Monday, April 21, 2014
While the classic Hot Tamales get their warm heat from the active ingredient in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, the twist with this new version features hot peppers. The active hotness in chili peppers is caused by capsaicin.
Hot Tamales Tropical Heat come in a mix of three flavors in the bag: Limon Fever, Mango Tango, and Pineapple Picante.
I bought this half pound peg at Cost Plus World Market for $2.99 ... I found that a bit steep for what are basically jelly beans, but I was very interested in Just Born’s entry into this segment. I’m quite fond of the original and keep them on hand in my candy jars in my office.
The pieces are beautiful and easy to differentiate from the regular Hot Tamales or Milk and Ike, if you happened to mix them together.
The Limon Fever is light green with a few green speckles on it. Though limón is lemon in Spanish, this has a distinct lime note to it. There’s a bitterness at the front, a nice zesty note of citrus peel, then a tart juicy flavor (which could be lemon) and a note of jalapeno. Though I get the spicy burst and the warmth, it’s not too much, not throat searing, just warm. Then after a while it’s just sweet and a little grainy.
Mango Tango is medium orange with red speckles. This seemed to be the dominant flavor in my package, which is too bad. As much as I love mangos, they’re rarely good in candy format. The flavor starts out with a mild tangy bite and the heat from the chili, then it gets sweet and taste like peaches. That’s pretty much it. It’s not terrible, but it’s not quite mango.
Pineapple Picante begins with a good mix of floral and lightly tart. The chili warmth comes in just as the whole thing descends into sweetness though the floral pineapple remains. It’s the freshest tasting of the three, though I liked the enduing zest of the Limon as well.
Though I found these a little strange, I actually liked them, and I don’t actually like chili peppers. They’re warm but not painfully hot. But if you’re someone who likes their spicy spices to burn, these will not do it for you.
Hot Tamales are gluten free, contain no gelatin but do have confectioners glaze so wouldn’t be appropriate for vegans.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
There was a time when the only choice for candy-coated chocolate eggs for Easter was Cadbury Mini Eggs. Times have changed and there are many versions, ranging from fair trade and all natural to tiny versions with Belgian chocolate to Hershey’s.
The the United Kingdom, there are also plenty of varieties available from store brands. I picked up some from Marks and Spencer, a department store with a chain of grocers. Marks and Spencer is already known for many unique confections, like their line of gummis featuring Percy Pig. I picked up the Marks and Spencer Chicky Choccy Mini Eggs.
They’re pretty bit eggs, at about one inch long. They come in three different speckled colors. The colorings used are all natural, derived from vegetable sources, making the end of the ingredients label look more like the contents of a green smoothie. The ingredients state that the cocoa solids make up 30% while the milk solids are 20% minimum. (The rest is sugar, you know, because it’s candy.)
The shells are quite thick and crunchy. Some natural colors can give a faint flavor to candy shells, but I didn’t notice that here. The shells are shiny and slick (not matte like Cadbury Mini Eggs).
The milk chocolate center is sweet and very milky. The melt is good, a little cool on the tongue with a mix of toasted cereal flavors, a little hint of malted milk and cocoa. The intensity of the chocolate is quite weak, though it’s still a pleasant profile. I found them very satisfying to eat, but definitely not high in chocolate content.
The allergy information is very easy to find. It contains soy and milk and is not suitable for people with nut allergies because of manufacturing methods. Suitable for vegetarians (not vegans) with all natural flavors and colors.
The #1 reason why I love Easter candy: the crunchy candy shell.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
One of the things that I’ve always been surprised about British confectionery is that they’re not terribly interested in malt. They do have one malted milk ball brand, called Maltesers made by Mars. But that’s it. No Easter varieties with pastel speckled candy shells, no snowballs, no jumbo double dipped. It’s just not in their list of classic candies. However, even though Mars hasn’t tried to extend their malted milk ball range, they have done some wonderful and unique things with their malted milk flavors. They make a hot cocoa mix and for Easter they make MaltEaster Bunnies.
