Friday, June 15, 2012
There are lots of different kinds of black licorice with different flavor profiles and styles. There’s American twist licorice, Dutch salty licorice and Australian soft chew licorice. New Zealand even has its own brand, RJ’s Licorice.
I picked up this sample package at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year. It’s RJ’s Licorice Allsorts and they’re made with all natural ingredients, with no artificial colors. I thought this was a great idea, because I’m often turned off by weird flavors and aftertastes from artificial colors.
The other New Zealand twist on this is the flavor set for these candies, they come in four colors and flavors: Passion Fruit, Black Cherry, Lime and Orange.
They smell really good. They’re soft and have a strong anise and molasses note. The stack for the little sandwiches starts with a white layer or fondant, which seems to be unflavored or at least lightly flavored. Then there’s a thin square of black licorice. On top of that is the special flavored fondant. This fondant is just a soft sugar mixture, there’s no coconut in there like some Allsorts feature.
The orange pieces are Orange flavored. The white fondant is like a frosting, sugary and sweet and with only a light and soft touch of orange essence. There’s no tartness and little balance. The licorice layer is soft and pliable, chewy and has a nice profile. It’s a mix of woodsy molasses, toffee and other burnt flavors. It’s only the faintest bit bitter and quite sweet in that light way that licorice is. The white layer is unflavored, as far as I can tell.
The green looks rather like a highlighter and is Lime. This one was not entirely pleasant. I didn’t care for the lime layer, it was sweet and weirdly artificial even though it does use natural flavorings.
The faint pink is Black Cherry and has a great profile. The flavor is floral and a bit more punchy than the previous citrus ones. It dissipates quickly but still goes well with the licorice layer. It tasted far sweeter though on the whole than the other flavors.
The yellow sandwich was Passion Fruit which was the odd one in the batch. It was musky and had strong honey and floral notes. It goes pretty well with the licorice, which I never would have guessed. But still, it was a lot of different sweet notes, too much for me.
If you’re the type who likes very sweet and sugary candy, the type of person who eats straight sugar cube, this is a good choice. It wasn’t licorice-y enough for me and without enough of a fruity note from the fondant. I’ll stick to plain licorice from RJ’s for now.
Friday, June 1, 2012
All share the use of M&Ms chocolate candies and pretzels, but then have slightly different elements from there. The basic mix, based on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms is Milk Chocolate M&Ms Snack Mix Salty & Sweet.
The bags are eight ounces and I got mine on sale for $3 each at Walgreen’s, but I have to believe that they’re going to be priced less than that on a regular basis for them to catch on.
First I have to say that the packaging is well done. The stand up bag does stand up and the zip lock closes easily and securely enough to both keep contents from spilling and protect from moisture. The bag also will sit “open” well enough to serve from.
The items within the Milk Chocolate mix are: Roasted Peanuts and Crunchy Pretzels from the salty side and mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk Chocolate M&Ms from the sweet side.
In the case of my bag, things appeared to be packaged in tiers, so all my peanuts were at the bottom and all my pretzels were at the top. So when I first dumped it out for photographing, I missed the peanuts entirely. (See below.)
The pretzels are barely an inch across and just lightly salted, which I thought was perfect. They’re not so big that they took up a whole bite, allowing me to combine elements for a customized flavor/texture profile.
The little chocolate chip cookies are like Chips Ahoy!. A bland vanilla cookie with teensy little chocolate chips. They’re about .8 inches around and reminded me of Cookie Crisp Cereal in shape, but actual chocolate chip cookies in flavor. They’re a little salty, very sweet and nicely crunchy.
The M&Ms are, well, Milk Chocolate M&Ms. They’re a bit dusty with crumbs or salt, but otherwise fresh and crunchy, the sweetest thing in the bag.
The peanuts, well, this is where things took a bad turn. I didn’t like the peanuts at all. I thought they were roasted too dark, they were bitter and sometimes chalky. Since everything else in the bag was perfectly fresh, it made very little sense to me why they were consistently so unappealing. (One or two bad peanuts are understandable, but they were all the same color, uniformly small in size and rather lifeless.) I have to wonder if they were a bit on the over-roasted side as a way to stabilize them, especially the fats in peanuts that can make everything greasy.
As long as I ate the peanuts in the same bite as something else, I didn’t mind the. But on the whole, I prefer a snack mix with a strong protein component (usually from nuts).
This bag features a mix of salted roasted almonds and pretzels along with mini shortbread cookies and Peanut M&Ms.
