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.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I’ve never been particularly fond of chocolate coins. They’re often a let down. The foil might be pretty, and as a kid I was particularly fond of money that could also be eaten, but the chocolate has always been a disappointment.
I was happy to give this Rabbit Change a try even though had little hope that it would be tasty, mostly because it was only a dollar for 2 ounces. I’m guessing it’s a rather intensive production process because some chocolate coins out there are very expensive.
These little coins have a rabbit on one side that says “Rabbit Change” and the other side has the denomination of the coin in “carrots”. The little ones are 14 carrot and the largest is 24 carrot. The pastel foil is also pretty darn pleasing.
If you peel chocolate coins apart carefully enough you can put the foil pieces back together again. It’s a nice trick to make your Easter basket appear as if you have some self control. Of course it’s also a horrible disappointment when you have short term memory problems and then you think that you have candy left as well.
It doesn’t really matter, because these aren’t really that good, and I’m pretty sure the memory of this sub-standard chocolate would be retained. While the ingredients peg this as “real chocolate” it’s grainy, very sweet and lacks the buttery melt on the tongue that says chocolate to me. It smells like cheap vanilla candles. I’d be happy to let these sit in my Easter basket to make me look like someone with standards.
The quality control on the coins isn’t very good either. One of mine was completely blank on both sides and two were blank on one side. Though that’d probably get you a lot of money if it were a US Mint product, it’s not really a selling point here. Because the only thing this candy has going for it is the pretty foil with the imprint on it. Still, it’s a good price and if you’re looking for candy more as decoration than an item for consumption or your children don’t much care (or you don’t care much for your children) then this is a good value. They’re getting a 3 out of 10 only because they’re cute.
This product is Kosher ... in case folks want to play the Dreidel game for Passover. Rabbit Change is made in Turkey.
Friday, March 02, 2007
My next door neighbors went to Peru for three weeks and brought back a huge cache of Peruvian (and South American) consumer candies. (They also brought some cookies, but I’ll try to keep this focused.) I find it quite fun to sample the consumer candies of all countries and regions and Peru was no different. So here are nine candies from Peru:
These little guys probably look familiar. They’re chocolate lentils ala Nestle Smarties. Only they’re not quite Smartie-like ... they’re the same size as M&Ms (Smarties are just slightly flatter and larger than M&Ms). The shell on these is very thick and crunchy. The colors are unbelievably bright.
The chocolate itself is only so so - grainy, too sweet and completely lacking in chocolate taste.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
This bar had a lovely photo of the cloud-wrapped city of Machu Picchu on the box. Inside the box the large chocolate tablet was inside a plastic wrapper that looked exactly the same.
The bar was attractive: a dark looking milk chocolate.
The snap was not as sharp as some dark chocolates can be and it had a rather soft bite as many milk chocolates do. The flavor is rather milky, in a goat-cheese sort of way, with a little tangy note. The flavor of the chocolate was also strongly raisiny. It was very pleasant though completely different than most other milk chocolate bars I’ve had.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
This is one of those bars that looks huge. The package is about the size a set of Twix bars, yet it only weighs 18 grams. This featherweight bar is all wafers with some light mockolate coating. Between the wafers is a little cocoa cream.
The bar, called Cua Cua, I’m guessing is a play on the sound a duck makes.
The bar smells sweet and a bit of chocolate. It’s also a little smoky smelling, though I couldn’t quite figure that out from the ingredients.
The mockolate was of course waxy and unappealing. It often flaked off the bar when I bit into it. I’m a big fan of wafer with cream (I can’t imagine how many pounds of Nabisco Wafers I’ve eaten over the years) but this one just wasn’t quite as ducky as I’d hoped.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
This bar calls itself “barrita ba?ada rellena con crema de chocolate” which I’m guessing means chocolate filling with crisp wafers bathed in chocolate.
The crisp log of wafer was interesting, kind of like a sweet Cheeto. The chocolate filling was like a frosting, with a good chocolate taste and slightly grain. Like the Cua Cua, this was a light bar. Though it’s big it only weighs 26 grams (and is the size of a Snickers ... which are 58 grams). Unfortunately the coating on the outside isn’t chocolate and it’s rather waxy and uninteresting.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
Name: Gomas Eucalypto
These are crazy! Crazy, I tell you.
They’re little gummis covered with granulated sugar. About the size and shape of an incense cone. Nice and soft but with a good gelatin bounce. They look like they could be green apple or lime or maybe even spearmint. But they’re not. They’re mentholated eucaplytus flavored. Just like Hall’s Cough Drops.
It’s rather refreshing to get a cough drop that’s not all crunchy and hard, instead it’s soothing and invigorating all at once.
