Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The wrapper is pink and the launch of the product coincides with spring, so I’m going to call it an Easter candy even though there are no rabbits on the package, just a couple of pasty kids in chef’s hats making some sort of bowl of batter.
It weighs a quarter of a pound, which is giant compared to the mini foil wrapped peanut butter cups R.M. Palmer usually makes, but it’s not as large as the half pound peanut butter cups that Reese’s sells in pairs around Christmas. But this isn’t peanut butter, where most of us think more is better. This is cake batter, which is pretty much a room temperature cookie dough smoothie.
The cup is huge, at a quarter of a pound, it’s the size of a small saucer and weighs, well, four ounces. This is not R.M. Palmer’s first attempt at a quarter pound cup, they make a passable Peanut Butter Cup version. The package says that it’s two servings, but that’s a staggering thought when I looked at the ingredients:
The chocolate flavored coating looks like bad chocolate, but that’s about the only thing that it succeeds at. There are no chocolate notes in it, it has no chocolate texture, it’s filled with sugar, milk by-products and oils. The filling isn’t like the Russell Stover cake fillings, there’s no flour in there; it’s just more oil and sugar and fake vanilla.
I’ve never been much for eating cake batter, so the idea of a candy that re-creates this is not up my alley. Add to that, vanilla cake is the least interesting kind of cake. Why would I want to eat that batter? Spice cake, lemon pound cake, devil’s food ... these are interesting. Vanilla cake batter is not.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Though they’re called Sweet Treats Cupid Hearts, they’re also marketed and sold for folks looking for themed candy for baby showers. They come in mixes like pink and white and blue and white. I found mine at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles, but I also saw them at Michael’s and some other party planning shops. I don’t know much about this Sweet Treats brand, the candy itself is made in China but the bag says that it’s packaged and distributed by Metro Candy Sales of Vacaville, CA.
The Cupid Hearts have one of my favorite ingredients list of all time:
So, the first ingredient is the bulk of the candy, and when I say bulk, I’m guessing that it’s more than 90%. Maltodextrin is a polyscaccharide made up of many molecules of glucose (it varies depending on the formulation - it could be as few as 3 or as many as 20). So it’s basically sugar but it’s not quite as sweet as the sucrose we’re accustomed to but has all the calories. There’s very little else to this candy. They’re made by pressing the powder under high pressure, like making pharmaceutical pills and then they’re dumped into a big rotating drum (a panning machine) to get a shiny, colorful coating.
My understanding is that these are vegan (though magnesium stearate can come from animal sources, it’s far cheaper to buy the vegetable sourced version).
The pieces are thick and well formed to look like hearts. The colorful glaze, however, is inadequately applied. The crotch of the hearts on the blue ones were predominantly unfilled gaps. I don’t see this as a feature, just lack of quality control. (They were all like that in the store, the pink and white ones also looked the same.)
The bag smells slightly floral, like a generic fabric softener sheet. The candies have a light crunch, the centers are firm but not too sandy but easy to bite. They are all sweet except for that floral flavor, there’s no tartness, no tang, nothing fruity or spicy that indicates they’re food and not toilet bowl cleaner.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re decorative. You can let people eat them, but I don’t recommend it. It’s not that they’re bad, but at 120 calories per ounce, there are far better things to do with your discretionary calories. At $4.00 for 10 ounces ($6.40 for a pound), I also thought they were darned expensive considering the fact that the same store was selling the far prettier Oak Leaf Hearts for only $2.40 a pound. Even the Wonka Heartbreakers are a better deal.
Update: It’s been suggested that they may be more like sachet beads than candy; they should be placed in little gossamer bags, tied with a bow and then left in the car to keep it smelling fresh.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Elmer Chocolate has been making candy since 1855. They’re based in Louisiana, but I usually only see their candy in California around Valentine’s Day as they have some very popular boxed chocolate assortments that are sold at drug stores and discounters all over the counter. However, they do make some insanely popular Easter products that seem much harder to find: Heavenly Hash Eggs and Gold Brick Eggs.
I was surprised to see these Cotton Candy Marshmallow Eggs at Cost Plus World Market instead of those more well known eggs, but at $1.49 and for something that was a little different from the traditional Easter fare, I was willing to take the plunge.
The packaging is simple, a very light plastic try has four sections to hold the domed marshmallow eggs. It does its job, as they were all pretty much flawless right out of the wrapper.
Each piece is rather small, they’re .45 ounces each. They’re about 2 inches long. They smell sweet, a little like cherry and milky chocolate. They’re a “light” candy, in that they’re not caloricly dense, so you can eat the whole package and it’s only 190 calories (105 per ounce).
