Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I consider myself an expert on candy, not just an expert on eating it, but actually what’s going on with candy and the people who make it. I’m on oodles of mailing lists and I read news feeds and trade magazines voraciously. So I’m always a little surprised and slightly disappointed to see a new candy on the shelves that I didn’t know was coming. Really, why would you sneak a candy onto store shelves without at least including it on your own website or a list that you publish in a trade magazine?
I was at Walgreen’s over the weekend (at regular circuit where I also stop at RiteAid and sometimes 7-11) checking to see if there were any new candies to review. Imagine my surprise when I found Limited Edition Twizzlers Pull ‘n’ Peel Grape actually hiding underneath the Watermelon Pull ‘n’ Peel. Not only was it on sale, but there was also a little coupon dispenser, so the regular price of $2.79 was ultimately $1.65.
The package is about 12 inches long, but the Twizzlers themselves are less than 9.5 inches long ... so there’s a lot of useless and deceptive space in the package.
The color is strange and matte, like the other Pull ‘n’ Peel varieties of Twizzlers. (The classic Twizzlers twists look like they’re made of some sort of pliable acrylic.)
Each cable of Pull ‘n’ Peel has nine strands and weights about an ounce. It’s also only 100 calories, so it’s a lot of candy to indulge in for a very low calorie cost. They’re soft and easy to pull apart (though every once in a while I’d break a string while peeling it from the others). The surface is soft and not at all greasy or sticky unless you get it wet, then it sticks very nicely to itself.
Imagine a product that takes the most memorable qualities from PlayDoh and Grape Pixy Stix. You’re thinking, “What fun! It’s candy you can play with!” But it’s not quite an even contribution from its parents, apparently candy genetics has some ideas about which traits are dominant. It has the mild and soft texture of a pliable molding clay but also some of the scent of it. (PlayDoh is also made of a wheat flour base.) But still, it smells like grape drink or Pixy Stix, but the flavor is less grape and more purple. There is some fake grape in there, but mostly the flavor notes come from the strong bitterness and strange inky qualities of the artificial colors. There’s no hint of tartness or anything else, just a mild sweetness.
The chew is good, though the lack of tang gives it a doughy flavor overall. Eventually it dissolves into a pasty puddle in my mouth along with some larger bits that stick to the sides of my molars. There’s a long-lingering aftertaste: a metallic, aluminum flavor.
American Licorice, the West Coast rival of Twizzlers recently re-issued their Grape Vines. I happened to have some sitting around to compare. The flavor of the Grape Vines is actually authentic, it tastes like raisins and concord grape juice, if only slightly. Even eating a few of those couldn’t push that aftertaste of the Twizzlers out of my mouth though.
Twizzlers did a great thing when they made the cinnamon-flavored Twizzlers Fire Pull ‘n’ Peel. Those need to come back and these need to be retired forever. (Except in cases where parents are trying to wean their children off of eating PlayDoh and need these as a positive substitution, but perhaps by prescription from a pediatrician only.)
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I’ve seen Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies in stores for years. And for all that time, I not only didn’t know what they were, I really had no curiosity. But as the Candy Blogger, I felt it was my duty to pick them up and give them a try. So I bought some.
I got the package home, opened it up and the devils were hard as rocks. I must have gotten an old bag. So I kind of dismissed it mentally. About a year later a co-worker gave me a bag and I experienced the same issue - they were rock hard.
Brach’s is now owned by Farley’s and Sathers and recently did a complete re-design of their packaging earlier this year. So when I spied the new, bolder purple and pink wrapper at the drug store, I thought this was a signal that the candy was fresh. (The expiration was March 2012.)
I was still puzzled though, and part of it is because I have no awareness at all of this candy. There are plenty of candies, food, novels and movies that I’ve never tried but I’m at least able to identify. There’s nothing remotely familiar about this candy, probably because no one else makes a version of it. The package describes it as:
So the internet and friends will not solve this mystery for me, I had to open a bag for myself. Sure enough, this batch was not rock hard and it certainly did smell like maple and peanuts. So far so good.
