Monday, October 17, 2011
The Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are described on the little gusseted stand up bag as exotic yuzu paired with invigorating ginger and lemon rich in vitamin C.
Like many other Bissinger’s candies, these are quite expensive. Some American made gummis sell for as little as $2.00 a pound (the Albanese World’s Best Gummis at dollar stores) where these are about $16.00 a pound, however, Bissinger’s does offer a bit more in the way of unique flavors and premium ingredients. As part of their naturals line, the Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are made from organic sweetners. They also use all natural ingredients including natural colors and flavors. They’re also advertised as gluten free. The only weird thing in the list was fractionated coconut oil, which is the second to the last item, which means it’s probably the coating that keeps the gummis from sticking together.
They smell quite citrusy, like a combination of key limes and grapefruit. The Yuzu is related to grapefruits and has a definite pomelo note to it, bitter and a little bit on the pine side. The ginger provides a wonderful woodsy and warming note to the cold bitterness of the oily citrus. Lemon kind of mellows it all out.
The gummi texture is soft and bouncy, moist and overall rather sweet and smooth.
I love yuzu, citrus in general and ginger. Plus, these are nicely made gummis. But I’m still not able to love them. Partly because of the price and partly because of the brand. So as a candy taken in a vacuum without any other information, they’re an 8 out of 10, with all the other baggage, they’re barely more than a 6. (Continue reading if you like for more support for that, or just move along to the specs box at the bottom.)
On the whole, my confidence level in Bissinger’s is rather low. I’ve tried contacting them multiple times over the years and got conflicting answers about the gelatin origin and kosher status previously, and in the past month I’ve only gotten a reply to a tweet, neither of my emails with simple questions have been answered.
One of my concerns is with accurate labeling. They sell a variety of foil wrapped hollow “chocolates” around the holidays, including Halloween. They have them on their website and at Whole Food stores, so I’ve seen them in person. I believe that these are not actually made by Bissinger’s, but by Confiserie Riegelein of Germany. (Previous review of their Halloween Chocolate.) Bissinger’s affirms on their website that they use fair trade cocoa. Riegelein will not be fair trade until 2012 and there is no fair trade markings on the package in stores (just mentioned on the website). The biggest issue is that they’re calling this confection chocolate. By US FDA standards, it does not meet the definition because it contains whey, considered a filler ingredient. So it is labeled inaccurately. I’m really surprised that Whole Foods permits this sort of liberal misuse of the word chocolate and the addition of fillers in a product like chocolate. Also, if this is made by Riegelein, it’s made in Germany and there’s no indication of that on the packaging - again other violation of Whole Food’s policies and standard labeling in the United States. Finally, back to the product at hand, the package says Gluten Free and then says it’s packed in a facility that also handles wheat (and eggs, soy, milk, peanuts and tree nuts). So is it gluten free or not?
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Zachary has distinguished itself in the past few years as the premiere maker of offbeat flavors for Candy Corn (Egg Nog, Tangerine, Gingerbread, Creme Brulee and Cinnamon Fangs to name a few). They also have a line of economical mints, mostly available in discount and dollar stores.
I’ve noticed that their mints come in the after dinner patty variety, the Thick Mint and now I’ve found these Zachary Mini Mints in a theater box. It holds 3.85 ounces and inside the box is a little cellophane bag to keep the mints fresh.
They also make a little Chocolate Coated Caramel too, like Milk Duds, I did a taste comparison with those last year.
The package is functional and distinctive enough that it caught my attention. The background is a flat, medium green with a starburst of a darker green shade behind the logos and product image. It describes the candy as bite-sized cool creamy naturally flavored peppermint covered in real chocolate. This particular box has 10% more free, so my guess is that there are other even plainer looking boxes out there with only 3.5 ounces in them.
The topography isn’t offensive or riotous like the Cookie Dough Bites family of products, so at least they had that going for them. But the quality level of the product feels like it deserves something a little better. The world of design has changed, bad design costs the same amount to print as good design, so the difference in overall price for making something that’s pedestrian is pretty much nominal.
