Wednesday, August 29, 2012
It’s amazing the diversity of candy bars that are still available, many of the most popular bars we eat today have been around for over 70 years. One regional classic that started right near where I live now is the Christopher’s Big Cherry (original review).
The lump of a candy bar was introduced by the Christopher Candy Company, which started in 1887 in Southern California. (That company was later bought out by Ben Meyerson, who made the Sunkist Fruit Gems, who then sold out to Jelly Belly in 2006 who kept the Fruit Gems line but sold off the Christopher’s line to Adams & Brooks, keeping it in Southern California.)
More recently the folks at Adams & Brooks introduced the Christopher’s Big Cherry Dark. The wrapper is a rich brick red instead of the bright pink of the classic bar.
The bar looks terrible. It’s a big, golf ball sized mass. It’s lumpy and irregular but at least smells good, like roasted peanuts and hot cocoa.
The ingredients are, well, barely passable as an edible item, very high in partially hydrogenated oil:
The previous review I did of the classic Christopher’s Big Cherry didn’t have a cross section. So I wanted to be sure this review fully documented the innards of this candy. What does set it apart from all others (Cherry Mash and Twin Bing) is the fact that it uses a whole cherry in the center. That auspicious fact aside, it’s marginally satisfying.
The center is sweet and slightly grainy. The mararschino cherry is sweet and heavily artificially flavored and colored. The mockolate coating is supposed to be “dark” but still has milk products in it and really doesn’t do much for me except that it’s less sweet than the original version. The peanut bits in the mockolate are the shining star here, they’re fresh and crunchy and flavorful. The combination of flavors is odd, the peanuts come across as rather savory, the fudgy mockolate has a vague brownie flavor to it but at least isn’t sweet and the cherry center is a blast in the face of fake cherry and sugar.
It’s certainly not a candy for me. The fakeness on so many levels is disappointing, especially for $1.89 which I could spend on things with real chocolate and real cherries in it. But it’s unique, if that’s still a selling point. If chocolate covered bacon can be all the rage, I suppose this can find a home somewhere.
Monday, August 27, 2012
I picked up these Victory Bubble Gum Sticks which are also known as Bubble Gum Cigarettes at Rocket Fizz last week. They’re a nostalgic item, now made by World Confections, Inc. and probably not very popular with a lot of parents.
There are a few different package designs, with different names like: Kings, Lucky Light, Target, Round Up and Stallion.
There were two kinds of fake cigarettes when I was a kid. There were candy sticks, which were like a Necco wafer sugar stick with a red tip that was supposed to look like it was alight. Of course the sticks were much thinner than an actual cigarette, so the effect was weak. The second is of course the bubble gum cigarette. It’s a rod of gum a little smaller than an actual cigarette, but each is wrapped in a bit of waxed paper with a light brown end to mimic the filter. Each piece of gum was coated in a little corn starch and the wrapper is loose enough that you could blow on one end and form a little puff of powder like smoke. Of course it only worked once.
The box construction on this Victory design box is a little bland. It’s a flip top box, so there’s no tab top that tucks back in or a flip top like real cigarette packs have. The artwork is minimal, but it works in the most impressionistic manner.
There were three flavors in my box of 8 sticks. Orange, Lavender and Pink.
Pink is cherry and it’s just horrible. It’s sweet and crunchy at first, then softens up and gives up all of its sugar over the course of about 10 good chews. It’s then very stiff and bitter (from the food coloring). The slight medicinal flavor of the cherry disappears quickly as well.
Orange is orange. The flavor is vague to nonexistent. It’s quite sweet and sugary and tended to stick to a couple of my fillings until the sugar was gone. It didn’t get as stiff and difficult as the pink, but also did do much in the bubble department.
Purple is grape. There’s a strong grape flavor initially, plenty artificial but still exactly what I expected. But that fades quickly along with the sugar in the gum. This flavor also gets dense quickly so the bubble blowing window is very short. The piece of gum is also pretty small, so the size of the bubbles was always going to be modest.
