Friday, December 21, 2012
A few years ago Jelly Belly introduced a mix of jelly beans flavored like popular sodas under their Soda Pop Shoppe line. They’re sold as the pre-mixed flavors or in individual packages and even in little soda bottles.
Their newest addition to that brand is their Soda Pop Shoppe Gummi Bottles which are gelatin gummis.
Each little bottle shape is about 1.75 inches long. They’re flat and lightly dusted, perhaps with starch, to keep them from sticking together instead of being shiny.
The ingredients are quite interesting. They start with corn syrup but use potato starch instead of corn starch. They do contain gelatin, but it’s Kosher gelatin (so it’s not pork, but not otherwise identified). They also contain small amounts of coconut oil and caffeine and phosphoric acid. They’re gluten free and peanut free.
To emulate soda bottles, the shapes are “full” of color, though the flavor goes all they way to the top of the bottle. They’re soft but not quite a bouncy as many other gummis. They’re like a cross between a Swedish Fish texture and a gummi bear.
Grape is fun. There aren’t really that many grape gummis around, so it’s refreshing to see it included in a mix. It’s tangy and artificial but not quite as intense as a grape SweeTart which is pretty much my favorite.
Orange is ordinary. I only got one in my mix, so it’s hard to say more than it was just like Tang.
Root Beer is a star. It’s quite spicy and intense, much more than I expected from it’s rather muted appearance. They’re sweet, a little like wintergreen and bubble gum. It’s missing that little pop of nutmeg that sassafras often has, so it came off more like Birch Beer ... not that I object.
Lemon Lime is actually more lime. Lime soda is good, and this has a lot of zest to it and a nice tangy bite. But ultimately it’s just a piece of lime candy, which always ends up as one of the last flavors I pick when included in a mix. (Which is strange considering how affectionate I normally am towards citrus.)
Cherry Cola is, well, disappointing. It tastes to me more like Dr. Pepper, but my experience with actual cherry cola is absolutely empty. The cola flavors are mostly in the background, there’s no spicy cola bite and there’s no cherry tartness, it’s more of the maraschino flavor than a black cherry.
They’re not the first candy I’d pick up, but I love the concept and the execution is pretty good, better than the Trolli version. For folks looking for American-made candy that’s gluten & peanut free and fun for kids, this is a good mix. It’s too bad they didn’t go all the way and use natural colorings and flavorings.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Marshmallow Peeps moved on from just being fanciful shapes and colors for different holidays years ago. Now there are flavored and dipped Peeps. For Christmas this year Just Born created two new varieties: Sugar Cookie Dipped Peeps Chicks and Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate.
I found the Sugar Cookie Peeps at Target at a modest price, but picked up the Candy Cane Peeps at FAO Schweetz because I was afraid I wouldn’t find them anywhere else (and actually haven’t seen them at any other stores, that still doesn’t make them worth the $3.99 I paid for the 1.5 ounce package).
The Peeps are beautifully crafted. They’re puffy and soft and creamy tan colored. The chocolate puddle around its bottom is nicely formed and in perfect condition. The Peeps smell like fake butter and amaretto. This is not an appealing combination to me, but I suppose I can give it points for originality. Each Peep is about a half an ounce in weight.
The bite is soft and plush, the sugar coating is not too grainy but does a good job of creating just a little texture to sell the sugar cookie experience. The flavor is sweet without a trace of that buttery thing, but still a touch of the amaretto. There’s also a note of toasted sugar, like a fresh cookie (or a vanilla marshmallow). The chocolate is sweet and creamy, not really terribly complex, and honestly doesn’t belong on a sugar cookie, but still didn’t hurt the experience.
Overall, they weren’t my favorite kind of Peeps. I wonder how different they are from the Caramel Peeps, I’m guessing the color and the amaretto note are the only differences.
The entire package has 160 calories, which is a pretty good sized treat with a very small caloric price tag. So if you’re looking for an indulgence that feels like the holiday but doesn’t go overboard, these are passable.
Back in 2007, Just Born introduced Peeps Peppermint Stars. I liked the flavor and the shape, but I wasn’t keen that they used artificial sweeteners in the little candy bits. Happily this newer version of Candy Cane Flavored Peeps Chicks Dipped in Chocolate has delicious sugar in it.
The simple construction is a peppermint flavored Peep chick with a light sprinkling of red candy bits. Then it’s dipped partially into semi-sweet chocolate. They’re packaged three to a tray and like the Sugar Cookie version, they’re each about a half an ounce each.
