Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Music may be called ear candy at times, but it really doesn’t intersect with candy much. I’m not sure why, they’re easy to enjoy together, though candy always won out for my spending money as a kid. (I owned very little music as a teen, the only singles I remember buying were Blondie’s Call Me & John Lennon’s Starting Over, instead I just listened to whatever albums were in the house, hence my love of the Beatles and The Who.)
Besides the Charleston Chew, which is named after a dance and song, I don’t think there are many music-themed candy bars out there. Even though there’s not much proof of concept, Hershey’s has high hopes for their limited edition Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Cream Cups. The early announcement of them last year sent quite a wave of enthusiasm through the internet, especially blogs where people were searching desperately. They are slated to go on sale in advance of the 30th anniversary of his death on July 7th.
The cups showed up earlier this year on eBay, as merchants where were given preview cups to try before they buy sold them off for a quick buck or two. (Some were going as high as $5.00 a piece.) I’ll admit that I bid on a few. As luck would have it, the same contact at Hershey’s who sent me the Fresh From The Factory Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came through last week with these beauties. A whole tin filled with the Big Cup (King Size!) Elvis-themed cups.
The packaging for this variety features Hawaiian Elvis, sporting sideburns and a purple lei. The back of the package features trivia about Elvis: “Priscilla Ann Beaulieu was 14 years old when she met Elvis Presley.” Ah, give the young girls something to aspire to. (Other packages mention his record sales and movie career.) None mentioned the King’s love of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the progenitor for this candy.
The cups smell like roasted peanuts with a slight sweet tinge of chocolate. Before biting into them, there’s really no indication that they’re different. The Big Cups are pretty hefty, and after eating the smaller-than-normal Fresh From the Factory Cups, I feel rather huge.
Once I bit into them though, the banana-ness was apparent. It’s a soft and floral banana taste in a “banana cream” that’s rather firm, kind of like a banana white chocolate, but not as smooth. The label lists banana flakes as an ingredient. (As well as artificial flavor and artificial color.)
I tried these several ways. I ate them fresh out of the package, I tried them frozen and I tried them a gooey melted mess after letting them sit under the hot studio light. Frozen the banana lacks zing, but of course the texture is great. At room temperature, the banana has a nice mellow flavor. At body temperature the banana cream gets really thick and creamy and tastes a lot more like banana.
I was kind of hoping that they’d use the model of the Caramel Cup and just make the caramel banana flavored. The cream is interesting and carries the flavor well over the very strong peanut butter. All I can say is that it works for me. I don’t know if I’d buy these instead of the regular Reese’s, but I’m curious what the miniatures are going to be like and I’ll probably give those a try.
For another preview of the Elvis Cups, check out Patti at Candy Yum Yum.
Now comes the time where I share the wealth. Yes, you too can be the first on your block to try the new Elvis King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Cups. I’ll do a drawing on Saturday, June 16th at Noon Pacific ... the grand prize will be FIVE fresh packages. Just leave a comment here with your favorite Elvis tune or Elvis Cup sighting ... I’ve heard that they’re already showing up in stores like Dollar General. Use a real email address if you’d like me to contact you if you win, and I’d advise not checking the box for notification of comments, cuz there may be a few. I also reserve the right to throw more candy into the winner package, depending on my whim and inventory at the moment. North American addresses only.
(Ooh, thanks to the comments, I found this on the Hershey’s Gift Site, you can order them right now, a tin of 16 packages of the King Sized cups is $25.)
UPDATE: We have a winner (Lisa!) ... but you’re free to comment. If you’re looking for tips on where to find Elvis Cups, check out this post called Elvis Spotting.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
After the reminder of how great Storck Chocolate Riesen are last week, I was happily educated that Storck makes a vanilla caramel.
And I was delightedly happy to find that the Dollar Tree carries Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels. So I left with a sassy little bag of them. I’d never had them before, but knowing the Riesen and the Werther’s Original Hard Candies, I thought they had to be good. Of course after I bought them and took the picture I started seeing them everywhere ... either Storck made a huge delivery to Southern California or I’ve been comfortably numb in my chocolate caramel bliss for a long time.
Taking them out of the wrapper they don’t look much different from Brach’s caramels or even Kraft’s. The little flat-sided rods are kind of uneven. At first they’re pretty hard, and a firm chew can be exhausting. But a few moments in a warm mouth (especially after coffee) and they softened up beautifully.
