Monday, July 30, 2012
In the theater box section at the Big Lots I spotted this package of Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Flix Mix. At only a buck, I figured I should try it, though I was a little taken aback at the lightness of it, only 2.2 ounces, when many other theater boxes can be 6 ounces.
Flix makes a big deal on the back of the box that these are Made in USA. But a large part of the back of the box is also devoted to the extremely long ingredients list. This is explained by the fact that one of the macroingredients is a rice pillow which includes a large number of fortifications such as niaciniamide and thiamin mononitrate.
One I opened the box I understood why it was so light, there is a cellophane pouch inside that is the appropriate size for the box, these things are just darn airy, so constitute more volume than say, Mike and Ike.
The candy itself is very simple. It’s chocolate covered Rice Chex cereal (or a generic equivalent). The milk chocolate coating seems to have some peanut butter mixed in, though if you gave these to me without saying anything about the peanut butter, I might have missed that nuance. The whole thing is then dusted, unnecessarily, in powdered sugar.
The rice pillow at the center is crispy and has a large airy center. There’s a hint of malt and a little salt to it, so it give a savory base to the mix that’s sorely needed. The milk chocolate and peanut butter coating is sweet. There’s a mild milky flavor to it, but nothing that can stand up to the flavor of the rice cereal ... yup, the bland Rice Chex are more vibrant than this chocolate. Still, the combination works. It’s a bit on the sweet side but the crispy texture and mild contributions from the peanut butter and chocolate manage to combine well.
I don’t think I’d buy this brand again, but I have to wonder if there are better ones out there. I also have to wonder if someone could do a verified gluten free version of this, because I bet there are a lot of gluten free folks out there longing for a crispy candy mix.
The allergen list is pretty complete and includes soy, dairy, milk, peanuts and may contain wheat, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no indication of the ethical sourcing of Flix Candy’s chocolate. There is also palm oil in there, though very low down on the list.
UPDATED to ADD: Yes, there is a homemade version of this called Puppy Chow. Probably the best option if you want better ingredients.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I’m a huge fan of Oreos. I love them. For my 16th birthday my little brother gave me a package of Oreos, and though some people would think, “What a cheap gift!” It was in reality just what I wanted. My love of the cookies is all about the cookie part, not the cream filling. It’s salty and barely sweet, slightly sandy in its crunch and has a deep, dark chocolate flavor that borders on charcoal.
Now Kraft has their own Oreo candy bars, of course not in the United States, spawning ground of Oreos. Instead the best Oreo Bars came from Japan. So Americans have to eat Cookies and Cream candy (which is based on the awesome Cookies and Cream Ice Cream). It’s a white chocolate base with crushed chocolate. The thing about Oreos is that there is no substitute. People who like other brands of chocolate cream cookies (such as Hydrox) prefer them. I happen to prefer Oreos and find anything that’s like an Oreo but not an Oreo slightly disappointing. (But still usually delicious.)
The new Dove Silky Smooth Promises Cookies & Creme are the newest in Dove’s recent entry into white chocolate products. For a while everyone was going extra dark and all of sudden white chocolate is legitimate decadence. (Personally, I think we can have it both ways, they’re not mutually exclusive.)
I got a handful of these as a sample from Mars last month. I didn’t think it was the final packaging because of the rather generic looking black and white foil. (This wouldn’t be the first time I got samples from Mars in temporary packaging.) Well, when I opened the bag after picking them up at Target last weekend, it was clear that this was what the wrapper was supposed to look like.
I really wanted to love these, but as I mentioned before at the top, I love the cookie part of cream sandwich cookies. So I want a lot of cookie. The white chocolate Dove uses is very creamy, very smooth but also has a bit of a cocoa flavor of its own. It may not be deodorized cocoa (where the cocoa butter is filtered completely to remove any traces of cocoa solids or anything that makes it smell like chocolate). It’s not as sweet as some other white chocolates, especially those at this price point. But it’s still sweet and lacks that moderation that a larger proportion of cookie bits would bring.