All that aside, it’s about what’s on the inside, after all. The ingredients here are pretty good - like the package said, it’s naturally flavored. It’s real semi-sweet chocolate (with some dairy in it) and a fondant center made of sugar, some gum arabic and egg whites along with some other ingredients including oil of peppermint. There’s a confectioners glaze on the outside to complete the trifecta of animal ingredients to make this off limits to all but those lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores.
The pieces are big and slightly ovoid. The tallest were about 3/4 of an inch. The chocolate shell is thick, shiny and nicely tempered. The mint fondant center is firm and mostly dry, though not quite as crumbly as the center of a York Peppermint Pattie is. It’s almost doughy, except that it doesn’t have a flour/cake note to it. The chocolate coating is smooth and creamy, except for the slightly waxy coating. The mint is mild but pretty much perfectly balanced. The chocolate doesn’t taste like mint, it tastes like chocolate. The center tastes like mint and not like cardboard. (I also tried their Old Fashioned Creme Drops a few years ago, which I thought were dreadful, so this is worth noting.)
For a cheap mint, I think Zachary really delivers for a mostly chocolate product. The ingredients are good (though made with soy, milk, eggs and coconut and on shared equipment with everything from peanuts to tree nuts without any statement about wheat/gluten). It’s a good option for movie snacking, certainly a good price. I don’t know if I’d grab them over Junior Mints, but I’m not afraid to keep trying Zachary products.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The Meiji Creamy Marshmallow Chocolate has been around for a while in Japan, though it’s not easy to find in stores in the United States. I happened upon a display of them in Little Tokyo and got the last one on the shelf.
The first thing I have to ask about this bar is why we don’t have anything like this in the United States?
The bar is very simple, a single serving of milk chocolate in bar format with mini marshmallows dotted throughout. In North America we have plenty of options for chocolate covered single marshmallows (Rocky Road, various seasonal novelties) but nothing with this specific ratio.
The bar is nicely boxes, like many of Meiji’s other candy products. Inside the sturdy paperboard box is a mylar pouch with the bar in it. Mine was in excellent condition - no scuffs, not even broken.
The bar is thicker than the standard Meiji Milk Chocolate bar, and has lightly defined sections.
The bar has varying amounts of the little marshmallows in it. Around the edges, it was hard to find marshmallows, but deeper into the bar, they were quite dense. The marshmallows are small, about the size of a pencil eraser or a green pea.
The chocolate is not quite the same formula as the classic Milk Chocolate Meiji bar, which is too bad, because I really enjoy that bar. This bar is technically not even chocolate, as it contains some other vegetable oils in addition to cocoa butter, such as sunflower, shea nut and illpe butter. This gives the chocolate a smooth melt, but a very cool feeling on the tongue. The flavors are dominated by a dried milk dairy taste. The marshmallows are soft and bouncy, a little tacky and chewy around the edges of the bar.
My disappointment with the bar is with the chocolate itself. I was fully expecting the deep, smoky Meiji Milk Chocolate that I’ve tried before. What I got was a little less than that, and when paying the full import prices, it’s a little steep. Next time I’ll just get the milk chocolate bar and some other marshmallows and do the rest myself.
Still, there’s something to be learned here .... there’s a product out there that our confectionery giants are neglecting. (Though it could also use some little salty pretzel bits to complete it.)
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The package is easy on the eyes, a soft robin’s egg blue and mellow orange-brown. The package shows the product, which is exactly what you’d think from the name: potato chips covered in milk chocolate. The reality of the candy once out of the bag was a bit different, as you’ll see with my pictures.
The ingredients list is short (milk chocolate and potato chips, basically) but sadly enough their list of allergens is long: milk and soy are ingredients but also may contain traces of wheat, egg, peanuts and tree nuts. So this crunchy confection may be off limits to gluten free friends. They are Kosher.
I’ll let Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer do the description here, since they went through so many drafts and have an approval process:
My chocolate covered potato chips were rarely flat and even more rarely single. Most were big, fused lumps of chips. Some were easy to pull apart but sometimes that meant that the chocolate went with the other piece and I ended up with an open faced chocolate covered chip.
