Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Tony’s Chocolonely is a rather funny name for a chocolate company. They make fair trade chocolate in the Netherlands and can be found in much of Western Europe. (I saw them in department stores in both Amsterdam and Cologne.)
The packaging is eye catching with its bold use of primary colors and large friendly typefaces.
The issue of slavery, particularly child slavery, in cacao growing regions of Africa has been well documented. You can read more on Tony’s website. The aim of Tony’s Chocolonely is to source their cacao directly in Ivory Coast and Ghana from fair trade plantations in order to create a more responsible supply chain model and provide living wages for farmers. But really, it can’t happen overnight and this sort of widespread change needs more than just niche producers, it requires the involvement of the price-conscious, major chocolate buyers like Hershey’s, ADM, Mars, Kraft, Nestle and Cargill.
The packaging of Tony’s Chocolonely is friendly and casual, and probably a lot more attractive to children than many other fair trade options out there. So it’s a great choice around a holiday when you want to give kids a treat that might include a lesson but also include, well, the actual goodness of the treat they expect. The chocolate levels are not as intense, I’d say we’re close to the family chocolate range instead of the gourmet intense end of things.
The Easter Egg range that they gave me as a sample comes in this cute little egg carton that holds a full dozen eggs, which are about 1.5” inches high - a little larger than the size of a quail’s egg.
The Milk Chocolate Eggs are quite decadent. The chocolate is definitely kid friendly, but not without its appeal to candy lovers of all ages. The bite is soft, like a Cadbury though the cacao density is much higher at 30%. The milky flavors are in the Belgian style, clean but rather thick and sticky.
The Dark Chocolate Egg has a great snap, though in this size it’s a little hard to bite. (So just let the whole thing melt in your mouth.)
The flavor profile is very mild. There are light fruity and woodsy notes, but it’s overall a very sweet chocolate. It’s a dark chocolate for children who can’t have milk products or perhaps vegans.
The Milk Chocolate Praline Eggs are probably the most luxurious of the bunch, perhaps it’s just me because this style is not as common in the United States. The milk chocolate shell looks the same but is easier to bite. They’re filled with a hazelnut paste, which is sweet and nutty ... there’s a light and fresh floral note, a little like the fresh feeling from jasmine tea. I like them, though they were really very sweet and I couldn’t eat more than one at a sitting.
For every day consumption Tony’s Chocolonely also makes milk chocolate and dark chocolate bars. It will be a wonderful day when there are more holiday and special occasion options available and this set is a good start. I’m still a little more inclined towards Green & Black’s for my ordinary chocolate needs, but for folks who want something a little sweeter or kid friendly, this might be the stuff.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Russell Stover makes a coconut version of the nest, which is kind of like a milk chocolate coconut haystack. This purple mylar package features a life sized image of the candy on the front, and I have to admit that this is one of their least attractive packages I’ve seen.
The ingredients are pretty clear that this is a pastel coating confection studded with crushed chocolate cookie pieces (a la Oreos). The first ingredient is sugar, the second is fractionated palm kernel oil and partially hydrogenated palm oil.
I went into this knowing that there was no real cocoa butter in here (which at least Hershey’s still uses as a portion of their white confection these days). The scent of the product smells a bit oily and a lot like Easter, sweet with just a touch of milk and fake vanilla.
The piece is exactly two inches around. Though I think it’s supposed to look hand crafted and random like the original Coconut Nest did, it’s molded, which gives it a glossy shine but an indistinct shape. I mean, if they’ve gone to the trouble to create a mold, I think it should look like a nest, not a lump.
The confection is pure throat searing sweetness. There’s a touch of milk flavor to it and a reasonably smooth melt. But mostly it’s a sticky sweet fake white chocolate wax. The cookie bits provided the only respite, but were far too few. They’re cheap enough that I think there should have been more of them.
I was glad to try their version of the cookies ‘n cream genre and I’m glad that I’m only out fifty cents instead of being forced to go for a couple of dollars for one of the flat rabbits made of the stuff.
If someone is a die hard oiled sugar fan, this might be a good option. I know that Russell Stover is capable of better when it comes to White Chocolate because they did a really admirable job with their Peppermint Bark Snowman last year. I think Hershey’s C’n'C is better, but I’m holding out hope that some day, someone is going to make a real white chocolate version of cookies ‘n cream again. (Green and Black’s would do a fine job of it.)
