Monday, July 30, 2012
In the theater box section at the Big Lots I spotted this package of Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Flix Mix. At only a buck, I figured I should try it, though I was a little taken aback at the lightness of it, only 2.2 ounces, when many other theater boxes can be 6 ounces.
Flix makes a big deal on the back of the box that these are Made in USA. But a large part of the back of the box is also devoted to the extremely long ingredients list. This is explained by the fact that one of the macroingredients is a rice pillow which includes a large number of fortifications such as niaciniamide and thiamin mononitrate.
One I opened the box I understood why it was so light, there is a cellophane pouch inside that is the appropriate size for the box, these things are just darn airy, so constitute more volume than say, Mike and Ike.
The candy itself is very simple. It’s chocolate covered Rice Chex cereal (or a generic equivalent). The milk chocolate coating seems to have some peanut butter mixed in, though if you gave these to me without saying anything about the peanut butter, I might have missed that nuance. The whole thing is then dusted, unnecessarily, in powdered sugar.
The rice pillow at the center is crispy and has a large airy center. There’s a hint of malt and a little salt to it, so it give a savory base to the mix that’s sorely needed. The milk chocolate and peanut butter coating is sweet. There’s a mild milky flavor to it, but nothing that can stand up to the flavor of the rice cereal ... yup, the bland Rice Chex are more vibrant than this chocolate. Still, the combination works. It’s a bit on the sweet side but the crispy texture and mild contributions from the peanut butter and chocolate manage to combine well.
I don’t think I’d buy this brand again, but I have to wonder if there are better ones out there. I also have to wonder if someone could do a verified gluten free version of this, because I bet there are a lot of gluten free folks out there longing for a crispy candy mix.
The allergen list is pretty complete and includes soy, dairy, milk, peanuts and may contain wheat, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no indication of the ethical sourcing of Flix Candy’s chocolate. There is also palm oil in there, though very low down on the list.
UPDATED to ADD: Yes, there is a homemade version of this called Puppy Chow. Probably the best option if you want better ingredients.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
It’s pretty hot over most the United States this summer. Even in more mild years I’ve tended to avoid chocolate purchases because it just ends up in a sticky puddle before I get to eat it.
Posting here will be a little lighter for the next few weeks. You’ll get fresh reviews at least twice a week and this roundup of posts from the pasts on Wednesday.
Name: Cupcake Bites
Read the full original review of Cupcake Bites here.
Jolly Ranchers are pretty much perfect the way they are, dense and intense, portable and pretty cheap. (I wish they came in minty flavors.) So you can imagine I wasn’t that keen on this new version of the candy which really has nothing to do with what makes Jolly Ranchers awesome.
Name: Jolly Rancher Awesome Twosome Chews
Read the full and original review of Jolly Ranchers Awesome Twosomes Chews here.
I was excited to include Toffifay finally on Candy Blog. They were one of my favorite candies as a teen and one that I actually still buy as an adult even with all this other candy in my world. (I was pleased at how the photos turned out, too.)
Name: Toffifay (Toffifee)
Read the full and original review of Storck Toffifay here.
For a while my Aussie readers kept telling me to try Musk Sticks. I didn’t even understand what that could be. I did find some Musk Life Savers and thought that they were interesting, but wondered if the perfumed flavor was just a mistake. Turns out that’s really what they’re supposed to taste like. I realize now that the Musk Sticks that I did find were from one of the lesser brands, but I’m not sure if the quality was what was holding back my love.
Name: Musk Flavored Sticks
Read the full and original review of Musk Sticks here.
Name: Jujyfruits & Jujubes
Read the full and original review of Jujyfruits and Jujubes here.
In 2006 I had my first opportunity to visit the All Candy Expo (now called the Sweets & Snacks Expo) in Chicago. There was a crazy amount of candy there, but I knew I struck gold with these samples from Anthon Berg filled chocolates. Again, part of the attraction was that they were so fun to photograph.
Name: Chocolate Liqueur Bottles & Chocolate Coffee Dreams
Read the full and original review of Anthon Berg Filled Chocolates.