The cookie bits themselves are okay, they’re crunchy, but missing a really dark and lightly salty note to them.
They’re okay eaten one at a time and with something else in between. I don’t find myself wanting more after I finish one.
I was on the lookout for the Dove Cookies & Creme but had no idea that Ghirardelli had their own new version. The Ghirardelli Sublime White Cookies Jubilee was far more expensive per ounce, at $2.79 for the 3.17 ounce bar.
The box is nicely made and protects the bar well, at paperboard sleeve over a foil wrapped bar. The price per ounce is 88 cents per ounce while the Dove is half that at 44 cents per ounce. So it should be twice as good. It should be all natural. It should be fair trade. It should complement my skin tone and make my eyes sparkle. (Candy doesn’t work that way, or so I’ve been told.)
What Ghirardelli does with there bar is actually different and sounds really good. They describe it on the front of the box as rich layers of chocolate with crunchy cookie bits..
The ingredients are weird and the photo on the package (and physical examination of the opened bar) looks like there’s a milk chocolate base then a white chocolate layer filled with cookie bits.
But what it smells like is chocolate cupcakes. Not good chocolate cupcakes but those cupcakes that people buy at the grocery store bakery, that smell of automation and mixes. The ingredients list cocoa butter as the second ingredient, so that’s not a problem, the chocolate content seems all good. The cookie though seems to be made from rice flour, tapioca starch and corn starch. There’s no wheat flour in there, not that I need it to be made with wheat flour, but this isn’t a gluten free product. (Or is it?)
The flavor balance is weird, it’s like fake buttered popcorn. The little cookie bits have a nice crunch, but little dark toasted cocoa goodness of their own. The chocolate layers are smooth, far smoother than the Dove. It was weirdly greasy at the end and melted too quickly to become thin and watery. It’s just weird and I found it really unpleasant. (For the record, I have liked a lot of Ghirardelli’s other white chocolate products.)
I love the idea of the Hershey’s and there’s so many things that are right with this bar, but the primary reason I can’t or don’t eat it is because of the ingredients. Instead of real cocoa butter the Hershey’s version uses, well, it’s hard to tell, because the ingredients list is vague. The second ingredient, after sugar, is vegetable oil. It says then, parenthetically, that it may include cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower. So there’s really no telling which or any of those are in there.
It’s extremely sweet and slightly grainy and I think not quite milky enough for a white chocolate style product. But then I get to the cookies. There are so many of them, they’re so consistently crunchy and salty and sandy and really exquisite. They balance out the sickeningly sweet white confection exceptionally well.
This purchase was the King Size bar, which was well priced, but far too much of this for me to eat and really, really smelly. The Drops version introduced more recently is a better portioning, though doesn’t have quite the same cookie density and satisfaction.
I have to say, after all these years, I still haven’t found a Cookies and Cream candy I actually like enough to keep eating. Dove is pretty close, it needs more cookies, it needs better cookies. Or Hershey’s could go back to a real white chocolate with cocoa butter and a little less sugar. Instead I’ll probably just keep eating Oreos.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Lately I’ve been feeling the need for novelty in candy. I want to try new fruits, new combinations of flavors. So when I was browsing around on eBay and saw Mentos Lemon Squash I thought that fit the bill.
Of course when ordering candy to be shipped from another country, it’s good to order a lot. So I got plenty of HiCHEW flavors and all the Mentos I could find in the webstore that I hadn’t tried before. It was expensive and took a while to arrive, but anticipation is part of the fun with foreign novelty flavors.
As far as the exotic flavors, by far the Mentos Ume wins, mostly because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan but nearly unheard of in North America outside of population centers with a lot of Asians.
Plum as a flavor is rare in American candies. It’s hard to explain why. We have plenty of peach, nectarine and other stone fruits like apricots. But Plum is, well, plums become prunes. And prune are just not appealing to the Mentos demographic, no matter how much Worf extolled their virtues as a warrior drink.
