Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
In the category of licorice-free extruded starch gels, Twizzlers are at the top of the heap. Though they’re known mostly for the standard hollow Strawberry twist, Twizzlers come in a vast array of flavors, color and formats. One of the newer versions Twizzlers has been expanding is the Pull n Peel varieties. Pull n Peel is basically the old fashioned laces, but formatted in a way that makes them easier to portion and package.
I picked up this king size version of Twizzlers Mixed Berry at Walgreen‘s, mostly because it came in the king size instead of the big nearly-a-pound bag. There are six twists in the package, a mix of three flavors: Cherry, Black Raspberry and Strawberry.
The twists look kind of like a swollen version of what you’d find if you stripped the insulation off a phone cable. There are nine different colored “wires” in each bundle. The effect is quite appealing, as they twist gently and stick together lightly in the package. It’s kind of like a wheat-based package of mozzarella cheese sticks.
The texture is much more smooth and pliable than the regular Twizzlers, which I find a bit on the stuff and crumbly side of the plastic realm. My twists stuck together quite a bit, so it was hard to just pull off a single lace to eat separately. Cherry was the most discernible of the flavors. It had a deep medicinal note. It was smooth, not too sweet but also had a hint of salt to it. Strawberry was very mild and more sweet than Cherry. It didn’t have any tangy note, which I didn’t expect, but was also missing that fresh floral hint that usually evokes cotton candy in many other strawberry candies. The Black Raspberry (the blue strand) didn’t do much for me, it wasn’t distinct as a raspberry flavor on its own, but it definitely wasn’t the same as the other two.
Eaten as a whole bite of multiple strands, it works well. None of them stand out, it’s just a generic fruity-berry flavor. There’s a bitter note towards the end though, which I’d guess are the artificial colors or flavors.
I could say that one twist is satisfying enough (about .7 ounces), since I didn’t want to eat another after that. But if you’re the kind of person who misses that period of life known as kindergarten when it was socially acceptable to eat PlayDoh, then the Twizzlers Pull n Peel are probably right up your alley. (I’m not making that up, either. The ingredients of Play Doh are also largely starch based, though it’s not sold as a food item and Hasbro dissuades people from eating it, it’s really the salt that might make that a bad idea and the fact that it contains wheat so it’s not gluten free.)
Monday, April 14, 2014
In the list of candy holidays, Easter ranks at the top by creating more Candies You Can Play With than any other. The product name, Creamy Lemonhead and Friends JuJu Flowers, actually sounds weird. A lot of those words don’t seem to go together. The Lemonheads and Friends as a brand doesn’t work for me, as I don’t think that the friends are that identifiable. The word creamy before Lemonhead is absolutely jarring and the idea of Jujus are anachronistic enough but then adding the shape of them just makes for a string of “I don’t think I’ve had that before, have I?”
These pretty morsels aren’t shaped like eggs or rabbits, but simply like little six petal flowers. (For the record, I looked up jujubes, they’re in the same order as roses and do actually have five petals or multiples of five.)
The flavors sounded interesting: marshmallow creme, orange creme, strawberry creme, lime creme and banana creme. The last one, banana creme was the one that really got me. Banana is not a common flavor, so this pretty much was why I plunked down my dollar.
Marshmallow Creme is pretty much flavorless. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar flavored candy. It was very clean with a light vanilla note. I liked using it as a palate cleanser between the other flavors.
Lime Creme has a rather interesting flavor profile. The creamy background gives this a key lime note, though there’s no tart note to it like actual citrus fruit.
Orange Creme is refreshing. It’s like a creamsicle without the zap of the orange juice. It’s just sweetness with the creamy smoothness of the jelly chew and a hint of zest.
Strawberry Creme , unfortunately, has some red dye flavors that just ruin it for me. It’s more strongly flavored that the other pieces, the strawberry is rather fake instead of clean and fresh, which is too bad. Since there’s no tangy component, a candy like this should taste rather like cotton candy, not a vinyl inflatable beach ball.
