Friday, May 10, 2013
M&Ms are ranked as the #1 candy by companies who track such things. But that popularity has always been limited to the lentil type candies, not other candies branded under M&Ms. As an example, Mars launched the M-Azing bar, a chocolate bar with M&Ms in 2004 but it was discontinued in 2008.
Mars is trying again trying to flatten and solidify the candies with the new Milk Chocolate M&Ms Chocolate Bar. The tagline is chocolate bars are better with M.
The bar, as you can imagine, is a milk chocolate base studded with M&Ms (candy coated milk chocolate pieces). I was curious if the chocolate of the bar was the same as the chocolate inside the M&Ms. Looking at the ingredients list, it appears they are slightly different.
The embedded candies are the mini sized M&Ms, not the full sized. (As you can imagine, the bar would need to be pretty thick to full encapsulate them.) The minis have a much thinner shell, so less of a sharp crispness.
The bar is cute to look at. It’s nicely segmented and molded and breaks apart easily with a good snap. The scent is sweet and a little on the sugary side; it didn’t smell rich and reminded me of R.M. Palmer. The melt is pretty smooth overall, but there’s a slight cereal flavor to it, which I’m guessing is from the candy shells. It’s also has a slight sharpness to it, almost verging on a Hershey’s taste. On the whole, I was unimpressed.
The candy pieces inside gave a little crisp crunch to it and added sweetness. There was little difference in the flavor when it came to the centers of the M&Ms when eaten in the context of the bar. Overall ... the chocolate itself was never the strong suit of M&Ms, it’s always been the munchable, colorful portability of them.
If you’ve been looking for a milk chocolate bar with more artificial ingredients, this might be just the thing. Not only do you get the artificial colors on the actual M&Ms, there’s also the added bonus of PGPR,
Friday, May 3, 2013
Trader Joe’s always selects their confectionery products with a bit of an atypical flair. Sure, they have some organic mints in tins at the check out counter, but they’re also offering these Trader Joe’s Organic Gingermints as well.
The tin is cute and bold, featuring orange and salmon accents and some wasabi-green highlights. The mints are Kosher and made with organic ingredients, gluten free and vegan. The steel, hinged box holds 50 “mints” though they’re really just ginger flavored ... no peppermint or spearmint flavors in there.
The ingredients are simple:
They’re rather creamy looking, just slightly off white which could be from the maple syrup or ground ginger root. They’re also very gingery. They’re smoother than Altoids, less of a chalky quality to them. When I let it dissolve, it was a little syrupy instead, kind of like a slippery elm lozenge. Mostly I crunch them, which means that I get a big kick of the ginger immediately. They’re sweet, but it’s more earthy and clean with a lingering heat from the ginger. They’re spicy, but the burn doesn’t accumulate, so I didn’t have trouble eating three or four in a row.
I suspect that these are just repackaged VerMints which are also made in Canada and have the same agar and gum tragacanth ingredients, but that’s fine with me these are certainly easier to find. Trader Joe’s also sells a straight Organic Peppermint tin as well.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I saw these Haribo Hot Sticks first on the Candy Gurus site and knew I had to have them.
They’re a strange combination of flavors, at least to the American palate. The package describes them as Fruity-Spicy & Liquorice. They’re sugar crusted gummis in three flavor combinations: Hot Orange + Liquorice, Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice and Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice.
Haribo is a global confectionery brand, but this package is for the German market, with the majority of the package information in German and a smattering in English.
There are three flavors, but I have trouble telling them apart. The raspberry was easy, since it was pink, but the orange and lemon versions were more difficult.
The texture is soft and bouncy, the sugar crust is fine and adheres well to the candy, so well that there was barely any in the bottom of the bag. Each has a licorice end, and that flavor was consistent across all the pieces. It was very sweet with a mild anise flavor. I’m not usually the keen on Haribo’s licorice, but this gummi version was mild and traditional.
Hot Orange + Liquorice - the orange end had a little tangy citrus note and at first, I had trouble detecting anything else, but soon the warming spice of what I can only guess is hot pepper started. It was really just the heat, there wasn’t much of the vegetable note to it. The licorice combined well with it, mostly evening it all out and providing a more lingering sweetness.
Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice - this was the flavor that drove me to find the Hot Sticks. I love Haribo’s Ginger Lemon gummis, so the addition of licorice sounded great. The earthy flavor of the ginger balanced very well with the herbal notes of the anise-licorice. The tartness of the lemon cut the sugary sweetness of the grainy coating.
Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice - I have to admit that jalapeno is not one of my favorite flavors. The raspberry and jalapeno flavors were well balanced here. The tangy and floral berry notes came right out, but so did the green vegetable flavors of jalapeno along with the very warm notes of the pepper. When I just ate a bite from that flavored end, I found it slightly too hot for me. However, when eating as a whole candy, with the soothing woodsy note of the licorice, it’s interesting ... still, it was a bit chaotic. Of all the flavors here, this one was the least successful. But it could just be that I’d never tried that combination before and it was too jarring for me to appreciate.