The gum is marginally passable, but the packaging is quite cute. Really all I was looking for was that experience of blowing the little puff of starch out. The gum is made in Macedonia, I think my first Macedonian candy. I think the Bubble Gum Cigars are more successful overall as a novelty item that still maintains its candiness.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Hershey’s is introducing its first new candy line since, well, the last time they did it. (The last one was 2007.) The new Hershey’s Simple Pleasures line launched with three different products, all little foil wrapped chocolate patties that boast 30% less fat than most other chocolate things. Or something like that.
It’s odd to be reviewing another little chocolate covered patty after just reviewing some yesterday. Yesterday was something utterly simple, with only three ingredients (though peppermint). The Hershey’s Simple Pleasures Milk Chocolate with Vanilla Creme has oodles of ingredients:
Simple Pleasures, Complex Ingredients*: Milk chocolate (sugar, nonfat milk, cocoa butter, chocolate, lactose, milk fat, soy lecithin, PGPR, vanillin), corn syrup, sugar, glycerin, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), sorbitol, nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of: natural and artificial flavor, milk fat, modified cornstarch, soy lecithin, glyceryl monostearate, caramel color, tocopherols, PGPR
* Actually, I added the Complex Ingredients part, so to be clear, their package copy actually states:
Go ahead, look back up at that list of ingredients and see if you can find brown sugar. Nope, I couldn’t either. Also, I’m not certain why they called them dry-roasted cocoa beans. I don’t know of another process. I don’t think anyone deep fries them, microwaves or steams them in a pressure cooker. So why mention that? To confuse people.
The patties are only 1 inch across and nicely made, a dome shape with a swirl on top. They were glossy and well tempered to give a snap when bitten or broken in half. (That’s actually not easy to do, because the filling comes out.)
The filling is less of a thick fondant like Junior Mints, it’s quite a bit more runny than that. It does smell quite a bit like vanilla, almost like pudding, which I found appealing. But the appearance of the filling is a little less appealing, since it’s just a sugar goo, like a lemon pound cake glaze that hasn’t set up yet.
The chocolate is more like the Bliss line, not the standard flavor profile of Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. It’s sweet, a little grainy but consistent and with a mild cocoa note to it. The vanilla flavoring of the center pretty much screams the loudest though it’s closely rivaled by the severe sweetness of all the sugar components.
The lower fat is achieved in this product by creating a filling that’s pure sugar and water. There are also a few sugar alcohols in there, sorbitol is used, though in very low amounts (3 grams per serving of 6 pieces). So while the UNREAL candy line I reviewed last week gets its lower calorie profile by adding in fiber and other nutrients (also ending up with an incredibly long list of ingredients), Hershey’s gets there with oodles of carbs.
The Hershey’s Simple Pleasures Smooth & Creamy Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Creme is kind of the richer version of the Milk Chocolate & Vanilla Creme version. They both have the same calorie profile, though the Dark variety has twice the fiber (a whole 2 grams).
In this case the package description on the back is slightly more accurate, this variety does have brown sugar in the ingredients list. But the qualification of the 30% less fat is qualified that it’s based on the average of milk chocolates on the market. I don’t know what the average fat content of dark chocolates is (I don’t even know where to find the source material for those statements - it’s not on their website).
The pieces are, again, well made and packaged. The red foil creates an appetizing wrapper and the chocolate does look really good, well molded and glossy. Each piece is only 30 calories, and a recommended serving is 6 pieces, which is quite generous. (The whole package holds 22-24 pieces, or if you lose it and eat the whole thing, it’s about 675 calories.)
This smells a bit fudgy, a bit like brownies. Sweet and dark. The chocolate center here is a bit thicker than the Vanilla Creme. It’s like a frosting, thick and sweet and not quite grainy. The cocoa flavors are actually much better than any commercial frosting in a can. The dark chocolate shell is much sweeter than the center and actually started giving me a sore throat after the second one.