Banana Creme was not what I’d hoped. Instead of a creamy, sweet tropical banana flavor ... it really tasted like a bland lemon creme to me. It tasted do much like lemon that I have to wonder if the packaging label was a mistake. Now, as a lemon creme, it’s passable, actually good. It’s like the marshmallow but with the slightest hint of lemon.
All the flavors were mild, but the whole thing was, well, simply pleasant. They’re like Dots, except they don’t stick to my teeth quite as much (but they still stick).
I wouldn’t buy these again for eating, but they are really great looking. Their outside texture is smooth and dry, so they don’t stick together at all. The colors are bright enough that they could be used for something other than Easter, as well. I could see these as a nice jar of candy for a candy buffet for a wedding or shower. They’re certainly inexpensive, at $2 per pound, if you wanted to sort them to use only particular colors, that would be a viable option for many budgets. They’re not gummis, so there’s no gelatin in there. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts, milk and soy.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
You would think that a candy as special as Sour Patch Kids, first introduced in the 1970s in North America, would be available all over the world by now. Sour Patch Kids are basically sour sanded Swedish Fish (also introduced originally by Malaaco but now made by Cadbury/Adams, now part of the global Mondelez/Kraft snack empire) and have become a sort of genre of candy all on their own. There are a dozen different varieties, from single flavor (watermelon), fruit & berry shapes and odd flavor combinations.
Back in 2012 Mondelez introduced Sour Patch Kids to the United Kingdom under the brand Maynard‘s, which was already known for its kid-friendly sugar candy lines. They weren’t a straight-up import though, the flavors were tweaked to include blackcurrant and instead of being a jelly candy, they were made with gelatin ... now they were gummis.
I actually wasn’t aware of this history before I went to London. All I knew was there were some new Sour Patch Kids flavors not sold in the United States: Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz. The flavors are Cola, Orangeade, Cherryade, Tropical and Apple Fizz. They were easy to find but rather pricey for the 160 gram bag (5.64); they retail for £1.48 or about $2.50.
What originally interested me was the cola. There are Haribo sour sanded cola gummis, but no vegetarian options as far as I knew. Well, if you read closely above, the Maynard’s version contains gelatin (though it’s bovine, so if you avoid pork products, you can still eat these though they’re not marked Kosher or Halal).
Cola was definitely the star here. It’s quite tangy at the start and though I was thinking these might have some sort of fizzy component, they’re just sour sanded. The cola flavor is well rounded with some spicy notes as well as a good lemon and lime zesty citrus bite. The flavor seemed a little more intense than the Haribo Happy Cola, but still didn’t quite rival the excellent Cuba Libre gummis I got last year from Sugarfina.
Orangeade was going to be my second favorite by its description, because I used to like orange soda. But this was strange. The sour start was good, but the flavor got strange after that. It’s sweet but not very orange and there’s a darker note in there, almost like there was a mix up and some tropical flavoring was dumped in there.
Cherryade is weird. At first it tasted like a medicinal cough drop, then it was pleasantly sour, then it went back to the cough drop. It’s almost like a Dr. Pepper, the cherry flavor is that far off from the wild cherry of Life Savers. Of course I’ve never had British cherry soda, so this might be a great imitation.
Apple Fizz is interesting, but only in a disappointing way. At first it tastes like a sour Jolly Rancher, with a little note of actual apple juice ... but then it tastes like I’m chewing on a vinyl children’s wading pool. It’s pretty awful.
Tropical actually tasted like blackcurrant, if that’s possible, with some guava thrown in for soupy sweetness. Definitely distinctive, definitely one I avoided.
For a late entry into the sour sanded gummi, these aren’t good enough to compete, at least in the US. Now, if Cadbury/Adams wanted to make a jelly version of these for the US, I’m absolutely interested. The flavors, however, should be more like our popular sodas: Cola, Cherry-Cola, Root Beer (or Grape if the sourness is an issue), Lemon-Lime and Dr. Pepper (or whatever that flavor is).
Maynard’s Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are not gluten free.
For a local opinion, hop over to Grocery Gems for a review.
