Wednesday, November 15, 2006
You may not have caught the news recently that Ben Meyerson Candy Company was purchased by Jelly Belly. They aren’t known for much in the chocolate realm except for Christopher’s Big Cherry and in the sugar world, the Sunkist Fruit Gems.
I came across the Fruit Gems at Rite Aid and thought I should give them a go again. I used to buy them from Trader Joe’s in little tubs, but then I discovered the chocolate covered nuts and never went back. I figure the Gems are a bit like the West Coast version of Chuckles. But really they’re not. Chuckles are all essence and no juicy tang. When you’re branding something with the Sunkist name, I’m expecting a tangy juice.
What’s really interesting about these is how they differ from other jellies covered with sugar. Instead of having a rough outer coating, these are practically smooth, with the sugar mushed against the jelly center. They don’t sparkle quite as much, but then again there’s no little bits of sugar left in the package or crumbling off when you bite into them like you might get with Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices.
Orange - it is tangy, nice rounded orange flavor. Not terribly vivid, more like pleasant.
Cherry - very cherry, kind of medicinal tasting. There was a long-lasting aftertaste with severe bitter notes. (Oddly enough, the package makes no mention of Cherry on the package, just a list of the other flavors.)
Lemon - mmm, zesty and tart and smooth. I love lemon.
Grapefruit - not that strong and with a slight bitter note that makes it believable.
Lime - yeah, lime.
Raspberry - floral with only the slightest sour bite. Again, it had a little bitter aftertaste, like the color red.
Jelly Belly will start making these soon, I’m not sure if they’re going to leave them alone or not. Jelly Belly has its own line of fabulous Fruit Pectin Jellies that I was blown away by last year. The Jelly Belly jellies are vegan (they use beet sugar instead of cane sugar), so it’s possible that Sunkist Fruit Gems will also become vegan as well (it’s hard to know whether they are or not right now).
My biggest complaint with these is that like Lifesavers, there is no variation in what you get in the pack. Starbursts and SweeTarts are variable, so you might get a lemon-heavy pack. And with the little see-through package, I might be more likely to pick up a citrus-heavy package. As it is, there are only three flavors I really liked here (orange, lemon and grapefruit), so I’ll probably continue to pass on these. Unless I see them in the tub at Trader Joe’s and it’s all citrus!
UPDATE 9/2/2008: An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves with the Jelly Belly logo on them, but instead of holding six fruit jellies, they now only have four.
Worst part of this news? The grapefruit one was missing. (What is it about grapefruit disappearing lately? Is it because of the news that grapefruit juice interacts with some prescription drugs?) This is not to say that the Sunkist Fruit Gems don’t come in grapefruit any longer, just not in this particular package.
Seeing how Sunkist is known as a citrus company, the fact that they made an assortment the neglects one of the citrus fruits and includes a berry is beyond me. The package is also similar to the old one and actually includes images of grapefruit (though the text clearly says which flavors are in the package).
The change in manufacturing location and ownership, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has made no difference at all for the actual candy. It’s still a nice, soft and flavorful fruit jelly without too much of a granulated sugar coating.
The only real difference here is that you get only 2/3 as much as you used to. I was hoping when Jelly Belly took over that they’d sell the jellies in individual flavors like they do with their famous jelly beans. No such luck yet. (For now whenever I see the Jelly Belly booth at a trade show I pick a half a dozen grapefruit jellies out of their sample bin and move along.)
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
I knew that Hershey’s was really pushing into the Hispanic foods arena more than any other large candy company. But more than just calling things Dulce de Leche, they’ve now created some Americanized versions of some popular candies in Mexico. There are a few assortments of Jolly Ranchers, but I picked up the Paletas sabor a Frutas Enchiladas. They’re hot and spicy fruit flavored lollipops.
They come in three flavors, Tamarindo (tamarind), Limon (lime) and Mango. Each pop is flat hard candy square, a little over a half an ounce each. They’re branded under the name La Dulceria Thalia. (I reviewed the Cajeta Elegancita earlier this year.)
Tamarind and chili flavors dominate all three of the pops. Tamarind, if you’re not already familiar with it, comes from the Tamarind tree, which looks kind of like the Locust tree and bears large pods that look like beans. The fruit pulp is popular not only in Caribean and Mexican cuisine, but also Southeast Asia and Indian (since that’s where the trees originated). The flavor of tamarind may be familiar to folks who like Worcestershire sauce and is most notable for it’s tangy, woodsy flavor.
The pop is actually quite pretty. I think I used to have coat buttons that looked like this, deep raspberry red with flecks in them. It’s glossy looking and smells like a cross between fresh sour cherries and cedar shavings you put in hamster cage.
