Wednesday, June 30, 2010
In the flurry of new Wonka products, I’ve neglected the most recent introduction in their Wonka’s Edible Garden Gummies line. The Wonka Whipped Wingers Gummies are definitely different from the usual translucent fare.
Like the other Wonka Gummies, these are free of artificial colors and flavors and are made with fruit juice (apple juice). They come in four shapes and four flavors: Watermelon, Orange, Pineapple and Tropical Punch.
The gummis come in four shapes: hornet, beetle, butterfly and midget dragonflies. Okay, I made those names up, I’m not an entomologist - I’m a candy reviewer.
The foamy texture is like a dense marshmallow, not quite fluffy but with a bouncy latex quality. This made them a little lighter than expected, so while the package had only 5.5 ounces in it, they definitely looked like “more” than a comparable non-fluffed product. (The standard packages for the Sluggles and Puckerooms come in 6.5 ounce peg bags.)
The candies were matte, soft and pillowy. They didn’t stick, which was nice for just setting them around on my keyboard.
Orange was perfectly ordinary. Tangy and juicy, but with a very bland flavor that reminded me of flavored drink powder.
Watermelon was pink and quite a surprise. I enjoyed it because there was no artificial metallic chemical note. It wasn’t quite like real watermelon, it was actually somewhere between a generic punch flavor and green apple but with a light floral note.
Tropical Punch was the soft purple one. The flavor was just like punch, a soft and non-distinct sort of thing with a little berry tang to it and a citrus note. It wasn’t my favorite of the set, but I also on got four of them in the bag.
Pineapple was yellow and the one I was looking forward to the most. It’s floral and tropical but the tartness is more along the lines of canned pineapple. Mild and merely pleasant in the whole scheme of things.
I enjoyed the chewy foamy texture (up until the point it gave me the burps). It seemed to give it a creamy texture without any actual dairy products in it. It was an odd sensation though, because they were squishy and pliable, it was like chewing on boneless baby toes (which I know is pretty tempting most of the time anyway).
I loved the shapes and the colors plus the fact that Wonka is making an effort to create candies with kid and tween appeal without artificial ingredients. The flavors weren’t as intense as I would have wanted, but the novelty of the texture kind of made up for that.
Though the other Wonka Gummies are made in the Czech Republic, these appear to be American. It’d be nice if Wonka could also make their products in less allergy-laden facilities. This one was made on shared equipment with wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and eggs. It also contains gelatin (since it’s a gummi) so it’s not vegetarian. One of the natural colors is cochineal, for those who avoid that (but I though it was kind of funny to have an insect shaped candy made with insects!).
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Nut brittle has to be one of the simplest and heartiest candies. It’s just a boiled mixture of corn syrup and sugar binding some nuts together. I’m rather keen on nut brittles, but they’re often difficult to eat and portion. A bar format solves most of that.
The Old Dominion Peanut Bar keeps it simple. There are only four ingredients: Peanuts, Sugar, Corn Syrup and Salt. That’s it, no preservatives ... not even any butter or cream, so it’s good for vegans. It’s a huge bar as well, 2.25 ounces for only 80 cents or so. Since it’s mostly peanuts there’s a lot of protein in there - 10 grams. Of course nuts also come with some fat, 8 grams in this case, but the sugar is actually pretty low for candy coming in at 20 grams ... and while we’re at it, 4 grams of fiber.
Technically I don’t consider this bar to be a brittle. A nut brittle has a little baking soda in it that makes the candy part bubble a little bit to create a foamy texture, easy crunch and lightly salty flavor. It’s different from a toffee coated nut as well, as toffee uses milk, butter and/or cream. So this is just a hard candy - a boiled sugar mixture that hardens and holds the nuts together while adding a sweet toasted sugar flavor.
As I’ve already mentioned, it’s dead simple. So the slab doesn’t necessarily look all that appealing. Unless you love peanuts. Then you’ll not only love the glossy abundance, but the wonderful fresh roasted scent.
