Wednesday, October 18, 2006
As National Novel Writing Month approaches my mind turns to writing-friendly candy. This is a tough category. Not only does the candy need to be neat (no sticky bits to get in the keyboard) but it also has to support the work at hand. In years past I’ve nibbled on licorice vines, Reese’s miniatures (not really recommended as they are a two-handed candy), M&Ms and orange Tootsie Pops.
This year I think I’ve found my new writing candy. It’s a little expensive at $6.50 for 150 grams (about 5.25 ounces), but writing a novel in a month is an indulgence anyway and if a few hard candies can keep me on task and perhaps ingest a little less caffeine, I’m all for it.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a line of hard candies made by Sweet Botanicals of England. Infused with different herbs and spices, they’re all drop-dead gorgeous little morsels. Not only that, they’re all natural. No freaky sweeteners, they’re just sugar, corn syrup and some spices with a little juice for color. The come in a clear plastic container, which of course gives you full view of their mouthwatertingness. (The only bad thing about this packaging is that I found them to be positively DIFFICULT to recap.) Today I’ll tackle the spices:
Cinnamon & Clove - gorgeous red spheres with white stripes. They’re the size of marbles and smell of Christmas. I’m not usually keen on clove, as it reminds me of dental procedures, but this was more on the mild side. The cinnamon was spicy and has a pleasant and mellow burn with the slight floral note of the clove that was more on the violet end than the medicine side.
The candy itself is dense and sweet with few, if any, voids that can make for sharp edges to cut your tongue.
This candy would be appropriate for novels taking place on damp moors, alien infested swamp planets and anything set during the Civil War.
Chili (a useful digestive aid) - delicate little candies, no larger than a dried garbanzo (the smallest of all I tried). They’re lightly pink and have the disarming smell of cotton candy. On the tongue they start with a slight floral note of rose and are clean tasting. But after a moment the chili spice kicks in. It has a little burn, but something I feel on the tongue, nothing in the back of the throat.
This candy would be appropriate for writing time travel scenes, large spans of exposition in any style novel and of course anything set in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America.
Licorice & Anise (Helps Coughs and Catarrh) - beautiful large medallion-like pieces, they’re the largest of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies I tried. They’re also not a solid hard candy but a filled candy. The hard shell is a mellow licorice flavor with a liberal note of both anise and molasses (the ingredients lists brown sugar treacle). Inside is a soft, moist and grainy center of a rich brown sugar that soothes the throat (and tastes good!).
This candy would be appropriate for steampunk novels with characters involved heavily in action scenes, anything set in the middle ages, circuses or in cold climates and of course action-adventures that involve going places without proper vaccinations.
Ginger & Orange (Useful for Travel Sickness) - these are long hexagons that are squashed into rods. The smell slightly of orange and on the tongue they immediately get me tingly with a little tangy bite and the spice of the ginger. There’s a definite rooty flavor to these that overpowers any orange essence other than the color and tangy quality.
I can’t attest to their ability to stave off motion sickness, but I will in a few months when whale watch season opens and I hit the nearshore seas. I have, however, found that ginger is good for keeping the queasies at bay, so I’m looking forward to giving these a real test.
This candy would be appropriate for novels with sea voyages or taking place on spaceships with questionable inertial dampeners/artificial gravity. It is also good for consuming during scenes involving early pregnancy and dizzying passages describing architecture.
I have lots more flavors and I’ll be posting about those soon. At $6.50 a package, they’re a wee on the expensive side. But they’re also not a candy you gobble down, so they last a while. The flavors are unique and it’s obvious the attention that’s paid to their creation, so I’d be willing to pay a little more. Right now the only place I know to get them in the States is ArtisanSweets.com (they sent me the samples) ... but they also sell the Montelimar Nougat that I love so much, so you know, you could get some of that at the same time.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Last night I watched The Secret Life Of ... on Food Newtork. The topic was Sweet and Sour and part of the episode featured the All Candy Expo in Chicago. Jim O’Connor covered Lemonheads (a special fave of mine), traced the development of America’s Sour Tooth and of course toured the Expo floor.
Then part of the episode took a turn towards a product line called Too Tarts, made by Innovative Candy Concepts. This post is not a product review, because I absolutely refuse to eat the products on purpose. They’re shamefully misrepresented.