The candy outside isn’t some sort of maple flavored white chocolate (though I’d actually love to try real white chocolate made with maple sugar ... someone, could you work on that?). The coating is like a dried fudge or frosting glaze.
The ingredients don’t really explain the candy very well either: Sugar, Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel, Soybean and Cottonseed, Emulsified With Soy Lecithin), Modified Corn Starch, Maple Syrup, Gelatin, Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1. Freshness Preserved By TBHQ and Citric Acid.
So what I’m expecting is some sort of maple fudge covered peanut. What I got instead was a muddly wad of confusion. It was soft. I bit into it and it was like a peanut butter cookie, with a strong maple flavor to it. The center was more like a soft dough then a fudge. There’s gelatin in there and oodles of fat (from the peanuts themselves and the various added oils) but it doesn’t taste like it at all. It’s dry.
The other thing is that there is no whole peanut in there. Granted, I only expected there to be one because the shape of the candy seemed rather like a coated peanut. Instead it’s little ground up peanut bits, like a chunky peanut butter. I figure this can’t be right. I’ve gotten a batch that wasn’t cured properly or maybe one where they left out the peanuts inside of all of them. So back to the store.
So this is bag number four. This one also has a far off expiration date, January 2012 and the new package design. The cross section above shows the detail a bit better. There are chunks of peanuts in some sort of soft, not quite crumbly, doughy fudge.
The whole effect is fine, just not quite what I was expecting. For what it is, it’s certainly different. It’s sweet, but the robust peanutty-ness balances that pretty well. There’s a little hint of salt and the maple is a more defined sweetness that’s not as sticky, more woodsy. It’s more like a snack, more like a cookie than a candy.
Just about every other candy I’ve had that’s been made by a major company for at least 50 years has its imitators. For some reason no one else makes Brach’s Maple Nut Goodies
Here’s an old ad from LIFE magazine featuring the Maple Nut Goodies. It also shows Iced Jelly Cones and Chocolate Ripple Nougats, anyone else remember those?
Monday, July 11, 2011
My sense of adventure with licorice from around the world is starting to ruin my appreciation of licorice. I’ve found that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to appreciate other versions, especially the salted styles from Northern Europe, that I’m spending less of my time just eating the products I’ve already found I love.
After my earlier experiments with German licorice, more specifically, licorice from Haribo (Lakritz Parade, Goliath Lakritz-Stangen and Sali-Kritz) , you’d think I would have learned something. I found most of the licorice I bought there downright inedible by my preferences. Yet when I was at Mel & Rose Wine and Liquors last month, I bought yet another Haribo licorice product. At the very least while I was in Germany I could rationalize that the candy was cheap, most under one Euro per package, here it was over $3.00.
They’re called Haribo Pearlico. The ingredients seemed to indicate that they were a children’s licorice, with no ammonia salts. My mouth may say otherwise.
I admit that I was attracted by the look of them. Each is a large mounded gumdrop shape. They’re soft enough to be squished with firm pressure. The ingredients are all natural, so the muted tones of the little candy spheres coating the licorice center is made from vegetable dyes.
At the center of each is a soft licorice gumdrop made with treacle flavor and licorice. It’s earthy, soft and relatively smooth. The candy sphere are soft and crunchy, not dense like the American version that might be found on SnoCaps. If you’ve ever had the Haribo Raspberries, you’ll know what I mean.
The licorice center has a lot of molasses flavor, some deep ginger and beet notes, burnt sugar and soft anise. But every once in a while I was getting a real whiff of ammonia. At first I thought that certain colors were ammonia (yellow in particular) but it turned out that they were all the same, just very mildly “salted” licorice.
As a first introduction to the world of salted licorice, they’re good. The textures are fun, though the colors remind me of something that’s been left in the sun to be bleached, like old plastic toys found washed up in October on the beach.