I can’t really put my finger on what went wrong with these. The chocolate is passable, thought sweet is does a nice job of sealing in the soft, moist marshmallow. The marshmallow itself, well, it’s filled with bad air. It’s probably one of those flavors that not everyone can detect (like the fact that Red 40 tastes bitter to me and very few other people). It tastes like molten plastic. Styrofoam. It tastes like new Crocs. It’s not the marshmallow itself, as far as I can tell, it’s not the packaging ... it’s the stuff that was whipped into it.
It’s a great idea, to have a softly strawberry flavored marshmallow center. But in this case, I can’t recommend it. Everything I saw at the Cost Plus looks like it’s from the same case so would probably have the same issue. I haven’t seen them at any other store. I did try their Toasted Marshmallow Eggs a few years ago and didn’t note this issue.
My big question to you, readers, is this: Do you taste this kind of stuff? I notice similar problems at times with whipped items, like meringues or marshmallows. But other candies that have delicate flavors can also take on this plastic note (especially ones without a strong flavor of their own).
Does anyone else notice this from time to time? Do you know what it is? (Is it dangerous?)
UPDATE: As some here have noted and an inside source in the confectionery industry as also pointed out, it is likely from the packaging. The tray is likely polystyrene and it outgasses ... delicate and airy confections like marshmallows can easily absorb that “flavor”. Styrene is not a healthy item to consume, though in a seasonal treat in this small quantity is likely to be trivial. But it still doesn’t taste good.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Butterfinger Bites made by Nestle come in a few sizes, but I picked up their theater box. It was a helpful box with a little image of the candy with the words “actual bite size” pointing to one of them that is actually far smaller than anything inside the box.
The box also says that they’re new, though I’m pretty sure Nestle has made these before, or something amazingly similar. Then the box also says that they’re Easy To Eat! which is a huge relief, because Butterfingers are menacingly difficult what with all that wrapper and ... largeness.
The box actually had 3.5 ounces of candy bites in it, which is a pretty decent deal for a buck. Of course it’s also filled with Butterfinger Bites, so maybe I’d be happier with less than 3.5 ounces considering what dismal tasting candy it actually is.
There are so many things wrong with this, like the fact that there’s more hydrogenated palm kernel oil in it than cocoa (and no chocolate), artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives.
The pieces are about an inch long and are, in fact, easy to eat. If you don’t have a sense of smell. I found the odor simply offputting. It’s overly sweet, artificial and reminds me of a combination of birthday cake and fake butter topping. They are not even vaguely peanutty or chocolatey.
The pieces are lighter and crunchier than a regular Butterfinger. The mockolate coating is chalky looking, very light in color and not the slightest bit chocolatey. The crispy layers of the center are wonderfully crispy and do have a lovely proportion of salt. But that’s about it, the level of peanut butter is so far below what I love in candies like Chick-O-Stick or Clark Bars that it’s more like a butter flavored center.
The mockolate coating really ruins it, it tastes about as good as sucking on the cardboard box. These can’t be stale (they were plenty crispy and they expiry is more than 6 months away), they’re just poor excuses for candy. What’s sad is that I would absolutely love to buy little nuggets of real chocolate covered peanut butter crisp, even at twice the price.
I have a little poll running over there on the sidebar about what companies should do when they need to cut costs. Maybe we should let them know that making bad candy really isn’t a way to increase sales.
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.
Friday, October 21, 2011
So I’ve tried the Zachary Thick Mints and the Zachary Mini Mints. Today I have the Zachary Thin Mints. This is probably where I should have started, as this is the standard set of ratios that all other peppermint fondant and chocolate candies should be judged against.
The Zachary line of candies are very well priced. They’re often sold at dollar stores and other discounters. I happened to find my set of both the mini mints and the Zachary Raspberry Thin Mints. They were on sale for 79 cents for a box that holds 3.5 ounces. That’s the same price as a regular York Peppermint Pattie. Kind of a crazy comparison.
The boxes are small and rather nicely designed. Spare but they provide the essential protection of the stuff inside and have a bunch of information on them that they’re obligated to carry like ingredients, and nutrition facts and include the notation that they’re made in the United States (which York Peppermint Patties can no longer say).
Inside the Thin Mints are in a little tray. It has two sections, kind of misleading about the amount of candy, especially when compared to the similarly priced Haviland Thin Mints that have 5 ounces in a box and all natural ingredients.
There were 12 mints in my packages. Yes, the two sections are uneven. One holds 5 patties and the other 7 patties. I have no idea why it’s formatted that way.
The Peppermint Thin Mints are rather ordinary. They’re small, about 1.25 inches in diameter, like little coins. My mint ones were in good condition with very few scuff marks.