In 2005 I’d barely started the blog and was still finding my way around the planet through confectionery. It was then that my obsession with black sugar and all things molasses and brown sugar started. I made my first online purchase of candy from Japan.
Name: Kuro Ame
Read the full and original reviews of Japanese Kuro Ame candies.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Yuzu is rare in the United States but a popular and hardy variety of citrus in Japan. The flavor is a cross between grapefruit, tangerine with a little note of lemon and bergamot. For the most part the rind of the citrus is used though the juice is also included but not as notable. I was so entranced with the candies and marmalades I’ve been eating that I got a tree for my back yard. (Here’s a photo of a couple that I picked from my tree.)
So when I saw that Kasugai, a makers of one of the best gummis in the world, I bought up two packages. The gummis are more expensive than the European and American varieties, but also a bit more precious and special. The Kasugai Yuzu Gummy Candy comes in a rather light bag, with only 3.59 ounces inside. Each piece is individually wrapped and a bit larger than the mass of an ordinary gummi bear.
The gummis are nearly one inch in diameter, a cute little domed disk. They have a soft, powdery skin instead of a glaze of oil or wax. They smell like lemonade. The flavor inside is a bit more complex. The tartness is good, the texture is smooth with a jello-like chew that dissolves quickly. It’s truly a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, the bitterness of the grapefruit and harsh oily flavor is combined with the fruity, sunny flavors of the tangerine juice.
They’re really satisfying and have a fresh, zesty lingering note. Two or three were plenty as a little treat between meals for me. The individual wrapping means I can throw a few in my bag or just throw them in a dish.
They are ridiculously expensive, I think I spent $3.49 for a bag. But it’s easy to moderate my consumption, I’ve managed to make my two bags last quite while. The intensity of the flavor and the wrappers mean these are more of a solitary treat than the kind that I might mindlessly nibble on during a movie. There are no artificial colors but they do use artificial flavors. They’re made on shared equipment with milk, wheat, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I saw some new packages of Panda Licorice on store shelves about six months ago. I thought it was cute and inventive. But I’ve already reviewed the Panda licorice line, for the most part, so there was no need for me to pick it up again.
What I didn’t realize is that this is actually a different line of licorice, with a different formula. The Panda Traditional Soft Original Licorice is part of the Panda “confections” line. It was formulated specifically to widen the Panda brand’s appeal and to be sold in more mass-market stores, instead of the narrow appeal of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s which usually have rules about what sort of ingredients a product can have.
It doesn’t say much on the front of the package, beyond the brand name and the product but it’s quite clear: No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
So a quick flip to the back of the package where they talk more about the traditional soft licorice and the heritage of the company that dates back to 1927 in Finland and how meticulous they are and how they use traditional ingredients. Those ingredients?
Yes, Panda’s licorice that’s otherwise free of artificial flavors, preservatives and colors, suitable for vegans, fat free and Kosher ... it’s made with high fructose corn syrup.
The price for this product? It was $2.99 at Cost Plus World Market for a 7 ounce bag.
The pieces of the Traditional Soft Original Licorice has 87.75 calories per ounce and 1 gram of protein. The pieces are large, sticky and very sweet. The one inch nubs are doughy and a little more “wheat” flavored than the classic variety.
It’s downright wet. In fact that may account for the lower calories on this variety, the fact that they have more water in them.
The licorice flavor is bland, though distinctly natural. It tastes more like anise though the sweetness has that soft licorice note to it. What’s missing for me is the molasses, that earthy flavor that has lots of toffee, burnt sugar, charcoal, oak and beets in it.
It sticks to my teeth. It sticks to my ribs. It sticks to my fingers, it sticks to the package.
In the interest of fairness, I had to revisit the stuff that’s made Finland famous. The All Natural Soft Licorice is made from an even shorter list of ingredients: Molasses, wheat flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseseed oil). It has 92.14 calories per ounce but 2 grams of protein per serving. The price? It was $2.99 for a 6 ounce bag.
So for the same price you get about 14% less. But what was in that 14%? I have to wonder if it’s just high fructose corn syrup, watering the whole thing down.