The peanuts are also big. The crunch is very nutty, but the sugary coating has a nice toasted and salty flavor of its own. The fatty peanuts give it all a bit of a creamy toffee note even though there’s no dairy in there. The light color of the candy and nuts is a little deceptive, I though it’d be rather flavorless, but it’s quite deep. There’s a mix of the roasted notes of the peanuts which is sometimes grassy and sometimes quite dark like coffee. The bar is very filling. I honestly thought half of it was plenty for a little pick me up. While it tastes rather salty, it’s only 157 mg for the whole bar.
There are a few brands of these bars, the nationally distributed and easiest to find brands are the Mars Munch Bar (which has butter in it) and the Planters Peanut Bar. Since I found the Planters bar first, I thought I’d compare.
The Planters bar is 1.6 ounces and the same price at the Rite Aid. They’re distributed by Kraft, which now owns Planters nuts. The ingredients are a little more complex for a product where you get less: Peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, salt, peanut oil, TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness.
Aside from the size difference, they looked rather similar. The Planters bar had a bit more of a honey tone to the candy portion.
The taste of the Planters bar was a little more roasted and didn’t seem as fresh and crunchy as the Old Dominion. But it also had some darker toasted and charcoal notes that some folks might prefer.
The size difference and the fact that the Old Dominion doesn’t need any preservatives has me on their side for this one. The salt was more forward in the flavor profile, even though the salt concentration was similar. But in a pinch, I’d buy the Planters again.
These sort of nut bars are an excellent summer candy, they do well in the heat but still provide a powerful and satisfying mix of nuts with a sugary crunch and just the right hint of salt. They’re easy to carry around and even break up to share. They, however, don’t fare as well in damp conditions like high humidity unless consumed immediately.
So far I’ve been very pleased with the Old Dominion products I’ve been getting at the drug store. Very fresh and the fact that there are so few ingredients is actually refreshing.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Back around Easter I got a hold of some stunning looking 3-Dees gummis from Au’some. Of course those are a seasonal item, so I wanted to try their year round products. What sounded even better was their 3-Dees Natural Fruit Snacks. They’re large, three dimensionally molded gummis made with natural flavors and colors plus a little vitamin C. They come in four different animal shapes. On top of that Au’some donates 3% of their proceeds to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The back of the box has fun facts about each of the animals. Not the ordinary stuff like “elephants are big” instead I found them interesting for all ages, like “An elephant’s ears can be used to cool the body on a hot day.” and “Polar bears paddle with their front feet and steer with their hind feet when swimming.”
The box is pretty big, bigger than it probably needs to be, but formatted more like the fruit snack boxes in the breakfast cereal aisle than the candy packages.
The ingredients are printed in large type on the back, not the micro print down the side of the box. The first ingredient is a mix of fruit juices that includes pear, strawberry, apple, blueberry and orange from concentrate, then sugar, water, rice syrup, gelatin, citric acid, pectin, buffered lactic acid, spirulina and safflower extracts, sodium citrate, ascorbic acid, natural flavors, purple carrot extract and turmeric (both for color). They’re made in a nut free facility but it doesn’t say anything about the gluten status.
They’re called fruit snacks, but from the ingredients (and having eaten them) they’re gummis, just with a little bit nicer list of ingredients than the standard Trolli or Haribo available here.
There are eight little packets that hold about a 1/2 ounce (.56 ounces) portion - which is 50 calories. This portion is two gummis. Sounds kind of stingy, but they’re quite beefy. The flavors are Strawberry, Blueberry, Orange and Apple. They random colors and come in four shapes: Tiger, Polar Bear, Elephant and Chimpazee.
The gummis are amazingly crafted. They’re large, easy to handle and of course nicely detailed on all sides. Most stand up, like little pliable & edible statues.