The Peeps hold their shape well and smell light and fresh, like peppermint toothpaste. They’re mercifully spared from much of the artificial colorings that I think muck with the flavor of a good, fresh marshmallow. (Ghost Peeps are probably the best Peeps for this reason.) The coolness of the peppermint flavor was a bit like mouthwash, but not in a bad way. It matched well with the lightly sweet and slightly smoky chocolate base to keep the whole thing from being too sickly sweet.
I did think that when they started dipping them in chocolate, they might stop making the eyes out of wax. Sadly, they’re still inedible and I have to spit those out. (I guess that’s how you know you have a real Peep.) Overall, a good effort. I don’t see why these can’t be a flavor that comes back with a green sparkle to them for St. Patrick’s Day. I much prefer this partially dipped version to the strangely wet fully dipped marshmallows (that are also over-colored).
Fans of the Peepsters, the little foil wrapped chocolates, will be happy to hear that those have returned in green and red foil for the winter as well.
Monday, November 26, 2012
See’s Candies has a seasonal line of truffles inspired by winter pies. I picked up a few of these limited edition pieces while at the mall over before the holiday shopping madness began.
See’s Cranberry Orange Truffle
This truffle was definitely citrusy and definitely cranberry. The little bits of dried cranberry in the center were sweet and tangy. The zest added a little note of bitterness and zing of orange. The dark chocolate gave it another not so sweet layer with a little smoky and bitter quality along with a creamy melt. This isn’t normally a style of boxed chocolate that I care for, but this works well. I wouldn’t eat it as a pie, but as a truffle, it’s quite refreshing.
See’s Pumpkin Pie Truffle
This milk chocolate truffle is overtly sweet. From the smooth but kind of sticky chocolate to the spiced buttercream of the center, it’s a lot of sugar. The milk chocolate notes are overpowered by the allspice and nutmeg of the cream. Since it’s a big piece, there were bites with more chocolate and some that were just filling. The filling also has a light sugary grain to it.
The other pie flavors available (though often sold out) are: Mincemeat, Apple Pie and Pecan Pie. Overall, the traditional flavors are done better and more consistently. If folks love See’s, chances are they have a favorite and you’re more likely to satisfy folks when you bring a gift of one of the standard mixes (Nuts & Chews is my favorite) than the more trendy, seasonal varieties unless someone specifically asks for them.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Monday, October 1, 2012
A little over a week ago I was winding up a quick trip to Pennsylvania and killing time in the Philadelphia airport. Just about all the news stands and gift shops had a display of Pennsylvania Dutch Candies which sounds quaint, but really isn’t anything special. The candy brand is for the most part merely a repacker of things like Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls and generic Gummi Bears. But I did see this little gem that I considered unique, Root Beer Puffs. I was actually willing to pay airport price for the candy, since I’d never seen them before.
Even without opening the bag, they smelled quite delightful. The earthy and spicy smell of the root beer had my tongue tingling as I stuffed them into my carry on until I could get them home to photograph.
The puffs are like after dinner mints or those pillowy Butter Mints. They vary in size, but are what I’d call large king sized pillows - some as long as 1.25 inches and .75 inches in diameter. They have soft brown and tan stripes on them.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, natural and artificial flavors and artificial colors. When I first opened them they were a bit too strong and artificial, a bit plasticky, like fake banana can be. So I didn’t care for the first few I ate. But then I dumped them into a very large ziploc bag and let them sit for a few days to air out without getting stale.
The puff was airy and has a good melt or crunch, depending on your eating style. The root beer flavor is on the wintergreen side of things, in fact, if you colored these pink or green and handed them to me, I’d probably say that’s what they are. I simply loved that they weren’t peppermint.
I don’t know that I’d buy them again. I’m a die hard root beer fan, but these were lacking the complexity of the flavor, which usually includes a little bite of tartness or citrus. I do plan to finish the bag though.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
They say, “Combining the irresistible tastes of chocolate, rich and creamy caramel and apple, this new item brings a unique, new flavor to trick-or-treating, decorating and snacking.”
I had a tough time finding them in Los Angeles, but spotted them at CVS in Pennsylvania last week and managed to stash a bag in my luggage before leaving.
The Minis part of the Mars line is rather interesting. They’re far smaller than a snack sized bar, taken out of the mylar wrappers, you could easily tuck them in little fluted cups and put them in a candy box.
Each piece is .3 ounces (or 8.6 grams) and about 38 calories. They’re .8 inches square (a little shorter than a cube, about .7 inches tall). A suggested serving size is 5 pieces for 190 calories.
The big difference between the mini and the regular bar is the proportion of chocolate. The chocolate here is a thin veneer, just enough shell to hold the fillings.
The candies look no different inside than a normal Milky Way Mini. (Not like those Shrek Snickers which had green nougat.) This is comforting, as the candy smells more like apple pie a la mode than green apple Jolly Ranchers.