There are two versions of the bunnies on the market. They come in the standard single serving size of 29 grams (1.02 ounces) and also in a mini version of 11.6 grams each (.41 ounces) that come in this bag of five. (I think I paid £1.50 for it, which is about $2.50 US.)
The little bunnies are, well, just the epitome of perfection. They’re about two inches high with tall ears and little round bellies with huge feet make them very attractive. The tiny size makes them about two bites each.
Though Mars prides itself on only using real chocolate in their candy in the United States, they’re not afraid to use “family chocolate” in the UK for their confections. Basically, it’s chocolate that contains fillers and cannot be called milk chocolate under the current USDA definitions of chocolate. In the case of MaltEaster Mini Bunnies, the ingredients include extra vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter and whey, which is a milk byproduct.
I’ve had Malteser malted milk balls before, and though I like the centers, I found the milk chocolate coating a little lackluster though certainly better than the Whoppers in the US (made by Hershey’s).
The center of the MaltEaster bunnies is actually a crunchy & creamy Maltesers center. I wouldn’t exactly call it creamy, it’s just a thick sort of malty fudge thing that holds the crispy bits together. The malty bits are crunchy and fresh and have a good malt note to them.
The chocolate is very sweet and matches the center. There’s a milky malt note to the whole thing and a sort of greasy aftertaste in my mouth. They’re a lot fattier than regular malted milk balls, as they do have about 152 calories per ounce compared to about 130 for regular chocolate malted milk balls.
Of the two versions I tried, the mini and the regular, I prefer the regular one. The mound of the bunny’s belly was a much larger reservoir of malt and cream, so the proportions change as you eat it. With the mini, there was a far greater proportion of chocolate, which would be great if I thought the chocolate was good enough to eat plain.
Even though I didn’t think these were as good as they could be if they were made with better ingredients, I’d still buy them again. They’re a unique item and suit my malt leanings very successfully. I’d be curious to see Mars bring this whole line to the United States, though I understand they’ve tried to compete before with existing brands. Back in the 80s they tried going head to head with Peter Paul with their Bounty Bars which are similar to Mounds and nutless Almond Joy.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
While in London I made a point of visiting Rococo Chocolates. I’ve picked up quite a few of their bars in the United States before, I loved the packaging design and the molding of the bar in addition to their choice of Grenada Chocolate Company and Valrhona as chocolate sources. It’s not hard to find their products, they were sold in some of the grocery stores and in most of the food halls at the flagship department stores. But I wanted to see the store for myself, and pick out some individual pieces of their famous violet creams (not a whole box).
The Rococo Chocolate Shop on Motcomb Street is not far from Harrod’s and in an area with a large number of embassies. I mention this because I happened to walk past the Ecuadorian embassy, which I probably wouldn’t have given a second glance except for the demonstrators calling attention to the fact that Julian Assange was in there.
With my limited space in my suitcase, I wanted to bring back something special, something seasonal but also something that would travel well. The Rococo Easter Egg filled with a Selection of Ganaches seemed like an ideal item.
It was expensive, at £11.75 for only 70 grams, but something I wouldn’t find in the United States. The box is lovely, a heavy cardstock printed box with no other branding on it once I removed the product sleeve. The decoration on the box are prints from catalogues of old chocolate molds.
The egg is a common format I’ve seen in Europe for Easter. Some places call them Flame Eggs. It’s a hollow egg, made of two sections that are usually wrapped in foil separately and then filled with a selection of other chocolates, like little ganaches or just a pile of Cadbury Mini Eggs or Smarties. They can be small, like this one, or gigantic centerpiece items that can weigh more than a pound and are meant for a whole family.
Everything inside the box was also neatly wrapped. The egg itself was wrapped in tissue paper, in a print matching the box. Inside the two hemispheres of the egg were the little ganaches wrapped in another large piece of food-grade tissue paper. Even though this had traveled thousands of miles, it fared very well.
The egg piece are wrapped in a nice orange-gold foil that’s easy to peel off. The egg itself is about 3.25 inches high and 2.25 inches wide at the widest spot.
