Friday, April 29, 2011
Marmite is a popular spread in the United Kingdom and other countries of the crown such as South Africa and New Zealand (though each has a different variation). It’s made from yeast extract and is rich in B vitamins. It was popular during the wars especially because it provided important vitamins and minerals for children that were otherwise scarce in their protein poor diets. In addition to the yeast extract there are some other flavorful vegetable additives such as onion, garlic and celery.
The idea of adding savory items and flavors to chocolate is not new. However, Marmite is probably one of the most savory of all ingredients as it’s pretty much pure umami with a little dash of salt. Umami is one of the five tastes that we can perceive with the tongue. The savory notes of food are made up of glutamates and nucleotides. Things can be savory even without salt, think of unsalted beef broth.
The peculiar part of this chocolate makes up very little of its bulk. The ingredients list that 98% of the bar is milk chocolate. The remaining 2% is Marmite.
My desire to eat this bar is very low. I’ve never had Marmite, but I have tried Vegemite, a similar product from Australia. It’s quite salty and has a strong savory flavor with a hint of vegetable broth. It was very smooth, almost like a jelly. After photographing this bar I left these little pieces pictured here on the shooting table but sealed up the rest of the package for later sampling. I intended to return and put the chocolate away after dinner, but didn’t get around to it for several days. When I returned to the room (which I keep shut up, because I have a dog), I feared that I had an insulation fire. It smelled strange, there was a hot, burnt plastic smell in the room. So I felt the walls and inspected the outlets and turned all the lights on and off. I went outside and looked at the house and sniffed around in the closets above the chocolate studio. Later I came back into the room and realized that it was the little pile of chocolate pieces.
I admit my mind is not open.
Opening the package again, it’s not really a burnt smell that I was greeted with. It was the smell of vitamins. You know, that vaguely yeasty smell that comes with those horsepills that are fortified with B vitamins and maybe even a few minerals. It’s not bad and maybe there’s a little hint of milk in the background. I’m trying to adjust my head to think that it’s molasses and other earthy flavors that I enjoy.
The snap is good and the initial bite gave me a mild salty note along with the milky chocolate. It’s a little malty and yes, there’s a savory and peppery sort of taste to it, kind of like cheese. But there’s also a little hint of the sulfurish onion and garlic. There’s also a little mineral note towards the end that reminds me of dried milk, sweat and that weird flavor in the back of my throat when I have a sinus infection. There’s also a lot of salt, about 300 mg per bar, which is about 100 mg per serving.
I’d say that it’s okay. I think the idea of a yeast extract infusion to add flavor and vitamins to chocolate isn’t a bad one, but the fact that there are those more vegetable flavors in there does not create a pleasant combination.
I admit I only had about four bites of this stuff. While it is peculiar, it’s not enough to keep me interested enough to continue eating it.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
These are Trolli Gummi Bear-Rings. Yeah, just like the name says.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It’s hard to find a good gum these days. I was looking for sugarless gum, something to clean my mouth between meals. But I also didn’t want something filled with artificial sweeteners. I detest things like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. The other option for sugarless is Xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol which has a light, and very sweet flavor profile and a cooling effect which is ideal for gum. Xylitol is also show to be helpful in reducing plaque build up in the mouth between brushing that can lead to tooth decay.
PUR Gum is made with xylitol and is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. The gum comes in three flavors: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. It’s sold by Action Candy Company, based in Canada. I picked up these samples from the Frey company at the candy fair ISM Cologne earlier this year. It’s available in Canada and via online stores from Canada, though I expect it to be more widely available in the US soon.
The Peppermint pieces are nicely sized. They’re 3/4” long and 1/2” wide. They’re smooth and softly shiny. Two pieces are a good portion as suggested by the package. The mint is strong and quite cool as a result of the xylitol sweetener. As I’ll mention here quite a bit, the chew at first is a little tough, but it does mellow out.
The peppermint is clear and strong, there’s a light burn to it that continues for at least fifteen minutes into the chew. The sweetness doesn’t last long, but I’m fine with that.
Spearmint (in green) is racy. The chew is cool and fresh, but really strong. It’s Altoids strong. I find it burns a bit. The chew is soft at first but gets a bit stiffer as the coolness fades.
