Thursday, August 23, 2007
I reviewed Smarties a couple of years ago, but they were the Canadian version and I thought they merited a revisit with the originals ... especially since they’re so wildly popular around the world with sales topping $140,000,000 a year!
Smarties were introduced by Rowntree in the UK back in 1937. Legend has it that Forrest Mars and a Rowntree family member were traveling through Spain in the mid-1930s and saw the soldiers there would eat chocolate that was covered in sugar to keep it from melting. Both men saw the merits of this novel way of serving candies, especially when combined with the French and Italian panning processes that provides an attractive colored shell. Rowntree first named their new chocolate lentils “Chocolate Niblet Beans” but changed next year to Smarties.
They’re not sold in the United States owing mostly to the fact that the name Smarties is already taken here (and perhaps some sort of gentleman’s agreement between Rowntree & Mars ... I can’t find any record of it though).
Smarties offer a wide variety of colors in their flat chocolate candies and recently change from artificial colors to all natural ones in hopes that it will reduce reticence among moms because of concerns about artificial colors being linked to hyperactivity.
The hexagonal tubes that hold the Smarties are certainly cute. They’re easy to dispense from and they don’t roll around. The candies themselves are attractive, if now a little mottled in color.
Smarties shells are a little thicker than M&Ms and have a light flavor to them that I can only call cookie flavored (maybe ‘Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers). The chocolate inside is rather unremarkable - not terribly rich or creamy.
What’s most surprising and pleasant about the Smarties is the flavor of the orange ones. They’re actually orange. Kind of a middle-of-the-road orange, not terribly deep or zesty, more like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The colors are remarkably different than they used to be. I tossed out a little array with some M&Ms ColorWorks as a comparison. The difference is pretty easy to see - the Smarties lack a depth to the color. However, it gives them a little artisan, homespun quality that certainly doesn’t turn me off.
Brits are fierce about their Smarties, and even the little changes in the packaging and colors seem to get people all fired up. Here’s a commercial from last year when the Hex tube replaced the round one with the collectible caps.
Here’s another earlier one that might lead one to believe that there’s something really psychedelic about these candies!
While parents may be happy that the artificial colors are gone, vegetarians aren’t. They now use carminic acid to make the reds, which is made from cochineal insects. (It also means that they’re not Kosher.)
Further, it’s not what Americans would consider “pure chocolate” as it contains whey and vegetable fat fillers. Ingredients are: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, dried skimmed milk, butterfat, whey powder, vegetable fat, lactose and soy lecithin. The coating is: sugar, wheat flour, modified starch, colors (titanium dioxide, mixed carotenes, carminic acid, vegetable carbon, riboflavin, copper, complexes of chlorophyllins), glazing agents, beetroot juice and flavourings.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I was thinking back when I wrote the review of the new 3 Musketeers Mint about the original 3 Musketeers. I’ve been searching high and low for images of it, but alas there are none to be found via my diligent use of google. What struck me as so wonderful about the concept was that it was much like the long-gone 7up Bar and the still here Sky Bar - a combination of segmented flavors.
The old 3 Musketeers would have been the Neapolitan nougat of candy bars.
Imagine my surprise as I ducked in the Rite Aid on Friday to pick up some things for my vacation (yes, I’m on vacation right now as I type this) that not only did the store have much of their Halloween candy on display, they also had this Autumn Minis Mix. It doesn’t say limited edition or anything. Perhaps it’s seasonal, there are golden leaves on it, after all.
Here’s an old commercial I found from the days of black and white television animation:
All for fun, and fun for all! Alexander Dumas would be proud.
The little mini bars are tiny, about the size of a normal boxed chocolate. Take them out of the wrapper and put it on an elegant plate and it might even pass for one at a glance.
While I’ve never quite understood what French Vanilla is (and it’s often used as a description for candles and ice cream), I appreciate that this 3 Musketeers is a little lighter tasting. Where a regular one has a rather malty and dark salt flavor to it, this is light. It doesn’t quite have vanilla oozing from its pores as a flavor (more like the absence of any other flavors distinguishes this one), it’s still pleasant.