The flavor is pleasant, though not really candy like. It’s more savory. There are deep notes of berries and of course the slow burn of the chilis. A little coffee and tea and maybe sun dried tomatoes. The more you eat it, the less appealing it looks, as the chili is not that finely ground and makes it look like your rolled your pop in red sawdust after a while.
This one really surprised me when I put it in my mouth. Seriously. Authentically. Lime. It was zesty and tangy and even fragrant. After a while the chili kicks in for a little burn, but the woodsy notes take a back seat here.
The texture after a while ends up being kind of like a tongue pumice. Great if you have a calloused tongue or maybe it’s just itchy and you want tasty way to scratch it.
The deep olive green color is a little disconcerting, but of the three flavors, I liked this one the best. The mix of lime and chili is a natural fit.
I love mangos. I’ve been known to go to the grocery store and buy them a half a dozen at a time and eat two or three a day. They’re a great fruit because they’re usually not too sweet, have a mix of textures in them and the flavor notes are a cross between concord grapes, rosemary, honeydew, bananas, loquats and apricots.
However, I’ve never been terribly fond of mango flavored things. (The same goes for apricot and peach flavored things, there’s just something that they can’t quite get in the flavor that just makes it feel fake and unpleasant.) However, I was encouraged by the lime and was looking forward to giving this one a go.
The taste was immediately tangy and got that balsamy quality that most mango flavors seem to miss. It had that fresh scent of pine and apricot and some serious burn behind it (or maybe my mouth was still tingly from the previous two) and it seemed a bit salty. Mango always goes nicely with some spice (we make a Mango Salsa at home with chopped onions and cumin). But this was just lacking a level, I think.
Overall, I was pleased with the flavor combos, but bothered by the texture of the chili powder. I know it’s traditional and I’m sure I would have complained if the candies were too uniform.
After trying things like Rockaleta and Gudu Pops, the uniformity of these was a treat. In fact, I have to say that the appearance of most Mexican candies is what turns me off. These were rustic looking but still appetizing. The La Dulceria Thalia outer wrapper was kind of a turn off for me (it reminds me of romance novels) but once you pop the pops out of there, there’s not mention of Thalia again.
Interesting note: these candies were made in Canada. Go figure.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Why is the American KitKat packaging so boring? I mean, look at this box that the Malaysian version of KitKat in the limited edition flavor of cappuccino came in. You may not be able to tell, but it’s actually embossed as well (click on the photo for a larger version).
I’m a fiend for coffee, but since I limit myself to two cups a day on weekday and one a day on weekends, I need to get my coffee fix in other ways too. There are very few coffee bars, so I’m always keen to try these limited edition ones. The American KitKat came out with a limited edition coffee flavor last year, which I rather liked.
This limited edition flavor is made by Nestle and comes in two individually wrapped two finger bars. Upon opening the wrapper it smells not like coffee but more like maple and yogurt. These are not bad smells, kind of tangy ... very sweet and with a woodsy essence. But still, the espresso scent of a cappuccino was missing. It tasted sweet, a little grainy but the crunch of the wafers was nice. The tang was a little odd, but not unpleasant. Overall, I’d say this tasted more like a Spanish flan than cappuccino. This is not a bad thing ... I love flan.
If I were presented with this bar again, I don’t think I’d buy it. It misses the chocolate note that I buy chocolate bars for but still a good thing to have at least once.
Note from the package: this candy is certified Halal.
Friday, October 6, 2006
Around this time last year I barely knew what Fair Trade was and there really weren’t that many chocolate products out there that were Fair Trade Certified. Now you can not only get cocoa and plain dark chocolate, but also some pretty cool flavored chocolate bars. Endangered Species seems to be leading the way with the Fair Trade “candy” bars in their new Premium Organic line.
Each bar is a single serving and easy to pick up at the checkout of your favorite “wholesome” market like Whole Foods, Wild Oats or Zoo gift shop.
Along with the Fair Trade and organic certifications, this bar boasts high cocoa content of 52% (high for a milk chocolate). This wrapper has a giraffe on the label and everyone knows that the pattern on giraffes is known as the peanut shell. (Okay, I made that part up.)
The chocolate is buttery smooth and very sweet on the tongue. It has very strong smoky qualities with a slight bitterness at the start but a good nutty flavor. Once I start eating the bar, the unpleasant burnt quality goes away, but each time I stop and start I have to go through the process all over again. I’m afraid I can’t give it the highest marks because of that. Now, I’m one of those “supertaster” people, so I tend to be more sensitive to bitter, so your mileage may vary.
Interesting fact about giraffes from the wrapper: A giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae, just like ours.
Thursday, October 5, 2006
Brains! Brains! Must eat brains!