The chocolate egg was formed in two layers, as it kind of cleaves when bitten. The quality of the chocolate is excellent. The tempering is superb, as it looks great with its beautiful glossy sheen and silky melt. The flavor profile is very rich. The toasted notes of toffee and coffee are immediately forward with some bitterness along with a sort of brownie flavor. The shell is 65% cacao, but tasted far darker.
The ganaches inside were unmarked, the package only said that they were a mix of ganaches, so I’m not certain what I had. Here are my guesses:
Milk Chocolate - orange ganache with mango & passion fruit jelly. The light orange truffle center was sweet and tangy with a little note of zest. There was a layer of firm jelly with a wonderful tart and floral flavor, the mango was more forward with only a hint of the passion fruit.
Dark Chocolate - Valrhona Manjari Madagascar single origin. This was a wonderfully reliable piece with a nicely acidic ganache center with notes of cherry and raspberry (which means it might have been a berry ganache). Very good melt and very little sugary grain to the whole thing.
Coffee - Irish coffee white chocolate ganache in dark chocolate. This had a little sprinkling of coffee bits and turbinado sugar on the top. It was much sweeter than I was expecting, not as intense or as chocolatey as I’d hoped. As soon as the coffee flavors developed, it was gone. Maybe if I ate several of them in succession ...
I also picked up a few impulse items. The Honecomb Crunch bar is one of the Bee Bar line, which have a charming bar mold design (see that here). It’s organic milk chocolate with a bit of crushed cinder toffee (sponge candy). The bits of the candy were too small to appreciate properly, but provided a nice toffee note. The milk chocolate was dark and had a lot of cheesy dairy notes, rather in the Swiss style. It’s quite a munchable bar.
Rococo Carre squares are single origin pieces, probably about 7 grams each. They’re each a different color, depending on the source of the chocolate.
63% cacao from Peru’s Chanchamayo Province smells strongly of honey. The melt is quick and a little thin and sweet. It later develops with excellent cherry and raisin flavors: dark and jammy. A very nice munching chocolate, especially if you like those fruity flavors that typify Peruvian chocolate.
Finally, I also picked up four little chocolates from the candy counter while I was there to consume while I was in London. The key piece worth noting was the Violet Cream. This is something of a British traditional chocolate. I’m not adverse to floral flavors, I like them very much ... if I had to rank them, it would go something like this: orange blossom, jasmine, lavender, rose, geranium, elderflower and then violet. I don’t have photos, but they’re as you would imagine, a small dollop of sugary fondant covered in dark chocolate. The texture of the cream center was very nicely done, not grainy at all, not even too sweet. But the violet as overwhelming. There was scarcely a note of chocolate in the coating. They’re simply not for me.
I’ll continue to seek out Rococo Chocolates, the flavor combinations are a little more traditionally British, which is refreshing when so many other brands I’ve tried from the UK seem more in line with the Swiss/Belgian traditions.
Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
There’s a shop by my office that has very wide inventory of them, so I’ve been able to try a few Chuao varieties. The Chuao Orange A Go Go Chocopod is a rather standard combination of flavors, orange and dark chocolate.
The little choco pods are shaped like a cocoa pod. It’s about 2.75 inches long and only .39 ounces. Not even a full portion of chocolate, but at 50 calories and one dollar, it’s a good way to control your portions.
The texture is very smooth, the chocolate is not particularly dark at only 60%, but nicely rich. Even though it’s not very dark, Chuao does not use milk fillers in its dark chocolate, so this is considered a vegan bar (though is made in a facility that processes milk, nuts and wheat). The ingredients list orange peel and orange extract along with bergamot extract. There were a few pieces of orange peel that I detected in my portion, but not large pieces. More like tiny coconut flakes would be. The orange flavor, though, was very well moderated. Not so strong as to create an oily or bitter note, but not too subtle to be overpowered by the woodsy and rather coffee notes of the chocolate.
It’s pricey if you’re picking this up for anything other than a sample before committing to a large bar. The large bars are 2.8 ounces and about $5 retail ($1.79 per ounce) and these work out to about $2.56 per ounce, even when you buy a box of 36 on the Chuao website. However, they’re a fun favor, if you’re considering something for a shower or wedding, especially since they’re rather gender neutral.