Overall, it’s a really fascinating mix. Each bite is different, and because the flavors are separated on different ends, you can kind of control how much of a mix you get. I’ll probably stick with the much more mundane Lemon Ginger, but the addition of licorice, especially this particular version of a gummi licorice, is quite good.
Monday, April 8, 2013
In a world where more financial transactions are digital and something like Bitcoin is a reality, it’s comforting to know that barter still exists. Over the new year my mother had a neighbor request to use her empty parking space in her condo parking lot to store a car while they were on a trip to the Philippines for a month. My mother agreed for a nominal fee and the simple request: bring back some Mentos, the kind you can’t get in the United States.
They obliged! So upon their return I was gifted three different 810 gram bags of individually wrapped Mentos. (Yes, for mental metric converters, that totaled 6.36 pounds.) Each large bag, the size of an airplane pillow, contained 300 pieces. There were three varieties: Mentos Duo, Mentos Tropical Mix and Mentos XTreme Spearmint.
Mentos Duo Lemon Grape has that wonderful Asian grape flavor instead of the American artificial grape. It’s soft and floral and reminds me of concord grapes right off the vine. The lemony center is subtle and lightly zesty without adding too much sour. They’re more subtle Mentos, not like a Skittle. This was one of my favorites.
Mentos Duo - Mango Orange is orange on the outside and mango on the inside. The orange flavor is sweet with a little bit of tanginess. The center is also sweet, but without the tart bite and a little note of pine and peach that mango can sometimes have. It’s a nice little change of pace from regular citrus Mentos.
I’ve tried the Duos before and like the idea of them and in this bag the two combinations are well done. They’re a little different which sets them apart from the usual chews like Starburst.
The Tropical Mix doesn’t have anything that new in it, as all of these flavors are now available in the Mentos Rainbow worldwide.
Mentos Watermelon reminded me of a Jolly Rancher. It’s an odd sort of flavor, at first is was actually a good representation on the outside, but the inside got strange. It was a little plasticky - like styrofoam and had notes of mint to it. I don’t know if it was because they might have been too close to the Spearmint pieces, or they were just weird. I’m not that big on Watermelon candies, so for the most part I chalk it up to personal preference.
Mentos Orange starts with a floral orange blossom flavor, and maybe even a hint of bergamot. The tangy juice flavor don’t develop until the pieces are well chewed. There’s not much zest to it, but a good well rounded orange flavor still emerges.
Mentos Pineapple is probably my new favorite Mentos flavor since Pink Grapefruit disappeared. It’s tangy and floral and the flavor is intense enough to last to the very end. I found myself pulling them out of the mix pretty consistently.
I enjoy the fruity Mentos a lot. I took a large zipper lock bag of these with me on my trip to Hawaii. A little treat like this is good for the ears like chewing gum on a flight. The pineapple and orange felt like they were breath fresheners, too. I don’t know why they don’t sell the individually wrapped version here in the United States. The rest are going in a jar on my desk at the office, even my most germaphobic office-mates won’t have a problem.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
I went to Hawaii last month on vacation and picked up a few locally made candies.
There aren’t many candies made on the Hawaiian Islands, but I found a few, including a set of four of the chocolate bars made by Wow-Wee “Maui’s Candy Bar”. All of the bars are made on the island of Maui by hand and include flavors and inclusions that reflect the flavors of Hawaii. The bars weren’t that expensive, I think I paid $2.50 each for them. They’re 1.75 ounces each. My bars were:
The packaging is simple, a foil wrapper with a paper sleeve over that. The bar molding includes a nice version of their logo. They’re not scored to break into specific portions, but breaking the thin and long bar was easy. Folding the foil back up and resealing the bar was also pretty simple (a lot easier than the plastic wrap that comes on most bars these days).
The Wow-Wee Dark Chocolate - Hawaiian Coconut is a simple bar that’s a very easy to eat treat. The dark chocolate is mild, on the semi-sweet level, like some nice chocolate chips. I found it a bit sweet, but it had a nice texture. The coconut flavor dominated the chocolate and the coconut shreds were quite dense. The coconut flavor was tropical but had a fresh grassy note to it that I enjoyed. It tasted real, instead of like it had been soaked in sugar.
The dark chocolate does contain some dairy products and the coconut has the preservative sodium metabisulfite in it. So it’s not appropriate for people with allergies to milk, soy, coconut (obviously) or sulfites.
The Wow-Wee Milk Chocolate - Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts is very simple, it’s just milk chocolate with chips of macadamias in it. The macadamia nuts are dry roasted, and though the ingredients don’t say they’re salted, I detected a little hint of salt in this bar (and the label confirms that there’s 48mg).
The milk chocolate is slightly grainy but pleasant in a fudgy way. It has a woodsy note to it that goes well with the sharp nutty flavor of the macs. It’s a tried and true combination and I can see this being a local favorite over the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds.
