Monday, July 1, 2013
One of my favorite candy bars as a teen was the Heath Bar. At that time it came as a pair of bars, not yet made by Hershey’s. Each little plank of crisp toffee was coated in milk chocolate. With careful work I could cleave off the chocolate with my teeth leaving a pristine and nearly translucent piece of toffee for slow consumption.
Now that the bars all one piece, I’m not as fascinated by them. Ratios matter as do dimensions.
Flash forward the new century as Hershey’s is making a candy coated piece version of all their favorite candy bars. It’s all part of the Morselization trend. The Hershey’s Heath Pieces feature a milk chocolate morsel studded with toffee and almond bits in a candy shell in muted earthy colors.
The back of the package exhorts buyers to Enjoy Delicious Milk Chocolate Toffee in Pieces ... in the car! ... on the go! ... at home! ...with family & friends!
The package also lists a website, www.piecescandies.com which is nice enough but makes no mention of this product.
They’re lovely and well made little lentils. They’re nearly identical in dimensions to M&Ms, except they’re a little puffier in the center and don’t have the sharp angle around the edges. Quite a few of mine had chipped edges, but that seemed to be the harsh way I treated them on the way home. They come in three colors: cream, medium brown and dark brown.
Inside is an inconsistent mixture of very sweet milk chocolate, toffee and almond. They’re exceptionally sweet and have a less chocolatey experience than the regular Almond Pieces. The crunchy shell and the toffee work well together. They’re both crunchy, but the toffee has a little pop of salt and buttery texture to it. Every once in a while I would catch a chip of almond as well.
The whole effect was sweetness, though not always in a bad way. I think I’d prefer them mixed in with some straight chocolate baubles (though it appears they’re not making the Special Dark Pieces any longer). But what I really found I liked better than these are from Marich and also sold at Trader Joe’s. These would be great for baking and on ice cream.
Like many Hershey’s products, they’re not ethically sourced or certified at this time, though Hershey’s has a published plan. There are a lot of ingredients in there though nothing terribly surprising or disturbing. There was no note on the package about the peanut or gluten status though it does contain soy, milk and almonds. My guess is that it’s made in the same facility as Reese’s Pieces so may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, June 28, 2013
It’s as if I’ve got a theme going with all these new products that are bite versions of the established candies. Today it’s a nibble from American Licorice’s popular Sour Punch line. These are Sour Punch Punchies and are described, simply as: soft,chewy, sour candy.
The two ounce bag has nuggets of candy coated wheat-based sour chews in five flavors: lemon, strawberry, tangerine, blue raspberry and green apple. They’re similar to the Chewy Sour Extinguisher that they released a few years ago, which had sour nuggets along with a magic one that would neutralize your ability to taste sour temporarily.
Sour Punch Straws and the later Sour Punch Bits are sour chews with a wheat flour base, like Red Vines. They usually have a sour sanding on the outside and a more intense flavor than a regular Red Vine. They’re devilishly messy, as the sanding tends to get everywhere. I also found that one straw was often more than I wanted as a portion. I like sours, but not in large quantities as age has finally taught me that too much sour is bad for my tongue if I’d like to use it for the following days.
The Sour Punch Punchies are have a core of Sour Punch Bits and then a candy coating similar to a jelly bean - it’s smooth on the outside but a little grainy and not crunchy. The colors are bold and very vivid.
Tangerine was the flavor I tried first, because it was bound to be good. The sourness was great but also had a nice hit of zest right away. The grain of the coating reminded me of Lemonheads, since there’s a bit of a “peel” effect with a sourness at the margin between the shell and center. The center is a little gummy and pasty and has a slight wheat flour note to it, as most of the Sour Punch products do.
Blue Raspberry is floral and seedy and sour. It’s very artificial at times, but an overall winner.
Lemon was right up there, again, bringing a lot of the qualities that I love about Lemonheads, but with more flavor in the center.
Strawberry was milder and like a smoothie in a way, not quite as sour but with a creamy note that the chew at the center brought in.
Green Apple was pure artificial in all the right ways. It tasted nothing like actual apples (as some candies will straddle the line) but more like Jolly Ranchers amped up. The sourness was not as strong as the lemon, which was by far the most intense.
