Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
As disappointed as I was that the Peppermint Peep Stars had artificial sweeteners, I was just as excited to see that Trader Joe’s has Peppermint Marshmallows that are not only all natural, but also Kosher! (Which basically means that they’re using Kosher gelatin, which is non-porcine.)
However, Nicole at Baking Bites already had a review of them, which didn’t say they were bad, just that she wasn’t thrilled with the flavor. I still really wanted to try them, especially because it was Hanukkah.
The large marshmallow cubes come in a little tub and weigh a hefty 7 ounces. The packaging was a bit, well, feminine with all its pink and green-ness. But it was refreshingly un-holiday, which might mean that they’d be an all-year product. When they say that they’re all natural, they’re not kidding. The pink swirls are created with red radish juice.
They’re only vaguely pink with some little streaks of darker pink inside some of them. They were very hard to get out of the tub. The first one I mangled (but put back together for the photo) so I just dumped the whole tub out and lightly teased them apart. (Perhaps some waxed paper between them in the future?)
They felt very strange and fleshy in the hand. A little bouncy, a little latexy and not terribly light for a marshmallow. The outer texture was a little grainy, I’m guessing where the moisture of the marshmallow mixed with the sugar and dusting of corn starch. They smell like peppermint, but on the medicinal side somehow. Like toothpaste. And maybe mentholated rubbing alcohol.
The first time I bit into one I was puzzled and repulsed. I made my husband and a neighbor try it. They were both, well, not thrilled (and I had to give them something nice to eat after that). I waited a couple of days and dug around into the bottom of the tub to see if that was just a bad couple of squares.
It’s like eating toothpaste. They’re kind of fluffy, but not light. The texture is grainy, like a sugar paste. I can only imagine this is a bad batch because Nicole’s looked more like marshmallows and less like wads of chewed bread dough.
I went back and looked at Nicole’s photo and realized that this must be a bad batch. My best indication for this is that the tub weighed over 10 ounces (the marked weight is 7). So I went back to the store on Hyperion in Silverlake. All of the others on the shelf looked the same and were the same lot number, so I passed (and obviously picked up a bunch of other goodies you’ve been reading about this week). I also told the manager on duty that there was something wrong with them. I figured another store would have a different batch. So today I went off on my lunch break to the location on Third and La Brea. Sadly I didn’t memorize the lot number and ended up buying the same lot (1101071730 exp 01/26/2008) and finding the same grainy consistency (and this package weighed 9.8 ounces according to my postage scale).
I shouldn’t have to work this hard. (I haven’t decided if I’m going to take these back. At $4, I want something that’s at least the intended quality, even if I don’t like it.)
As far as buying artisan marshmallows, I’d say stick with either one of the actual artisan companies (Plush Puffs, Little Flower Candy Company & Boule are some good Los Angeles-based ones) or go for the French ones from Arnaud Soubeyran or the Williams Sonoma house brand (I tried them last year but never got around to reviewing them, they’re very dense and latexy but really satisfying). Or just get some Jet Puffed. It’s sad, because these are the first Kosher marshmallows I’ve found.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
I wasn’t much for dolls as a kid. I never had a Barbie. Instead I played with things like microscopes, art supplies and Playmobile/Lego. Sure, I liked to dress up, but I never considered myself very feminine and wasn’t terribly interested in fashion, makeup or my appearance. (I admit that I liked to braid my hair though and collected rhinestone jewelry ... and often wore much of my collection at once.)
There were candy cosmetics when I was a kid, not that they did anything. You can still get the little lipsticks. Which weren’t actually meant to be applied to the lips, they’re just little cylinders of compressed dextrose in a lipstick container. (The most successful candy lipstick, as most kids know, would be Easter Malted Milk Eggs, which could be used to painting lips, faces and dog noses.)
So in two ways this candy is kind of lost on me. It’s based on the idea of cosmetics (I still rarely wear makeup) and the fashion dolls line called Bratz. But it’s candy ... and good candy should stand on its own!
All four of the candy products from Dracco in a licensing agreement with MGA Entertainment are related to lips. Or is that Lipz? Bratz are a group of girlz who love clothz. Their appearance is stylized, kind of like the Troll dolls from when I was a kid, except instead of being asexual, these are hypersexual.
It’s sweet. Not an overly sour bubble gum, just lightly tangy and fragrant. It has a nice soft chew, a little slick without much graininess, so bubbles were pretty much ready to go.
It really wasn’t that flavorful though. And it didn’t make my lips look any different.
(5 out of 10)
The only “makeup” I wear on a regular basis is tinted lip balm. But usually regular lip balm. When I was a pre-teen I did fall into the obsession with BonneBell Lip Smackers. But I was always disappointed that they had no real flavor, just scent.