In this case the Ume is a sour plum, a different variety than the American type like Santa Rosa or Blackamber, the Ume is more closely related to the Apricot. I’ve had salted dried plums before but found them, well, salty, tangy and bitter. The Ume Mentos are rather like that, though not salty, they’re intense and distilled. There’s a tartness that taste more fresh than prunes or raisins. There’s also a peppery hint of spice, like the peel of a plum and maybe a hint of spice like clove. Then there’s an overriding floral quality, like roses.
They’re quite different, though I didn’t find it appealing. It could be the complexity of it, it could by the sort of grassy note that’s also there that I found unpleasant. But it’s definitely unique and I’m glad I spent the bucks to get it.
The Mentos Honeyed Apple was a flavor I hadn’t heard of before, but did notice a trend of honey flavored candies becoming more popular in Japanese candy I saw available in the United States and online. As with this flavor, it’s often combined with other fruits.
The general flavor profile is soft, the apple notes are more like applesauce than tangy green apples. The honey isn’t very apparent, except that the sweetness is much more subdued and syrupy than regular apple Mentos. Japanese candy, and even Mentos, have always taken pains to create authentic fruit flavors. This tastes like real apples, not that chemical invention called “green apple” that seems to have spread around the world. (That’s a good flavor too, but not the same.)
The Mentos Lemon Squash really made no sense to me at all. At first I thought it was about the game squash (like racquetball), that it was a particular sports drink. But then I looked it up and found out that squash is really just a spritzer or fruit soda. There were no gourds associated with this. The flavor, with that in perspective, is exactly what I’d expect for a citrus soda. It’s tangy and has a lemony flavor, but not a lot of herbal or zesty notes. There’s a strange calcium sort of note to it, like key lime juice can have. It was pleasant but nothing I’d pay oodles of money for in the future.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
There was a time when I was obsessed with Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. I would buy boxes of them and gobble up what should have been months of rations in mere weeks. Somewhere along the way they lost their charm though. I found out that there were better cookies out there, cookies made with real chocolate and more importantly, cookies that were available consistently.
So when I heard that Nestle was coming out with a limited edition candy bar version called the Nestle Crunch Girl Scount Cookie Thin Mint Candy Bar, I knew that the internet would be abuzz. But I didn’t really care one way or the other. Q.bel makes a superb wafer bar with mint creme with real ingredients, why would I want a version made by Nestle?
But there I was at CVS last evening and I saw them at the check out, and I figured I should give them a chance.
So here’s one of the main reasons I stopped eating Thin Mints, the ingredients. It’s not real chocolate. The current ingredients, according to the Girl Scout Cookies website:
So no chocolate, barely even enough cocoa in there to even be considered an actual mockolate product. But then I was curious how one of the kings of mockolate, Nestle, would treat an already established mockolate cookie.
The Nestle bar is formatted like the Nestle Crunch Crisp Bar. Again, this bar has some wonderful attributes, a series of crispy light wafers filled with greasy chocolate cream and then covered in mockolate and some more little rice crispies. The change here is the darker mockolate product and peppermint. The ingredients are equally ghastly:
But hey, it’s candy. It’s a treat, and in this case, for $1.19 it’s only 1.3 ounces and 200 calories. It’s a limited edition production, so it’s not an every day thing.
The wafer layers are structurally sound and lightly flavored with cocoa. The cream between has a light minty flavor and rather smooth texture and though it’s sugary, it’s not overly sweet. The mockolate coating is firm and doesn’t flake off but doesn’t do much else. In cool temperatures, especially just slightly chilled, this is a pretty good bar. But in the warmth of summer, it’s a sticky mess. It’s not too sweet, the textures and proportions are excellent. Still, my interest level is low because of the sub-par ingredients and lack of an authentic chocolate coating.