The center contains a combination of gelatin and agar-agar so it’s not quite suitable for vegetarians.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I don’t follow ice cream much, I can’t eat that much dairy and if I’m going to have some I’ll make it cheese. But I have seen a line of low calorie ice cream products called Skinny Cow (this concoction used to be called ice milk, which was an accurate description, but the FDA later caved and allowed it to be called low fat ice cream). Personally I’m put off by the appearance of emaciated & bony cows. It reminds me of images of drought and famine; it’s never something I would think any farmer would cultivate nor something I would associate with a healthy choice. The frozen dairy line is made by Dreyer’s, which is owned by Nestle.
The natural extension of removing calories and virtually all of the actual cream from a product that contains the word cream within its name would be to tackle chocolate. The Skinny Cow confectionery line was introduced a couple of months ago with four products. I’ll tackle their Heavenly Crisp bars today. They look and sound like they might be chocolate, but do not in fact contain any of the stuff. They come in two flavors, Milk Chocolate Flavor and Peanut Butter Flavor. I was given a sample of the milk chocolate version a few months back was honestly wasn’t that interested based on the packaging. But then I saw the whole line at the grocery store last weekend, especially the Peanut Butter Flavor and thought I’d give it a try.
The Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp Peanut Butter looks more like a nutrition bar than a candy bar (though there isn’t much nutrition in there either). The package itself is small, thin and light. The bar is only .77 ounces and the package says that it’s only 110 calories. There’s an accurate depiction of a cross section of the bar and lots of female friendly swoops and curves along with pink accents.
The bar is 4.5” long and 1” wide. It’s also quite thin, at less than a half an inch.
The bar smells good, like peanut butter and sugar, a little like the center of a Butterfinger bar. The bite is crisp and crunchy, the wafers are flavorless, but light and dissolve quickly. The cream between the layers is a salty and smooth peanut butter concoction. The chocolate coating, well, that’s a chocolate flavored coating along with a few ribbons of something yellow that I’m guessing is actually made with peanut butter. The coating melts quickly and has very little flavor that’s able to shine above the peanut butter. It’s sweeter than the peanut butter center, and of course the lighter, creamy texture provides a nice blanket to the rest of the elements.
The combination is quite tasty. There’s a lot of texture and the thinness of the bar means that there are lots of bites to it. For 110 calories, it feels like there’s more to it than a single finger of a Twix which is about the same calories. But let’s not kid ourselves, there’s not much to this, it’s mostly air. The calories per ounce are on par with any other chocolate candy out there, including most actual chocolate candies like Snickers bars, Twix or just plain chocolate.
The Skinny Cow Milk Chocolate Flavor Heavenly Crisp package looks similar to the peanut butter, naturally. I only had one bar of this to try, as it was a sample that I received before they were on store shelves.
The package describes it as delicate wafers layered with delicious milk chocolate creme. It makes no mention of the outer coating, and why would it, it’s mockolate. The ingredients for this bar are dismal for a diet food:
The chocolate coating is a little cool on the tongue and very quick to melt. In fact, the melting was such as problem that it was hard to photograph and even hold in order to eat without becoming a sticky mess. The flavor is like a chocolate pudding, more on the milky side, but still with enough of a cocoa punch to be discernible.
It was less satisfying than the Peanut Butter Flavor for some reason. It might have been that it was more sweet or that it has half of the protein.
I really resent portion control sold for premium prices, especially when the ingredients here are so convoluted from actual wholesome and tasty real ones. There’s really no reason not to use real chocolate here if overall health is the goal. Even though there’s added fiber in these bars (that’s the chicory root fiber that’s also called inulin sometimes), there’s only 1 gram per portion. A portion of 70% dark chocolate with the same number of calories has about the same amount of fiber anyway. And real chocolate is usually only four ingredients and usually half the price of this stuff per pound.
So here’s my suggestion. Eat stuff with better ingredients. Try the Q.Bel Wafer Rolls (they’re actually a little lower in calories per ounce plus all natural, about the same price and actually taste better). Trader Joe’s has some great portion control chocolate (the little Belgian Bars or even a 100 calorie Chocolate bar). Or just buy mini KitKats or Pretzel M&Ms.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Since I’m on the topic of classic candies this week (starting with Orange Slices) another favorite are what are simply called the Raspberry. They’re a simple construction that mimics the actual berry quite nicely: it’s a gummi center covered with crunchy colored nonpareils in the approximate size and shape of a real raspberry.