This cute little Candy Lip Gloss Tube is much like a package of Blistex. It’s a gooey liquid in a clear plastic package. The applicator tip is angled and has a little hole. A gentle squeeze to eject a little drop and then press against the lips to apply.
I was expecting something sweet and sticky. And though it smelled like lipgloss often does, it tasted like a liquid strawberry hard candy. A little tangy and lacking in a deep flavor.
As for lip decor, it was a little runny at first, then when left on the lips it became dry and sticky. However, this did impart a glossy appearance. The light pink tone in the tube did nothing on my lips (well, they’re kind of that color anyway).
(4 out of 10)
It took has a light strawberry smell and light pink color.
I have less experience with bottles of gloss, but the ones that I’ve tried usually have some sort of spongy tip for precision application. This is just a plastic stick. (But probably slightly more sanitary. If licking a stick and putting it back in the bottle can ever be considered sanitary for candy or cosmetics.)
(3 out of 10)
This Candy Lipstick is the same as the others, only in solid form. A little smaller (more slender) than a real lipstick, but hard candy certainly doesn’t have the engineering problems that a semi-solid fat does.
This one was easy and satisfying to simply eat and not apply. The other goos just didn’t lend themselves to licking off the applicator. After numerous applications though my lips were actually a bit chapped ... hmmm. But they looked redder!
(4 out of 10)
I’m of two minds about candy lipsticks & glosses. First, lipstick is consumed. We think it’s for external application only when in reality it’s slowly eaten off the lips by the wearer. Some may be lost due to transfer to a cup or a kiss, but most of it is eaten. What’s in there? Here’s what’s in Lip Smackers. Try reading what’s in lipstick sometime. Definitely not something you’d slather on your toast every morning. So this is definitely safer for pretend play for kids than the real thing or even flavored lip balms. Second, imitative play is good, natural and healthy. Children have been “playing house” and aping their parents for thousands of years. But it may be training girls to eat the lip products! So, I simply don’t know.
Most of all, I’m not a parent.
This is a product that’s capitalizing on the licensing of the Bratz characters on the packages. If you’re already a fan of the Bratz brand, then these are probably a nice product, especially for the younger kids who want to experience cosmetics but really aren’t ready.
As a candy, these are marginal at best. But mostly harmless from the standpoint of a cosmetic item. (Well, they’re made in China, I can’t vouch for their safety.)
Monday, October 22, 2007
Here’s one of those candies that I only saw in my Trick-or-Treat haul: Sixlets. Oh sure, they were probably in stores that I frequented. They come in a variety of packets, including the “changemaker” size that holds eight little candy spheres and used to sell for a two cents.
The big reason I shunned Sixlets was I was never quite sure what they were. Are they like M&Ms? Are they candy coated peanuts? Are they a jawbreaker?
Eating them never really answered those questions. They definitely don’t have nuts in them, but taste a little nutty. They’re not like M&Ms, though there is a chocolate-like center. They’re not jawbreakers, in fact the shell is pretty thin.
Sixlets are currently made by Oak Leaf, who makes bubble gum and other confections in Canada that are usually sold in bulk and dispensed in gumball machines that are sold by the handful. Before that they were made by Hershey’s, which purchased the Ovation brand that made Sixlets under management of Leaf (they also made Whoppers, which Hershey’s kept).
Sixlets are certainly cute. They come in vivid colors: Yellow, Green, Red, Orange and Brown. They’re spherical and consistent looking, with a shiny candy shell. The center is a malty-flavored mockolate. Made from partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, sugar and milk protein, they’re not really that appealing as a confectionery item to eat on their own. Cocoa powder is way down at the fifth position on the list of ingredients. The candy shells are pretty ordinary, except for the orange one, which has a light orange flavor to it (just as Smarties from the UK do). The mockolate barely has a chocolate taste, and the whole thing is a little grainy and a bit greasy.
What they lack in taste they more than make up for with economy and portion control. What other candy comes in little tubes of 8 pieces? Not to mention the fact that each little tube has only 35 calories!
Why Oak Leaf came out with the Limited Edition Dark Chocolate Flavored Sixlets is beyond me. The regular ones barely taste like chocolate and any health benefits of “dark chocolate” will be ruined by the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
The package is attractive, the Sixlets mascot is some sort of an insect ... well, maybe he’s an insect, he only has four legs. And he wears glasses ... and wants us to eat one of his segments.
These little packets were unmarked. Just generic clear cellophane tubes with little unbranded spheres inside.
The taste of the “dark chocolate” isn’t really noticeably different from the regular Sixlets. They’re just as disappointing as the regular Sixlets ... except that I paid for this whole bag (I picked the other little guys up at the All Candy Expo).