The scent has a light touch of milk and sweetness along with a hint of cinnamon and baked apple. The caramel and nougat are distinct layers. The nougat is a little on the mellow spice size, with notes of nutmeg and chai. The caramel seems to be where the apple flavors come from, more like apple cider and apple peels than an artificial apple flavor but it’s exceptionally mild.
Of all the formats for Milky Way, I prefer the mini, as it’s not too sweet and three can satisfy me quickly. I was not looking forward to this version, but was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that I thought they were transcendent and there are far better flavor combinations that I think would translate well to this, like Chai Spice.
For a Green Halloween for ethically sourced and clean ingredients, this candy doesn’t make the grade. Mars is making great strides towards using certified chocolate, starting in the US with their Dove line, but has not rolled it out in the Milky Way line in the US as yet.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Brach’s has been around since 1904 and has been through a lot, especially in the past 20 years. The company, founded by Emil Brach, was bought by American Home Products in 1966. In 1987, Jacobs Suchard, a coffee & confectionery giant, bought Brach’s. By 1990, as Suchard was being swallowed up by the tobacco company of Phillip Morris, the Jacobs part of the company, Klaus Jacobs, retained Brach’s. Then in 2003 it was sold to Callebaut and only a few years later, in 2008, Brach’s was bought by Farley’s and Sathers. Just this year, Farley’s and Sathers agreed to merge with Ferrara Pan to become the Ferrera Candy Company.
Through all of that, the candy brand remained intact and the favorite confections in their repertoire continued. However, manufacturing changes happened, and the formulas, manufacturing techniques and quality was uneven. Farley’s & Sathers has been trying hard to resurrect the comforting and inexpensive brand by improving the quality for the past two years.
The clusters are made with simple ingredients, plain old milk chocolate and some peanuts.
The clusters vary in size, from little lines of three or four nuts to a full clump of a dozen peanuts. The overall flavor is fake vanilla. A soft and comforting sort of sweetness, like an angora sweater.
The chocolate isn’t particularly smooth, nor even noteworthy. As far as it being their best chocolate ever, well, it’s not the worst. It tasted fresh though not creamy. The cocoa notes are bland and the dairy is clean but not particularly buttery. What works here is the touch of salt and the peanuts. They’re fresh, small and crunchy. The ratios are heavier on the chocolate than the nuts, but once it’s chewed, it works well.
I don’t think I’d buy these again. In fact, I’ve had them sitting around for review for quite a while but felt no desire to eat them even though I love chocolate and nuts.They’re friendly candy and certainly well priced, but I’ll stick to the sugar confections Brach’s makes.
Monday, September 17, 2012
A few months back I went on a little buying spree on eBay for some Japanese candies I was having trouble finding here in the United States. I paid far more than I usually would for mass-produced candies, but I also haven’t bought much candy on eBay and wanted to see what that experience was like so I could share it.
I did a “buy it now” purchase from the storefront of jappy11. The prices were steep, about $2.00 to $2.50 per item and then there was the international shipping, which averaged out to about $1.10 additional per item. These were the small HiCHEW packages, something that I usually spend about $1.25 for here. The key to value for me is to find a seller with a large enough selection that buying multiple items that I simply can’t find anywhere else makes sense. Invoicing, payment and shipping was quick and easy. The items arrived quite quickly (but I’m on the West Coast).
Grape was always my favorite soda flavor as a kid. I love to drink Shasta Grape from a matching purple anodized aluminum tumbler at my grandmother’s house. There’s nothing quite like fake grape soda.The HiChew Fanta Grape is achingly close. The tangy start has some actual authentic notes of concord grape at first. In addition to the layered look of the pieces (a light colored center and a creamy lavender colored outer layer, there are little crunchy bits that emulate the pop of effervescence.
The chew is smooth and lasts a long time, without losing its flavor at the end. I enjoyed these so much that I was sure to pick up another package when I finally found them at a local Japanese grocery store.
Orange soda was probably my second favorite as a kid. The HiCHEW Fanta Orange is less distinct than the grape, but still fun and refreshing. The citrusy taste is a mix of Tang drink mix and orange SweeTarts. It has a little bit of zest in it, but it’s mostly a juicy flavor, also with the little crunchy pops of candy inside.
Even though it’s not a Fanta flavor, I’ve been aching to try the HiCHEW Cola flavor for a long time and could never find it in the States.
These pieces look more mundane, a dull brown that could well be a caramel. The flavor is deep and well defined. What I like about Japanese cola candies it that they’re more intense and concentrated than actual cola soda. This version is actually quite caramelly, with some good lemon/citrus note and a hint of cinnamon. I would definitely buy these more often if they were part of the American release of HiCHEW flavors. (They aren’t they?)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.