Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Bonomo Turkish Taffy is one of those great comeback stories in the candy world. The company is now bringing back one of its more obscure products, Bonomo Taffy Nibbles which were made briefly from 1966 to 1972, when the equipment used to make it was damaged in a flood and never repaired.
The revived version comes in two varieties, Vanilla and Banana. They are small bites of soft taffy covered in milk chocolate. Though they are an old product, the timing of their reintroduction coincides with the current trend of morselization, that is, making candy bite sized.
I heard they were coming back and had some samples earlier this summer, but found the packages I’m reviewing while on vacation last week in Pennsylvania. They’re a nicely sized portion of 1.5 ounces.
The Vanilla Taffy Nibbles are nicely formed and coated. They’re a bit like Milk Duds, except they’re made with real chocolate and instead of caramel, it’s a nougat-style taffy.
The chew is soft and a bit airier than the crack & chew bars. The flavor is mild, not quite the soft vanilla notes that I get from the taffy bars, but still a pleasant chew. There’s a faint whiff of amaretto or some other flavor in it. The chocolate is sweet and creamy without being too waxy or sticky. Overall, I found them fun to eat, though I’d probably prefer to mix them in with something else.
The Bonomo Banana Taffy Nibbles are pretty much everything I want in a banana candy. The chew is soft, the banana is light and though artificial it’s still satisfying and not too caustic. The chocolate is decent and the pieces are a great size with good proportions.
Bonomo’s Taffy Nibbles are what I always felt Charleston Chews should be. They reminded me of the Swedish candy called Polly, which is a little nugget of rum nougat covered in chocolate. Now that they’re back, I hope they become easier to find, because they do fit a wonderful niche in the candy world. They’re a great movie candy and I’d like to see more flavored centers and maybe some dark chocolate if they become popular.
The candies contain milk, eggs and soy as well as confectioners glaze (shellac) and are made on equipment that also processes peanuts, tree nuts and wheat.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Candy Corn broke out of its traditional flavor set at least 10 years ago. It’s only natural, since the fondant candies known as mellocremes were capable of so much more than just being different colors for different holidays: reindeer corn and bunny corn.
But Halloween has always paid host to the more interesting varieties. Lately we’ve seen caramel apple flavors, fruits like tangerine and green apple or toffee. Some candy companies have even taken to covering them in chocolate. Brach’s has a large variety these days, my favorite from their assortment is still the Brach’s Halloween Mix, which is not candy corn but little Halloween shapes like bats, pumpkins and maple syrup jugs. They’re lightly flavored and come in cocoa, maple, banana and whatever that honey flavor candy corn is.
The Brach’s S’mores Candy Corn straddles the summer and fall line, as S’mores are often a summer camp favorite but can easily be made in the fall around a crackling fall bonfire.
If I understand the point of these correctly, it should be a chocolate base, marshmallow middle and graham cracker flavored top. I have to say that they’re pretty ugly. The base is a dusty purple and bleeds into the white center.
They smell like a cross between the reliably over-sweet Candy Corn and graham crackers. The base is vaguely cocoa, but in the most watered down and flavored fashion. The middle layer is wonderfully vacant of flavors, kind of like a marshmallow. The orange tip has a distinct cereal and cracker note to it, like a graham.
The effect is something that’s very candy corn-like in flavor, but not very convincing as a S’more. I don’t see the point, really, especially since they’re not very attractive.
S’mores Candy Corn contains gelatin, no surprise as most candy corn does and certainly marshmallows do. It’s also made in a facility that processes everything else:peanuts, tree nuts, milk and eggs plus it contains soy and sesame.
As a side note, Brach’s has changed hands quite a few times in the last decade, and this has made some of their products a bit inconsistent. The company was owned by Farley’s & Sathers most recently and they have merged with Ferrara Pan and the whole company is now called Ferrara Candy. The Candy Corn manufacturing for Brach’s was moved off to Mexico at least two years ago and I’ve heard many reports from die hard fans that it’s not the same any longer (even though the ingredients list appears the same). I agree, it doesn’t seem as smooth and consistent as it used to be and I have switched to recommending the Jelly Belly Candy Corn if you’re actually going to eat it. Brach’s is still fine for decorative purposes.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Werther’s does an excellent hard caramel (or toffee) and the parent company, Storck of Germany, makes one of my favorite mass-produced caramels, the Storck Chocolate Riesen. But I was a little confused how these were different from the other caramels that Werther’s already sells.
The pieces are small, narrow and wrapped in waxed paper with a foil label around the center. They were easy to twist open and didn’t stick to the wrappers.
So, I also purchased the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramel for comparison. The bag looks nearly the same, and inside, the candies are wrapped identically. Opening them, though, it’s clear what the difference is.
The Chewy Caramel (on the right) is stringy and chewy, smooth and pleasant with a balanced milk and caramelized sugar flavor. The Caramel Creme (on the left) is what I would call a “short caramel”, a caramel where the sugar has been caramelized, but allowed to create a bit of a crystallized matrix instead of a silky but stiff chew. It’s sort of like penuche, or like the Krowki Cream Fudge from Poland.
The flavor is fresh, not like some fake buttery flavored toffees. The texture is chewy but still a little gummy. It dissolves well and though there’s a detectable grain, it’s not crystallized or gritty.
It’s pleasant, and I enjoyed eating them, but I preferred the Chewy Caramel version, especially since the bag I purchased for this comparison was especially fresh and chewy. I do prefer this to the flavor profile of Kraft Caramels, though I can’t attest to how they would perform in recipes.