Definitely a winner in my book.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The packaging here is pretty, it’s a white thick plastic wrap with a bold brown logo for the name of the bar and pretty little pictures of the nuts in the bar.
The label says, “tableta con sabor a chocolate rellena con mani almendra y cereal crocante” which means “peanut, almond and crispy cereal filled chocolatey bar.”
The nuts were fresh and crunchy and gave the bar a promising aroma, but the mockolate in this bar was waxy, chalky and just so bad. Look at it in the photo ... does that look like something you’re supposed to eat or something I molded out of dung?
Rating: 2 out of 10.
If it weren’t for the Arcor brand on this, I’d be looking forward to this bar. The label says “Oblea rellena cubierta con caramelo y cereal crocante, con cobertura sabor chocolate” ... which translates to (courtesy of the wrapper, thankyouverymuch) “Filled wafer, toffee, crispies, all covered with chocolate flavor.”
Oh Arcor, again with the chocolate flavor? Is that why your company motto is “Le damos sabor al mundo” (translation: We flavor the world)?
The bar looks promising as well, with it’s crunchy studded mockolate. Inside are wafers with creme filling and then a scant covering of glistening caramel (I’m guessing that’s the toffee). The wafers are nice, and the toffee adds some nice flavor to the whole thing, but the bar had a rather chemical taste, like licking fresh dry cleaning. I don’t know if that’s the taste of Carbox/Methylcellulose (the last ingredient on the list), but it made my tongue buzz.
After this series of Arcor products they are now on my list as the Worst Candymakers in the World. (Granted, I haven’t tried everything made by everyone yet.)
This candy bar was made in Chile.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar. The wrapper says, “Chocolate Blanco de leche con Mani” which is “white milk chocolate with peanuts.” Doesn’t sound too bad.
And it is pretty cute to look at.
The chocolate is rather sweet, but also has a salty bite to it, which helped the peanut flavors stand out. I’m wondering if this was not de-odorized cocoa butter (most white chocolate is deodorized, so it has no chocolate flavor to it). It just may have been that the milk flavors with the peanuts were strong.
It was actually pretty good white chocolate bar. A little grainy but not the least bit waxy.
This bar was made in Bolivia.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar and of course has a upscale appeal of a regal name like Princesa. The ingredients are promising too, real chocolate in there.
The bar says that it’s “chocolate relleno con crema de mani” which means “chocolate stuffed with peanut butter.” Yum!
The chocolate here is dark (though there’s some milk listed in the ingredients, it’s way down the list). It’s a creamy though sweet bar. The peanut butter is very smooth and creamy as well and is completely overshadowed by the chocolate.
There’s a little spicy taste in the background, kind of like cinnamon.
This is a nice bar, not as peanutty as I expected, but as sedate and reserved as you’d expect from royalty.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I’ll save you from skimming to the end of the review. Yeah, that holds true in the case of American Value bars.
This is a long thin Milk Chocolate bar that clocks in at a respectable 1.4 ounce portion and mentions the price of “4 for a Dollar every day” in a ghastly yellow logo in the corner. The label couldn’t possibly be less compelling if you gave me a version of Microsoft Word 95 to make it in. The package says nothing to recommend it, it doesn’t get our hopes up, it doesn’t lend any expectation to the experience.
Inside the package things get a bit better. It looks like a chocolate bar (and the ingredients reveal it’s real chocolate as well). It smells a little nutty and a little like chocolate. Sweet and less that ultra smooth, it’s a passable chocolate bar to give a child that isn’t very finicky, has a short attention span or perhaps you don’t like that much.
Since the bars are rather attractive (probably more so if you don’t leave it at the bottom of your bag when traveling) I would be comfortable recommending this bar for craft projects like Gingerbread Houses in the style of mid-eighties cubicle farms.
Though the Milk Chocolate bar was plain, it wasn’t pretending to be anything it wasn’t. The Four Finger Wafer Bar is a KitKat clone. Instead of the simple declaration of the contents that the Milk Chocolate bar has, this one says that it’s “Crisp Wafer Fingers Covered in Smooth Milk Chocolate.”
Oh, now they’ve raised my expectations. I’m expecting some smoothiness and some crispiness.
The wrapper features more design than a lowly word processing program could handle. This does not make it any more attractive. It’s not your monitor either, there’s a strange green cast to the package as well.
There are, in fact, four fingers. They are, in fact, crisp. They do not taste like KitKat fingers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These are a bit less flaky and light. Looking at the ingredients I see that maize flour (corn) is used instead of wheat flour of a Hershey’s or Nestle’s KitKat. I actually rather enjoyed the malty corn flavor of the wafers. However, the chocolate here was funky. It had an odd flavor to it, kind of like a new car smell.