The Wow-Wee Chocolate - Kona Coffee - Caramel was the most interesting bar for me just by the listing. It contains real Kona coffee, which is always rich and flavorful. It also contains a different twist, with the addition of caramel.
Again, this is the semi-sweet chocolate, which has a bit of milk in it. The bar smells dark and buttery and whole lot like coffee, kind of like walking into a Starbucks in the morning at the height of the rush. The chocolate has bits of coffee beans mixed in. They’re crunchy and not at all fibery, but still bitter and a little on the oily side. Then scattered throughout the bar are long strips of caramel. The caramel is chewy and stringy and has a distinct toffee note to it. There wasn’t quite enough of it, for my tastes, but I loved the texture.
I’m not usually keen on the coffee beans being mixed into my chocolate, and this bar was no exception. I couldn’t eat much of it in the afternoon or evening because of the caffeine effects, but the balance of flavors and textures was good. It could benefit from darker chocolate, but sometimes you really want something sweet.
The Wow-Wee Maui Kitch’n Cook’d Potato Chip & Milk Chocolate is the last bar and a bit of comfort food. You can see from that cross section that the potato chips are thick crinkle cuts. The potato chips are made in cottonseed oil and have a little touch of salt on them (only 42 mg per serving). The bar does have that chip smell to it, kind of earthy.
The chips are crunchy and have a lot of potato flavor to them. The milk chocolate is very sweet but smooth and well balanced to the chip flavors and textures. I wanted more chips in my bar, but I think that’s how I am with inclusions. They definitely lend a lot of flavor to the bar even when you might not get a bit in every bite.
Wow-Wee Maui makes nine bars in total and all sound like they fit in well with the flavors of the islands. I think they’re a great, inexpensive gift for a friend and a nice treat to eat while you’re visiting.
Monday, March 25, 2013
This year was, I felt, the best we’ve had so far this decade for Easter candy diversity. It was a nice mix of classic products, new flavor twists on existing items and then some exciting new diversions. The stores seemed well stocked, better than I saw them two years ago, for example. It’s an encouraging sign for the economy and for our tummies.
Just Born is celebrating 60 years of their iconic Peeps marshmallow candies. They’ve come a long way from the early years when they came in plain yellow. Now they’re available in all the colors of the rainbow and special flavors.
To mark the anniversary, they’ve created a 60th Anniversary version in Vanilla Creme flavor. They’re the individual Peeps (not a conjoined row) and feature little sparkly flecks of multi colored candies, like edible confetti.
I prefer an uncolored Peep, as I think the artificial colorings get in the way of the pure sugary flavor. (Ghost Peeps, for that reason, are the best.)
The Vanilla Creme is a soft flavor, artificial and lacking in the complexity of a nice Tahitian vanilla pod, but still it has a soft and comforting flavor that cuts a bit of the sugary sweetness. They’re bouncy and fluffy and grainy. The little confetti add a little bit of a crunch, but mostly they dissolve quickly on the tongue.
These would be a fun version available all year round. I also heard that they’re releasing Birthday Cake Peeps which are a turquoise blue and yellow cake flavored. (Which is also a great idea for a year-round Peep.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
They’re just egg shaped gumballs.
Smarties Bubble Gum Eggs are made by Ford Gum in the USA with real sugar, there are no artificial sweeteners in there. I bought them for $1.49 at Cost Plus World Market, but then I saw them at the 99 Cent Only Store for a dollar.
They’re passably good. They come in different colors, but I really didn’t get a sense that they were different flavors, all vaguely and pleasantly fruity. They were soft enough to bite but have a satisfyingly crunchy shell. Each piece is a good size for chewing, two make for a little too much. The sugar takes a while to be dissolved, so there’s no bubble blowing right away. Even after the sugar is gone, they’re a little too stiff and snappy to blow a good bubble with.
At other times of the year, they’re also available as plain old gumballs. I bought them before and feel the same way about them. They’re okay. Mostly I like them because they’re pretty. I just chew the sugar out, spit out the gum and start up with a new piece.
Rating: 5 out of 10
The concept is that the bunny is flat instead of dimensional, and pre-sectioned to break apart easily. The version I purchased, for a buck, is 2 ounces, or about the size of a King Size bar. It comes apart into five pieces. Each is a good size for dipping into peanut butter, which was always my favorite way to eat my Easter Rabbit.
This is one of those products that solves a problem you didn’t know you had. I’m sure if this were sold on infomercials, the first part would demonstrate all the frustrating things about a sumptuous solid chocolate bunny and how hard it is to eat, how children fight over it and what it should be named.
I don’t have much to say except that it’s a rabbit shaped Hershey’s bar. It’s made from Hershey’s marginally satisfying chocolate, the same stuff in Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s Miniatures and those addictive little Hershey’s Candy Coated Eggs. While I don’t think Hershey’s Milk Chocolate is good chocolate, it’s mighty fine candy. It’s fudgy, grainy and tangy and comforting.
It’s also made in Mexico. (The Candy Professor had a bit of a rant about Snapsy.)
Rating: 5 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.