The chew is smooth and buttery with a good caramel taste and creamy consistency. It stays smooth all the way to the end, which is the mark of a caramel over a taffy or chew that will become grainy or just up and dissolve.
I wasn’t as keen on these as the Chocolate Riesen, part of it may be that the chocolate caramels are one of the few candies that seems to match up to the pictures on the wrapper, and the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels just looked a little more weathered and worn than the images on the wrapper. I ate them all, but it took me a week instead of two days with chocolate version. They’re probably a better hot weather candy to keep on hand ... not that it’s been hot in Los Angeles in the past month or so.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
These Lotte chews were given to me by a co-worker of my husband’s who just returned from South Korea. She brought me lots of goodies (some which I’ll get to in the coming weeks). These were fascinating because they were pomegranate but also because they appear to be knock-offs of Morinaga’s HiCHEW (or maybe progenitors ... I’m not sure of the history of these things).
The package is partially in English on one side and in Korean on the other. There’s 2% of something in here, according to the English side ... I’m going to guess 2% real fruit juice.
The chews differ from HiCHEW in a couple of ways. First, the little rods are square, not rectangular.
Second, they’re colored on the outside and white on the inside. HiCHEWS are colored on the inside and white on the outside.
There was no way to do a complete head to head since these were pomegranate flavored. The chews were a pleasant pink color. Soft and though chewy and yielding, not quite as latexy as the HiCHEW.
They were tangy and fragrant and reminded me of raspberry more than pomegranate. Pomegranates are naturally a rather dry flavor, but share a lot of similarities with raspberry. I still think I prefer the Citrus HiCHEW, but I’ll keep my eyes open for other varieties of Chew-Lets at the Korean/Japanese grocers.
It’s not at all big news when Jelly Belly brings out a new flavor. They’re in the business of flavor and it would only be news if they weren’t.
So why should I report on a single new flavor coming out? Especially when I blogged about it back in ‘05? Mostly because of some trends: Pomegranates are big. Functional (fortified) foods are big. Antioxidants are big.
The Pomegranate Jelly Belly contain additional vitamin C (an antioxidant) and they’re made with real pomegranate extract. Besides, they’re pretty, too.
I first tried the new pomegranate flavor when I visited the Jelly Belly factory in December 2005. This was just after the release of Jelly Belly Sport Beans, they were still tinkering with the flavor then, and as far as I know, there wasn’t any fortification in them.
After trying the Sport Beans I was pretty sure Jelly Belly could make a go of antioxidant beans - a sassy combo of citrus flavors, I think, would work well to give folks a little boost of vitamin C and some beta carotene. Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Tangerine, Orange, Lime and maybe some more exotic citrus like Key Lime, Yuzu, Pomelo, Dalandan or Ponkan.
The shell has a nice deep tartness to it, with some strong berry flavors like raspberry. The jelly center has good floral tones with a mellow and dark note. Kind of like black cherry, kind of like cranberry and perhaps like pomegranate. There’s no zappy dryness to it, like pomegranate often has.
It’s pleasant. It’s certainly easy to eat them one after the other. They combine well with both citrus and other berry flavors.
They’re the same price as the regular beans and are also sold in 9 ounce bags and 5 lb bulk boxes on their website. I don’t expect them to show up everywhere you see Jelly Belly, but keep an eye out. They might be a good little boost for yourself during cold & flu season (anything to help you rationalize eating jelly beans).
Jelly Belly are Kosher, vegetarian and use beet sugar instead of cane, however some vegans may not wish to eat them because they use beeswax as part of the sealant/shiny coating.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Hershey’s is offereing a new product line/service on their Hershey’s Gifts site: Fresh from the Factory.
You can now order selected products to be delivered fresh from the factory. If you live within a certain zone (see the map) you’ll actually have it within 96 hours of when it rolls off the production line.
Which leads me to wonder, does fresh candy taste better?
They’re offering Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers (red & black), Good & Plenty and Payday Bars.
Hershey’s contacted me a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d like a taste ... I figured what the heck. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried fresh stuff from Hershey’s. I’m guessing that the candy that I’ve bought at Chocolate World is particularly fresh (especially the special trial items that they give out at the end of the Chocolate World ride), but other than that, I can only say that most of the stuff I eat is only fresh ... not factory fresh.
