specialness” is less. The Milk Chocolate Chocl-O-Bots packages have the same 1.69 ounces as the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
The only truly transformed product for the movie tie-in is the Snickers Nougabot (tm). Due to physical laws of the conservation of matter, the energy required for the transformations, the bar is smaller than an unTransformerized one. *
This isn’t the first time Mars has mucked with the nougat for a movie. Back in 2007 they turned it green for Shrek but left it the same size, because really, how could a Shrek-ified candy be smaller? The traditional bar is 2.07 ounces and the Nougabot is 1.83 ounces.
The difference, otherwise, is really just the addition of Yellow #5. Considering how much some parents hate Yellow #5 (hint: enough to get it banned in Europe), it’s hard to understand why a candy which was formerly artificial coloring free would add it. Further, the Snickers website doesn’t list the Yellow 5 on the page for the Nougabot bar (sorry, can’t link directly to the page because of stupid flash & beware of annoying sounds).
So how does it taste? About the same. The flavor seemed a little “darker” but I don’t know if that was the caramel batch ... sometimes even big factory candies like Snickers can vary from day to day.
The only thing I liked about it is the same thing that I prefer about the Snickers Dark, that there’s one less bite in it. Because honestly I think that 1.83 ounces is the perfect size for a Snickers bar.
* My theory of this kind of violates the whole world of Transformers and many other fantasy, action & sci-fi movies where small things turn into big things without the perceivable addition of extreme amounts of energy. Anyway, in order to turn back and forth without loss of mass, you’d need lots of energy to turn into matter ... conversely to shrink you’d need to have a way to store a huge reservoir of energy (if you wanted to grow again) or release it. I’ve always wondered if Alice became super-dense when she shrank and puffy, aerated & light when she grew.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
There are a lot of confections I call traveling candies. They’re candies that both deliver that sweet boost as well as some other function. I often use hot cinnamon for long car rides to keep me focused and of course coffee items like Nips or Coffee Rio are great for a teensy caffeine boost without fluids.
I also tend to get motion sickness, so ginger candies are a great way to feed my sweet tooth and soothe my tummy.
Here’s a candy from The Ginger People that combines both the soothing spice of ginger and the kick of coffee: Hot Coffee Ginger Chews.
The chews are just like the other ubiquitous Ginger Chews that are available unbranded at Asian markets or from The Ginger People or Chimes. (They’re all made in Indonesia.)
The soft little translucent chew is coated with a tapioca starch & sugar mixture. They still stick to the wrapper and don’t really look like much when pulled out. Sometimes I can find one that’s still block shaped, but most are smashed.
The scent is rather bland. Just sweet and maybe a little woodsy. But I popped one my mouth and the immediate sweetness gave way to quite a few flavors. There’s a strong root & earth component from the ginger then a very strong spicy warm feeling. The coffee kind of kicks in from the background - it’s rather weak coffee note but not tamed by any milk here like so many coffee candies do. It’s a brewed black coffee flavor.
It makes me wonder why I don’t throw sliced ginger into my coffee. It’s a really nice combination - the sugar is sweet but more like barley sugar with a mellow malty or toasted flavor to it.
The cumulative effect of these after a half a dozen is a strong and lingering warm sensation. (And a few little bits stuck in my teeth.)
The drawbacks to these are, first, that they’re vexing to get out of their wrappers. The plastic/mylar stuff is hard to tear open, and never quite opens the whole way. Not exactly easy to open yourself when driving. (This is what navigators were invented for ... not directing you where to go, but to unwrap & hand you your candy.)
Each piece has about 20 calories and no fat. If there’s caffeine in it, it’s not enough for them to note on the package (it’s a coffee extract so it’s not like some candies where you consume the whole bean). Their website says they’re gluten free (but the package doesn’t). They’re made in a facility that processes peanuts. Should be considered vegan, there’s no Kosher or Halal certification.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Spearmint Leaves are such a simple candy. A firm jelly molded in the shape of a mint leaf and flavored with spearmint oil (or a reasonable facsimile).