The package I picked up at All Candy Expo was purely by accident. I was sitting in a seminar and they were in a bowl and both me and the other folks at my table idly grabbed a bag and dug in. I spit mine out and so did the fellow next to me. It was seriously foul - the chew was rubbery and the taste was instantly fake and had a strong aftertaste. The package says they’re Real Fruit & Honey with NO REFINED SUGAR ... “up to 5 times more natural ingredients than any other fruit candy snack” ...blah, blah, blah. What they don’t holler at you on the front is that there are TWO different artificial sweeteners in there ... Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Acesulfame Potassium is also known as AceK. It’s 180 times sweeter than sugar and is not retained by the body. It’s known for a bitter aftertaste so it’s often used in conjunction with other sweeteners. In this case it’s Sucralose (found in Splenda), which more than 500 times as sweet as sugar and is also not retained by the body. If you’re curious about artificial sweeteners and their possible cancer causing/nerve damage potential, cruise around the ‘net.
Now, you might wonder why I rage against artificial sweeteners. Yes, I have a bad reaction to aspartame, but I actually believe they have their place. However, their place is not in candies marketed for otherwise healthy children. Childhood is time of training our bodies to understand what we put into them and learning our satiety levels with different foods. Part of how our bodies and brains judge how many calories we’re consuming has to do with how sweet they are. They’ve done studies and have shown that there may be some connection between diet sodas and obesity because the body is no longer able to judge properly how many calories it’s taking in. If adults are messed up with this stuff, what will it do to kids who consume it from a young age? What’s worse is these candies are making it look like they’re sweetened with either honey or fruit juice. Sure, the package says “No Refined Sugar!” But it doesn’t once mention the complex chemical compounds called ‘sweeteners’ they’re putting in there except in the fine print of the ingredients.
There’s no reason to give kids fake candy ... there are other options for sweet treats out there. Please read the packages carefully. I’m irritated that this candy exists and further irritated that Food Network gave them such a huge feature without ever mentioning the presence of artificial sweeteners in the candy.
Monday, October 16, 2006
About a month ago I went off to visit another candy factory. This one is out in Covina, CA and is run by David Klein, inventor of the Jelly Belly jelly bean, so I know he’s got an inventive mind. His current candy life involved a product called Sandy Candy.
Sandy Candy is like sand art, but it’s made from candy powder (ala Pixy Stix). You can buy
kits and then pour the different candy powders into tubes and bottles, creating tasty, colorful layers.
While there on site he showed me some new products he’s working on, which involved using large panning machines (they look like cement mixers). But of course the bulk of his operation is devoted to the Sandy Candy which is HUGELY popular with clubs and groups.
The kit comes with the candy powder in little bottles (like travel-sized shampoo). Just flip the top and tip them over to fill up the little tube. You can make your candy tube according to the flavors (which are marked on the bottoms) or by color (the bottles are milky-translucent, so the actual product is brighter in the tube). The powder itself is far smoother and finer than Pixy Stix which have always been a bit grainy.
Tangerine (light orange)- come to mamma! Tart and citrusy with a little more zazz than a normal orange flavor. Goes well with most other flavors, which is a bonus.
Blue Raspberry (medium blue) - really nice. Tangy and floral and not as artificial tasting as it looked. And it’s seriously, deeply blue.
Watermelon (pink) - a sweet flavor, it’s fruity but has a very odd and very distinctive bitter aftertaste.
Banana (light yellow) - a sour banana, not just sweet. Good flavor but a little odd to have the tangy bite to it.
Root Beer (light brown) - I am in LOVE with this flavor. It’s soft on the tongue but has a nice spicy mellow feeling to it. It doesn’t mix well with most of the flavors.
Black Cherry (gray) - nice and tart with less medicine flavor and more of the lighter cherry notes. The color is not really black, but kind of a sparkly charcoal gray.
Pear (medium green) - tangier than I expected with only a slight hint of pear.
Green Apple (light green) - good and tart and with a strong artificial taste that I come to expect from green apple. A winner.
Wild Berry - (purply gray) - smells like cotton candy and tastes like strawberry and raspberry. Fruity and with a little tart zing.