There are differing stories about why they’re called Sixlets. The current packaging has them in tubes with 8 pieces or 20. Some folks say that they used to come in tubes that had six for a penny. Others say that they came in boxes that had six individual boxes in each package and that’s how they were written up in the wholesale catalogs. It could be that someone just thought it sounded like a good name ... maybe they were into numerology. The number six represents “Reaction/flux. Responsibility” according to Wikipedia. If anyone else has any theories, I’m happy to entertain them.
Like them if you will ... just don’t call them chocolate. They might be good for decorating ... the rest of these are going in the Trick-or-Treat bowl (don’t worry, I’ll give the kids something good and just slip these in while they’re not looking).
Sunday, September 2, 2007
There used to be rules and people followed them. Oh, they were informal; things like no white shoes after Labor Day, your shoes should match your belt. Seasonal merchandise wouldn’t be put out until the previous holiday was over (no Christmas goodies before Thanksgiving). But those rules are long gone.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Halloween candy out already at the RiteAid before Labor Day. But at least this was something different. Instead of fruity flavors, this twist is from Brach’s Milk Maid line and is called Caramel Candy Corn.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with Candy Corn. Well, some folks have a love-love or a hate-hate ... which averages out in the big scheme of things to a love-hate for the general population. I hate-love candy corn. I don’t really like eating it, but I love looking at it and the smell of it.
This stuff smells really promising, if a little overwhelming. Like caramelized sugar. It smelled so great in the store, I really wanted to take it home. Of course in the car (which I admit was as hot as one of those scented oil diffusers) the smell started getting to me in the way that candle stores do.
It all boils down to this, if you like Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly, you’ll probably like Caramel Candy Corn. I don’t and I didn’t.
The texture is good, a nice smooth fondant. The white tip is unflavored and the two lower layers, orange and brown, are butter flavored fondant. The caramel flavor that the smell implies is completely missing, instead it has that intense note of butter flavored popcorn just crackling away in the microwave.
I just didn’t like them as much as I wanted to. Not nearly as much as the Brach’s Autum Mix (candy corn, Indian corn and mellow cremes). I was really unhappy that it was $2.29 for the bag to boot ... yeah, it’s a 19 ounce bag, but what do I need 19 ounces of buttered popcorn flavored candy corn for?
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
There are many surprising things about Circus Peanuts. In fact, everything is so incongruous that there’s nothing that’s not surprising. That’s how jam-packed full of nonsense they are.
They’re shaped like peanuts, big big peanuts in the shell. But they’re orange in color. The orange color bears no relationship to the flavor, banana. And why even call them Circus Peanuts? Because they’re jumbo sized and you might feed them to an elephant ... come on, that’s a serious stretch.
They’re one of the most enduring candies in the United States, made first in the 1800s. Kind of like the Candy Corn of marshmallows, no one really knows when they started for sure. Except in the case of Candy Corn where many companies have tried to take credit, no one really bothers to try to brand Circus Peanuts. You don’t even see a TM after the name! No one knows the history of Circus Peanuts because everyone is so confused by them that they wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to clear much up. We can all continue to live in blissful mild confusion (and perhaps irritation that so many niblets of corn are wasted on so many Circus Peanuts).
Circus Peanuts are made by at least four different companies in the United States: Brach’s, Melster, Farley and Spangler. Melster, based in Wisconsin makes more than Brach’s & Spangler put together, though often you don’t see them packaged under the Melster brand, they’ll be done for grocery stores and drug store chains or maybe just found in bulk. In this article from 2003, it turns out that Spangler alone makes nearly 4 MILLION POUNDS a year. What? Who the heck is eating all these ... or are they just used as decoration or perhaps packing materials.
Circus Peanuts are shaped like peanuts, usually light orange/peach in color and banana-flavored. When fresh, a bag of Circus Peanuts can smell more like fingernail polish remover. When stale they can smell like, well, nothing at all. The artificial banana flavor must be some volatile compound that evaporates when exposed to air or perhaps a fierce stare.
Technically they’re a marshmallow: they’re sugar, corn syrup (and/or high fructose corn sweetener) and gelatin with some color and flavor thrown in. The gelatin helps the whipped sugar keep its foam. But instead of being extruded as most marshmallows are, these are molded, which might explain some of their density. Because of the high amount of corn syrup in them, they’re rather moist when fresh and can become stale and pretty firm. They’re not quite smooth in texture like most marshmallows, instead there’s a bit of graininess to them. The look like they’re made of fine porcelain of terra cotta. They can even make that clinking sound if you wait for them to get very stale.
I have bought Circus Peanuts before, usually when I find them ridiculously on sale, like 25 cents for a 10 ounce bag. Then I open the bag, get woozy from the fumes and remember why I don’t hang out in nail salons. Then I eat one or two and curse myself for buying them. Later I’ll find myself sneaking into the bag and eating them one or two at a time. When eaten with other candy or salty treats like popcorn, they’re not so bad. (Try Twizzlers or Cheetos.) Not a ringing endorsement.