Quite a few companies make them, Haribo’s are probably the most famous, but there’s also a great version made here in the United States by Jelly Belly (they also come in a white grape version called Champagne Bubbles).
Today’s new item is Bebeto Premium, a line of crunchy coated gummis made in Turkey by a company called Kervan. They’re being introduced to the American market at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago this week. I picked up a few samples in Cologne at the ISM candy fair there in February, and now that I know that they may be available here, I thought I’d review them.
The product line boasts all natural flavorings and colorings. They’re packaged in stand up bags with zip lock tops for freshness and each variety comes with two flavors in the mix. I got to try three of their new varieties: Tropical, Berry & Turkish Coffee
Tropical: The crunchy bits outside are sweet and have a very light fruity flavor. It isn’t until I got to the gummi center that the flavor really developed. The Tropical Ananas (Pineapple) was intense, a good blend of tartness and those pine and rosemary notes that fresh pineapples have. It was more like the fresh flavors than the canned ones. The Tropical Orange was a little more subdued, but with a good dose of zest in there to carry off a fully developed fruit flavor.
ones were rather like I expected. Blackberry starts very sweet with the light, crunchy nonpareils but then gets a good fruit jam kick from the gummi center. The flavor notes were dark enough to be considered blackberry. The Raspberry was more fragrant and floral than the Blackberry and of this pairing, it was definitely my favorite. Happily I also experience no flavor interference from the colorings.
The Turkish Coffee & Mint variety was the one I was looking forward to the most. I know that coffee or anything creamy sounds like an odd match for a gummi base, but I’ve had some wonderful Japanese versions, so I know it can be done well.
As this is an actual Turkish candy from a Turkish candy company, I expected a lot from their Turkish Coffee. The package was a mix of brown and white candies, the brown ones were the coffee (obviously) and white was mint.
The Turkish Coffee pieces smelled wonderful, like strongly sweetened, fresh coffee. The coffee flavor, in this piece, was much more apparent on the outside with the little crunchies. So far, so good. I was enjoying it and looking forward to the more intense coffee center. But that didn’t happen. The center was tangy. Generically tangy, but still with a coffee note to it. It’s like someone tossed a spoonful of lemon juice in my coffee. I thought for a while it was an error, that the little packet I had was a mistake, that they were changing over a production line. But every packet I had (I think I had four or five of these little samples that had three or four pieces each in them that I gathered from several different places - both the press room and the booth for Bebeto) was the same.
Mint was similar. The white crunchies were a strong peppermint with just a hint of spearmint. But the center was tangy. I didn’t mind that as much, I thought of it kind of like a less than zesty mojito.
I love that there are no artificial colorings in these candies. The flavors chosen for this line are great with the exception of the Turkish Coffee. I though the fruit flavors went well together in their pairings. However, the Turkish Coffee was just too weird, when I want a coffee flavored candy, I don’t want too much extra with it. Tartness definitely not a bonus. They’re a little more adult in their packaging and flavor combos, but this can easily be a family candy. I don’t know the recommended retail prices on these, but if they’re comparable to Haribo, they could fit well in the American market. The crunchy coating means they don’t stick together and would look great in a candy dish. I give the fruits a 7 out of 10 but Turkish Coffee gets a 5 out of 10 and should go back to the drawing board.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Marmite is a popular spread in the United Kingdom and other countries of the crown such as South Africa and New Zealand (though each has a different variation). It’s made from yeast extract and is rich in B vitamins. It was popular during the wars especially because it provided important vitamins and minerals for children that were otherwise scarce in their protein poor diets. In addition to the yeast extract there are some other flavorful vegetable additives such as onion, garlic and celery.
The idea of adding savory items and flavors to chocolate is not new. However, Marmite is probably one of the most savory of all ingredients as it’s pretty much pure umami with a little dash of salt. Umami is one of the five tastes that we can perceive with the tongue. The savory notes of food are made up of glutamates and nucleotides. Things can be savory even without salt, think of unsalted beef broth.