I don’t how long they’ve been around (earliest mention on Google’s news archive is 1928). There’s no fantastical tale of their historical debut at any World’s Fair or even a county fair. They’re probably just a novelty shape of a traditional spice gumdrop. I don’t know who invented them or even who makes the best ones. Even passably good ones are good enough for me.
They’re sold without any fancy brand names, simply Spearmint Leaves. You can get them in bulk, in tubs at the office supply stores or in peg bags at the drug stores.
The ingredients are identical to gum drops. They’re sugar, corn syrup and a bit of corn starch for jelling. Then a little artificial flavor & color to complete the illusion of a platform shoe equivalent of a real leaf of mint.
I picked up my package of Walgreen branded Spearmint Leaves from their 99 cent peg bag selection. I usually look for bags that appear dry and the candies move around easily but that the candies also have a little give when squeezed. Too much moisture is an enemy of jelly candies. It makes the granulated sugar coating sticky and allows their qi to leak out.
I picked a good bag. The color is rather light and oddly on the blue side. The shape of the leaf is a bit narrower at the top than the bottom and has a nice point to it on the end with a little stem. So the molding is nice. The granular sugar coating is good - there’s enough to keep them from sticking but not so much as to overpower the flavor.
The texture inside is smooth. It’s not sticky (at least not as sticky as Dots) and not too sweet. The spearmint notes are dead on - aromatic and kind of sparkly. There are small spots where the spearmint flavor really tingles to the forefront.
It’s a fresh feeling, but not like eating a mint. I can eat a whole bag if I don’t control myself. They’re even still good when stale and a bit tacky.
I know they’re not the sexiest, hippest candy but to be around this long without any sort of marketing support is a testament to their excellence.
Other big candy companies that make Spearmint Leaves are Brach’s & Farley’s and probably others, if you have a favorite, please let me know. It’d be nice to find a company that makes all natural ones (which really shouldn’t be that hard to do) - the closest I’ve come are the fruit flavored gourmet Gum Drops from Whole Foods.
This package isn’t marked Kosher and it says that it’s a product of Canada & USA (I can’t quite figure that one out). They are marked Gluten-Free. (And are probably also considered vegan.) They’re also silly-cheap, so it’s a low risk sort of thing.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
As I was on my little candy walkabout late last week I noticed a lot of popular candies have a tropical flavor mix. So I decided to start picking them all up and do a little roundup.
For the most part I consider the tropical flavors to be pineapple, mango, papaya, durian (not that I advocate its use), carambola (starfruit), passionfruit, banana, lychee, guava and coconut. Citrus goes in there but things like strawberries and melons are definitely not a tropical fruit (my rule is if it can be grown in Ohio, it’s not tropical).
First, I have to say that I’ve never had Nerds Rope before. It arrived on the scene sometime after my candy experimental days (you know, when you’re a kid) but before it was launched as a new product during my Candy Blog phase.
But the concept is simple, a sticky gummi rope is rolled in Nerds. In this case it’s a Tropical Nerds Rope.
The candy is kind of odd in that it’s rather over-packaged and overpriced (look how long the rope is compared to the wrapper). It’s less than an ounce but costs the same as a regular candy bar. But then again, it’s a 100 calorie snack! (90 to be precise.)
There are no flavors actually mentioned on the packages, just eensy images of Nerds in swim trunks and flower leis. In this case the gummi cord at the center is a sparkly green. The tangy Nerds are mostly pineapple tasting.
The chewy center and excellent Nerd stickage makes this much less messy than I had anticipated. The combination of textures and flavors is really nice. I enjoy the pineapple quite a bit (maybe some papaya in there) and don’t really feel the need to try any other flavor after this. (I could see a build your own rope kit too, a little length of gummi and kids could roll their own.)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Made in USA by Wonka/Nestle)
Now and Later were off limits to me for a long time, mostly because I thought they were too risky for my teeth. But now that I have a good dentist, I’m not as apt to give into such unfounded fears.