Monday, September 23, 2013
In the ranking of Halloween candy, hard candies were usually pretty close to the bottom of the list. Unless it was Jolly Ranchers. A handful of green apple and cinnamon were welcome in my trick or treat bag, and even better if the home gave out the sticks.
It’s fun to see Hershey’s Jolly Rancher brand branching out a little bit for Halloween with their new Jolly Rancher Caramel Apple Lollipops. I found these at Target but saw them earlier at CVS and RiteAid (for at least a dollar more) so I think Hershey’s has given them very wide release.
It’s hard to believe that these will topple the current seasonal Caramel Apple Pop favorite from Tootsie.
The smell is confusing. I get a lot of buttery notes, but it’s like artificial butter flavoring or something. The flavor is immediately tangy and overly sour apple. But then again, this is a Jolly Rancher candy, so it I guess it just has to be mostly green apple. The green and caramel color swirls look like the flavor should vary, but I didn’t detect enough of a respite from the tartness of the green apple in the caramel.
The texture is good, I didn’t notice any voids or sharpness. The pieces were all perfectly formed and didn’t have any of that sticky/deformation/melting problem that the Tootsie Caramel Apple Pops have.
Overall, though, these are just too tart for me and don’t have enough actual caramel or toffee in them. However, they do seem to be free of actual dairy products, so if you’re looking for a caramel product without milk, cream or butter, this might be for you. I’m not planning on eating the rest of this bag, but I’m confident the neighborhood kids won’t be disappointed on October 31st.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Russell Stover is often up on flavor trends with their seasonal single serve shapes. Their most recent introduction was the Red Velvet, which is now available in a Halloween version.
I spotted the listing for the Russell Stover Pumpkin Pie on the Russell Stover website about a month ago and I went on the search as soon as the stores in my area started putting out their Halloween candy.
The package looks generally the same as all the other Russell Stover pumpkins, of which there are at least a dozen now. It’s a mylar wrapping with a generic pumpkin illustration on the front an simple lettering to depict the contents.
The pumpkin is interesting to look at. I like enrobed candies and this one looks rustic and handmade. The shape isn’t specifically pumpkin though, as it has no ribs, so I can imagine this being sold as an ornament in different packaging later this year. This is the first time, though, that I’ve found the shape of the candy to actually reflect the candy flavor. Note that this is pumpkin pie, not pumpkin spice. I wanted to know what made this different from a regular spiced cream center and the ingredients list brought the answer.
It’s like pumpkin pie, including the crust. There’s wheat flour in the ingredients. In fact the ingredients list “spice cake mix” which includes wheat flour, egg whites and nonfat milk in addition to the spices. So the center here is more like cookie dough than a cream, rather like the Red Velvet piece they’re also making now.
So, after I got my head around that weirdness, I just adjusted my expectations. This is like a chocolate covered cookie dough, but instead of those lackluster Cookie Dough Bites, these are actually made with pretty good milk chocolate and some nice proportions.
The milk chocolate is creamy, the center is a bit doughy and has a slight sugar grain to it. It’s dense but not too sticky. The spices are light, not overwhelming but also not terribly distinct. It’s a generic background of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg with a touch of clove.
I appreciate that it’s different from other sticky cream candies right now. I would have preferred a dark chocolate and maybe a little more powerful spice, but overall, for a 50 cent candy, it’s pretty good.
This pumpkin is a bit thicker than the Pumpkin Pie version. The glossy dark chocolate looks great, with robust swirls on top. It smells like dark chocolate with a hint of orange zest. The cream filling is actually something like a meringue. It has egg whites in it, though I ended up calling it a marshmallow, it’s actually okay for vegetarians. The texture is wonderfully smooth and though it tastes like it’s creamy, there’s far fewer calories in this treat than the other creams that Russell Stover sells. (120 calories per ounce, so this is a pretty slim little candy if you’re watching calories but want something fulfilling.)
The filling has a sweetness, but it’s not as cloying as some of the more fudgy creams. There are bits of orange zest and an authentic orange flavor to the whole thing (though some artificial coloring which I thought was unnecessary). The chocolate is thick and stands up well to the center and doesn’t fall apart as you eat it.
The center is coconut cream and the milk chocolate enrobing includes lots of crushed almonds on top. Think of it like an Almond Joy, but without the large lumps on top. This is also a new item, and unfortunately doesn’t seem to come in dark chocolate right now.
Russell Stover makes two coconut seasonal candies right now. There’s the Nest, which is just coconut and milk chocolate. They also make their coconut creams, which are covered in either milk chocolate or dark chocolate.
Each of these elements is well balanced. The coconut is soft and chewy, a bit sweeter than I care for, but still fresh and tasty. The almonds, though not spread evenly are crunchy and big enough to provide the added texture to the experience. The milk chocolate, though also sweet, is far and away better than the Hershey’s version on Almond Joy bars. This is a bit on the milky side, but creamy and fudgy. I would definitely buy this again, but what would put it over the top would be a dark chocolate version. It’s a good value at 50 cents for a one ounce piece made with real chocolate right here in the United States.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
I usually wait until a trade show rolls around to introduce new candy product notes, but I was really excited about the new products set to be presented at the The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing show (NACS) in Atlanta from 12-15 October by Mars. So, I decided to roll out the announcement for these a little early. Sadly, nothing comes out this year, the earliest new release is January:
Name: M&Ms Birthday Cake
UPDATE: Here’s the review of Milk Chocolate flavored Birthday Cake M&Ms which started showing up in CVS stores in February.
Name: Mega M&Ms Milk Chocolate & Peanut
Name: Dove Promises Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel
Name: Twix Bites
Name: Milky Way Simply Caramel Bites
Name: 3 Musketeers Bites
Name: Snickers Rockin Nut Road
Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.