Orange is quite tangy and juicy. It’s not quite zesty. The texture is soft and more like eating a very firm Jell-O than a German-style gummi. It’s moist and squishy and has a kind of crumbly bite ... not soft enough to liquefy through the teeth though.
Blueberry was red, rather like the strawberry one, but the taste is distinctive. The flavor is immediately a believable blueberry, a little like iced tea and a little like blueberry jam or pie. There’s a boiled sugar note to it, which I enjoyed. It’s a little tangy, but sweeter than the orange. There’s a little bitter note in there, like tea or sometimes the skins of blueberries can be.
The big difference between these and the Easter or Valentines ones, besides the ingredients is that they don’t come in little molds. The naturals ones get a little squished up, so for some of them I had to kind of help the trunk of the elephant or the chimpanzee had bad posture.
Apple was also an amber color, which makes sense because that’s what apple juice looks like. The flavor was a combination of the tangy “green apple” from Jolly Rancher and the more sedate and syrupy flavor of apple juice. There was an almost-fizzy bite to it that I liked. It was one of those candies that didn’t taste like an all natural compromise - completely mainstream in every way.
Strawberry was also reddish like the blueberry. I know the chimp is orange ... so pretend. It’s like a middle of the road strawberry jam. No seeds but a definite berry/floral vibe. It’s not as intense as the others, but just as pleasant.
The packaging didn’t wow me, but I’m guessing since children are the target here. The fact that they’re already in pouches in respectable portions is an attractive option for parents. I liked all of the shapes except for the Chimp. Of course I’d want a dolphin or sea lion or something, but maybe they’ll do a marine mammal version of them.
They’re less like fruit snacks and more of a true gummi, so again, less of a compromise for parents who don’t want artificial colors but still want their kids to feel indulged with a treat. They’re not terribly sticky either ... though everyone knows a six year old has magical powers to make everything sticky. (Don’t let small children play with them though, as they could be a choking hazard.)
While these are natural and sold as fruit snacks, there’s another version that’s not all natural that are sold in move theater style boxes. Inside they were individually wrapped. (I didn’t take a photo of them for review - but I found them at Walgreen’s, so they’re easier to come by.)
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Peter Paul Mounds bar is a classic. It’s a simple moist coconut center covered in dark chocolate. The bar was introduced in 1920 by Peter Paul in New Haven, Connecticut and quickly became one of their best sellers. Though Peter Paul made other bars over the years, the only two that remain are Mounds and the sister milk chocolate and nut bar, Almond Joy. In 1978 Peter Paul merged with Cadbury and then in 1988 Cadbury sold it off to Hershey’s, who continues the production today keeping the Peter Paul name on the product.
The candy is rather like a long version of a chocolate you’d find in a mixed box instead of a candy bar. The format of two pieces in a single package goes back to the 40s and remains today even though the wrappers have changed over the years. It’s one of the few bars that still has the little paperboard tray, and I must say that I appreciate it when it comes to getting the candy out and the fact that mine nearly always look pristine.
The dark chocolate coating is simple, with some slight ripples on the top. The pieces are rounded and have a great feel to them - easy to get out of the package, easy to bite and with two pieces it’s easy to share.
The dark chocolate can’t contain the coconut aroma. It’s a fresh and clean smell. The bite of the chocolate is good, it’s thick enough to hold the coconut and there are never any little leaky spots. But it doesn’t flake off or make a mess. The coconut is soft and chewy, moist and rather sweet at first. The dark chocolate keeps that sweetness from feeling too sticky and adds a woodsy and dark cherry note to the whole thing. The coconut has a long chew and usually tastes very fresh, though often not much more than that (no grassy fresh notes).
It’s a great combination and it endures because of its simplicity as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the few candy bars that I still pick up on top of all the other candy eating that I do. I wish the ingredients were a little “purer” as there are things like hydrolyzed milk protein and PGPR in there that I can’t recall eating as a child.
And of course no discussion of the Mounds bar would be complete without a mention (and inclusion) of the classic jingle “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t.”
