Monday, January 6, 2014
Every once in a while candies get a revamp, so I like to revisit them. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Pretzel M&Ms were introduced in 2010 (original review) and have done well enough for Mars that they have continued as part of their regular repertoire, even getting seasonal color varieties for the holidays. I noticed a new version on shelves that advertised “now more pretzel taste.” Since I was able to find the previous version, I thought I’d taste them side-by-side. They have similar “best before” dates.
They look identical. The originals are on the left and the new version are on the right. Same colors, same shape, same size.
It is striking how much better the new ones are. The new ones are crunchier, taste lighter and airier yet have more of that malty, pretzel toasted coating. There was no difference I could see in the ingredients or in the new nutrition panel. They’re still a pretty low calorie candy treat, at only 150 calories per package, they’re pretty satisfying without being too fatty. (Of course the portion is only 1.14 ounces, but there’s a lot going on with the textures.)
The original rating stands at 7 out of 10. They’re not perfect and I still don’t think I’ve bought them since the first introduction (though I eat them when given a sample package, which happens once or twice a year). I still go for the Almond M&Ms when given the chance.
Hershey’s Rally Bar is a strange sort of candy bar in that it appears and disappears on store shelves with little notice. It’s a Hershey’s candy bar, first test marketed in the late 1960s, it was in wide distribution by 1970 across the country. The advertising theme was: Reach Me a Rally Bar, the Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Roll for the Man-Sized Appetite as well as the more gender-neutral The Crowded Candy Bar. This was one of the Hershey Corporation’s earliest attempts at advertising, before this they stood with the founder’s position that a quality product would sell itself. More about the Rally Bar on Collecting Candy.
The candy bar has no real package identity to adhere to in this reissue. This is what it looked like back in 2008 and this is what it looked like in 2004. The new one doesn’t even mention the name Hershey on the front. I picked it up at Walgreen’s as an exclusive item.
Though it was probably a chocolate candy bar when it was introduced, by the 2004 wrapper it was evident that this was a mockolate item. (Here’s my original review.)
This is smaller than the 2.2 ounce bar I tried back in 2008. This is 1.66 ounces (which is actually a good size for me). It smells like peanuts. The fudgy center is like a nougat, it’s soft and chewy with little flavor of its own. The peanuts are Payday-like, they’re crunchy, though not quite as salty. The chocolatey coating actually has a hint of salt, keeping it from being sickly sweet. Overall, it’s an okay bar but I don’t see it as that different from a Baby Ruth.
I stand by my previous rating of 6 out of 10.
There was a time when there were oodles of limited edition candies - not a month went by in the late Aughts that the major candy companies didn’t present a flavor twist on one of their tried and true candies. Snickers alone went through many iterations including: Shrek (green nougat), Indiana Jones (spiced nougat), Charged (caffeinated), 3X (chocolate nougat, chocolate caramel), Fudge (chocolate fudge instead of nougat), Xtreme (no nougat) and Nut n Butter Crunch (peanut buttery nougat).
The Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road changed up a few items in the standard Snickers Bar. First, they replaced the milk chocolate coating with dark chocolate. I approve. Second, they replaced the peanuts with almonds. I find this to be a good substitution. Third, they changed the lightly peanut butter nougat with a smoother marshmallow nougat. Definitively goes with the other two items. The structure is the same - nutty nougat on the bottom, caramel on the top and covered in chocolate.
I gave these an 8 out of 10 rating last time (full review) and I fully endorse them again this time. The nougat is smoother than the 3 Musketeers style and the crunch of the almonds is great. It’s more of a variation on the classic Mars Bar, but I won’t quibble with Mars if they want to bring this back. (In fact, I prefer it to the standard Snickers Almond, which replaced the Mars bar).
Friday, January 3, 2014
Red Velvet cake is made with buttermilk and vinegar plus some cocoa. It’s not a rich chocolate cake, just a lightly chocolate cake with a tangy note to it. The fact that it’s red is really inconsequential to the flavor. The color can be created naturally or using artificial food coloring. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing or browned butter icing.