Against my better judgment, I love the Strawberry. It absolutely reminds me of Neapolitan ice cream! The strawberry is sweet and has a light caramelized sugar touch to it, a little floral-y and certainly on the fake side. But the soft, fluffy and rather foamy nougat pulls it off. The chocolate is passable enough as an enclosure and adds the cocoa flavor to bring it together (I can certainly see me hating it if it were covered in white chocolate).
The pink color of the insides is a little shocking and I’m guessing where the artificial colors listed in the ingredients are used. Kind of unnecessary in my book (especially since it seems that folks accepted the uncolored insides to the new Mint bar).
Mocha Capuccino are surprisingly nice. Not too sweet, a good texture and creamy counterpoint of the chocolate to the nougat. However, they don’t taste like coffee. Nope, they taste like pecans or maple, but not like coffee.
I don’t mind the flavor in the slightest, and considered it my second favorite of this bunch, but someone really needs to tweak their “coffee flavor” that they’re selling to these candy companies. (It could have been much worse, it could have been that dastardly Mocha that those limited edition KitKats had.)
Overall, these are a nice change up from the standard 3 Musketeers and the simplicity of the bar in the first place makes the flavor changes perfectly acceptable.
The price point on these, $3.79 for a 9 ounce bag was a bit hard to swallow. I prefer paying about $2.50 for these sorts of things, but I figured, I’m on vacation (or will be).
Monday, August 20, 2007
When I was a kid I didn’t like Chunky bars. There was just something about raisins and chocolate that reminded me of those carob covered raisins that were foisted upon me as an alternative to candy (which makes it sound like there was a choice). As I got older I think I appreciated them more, mostly because the texture of such a “thickerer” slab of chocolate offers a different taste experience.
Back when they were first introduced in the 1930s they were larger (of course) and featured Brazil nuts, cashews and raisins. Today they’re made with raisins and peanuts ... I’ve always thought of them as what would happen if you dumped your Goobers and Raisinets into a dish and let them melt & reform into a bar.
The bars were originally made by Philip Silvershein and through a gentleman’s agreement with Wrigley, delivered and marketed along with their gums. Later the company was sold to the Ward-Johnson Division of the Terson Company, which oddly enough also bought up the Blumenthal candy group which made Goobers & Raisinets. Nestle bought the Chunky bar and friends in 1984. They changed it from a single chunk to four segmented chunks, I’m guessing in an effort to promote sharing.
The bar is beefy looking. Even though it’s thick, the sections are truly easy to snap apart (I don’t know how easy it’d be to break up otherwise). It smells rather sweet and more of rum and peanuts than chocolate. The chocolate is okay, it seems creamier than the stuff in Crunch bars. The bar reminds me of a cheap version of the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss. Since it’s a fraction of the price (at 33 cents) I can’t really complain of it not living up to a bar that’s usually three times the price.
For your enjoyment I dug up some old commercials.
This jingle from the early eighties says “you’ve gotta open wide to get a Chunky inside. Open wide for a chunkier bite.” The commercial also reminds me that they were actually one big piece back then instead of the four segmented block.
This one also references that same tagline, open wide.
This commercial is from the mid or late eighties ... and I’m guessing by the content that it’s from around the time that Nestle bought the candy bar. Note that the varieties available is down to two at the end tag. This one also shows the four segments for the first time. See how YouTube has become and candy archaeologist’s best resource?
Links: Retroland, Patti at CandyYumYum has an actual wrapper to prove that there was a Pecan version & JCruelty’s reviews of a variety of enduring candies (strong language)
Friday, August 17, 2007
I was feeling a little restless (and warm) so I went to the 99 Cent Only Store looking for something fun and outside of my normal scope.
I saw a display on the top shelf of the candy aisle of these chocolate truffles from Crown Jewels. They came in three flavors: chocolate, mint and orange.
The box says, Exquisite Milk Chocolate - Individually Wrapped in Beautiful Foil. Wow, real foil? And that’s the biggest selling point, not the flavor or quality ingredients or hand-crafting?
The ingredients didn’t scare me away: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Whey, Whole Milk Powder, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla, Coconut Oil and Orange Oil. Sure it’s not a truffle made with heavy cream, but at least there weren’t a lot of hydrogenated oils in there. The ingredients list for Frangos was far longer. The foil wasn’t quite as beautiful as promised, but a simple orange mylar pouch. (I was figuring they’d be twisted or something like the Dove Jewels are.)
