Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Monday, January 7, 2013
There have been over a dozen Skittles varieties over the years, and still the original flavor set remains the same in the United States, with good reason. It’s a great variety. But that hasn’t stopped Mars, and now Wrigley’s the present owner, from introducing new items to the market every 18 months or so. Most quietly disappear, but some make the cut and hang around.
I learned of the existence of Skittles Darkside on The Impulsive Buy and over the weekend searched stores for them. The heart on the front led me to believe that this item would be shelved with the Valentine’s Day candy. I did eventually find it at Target, but not in the seasonal aisle (as that was still occupied by a stubborn amount of Christmas decorations) but on an endcap in the frozen food section also populated with clearance holiday blends of coffee.
The flavor set of the new mix is intriguing. The tagline of “The Other Side of the Rainbow” is a little ominous but fits with the quirky branding of Skittles. The flavors are blood orange, forbidden fruit, midnight lime, pomegranate and dark berry. The pomegranate and blood orange were the flavors that really captured my imagination.
Pomegranate (Dark Red) has a deep flavor with a good cherry and berry flavor. It’s tangy, but doesn’t have that tannic bite that real pomegranates do. If I wasn’t told this was pomegranate, I’d just say blackberry. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good blackberry.
Dark Berry (Purple) is a lovely color, just a little more red than the grape in the Fruits Skittles. The flavor is good, it’s well rounded with a floral and berry jam mix of notes and maybe a little blackcurrant.
Forbidden Fruit (Blue) tasted a bit like melon and currant to me. A fruit punch, but less generic.
Blood Orange (Coral) is not a deep red like the juice is. Instead the pieces are more of a dark salmon color. The flavor is nicely juicy, more of the juice flavor of a tangerine than the traditional orange. But it’s missing a note, an orange peel flavor to give it a true roundness. It’s also not that intense.
Midnight Lime is a puzzle. I don’t know what makes it midnight-ish. I have some Fruits Skittles around, so I tried the lime ones as well. They’re lime Skittles. There’s very little difference. The color is a bit more on the medium green side instead of bright light green. There may be less zest, but I wouldn’t say that’s a selling point.
It’s not the best mix I’ve had, partly because it’s lacking the versatility of pairings. The combinations don’t zing like the classic Fruits do and the Pomegranate and Dark Berry are too similar while the Blood Orange and Midnight Lime are too bland for something billed as Darkside. I’ll probably finish the bag, but it appears that the regular Fruits that I picked up for comparison will disappear first.
I liked the idea there are more Skittles flavor varieties to explore. I’d like to offer up a few more suggestions:
Skittles Soda Pop - root beer, cola, lemon-lime, ginger ale, and whatever that flavor Dr. Pepper is. Other possibilities would be Mt. Dew, Squirt (grapefruit), cherry cola, cream soda. Of all of my flavor mixes I’ve been mentioning, I think this one has the strongest shot. It would depend largely on whether they spend the money on licensing the soda names (like Jelly Belly does) or if they go generic. With generic names they can play more with flavors and of course keep more of the profit for themselves.
Caffeinated Skittles - these would be sold in small packages only to prevent caffeine overdose. Flavors might be coffee themed, or maybe more like energy drinks. One package would equal to about 100 mg of caffeine, this would mean that the taste would be affected too much. There would be an instant outcry from parents about the inappropriateness of the product for children ... gamers and college students would hoard them.
Skittles Citrus Mix - I’ve mentioned this before, it’s not like they’ve never existed before, there was a version in Australia for a few years that had Lemon, Mandarin, Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Orange. I would tweak that a bit and have Yuzu, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Kalamansi. Yeah, that’s going to happen.
Skittles Spicy - this is a wide open area. It could be something like the popular combination of Mango and Chili, or more like the classic spice jelly beans: spearmint, peppermint, cinnamon, licorice and clove. I predict these would be a huge failure.
Skittles Intense - just more flavored than the regular Skittles. Not more sour, just 20% more flavoring.
Skittles Natural - all natural colorings and flavors. Or maybe just blank Skittles, with no colorings at all. Then you don’t know which flavor is which.
Skittles are gluten free and gelatin free.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.