This bar was made in the UK (the Milk Chocolate bar was made in the USA). Taquitos.net has a few of the other Dollar General candies reviewed. I get the sense that Dollar General just subs out the manufacture of all of their candy - the Rocklets they sell under their own name are made by Arcor in Brazil, this four fingered bar in the UK and the milk chocolate bar in the US ... so you wouldn’t expect them to be so consistent.
Friday, January 12, 2007
I’m a big lollipop fan. (No, not that I like big lollipops.) My favorite cheapo lollipop is the Orange Tootsie Pop (though I enjoyed the Limited Edition Tropical flavors last year, too). Blow Pops aren’t quite as good, mostly because the gum isn’t candy and they don’t come in orange.
While wasting time at the Pittsburgh Airport, I found these Blow Pop Minis. They herald, “It’s a Blow Pop with NO Stick!” Hallelujah! Now adults can eat their Blow Pops without being branded Rejuveniles.
While they say they’re Blow Pops without sticks, they’re also without mass. They’re wee little candies, about the size of a smooshed garbanzo bean. And they’re mostly candy. They come in four flavors: Watermelon, Blue Razz, Cherry and Sour Apple. (No, no grape, which is a classic Blow Pop flavor.)
I talk a lot about proportions when it comes to candy. Sometimes something can be coated in too much chocolate or not have enough of a particular element. Let me just say that the blow part of the Blow Pop Minis is sadly lacking.
First, the gum is hard and tacky. Some of the time it wouldn’t even chew, just sit in the crevasses of my molars until I picked it out or ate something to dislodge it. Second, if I got the gum to chew, it was a wee amount. We’re talking the size of a BB. It would probably take six candies to make the amount of gum in one Chicklet.
These are stupid. Why not make one large enough to hold a responsible amount of gum? These little candies are probably a third of the size of a Root Beer Barrel. And you’re wondering, why not just sell them has plain old unfilled hard candies? Well, then they’d just be Charms.
The gum ends up being tough and flavorless ... rather like chewing a stamp or a piece of paper.
The candy part isn’t bad but, of course, none of the flavors are favorites of mine.
This is just a bad idea.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I’ve often said that you can cover garbage in chocolate and sell it as a delicacy. And we do, you can find chocolate-covered candied orange peels and even dead bugs. (I’m rather fond of the former, not so much with the latter.)
Of course potato chips are hardly garbage, they’re wonderful, wonderful things. I don’t eat them much any longer but I do admit that I miss them. But since my life is all about candy now, something had to go.
When I saw these in the 75% off post-holiday clearance section at Target I figured this was my opportunity to have some chips!
Let me start by saying it’s more chocolate than chip. Each chip is quite heavy but still bears the unmistakable shape and ripple of a potato chip. They even smell a bit of potato chips.
The coating on them smells sweet but not very chocolatey, it smells more like coconut and caramelized sugars. Some of the chips are stuck together, but hey, that happens in bags of chips anyway. There is an unmistakable crunch at the center and a nice hit of salt and an immediate potato chip flavor there.
But something is off about the chocolate. It felt greasy. It didn’t so much as melt as just slide around in my mouth. At first I didn’t know if it was because the chips imparted that but after looking at the ingredients I realized that it’s not chocolate.
Maud Borup’s recipe for milk chocolate goes something like this
So, I guess that’s why they’re called “Milk Chocolate Dipped” in quotes. When in reality it’s just the milk chocolate part that should be in quotes. I’m quite sure the dipped part is accurate. But real milk chocolate, at least in the United States must contain chocolate liquor (the slurry made from grinding up cacao until it’s a smooth paste that is often separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Just putting in the cocoa powder does not make it chocolate. It makes it chocolatish or chocolate-flavored. The fat in chocolate should be cocoa butter ... not palm kernel and partially hydrogenated palm oils. (For the record, the partially hydrogenated amount must have been small since the trans fat content was marked as zero on the label, but who knows if the small print is accurate if they’ve already duped me with the milk chocolate claim.)
Anyway, I really wanted to like these because I am a huge fan of chocolate dipping, including savory items like pretzels. But the greasy texture of the not-chocolate coating and the weird buzzing feeling that the chips left in my mouth (I don’t know what that was ... maybe there were some traces of walnuts in there) just makes me wanna chuck these out the window. I’m really glad they were only two bucks and I didn’t pay the original $8 for them because then I would need to sweep up some glass.
(I’ve had other candies from the overlord company that owns Maud Borup and found them quite tasty, so I’m not going to write the company off completely, though I may email the company about my displeasure.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.