There’s enough acid in there to burn my tongue before I finished the bag, I was able to eat less then half before I got a stomach ache. They’re really pretty to look at and I loved the flavor variety in the package better than the Airheads Bites (mostly because I like citrus and strawberry better than cherry and watermelon).
Wheat flour is a major ingredient, so they’re not gluten free. But there’s no gelatin but they do use confectioners glaze, so they’re not vegan. There’s also a lot more sodium in there, 170 mg, than I would have expected in a candy like this. They’re made in the USA and Kosher.
Monday, June 24, 2013
When some folks love a particular product, they can be pretty specific about it. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate is known worldwide, and because it’s so popular it’s made in several different locations around the globe. I’ve had Cadbury from Australia, South Africa, the UK, the United States and now Ireland.
I picked up these Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that have little crisps in them. The Dairy Milk Golden Crisp is milk chocolate with golden honeycomb granules. It’s a bit bigger than an ordinary single serving bar, at 54 grams, that’s 1.9 ounces.
The Cadbury Dairy Milk in Ireland is much like the UK version I’ve had, it’s made with a dash of vegetable oil. I can’t quite decide if this means that it’s mockolate or still chocolate, as it’s a small amount, but still replaces some of the much better cocoa butter that could have been in there. This chocolate also uses two emulsifiers, PGPR and ammonium phosphatides, which is similar to lecithin but made with rapeseed and glycerol instead of soy.
The bar has a wholesome milky scent to it, not too sweet. There are a lot of little honeycomb bits in there. The honeycomb is also known as sponge candy or cinder toffee. It’s aerated boiled sugar, it’s usually a little salty tasting since it uses sodium bicarbonate to make the foamy texture.
I love sponge candy, so this was definitely a plus. It’s less sweet than other crunchies can be, so it moderated the heavily sugared milk chocolate. Still, the chocolate was more on the fudgy and grainy side of things. It’s candy, not fine chocolate, so I considered it satisfying in that respect.
The ingredients were the same except for the notation for the honeycombed granules, which contain vegetable extracts of spinach, stinging nettle, and Tumeric.
The Cadbury milk chocolate is 23% milk solids and 20% cocoa solids. I guess the rest is sugar and vegetable oil.
The minty bar didn’t seem to have quite as many honeycomb bits in it. What it did have was a lot of mint. The peppermint was strong, though it was flavoring the chocolate, not the honeycomb ...so it’s not quite a Peppermint Bark experience. The milk is sticky sweet and the mint seems to highlight that, instead of diluting it. The chips were crunchy and had that lightly salty note to them. It didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Golden Crisp, but still found it engaging.
Overall, I didn’t sense too much that was better with the Irish version of Cadbury except that I liked this size of bar better than the large 100 gram tablets. I’m not a huge Cadbury fan, if anything, I’d opt for Kraft’s upscale and ethically sourced Green & Black’s dark milk chocolate. (And comparing the import price I paid for these bars, it’s actually a better deal.)
Friday, June 21, 2013
As you would expect from the name, they’re mini versions of the regular Starburst chews. They’re also unwrapped. (Some folks who make chains from the wrappers will not find this to be a selling point.) The flavors are the same as the Original packages: orange, lemon, cherry and strawberry.
A wrapped Starburst is .75 inches square and approximately .33 inches high. Each is approximately 5 grams. The new Minis are slightly more than .5 inches square, though the sides are not straight, they’re pinched and are .25 inches high. So my calculations show that they’re about one third the size.
What’s more interesting is the ingredients list. Starburst contain gelatin. So, they’re off limits to vegetarians and have never been Kosher/Halal to my knowledge.
Starburst Minis do not contain gelatin. They use pectin, which is derived from vegetable/fruit sources. In addition to the artificial colors, the other ingredient of concern to some folks would be the use of confectioners glaze, which has shellac in it. Shellac is derived from insects,so it is not a vegan product. It is gluten free. Also, oddly, this is made in Mexico. (I checked my other recent Starburst purchase of Starburst Very Berry but confirmed that they were made in the USA.)
Aside from the size and the enhanced ability to combine flavors, the other difference is texture. I found that the pieces were slightly aerated. They weren’t as dense as a regular wrapped Starburst, and also not quite as intensely flavored. But they’re softer and easier to chew. The chew had the same long-lasting flavor and lack of grain ... but a lighter dissolve on the tongue (I think because of the aeration).