The little shortbread cookies are similar to the chocolate chip ones in size, but actually more successful in this application. The flavor is quite good, I got a great sense of the toasted shortbread cookie with its vanilla flavor. But what was really interesting was that the salt from the almonds had rubbed off on the, so there was an excellent contrast going on. They’re dense and crunchy and not too sweet.
The pretzels were again nicely layered in, a good crunch with a mild flavor.
The almonds were tiny, but roasted perfectly thought slightly over-salted for my tastes. (The overall sodium level for the snack mix is 125mg for a 1/3 of a cup portion which is about 190 calories.
The Peanut M&Ms were, well, exactly like Peanut M&Ms. They were big and had a lot of crackle going on and added a buttery element to the whole mix.
All of the items went with each other. An almond with a Peanut M&M was great. A cookie with a pretzel was also really satisfying. I was surprised at how much I liked this mix, though it does combine some of my favorite items. It was the cookies I was hesitant about, but they really did add to the satisfaction level.
The mix contains salted, roasted almonds and pretzels along with raisins and Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
This is the “healthiest” of the mixes, if you go by calorie load. There are 132 calories per ounce, slightly less than the milk chocolate mix with a half a gram less saturated fat but still 16 grams of sugars. But it does have a bit of iron at 6% of your daily recommended allowance and two grams of fiber.
Of course all of that relies on eating the exact proportions of each element in the mix. If you pick out the M&Ms and almonds, well, all bets are off.
The mix is attractive and has a good salty note to it from the pretzels and the almonds. The raisins were pretty big, soft and juicy without being sticky. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms pair well with any of the elements. Part of me would like to see a more interesting dried fruit in the mix, like dried cherries or cranberries (which do suffer from being sweetened) but this version does fit the bill by adding in a little tangy chew.
These are not candy. There’s very little candy in there, by most accounts, about 25% of it is actually M&Ms, the rest of snack foods. Mars has made a nice mix and chosen each element pretty well and balanced them expertly.
It’s a good mix for a lot of different purposes. Easy to share you can take it on an airplane, a car trip or a movie theater (of course you’d pay concession prices ... probably about $8 a bag). I prefer to make my own mixes, but if I have to grab something already made a store, this is a fair value.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Instead I’m testing a knock off version, presented by Aldi, the German grocery chain under their house brand Route 1.
The Route 1 Racer Bar comes in a well priced bag of nearly 10 ounces (9.8) fun sized bars for only $1.79.
The little bars smell good, like milky chocolate and roasted peanuts. They’re small bars, smaller than the Romeo and clock in at about .70 ounces and about 110 calories. The size is still a nice portion, and two make a good treat.
The construction of the bar is just as you’d anticipate for a Snickers knock off. There’s a nougat base, which has a light peanut butter flavor to it then a caramel over that studded with peanuts. The whole thing is covered with a very thin coating of chocolate.
The textures were great, though the ratio of chocolate was a bit lacking. I didn’t miss it though, because it really wasn’t that good. It was more a toffee milk flavor than chocolate. The flavors though, well, sometimes they were what I’d call good. But there were bad peanuts. The photo of the first bar with a bite up there, that was a bad peanut, like spit it out bad. And I accept that when using a natural ingredient that there will be bad peanuts, but then I got another. I’ve eaten seven of these little bars and two had bad peanuts. The flavor of the peanuts is a little more grassy than I’m accustomed to, which leads me to believe they may not be American peanuts.
This is the first product I’ve bought at Aldi that I’ve been truly disappointed about. I doubt I’ll finish the bag, and I doubt that folks who come grazing for candy in my office will be interested in them. I’ll stick to Snickers, even if it is twice the price.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The candies come in a variety of packages from bulk mixes, peg bags to individual flavors. For the samples I got from Jelly Belly, they came in these cute little plastic bottles in the same shape as the Snapple glass bottles. They’re each filled with 1.65 ounces of one of the individual flavors.But you’re more likely to see packages with a mix of all five. Though I like just buying the flavors I like, in this instance the packages are unsustainable and wasteful.
As an American who remembers when Snapple was introduced nationally and their commercials with Wendy, the Snapple Lady I can say that I’ve always felt positive towards the brand. However, in all that time, I’ve probably had five or six of them. Even in my younger years when I did drink juice (rarely soda, even then), Snapple was always a little too bland for me. (I also don’t know how a company can say it’s made from the best stuff on earth if they’re using aspartame.)
