Friday, December 7, 2012
The store shelves at the drug stores in my neighborhood are filled with Christmas candies, including the seasonal array of Russell Stover candies in Santa shapes. There’s a new one this year, the Russell Stover Red Velvet Santa in dark chocolate.
I have to say that I found the idea of a Red Velvet and Santa Claus combination intriguing. It seems like a natural fit and evokes the tactile elegance of a rich, deep red St. Nicholas coat and the traditional white ermine fur trim. But this was much better in my head than the actual execution. The wrapper doesn’t play upon that Victorian image, instead has a cartoon-style Santa on the front, holding a teddy bear.
I have very little experience with Red Velvet as a baked good. I’ve had the cake a few times, including several times baked from scratch as well as some high-end cupcakes. The cake is usually a buttermilk yellow cake with a dash of cocoa for light flavor along with either beets or loads of red food coloring. (Before the era of Dutched Cocoa, a little vinegar in the recipe would turn undutched cocoa deep red.) The selling point, for me, is the cream cheese frosting (but I usually satisfy that with a dense Carrot Cake sans nuts when given the chance).
In this case the candy is constructed of a cream center made from white chocolate (a lovely substitute for cream cheese) and actual Red Velvet cake mix according to the list of ingredients. (So this has wheat in it.)
The filling is a creamy red and a little grainy, probably because of the cake mix in there. It looks like it should be raspberry, but it’s not. The flavor is a little doughy, like a cookie dough bite, but better. The dark chocolate coating is just the right ratio - it’s not too thick or chalky and has a good, bittersweet counterpoint to the sweet center. It’s very filling.
If I had been given this lump (which doesn’t look like Santa, by the way) without any description, there is no way I could have guessed that this was a Red Velvet influenced object. I’m guessing it’s more like a cake pop (which I’ve never tried, either). I’m glad they went with dark chocolate and not white chocolate, but hypothesizing that it could have been worse is hardly a recommendation.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Last month I visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania, as I often do when I’m in the area. The themed space is open year around and adjacent to Hersheypark. It’s free to visit and is mostly a Hershey themed mall with a food court and a ride the includes the story of how Hershey’s makes their chocolate.
One of the new attractions at Chocolate World is Create Your Own Candy Bar. It’s a real, mini candy factory where you can customize a single, large candy bar from an array of options. It’s $14.95, so it’s not cheap, but it is an engaging way to spend 30 to 45 minutes, especially if you love to watch machines.
When buying the ticket, you’re asked for your first and last name plus your zip code. I didn’t realize that this was how the bar was customized as you go through the factory experience (though you’re only addressed by your first name and last initial, in case you’re visiting with your AA group). If I knew this, I could have given my name as CandyBlog as you’ll see later.
The tickets are for sale in the main lobby, patrons are given a ticket with a scheduled start time. Folks line up and are given hair nets and aprons, asked to remove all visible jewelry (rings and watches) and hopefully washed their hands. (You don’t actually come into contact with any of the equipment or ingredients.) I don’t know what the limit for a group is, but I would guess about 15-18 people.
The event starts with a quick video which shows you how each stage of the process will work. The basic steps are: choosing your formula, the production of the bar, the cooling of the bar, creating a custom wrapper and then the boxing of the bar.
The customizations are:
You simply scan your ticket’s bar code at the screen and make your selections.
Through a set of swinging doors, the set up is a real mini factory line with a continuous conveyer through a series of stainless steel machines. It extends along a long exterior wall, so it’s well lit and you can view it from the outside (though a real candy factory wouldn’t allow so much sunlight directly on the process). You can follow along and witness every step of the manufacture. Everything is well within view just behind a plexiglass divider and well marked with what’s going on at each step.
The process starts with a chocolate base. It’s like a little, short walled box of a bar. I chose dark chocolate and the suction arms picked one up and dropped it onto the conveyer to start. Along the conveyer are the six possible inclusions, when the bar arrived at an inclusion for your bar, the hopper or screw feeder opens up and drops in your items.
At each station, the items are marked and a little bit about the reasons for the type of dispensing is explained. Screw feeders work well for items that might be sticky, like toffee bits and gravity feeders are for dry items like nuts and pretzels.
Once my inclusions, pretzel bits, almonds and butter toffee bits, were inside the little chocolate box, the bar proceeded towards the enrober. All bars were coated in milk chocolate. No choice. My bar, though, was filled unevenly. The corners had nothing in them and the center had a too-high mound. I would have preferred that my bar go over some sort of vibrating bar that would level things before the enrober.
The enrober is a thick curtain of chocolate on an open mesh conveyer. The video above is short, but gives you an idea of the process. The chocolate that isn’t used gets filtered and recycled back into the system. (So do not eat these bars if you’re sensitive to gluten, tree nuts or peanuts, even if you didn’t pick those items.)
After enrobing, bars that get sprinkles will. I didn’t select those. Then the bars go into a cooling tunnel. The cooling process takes about 8 minutes, so it’s off to waste time in the design and marketing department.
Just off the “factory floor” is a room with more touch screens. Waving the little bar code on my ticket got a new series of options. First, I could design my wrapper. (Well, it’s actually a sleeve, it’s not well explained before you get in there that the chocolate bar comes in a box, which is then inside a tin which gets a customized sleeve.) The design options are not extraordinary. You can choose your background as either a solid or gradient of color or a pattern. Then there are the added items - Hershey Logos, Your Name and some icons (mostly Autumnal and Halloween). I made what struck me as a pretty ugly design and pressed print.