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Italy has probably been a confectionery center for thousands of years. Before cane sugar came along candies were made from dates, honey and nuts. But when Italy became a center of trade in the Mediterranean and had access to white sugar they became a hotbed of candy invention.
The heart of this tradition is the panned sweet. A nut or seed is the starter and then layers of sugar or chocolate are added as they tumble in a bin (rather like a cement mixer). The bonus in this kind of candy making was that a thick sugar coating actually preserved the nut or seed at the center. So a candied almond or pistachio could be easily carried around without worry that they’d get rancid and of course they were ideal for gifting.
In 1833 William diCarlo was founded in Sulmona, Italy, an area known for confetti (panned nuts and seeds). Their traditional methods and care in selecting their ingredients is evident from the packaging, list of ingredients and the product itself. I was given this box of Perle di dolcezza by their distributor Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods in the United States after I saw them at the Fancy Food Show in January.
The box is a fascinating construction. It’s like a flower (see this page at Amazon). Pop the top off and the sides fold out, like origami. Inside that is a little clear cellophane bag nestled inside the foil lined box.
Let’s face it, they’re drop dead gorgeous candies from the outside. But the construction is just as tantalizing: they’re a hazelnut covered in rich chocolate and then a candy coating. The whole thing is finished with a bronzy sparkling layer.
They smell sweet and a little like roasted nuts, but not much like chocolate.
The shell is thick and very crispy. The nuts are well roasted, so they’re also crunchy with no hint of raw chewiness. The dark chocolate layer is thick, but not overpowering. So the whole thing munched together has an excellent balance between the nut and the chocolate. The shell is kind of odd, the pearly coating not only looks metallic, it tastes slightly metallic, kind of like pennies. Maybe that was my mind playing tricks on me, but it had a mineral salt flavor to it, like a strong mineral water with a little zinc or copper note.
I loved the look and the crunch with the fresh nut plus the good quality chocolate was definitely different - this is the M&M I’ve always wished existed. But the metallic taste to it was a little off-putting - like my mouth was saying “danger” so I was careful not to eat too many in one day. The price is something that would keep most mortals from chowing down on lethal levels anyway, I saw them on Amazon for $13.50 a package (that’s $49 a pound). So they’re definitely a “sometimes food” not an everyday indulgence. They’d be ideal for a small wedding/shower/party - and I’d probably mix them in with other not-so-expensive items as part of a favor or candy display.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I’ve been sampling their entire line so here’s the first and probably most approachable of the bunch: Perfect Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Roasted Peanuts.
The packaging is bold. I’ve had their bars before in the old look and honestly they didn’t impress me much. While some may not like the graphics, color combos and geometric patterns, I love them. They remind me of silk ties and scarves.
While the packaging has changed and the line has expanded, the format is the same.
The bars are a simple molding with four distinct segments. This makes portioning easy and for me half of the bar (two segments) was about 1.25 ounces and a satisfying amount. The dark chocolate is shiny and though I scuffed my bars a bit when bringing them back from the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, they were pristine in the flavor department.
The dark chocolate is rich and buttery with a quick and slick melt on the tongue. The roasted notes of the peanuts bleed through and add to the dark and slightly burnt flavors of the cocoa. It’s mostly a woodsy and earthy bar. The center has a snap to it, but it melts pretty readily. It’s studded with peanut chunks but the base is a peanut butter meltaway. It’s salty and crunchy and basically peanutty.
I enjoyed it thoroughly. It doesn’t satisfy me the same way that a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup does, but the crunches and the far superior chocolate experience makes it something else. Now, if all this sounds a little familiar, you might recognize the bar format as something that Target has in the Choxie line. So if you’re having trouble finding Seattle Chocolates, you can always try some Choxie Truffle Bars, which are about the same price.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Sour Punch Straws are a sour sanded fruity licorice made by the American Licorice Co.. They’re fun and certainly pack a lot of flavor, but they’re messy to eat and share. So the Sour Punch folks came up with Sour Punch Bits which are little nibs of fruity chewy with a similar sweet & sour sand. The fun part for me was that they came up with some new flavors. I got a hold of their new Sour Punch Bits Tangerine-Lemonade.