The bottles have a little twist off top with a ring that kept me from losing them (though I think if you pry them off, they’re like the rings from one of those spout milk jugs that cats love to play with until they end up under the fridge).
Cranberry Raspberry are red with a light purple hue. They’re sweet and have a good floral berry flavor to them. There’s only a slight hint of tartness, which is too bad, because I love the zing of cranberries.
Pink Lemonade is kind of a weird product to start with. The beans here are quite pink and without much reason other than the fact that the color is in the name of the flavor. When I was a kid I thought that pink lemonade was pink because it had a touch of strawberry in it. But a little digging and I found out rather unsettling reasons for why early pink lemonade was pink. Anyway, Snapple’s classic Pink Lemonade is simply that, lemonade that’s been colored pink. This lemonade jelly bean is bland. There’s no tang, no real zest, just a mild lemon flavor.
Kiwi Strawberry is salmon-pink. The flavor is quite nicely rounded. The strawberry is center stage, sweet and floral with those toasted sugar notes of cotton candy. There’s a hint of sour and a pleasant and refreshing melon-kiwi note to it.
Mango Madness is orange colored. The flavor is a mild mango or perhaps peach flavor. It lacks the intense pine and tartness that real mangoes have. Instead it’s rather one-note with just the sweet, Indian mango flavor.
Fruit Punch is a luxurious looking dark red color, a color I might mistake for root beer. I wasn’t looking forward to it, as fruit punch has never been a favorite flavor of mine. The notes are distinctive and have that authentic fruit punch flavor (is that guava and pineapple?) but still tastes natural. There are lots of red berry and cherry notes and a little twang of pineapple and either guava or papaya (maybe both). It was all sweetness with only a fleeting burst of tartness as part of the candy shell.
Overall, the flavors were mild. If you’re the type of person who tried Jelly Belly and thought, “My goodness, these would be good if they were less flavorful.” Then perhaps these were the Jelly Belly you were waiting for. I think they give naturally flavored & colored candy a bad reputation. I already know Jelly Belly can make good tasting beans without artificial flavors and colors, so I can only surmise that this is what Snapple customers want.
If I were a huge fan of these, I could see myself re-using the little bottles by buying bags of the mixes and refilling for easy portioning. This mix isn’t really to my taste, so I don’t see myself buying it again. I can see it getting a lot of play in places where you don’t normally see Jelly Belly just because of the brand and flavor recognition of Snapple. Jelly Belly does most of these flavors better in their Superfruit Mix or their Citrus Mix.
Monday, March 26, 2012
I picked up one of the odder Easter offerings over the weekend at KMart: Mallow Pals Strawberry Squeezable Marshmallow from a company called Hilco. I’ve seen these before, I think they showed up a year or two ago, squeezed confections have been around for a few years now. (Though I also remember a bubble gum that came in a tube back in the early 1980s as well.)
The tube is themed for Easter, in a bright pink and completely shaped like a perched bunny rabbit.
The package is some sort of mylar, it’s flexible and has a foil-like quality to it. It doesn’t hold much, there’s 1.2 ounces and I paid a dollar for it on sale. But marshmallows are mostly air anyway.
The package has a little flat plastic bottom that allows it to stand up (it stands best if it leans against something though). There’s a plastic flip top.
The ingredients are interesting and reveal that this isn’t what I consider a true marshmallow.
Modern marshmallows are made with gelatin. The protein in gelatin will stabilize whipped sugar syrup to hold the airy foam. Egg whites also perform the same in fresh goods, but don’t usually do as well when exposed to air. But still, they’re found quite often in treats, such as the Schokokuss or Mohrenkopf that’s found in the German speaking parts of Europe. The upshot of all of this is that this product is good for vegetarians who have to avoid traditional marshmallow products. (It’s not Kosher though. There are no statements about allergens on the package. It’s made in China.)
The goo has that soft and sweet smell of cotton candy. It squeezes out pretty easily. It’s soft and gooey and slumps over instead of forming bouncy peaks like marshmallow does. It’s pretty sticky as well. The texture is smooth, though there are a few sugary grains in there from time to time.
The strawberry flavor is mild and floral with no tartness and a weird bitter aftertaste that I can only assume is contributed by the artificial coloring. It dissolves quickly.
It’s weird stuff. It’s hard to imagine eating it right out of the pouch, but if I were a kid, I probably would. It’s sticky and can easily get messy. The pouch is easy to grasp, so it’s easy to dispense, though not necessarily easy to control like a pastry bag. It’s very low in calories though and one tube, though it’s supposed to be a serving, could probably be stretched to two if you were looking to limit calories.