Cotton Candy (light blue) - sweet and slightly tangy but with no other flavor. Not really cotton candy in my book.
Grape (medium purple) - very sweet and with a good fake grape flavor that one expects. Not tangy though.
Lemonade (medium yellow) - super tart but not much flavor. A winner.
Wild Cherry (medium red) - nice and tart with a good blast of cherry flavor. Not at all different from black cherry except for the color.
Fruit Punch (medium blue) - sour and floral with a very ordinary punch flavor going on.
Bubble Gum (blue/purple) - sour ... why is it sour? I should be sweet with a hint of cotton candy or strawberry or wintergreen in there.
Tart Apple (white) - pretty much green apple, but not green.
Cherry Cola (medium red) - definitely cola and definitely cherry. Blech. (Just not my thing)
Wild Berry (medium purple) - yes, berry! Sweet and tart and floral and really tasty. A winner.
Key Lime (light green) - lime with a slight soft flavor to it but still some tang.
Lemon Lime (light green) - lemon and lime, reminds me of Koolaid (and not in a bad way). A little tangy but with good flavor.
When you combine all of the above you’ll find your tongue becomes and dark green/black color.
Phew! You might think that’s all, but it’s not. That’s just what was in my two tower assortments. Other sweet flavors include: Sweet Cherry, Orange Creme, Sweet Vanilla Cola, Chery Creme, Sweet Fruit Punch, Sweet Lemonade, Cola Blue, Lime Creme & Strawberry. Personally I think the Banana and Cotton Candy flavors should be sweet, not tart, but who am I to argue?
Then there’s more! Another line includes Candy Pebbles, which are kind of like Wonka Nerds, but a little smaller. They’re about the size of sesame seeds with a good light crunch and zap of flavor. What’s really cool about these isn’t just that they can be used in the Sandy Candy Art, but that you can use them for other things. I think they’d be great as an actual flavored cupcake topper instead of lame plastic tasting jimmies.
Kits can be ordered with the mini bottles for home use or with big ketchup-sized bottles for large events. They look like a great fundraiser for a school fair or just an activity to do with kids where they get to eat what they create. The little 6 inch tubes that came with mine are a good amount of candy, about the size of five single Pixy Stix, so they’re not going to get too amped up.
If you’re someone who always wanted to order Pixy Stix by the pint, your search is over. I ate the whole Lemonade bottle while typing up this review. And part of the Root Beer ... hey, they’re both drinks, aren’t they?
If anyone out there has ever used these, please let me know how it went. It looks super-simple and now that I have this huge kit, I wish I had some kids around to play with it.
There are two ways to order. For retail orders go to SandyCandy.com. For wholesale orders go to NiftyCandy.com. The extra large kit shown here is $50 and has 50 candy straws and includes 20 bottles of different flavors. Smaller kits are also available.
I give the whole kit a 7 out of 10. I really love the concept and think that it’s great fun for kids, especially if you spring for the fun shaped bottles. The variety of flavors is great, especially the fact that there’s Root Beer in there! The only drawback is the difficulty of ordering and the packaging isn’t really that all that exciting. (If I could just order single bottles of my favorite flavors, well, I’d be in trouble.)
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I’m still on my quest for a Green Halloween and wanted to revisit Thompson Chocolate because they make organic chocolate which is pretty tasty and not that expensive. Though not Fair Trade certified, organic has a lot of benefits to the community (primarily that the forest where the cocoa is grown isn’t being polluted with pesticides and of course it means that you and your kids aren’t eating those residues either).
On the Thompson site they show that they have organic foil wrapped chocolates for Halloween and I did see them at Whole Foods, but only in single serve mesh bags.
I also got a hold of these Jack-O-Lantern Milk Chocolate with Crisp disks. They’re not organic, but all natural. Which is also a good thing when giving kids rather unwholesome things. What’s especially nice is that they walk the line of being both cute and compelling as well as the all-natural thing.
The milk chocolate is sweet and smells a little malty, a little milky. It’s smooth and very sweet but the crisped rice gives it a good crunch. The flavor of the chocolate is mellow and has a slight cool effect on the tongue that had me unwrapping one after another. So, if you have the means and the opportunity to go Green this Halloween, try out their organic foil wrapped treats. You can order via their toll free number on their website.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.