Thursday, November 20, 2014
It’s November and all over the world men are growing mustaches in support of men’s health issues and research. This annual holiday is known as Movember and can be tricky for children to participate in, since they’re usually facially hairless.
Enter a Christmas treat that’s available a little early ... the Trolli Santa & Elves Mustaches.
The package says: Wear it on your lip, then wiggle it into your mouth. Different mustache shapes and flavors twisted together for awesome gummi good times.
The flavors are Cherry, Cherry & Lime and Strawberry & Cherry.
For the record, I rarely like cherry flavored candies ... and I don’t actually like mustaches.
The Green and White is Cherry & Lime: the texture is soft and chewy, very nicely molded and quite easy to bite. The tartness of the lime is apparent, though the cherry is still the dominant flavor. The color is strange but actually looks pretty good on the face.
The Red and White is Cherry & Strawberry: this is a little more mild than the lime one, the strawberry notes give it a floral berry note, but still has enough of a tangy kick to keep me interested. The cherry is balanced, definitely a partner and not overwhelming. I could tell the flavors apart, easily, even without looking at the colors.
The White is Cherry: I was actually hopeful that the lack of red food coloring would allow me to really taste the cherry flavor. The black cherry notes are woodsy and deep, with some excellent jam flavors in there. I thought this was an excellent cherry gummi. Nothing I’d want to keep beneath my nose for any length of time, but quite appealing.
These are genuinely fun, a unique version of a candy with an interactive element that both girls and boys can enjoy. (I can see them featured in lots of Christmas photos.) I didn’t care for the cherry ubiquity, but maybe there will be an Easter version in all citrus flavors.
Gummis are made with gelatin, so not appropriate for vegetarians. This version contains coconut oil and is made in a facility where milk, tree nuts, peanuts and soy are present. There was no statement about gluten. Trolli also makes a version called Swirly Mustaches in vibrant colors.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I feel like there is a perfect gum out there for me, I just haven’t found it yet. So when I saw Simply Gum at the checkout at Lolli & Pops one afternoon, I bought it on impulse just because of the name of the flavor: Fennel Licorice.
Upon further reading I saw that there was more going on here than just the unusual flavor and enticing package. Simply Gum is made with real chicle instead of synthetic gum base along with organic sugar and glycerine.
The packaging is spare and thoughtful. Inside the flip top, there’s a little sleeve that holds “post chew wraps”, so even thought the pieces don’t come in little papers, there are papers to responsibly dispose of your gum when you’re through.
Though the box is square and the nuggets inside fill the package, after I dumped them out for photographing, I found that there was a spacer bit at the bottom. As if they’d either originally specified more gum in the box but later decided for less but didn’t want to change the package, or it’s just intended to mislead the consumer. The box only says 12 pieces (there were actually 18 in my box but they’re not consistently sized), but never says how big each piece is, the weight I came up with in the stats box is from weighing the pieces.
The nuggets are just that, a rope of the brown-sugar hued gum is snipped into pieces. They’re a little smaller than a regular portion of gum, but not by half. When I chewed it, I wanted maybe 1.5 times as much.
The pieces don’t stick together, they have a little rice powder on them (kind of like a corn starch). They smell like fennel, just like sticking your nose in a bottle of fennel seed. The chew releases the sweetness quickly, and instead of becoming more firm, like most gums do, this became thinner. It was too thin really. It’s like riding a bike in the wrong gear, my jaw is going too fast for this gum. I’m just spinning and the gum is squishing around.
Aside from the texture, I love the flavor. It was earthy and substantial. The licorice flavors weren’t overly sweet or metallic. The mineral notes weren’t rusty. Instead it tasted rather of beets. I felt like it freshened my mouth, yet still went well with coffee or tea. The flavor lasted quite long and though the sugar was gone, fennel and licorice have a natural sweetness that lingers. But the gum base was just too squishy.
So, if you’ve been looking for an all natural gum that chews better with a glass of iced tea than hot tea ... well, this is your gum. I might try another flavor, like Maple, just in case the particular batch I got was anomalous. However, it’s pretty expensive, at $3.50 a box.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Mars made an exciting announcement earlier this fall that they’re bringing M&Ms Crispy back to American stores starting January 2015.