The portion control is pretty good on these. Three could be a nice treat and come in under 100 calories and look like a sufficient indulgence. But the bang for the buck and actual satisfaction I got was sub par. The reliance on sugar instead of flavor meant that mostly I was left with the feeling that I’d eaten a bunch of sugar, not some chocolate.
The Hershey’s Simple Pleasures line also includes Smooth & Creamy Milk Chocolate with Chocolate Creme but I didn’t find those at the Target I got these at.
The fact that Hershey’s has such huge brand recognition and is on so many shelves means that these may succeed in spite of their drawbacks. I don’t care to spend that much money on so little chocolate, I’d rather have a handful of at least all-chocolate chips in a smaller portion. That’s a simple pleasure. This is just too complex for me.
Simple Pleasures are made with dairy and soy. There’s no mention of shared equipment with nuts, peanuts, eggs or wheat/gluten. They’re made in Mexico.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
The description matches the Mars Milky Way bar pretty well. It’s been around since 1923 and pretty much established the Mars candy company. Companies come and go over the years trying to make that simple formula better, and right now the prime contender in the field is the new line called UNREAL which features all natural ingredients and even some nutrient fortification.
The UNREAL #5 Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar is 22% smaller than the Milky Way bar, so that right there makes it a more responsible portion. (Milky Way is 57 grams, UNREAL #5 is 45 grams.)
What’s so bad about a Milky Way? Well, just look:
According to UNREAL, the junk ingredients are partially hydrogenated soybean oil, GMO corn syrup and artificial flavor (I’m guessing vanillin. )
The UNREAL #5 bar is pretty impressive to look at. The insides contain just as many ingredients, though I wouldn’t say that all are specifically better.
The bar is 3.5 inches long and a little over an inch wide.
It smells good, quite a bit richer and darker than a standard Milky Way. The cocoa notes are far more pronounced. The caramel has a wonderful, stringy and chewy pull without being too stiff to chew easily. The caramel isn’t really a buttery caramel, as far as I can tell from the ingredients it’s just sugar with more palm oil than real cream like they promise. The chocolate is much darker than the standard milk chocolate of Mars, it’s rich and has a smooth melt on the tongue, though a light bitter note.
Oh, but that nougat. I’m not fond of the nougat in the Milky Way or 3 Musketeers. But this nougat, this is something else. It’s like a fluffy Tiger Milk bar. There’s a lot more protein in this bar than the Milky Way, and it’s easy to assume that it’s in the nougat as “milk protein concentrate”. It’s grainy, it tastes like cardboard and stale Nestle Quik powder. It really ruins it for me.
I was concerned that I got a bad bar, so I actually went out, to a different store across town, and bought another. It was the same texture and flavor profile. (The did share the same expiry date of 5/4/2013.)
I think the rest of the line is doing great things, but this one is a huge miss for me. Fortification is one thing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the primary reason I’m eating it: for enjoyment. (And the burps later on remind me of B vitamins.) For a bar that wants to be transparent, I’m having some trouble getting info directly out of the company. I’ve tried emailing them and messaging on Twitter. They haven’t replied to either. They say that they’re sourcing things ethically and sustainably, but there’s nothing to back that up. (Where does the chocolate come from, what kind of Palm Fruit Oil is that? Is that really non GMO soy lecithin? Why doesn’t it say those things on the package?)
The bars are made in Canada. They contain milk, soy, eggs and wheat. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, wheat and tree nuts.
UPDATE 8/1/2012: I have sent multiple messages to UNREAL on several different addresses. The first was to the address they published on their website on June 20, 2012. In the interim I’ve sent twitter messages. Then on July 20, 2012 I sent another message to a named contact at UNREAL at an email address given to me by a reader who met her at a twitter event. I have still not heard back (and sent another message today). So my confidence in the company’s transparency is quite low at the moment. Eat it for the taste and what you know is in the package, but I can’t buy into the ethics at the moment for the claims on the website.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.