They don’t do well in humid climates. Humidity in Los Angeles, lately, has been around 40% and they’ve done well, but one damp morning and they were rather stuck together. I left them in the office overnight where it’s air condition and they separated again. So if you’re in a humid area, you might want to stick with the wrapped version or keep these sealed in a zipper bag when you’re not busy consuming them.
The key feature to recommend the Starburst Minis is not their size, it’s the fact that they’re unwrapped. But I’m sure there are a lot of folks who will hone in on the fact that they don’t have gelatin in them. I don’t like the texture as much, but I can see the appeal of these, especially in circumstances where the wrappers are a hindrance, such as snacking on a plane or in a movie theater. But mostly I figure Skittles are mini Starburst - not quite the same flavor array, but a good approximation and they don’t stick together.
Monday, June 17, 2013
I’m on a bit of a kick with Just Born products, not just because they sent me a package of Peeps last month, but because they’ve got a lot going on with their other product lines. (Once I start, I feel like I have to explore all the versions of a product.)
Mike and Ike have been around for some 70+ years. They’re pretty much jelly beans, sold in boxes in a limited assortment of 2 to five flavors.
The newest Limited Edition version is Mike and Ike Strawberry Reunion. Recently Just Born did a big advertising push for Mike and Ike, including a whole narrative about the characters of Mike and Ike breaking up ... and (spoiler!) getting back together. This version has a strawberry theme, including: Strawberry, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Strawberry Watermelon, Strawberry Tangerine and Strawberry Pineapple.
If you want to read more about the marketing, AdWeek had a nice summation of it.
Strawberry Watermelon is a light pink color with darker spots and completely believable in its flavor. It’s a floral and tart and ends with the watermelon flavor notes without tasting like chemicals.
Strawberry was red rather ordinary, but still a good piece.
Strawberry Banana Smoothie is yellow. It’s tangy at first with an artificial note of banana and none of the creamy component that makes strawberry banana smoothies so great. As an artificial creation though, it’s nice candy.
Strawberry Tangerine is orange and fantastic. Tangy and citrusy and floral all at once. It has a zesty finish to it, instead of being purely sweet.
Strawberry Pineapple is speckled and more peachy. There weren’t as many of these in my box, which is too bad because they were also wonderful. Tart and zippy with more pineapple than strawberry.
Overall, a nice mix, each of them were distinct but could also be combined ... the only one that didn’t like to play with others was watermelon.
Just Born also recently started releasing their candies in classic packaging. To go along with that, they brought back a few of their old flavor varieties. I found the Mike and Ike Lem and Mel and the Mike and Ike Cherri and Bubb at the Dollar Tree.
These are full variety mixes though, each box only contains a pair of flavors ... and odd pairs at that. The packaging has a fifties feel, a little more muted and simplified, but a quick check online shows that the Lem and Mel variety was introduced in 1991 and the Cherri and Bubb was out in 1989 ... back when we had another obsession with nostalgia.
The Mike and Ike - Lem and Mel is yellow and green, featuring Lemon and Watermelon flavored jelly bean rods. The lemon is already found in the classic Mike and Ike fruits box and a pink version of the watermelon is in the RedRageous package.
Lemon is not as sparkly as the Lemonade Blends. It’s sweet and zesty, but not tangy. Watermelon is sweet as well, with only a tart hint and then a sort of cotton candy finish.
Cherri and Bubb is Cherry and Bubble Gum. I bought this variety because of the Bubble Gum Peeps and though maybe I’d review them together, but ended up separating the products this way instead.
The cherry is an odd sort of flavor. It’s very bold, it starts out with a strong wild cherry flavor that reminds me of Sucrets throat drops. Then it gets very sweet and has a little bit of a raspberry note. They’re not for me.
Bubble gum is pink. They seemed a little bit stiffer, not quite as soft and jelly-like as the cherry. This make them seem more bubble gum-like as well. It’s a good bubble gum flavor, a bit on the sweet strawberry side with only the lightest note of wintergreen. It’s fresh and veers off into juicyfruit. There’s no weird aftertaste from the artificial colors, which was my problem with the Peeps.
About 9 years ago I remember a Root Beer Float version of Mike and Ike, I’d like to see those come back ... or maybe a whole soda pop flavor mix.