Tropical Now and Later has a flavor assortment that’s right up my alley: Mango Melon, Pineapple and Banana. (I’ve never met a yellow flavor I didn’t like.)
Often mango flavored candies taste a lot like peach to me. And peach flavored candies often taste more like over-syruped peach pie than actual peaches. This was pretty much like that. The dominant flavor was of the musky mango with a little cantaloupe thrown in.
It got tangier the more I chewed, which I enjoyed, because that took over the flavor profile for the most part.
These are everything you’d expect from a banana taffy. Bold and artificial tasting with a strange blast of dry cleaning smell in the back of my throat and the old standby - fingernail polish remover.
Still, I love banana taffy.
This is only slightly lighter than the Banana, but luckily they print the name of the flavor on there.
Tangy and fruity but with a strange, warm Play Doh note in the middle.
I found them pretty much irresistible even if they were rather fake.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Made in Mexico by Farley’s & Sathers)
On the back of the box of Mike and Ike Tropical Typhoon is a flavor guide. It includes little images of fruits: banana, kiwi, lime, mango, strawberry and pineapple (also on the front).
The flavors, on the other hand, don’t quite match up.
Blue = Caribbean Punch: the initial flavor is a bit green & pine-ish. Then it becomes more punch-like. It’s all sweet and no tangy.
Peach = Mango: a little tart at first, then rather floral. Not exactly mango but definitely not peach and the longer I chewed the closer it got to the rosemary notes that mangoes have.
Red = Strawberry-Banana: the initial note here is sweet banana, then a little strawberry bobs by for a little floral note.
Green = Kiwi-Banana: it starts like the strawberry banana but then just stops ... it’s not that it’s an all banana flavored Mike and Ike, but just half-flavored. Some of them had a slight tangy melon flavor on the shell, but not all of them and it certainly didn’t taste like kiwi to me.
Pink = Paradise Punch : just a slight tingle of tangy in there, but it’s mostly a sweet punch flavor ... like the Caribbean Punch but without the strange balsam notes.
Overall, too much like the original Mike and Ike - too bland and not enough real punchy flavor in there. I really wanted some pineapple flavor in there, too. I’ll stick to Tangy Twister (which has Pineapple) or the Alex’s Lemonade Stand mixes.
Rating: 6 out of 10. (Made in USA by Just Born)
I have to say that I’ve always regarded the Tootsie company as rather traditional and slow to adopt to changing American tastes. But then it’s like they have this strange rebellious group known as the Dots Makers. They’re fully encouraged to do bizarre flavor assortments from the crazy Ghost Dots at Halloween (to be paired with Bat Dots this year which are Blood Orange flavored - which I would have called Blood Dots) then the Yogurt Dots but the real innovation came in the limited edition line called Elements that came in single flavor packages of Cinnamon, Green Tea, Wintergreen and Pomegranate.
So Tropical Dots are kind of tame in comparison, but they must be popular because they’ve been around since 2003.
Bright Pink = Tropical Nectar: it tastes like Hawaiian Punch with a strong bitter aftertaste. Sweet, tangy and definitely with that “tropical candy flavor” that I think is papaya.
Orange = Wild Mango: tart and rather citrusy with a pretty good imitation of mango flavor in there. Still tastes like the mango version of Tang.
Turquoise = Paradise Punch: an insane color for a candy, it’s rather similar to the Tropical Nectar but with more of a citrus twang to it and less aftertaste.
Yellow = Grapefruit Cooler: why didn’t someone tell me there was a grapefruit Dot? These are fabulous and I want to buy them by the box. The first notes are tangy then there’s a deep zesty flavor that has a black cherry note to it that dissipates and then it’s just a nice grapefruit & citrus flavor.