Friday, April 15, 2011
Crispy M&Ms are made by Mars and are considered an extirpated variety of the popular candy. I know, it’s Friday, and here I am comparing species conservation with candy. But I find it interesting ... so here’s a brief digression after a tantalizing photo.
In Northern California there used to be a small sub-species of Elk called Tule Elk. They were exterminated, either hunted for their meat & hides or simply killed by ranchers to keep them from competing for food with the newly introduced domesticated grazers. Eventually they were all gone ... or so folks thought. Except a local rancher back in the late 19th century took a liking to the slightly smaller elk and took a small herd to a ranch in southern, inland California where they survived quite nicely. In 1978 a small breeding group was reintroduced to the area, thus ending their local extinction.
Perhaps North American Crispy M&Ms (shown above in their Canadian version circa 2006) were a flash in the pan, a evolutionary dead end. They were introduced in 1998 and had pretty much disappeared in the wild by 2005. But they’re still around in Australia, the Southeast Asia and Europe. In fact, in my visit earlier this year I saw them in both Amsterdam and Cologne and bought them in both locations. All the packages were identical and list France as their origin.
If you remember the Limited Edition Mint Crispy M&Ms that were released in conjunction with the last Indiana Jones movie, you might recall that they were larger than regular M&Ms, larger than Peanut M&Ms even.
The European version is about the same diameter as a regular Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffier, closer to being spherical.
The package is more square, just like bed pillows in Europe are more square than pillows in the United States, it’s just the way they do things. The packet holds only 1.27 ounces (36 grams) instead of the more calorically imbued 1.69 ounces of the American Milk Chocolate.
The colors are a little more muted than the American version and I expected this was because these were all natural. Well, some of them are, such as carmine (sorry vegetarians) and tumeric, but they also use Blue #1.
They’re sweet and crunchy and oddly nutty. I had to read over the ingredients (translating as I went, as it was in French) twice to reassure myself that there were no hazelnuts. There was something about the crispy center, it’s like a brown rice nuttiness. It’s lovely. Though there’s less chocolate than the old Crispy M&Ms, it’s still quite a cocoa punch. There is no malt flavor, but a light touch of salt.
They’re still more of a sweet snack than a chocolate candy for me. The crunch is great but there’s not quite enough chocolate satisfaction if I was looking for chocolate. It really is too bad that Mars doesn’t still make these in the United States because they do fill a certain void that the Pretzel just can’t quite touch.
But it’s still possible, that a small breeding population of Crispy M&Ms could be reintroduced to the United States, say only at M&Ms Stores or online. Just to see if the conditions are right for them to thrive.
Strangely enough, when I was traveling, I saw the Pretzel M&Ms rather often as well as the Peanut M&Ms, but less of the plain Milk Chocolate variety. In a vending machine in Amsterdam and at the grocery store.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Easter, along with most candy holidays, is a time to go big. Candies come in jumbo sizes like chocolate rabbits the size of real rabbits, filled chocolate eggs the size of ostrich eggs and of course larger than normal malted milk balls.
It was fun to see a micro about-face from Russell Stover with their new 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies.
It’s just what it says, a bag of mini chocolate rabbits, at least 42.
I spotted the package at the check out stand at Ralph’s. In fact, I never would have spotted it and bought it if I hadn’t ended up making such a mess of my self-check out and had to get into a regular shopping line. (The self-check lines have no impulse buying area.) I was surprised to see it because I looked over the Russell Stover website at the beginning of the season to see what was new, but this doesn’t even exist there.
My bag had 47 Mini Bunnies in it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s by weight or because they just wanted to call them 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies, as if the number 42 had some literary significance.
The smell sweet and little milky and perhaps a little musty (but chocolate can do that when left out in the air for a while, especially milk chocolate).
They’re quite small and cute. They do get a little scuffed up tumbling around in their bag, so it’s not a glossy molded bunny. Each is about three quarters of an inch.