Yup. I’ll stick with the Mint Q.bel Wafer Bars or maybe Mint Milanos. I can’t say I’m disappointed at Nestle’s take on the Girl Scout Cookie, it’s entirely consistent and I guess that’s the sad part. It could have been great.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
So I was pretty excited when I heard that Target was going to make some curated shops within Target enlisting the help of Diane and Brian of the Russian Hill store. What I love about the store is that they have such an interesting collection of little tidbits from around the world. Sure, there’s some that’s completely common, but there were things I’d pick up there, especially licorice, that I have a hard time finding elsewhere.
Unlike Target’s house branded line of Choxie items, this is not a permanent addition to Target, when it’s gone, it’s gone.
The store at Target amounts to an endcap near the candy aisle in the food section at Target. The theme colors are black and white with a field of some sort of weird light green that I associate with government buildings, black and white. There aren’t really that many products and only three or four formats. There are lollipops and different candy in jars and then some tins of chocolate confections. The price points vary from $2.49 for the lollipops to $9.99 for the large tins.
The cornerstone, I would say, is the display of lollipops. The packaging is simple but the actual pops are clever and appealing. There are swirl pops and clear pops with little Necco wafers embedded in them.
The largest array of products, though, are the ones in the jars. This is where my disappointment originated. They’re $4.99 for 11 to 14 ounces of bulk candy. The candies themselves are underwhelming and expensive. I appreciated the harder to find items, like the sour sanded jelly stars, the gummi fried eggs and licorice scotty dogs. But $5 for less than a pound of Bit O’ Honey or Necco Wafers? That’s insane, the packaging is nice, but not like the tins for the chocolates. They’re just plastic.
The lollipop is double wrapped, which is a good idea. The outer wrap is loose and is closed with just a little twist tie that holds the bow on. Inside that, the pop itself is shrink wrapped. It was tough to get off, the shrink wrap had a big glob of melted plastic at the stick that took quite a bit of work with some scissors to remove.
The pop is 3.5 inches square and came in a variety of colors/flavors. I chose orange because I thought it would be a good representation of how flavors are handled.
The hard candy part of the lollipop is nicely poured. It’s a little uneven in spots but has only small bubbles in it. The tight shrink wrapping ended up creating creases and lines across the corners and edges of the pop. The Necco dots are lined up in the sort of pattern that might make some think of Lego blocks or perhaps a six sided die.
The flavor of the candy is very simple. It’s orange, just sweet orange. There’s a lot of zest notes in it, but it’s mostly a soft and sugary orange. The Necco wafers are crunchable with the candy, if you’re the type who chews their hard candy. I found the flavors (lemon and lime) of the Necco actually went well (except for pink). But still, it was just a big piece of hard candy on a wooden stick. It’s fun to look at, but really not for eating. The Necco Wafers contain gelatin, so this is not a candy for vegetarians, also contains soy.
I like the idea of a curated set of candy that’s hard to find and well priced. This has some of those elements, but I’m not their actual intended audience. This is for people who don’t realize that there are neighborhood candy shops in so many places where you can find this sort of thing, along with an enthusiastic person behind the register like Diane or Brian. If you’re stuck in big-box store land, this at least has more personality and is a better gift than a peg bag of Scotty Dogs.
Monday, April 30, 2012
Here’s one of those weird purchases I made at a liquor shop called Mel & Rose that sells imported candies. There, within sight of the Hollywood sign, I bought Hollywood Chewing Gum: Chlorophylle. But it’s not a quaint local brand or even American. It’s made in France, by Cadbury (now owned by Kraft). It’s not even one of those original gum brands from the final days of the Victorian era.
The gum is simple and pleasant. It’s the classic style of stick, right down to a real foil wrapper on each piece. The flavor is spearmint and it’s quite mild but with a good enough punch to make me feel refreshed and clean without a sticky or artificial feeling. The package also boasts that it has chlorophyll in it, you know, that stuff that allows plants to photosynthesize. I remember it was popular in gum and mints in the seventies, but hadn’t seen it on a package in quite a long time.