By far the biggest proportion of my bag was made up of folded chips covered in chocolate. This was an interesting predicament, because it meant less chocolate and more chip. They were also messier, as they were more likely to flake off chip bits (or sometimes have other chips within the fold).
The milk chocolate is soft and sweet, very milky and sometimes a little greasy feeling. The chips are thick and have a very strong potato taste to them, they’re crunchy for the most part. There’s a lot of salt taste to the candy, though in reality it’s not that bad at 140 mg per serving. The chocolate is sweet in comparison to the chips, more sweet than it needs to be.
I really wanted to like this, as I’m a huge fan of savory and sweet combinations like chocolate covered pretzels. It could be that the potato chips are just a little too greasy for me along with the fat content of the chocolate itself. I might give them another try, when I think that a different lot is available at my store - maybe I just got the dregs - little pieces that got coated and then stuck together. Or maybe I’ll just stick with chocolate covered pretzels, they’re a tried and true favorite. It’s a real shame that these aren’t gluten free.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Russell Stover has epitomized Americana for as long as I can remember. They’re a safe and unassuming brand. Their boxed chocolates are dependably sweet and bland but have a nice flair for dependable and fresh holiday themed chocolate novelties.
I was a little surprised when I saw these new Russell Stover Day of the Dead Skeletons at the drug store.
They have two varieties, one chocolate covered caramel and one chocolate covered marshmallow - but what’s interesting about them is the South of the Border design on the package (bilingual as well).
I’ll start with the Russell Stover Caramel Covered in Milk Chocolate (Caramelo Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche).
They’re large skeleton shaped caramel planks covered in milk chocolate, the package features a brightly clad skeleton. There are at least three different designs per confection. For the Caramel I chose this lady skeleton wearing a red blouse with poofy sleeves, a green full skirt, a yellow yat with dingleberries and holding maracas. It’s quite a sight, especially when designed with bright flat colors and accents of purple, orange and silver foil.
The pieces are large, about twice the size as the regular Pumpkin products they make. The Caramel was 2.5 ounces and about 4.5 inches long.
The design of the actual candy is not quite as impressive as the package. In fact, once I pulled it out of the wrapper, you could have easily convinced me this was a Halloween Saguaro Cactus. But shape aside, it’s a really lovely piece of candy. The chocolate is nicely tempered, it’s shiny and had very few scuffs and no leaks. The ripples were also nice to look at and gave a feeling that this was a piece of candy made by people.
The caramel is soft, but not runny. The bite is easy and the caramel has a good pull but not a lot of chew to it. It’s smooth and has a lot of toffee notes and very little grain. The milk chocolate is sweet and has a lot of dairy notes though not much going on other than that.
It’s a lot of candy - I couldn’t eat more than a third in one sitting, so it’s not an easy piece to have a little and then put it away.
It’s not an innovative piece, they make a similar product for Easter, but it’s fresh and I really loved the package.
The Russell Stover Marshmallow Covered in Milk Chocolate (Malvavisco Cubierto en el Chocolate con Leche) has an equally vibrant package design. I chose a skeleton wearing a sombrero and bright poncho beating on a magenta and yellow drum.
This piece is only 2.25 ounces, missing a quarter of an ounce because the marshmallow is so fluffy, but probably about 50% thicker than the Caramel version.
The shape is similarly blocky and poorly defined, but still has glossy rippled milk chocolate enrobing.
The Russell Stover marshmallow is always moist and smooth, fluffy but not too foamy. It doesn’t have much flavor, no honey notes but a good vanilla extract finish. It’s a clean tasting candy - everything tastes real - real sugar, real milk, real vanilla. It’s comforting and homey.
The Day of the Dead celebrations of Mexico are vibrant, social and life-affirming. It’s fun to see a confection here in the United States that feels like it’s appealing to those who want to join in the celebration without feeling like it’s exclusionary or pandering. I don’t know if these are going to be sold everywhere, I picked them up in the Echo Park neighborhood RiteAid, one of the denser areas of Mexican-Americans in the country and over 6 million people of Mexican descent in the Southern California metropolitan counties. Next, I’d like to see the inclusion of some real Mexican confectionery traditions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.