It comes in a theater box (but I think they also have peg bags), so it’s easy to dispense and share. And of course they’re meant for taking to the movies, so you can get that sour fix without a lap full of tart dust.
The pieces are small: about 3/4 of an inch long and 1/4 of an inch around. They’re not as “sanded” with the sour sugar powder as the Sour Punch Straws I’ve had before, but that’s okay with me. The only issue I had was that these were a little stickier. There are two flavors in each piece supposedly: lemon (yellow) and tangerine (orange) though actually separating them was nearly impossible.
They don’t smell like anything at all. Maybe a faint whiff of Play Doh or erasers.
They’re quite sour on the tongue right away, but also extremely flavorful. There’s an intense wave of citrus that hit me when I first bit into them - an almost bitter orange and lemon zest note. Even though there’s no real orange or lemon oil in there, it tasted like there was. The tart chew is firm, hearty and almost creamy because it has a starchy wheat base to it, instead of a taffy chew like Starburst. Still, there is some sticking to the teeth. They’re not really sour, just sour enough to make my mouth water, but not quite enough to get my neck tingling.
I liked them more than I thought I would initially. When I talked to some folks at American Licorice about them last year, they were positioning these as a sour treat for adults, instead of kids. I think they succeeded there. They’re a little chewier though and the bitterness got to me after a while, it certainly kept me from eating the whole package (which is technically two servings).
They also come in Lemon-Lime and Strawberry-Watermelon.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The licorice plant was not native to the area, it was likely brought in and planted sometime after the Crusades, sometime around the year 1000 or perhaps as late as 1090 when the Benedictine monks that came to the town to found their monastery. Licorice root was steeped and used like a syrup to sweeten drinks (or flavor spirits) and the roots were chewed as a treat. Sometime around 500 years ago the locals created a licorice confection known as Pontefract Cakes, which are really more of a little medallion of molasses-based licorice. The disks look rather like a coin or a blob of sealing wax. They don’t grow licorice in the area any longer, but there are still two factories that make the age old sweet: Haribo and Monkhill Confections (originally known as Wilkinson’s).
In fact, true Pontefract cakes were made by hand until the 60s. Rolls of licorice dough were pieced into little blobs and then hand stamped. These Haribo Pontefract Cakes preserve that hand-stamped look.
I was expecting these to be stiff and hard, like the continental European licorice. Instead they’re quite soft and pliable. They have a matte finish and feel like coins made out of silicone. I found that even though I didn’t seal up the bag well, they still didn’t get stale or tacky.
The early cakes had different embossed images in them, it’s said that they were of the Pontefract Castle, but this Haribo one is just a vague rectangle in the center (that might be a castle with a flag) and the Haribo Original name.
They smell sweet and a little herbal. Since these weren’t American-style licorice pieces (that usually contain wheat), I was expecting something a little smoother but perhaps a bit stronger. Instead I found quite a different flavor profile. First, it’s barely sweet. The sweetness is woodsy and rather delicate. The chew of the cake is soft and not quite gummy but more hearty than a gumdrop. There’s a little hint of salt to it (actually quite a bit 200 mg of sodium per serving) and the charcoal notes of molasses. The nice part about the flavor is that it’s a true licorice, not amped up anise. It’s mild and soothing.
They were a little weak to satisfy my licorice desires. I like a really hearty licorice with a lot of molasses with caramel, toasted sugar and charcoal notes, it seems to moderate the very sweet nature of true licorice. But these are easy to eat and though they stick to my teeth a little bit, the smoothness keeps me coming back for me.
These contain real licorice, so those with heath concerns with licorice extract should avoid it. It’s also made with gelatin, so it’s not for vegetarians or those who keep Kosher/Halal.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.