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.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Rolos were introduced in the United Kingdom back in 1937 by Mackintosh’s, which was a well known toffee company. (Toffee in the UK is generally more like caramel is in the United States, soft and chewy or actually a flowing syrup.) Mackintosh later merged with Rowntree (creator of the KitKat) in 1969 and that company was then bought up by Nestle in 1987. Though Nestle and Hershey’s are huge rivals in the United States, Hershey’s maintains their license for Rolos and KitKats here.
Rolos are available in two formats currently, the rolls with an individual serving and foil wrapped versions which are usually sold in mixes in bags along with other Hershey’s favorites. (Here’s an early Candy Blog review of Rolos.)
Rolo Minis are new from Hershey’s, to go with the other items in the new Hershey’s minis line like Hershey’s Drops and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis. They’re a smaller version of the popular candy, though might not have the precise ratios of elements. The point, I guess, is to provide candies that don’t have all that messy packaging:
Why is it called a Rolo? One of the key features wasn’t what the candy was, but how it was packaged, it was a roll. That’s it. But here it is in a bag. They kind of roll, but just in small circles. They’re just little knobs of milk chocolate with a chewy caramel filling. That could be called anything.
Geometrically speaking, the form of a Rolo is called frustum-shaped. That is, a cone that has had its pointy end lopped off. So the base is wider than the top. In the case of Rolos, there’s also a little rim around the top, which has no purpose as far as I know. There is no logo or any other branding on the candy itself.
The pieces are rather scuffed up from rolling around in that bag. In fact, they’ve come all the way from England, where they were made. Seemed a little odd to me, but these are imported from England and made by, well, I’m guessing Nestle.
Though the chocolate is a bit dry looking, it’s actually pretty good. It’s smooth enough to melt well, the caramel center is stiff enough to provide a good chew but not so hard to pull out any teeth. They remind me of a softer version of Milk Duds back when they were made with real milk chocolate.
Overall, they’re much better, less sweet and smoother than the large version of Rolos. I found myself munching on these a lot more readily than the regular Rolos. They go well in a mix, too, with some nuts and pretzels.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Jelly Belly Peas & Carrots Mellocreme Candy comes in a little plastic container that looks like canned vegetables.
The can says eating your veggies never tasted so good and shows a heaping spoonful of the pretend side dish. They come in two flavors, the little carrots are Orange Sherbet Flavor and the peas are Green Apple Flavor.
Mellocreme is a firm fondant confection, usually just a combination of sugar and corn syrup, sometimes there’s a bit of a binder in there like egg whites and sometimes some honey for added flavor. Candy Corn is probably the most famous mellocreme candy, but especially around Easter there are little pastel shapes around in sweet fruity flavors.
The little carrot rods are shy of one inch long and the peas are actual pea sized (1/3 to 1/2 inch in diameter). The peas aren’t quite spherical, most have a flattened side.
They’re soft, but not crumbly or sticky. They dissolve nicely without any grain, though I wouldn’t exactly call them smooth. The orange carrot is sweet and has a soft and not too zesty orange flavor. Creamsicle is about as close as I can come to it. The peas are a little softer and have a very sweet and barely noticeable artificial apple flavor to them.
It’s a goofy candy that’s much better for the packaging and art direction than the actual eating. I happen to enjoy fresh carrots and frozen peas, so I’m going to pass on this. They’re a bit steep in the price area as well. The can retails for about $5 and is half of the charm of the candy. They’re sold in bags or bulk, but I think it really undermines the novelty aspect. But as a non-toxic plaything for little children, this is far better than plastic. All things considered, I’ll stick to fresh carrots and frozen peas as a snack.
They’re really low in calories as they’re more than 90% sugar. There’s no traces of gluten or peanuts. They contain soy and artificial colors and flavors plus beeswax and a confectioners glaze that makes them inappropriate for vegans and some vegetarians. Made in the USA
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Werther’s Original is known best for its smooth hard caramel candies but they’ve recently ventured into the world of chocolate. Werther’s is made by Storck, a Germany candy brand that also makes Toffifay, Merci Chocolate, Mamba chews and Riesen caramels. It always seemed odd to me that their chocolate brand was under the Werther’s label instead of the Merci one, but perhaps they went with the one with the best brand recognition.
Werther’s Original Caramel Milk Chocolates feature the familiar amber yellow and brown branding of the Werther’s caramels. The bars come in a familiar style of upright, flat bar package. They’re 3.5 ounces and I found them at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck a piece. What was even better though was the the package once I opened it up. There were four little individually wrapped bars inside the easily re-closeable sleeve.
The little bars are about 25 grams each (.88 ounces) and the nutrition facts suggest that two are a serving, but I found one sufficient.