It seems like it would be more fun to use as a frothy frosting item to ice cream, cookies, crackers, fruit or maybe even on top of hot chocolate. Sucking it right out of the tube seems a little wrong.
It comes in a couple of other flavors, I saw Green Apple on the shelves and I’ve also seen it listed online in Blue Raspberry.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Werther’s Original is known best for its smooth hard caramel candies but they’ve recently ventured into the world of chocolate. Werther’s is made by Storck, a Germany candy brand that also makes Toffifay, Merci Chocolate, Mamba chews and Riesen caramels. It always seemed odd to me that their chocolate brand was under the Werther’s label instead of the Merci one, but perhaps they went with the one with the best brand recognition.
Werther’s Original Caramel Milk Chocolates feature the familiar amber yellow and brown branding of the Werther’s caramels. The bars come in a familiar style of upright, flat bar package. They’re 3.5 ounces and I found them at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck a piece. What was even better though was the the package once I opened it up. There were four little individually wrapped bars inside the easily re-closeable sleeve.
The little bars are about 25 grams each (.88 ounces) and the nutrition facts suggest that two are a serving, but I found one sufficient.
There were three varieties on sale at the store, so I bought all of them. Though the smart little bars are color coded, they’re not actually marked with the name of the variety on them. I found the purple and magenta confusing when not placed side by side.
I tried Werther’s Original CaraMelts before a few years ago, which is some sort of caramel flavored white confection and found it was not suited to my tastes, a little too fatty without much flavor. I was hoping this would have a little more depth.
The little bar is a ripple of that cream confection and a milk chocolate.
The melt is quite nice, extremely smooth and though sweet, it’s not sticky or too thick. The milk and dairy notes are clean, like fresh butter not powdered milk. The cocoa notes are rather faint overall, kind of a malty and toffee note to it, but not much more than that.
The Werther’s Original Dark Cream Caramel Chocolates in bar form are similar to another version that were introduced a couple of years ago called Werther’s Original Dark Cream Chocolates which were sold in bags and individually wrapped and shaped like the Werther’s Original hard caramels.
The difference between the two products, as far as I can tell, is shape and price.
When they named it Dark Cream, they really meant the cream part. The fat content on this particular bar is through the roof, at 164 calories per ounce with 79 of those fat calories. The second ingredient on the list after milk chocolate (I know, what makes it dark chocolate cream if it’s made with milk chocolate?) is cream powder then whole milk powder. You’d better like dairy.
The Dark Dream looked odd, the color was not quite appetizing. I can only describe it as a faded or dead looking brown, instead of a lively and rich red-brown like many chocolate bars are.
Even though I complained that there was a lot of milk chocolate in this bar, and a lot of milk, it still had a deeper cocoa flavor to it and was certainly less sweet than the Milk Cream version. The melt is very smooth and has a good flavor balance between the actual cream flavors and the toasty, woodsy cocoa notes.
The back of the package says Enjoy four individually wrapped bars of European Milk chocolate with pieces of crispy Werther’s Original Toffee.
The ingredients are much simpler as well, just real milk chocolate with lots of extra dairy fats and some toffee chips made with real butter.
The bar has the same faintly off color for the milk chocolate. I can only assume that the reason for that is because it’s diluted by all that extra milk and dairy in it.
The toffee chips are well distributed and at a good ratio to provide a lot of texture and flavor. The milk chocolate is smooth and buttery though again, not very chocolatey. The toffee chips have a good balance of crisp texture, easy crunch, salt and burnt sugar notes.
Overall the price was good for this set of bars, and I enjoyed the portion control that’s usually lacking in these large tablet bars. But the chocolate is weird, it’s too much dairy fat and not enough cocoa butter. I can see the appeal for some folks, especially those who like the mouthfeel of super-slick chocolate like Dove. But I want more chocolate punch in my chocolate.
The allergen list on these was long, pretty much the only thing it doesn’t contain and isn’t co-processed with is shellfish.
Friday, March 2, 2012
Brach’s has gone through a lot in the past few decades. Like many American candy companies, it was started by a real guy who put his name on the brand, Emil J. Brach, in Chicago, Illinois. In my lifetime though the company has been through many hands. It was owned by American Home Products, who sold it in 1987 to Jacob Suchard which was bought up by Callebaut in 2003. Callebaut sold off Brach’s to Farley’s & Sathers in 2007. Farley’s & Sathers have since tried to make over the brand to restore it to its roots and classic recipes.
The Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs of my recollection have always been pastel colored, speckled and the size of a small pecan in the shell. Last year I picked them up and they were white but more importantly, they actually used real milk chocolate which has become a rarity for an Easter malt product. Still, they weren’t great.
What makes the Fiesta Malted Milk Eggs different this year is the amazing size of them. They’re large: absurdly, ridiculously and tooth-dangerously huge. Most are about 1 1/2 inches long. The nutrition facts panel is exactly the same as last years, saying that each egg is about 0.275136903 ounces each. But I’m calling shenanigans on that, these ovoids are at least a third of an ounce, if not heftier. The nutrition panel does actually have one anomaly, it says that the suggested serving size is 39 grams and the calories are 160. But that works out to 113 calories per ounce, which is pretty low for a chocolate product.
I had to crack them on a hard surface first to eat them. The shell is very thick and trying to bite them was downright dangerous to my choppers. (And I often ended up with a slobbery and sticky mess, as well.) Think of them as an Everlasting Gobstopper that instead of having a SweeTart at the center, has a malted milk crisp. The shell with the real, but poor quality, milk chocolate coating comes apart from the malted milk crisp center quite easily. So I ate most of these in pieces. I’d pull off the shell and eat that, reserving the malted center for last. They were well protected by the shell, so they were dry, crisp and melted easily on the tongue. They’re milky and barely sweet with that inimitable malty flavor.
I love the fact that there’s so much malt inside, but the chocolate is just plain weak and the space-age strength of the shell was not exactly a selling point. I was actually wondering if one of those soft boiled egg cutters would be of use. (True candy needs no tools, assembly or dis-assembly.) I have to downgrade them to a 5 out of 10.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
One of the charming candies that I’ve sampled over the years from Japan is from Fujiya. Fujiya makes confections as well as running a series of cafes. Their mascot is Peko-Chan, little chubby cheeked girl in pig tails, which is now a well recognized icon around the world and appears on the Milky brand of chocolate candies.
Fujiya also makes a line of inexpensive chocolate candies more for adults under the Look line. These are usually little trays of individual pieces, often with multiple flavors in one package. I was attracted to this new introduction of single flavors. The Fujiya Look Crepe in Chocolate comes in a nicely sealed flat package and retails for less than $2.00 usually.
The tray inside holds 12 pristine and lovely little chocolate squares. They’re a little over 3/4 of an inch square and a half an inch tall. They’re shiny and fresh. So far, so good.
The English translation sticker on the back lists the ingredients and the nutritional panel. Instead of giving the calories for a serving, it says that one piece has 24 calories. So they’re kind of high in fat since they clock in at a calculated 158 calories per ounce. The other thing that the ingredients revealed is that this isn’t quite real chocolate. It’s made with cocoa butter, but there’s added vegetable fat. After eating them, I wouldn’t have needed to be told.
Again, they look great. They smell great. The bit is soft, the “crepe” inside is like an ice cream cone or feuilletine. It’s crispy and has a slight toffee flavor to it. It’s airy, you know, because there’s that big void in the middle ... a great mix of textures. But the problem becomes the chocolate coating. It looks great and even has a rich chocolate flavor, but the texture is just weird. It’s gummy, thick but without that smooth melt that real cocoa butter delivers. I’d call it waxy, but because it does actually melt, it’s hard to pin that on it.
The chocolate flavor, however, for a milk chocolate product, is especially rich, like a really decadent cocoa drink. It’s also not overly sweet. But still, since so much of the candy is made up of the chocolate, it’s just too disappointing to keep eating.
Like the blue packaged Crepe in Chocolate, the pink packaged Fujiya Look Wafers in Chocolate have it all going on in the looks department. The packaging is sharp and accurate. It’s bold and even has enough English on the wrapper to keep me from being confused.
This version is a little lighter, each piece has 22 calories. The construction is like a KitKat bar, a series of light wafers with cream between them. There are 12 little pieces in a segmented tray in the package.
The wafers are great, airy and crispy with a slight vanilla and malt note. The cream between them ... hardly noticeable. It’s all overshadowed by that same, weird, not-quite-chocolate stuff. It’s too bad, because I really wanted to love these, especially the Crepe since it’s such an uncommon combination in the United States. At least I know that I wasn’t imagining it or it was some anomaly with one package. Both had the same qualities, both were within the expiry and obviously were stored properly.
I might give Look another try, as they try new flavor combinations very often, but I’ll be careful to read the package first so I don’t get my hopes up for good chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.