Some folks at Mars were good enough to send me some samples (though not in the final packaging, so I included the press release version of the package design for reference).
You can read more on Crispy M&Ms in this write up I did a few years ago when I reviewed the European version. Basically, the American version of Crispy M&Ms came out in 1998 and were discontinued in 2005. They had their fans, and current social media allowed them to speak directly with Mars to voice their enthusiasm for the return of the candy.
The Crispy M&M, if you’ve never heard of them, are described as feature a unique, crispy center covered in creamy milk chocolate, enclosed in a colorful candy shell. The center is like a little cereal puff.
The new package will hold only 1.35 ounces, which is more than the Pretzel M&Ms which are only 1.14 ounces but less than the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms which is 1.69 ounces.
The new version comes in the same color array as regular M&Ms: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and brown.
The pieces are much smaller than I expected, since I’ve had the European versions, which are closer to the size of a Peanut M&M. These are a similar diameter to a Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffy. But they’re also quite irregular. They’re lumpy and sometimes close to spherical, while others are long or pointy in spots.
They’re easy to bite and crunch, and extremely light. The center crunch is kind of like the flavor of a corn flake ... very mild with only a hint of salt and malt. But for the most part they’re neutral. The chocolate is sweet, but otherwise generic. The crunchy shell provides a different sweetness compared to the chocolate and a different more brittle crunchy compared to the centers.
Overall, it’s a pleasant snack that I have no trouble scooping by the handful. But it made me wish for something else ... I wanted a Malted Milk M&M. This is not so hard for Mars to manage, they’d just take the Maltesers they make in the UK and give them a colorful candy shell.
The earlier versions of Crispy M&Ms used a blue wrapper, but that has since been usurped by the Pretzel M&Ms, so the 2015 version will be in lime green packages. I can’t say for certain that these are better or similar to the originals, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had them. They definitely fit into a niche that’s not well served in the chocolate market right now, which is the crossover with snacks. Here’s what the Crispy M&Ms announcement said about it:
M&Ms briefly had Mint Crispy M&Ms as a limited edition.
The European Crispy M&Ms featured mostly natural colors for the shells, which meant a slightly muted palette. Natural colors can sometimes bring their own flavors, though, so some folks can tell the difference between the colors (I can usually pick out the yellows and oranges by taste). It would have been interesting, though, for Mars to make this revival of Crispy M&Ms with the European colors, just to see if that would catch in the US.
I’m curious to see how Crispy M&Ms do this time around. The survival rate for revived candies isn’t great, but the success rates for completely new candies aren’t any better. I have no stats for that, just personal experience paging through the blog at home many candies I’ve reviewed over the past 9 years that don’t exist any longer. Maybe read about M&Ms Premiums or compare the early Mega M&Ms that were discontinued, and the new version.
They are far more consistent (less bumpy) than the samples I used for this review. Though they weren’t any smaller than the smallest from my sample, they were all small pieces. This could just be the way that they were packaged, that the weight difference means that the like sized pieces end up on the bagging platform together. I would need to buy more bags to be sure, but it’s something I’ll keep my eye out for in other reviews. I did eat a whole bag and though it’s not very much at 1.35 ounces, it was filling enough.
Friday, November 7, 2014
House brands are often cheap knock-offs of well known brands. But every once in a while a house brand has some sort of wizard-visionary behind the scenes ... I think Walgreen’s found one and put them to work on their Good & deLISH line of candies and snacks.
Many of these new candies are on trend with flavors like Red Velvet and Caramel Apple but also do a better job than some of the major brands like Russell Stover and Ghirardelli at creating well-priced candies you’d prefer to not share.
One of the items I found on the shelves kind of hidden in with the nuts were these new snack containers of candy or chocolate covered nuts and fruits. This one is Good and deLISH Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, a name so long it’s a wonder they fit it on the little wrapper.
Those of you’ve been reading for a while or have a Trader Joe’s in your area may recognize these, they’re similar to the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds. They’re an almond, covered in dark chocolate that’s also studded with small sea salt and raw sugar nuggets.
The package is a squat plastic jar that holds 5 ounces. The wide black cap is to be used as a snack cup, perhaps in the car. The jar is wide mouthed, so you can get your fingers in there, if you’re not using the lid as a dish. The overall look of the packaging is utilitarian but not at all appetizing. It looks like something I’d be more likely to find in use to store bolts and fasteners than candy.