Even towards the later part of the chew, the minty flavor stays strong and the texture of the gum does loosen up quite a bit. The mint is green and penetrating without that grassy flavor that fresh muddled spearmint laves have.
The blister packs are nicely made. I understand the necessity for certain kinds of candy being sealed up like this, even though it takes up a lot of space. The pieces were easy to get out and the little paperboard sleeve was light and spare (and recyclable).
Pomegranate Mint in the pink accented package is different. The first note is a woodsy tangy thing that’s a bit floral and a bit minty. Then it’s very cool on the tongue, which is the xylitol. It’s all very busy. It’s not that the flavors or textures or temperatures are incompatible, it’s that they’re just not integrated. So it’s noisy, like three radio stations bleeding through on the stereo at once. But after a while with the chew it calms down and things start working a little better. The coolness fades and it’s just a mellow sweetness, the woodsy notes of the pomegranate and a light dryness comes out and then a fresh mint flavor. The texture of the gum base varies. At first it’s soft and mushy, then it seizes up and is quite tough for a while ... then towards the end (as in, maybe ten minutes, which is about the limit for a piece of gum for me) it softens up again. At the very end it still retains its minty notes but all the sweetness is gone.
Xylitol is an excellent substitute for sugar in specific applications like gum or mints and is good for folks who can’t have sugar, like diabetics. It’s not a calorie-free food though, two pieces of gum have 10 calories. There are also some white tea extracts in there, which may be added for flavor or perhaps for antioxidants. They don’t seem to make it worse but probably make it more expensive.
Some people are sensitive to the effects of xylitol. Such effects include abdominal gas and diarrhea. These effects are reported with larger portions than are found in chewing gum though, there is one gram of xylitol in each piece of gum and tests were showing effects when consuming over 65 grams per day. Also note that dogs are especially sensitive to xylitol which can cause seizures and liver damage, so please don’t let your dog have gum or mints made with any sugar alcohol - in fact, just don’t give you dog any candy at all.
I know that chewing gum with xylitol is probably really good for me as a between meal pick me up and substitute for candy snacking, and this version is already tops on my list. I didn’t care for the pomegranate at all, but the other two mint flavors are great. Now if I could just find someplace to actually buy it.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Nabisco Oreos were one of my favorite cookies. Most of what I like though is the crispy and crumbly dark chocolate cookie. Their initial form, the Oreo Biscuit, was introduced in 1912 and later became the format we know today with the molded sandwich cookie in 1952. One of the best mashups ever invented using Oreos was Cookies ‘n’ Cream Ice Cream. There are so many things you can do with Oreos, so it seems a little odd that Nabisco never came out with their own Oreo chocolate bar in the United States. Perhaps it’s their complacency that they’re the most popular cookie in the country. In Asia though, Nabisco tries harder. They have Oreo Chocolate Bars.
I picked up the Nabisco Oreo Bitter Bar at the Japanese market. The standard Oreo Bar has a cream filling with bits of chocolate cookies embedded in it, then the whole thing is covered in chocolate. When I looked at the ingredients on this bitter bar, I was pleased to see the intensity of the chocolate ingredients and decided that maybe this could be the ideal marriage of the Oreo Cookie and the candy bar.
The wrapper is in the familiar Oreo Blue color but decorated with a cacao pod and a little gold ribbon that says bitter in the center. The back of the wrapper is in Japanese though my imported one has a little English sticker on it with the ingredients & nutritional panel.
The bar isn’t that big, it’s only 1.35 ounces, so it weighs less than a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (1.5 ounces) but still manages to contain 216 calories. The wrapper is 6.5” long but the actual bar is only 4.5”. I can’t complain since the bars I bought were pretty flawless looking, so it must have done a nice job of protecting the contents.
The bar smells toasty and sweet, like a cup of hot chocolate. The bite is firm, the center isn’t a soft truffle, instead it’s kind of like a firm cream, like the center of a Frango. There are cookie bits mixed into the dark chocolate center, so the melt isn’t quite smooth because of the crumbs. There is a distinct bitter note of charcoal and deep cocoa
The chocolate coating outside is not terribly dark but is really creamy and smooth.
The ingredients impressed me for the most part, no tropical oils, no partially hydrogenated fats. It’s all milk and cocoa butter. Sure there’s sugar in there and even a small amount of high fructose corn syrup (in the cookie part, I believe), but I overlooked that.