While I was pondering Sour Patch Kids, I saw at the store that there’s actually a new flavor in the current mix. Thankfully they didn’t boot a flavor out of the standard berry, lime, orange and lemon mix, instead they’ve just added in blue raspberry.
I picked up a box, mostly to compare the texture of the gummi version to the jelly version. But I figured I’d give the old blue a try, too. My initial impression without trying them was that blue raspberry was going to be too close to the Swedish red flavor and wouldn’t be distinctive.
The sourness of Sour Patch Kids is distinctive - it’s tart, it’s sandy, but the powder is actually less grainy in the North American version than the UK. It’s immediately sour, but not such a thick crust that it doesn’t dissipate quickly. Mostly I was tasting this for the new blue flavor, but I reminded myself why Sour Patch Kids are fantastic.
Blue is a light raspberry flavor, there’s a strong sweetness to the center with a light floral flavor ... but this is pretty much the profile of the red one (Swedish Fish flavor). It’s not quite as intense, but if you gave these to me with my eyes shut, I don’t think I could tell the difference. In fact, I separated out a pile of blue and red mixed, and at them without looking and really didn’t know the difference. The lime, lemon and orange are easy to pick out, even though they’re all citrus.
There’s no problem, as far as I’m concerned, to simply have another berry flavor in the mix, even if it’s not distinctive. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t have grape though. My favorite will always be orange, it’s zesty and soft and sour. All the right things in all the right proportions.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
While most hard candy is considered “old people candy”, Jolly Rancher really sets itself apart as an intense sweet for all ages.
Most of us encounter Jolly Rancher candies as little twist wrapped pieces in a bowl. So when I saw this little rectangular pack at Target, I thought it was an interesting way to format the iconic candy. Jolly Rancher Strawberry and Green Apple Hard Candy has 1.2 ounces and 9 pieces inside. Each is wrapped in a piece of clear cellophane, easy to carry, easy to share and with just two flavors.
The pieces are different from what I’m accustomed to with Jolly Rancher candies. They’re not little rods, they’re squares. The ingredients are also slightly different. The original Jolly Rancher hard candies are not aerated, there are no bubbles in them and they’re ever so slightly soft, like some sort of viscous solid. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then sugar. In these little squares, it’s sugar first, then corn syrup. Looking at the candies, they’re not glassy transparent either, so it appears they’ve been aerated slightly.
I started with Green Apple, because that’s the iconic flavor that Jolly Rancher is known for. It’s a tough flavor, because part of its profile is its artificiality. It was definitely tangy and caustic at first, like some sort of chemical peel for my tongue. That faded quickly into the familiar acidic green apple flavor. What was most surprising was the crunch ... I could crunch it. Because the pieces are small, you can crunch away immediately and there’s not tooth-cement issue. Still, the artificial flavor has a sort of of “sour but maybe bitter and salty at the same time” flavor going that was not as good as I recall the truly authentic version having.
Strawberry is quite tart at the beginning and reminded me immediately of sorbet (which often has an extra little pop of lemon juice in it). The flavor is bold and pretty well rounded and only has a slight note of metallic artificiality to it. It’s fresh tasting, overall. I like the crunchy, it’s not too much candy.
My roll had three Green Apple pieces and the rest were Strawberry, so the flavors are not evenly distributed. (Lifesavers always had an order to them, though you might not get a roll that started with the same flavor, they always went in the same progression once you started.) The way the package is made, you have to tear the outer wrapper to get to the inner pieces ... they seem to be glued in there.
I felt these were missing one of the key attributes of Jolly Rancher hard candies, the smooth, syrupy dissolve. Without that, the flavor was just passable, nothing terribly exciting. I might feel differently if they had the Fire Stix in this format, as there really is no other cinnamon hard candy roll out there (since Reed’s disappeared), even if they don’t have the same texture as regular Jolly Rancher. But they’re not a great value and difficult to unwrap.