The peculiar part of this chocolate makes up very little of its bulk. The ingredients list that 98% of the bar is milk chocolate. The remaining 2% is Marmite.
My desire to eat this bar is very low. I’ve never had Marmite, but I have tried Vegemite, a similar product from Australia. It’s quite salty and has a strong savory flavor with a hint of vegetable broth. It was very smooth, almost like a jelly. After photographing this bar I left these little pieces pictured here on the shooting table but sealed up the rest of the package for later sampling. I intended to return and put the chocolate away after dinner, but didn’t get around to it for several days. When I returned to the room (which I keep shut up, because I have a dog), I feared that I had an insulation fire. It smelled strange, there was a hot, burnt plastic smell in the room. So I felt the walls and inspected the outlets and turned all the lights on and off. I went outside and looked at the house and sniffed around in the closets above the chocolate studio. Later I came back into the room and realized that it was the little pile of chocolate pieces.
I admit my mind is not open.
Opening the package again, it’s not really a burnt smell that I was greeted with. It was the smell of vitamins. You know, that vaguely yeasty smell that comes with those horsepills that are fortified with B vitamins and maybe even a few minerals. It’s not bad and maybe there’s a little hint of milk in the background. I’m trying to adjust my head to think that it’s molasses and other earthy flavors that I enjoy.
The snap is good and the initial bite gave me a mild salty note along with the milky chocolate. It’s a little malty and yes, there’s a savory and peppery sort of taste to it, kind of like cheese. But there’s also a little hint of the sulfurish onion and garlic. There’s also a little mineral note towards the end that reminds me of dried milk, sweat and that weird flavor in the back of my throat when I have a sinus infection. There’s also a lot of salt, about 300 mg per bar, which is about 100 mg per serving.
I’d say that it’s okay. I think the idea of a yeast extract infusion to add flavor and vitamins to chocolate isn’t a bad one, but the fact that there are those more vegetable flavors in there does not create a pleasant combination.
I admit I only had about four bites of this stuff. While it is peculiar, it’s not enough to keep me interested enough to continue eating it.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Russell Stover makes a coconut version of the nest, which is kind of like a milk chocolate coconut haystack. This purple mylar package features a life sized image of the candy on the front, and I have to admit that this is one of their least attractive packages I’ve seen.
The ingredients are pretty clear that this is a pastel coating confection studded with crushed chocolate cookie pieces (a la Oreos). The first ingredient is sugar, the second is fractionated palm kernel oil and partially hydrogenated palm oil.
I went into this knowing that there was no real cocoa butter in here (which at least Hershey’s still uses as a portion of their white confection these days). The scent of the product smells a bit oily and a lot like Easter, sweet with just a touch of milk and fake vanilla.
The piece is exactly two inches around. Though I think it’s supposed to look hand crafted and random like the original Coconut Nest did, it’s molded, which gives it a glossy shine but an indistinct shape. I mean, if they’ve gone to the trouble to create a mold, I think it should look like a nest, not a lump.
The confection is pure throat searing sweetness. There’s a touch of milk flavor to it and a reasonably smooth melt. But mostly it’s a sticky sweet fake white chocolate wax. The cookie bits provided the only respite, but were far too few. They’re cheap enough that I think there should have been more of them.
I was glad to try their version of the cookies ‘n cream genre and I’m glad that I’m only out fifty cents instead of being forced to go for a couple of dollars for one of the flat rabbits made of the stuff.
If someone is a die hard oiled sugar fan, this might be a good option. I know that Russell Stover is capable of better when it comes to White Chocolate because they did a really admirable job with their Peppermint Bark Snowman last year. I think Hershey’s C’n'C is better, but I’m holding out hope that some day, someone is going to make a real white chocolate version of cookies ‘n cream again. (Green and Black’s would do a fine job of it.)
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
See’s has really been increasing their seasonal Lollypops over the past few years. I quite like their Root Beer and Cinnamon offerings. The newest is See’s Orange Cream Lollypops for Easter.