I’m already known to be a huge fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. So instead of just reviewing them, I thought I would pick up a package from the local grocery store to compare. The grocery store freshness code said 40HLV2 8C which means that the cups were good until March 2008. Sounds pretty fresh, too.
First, the look. The cups from the grocery store are .75 ounces each. The cups in the Fresh from the Factory jug were .55 ounces (not quite a miniature, not quite a full grown ... maybe I’ll call them juniors). The ingredients lists were exactly the same.
Grocery Store RPBC
The store-bought cup was good. The chocolate was cool on the tongue and sweet with a slight coconutty flavor. The peanut butter center was salty and nutty and though it’s not chunky and not creamy peanut butter, it’s slightly crumbly. If I could compare it to anything, it would be peanut butter cookie dough. Definitely a good associaiton.
The FFTF Reese’s smelled overwhelmingly like peanut butter. There was not a trace of chocolate to the smell. The junior sized cups were even looking, and of the half a dozen or so I’ve eaten so far, not one had a physical flaw to it. The cups were completely unmarred by shipping damage.
The bite and snap are good. The chocolate is sweet and fresh, but the real difference here is in the peanut butter center. It feels fluffier. It tastes a little saltier and has a more intense and fresh peanut taste.
Are they that different ... if you put both in front of me and blindfolded me, could I tell the difference? Probaby. Do I prefer one over the other? Not really.
The price here is steep. $20 for 1 lbs 7 ounces. (I could buy the same amount of Reese’s for $6 at the grocery store.) The jar is nice, but made of clear plastic and not terribly special. It does a good job of storing the candies for easy access and opening it does deliver an incredibly mouth-watering aroma.
As a novelty or special occasion treat, I might indulge in this once a year if that’s when the roll around. May is a pretty dicey month to be shipping chocolate to Southern California though ... it was only through their good packaging (with a chill pack) and a respite from otherwise warm weather that kept these safe and tasty.
Of the list of other products on the list, I think the one that interests me most would be the Good & Plenty. I love Good & Plenty and suffer through the leathery chew quite often. I found last year that they now offer Good & Plenty in peg bags (I got mine on the Penna Turnpike on my way to my sister’s wedding). They were so fresh and chewy it was like I was eating a completely different candy.
If you’re a die hard fan of one of these candies, I think it’s definitely worth it for the experience. It also makes a great, inexpensive but special gift for the candy fan in your life. Graduation and Father’s Day are around the corner. Or perhaps a wedding couple you know have registered for it ... or should?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The dark trend continues. If it can be made dark, it will be made dark. So it is written in the marketing analysis ... so it is done.
Hershey’s brought out the Kissables with a huge marketing blitz in 2005. They’re tasty little hybrids of Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms. There’s no way they’re ever going to shove a peanut in the center there, but they can easily make them with Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate so they have. For a while they were showing off Hershey’s Special Dark Kissables in large bags, they’ve finally made it to the single serve bags, so I thought it was time to give them a try.
The wrapper is a pleasing brick-maroon color that evokes the feel of rich chocolate. The little candies come in four colors: lavender, maroon, dark purple and brown. Not quite as sassy feeling as the Kissables ... not even as many colors. They feel morose, a little depressed.
They have the nice light crunch of the Kissables and a good creamy dark chocolate center. They’re a little chalky tasting, only a slight bitter hint towards the end, but generally very sweet.
I decided I was obligated to compare them to the Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
M&Ms come in more colors but the dark chocolate inside is just as sweet, but a little mellower overall. The Special Dark Kissables seem a bit crunchier, a bit more chocolatey. Neither wows me with their complex chocolate taste. They remind me of Sno-Caps, but with less mess and more color (not that it would matter in a dark theater).
Both dark chocolates contain milkfat and lactose, so are not appropriate for those who shun dairy. The M&Ms give you 1.69 ounces per package, Kissables only 1.5. The Kissables bag is plasticized, the M&Ms are only a glossy paper.
After sitting here with both in front of me, I found myself reaching for the Kissables more often. They just felt creamier, less chalky and a little richer, so they get one point higher than the Dark Chocolate M&Ms did.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.