These are made in Mexico. There’s no nutritional information on the wrapper and nothing, at this time, on the Hershey’s webpage for Jolly Rancher that lists it for this particular version of the product. There is also no statement about allergens, but does contain soy.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I’m not surprised that Russell Stover is expanding its cake-themed candies, as they already have a Cookie Dough Egg and multiple holiday version of Red Velvet Cake. This spring they’ve introduced three new eggs all with cake themes: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake and Wedding Cake.
The thing that’s so odd about them is that they’re eggs. None of these flavors are particularly Easter themed. In fact, I find the idea of a Birthday Cake flavored egg for Easter downright odd. Carrot Cake is the only one that makes a modicum of sense, since carrots are associated with rabbits, which are associated with Easter.
Russell Stover Carrot Cake Egg covered in White Chocolate is only one ounce. It looks the same as the other Russell Stover egg packaging, green foil and a white emblem on the front with a little bow and the Russell Stover logo. There are elements of an amber orange and a slice of cake featured on the lower right.
As with the other cake and dough eggs that Russell Stover started making, it’s an odd sort of bon bon. The filling actually contains cake mix. So inside is an unbaked cake mix that’s creamed together with some milk and butter to create a filling that’s then molded into an egg shape inside a white chocolate shell. Kind of weird.
It smells very sweet with a little note of cinnamon and nutmeg along with some sort of dairy milk. It’s a little flat, so it’s easy to bite. It’s extremely sweet, but the filling has a sort of cookie dough consistency. It’s a little grainy, as I can feel the sugar and the raw flour in the center. It’s not pasty, as there’s enough fat in there to let it dissolve and melt like a bon bon should. The carrot notes are a bit lost, it’s the spice cake flavors that really create the reality.
Overall, aside from its sweetness, it’s pretty good. I can’t say that I’ve ever really wanted a carrot cake bonbon, so this doesn’t fill a hole in my heart. I’d say that some pecans would enhance it, but they’re an unlikely addition at this price point.
Russell Stover Birthday Cake Egg in Milk Chocolate with Sprinkles doesn’t look much like a birthday item. Sure, there’s a bow on it, but there’s a bow on all of them, and they’re not for anyone’s birthday.
This egg feels bigger than the others, though the wrapper says it’s also one ounce. The cake featured in the picture is a yellow cake with a chocolate frosting. Just as the carrot cake version lists cake mix, this one lists Yellow Cake Mix in the ingredients (also white chocolate, even though it’s covered in milk chocolate).
The egg is not molded like the others, instead its enrobed, like the Cookie Dough Egg I reviewed last year. There are little sprinkles stuck to it, though I think there were just as many rattling around in the package when I unwrapped it.
I don’t care for sprinkles, they look pretty and all, but they’re a mess. They don’t taste good and they just leave evidence everywhere that you’ve not only been indulging, but indulging in something with sprinkles on it.
The egg itself smells a bit like dough, it has that uncooked batter note to it. The center is soft and easy to bite, the chocolate stays together, but the sprinkles rarely make it into my mouth. The milk chocolate is merely passable, it’s not strong but does have a sort of malty element that stands up to the otherwise bland battercream. Though I don’t have a cookie dough version right here, I recall this being much different except that the center is a little softer and less crumbly.
If you’re a cake person, sprinkle person or your birthday happens to fall around the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, this may be the perfect candy for you.
Russell Stover Wedding Cake covered in White Chocolate is an extremely sweet confection. (I didn’t get a photo of the package, or even a particularly good photo of the candy.)
It’s a white cake center with a white chocolate coating, so the notes are pretty much vanilla and sugar. The center is a bit softer than the Birthday Cake, though still has the sugary grain to it. It’s just slightly fluffed but has an overall milky sweet flavor and a hint of the raw flour.
It was far too sweet with no actual purpose to it. The idea of wedding cake that’s all white with white frosting and no note of raspberry or marzipan is actually kind of foreign to me. This taste more like grocery store sheet cake ... which is not something I think anyone strives to emulate. I’m sure there are some super-sweet-toothers who will enjoy this, but I think it as was just too sweet and one-note.