They’re kind of homely little nuggets. It’s a crunchy roasted almond covered in semi-sweet chocolate (I’d guess about 50% cacao) with a little dash of salt or sugar sometimes ... then there’s a slight dusting of cocoa on the outside. The chocolate is sweet, not exceptionally smooth and boosted a little bit by some extra butterfat (not a vegan product, sorry). The nuts are crunchy and well roasted, with skins on. This leads to a lingering fiber to the chew. The chocolate has a light bitter note towards the end as well, but the beginning and middle is quite sweet for a dark chocolate item.
The thing is, I didn’t love these the first time I had them at Trader Joe’s, I don’t love them now, though on paper they seem to have all the right qualities. I want to know more about the chocolate in them and I want a little more consistency with the sugar and salt on top. While I found the Trader Joe’s batch I had too salty, these were merely too sweet ... even before the sugar crystals kicked in. I’ll see what else this line has to offer when they’re on sale ... I do like the concept of the package and would probably find this great for car or plane trips. The Walgreen’s site also shows this in an 11 ounce size, which is likely to be a better value.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Brach’s Milk Maid Royals candies were always quite special looking. I remember seeing them in the pick-a-mix assortments at the dime store as a kid. I was attracted to the bold foil wrappers that each little flavored caramel rod sported. The looked expensive and sophisticated. The are a lot more caramel choices in the stores now and it seems harder to find the Brach’s individually wrapped candies since the bins of the candy disappeared from many grocery store candy aisles.
Royals Caramels are a layered candy, a flavored center chew is surrounded by caramel. It’s a simple construction that’s helped by the fact that caramel goes with just about everything.
I’ve noticed that Brach’s has recently started repackaging their standard line of candy and sprucing up the flavor assortments to match current tastes. The new Brach’s Apple Caramel Royals come in a stand-up gusset bag and are positioned right next to M&Ms and the new morsel sized candies like York Minis and Snickers Bites.
The package is a lovely apple red but the candies inside are wrapped in neon green waxed paper. It’s kind of an odd, especially because I had two flavors sitting around at one time and I kept grabbing the wrong package. However, Brach’s did use red for their Caramel Apple Candy Corn, so the flavor colors do match on the outside at least.
Unlike the foil-wrapped ancestors, these candies don’t look like much in the wrapper. They’re the kind of candy that would probably sit around with the Tootsie Rolls at the end of Trick-or-Treat until I was desperate.
The look of the candies unwrapped is odd, the caramel looks good - an opaque medium brown color. But the green center is on the blue side, which makes it look a little more like a caramel filled with toothpaste than a green apple candy. Luckily the smell aligns everything again. It’s sweet and with a light apple peel and milk scent. The chew is soft, the caramel and sort of taffy center mix well. It could use a little bit of salt to bring it together. It’s never quite a smooth and creamy caramel, but much more satisfying than the Brach’s Candy Corn Nougats I tried last week.
The ingredients list actual apples plus buttermilk as an ingredient in these, which really makes them one of the closest candies on drug store shelves to actual caramel apples.
While caramel apple candies are quite trendy right now for fall, the general salted caramel rage is a year round thing and still going strong. It only makes sense that Brach’s, now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company, would expand into some of these mainstream trends.
While they say sea salt on the front of the package, the ingredients list only salt. The nutrition panel shows that there are 180 mgs of salt per serving of 6 pieces. As a point of reference, the Apple Caramel Royals have only 75 mgs.
The Sea Salt Caramel Royals are, well, quite nice! The chew is soft with a little difference between the caramel outside and the sort of pasty chew inside. They’re definitely salty, but it does highlight the brown sugar notes of the caramel. I wouldn’t be likely to buy these again, especially at the price when I can get some really good sea salt caramels from Trader Joe’s or just some Sugar Babies ... but I will finish this bag.
These candies are made in Mexico. The contain milk, soy and egg ingredients. There’s no notation about nuts or gluten, though.