I like that it was made with real sugar, so few stick gums are these days. So if you’re looking for something to remind you of the classic Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum, this is probably the closest you can find since Wrigley’s went to artificial sweeteners. The sugar isn’t terribly grainy, but the flavor and sweetness does go away pretty quickly, much quicker than Chiclets, but this is a more adult gum than Chiclets.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I have learned more about the fruits of the world through candy than all of my trips to grocery stores and farmers markets. Japanese confectionery, in particular, includes a lot of these lesser known fruits and flavors. HiCHEW from Morinaga have been particularly good at introducing me to new fruits through their limited edition regional flavors.
The Haskap Berry is native to Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan. The berries grew wild and were an important source of vitamin C for the locals but were only domesticated and more widely cultivated starting in the late 1960. Relatives of the Haskap, known commonly as honey berries, are grown in Russia, Northern Europe, Canada and the United States. The berries themselves are shaped kind of like bullets, long and sometimes with a flat bottom. The Haskap, from the photos and descriptions I’ve seen, is more football shaped. The great selling point with the Haskap variety is that after being frozen, the skin melts away, so making sauces or ice creams means there’s no bitter skin or unattractive flecks in the resulting sweet.
The flavor of the fresh berry is said to be similar to blueberries, but more tart. It’s too sour for some people that they prefer to use the berries in jams, preserves or within baked good. Basically, they’re not for eating fresh off the bush.
The Haskap Berry HiCHEW look a little bland out of the wrapper. They’re a sort of grayish purple. The flavor is also less distinctive than I’d hoped. It tastes like a cross between black raspberry and cranberry with a little note of concord grape skin. It’s tart and has a good floral flavor to it with some grassy notes of blueberry seeds. They’re good HiCHEW, but the flavor isn’t really any better or distinct enough to warrant me forking over $4 again plus shipping from Japan to get this taste again.
However, if you were from Hokkaido and remember the berries fondly or perhaps you’ve had Haskap Berry ice cream, this is a portable and inexpensive way to get your fix.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Luckily I found this little package in Amsterdam last year made by Perfetti Van Melle (makers of Mentos) called Lakritz Toffee. The black and silver package stopped me in my tracks, the topography, especially on the inner wrappers is also compelling and completely set my expectations of the morsels within. The only thing missing from the package was the warning that this was salted licorice.
For the uninitiated, some licorice from Northern Europe bears the descriptor of salted licorice, which in the time of sea salt caramels sounds enticing, but in reality it’s not sodium chloride, it’s ammonium chloride that’s added as a flavor enhancer. A little reading about ammonium chloride reveals that it has some medicinal properties, such irritating the gastric mucosa to initiate vomiting.
But I paid less than a buck for this little package, and I’m actually game for learning to love salted licorice, so I gave it my best shot.
The little pieces are wrapped and shaped just like a Starburst fruit chew. The color is great, like the creme on a fresh espresso. They’re barely soft but have a satisfying stiff chew. The licorice flavor is mild at first and has a lot of molasses and toasted flavors to it. The salted flavors come out more as a tangy and metallic bite. All is well, until I allow anything to aerate. I suspect that adding air causes the ammonia in the salt to vaporize into the actual gas, which is, you know, caustic.
The nice part of these toffee pieces, when I manged to eat them correctly, was how the “toffee” part, the creamy note, really brought it all together. It was a smooth chew, not quite buttery, but had a good mouthfeel and never became gritty or grainy. The licorice flavors were authentic, more on the root and herb side than the anise that’s more popular in boiled sugar licorice candies. As long as I only ate one or two, my licorice cravings were quelled. Any more than that and the ammonia notes were too strong.
Unfortunately these can’t be legally imported into the United States because they use a food color that’s banned here. But they’re still widely available in places like the Netherlands and Germany in my experience and sometimes folks will pop up on eBay or other online sweet shops. It contains gelatin as well, so is not suitable for vegetarians.
My go-to licorice toffee still has to be the Krema Batna and maybe the second runner up is Walkers Nonsuch Licorice Toffee (both of which are also banned for import) but if you’re looking for a salted version, this might be it.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.