The bunnies are soft and a little crumbly. At first they didn’t melt well, but it has been a bit chilly lately so it could have just been temperature. There’s a waxy feeling to them when I first chewed them. Letting them melt without chewing gave a pretty smooth melt though. It’s very sugary but has a strong dairy and roasted cocoa flavor to it. Honestly, they were quite tasty. I was surprised because I don’t really buy Russell Stover candies expecting good chocolate. It’s more on the candy end of chocolate but at least it’s real.
My biggest problem was how hard it was to just bite off the ears.
For parents looking for a little treat without artificial colors in it, this is a fun seasonal item. It also might be a good idea for Russell Stover to sell these in the baking aisle in larger bags for decorating cupcakes or as an ice cream topping for Easter Sundaes.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
While I was in Europe earlier this year I made a point to sample as much licorice as I possibly could. What I found is that the world of licorice products varies greatly by cultural tradition, price point and intensity. Here are a dozen items I found, in descending order of my affection.
I meant it when I said I’m starting with the high point of my European licorice adventures. I loved this stuff.
When I was walking the exhibits at ISM Cologne (the largest candy trade show in the world), I knew that I wanted to visit the Amarelli Licorice booth. They sell wonderful little tins of intense licorice pastilles. I’ve been buying their minty coated version called Bianconeri for about 10 years, though not very often because each tin is about $6 and holds about an ounce.
I was not disappointed by their booth. They had so many different products I had never tried. The ones that impressed me the most were little glycerine pastilles that were rose or violet along with the intense and smooth black licorice. (I don’t know how they sell those, they just said that they didn’t come in tins.)
I tried their pebble looking candy coated licorice called Sassolini which I was enchanted immediately.
They’re much bigger than their other products, most of these are larger than a Peanut M&M. They’re irregular and do a convincing imitation of an actual little rock. The thickness of the soft cream and blue colors have a pleasing heft to them.
The flavor of the candy shell is vanilla, soft and with a hint of the anise underneath. The center is a chewy black licorice that has an intense flavor of both licorice and anise. They’re really strong and the dense chew of the center means they last a long time, though they do get stuck in my teeth if I chew them up instead of letting them dissolve. The flavor lingers as a dull buzzing feeling on my tongue long after its gone. I like this so much I found that Licorice International carries the nuggets in bulk, so I ordered two 6 ounce packages to refill my tin.
The tin shows a child at the beach (or perhaps just a lakeshore) with a big red pail and sail boats in the background. Of all the designs of their tins, this is my least favorite, perhaps because the design is less focused on the typography.
I first read about Lakrids by Johan Bulow on Chocablog last year. I was hoping to sample their line at ISM Cologne, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found their booth and got to try everything. They sent me home with a few packages of their line of gourmet licorice using real licorice root. The whole line comes in these chic little plastic jars. The products are all named with numbers of letters. The Choc Coated Liquorice is A.
They’re gluten free, which is pretty rare for a licorice product as most of the American and Australian styles are wheat based.
They’re also really expensive at about $8 to $10 per 165 gram (5.8 ounces) jar. (I see a trend already with my licorice leanings, I like the quality stuff.)
They smell a little woodsy and milky. The powdery coating on the outside isn’t cocoa, it’s ground licorice. True licorice is very sweet, and this stuff definitely was real and potent. A little touch to my tongue and it was a sweetness that has no thick or sticky quality like sugar. There’s a deep woodsy note to it as well. The chocolate is sweet and milky, and provides more a texture to the candy than a chocolate flavor. Most of what I got was milk, not chocolate. The licorice center isn’t very sweet but also not quite a salty licorice. There were strong molasses and toffee notes, burnt flavors and dark mossy notes.
It’s more of a savory treat than sweet. It’s incredibly munchable but at the same time, very satisfying to have two or three and be done.
Johan Bulow makes a wide variety of products already, including Habanero Chili Licorice and Chili Cranberry Licorice. I was also taken with the simplicity of the Lakrids 1: Sweet Licorice.
The glossy little nibs hardly look like real edibles, but they are. The flavor is rich and actually creamy. The flavor has a backdrop of roasted notes that come from treacle. It was sweet and bitter. The texture was a little gummy, and did stick to my teeth a bit. Like the chocolate covered version, I didn’t feel the need to keep eating it after a few pieces because they actually satisfied me.