Green = Carambola Melon: - when my mother came to visit last time we went to a new Korean market in Little Tokyo (that replaced my favorite market, Mitsuwa). They had these little melons called Korean Melons ... they were small, about the size of a papaya or mango. Bright yellow with some mild bumps and distinct ridges. I bought two. I cut them up and was rather unimpressed with the flavor - like weak Musk Melon. The problem was later in the evening I kept smelling something like garbage. I turned out it was the melon. (I really like the idea of a one-serving melon though.)
Anyway, this one is supposed to be starfruit and melon. I don’t know starfruit that well. I usually eat it off of garnishes at dessert displays, but I’ve never actually bought my own from the produce department and tasted it. It had a rather musty taste to it that was also on the violet side of things ... it was just weird, but not in a terrible way, just in a “this is new to me” way.
The box was wrapped in cellophane so the Dots were soft and fresh. This didn’t stop them from sticking to my teeth, but still, it’s worth it for their smooth texture.
Rating: 7 out of 10. (Made in USA by Tootsie)
The final item on my list is Tropical Razzles.
Like all Razzles, they look terrible out of the package.
Yellow = Pineapple: Nice tangy burst but with a light flavor & texture of a chewable vitamin C tablet. It holds its flavor pretty well, though becomes less tart and more sweet towards the end when it becomes as appealing and chewed paper.
Pink = Strawberry-Banana: nice mix of strawberry & banana notes, almost reminds me of the old Wacky Wafers at first. Chewing too long just disappoints, I vote for spitting out when it become sweet but the grain wanes.
Red = Tropical Punch: definitely like Hawaiian punch. Strong bitter aftertaste & cherry notes towards the end. The gum was much tougher on this one too.
Orange = Tangerine: more orange than tangerine. The tangy notes aren’t as forward as some of the others. When the flavor is gone there’s a weird metallic aftertaste.
Green = Kiwi-Lime: if there was kiwi in here, I missed it completely. This was lime. Very lime, nicely tangy with a little bitter zest note (or maybe the food coloring).
Overall, I think that Razzles suffer from too much artificial coloring. After chewing the pieces they’re extremely dark & vibrant ... that’s a lot of food coloring. If I wanted to treat it like candy (which I do), it means a lot of sticky leftover bits in a very short period of time.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Made in Canada by Concord Brands)
Monday, June 15, 2009
On Friday I took a little trip up to Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios to see what the state of candy is there.
This wasn’t the first time I was there, I visited with Sera from The Candy Enthusiast last summer, but this time it was during the day and I had more time to browse around and take notes (instead of just buying candy).
There are three main shops that have candy and each offers a bit of a different menu.
This shop is quite bold and colorful. The inventory is also pretty wide. It includes many fine chocolate bars from local companies like Chuao to brands like Santander, Ritter Sport, Valor, Cadbury, Green & Blacks, Lindt & Ghirardelli and packaged chocolate candies from Turin & Marich plus some generic chocolate blocks.
But what is most interesting about this shop, especially for those who are travelers and want to experience something different, is the candy case.
On my first visit there I picked up some fun items like candied pumpkin and candied sweet potato. This time around all these seemed to have were tamarind balls (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and only two varieties of a version of dulce de leche that’s like a Mexican style Penuche. Then there were the mango & chili items plus other traditional tamarind confections.
The prices were decent, especially for the fudge. For the prepackaged chocolate bars it’s quite a bit steeper. For the Ritter Bars they were $3, the Valor were $5 ... a stop a the Target or Cost Plus World Market within a stone’s through would be about a third off.
Then there’s the stuff in the barrels. Real Mexican candy like Pulparindo, Pelon Pelo Rico, de la Rosa Mazapan & ChiliBonchas. All for the low, low price of $11.90 per pound. Go to just about any grocery store in Los Angeles and the same stuff is about $2 or $3. But hey, that’s what vacation is all about - overpaying for most of the things you don’t allow yourself to buy at home.