They’re a really good value, for a buck a box which holds 5 ounces. It’s the kind of price that I don’t feel bad if I throw out the flavors I don’t like. I’d opt for the Strawberry Reunion or the Lemonade Blends out of all the Mike and Ike varieties.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Instead of a row of conjoined Peeps, these are the individual chicks, the packages I have have trays with a pair that come out to only .75 ounces. If you’re looking for a low calorie summer treat, this might be the thing, as they’re only 75 calories for the package.
They smell like Country Time Lemonade Drink Mix. A soft lemon with a little hint of vanilla and anti-caking agents. The Peeps are, well, rather like a lemon meringue.
The marshmallow itself is soft, fluffy and has a mellow sweet lemon flavor, the sugary coating has a little tartness to it now and then, like someone mixed lemon Pixy Stix in with the granulated coating. Overall, it’s actually a pretty successful iteration of the ordinarily bland Peeps.
I didn’t try them toasted, but I bet that would really add to the lemon meringue note.
The PR folks also sent along some boxes of the Mike and Ike Lemonade Blends. I’ve already reviewed them, though I admit they’re my favorite variety of the Mike and Ike, so I was happy to have them.
The reason I mention it is that both candies are part of Just Born’s partnership with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, which raises money for families dealing the a child with cancer as well as research for cures. Since 2007 they’ve donated over $500,000 to the group through their Mike and Ike packages.
The candies are just regular old Mike and Ike jelly bean rods in five flavors: Lemonade, Tangerine Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade and Lime Lemonade.
The seem to be a lot easier to find now than when they first came out, which I’m guessing is because it’s a good mix of flavors. They’re a bit more tart than the standard Fruit Mike and Ike and the variety is good because the lemon flavor holds it all together so you can combine. I gave them a 7 out of 10 when they first came out, and think they’ve held up well.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Bar None, originally made by Hershey’s, was a well-loved candy bar. It was launched nationally in 1987 (I believe I lived in the test market area in California in 1986 and became addicted to them early on). The bar was also introduced in Canada under the name of Temptation.
The candy bar boasted chocolate wafers with chocolate cream and then a layer of crushed peanuts all covered in real milk chocolate. It sounds like a giant KitKat, but the reality was a bit different. The wafers were more aerated, the cream layers were more chocolatey and the crushed nuts were, of course, never found on a KitKat. Later in 1992, in an attempt to overcome some manufacturing issues, the bar was changed from a single piece to twin sticks with the addition of caramel. The wrapper was also redesigned to predominantly yellow and sales fell until the bar was discontinued in the United States in 1997. (More about the bar here.)
The Iconic Candy Company of Carle Place, NY specializes in reviving extinct candies; they picked up the rights to the candy bar and are in the final stages of their planned reintroduction of Bar None. They previewed the Bar None at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago last month.
Indulge me for a moment for a little more history, or don’t and skip ahead to the review down there where the candy bar photos start. In addition to one of the early ad campaigns for the bar (which included commercials and the tagline “Tame the Chocolate Beasty”) I also found an intact wrapper online which revealed the original (circa 1990) ingredients for the 1.5 ounce bar (240 calories):
The new bar is 1.6 ounces and 240 calories:
The original bars were made by Hershey’s at their facility in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia (home of Reese’s Pieces). Iconic Candy is also making their bars in the United States.
The bar looks good, though I have to say that it doesn’t look as angular as I remember it. I thought it was a little flatter back in the olden days, but I could be wrong. I rarely took the bar out of the wrapper, instead when I ate it, I opened the end and just pushed out enough of it to take a bite because it was a very messy bar - both the fact that it would melt on the fingers and the fact that biting into it would sometimes scatter bits of the thin chocolate coating. I remember the chocolate coating as a soft chocolate, prone to melting even though I lived in the never-actually-warm Northern California area at the time. The original bar was also fatty, as the calorie count was about 160 calories per ounce, which is very high for a wafer bar.
It smells good, like chocolate with just a hint of roasted peanuts. Again, I don’t remember the peanut element from the original, which was really all about the taste of the milk chocolate and the cream filling between the wafers. The peanuts were for crunch, not flavor.
The bar has a gentle crunch to it. The chocolate gives way well without becoming a flaky mess. The wafers are crispy and light, quite aerated and different from the KitKat wafers, which are more dense. These are like an ice cream cone. Though I would want the wafers chocolate flavored, I think they’re rather flavorless, coming across a bit like malty foam.