I loved this bar. Absolutely loved it. I bought one while shopping with my sister in Little Tokyo with no intention of reviewing it, then after eating it I went back and bought three more. They were $2.19 each, and I’m pretty price conscious, so that alone is an endorsement. However, most other reviews I saw of it online were underwhelming. I can see their point, it is a little dry and kind of single note with the bitter chocolate cookie dominating.
Monday, April 25, 2011
P-Nuttles are a pure comfort candy. I associate them with vending machines and truck stops, and I can see why they’d be a favorite snack for both situations. They’re loaded with satisfying protein from the peanuts and a sweet crunch from the toffee coating. Throw in a little salt and it’s has a bit of a savory kick that makes it as much a snack food as a candy.
Peanuts that are individually covered in toffee are far easier to eat then barks or brittles, so I also congratulate Adams & Brooks on solving that dispensing issue.
I saw this new flavor announced last year at the Sweets and Snacks Expo and finally found it at my neighborhood Walgreen’s: P-Nuttles plus Coconut.
The concept is pretty simple, fresh roasted peanuts are coated in a coconut toffee. In addition to the toffee peanuts, a few coconut jelly beans are also thrown into the mix.
The peanuts are not large, but most are fresh and tasty. I ate about half of the bag and found only one bad nut. (It’s never fun, but this is the hazard with using natural ingredients.) The toffee coating varies, some had barely a sheen on them, but others a hefty shell. The flavor is sweet with a light touch of butter. The saltiness varies widely, as does the coconut flavor. Some were quite tropical tasting and others were very salty. I rather liked the variation. The jelly beans are small and pack a pretty good coconut zap. They’re sweet and chewy, though not terribly soft.
I didn’t get any coconut texture in any of this, which I quite enjoy. But the tropical coconut notes were a welcome addition to a rather comforting but bland peanut and toffee experience. I didn’t think I’d care of mixing jelly beans, a decidedly non-organic sort of texture product, with the more artisan peanuts covered in toffee. However, it worked very well. The smooth and consistent flavor of the jelly beans was a welcome sort of dependability when contrasting the varying peanuts and their cloaks of toffee.
Adams Brooks will be introducing more twists on the classic P-Nuttles later this year: P-Nuttles Peanuts Smokey Style and P-Nuttles Peanuts Chili*Lime.
The jelly beans contain confectioners glaze, so this combination is not vegetarian.
Friday, April 22, 2011
The Choceur Milk Chocolate Flame Egg is 12.4 ounces of chocolate for only $3.99. It’s an impressive presentation of chocolate. The packaging is a paperboard sleeve over a huge blue or pink mylar wrapping. The egg is about six inches high and made as two separate hemispheres. Each side is wrapped in gold foil then taped together with a pretty sticker with red butterflies on it. Inside the egg is a little cellophane bag with candies. In the Pink Flame Egg is a bag of milk chocolate eggs with vanilla creme wrapped in gold foil. In the other egg is a little assortment of hazelnut chocolates.
The candy is made in Germany. The package says that it’s all real milk chocolate and has no artificial flavors or colors
They traveled quite well, considering the fact that my mother bought them in Ohio, then took the train to Philadelphia then all the way back to Los Angeles. One of the eggs had a little dent in it, like someone put a thumb through it, though none of it damaged the packaging, so I felt it was still good to eat.
The milk chocolate shell is, well, milky and sweet. It’s European style milk chocolate, so the milk flavors echo that of dried milk a bit, so there’s a little malty note. It’s smooth, but not silky like Dove or Lindt. The tempering is good, everything was shiny and crisp.
The Pink Sleeve version had a small assortment of chocolates inside. There were four different candies with an elegant presentation. They were a little scuffed up here and there, since they were inside a bag inside the egg instead of a little tray.
The dark chocolate faceted piece is Nougat in Milk Chocolate. It was a milk chocolate cream with hazelnut paste and hazelnut pieces in a very mild dark chocolate shell.
The star for me was the Soft Caramel Covered with Crisp Rice and Milk Chocolate piece that looks kind of like a miniature 100 Grand bar. And it was rather similar. The center was a milk chocolate cream nougat which was covered in caramel then the crisped rice mixed into the milk chocolate. It was sweet but had a lot of texture, a little chewy and a little crunchy.