The nice thing is that theming isn’t like everything else. It’s not sterile, it’s not overly precious ... it’s just a candy shop that acts like a candy shop. The counter help seemed rather knowledgeable about their candy offerings and seemed partial to the flavors of the Mexican & Latin American items. They also serve hot chocolate.
Sparky’s is more than a candy store, think of it as a gift store with a collector’s bent. They have Pez, lots and lots of Pez. Plus other little items in licensed lines Hello Kitty, Betty Boop and Hot Wheels.
They have the standard bulk candies like Jelly Belly and a rather large selection of specialty flavored taffy. But mostly they have packaged candy with the theme of classics & nostalgic offerings. Theater size boxes of all the standards (that are usually on sale for a dollar at the drug store are $3 here). Hard to find candy bars like Sky Bar, every flavor of Charleston Chew, all of the Annnabelle’s bars, Clark Bars, Idaho Spuds and Bottlecaps. Those felt a little more reasonable at $1.50 (my local 7-11 is charging $1.29 for candy bars now).
The staff here also seemed to really know their candy, I witnessed as they were able to direct a customer to a bar based only on the description of it (turned out to be a Sky Bar).
This completely tricked out and themed candy store is the largest by far. The spartan white walls & displays include some amazing original art direction.
Instead of going for childish renditions of candy & rainbows, they’ve done some really nice work here to set themselves apart. It’s part Sephora and part Juicy Couture. (Definitely geared towards women.) Glam candy. Pre-sexualized for your fetish-ization.
I know it sounds like I’m critical of it, but I rather enjoyed the imaginative photos gracing the walls - women swimming with Swedish Fish. Gummi Worms eaten with chopsticks by a stylized Geisha. A full on 18th Century French pouf wig made of red licorice on a starkly powdered face with bright lips to match (image here).
The bulk bins go for $11.60 a pound and feature mostly sugar candy. They have a nice selection of dextrose candy like Cry Baby Tears and more generic items in different shapes & colors like Runts & bananas. There are plenty of gummis, from single flavor bears from Albanese to some of their more spectacular creations like the Gummy Butterflies. Gummi cherries & Peach Rings as well as the various sour belts. Then there are standards like Good n Plenty, licorice twists, Lemonheads, Cinnamon bears, Hot Tamales and so on. There is a small selection of chocolate items in bulk, just chocolate covered nuts, a few gourmet malt balls and mini Butterfinger type bars.
In the candy bar area, they are similarly stocked & priced as Sparky’s, though they carry a few more of the penny candy style items like paper dots and wax lips.
Then at the very back of the store is the M&Ms Color Wall. Every color of M&MS you could want, make your own custom mix. (Same with Jelly Belly.)
I found the Wazoo bars there (very hard to come by these days) so I picked up the Wild Berriez I hadn’t tried yet and some pretty looking dextrose candies, a crazy set of gumballs plus a few other munchables. I got out of there for less than $5 and my parking validated.
The biggest selling point, besides just a fun place to gawk at candy is the merchandising of candy brands. You can get ear buds branded with Sugar Babies, lip balm or gloss in a gajillion different candy flavors, coffee mugs, crazy tee shirts, a Twizzlers messenger bag, pillows shaped like your favorite candies ... there’s a lot of non-edible stuff in there.
IT’SUGAR is a small chain with stores in all the hot tourist spots: Atlantic City, Myrtle Beach plus smaller outposts in Miami, Long Island, San Diego, London, Manchester, New York City, Las Vegas and Ft. Lauderdale.
There’s definitely something to satisfy your sweet tooth if you’re at Universal CityWalk. (The insiders trick is to valet park for 2 hours for free with validation on weekday afternoons, see their current rules.)
Universal Sudios CityWalk (Hollywood)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.