I’m not much of a cake fan in the first place and Red Velvet is so low on my list that I’d probably prefer not to eat anything at all. Just to be really diligent about this, I went to Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery, and picked up a Red Velvet Cupcake to remind myself what the heck this is supposed to taste like. The Sprinkles website says that they’ve added extra cocoa to theirs and chose a cream cheese frosting.
The cake is moist and bouncy with a good crumb. The cream cheese frosting is what really prevails here. It’s wonderfully smooth and fresh, the only hint of sugary grain is in the crust, but the rest has a pleasant tangy note to the milky sweetness. The cake itself has a sort of corn meal flavor to it, it’s slightly floral, not terribly sweet and overall ... just nice. Not chocolatey, a little on the vanilla side. But nothing I’d get really excited about.
Now that I had something to compare it to, I figured I was prepared to complete my review.
The pieces come in three colors: maroon, red and white. They’re the larger, chunky M&Ms, which are inconsistent sizes. Some are the size of regular M&Ms, but most are super-sized.
The centers are milk chocolate with a light tangy note to them. They’re not more chocolatey, and as you can see from the ingredients above, they didn’t alter their milk chocolate recipe to include buttermilk. They seem like they have more of a vanilla note, like poundcake.
If someone just gave these to me without any clue about the special flavoring, I wouldn’t have picked Red Velvet. At this point I’m curious about how different this will taste from the upcoming Birthday Cake M&Ms. (I’ll set some aside for comparison when those come out in May 2014.) I think it’s a nice idea for Valentine’s Day, a little less run-of-the-mill, but if Russell Stover has had a Red Velvet seasonal piece on store shelves for two seasons, perhaps they’re not really on trend, just slightly behind it.
Red Velvet M&Ms contain milk and soy and may contain traces of peanuts, almond and wheat (in addition to listed artificial colors and unknown artificial flavors). Though Mars has a plan for certified sourcing of their cacao, M&Ms have not yet been added to that list.
Since Mars’ M&Ms team seems to be running out of flavors, let me see if I can make some suggestions: Milk Chocolate Cappuccino, Milk Chocolate Cookies n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate German Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate S’mores, Milk Chocolate Banana, Milk Chocolate Chai Latte, Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Chili Pepper, Dark Chocolate Amaretto, White Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake, White Chocolate Lemon Meringue, White Chocolate Key Lime. All of my previous reviews for M&Ms that actually exist are here.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I’ve had quite a few “mints” from Big Sky Brands over the years, and appreciate their approach to their candies even if their flavor combinations don’t align with my tastes. The Ginger Zingers line (called Ginger Delights on their website for some reason) come in four flavors: D’Anjou Pear, Mango, Chai and Blood Orange. I picked up the last two, as they were the most appealing to me.
The back of the tin explains the candy:
They aren’t kidding when they say it’s packed with ginger. The ingredients list pure cane sugar first, then ground ginger root.
The Blood Orange Ginger Zingers has a very faint orange cast to it but definitely smells like an orange gelatin dessert. The flavor on the tongue is immediately a sweet orange, but a little later this candy gets intense. The ginger is very warm and has a strong black pepper hotness. I found them too intense and the orange didn’t have any zest or tang, just the sweet juice note.
The Chai Ginger Zingers feature a full list of the spices on the package, which I really appreciated. Star anise (pictured on the box), cinnamon, cardamom, clove and black pepper are the chai to go with the ginger. This combination smells like vanilla at first, or more like a poundcake, with a sweet baked sugar note. The ginger is far from the intensity of the Blood Orange variety, but still warming. I caught a note of the anise, black pepper and a little clove, but it was a nice mellow blend. I found these very easy to eat one after another.
Each tin holds about 30 pieces of candy, about 1 ounce total. I picked mine up for $1.99 a package. They’re a bit pricy for mints, especially if I gobble them up. But the flavors were distinct and uncommon enough that I could see getting the Chai again, especially if I were looking for something to help with motion sickness. In the mean time, the tin is the ideal size for stowing my earbuds.
The package specifies that these are made with a vegetarian sourced magnesium stearate, but there’s no notation on whether the sugar is considered vegan. They are kosher and gluten free.