So I got back to Los Angeles with this sample and I was confused and kind of embarrassed by my assumptions. I thought it was Italian. The name is Carletti but I found out it’s a Danish company.
I also picked up some other items they make, such as Dutch Mints (or as they call them Mintlinser Drage) which were also nicely packaged and featured (as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge of Danish) all natural colorings. (See website.)
The little pieces of firm licorice are covered in colorful (naturally colored) candy shells. They’re a little narrower than a regular Chiclet and a bit thicker. The chew was a bit dense but had an excellent flavor profile. It wasn’t salty but also not terribly sweet. The shells seemed to have a light flavor of their own, the orange being notably orange and the purple possibly violet. The center was a bitter and had some good molasses to it.
I was put off by the bitterness, but drawn to the other flavors within, something like charcoal and burnt toast and licorice. But the intensity kept me coming back.
Mentos Lakrits Mint
I’ve purchased Lakrits Mint Mentos a few times before, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually included them in a post.
They look rather watery, not very intense. But don’t let the fact that they’re not full of caramel coloring or molasses fool you. They’re quite licoricey. The flavor does have some of the deep woodsy notes and they’re oddly creamy when chewed. The mint is mostly in the crunchy shell and fades away quickly. The salty tones are very mild, for folks who have never tried salted licorice, this is a good starter.
Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
A more unusual version I found in Amsterdam is the roll that mixes Drop Citroen and Drop Aardbei. Drop is the generic name for licorice in Dutch.
The package may have made it look like one half was Lemon and one half was Strawberry, but they were just a random mix. Mine had about 2/3 aardbei.
The curious structure is revealed ... at the center is a little core of licorice inside the normal fruit chew.
The combination? Well, I wouldn’t say that I loved them, but I did end up eating them all. The center wasn’t so much about licorice, it was more of a salty and molasses flavor, a bit more savory than the bland fruity outside. The lemon was mild and only sweetness. The strawberry was a bit more nuanced, with some more floral and cotton candy notes to it.
This is also made by Perfetti Van Melle, the same folks who make Mentos. What I learned a little bit late in my Dutch adventure was the difference between Zoet and Zout. Drop Zoet are sweet licorice and Drop Zout are salty licorice. One little letter ... so much meaning.
A mix of griotten shaped like large hemispheres and salty rockies. Rockies are a tube of licorice filled with a grainy but slightly less intense licorice cream. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar. They were rooty and earthy. The texture was a bit more doughy than the other brands I’ve been buying and less of a licorice punch with slightly more ammonia salt.
I really bought these because of my curiosity when it came to the little domes. I didn’t know what they were. Turns out, as I mentioned above, they’re like Griotten, a small and dense licorice marshmallow.
It’s a little doughy and spicy. The griotten texture is like a firm, dense marshmallow with a sugary crust. The flavor is deep and not as intense as others I’ve had. There’s a vague ammonia salt note to it, but a strong licorice flavor with a hint of molasses. The molasses gives it the taste of a spice cookie, which is what they look like to me.
Katjes Fruit Tappsy (Germany)
I’ve had the mild licorice Tappsy before. They feature a panda face with different flavors for the ears or other contrasting color parts.
The Fruit Tappsy are gummis with a strong and stiff chew. The licorice portion is mild and the fruity portions are actually quite vibrant. The combination of licorice and fruit, though, is really not to my liking. I think the texture of the Tappsy with the marshmallow base might give a creamier component to these that might bringing it all together for me.
I’m not saying that they’re bad, just not really my favorite of the Tappsy versions out there.
I’ve tried AutoDrop candies before, based solely on the name. The entire brand of AutoDrop candies, made by Van Slooten, are based around the theme of cars and their drivers. Some are winegums but most are licorice. This bag certainly caught my eye, with its matte black background and blue foil line art.
Inside are five different candies, each with a different shape, texture and flavor profile. I don’t actually know what the name means. Donder means thunder, but maybe Donders means crashes.
Megpiraat - one eyed, grinning face - a stiff but smooth chewing molded licorice piece. The flavor has a nice mix of molasses and licorice, which is a light sweetness. A little touch of anise and some deep toffee notes.