The chocolate is sweet and creamy with a good milky flavor. The peanuts taste fresh and have a good crunch and consistent size. There’s a little note of salt, just on the crushed nuts. The wafer stack is good, though not as chocolatey as I would like.
There’s an alternate universe (if you subscribe to the multiverse theory) where Hershey’s didn’t pervert and destroy the original bar with the twin sticks with caramel. But in that universe, in which Hershey’s behaved otherwise identically, the bar would have fallen to the same pressures to use “safe and suitable vegetable fats” instead of cocoa butter like they did with the classic Mr. Goodbar which is no longer a good chocolate bar, or a chocolate bar at all. So even if there were a Bar None today, I doubt I would still like it. Hershey’s simply doesn’t make their products better over time, they just make the more efficiently. We’re lucky if that doesn’t effect the taste and nutritional profile of the product, but it usually does. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Good & Plenty are really their only remaining products that I still enjoy regularly.
So, in a way, I think it was a blessing that Bar None disappeared before it got bad. Because then people wanted it to come back. The new Iconic Candy version of it isn’t quite the same, but then again, the original had its issues. It often slid apart, because the creme between the layers wasn’t held together well enough by the chocolate coating. The sharper corners would get crushed. The chocolate would flake off. I don’t see those as issues with the revived bar. But it’s still lacking that fatty, slick chocolate texture that I remember. So, it may be an uphill battle with the die hard fans of the original. There’s also a case to be made that original fans may have had other qualities about the bar that they liked that are still served by this version.
Tasting this bar today, without the reference point of the original, it’s a very well done effort. It’s airy and light but still very satisfying. The peanuts are a nice crunchy touch that don’t veer off into peanut butter territory as a flavor. But my tastes have changed now, being exposed to fine and dark chocolate from around the world have made me demand more from my candy. Now I think I’d want this in a dark chocolate version over a milk one.
The cross section though did give me pause. It’s purple. Why are the wafers purple? Well, glance back up there at the list of ingredients and you’ll see five artificial colors. I’m not sure why it needed them, but they’re there.
I’ve emailed with Iconic Candy, and the bars aren’t in stores quite yet. I’ll have some more information on that, and of course they’ll have information at their website as they start shipping to wholesalers and stores. If you have a favorite spot for buying candy, you may want to mention to them that you’d like to try the bar so they’ll order it.
Here’s a newsletter from Hershey’s called Chocolate Town USA from back in 1990 that details the launch of the original chocolate bar.
Monday, June 10, 2013
KitKat Minis are unwrapped versions that are only 1 inch long. They’re also solo. Instead of “fingers” of KitKats served up in quads, these are like “pinky toes,” if you have those kind of pinkies that never quite fit in regular sandals and just hang out by themselves.
This isn’t the first time KitKat has attempted a bite sized version, there were KitKat Bites on the market about eight years ago. Those were smaller and more spherical as they were a panned chocolate (the centers were tumbled in a pan and then sealed with a little glaze).
The issue I found with the earlier KitKat Bites violating the interactivity I’d come to love about the KitKat bar is not an issue here. The miniature bars do have all the layers. This means that my process of eating them is the same. I cleave off the chocolate on each, making a melt-free spot to hold the bar while I peel off each layer of the cookie wafers with my teeth.
I enjoyed these, but not quite as much as I would have liked. The ratio of chocolate to wafers is higher now. I wouldn’t mind if it was good chocolate, but it’s not. It’s overly sweet, a little grainy and because it contains PGPR, I always think it has a rancid note to it.
I’m hoping these will come in the dark variety at some point. But the reality is that the Japanese Adult Taste Dark Chocolate KitKat (called Otonano Amaso) version is so untouchably superior, and actually comes in a nugget version, I don’t plan on buying Hershey’s again after this bag is gone.
The price is okay, I got mine on sale for $3.50 for the bag, which is a half of a pound. The wrapped candies can often be less expensive, but these may come down in price over the coming months as the economies of scale kick in. The stand up bag does have a zipper on it so they do store well. I can also see these being a good addition to ice cream or used as an ingredient in baking projects.
Though KitKat bars in the rest of the world, made by Nestle, are becoming fair trade certified, the American made KitKats from Hershey’s are not quite there yet. (Even when they do make it, that doesn’t mean they’ll taste better.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.