I don’t have much to say ... they’re gummis in the shape of brains. The colors vary, some with blue in them, some white and pink or red. But they’re all the same fruity, berry flavor.
They’re lovely, if you like to look at brains. They have nice folds and detail, with a good left-brain/right-brain distinction. They’re soft and very fragrant.
I got mine in a large bag of 6.6 pounds. Yes, that’s as much as two actual human brains weigh! I know that the human brain weighs three pounds because there’s a show coming on CBS mid-season called 3 LBS that’s about brain surgeons! (This is different from the piece of information we gleaned from Jerry Maguire that the human head weighs 8 lbs - which I figure includes the skull and eyeballs and stuff.)
If you’re a zombie fan and are planning a big movie extravaganza for Halloween, you probably need 6.6 pounds of brains. I have the large brains here, they’re about 1 3/4” lengthwise, which is a good size for a three-bite brain. They also come in a little, one bite size. I kind of miss the variety of flavors like you get with gummi bears. But the appearance of a good squishy candy brain is pretty good. They’d be fun cupcake toppers, too.
Friday, September 29, 2006
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this array of bars, but here it is. Readers write in and ask what sorts of American candy they should take with them as hostess gifts or ship to friends overseas as quintessential American bars. The Milky Way is right up there, as one of the earliest bars that Mars developed (1923).
It’s a bar that I should love, after all, it’s supposed to be a malted milkshake in a bar.
There are several iterations of this bar both here and abroad. I got a hold of the American versions of both the milk chocolate and dark versions and the UK Mars (milk chocolate) and Canadian Mars Dark (dark chocolate).
The bar is called Milky Way in the United States but everywhere else on the planet it’s known as the Mars. (There was once an American Mars bar, but that’s since been renamed Snickers Almond ... there is a bar called Milky Way in the rest of the world too, but that’s like the American 3 Musketeers bar.)
I haven’t had a Milky Way bar in about 10 years. I’ve always thought they were too sweet, but after breaking one open the smell of malt was really compelling, making me doubt the wisdon of my embargo. The nougat here is the highlight, a medium color of fluffy, slightly grainy nougat covered with a stripe of caramel and covered in milk chocolate.
The flavors go nicely together and the caramel has a slight salty note to it that balances out the very sweet and only passably smooth chocolate. The malt is earthy and brings flavor to the bar.
The UK bar known as Mars has a similar cocoa colored and grainy, fluffed nougat covered with a stripe of glossy caramel and then milk chocolate. The caramel here was noticeably smoother, but the maltiness was much more subdued and replaced with a milky flavor.
The American bar is on the left and the British on the right. There was a difference in size, the British slightly larger at 62.5 grams over America’s 58.1 grams. The UK bar as slightly longer and a little taller.
Recently the standard bars started to appear in darker coats. Back in 1936, based on the success of the Milky Way bar, Mars introduced the Forever Yours bar. It remained in the Mars product line until 1979 when it was discontinued. Customers complained and the Milky Way Dark bar was introduced in 1989 and then the name changed to Milky Way Midnight in 2000.
Milky Way Midnight - beautiful dark bar with little folds of chocolate on the top. The dark chocolate has a little reddish tone to it. Inside is a fluffy white (with a yellow tone) nougat and a stripe of caramel. Smells slightly smoky and very sweet. The caramel dominates in this bar and its sweet stickiness isn’t completely offset by the smooth but otherwise flavorless dark chocolate.
Mars Dark - a stunning dark bar with glossy dark brown chocolate. Inside is a fluffy white nougat (with a slight yellow tone) and a stripe of caramel. The nougat on this one seemed slightly grainier but still sweet and only slightly less overwhelmed by the caramel. The chocolate, though pretty still doesn’t add much of a flavor counterbalance for the whole bar just a smooth texture.
The wrapper on the Mars Dark bar is a bit of a blunder, if you ask me, as it seems to indicate milk chocolate by its lighter, creamy color over the black package of the Mars bar.
So, you’re wondering what the difference is? The American one is on the left and the Canadian on the right. The Canadian bar is larger, by .1 grams. The ingredients list is virtually identical as well. The only difference on the labeling is that the Canadian one lists the true trans fat content at .1 grams (American food does not have to be labeled if it’s less than .5 grams).
The important thing to note is that the milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions differ in more than their coats. The nougat is markedly different. The dark bars are missing the malt component, and instead have the vanilla nougat (that’s found in the American Snickers Almond bar). The difference between the American and foreign bars isn’t that marked and I think that fans should be happy with either when they’re traveling. I give all bars a 6 out of 10.