If there’s one thing to be celebrated about Circus Peanuts it’s that they led to the creation of Lucky Charms. A General Mills team was charged with creating a kids cereal in only six months. So they sat down with everything available to them, from Cheerios and Wheaties to a bunch of candy from the store shelves (apparently that’s what a kid’s cereal is made from). They put bits of stale Circus Peanuts (now called “marbits” in the industry for marshmallow bits) in a sugared Cheerios and everyone loved the idea. A cartoon mascot and bit of Americana was born. So if you find yourself stuck with some extra Circus Peanuts, perhaps chop them up and throw them in your breakfast bowl.
Some brief facts:
Other thoughts around the ‘net:
Friday, April 13, 2007
After my pleasant first experience with CocoaVia last year I was happy to find that CocoaVia was at the ExpoWest trade show back in January. It meant that I could try more of their products without shoveling out oodles of dough. They were sampling their milk chocolate covered raisins, which I thought tasted like milk chocolate raisins. They also had a large assortment of their bars out there. It was hard to talk to the folks at the booth for all the attendees grabbing the free samples by the handful, but I stood my ground in the crush and had a nice conversation with the CocoaVia people.
I like the idea of portion control. I had a little problem with those big tubs at Trader Joe’s sometimes, because I will just keep eating from it. I learned a long time ago to take a handful and put it in a little dish, close up the tub and put it away and then enjoy my treat.
I think CocoaVia’s idea for a portion controlled sweet is two-fold - small individually wrapped packages sold only five at a time. And charge $20 a pound.
Chocolate Snack Bar - the package on this one is a bit deceptive. It just shows some chunks of chocolate but it’s really a bar of crispy/chewy grains with a chocolate base. It feels much more filling than the 80 calories might ordinarily seem.
The crisped rice and grain crunch is mellow and malty while the chocolate gives it a creamy and tasty component. Yeah, it could be bigger, but it’s a supplement bar, not dessert. (The ingredients on this bar list Almonds and Peanuts.)
80 calories and 25% of our daily RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E and 10% of your B6, B12, Folic Acid and Vitamin C.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Crispy Chocolate Bar - seemed to be more accurate on the picture front, little chunks of chocolate with itty-bitty crispies mixed in. The bar is dark and has a very green and smoky taste to it. And a bitter aftertaste. This was a seriously strong bar with a dry finish. Not really an indulgence, I felt like I was working to find the pleasant flavors instead of just enjoying it.
I waited a couple of days and tried again and I’m gonna have to pass on this one, it’s just too bitter. It’s like eating a spoonful of cocoa.
90 calories and 10% of your RDA of Folic Acid, Vitamin C & B12, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6 and 30% of your Calcium.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Milk Chocolate Bar - was very nice. Super creamy and smooth with great chocolate notes and some caramelized milk flavors. This bar was softer than the other ones (you can see it even melted a little bit under my hot studio light when I was taking the picture).
It reminds me a lot of the Dove milk chocolate, which shouldn’t be surprising since they’re both made by Mars. However, there is an odd bitter (and only slight) aftertaste for me. It’s a little metallic and it could just be the fortifications, but it makes it less like candy for me.
110 calories and 20% of your RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6, 10% of your Vitamin C, Folic Acid & B12.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These are all okay, but I still have to say that their best innovation so far is the Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. I even found them locally at Shim’s Produce (it’s kind of like the 99 Cent store of grocers). They had stacks of boxes for only 99 Cents. I thought there must be something wrong with them and only bought one, but it was just fine (expiration date of July).
That brings me back to the huge drawback of the CocoaVia line. The price. At about $5 a box of five, it’s pretty harsh for the pocket book and not terribly satisfying to the sweet tooth. If anything I’d feel obligated to finish something I don’t like because I paid so much for it.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I know that in my childhood days I’ve spent many a disappointing hour gnawing on what looked like a generous and delectable Palmer faux chocolate bunny in front of the TV (usually with a jar of peanut butter nearby ... yes, I double dipped).
But look at these! They’ve got Polka Dots. Polka Dots are never evil!
Okay, now I’ve eaten three.
The mockolate is a little grainy (in the sugar way, not in the coffee ground way) and kind of has this cooling effect on the tongue. The peanut butter is really roasted and has a dark toasty taste to it, but isn’t terribly sweet, which balances the sweet milk mockolate well. There are little crisped rice in there too, which gives it a little crunch.
As a mockolate product, they’re not bad. They’re a little pricey for fake chocolate goodies (there are 4 ounces in this mesh baggie and it cost a dollar ... so it’s $4 a pound ... you can certainly find Reese’s Eggs at that price on sale).
If you find them on sale and just need something for decoration, you could do worse. But if you’re looking for pretty and tasty, there are plenty of tried and true options on the store shelves.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.