Brach’s Milk Maid Royals have been made since the late 1920s (though I’m sure the wrappers have changed over the years). The flavors are probably also cyclical with changing tastes. The last time I had them I enjoyed the extra-sweet Maple and Butter Rum, but didn’t care for the sherbet flavored Orange. The Chocolate is softer than a Tootsie Roll but didn’t have the reliably long chew.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Necco is an odd company that makes antiquated candies and buys up old candy brands. While the nostalgia is comforting, it’s a little odd when they try to be hip, like when they update their conversation heart mottoes, or came out with a line of Twilight themed candies.
However, for a couple of years they’ve been trying to do more novelty and seasonal candies, many of which I’ve appreciated. They have quite a few zombie themed items and for the first time I was able to find the Necco Skybar Zombie Food. They’re priced well at Cost Plus World Market at 59 cents each, though they were $1.50 across the parking lot at Dylan’s Candy Bar.
I bought two of these, hoping for two different shapes, but ended up with two hearts. The first one I opened was cracked and oozing and sticky. Though that’s probably acceptable to a zombie, I wanted to photograph and eat something a bit more pristine. Luckily #2 was in great shape.
The pieces are exactly one ounce, so it’s a little less than a regular portion and two might be too much.
It’s a striking looking candy. The chocolate mold is well made with an anatomically accurate human heart. My unbroken one looked great, though the packaging does little to protect the candy from getting cracked.
It smelled nice, pleasantly milky and sweet. The chocolate is passable, a little on the grainy side and sweet. The caramel filling is grainy but also not terribly sweet, there’s a cereal flavor to it, not quite a toasted sugar caramel. It’s nicely balanced. Of course the red food coloring left a weird, metallic aftertaste for me, but your mileage may vary.
The whole thing lacks anything else though. For 59 cents it’s passable, but only as a novelty item. If you’re looking for a drug store caramel, opt for the Milky Way Simply Caramel for better chocolate and caramel (though I still wasn’t wild about them either). But if you’re a fan of Cadbury Caramel Eggs, these might be a nice Halloween option. I’d like to say that they’d be great for Halloween trick-or-treat, but I fear that being thrown into a bag with a bunch of other candy is just too rigorous for them, if half of mine were cracked just from the store.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Salted Caramels were also a trend, but apparently every trend either dies out or simply becomes an everyday item. So, it has happened with Salted Caramel and so now they must be trendalized with the newest flavors of the season. These are Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.
Trader Joe’s makes a version of these for Christmas with white flake sea salt. They’re sold in the same box with a different design. They’re wildly popular, as they’re returned to shelves for more than six years in a row. Since Trader Joe’s will pretty much make a pumpkin spice version of every product they sell at some point, it was just the salted caramels’ turn. (I could list all of the items, but suffice to say that they’ve done tea, coffee, macaron, granola, ice cream, and actual pumpkin pie spice. Here’s a taste test from Serious Eats from a few years ago.)
They’re described on the box:
The ingredients are all natural, but insanely long. The chocolates are made in Ireland (I suspect by Lily O’Brien). The filling isn’t just caramel, according to their list, but actually Sticky Toffee Caramel. There’s no list of what the spices are for their pumpkin spice.
They’re lovely looking caramels, they do well in their package and emerge very shiny and with most of the salt still attached to the squiggle of milk chocolate on top of the 55% dark chocolate.
Though I often find sea salt to be a bit over-hyped, as it’s used in such small quantities that it’s hard to tell different salts apart. In this instance I could tell it was Hawaiian Sea Salt ...and I did not like it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, a friend called it Spaghetti-Os flavored, I thought it was more like carrot, but there’s definitely an additional note to this salt. It was notable enough that for some of the pieces that I ate, I actually scraped the salt off completely.
The spice smell is quite clove-heavy, even before I bit into it. The chocolate is earthy and sweet with a very good bitter note towards the end. It’s smooth and wonderfully tempered. There were no cracks or oozing spots on any of the caramels. The caramel has a light grain to it, which is probably the spice. There’s also a cereal sort of wheaty flavor to it as well. The other spice notes are earthy, with some ginger and black pepper notes and some cinnamon. Not really the best combination for me, if it were a pie, but it goes well with the chocolate.
In the end, this was not a great combination for me, I didn’t like the plain version of these that much and the addition of the spice doesn’t do much for me either. I’ll stick to the individually wrapped Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels or the panned Butterscotch Caramels.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.