There were three varieties on sale at the store, so I bought all of them. Though the smart little bars are color coded, they’re not actually marked with the name of the variety on them. I found the purple and magenta confusing when not placed side by side.
I tried Werther’s Original CaraMelts before a few years ago, which is some sort of caramel flavored white confection and found it was not suited to my tastes, a little too fatty without much flavor. I was hoping this would have a little more depth.
The little bar is a ripple of that cream confection and a milk chocolate.
The melt is quite nice, extremely smooth and though sweet, it’s not sticky or too thick. The milk and dairy notes are clean, like fresh butter not powdered milk. The cocoa notes are rather faint overall, kind of a malty and toffee note to it, but not much more than that.
The Werther’s Original Dark Cream Caramel Chocolates in bar form are similar to another version that were introduced a couple of years ago called Werther’s Original Dark Cream Chocolates which were sold in bags and individually wrapped and shaped like the Werther’s Original hard caramels.
The difference between the two products, as far as I can tell, is shape and price.
When they named it Dark Cream, they really meant the cream part. The fat content on this particular bar is through the roof, at 164 calories per ounce with 79 of those fat calories. The second ingredient on the list after milk chocolate (I know, what makes it dark chocolate cream if it’s made with milk chocolate?) is cream powder then whole milk powder. You’d better like dairy.
The Dark Dream looked odd, the color was not quite appetizing. I can only describe it as a faded or dead looking brown, instead of a lively and rich red-brown like many chocolate bars are.
Even though I complained that there was a lot of milk chocolate in this bar, and a lot of milk, it still had a deeper cocoa flavor to it and was certainly less sweet than the Milk Cream version. The melt is very smooth and has a good flavor balance between the actual cream flavors and the toasty, woodsy cocoa notes.
The back of the package says Enjoy four individually wrapped bars of European Milk chocolate with pieces of crispy Werther’s Original Toffee.
The ingredients are much simpler as well, just real milk chocolate with lots of extra dairy fats and some toffee chips made with real butter.
The bar has the same faintly off color for the milk chocolate. I can only assume that the reason for that is because it’s diluted by all that extra milk and dairy in it.
The toffee chips are well distributed and at a good ratio to provide a lot of texture and flavor. The milk chocolate is smooth and buttery though again, not very chocolatey. The toffee chips have a good balance of crisp texture, easy crunch, salt and burnt sugar notes.
Overall the price was good for this set of bars, and I enjoyed the portion control that’s usually lacking in these large tablet bars. But the chocolate is weird, it’s too much dairy fat and not enough cocoa butter. I can see the appeal for some folks, especially those who like the mouthfeel of super-slick chocolate like Dove. But I want more chocolate punch in my chocolate.
The allergen list on these was long, pretty much the only thing it doesn’t contain and isn’t co-processed with is shellfish.
Friday, March 16, 2012
I found the Russell Stover Big Bite Pecan Delight Egg at Walgreen’s along with the other super-sized Easter classic, the Coconut Cream in the shape of a Big Bunny.
Pecans and Caramel covered in Milk Chocolate
Ah, a pecan turtle. What a fabulous candy. The roasted, maple flavors of pecans with their oily crunch go so well with the burnt sugar, sweet chewiness of caramel with it all encapsulated in creamy milk chocolate.
I’ve reviewed a few different versions of these in the past. The first one I tried was the Organic Pecan Delight, which were sold individually wrapped and bagged. They were good, but lacked a lot of pecans. The second one I tried was the traditional Easter favorite, the Pecan Delight Egg ... well, that one was even more parsimonious with the pecans. Then most recently I tried the non-organic version of the Pecan Delight and was similarly underwhelmed.
So, would scaling up make a difference?
They weren’t kidding about it being a big bite. It’s two ounces, so of course it’s big, but that’s the same size as a Snickers bar. It’s packed with 290 calories as well. What it’s not packed with is pecans. Those little lumps on the outside ... those are the pecan pieces. That’s it. No hidden nuts inside the caramel center.
I can sit around being disappointed that there aren’t more pecans in this. (I can also call it false advertising.) But the reality is that it’s still a good piece of candy if you adjust expectations. The milk chocolate is passable - it’s sweet and milky and though a bit fudgy and grainy, it still has a pleasant melt and mouthfeel. The caramel center is salty and though sweet, not overly cloying or syrupy. The caramel is smooth, without the slightest bit of grain. It’s pretty gooey, but not chewy. The small bits of pecans gave it a roasted nutty flavor, but not much texture overall.
Would this have been better with more pecans? Absolutely. Would it have cost a dollar? No, not possible. It was a bad year for pecans, the price went way up. The solution to this is for Russell Stover to not offer this candy at this price point, or to adjust our expectations by not saying that it’s the Pecan Delight.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.