I was expecting them to be like a Frango, and they are at least in size and shape. But they’re much softer. Not in a creamy sort of way, just in a “how can they be melted at 75 degrees” kind of way. They smell much like a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The chocolate is a little on the fudgy side, not deeply flavored with a slight milky flavor to it. The orange truffle center is soft and melts quickly and even feels a little cool on the tongue. The orange flavor is balanced pretty well except for the candy being so darned sweet.
As a purchase for 99 cents, it’s not disappointing at all. I wouldn’t say that I’m going to buy the rest of the flavors, but they didn’t overpromise or underdeliver. As something to buy and keep in a candy dish, they’re a great alternative to regular mass-produced miniatures. But beware, they don’t do well in even moderate heat conditions (over 85 degrees). The box contains about eight individually wrapped pieces and is made in Salt Lake City, UT.
Taquitos.net liked the Mint variety.
I just noticed going through the archives at my best 99 Cent Store finds that they’ve all been orange flavored items ... hmmm: Terry’s Chocolate Orange Confection and Queen Anne Chocolate Covered Orange.
This post is dedicated to Meg at the now defunct SickCandy.com. She used to write little posts every once in a while with her finds from the 99 Cent Only Store (underwear, coffee drinks, etc.) and it actually made me want to visit one of their stores to see if there was anything there that was edible. I’ve been happy to report that they do have good finds.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Way back in the day there was a cute little candy called Tart n Tinys. They were tiny little pellets of tart candy, kind of like SweeTart, only sold in a small cigarette-pack-sized box that dispensed the candies from a little slip-tab at the top. (Nerds are still sold in this format.) They were made by Willy Wonka Candy Company, which was founded by Breaker Confections in 1971 just in advance of the feature film, Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The book (called Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published in 1964 and already wildly popular as was James and the Giant Peach which came out in ‘61.)
The Wonka line of candies were largely a marketing invention, the only candy in the original line up of confections that was actually mentioned in the book were Everlasting Gobstoppers.
However loosely tied Tart n Tinys were to Wonka’s imagination, I loved them. The little chalky pellets were fun to sort and stack, simple to share and easy to portion. The original flavors were Cherry, Lemon, Lime, Grape and Orange. The texture always seemed a bit smoother than SweeTart, which had a chunky and gritty texture (which I also appreciate).
In 1988 Breaker Confections sold the brand to Nestle. Nestle eventually made some changes to the candies, mostly because they had also recently acquired the Sunline brand of SweeTart confections in their takeover of Rowntree (who bought Sunline in 1986). Sunline products (SweeTart, Sprees and Bottle Caps) were then branded under the Wonka label as well. In the early 1990s Tart n Tinys were reintroduced with a new colorful candy shell (more like mini Spree than mini SweeTart now). The most interesting part of the candy shell addition is that the grape ones were no longer purple, they’re now blue (but thank goodness they’re not the blue punch flavor of SweeTart).
The new candy coated variety were also a little rounded, so they roll. No more stacking. But I have to admit they were fun to look at, and probably a little easier to sort even in dim lighting conditions.
So, you may have noticed that I started this post with, “Goodbye.” This is because Nestle has decided to discontinue both Tart n Tinys and Chewy Tart n Tinys.
It makes sense that Nestle thinks that the line is redundant (as I found with the head to head comparison between the Chewy Mini SweeTart and the Chewy Tart n Tiny) to products they already produce. The marketing on them was never particular strong, they don’t do seasonal editions (no pastel Tart n Tinys for Easter, no red & green for Christmas) so it’s easy to see why people have not responded to them as much as other products like SweeTart, Sprees and Runts.
I’ve enjoyed Tart n Tinys since their introduction but rarely buy them simply because I never find them in stores. Runts have been more available, even in the movie style box. I don’t think I’ve actually bought Tart n Tinys in five years for this reason. How successful can a candy be if you can’t find it in the first place? There are still a few online vendors who still have inventory left, so if you’re a fan, get ‘em now!
UPDATE JUNE 2015: Leaf has revived Tart n Tinys in their original format of the uncoated cylinder shape.
The flavors are a little different: blue raspberry, grape, orange, lime, lemon and cherry. They’re still making their way around stores, I found mine at Dylan’s Candy Bar for $3.49 a bag, which is too steep for what is cheap candy, but they should get wider distribution eventually.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.