The classic pieces in the bag are 3/4” tall and just a little smaller in diameter. They’re also far less sticky. They feel lighter and stiffer than their doughy counterparts. Plus it has all those complex flavors of molasses and licorice and less of the wheat flour.
It’s just baffling to me, since Panda has spent at least 40 years marketing itself in the United States as the premiere natural licorice brand, and competing against all brands, they’re still the fourth largest seller in the US. Much of their marketing, either by their hand or through the efforts of the stores that sell them have specified that Panda contains no “bad stuff” including high fructose corn syrup. So this change not only makes the candy taste bad, I think it’s done to purposely confuse consumers. The package uses the words traditional and original and says lots about how they don’t use those other bad ingredients. (But they do use a dubious ingredient that no one else uses, not even the cheapest of the cheap licorices.)
Lisa Gawthorne, Panda Liquorice spokesperson comments:
I tried engaging Panda in a dialogue about this change. I tweeted to them in March (they’ve answered in the past) but didn’t hear anything back. Then I tweeted to them again in June and they responded (though one of their responses they’ve since deleted). Here’s the exchange as it stands now.
Here’s the thing, though all this battle over high fructose corn sweetener, even as a candy writer, I haven’t had much to say. There’s not much to say, because HFCS in candy is incredibly rare. I’ve seen it in probably about five candies I’ve reviewed, and often when it does appear in other candies, it’s part of a whole ingredient like crushed cookies or a jelly, not something the candy company actually made themselves. HFCS just doesn’t behave the same way as a pure glucose syrup would or actual full sucrose. Ordinarily I would just be baffled that someone would use HFCS, but in this case I’m angry because Panda has cultivated their brand so carefully, in many cases specifically saying that they don’t use HFCS, as if everyone else does. When in reality it’s just them, in this lower price point line.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I picked up the Dove Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises about a month ago at Target. At the moment they’re a Target exclusive flavor, though I understand that when the flavors are popular they go into wider distribution.
The blue and white and brown package is summery and bright and caught my attention right away. But I was curious how different the flavor would be from the regular dark chocolate with caramel that Dove already makes.
The chocolates are expensive, at $4 for just a little over a half a pound. Mars is * still not using certified sustainable or ethically sourced chocolate for the vast majority of their products, this price premium at least prompts me to expect high quality ingredients, not things like hydrogenated palm kernel oil and potassium sorbate.
The Dove dark chocolate is quite smooth and has an interesting flavor profile. It’s quite woodsy and a little on the dry side. But the melt is quick and slick on the tongue, so the dry finish keeps it from feeling to sweet or sticky. The flavor overall reminds me of chocolate sauce, not quite buttery but still silky.
The caramel filling is like most of the other Dove caramels I’ve had. It’s thick and almost like a sauce or syrup without a chewy component. I’d call it a pudding or custard. (Or perhaps German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut.) It has the advertised touch of salt to it and a smooth slightly toffee note to it. It’s not as rich or butterscotchy as some others I’ve had from artisan styled companies like Fran’s, but still a nice desserty flavored chocolate.
They felt less sweet than the regular Dove Caramel Promises, though it’s not like they had a lot of salt, there’s only 30 mg per 5 pieces. Because I picked up Hershey’s Simple Pleasures on the same trip, I have to say that I preferred these by quite a large margin. They’re less caloric than a solid chocolate bar, but still more than the Simple Pleasures or a Peppermint Pattie. Dove is still not my go-to premium chocolate. I’ll eat them if they’re sitting around, but when I want a chocolate treat I find myself shopping for things like Green & Black’s (which I wish came in little bite sized pieces) or something like Trader Joe’s which have more intense or vibrant flavors and better ingredients.
* UPDATE 7/18/2012: A rep from Dove Chocolate called me to let me know that Dove is switching to Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. This particular product is not Rainforest Alliance Certified, and still has unverified palm oil in it and preservatives. You can read more on their website, but the fact remains that Mars, the company that owns Dove, is far from converting their entire line of chocolate products to certified sustainable and ethical sources, but at least have a plan and are hitting targets. At this time they are sourcing only 20% of their cocoa from certified cocoa.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.