Overall, I wish that the Milky Way Midnight or Mars Dark really was just a dark chocolate version of the Milky Way/Mars bar - I think the combo of dark chocolate and malted goodness would be great. But Mars must not believe that (I’m not sure if the Forever Yours had the malted nougat or not ... honestly I think it’s wrong to muck with too many ingredient variations and try to stick the same name on it). I might pick one of these out of a bowl of miniatures, but I’ll stick to the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar as my favorite nougat candy bar for now.
Monday, September 25, 2006
These were introduced almost two years ago, so I was a little confused by the NEW! starburst on the package. But I hadn’t had them anyway, so into the basket they went.
I don’t know when citrus flavors stopped being the normal “sour” flavors, but I’ve missed them a bit. It’s not like blue raspberry is any more natural as a “licorice” flavor than orange or lemon.
These are a wheat-based chew, which is what most “licorice” is. The center is flavored and then dusted with a sour sugar coating. They smell really nice as a combo - a little floral, a little fruity and a slight tangy essence. Leave them in a desk drawer and it’s kind of like an edible sachet.
They’re wee morsels, smaller than most licorice bites. They have the same basic star shape in cross section, which is great for holding onto all the sour dust.
Strawberry - mild in the strawberry department and with a decent tart bite.
Cherry - a nice chemical cherry flavor with a solid sour kick, but no complexity. A bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Green Apple - a pretty good sour apple flavor with a combo of the floral notes and that realistic apple juice taste and a sizeable tartness that satisfies. My favorite of all of them.
Blue Raspberry - floral and with an odd sort of yellow mustard note in there that confused the heck out of me. Not as sour tasting as some of the others and of course the mustard thing was kind of unpleasant.
Overall, they’re tasty, but don’t really provide any more candy satisfaction than some other tangy chews that I’ve had lately. I might even prefer the Sour Strings I had this summer or the SweeTarts Shockers - Shockers have the lead because of the variety in a single roll.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The lovely folks at Endanged Species thought I should try more of their bars (well, so did the lovely Candy Blog readers in the comments section). They happily sent me a small selection to try, here are a couple of the milk chocolate bars.
Milk Chocolate with Peanut Brittle - there’s an elephant on the package! I’m guessing because elephants like peanuts. The base of this bar is a very dark, rich milk chocolate with 52% cocoa content. In fact, it’s so chocolatey that the sugar (made from water-filtered beet sugar) is third on the list of ingredients instead of first in most milk chocolates. That’s not to say that the chocolate isn’t sweet, but it also has an intense creaminess to it that I’ve found very rare in other milk chocolates. The dairy component is quite rich but it doesn’t feel sticky.
Sprinkled in there are peanut brittle chips. They have a nice salty bite and crispness and add a good peanut crunch. I’d argue that it isn’t really peanut brittle but toffee, since it’s so buttery, but I don’t feel that argument much matters.
This is a fantastic bar that may convert some folks who say they don’t like milk chocolate because it’s too homogeneous tasting but it still retains its munchability. I ate the whole bar in a matter of two days. 9 out of 10.
Milk Chocolate with Rice Crisp - this bar has a manatee on the front. I doubt manatees have a fondness for rice though as vegetarians I don’t imagine they’d be adverse to it. This bar contains the same dark 52% cocoa content milk chocolate. This bar has a slightly smokier taste to it, which I’m guessing is added by the crisped rice. The first third of the bar, I hated it. The crisped rice tasted bitter and burnt to me. But I thought maybe I just had a bad rice crisp or two. I waited a day and tried it again. The crisped rice still reminds me of those bits of barely popped popcorn that end up in the bottom of the bowl. Very toasted tasting and with a much denser crunch.
Though the second try was more successful, I just wasn’t keen on the rustic taste of the rice crisps. There weren’t enough of them to make it a really crunchy bar and the intense flavor they added didn’t thrill me. I’m a huge fan of grains and eat a lot of them (barley is my favorite, if you didn’t already know) but this just wasn’t my thing. 6 out of 10.
Endangered Species is now based in Indiana (they moved from Oregon last year) and the make ethically traded chocolate bars in a huge variety of flavor combinations. The cool part is that the commitment to the environment goes to all facets of the production and marketing. The packages are printed on recycled paper and with soy-based biodegradable inks. The 10% of all profits are donated to animal conservation causes. Each bar is branded with a different endangered animal and the inside of the wrapper has that animal’s story. There are often coupons as well and tips for making small changes in your life to lessen your impact on the environment.
Though the bars are all natural, these are not organic (though there are other bars in their repertoir that are). Some of the cocoa beans that they acquire are Fair Trade certified and others do not have the certification but are ethically traded. Their packaging and story helps them to appeal to kids moreso than other wholesome-branded chocolates.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.