Spookrijder - looks like a rustic piece of chalk. I was hoping it would be like Skoolkrijt (a tube of licorice filled with cream and covered in a minty candy shell). The shell is minty, but also a little crumbly. The interior looks like grainy brown sugar and has a pleasant molasses undertone and a faint licorice flavor and a hint of salmiak.
Zondagsruder - a smooth licorice gummi, I quite liked this one. It wasn’t very strong on flavor, more like a light anise with a sweet marshmallow & vanilla note.
Brokkenpiloot - this was the saltiest of the bunch and one that I pulled out of the mix. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I had the most of.
Bumperklever - caramel colored piece that has a light toffee and licorice flavor. This had a bouncy texture that was almost a marshmallow gummi. Sweet but a little salty as well but without the bitter metallic aftertaste.
Overall, kind of a losing situation for me. Out of duty I ate all the Zondagrsruder and a few of the Spookrijder and Bumperklever, but the rest have just been sitting around.
Haribo Lakritz Parade
This mix was like a German version of All Sorts. It included cream licorice (made with fondant) and other panned candies in addition to molded salted licorice pieces. I picked up the peg bag at the grocery store, again, for about a Euro ($1.40).
The little colored pieces were lovely, what’s more, the package said that they only use all natural colorings. There were licorice rods covered in a candy shell, covered in fondant (like All Sorts without the coconut) and larger diamonds of salty licorice covered in a shell (I reviewed those already). There were also little M&Ms which were a crumbly molassesy sugar mixed with licorice and salt.
They looked great, but I can’t say that my problem was with the flavor as most were just bland. The pastilles were bland, just kind of earthy and chewy. The little lentil thing was just grainy and a little bitter, the colorful licorice tubes were just sweet.
The molded licorice shapes were enchanting to look at. I can’t say that their attention to quality control was great. These were the best in the bunch. The salino is like a Zout, it was doughy and yes, a little bland except for the strong ammonia quality. The others were, again, watery and tasteless except for a dirt and vague anise note. The chew was smooth.
This is another licorice I bought in Amsterdam. It was pretty cheap, I’d say less than $2 American. I wanted just a simple licorice pastel. I’ve had Venco products before, I buy their Skoolkrijt all the time. So I thought their version of Good & Plenty would be great as well. I also lucked out that I chose a zoet licorice (unlike that Haribo Sali-Kritz)
I was worried about the word hard in the description, but at least that part turned out not to be true.
First, I’m not keen on dark colored candies, they tend to need more coloring, which displaces actual flavors and textures that should be there. So the blue and the black ones were not ones I ate with much interest.
The little rods of licorice are covered in a thin but crunchy shell. The licorice at the center is actually overpowered by the flavor of the shell. The shells, in some cases were flavored. I don’t know if they were supposed to be flavored, but the blue/purple ones were definitely floral, like violet. Not heavily licorice flavored, these just left me bored. Even the color assortment didn’t thrill me. Half of the fun of candy coated candy is the look of it.
While I was traveling in Germany I mostly when off of how things looked, but every once in a while, I pulled out my Android phone (which didn’t work as a phone) and used the German-English dictionary to look things up. So I knew that this was a black licorice bar. The character on the front says that it’s soft licorice. So at least the words were helpful.
The package is creepy. I like the boldness of it, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the graphic work that Haribo does. But this anthropomorphic character of a string of licorice palling around with a boy is just weird. Go ahead, look at it closer. But hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, right. I didn’t even flinch at the insulting Asian caricature in the previous mix.
It’s a hefty bar, at 125 grams (4.41 ounces) for about a buck.
The bar pulls apart into licorice rods quite easily. Each is about the size and shape of an unsharpened pencil. It is soft and pliable, glossy and really looks so promising.
But it tastes so bad. The chew is dense and has a strong wheat flavor to it, yes, it actually tastes a bit like flour or al dente pasta. But there’s more, it’s a bit tangy, in the way that weak coffee can be tangy. And it has a weak licorice flavor to go with that. It’s only vaguely sweet and not quite salty. It’s not overtly earthy but tastes a little musty.
This has pushed me over the edge to proclaim that I don’t wish to ever eat another Haribo licorice product again.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.