Monday, March 24, 2014
The resealable pouch and product depiction reminded me in no small way of the Brookside “chocolate-covered fruit juice pieces” which are really just jellies. Brookside Chocolate, a Canadian company, innovated this product, which first showed up on American shelves around 2010. Later there were other versions, such as Trader Joe’s Powerberries, which were also made in Canada, but now seem to have switched suppliers and are now made in the US with slightly different ingredients.
Though Brach’s is usually a sort of low end brand, these are priced a bit higher, I picked this up for $3.49 for the 8 ounce package. This is very similar in price to the Brookside (pictured here) which was $3.50 on sale.
The Brach’s spheres are pretty consistent in size. They’re not completely spherical, but very nicely coated with a shiny glaze. They’re the size of a garbanzo bean or perhaps a fresh blueberry as pictured on the package. Inside is a little, firm piece of berry juice flavored jelly. It’s about the size of a jujube and rather soft and flavorful.
The blueberry and acai flavors are jammy and deep, though it is coated in dark chocolate coating is it’s really not very dark or complex in the ingredients. The consistency of the jelly center is good - it’s not grainy at all and quite flavorful.
As a knockoff item, the Brach’s do very well (seen on the left here, with the Brookside on the right). There’s an extra ounce in the package, even if they were the same price. The Brookside centers are inconsistent. They’re little disks, and most morsels have two at the center, like halves of a peanut. But other pieces have only one piece at the center and others are a stack of three. They have a slight grain to them, but also a bit more of a tangy bite ...for the most part. They’re not completely the same, sometimes it’s as if they’re sanded with a little sour coating, and other times they’re rather bland. The chocolate is smooth and creamy, far better than the Brach’s.
I’d buy either again, though I find I prefer the chocolate a bit better on the Brookside. Brookside is now owned by Hershey’s. Brach’s is now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company. Folks who are looking to avoid dairy will appreciate the Brach’s.
These are positioned to be some sort of antioxidant-boosted, better-for-you, superfood candy thing. They’re not. They’re just chocolate covered jelly beans. The fact that it’s a jelly center means they’re not quite as calorically dense as a straight chocolate nugget and the Brach’s have 100% of your RDA of vitamin C. But they also contain silicone dioxide and modified food starch ... fine items but not necessarily the nutritional boosters I’ve waited for my whole life.
These contain soy. They’re made in a facility that processed nuts, wheat, dairy and peanuts. The only other ingredient of issue would be the confectioners glaze, which is usually made with shellac, so wouldn’t be vegan.
Friday, March 21, 2014
The bites are exactly what you’d think from the name, unwrapped little cubes of 3 Musketeers nougat filling covered in milk chocolate and tossed in a bag.
I’ve observed this with past reviews of the Bites line for Mars: I’m disappointed with the look of the products. It’s tough, because the packaging means that the pieces are tossed around for months and miles and get scuffed. I’m sure when they come off the line at the factory they’re exquisitely cute. But the chalky look is a bit of a turnoff for me, I don’t want to dump these in a bowl and admire then like I usually do with chocolates that come in little pieces.
They’re quite consistent little cubes, with fewer cracking and oozing problems than the Milky Way Simple Caramel Unwrapped Bites. There were also more pieces in the package. There were about 16 Simply Caramel Bites while the 3 Musketeers Bites package had 24 ... that’s all because of the airy nature of the nougat filling.
The bites smell malty, though also a little like plastic. They’re light, definitely not as dense as other candies would be for their size. I really liked the Milky Way Bites, so I had high hopes for the 3 Musketeers. The bite is soft, as the center is fluffy. The chocolate melts well, though doesn’t have much more than a vague cocoa flavor. The center is mostly a fake vanilla with a hint of salt. I didn’t get much in the way of malt from it though the texture is quite nice. There’s only a slight hint of grain from time to time. Overall, it’s just really sweet without much of a definitive flavor profile.
Mars has gone back and forth on the 3 Musketeers filling flavor over the years, tweaking it here and there, to the point where I’m not sure which version this is, but I know I don’t care for it. These might be good when combined with something, or perhaps frozen. I’ll stick to the Snickers version.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.