The fondant is soft, almost chewy. It’s like a cross between the gooey center of a Junior Mint and the softer center of the Haviland. They’re not strong, just an all around inoffensive mint. The peppermint is clean and doesn’t really overpower the mild semi-sweet chocolate. It’s like eating a handful of baking chips. It’s not extraordinary chocolate, a little on the gritty side but real.
The second version is the Raspberry Thin Mints which I thought were going to be just raspberry flavored fondant. Nope, there’s mint in there, too.
These were horrid. The raspberry was fake and floral and tasted like the purple coloring. Then there was the slight tangy, jam flavor in there ... all capped off with a refreshing burst of mint. The chocolate coating was mercifully stronger here, perhaps picking up on the woodsy notes of the raspberry. It was just a terrible mix. I don’t think mint goes well with berries or even citrus (I know, Mojitos are a mystery to me).
They’re not for vegans - there’s milk and eggs in there. There’s no gluten statement on the package but no actual wheat ingredients - proceed with caution.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Necco Wafers are iconic little disks of crunchy dried sugar and flavoring. They’re the shape and size of a coin but the texture of unfired ceramics. The All Natural Necco Wafers SmartFruits come in little mini rolls. There are 23 rolls in the 11 ounce package and feature four flavors: Raspberry+ Acai, Lemon + Goji, Pomegranate + Goji and Blueberry + Acai.
I bought these a few weeks ago at the 99 Cent Only store. They’re a bit of a puzzle, since it appears they don’t even exist. There’s no mention of them on the Necco company website, I can find only two references on the internet to them: a review in Spanish from 2009 and a notice of the registration of the trademark for “SmartFruits.” I know that the product is not that old because of the trademark and the design of the package cannot be before 2009.
The pieces are muted and in most lighting situations I have trouble telling them apart without sorting them. Straight out of the package the little stack of 9 disks smells like ketchup and raspberry jam.
I wasn’t able to actually tell the flavors apart ... they all had a muted berry smoothie flavor to them. One was definitely lemony and tart but the rest were nondescript. They were not disgusting, but they were pointless.
The package says that there were real fruit antioxidants in here, but the nutritional panel doesn’t even register any vitamin C, which is easily the most palatable vitamin to put in a candy. The ingredients list lots of good things like freeze dried fruit (blueberry, raspberry, acai, goji berry) but it’s well after the sugar on the list, so they can’t make up much of the bulk. One roll is 50 calories. I can think of far better ways to spend your discretionary calories.
Like all Necco Wafers and Conversation Hearts, they contain gelatin and are unsuitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I was these The Original Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Gummy Candy at Cost Plus World Market and again at Target. Since it was only a buck at Target, I decided to pick it up. But it’s not exactly an Easter item, even though it was shelved with the Easter candy. Sure, there’s a rabbit, but not everything that features a rabbit is supposed to be Easter themed. After all, no one goes around saying that the Velveteen Rabbit is an Easter book.
The candies are packaged and sold by Frankford Candy of Philadelphia, made in China and licensed from Frederick Warne & Co of London.
The box holds 1.8 ounces of candy which amounts to five rather large gummy pieces. They’re each in a little compartment in a clear plastic tray. That is sealed in a plastic sleeve and the box is also taped shut. (It’s already known that Peter Rabbit is wiley.) It’s a lot of packaging for very little candy.
The gummis are about 2 inches tall if they’re standing upright with ears pricked. They’re made of various colors of gummy, the body is a mostly opaque light brown and the clothes are wholly opaque white or blue. The other details, such as the eyes and whiskers are made of some sort of frosting or sugar.
They’re thick and soft and quite nicely detailed, though the brown color gives the impression that the flavor will be something like caramel or perhaps cocoa.
Three of the figures were of Peter Rabbit (leaving some limits to the narrative of imaginative play if these are more toys than candy) and one Jemima Puddle-Duck and the Fox who tried to steal her eggs.
The package gives no indication of what flavor they are and neither does smelling them. They smell like styrofoam packaging, cinnamon breakfast syrup and flip flops. The gummis are soft and pliable (except for the frosting whiskers and buttons) and even sticky enough to allow them to adhere to glass. The flavor is probably strawberry, but the plastic flavors pretty much overwhelm them. The chew is smooth though I really couldn’t stand more than a bite or two before wondering if that weird burning sensation in my mouth was from the gummis - it wasn’t like eating too much sour candy, it was more like that feeling of too many chili peppers (without the actual heat).
I’m usually suspicious of the quality of candy made in China. I know that only a very small fraction is made by companies who do not abide by clean and safe practices. But I still get concerned. In this instance, it doesn’t matter that I don’t care for the origination of the candy, they taste terrible. The flavor is so muddled with the plastic notes, it’s hard to imagine that I’m not eating a toy. But as a toy, they’re not too bad, just don’t leave them out in the rain.
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