The Hazelnut Trio was a little row of hazelnuts inside what looks like a mountain range. The white chocolate topping was sweet and quite milky while the fresh but small hazelnut at the center of each mountain lent a large crunch to the whole thing.
The red foil wrapped chocolate is Milk Chocolate with Apricot Flavored Center. I didn’t read the package before I ate the first one, so I really didn’t know what it was. The center is a very soft and creamy ganache with a fruity flavor that I thought might be some sort of fruit liqueur, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s sweet but has a light melon or actual apricot note to it.
The second egg in the Blue Sleeve had more than a dozen large gold foil wrapped eggs inside. The package calls them Cream Filled Milk Chocolate Eggs.
The eggs are very long and narrow, a little over 1.5 inches long. The matte foil is quite pretty and I have to say that nestling the eggs into the half of the chocolate shell and placing it on a platter is a lovely presentation.
The center is soft and creamy with only a slight grain to it, like a good vanilla buttercream frosting. The flavors aren’t intense though the milky notes of the chocolate do take over. It’s a lot of sweet at all once, but thankfully there’s a light salty note to it as well. The center is made from palm fat, so I’d suggest a little moderation on that front and perhaps stick to the milk chocolate egg shell.
While I don’t think I’d just buy these for eating, I loved the look of them and for less than $4 for 3/4 of a pound of actual chocolate, I’d call it an excellent value. It’s a great option for a household with children, who are more likely to dig into the sweeter sides and of course everyone like gigantic versions of everyday items.
The Choceur Milk Chocolate Bunny is 5.29 ounces and made of German chocolate. It resembles the Lindt chocolate bunny quite a bit, though when unwrapped it has some little molded details that the Lindt rabbit lacks. At $1.99, it’s an excellent deal. It’s sizable and easy to eat, as it’s a hollow bunny.
The foil decorating is charming and nicely done to accentuate the shapes like legs, ear contours and mouth.
It’s absolutely charming as well, and by that I mean the little collar it wears has an actual metal charm with a rabbit silhouette on it. The elastic gold band is sized about right for a child or small adult (I had it around my wrist for a few hours this morning without any loss of circulation).
A Lindt Rabbit is about twice the price (I saw them for $3.99 this season) and weighs only 3.5 ounces. This rabbit is 5.29 ounces. It should be noted that this is not Lindt chocolate. Choceur, Aldi’s house brand of chocolate, is made in Germany. It’s the same, as far as I can tell, as the egg shells of the Flame Eggs. It’s sweet and milky and with only the slightest cocoa notes to it. Still, it’s pleasant and if you’re presenting this to a child, they will not be disappointed. It’s a beefy looking, rotund little rabbit with thick walls and a good shape. So if you’re going for true chocolate quality and flavor, go for Lindt (or even more upscale with Lake Champlain or See’s). The value here is certainly better than the American options but the flavor profile is certainly in the European style.
It’s National Jelly Bean Day and it’s fun that this year it falls on Good Friday, just before the high holy day of Jelly Beans, Easter.
These jelly beans are from Jelly Belly. I got them at the ISM Cologne candy fair and they’re a little different from something you’d get in North America, they’re Mooncake Jelly Belly.
Mooncakes are little Chinese pastries, a filled cake that sometimes has lotus seed paste but I’ve seen them more often here in the Los Angeles Chinatown with red bean paste. These jelly beans have an odd flavor to them that took a while to describe. They’re sweet and have a toasted marshmallow component but also have a floral musk melon and watermelon note. Then the red bean flavors come out with the center of the bean, an earthier flavor. As far as jelly beans go, this combination is a winner for me.
Jelly Belly not only makes gourmet jelly beans for the American market, they’re quite easy to find in large metropolitan areas. I saw many candy stores in Amsterdam and Cologne had them. Jelly Belly has one factory outside of the United States, in Thailand, where I think these were made. I was told that they’re not available in the United States. I guess it’s just one more reason to travel the world.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Koppers Chocolates just introduced these cute little Mini Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Eggs.
These little gems are simple but unexpected. The center is a lightly vanilla marshmallow, a coating of milk chocolate and then a candy shell. They look like bright blue robin’s eggs. They’re an ideal Easter candy and I’m quite surprised now that I think about it that no one has made these before. (How long before this is the new M&Ms flavor?)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.