After that the screens give you marketing data about your candy bar. All sorts of different graphs that say how popular or common things are and what other people have done.
That process took me about three minutes, and I tried to rush through it since there were only five screens and plenty of people (including some kids which probably wanted more time on the design). Then it was back to watching the cooling tunnel ... which is a tunnel and only had a few little windows to check on the progress of the bars.
Once the bars came out of the cooling tunnel they were loaded into little slots and dumped into boxes. The boxes got a little laser printing on the end with everyone’s name, then went down to the wrapping stations. This was the only part of the process that was hands-on with any of the factory workers. They had already printed our labels and were waiting for the bars to come out. They popped the bars into a tin, closed the tin and put on the sleeve wrapper.
The factory experience gives people the ability to walk through with their own bar, but also enough time to go back and really look at the equipment if they desire. I don’t know how large the groups can get, but it appears that Hershey’s keeps the manageable so that you have enough room to move around and see everything. Photography is permitted. Children are welcome though everyone has to have a ticket (except toddlers under 2) and everyone makes their own bar. They are ADA compliant, and I saw no reason that folks in wheelchairs wouldn’t be able to get the full experience. (Chocolate World as a whole seemed to be very accessible and actually well attended by folks of all abilities.)
It’s extremely clean, as you’d hope. It’s very well run and each person you meet on the Hershey’s staff is eager and seem knowledgeable. (Especially once you get in the factory room.)
I was at the front of the line and ended up being the first bar (I already scoped what I wanted and was ready at the bar selection process). For me it was about 35 minutes, but if you’re slower or at the back of the line, this might be 45 minutes or more. So allow ample time, as well as the fact that once you get there and they issue the ticket, your start time may be more than a half an hour away.
So there’s my lackluster wrapper. Under the stiff printed sleeve, the chocolate bar is inside an embossed tin with the Hershey’s logo on it. It’s a nice tin, one that I can see myself keeping and using for storing small items.
The tin is 7.5” by 4.5” and 1.25” high with rounded corners. There’s a plastic tray inside that holds the boxed chocolate bar with the generic packaging.
The bar is pretty big. It’s 5 inches long and 2.75 inches wide and maybe 2/3 of an inch high. I don’t have an approximate weight on it, but it’s well over 6 ounces.
As I noted from the production line while watching it being made, the base is dark chocolate and though the chocolate tray had room, the inclusions didn’t make it into the corners. So it takes a while of biting to get to the interesting part of the bar.
I broke my bar open and just as I suspected, the contents spilled out. What’s more, I felt like I was missing the actual inclusiveness ... then enrobing didn’t actually cover my center. So I had my filling adjacent to chocolate, but not actually covered.
Aside from the physical mess, I didn’t like the taste. The fillings were dry and even though it was only a week later that I ate it, it was stale. The pretzel pieces weren’t crisp and were really small so had less crunch to them and were more of a grainy texture. The almonds were nice, small pieces but still fresh and crunchy. But what I was really disappointed about was the butter toffee bits. I was hoping for little Heath toffee chips. Instead I got some sort of artificial butter flavored thing that just stunk up the bar.
Though I chose a dark chocolate base, the majority of the chocolate in the bar is still the milk chocolate. It’s rich and sweet, but does have that Hershey’s tang to it. (Some don’t like it, but if you don’t ... why are you at Hershey’s Chocolate World?) The dark chocolate notes came in a bit, especially when I was eating the sides, but really didn’t nothing in the middle.
On the whole, I give myself 5 out of 10. I blame my inexperience and ingredients.
The problem with my fillings is that they’re dry. What I would suggest is either squirting a little chocolate in the base first and then putting the inclusions into it, or putting layers of chocolate into the center between the dispensing of the inclusions. Then do a little jiggling to get it all evened out and get the air out. This solves two problems.
The other thing I might suggest is that the “candy makers” get to try the inclusions first. There should be a little tasting table, maybe after you’ve bought your ticket before you get the “orientation” portion. That way we can really get a sense of what we’re putting in there instead of $15 experiments. The other thing I’d like to see is the ability to go through the process just accompanying someone who bought a ticket. I can see this being a huge expense for a family with many kids. It would be nice if the parents weren’t obligated to also get a ticket and bar.
Chocolate World is fun, and though it’s billed as free, there are some interesting attractions making this a good rainy-day destination for family, friends and couples who live nearby or are traveling through the area.
The stores there carry a huge array of branded merchandise and candy. The candy selection, though there’s a great quantity, isn’t really that diverse. For Hershey’s Dagoba and Scharffen Berger line they carry only three or four items. The prices are about what you’d pay at the drug store or grocery store when the items aren’t on sale, which is too bad. I heard more than one person lamenting that they could do better and not have to haul the stuff home if they just stop by Target or Costco. So I’d suggest focusing on the hats, tee shirts, playing cards, keychains and mugs.
What I would want from a “factory store” is a section where you can get special preview items, items out of season and of course super discounts on factory seconds. Something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I’d also want better prices, after all, you’re buying direct so if there are no middle men, why are the prices so high? The only item I saw that rose to that level of specialness were green & red Hershey-ets.
Hershey’s Chocolate World
Free parking, free admission. Fees for most special activities. Wheelchair accessible. Their hours vary wildly, so call or check their website. Open every day (except Christmas).
More photos from PennLive of the Create Your Own Chocolate Bar.
Hershey’s Chocolate World gets a 7 out of 10 from me as an adult, I think kids would rank it higher.
My ticket for this experience was comped by Hershey’s. I have not done any of the other classes or movies at Chocolate World, only the free ride and shopped at the stores.
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.
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