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Friday, December 27, 2013
A favorite candy in the United States are the Swedish Fish. Today they’re made by Cadbury Adams in Canada. Though they come in multiple flavors, the favorite is the red lingonberry flavored fish with the word Swedish embossed on the side.
The original, however, is still made in Sweden by the Malaco company under the name of Malaco Pastellfiskar. (Malaco is now owned by the Cloetta company, which also makes Fazer chocolates.) They’re actually quite different from the North American variety.
They do come in four flavors: lemon, orange, pear and berry. They are also a winegum-style of jelly candy, not a gummi. The Swedish version has a different texture and recipe. This assortment was sent to me by Swede Sweets, but I’ve also seen them for sale at Sugarfina and Sockerbit.
The fish are thick and fresh, soft but a little stiffer chew than the Cadbury Adams version. The texture is more like Dots. They’re a smooth chew with a vibrant flavor profile but they do stick in the teeth.
Yellow is Lemon has a wonderful note of the lemon rind along with a sort of marmalade or honey syrup note to the lemon juice flavors.
Orange is Orange and quite zesty. It’s tangy and juicy but mostly it’s truly like a fresh peeled orange.
Green may be Pear or Green Apple, though I thought it tasted a lot like pineapple, but green wouldn’t make much sense for that. It’s tangy and floral and sweet, it was actually my favorite of the assortment. (Which is weird because I’m not much of a fan of pear or apple flavored things.)
Red is the famous Swedish Berry or Lingonberry. It’s great to taste this without the distraction of the artificial colors in the North American version. This is a little more tart, a little more fragrant. The berry flavor is the same though, that strange blueberry meets pomegranate meets black currant that is the profile of Lingonberry. It’s great and has a well deserved reputation.
The only thing I don’t like about these is the fact that they stick so much to my teeth. The little nuggets just get stuck in between all of my molars. I found eating some crunchy crackers between helped and then some hot tea. (I suppose actually brushing my teeth would help as well.) They’re worth seeking out, especially if you’ve been looking for a version without artificial colors.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Morinaga’s has created a morsel version of their popular HiCHEW candies. They’re called HiCHEW Mini and feature four flavors to the cute little 1.4 ounce box.
There are four flavors: pineapple, green apple, grape and strawberry. The box is a great design, it’s overwrapped with cellophane to keep the contents fresh, once opened there’s a little perforated tab that opens a dispenser to get one candy at a time. The pieces are chunky, a little larger than Skittles, and kind of drum shaped.
The green apple is like most of the apple candies from Japan. It’s more about the flavor of apple juice than the artificial thing typified by Jolly Ranchers in the United States. These are sweet and tangy, the chew lasts a long time and doesn’t descend into a grainy mess.
The pineapple is the star, partly because there are no regularly found pineapple Skittles. It’s immediately floral and tangy with that deep honey note. It’s quite intense.
The candy shell, though, is lacking something. There’s no crunch, there’s no boost of texture from the shell. Instead the shell becomes tacky and kind of waxy, like it’s just shellac (though it is a little tangy and does seem to have the same flavor as the chew).
The grape is lovely and reminiscent of concord grapes. It has those skin flavors of a concord grape and the green fruity note of the juice.
The strawberry was the least impressive of the set. It’s not floral or jammy, just kind of tangy but lacking any different levels.
I wanted to love these. I wanted them to be everything that Skittles aren’t: naturally flavored, more intense chew with great packaging. Instead they’re expensive and leave a weird waxy residue in my molars. I still might buy them again if I see them in another flavor assortment. I like the assortment notion, as most HiCHEW are single flavor packages (unless you get the bagged candies) and the fact that there’s less packaging overall.
Note: I ordered these from JBox.com (or JList.com, as they’re also known) and found the experience to be unsatisfactory in enough different ways (payment is taken immediately even if the items aren’t shipped for a month, lack of communication via email and their twitter account, slow & conflicting information and unilateral cancellation of one of the items I’d ordered) that I do not plan on shopping with them again.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.