They’re not sold individually like the regular flavors, so I had to buy a package of 8 pops for $5.35. The woman at the shop in Sherman Oaks said that they were selling well, and they only had the few packages that were on the counter left.
They’re Kosher though not all natural as they have artificial flavors and even some artificial colors. They are a rather low calorie treat, considering how long it takes to eat one. They’re .71 ounces and 50 calories.
The pops are the same format as the classic versions - a big 1.25 inch tall block on a stick. The hard candy is like a toffee with plenty of cream but uncrunchable. The color is a light, peachy orange. They smell like a milky orange and reminded me immediately of orange sherbet.
They’re smooth and slightly milky. The orange is light and fresh but ultimately just sweet. There was no really intense flavor to it at all. It’s not bad, but perhaps a little disappointing, though I’m sure it will be a great flavor for children who often prefer more mild flavors. Is a big switch from the more intense flavors lately like Cinnamon.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
See’s makes a fair number of classic Easter Eggs. I prefer the smaller versions, mostly because they’re a lot of small bites. But there’s something luxurious and decadent about the huge, decorated chocolate eggs they make. Thankfully they come in a wide variety of sizes. The largest are around 12-14 ounces, the middle are 7-8 and the small one I chose is 4.2 ounces. The Mayfair with Cherries & Pecans comes in a little box, tucked into a fluted paper cup. It’s less decorated than it’s larger pals, just a little sugar frosting rose on top.
Years ago one of my favorite pieces in the box of See’s Nuts & Chews was the Rum Nougat. It featured English walnuts, rum, cherries, and raisins in a chewy nougat, all covered in milk chocolate. I had to give it up about 10 years ago when my walnut allergy became apparent. Oh, how I would love it if they made it with pecans. (But there’s still a dark chocolate covered nougat that has almonds in it, though no rum and is the basis of the Awesome Nut & Chew Bar.) The Mayfair is pretty close to that rum nougat, in that it has that rum note to the buttercream center along with the cherries and for Easter, it comes in a walnut or pecan variety.
The egg is about three inches long and has a thick dark chocolate shell (made by Guittard, which is also based in California).
The Mayfair egg center is thick and moist. I was actually shocked at how pink it was, I thought the coloring would be limited to the cherries, but the fondant is also quite a vibrant shade of pink. The cherries give the center mixture a rum, vanilla and cherry flavor to it with less of a maraschino note than I’d anticipated.
The cherries are firm and moist, but don’t have much character otherwise. They’re not crisp, they’re not tart and they don’t really taste that different from the fondant since they’re more glace at this point than just syrupped. The pecans are crunchy and give a little bit of a woodsy note to the center, though the pieces were generally small and not quite as numerous as I would have preferred.
Generally, I don’t care much for candy that requires utensils. Normal folks can’t just take a bite of this, it’s intended to be sliced and served. The thick chocolate cracks when I cut it, the proportions of chocolate aren’t consistent. It’s sticky when you eat the slices. The small versions are simply better - they’re pretty from beginning to end.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The Butterscotch Square is not square and isn’t actually what I’d consider butterscotch either ... but that doesn’t stop it from being a fatty, melt in your mouth delight. The center of the square is a crumbly, slightly grainy brown sugar fudge. It has a deep salty and light molasses flavor with some hints of toffee. The milk chocolate gives it a creamy quality that serves as a counterpoint to the quick melting grain of the sugar.
I had no idea there was a See’s Butterscotch Pecan Bar, which is a pre-wrapped 1.6 ounce bar that combines a chocolate base, butterscotch layer and then a healthy heaping of pecan pieces. (I think it might be overshadowed by the Scotchmallow Bar.)
The bar is an excellent portion, a little lighter than a standard candy bar but the satiety level of the nuts more than makes up for it (210 calories but not as much fat as some other chocolate combo bars). The maple and woodsy notes of the nuts and their crunch combine well with the buttery toffee flavor of the crumbly butterscotch. The chocolate holds it all together, though provides far less of a flavor contribution on this iteration. This may be a new go-to See’s product for me.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.