The cake thing is lost on me. I don’t mind when things go back to the source of why we made it a cake flavor in the first place, like taking the flavor elements of coconut and chocolate and caramel from a German Chocolate Cake ... but yellow cake can stay in the realm of baked goods from no on.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Birthday Cake Milk Chocolate M&Ms are out on shelves even though Mars announced that they would be released in May 2014. The new cake flavor comes right on the heels of the Walmart-exclusive Red Velvet M&Ms that also came out this year.
The description is rather vague: Delicious milk chocolate infused with birthday cake flavor creates an exciting new treat worth celebrating. Part of my confusion comes from an actual non-standardization of birthday cake as a singular flavor. Is it yellow cake with vanilla icing? Is it devil’s food with chocolate frosting? Is it an ice cream cake with candle wax? I’m going to go with chocolate cake and white (vanilla) icing, since that’s what the red M is holding on the package.
It’s unclear if this is a new permanent addition to the M&Ms varieties, which currently include: Milk Chocolate, Peanut, Dark Chocolate, Dark Peanut, Peanut Butter, Almond, Dark Mint, Raspberry, and Pretzel plus other seasonal varieties. They currently come in two package sizes, the stand up bag holding 8 ounces shown here and the single serve version.
The candy coated chocolates are quite big and very bright in primary red, yellow and blue. I noticed that they had the same cracking and dusting problem I experienced with my Red Velvet M&Ms earlier this year. I don’t know if it’s because they’re bigger or that the specialty versions just get treated more roughly than regular versions. I polished them individually for their photo shoot. (Really.)
They do smell sweeter, with a little more of a vanilla note than regular M&Ms. They’re not that different from regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, except that they’re bigger. They’re not that good though, the novelty of the flavor wears off after about five of them. They just seemed sweeter ... the chocolate certainly isn’t great. I’ve noticed that the quality of the chocolate is one item that Mars has not been focusing on over the years, instead it’s been the added flavors, colors or special printing you can get on the shell.
I did try them compared to the Red Velvet M&Ms, since they’re both based on cakes. What I noticed is that the Red Velvet tasted more like buttered popcorn but also had a bit more of a tangy note. The Birthday Cake, on the other hand, has an Angel Food Cake note of baked sugar and vanilla.
I’ll stick to the Almond M&Ms, just in case anyone was wondering which M&Ms to have at my birthday party.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The package describes the bar as Whipped Creamy Center with Caramel Covered in Chocolate. So, rather like a Milky Way Midnight bar.
The back of the package spends a lot of space telling you about what ingredients are in there, what ingredients may have been near the other ingredients and what ingredients are never in anything they make. It’s free from GMOs, preservatives, peanuts, eggs and gluten. Made from 99% organic ingredients (salt and water are the only non-organic items). It contains soy and dairy (made with rBHT free cows), but it’s also manufactured in a facility that processes tree nuts, wheat and seeds.
The two bars are a nice size. They’re one ounce each (a total of 2 ounces for the whole package). For comparison, a Milky Way Midnight bar is 1.76 ounces. The price for the bars is steep, I paid $2.49 for this, so twice as much as a regular Mars candy bar but actually larger. Inside the wrapper (which was devilish to open) the bars are set in a tray which protects them pretty well.
The bar just out of the package smells rich, like woodsy cocoa. Biting into the layers, it’s soft, not quite foamy but very forgiving. The fluffy center is less than creamy. It’s more like the nougat center of a 3 Musketeers. It’s airy and slightly grainy. It smells a little, well, cheesy. The caramel is unremarkable. There’s a malt note to the whole thing, but overall the center is quite sweet.
The dark chocolate is good, it’s at least bittersweet and cuts through some of the sweetness. The overall effect of the sort of the brewers yeast flavored center with the overt sweetness and lack of toasty caramel notes left me unimpressed. Granted, Milky Way has never been a huge favorite of mine, so the alternate versions I’ve had over the years are trying to measure up to something that I don’t care for in the first place. At this point, I’d say the other offerings in the Andy’s Dandy bar line are going to be more satisfying.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.