Friday, September 21, 2007
Since I’m traveling right now, I thought I’d just leave you this weekend with a little tasty nugget. Last year I tried the Mentos Sour and thought they were pretty good, not the best Mentos I’d ever had, but a nice change of pace from the regular rather under-flavored fruity Mentos available here in the States.
It’s hard to believe that two packages that look so similar have such different contents. While at the All Candy Expo I cornered one of the Mentos people at the Perfetti Ven Melle booth and chatted with her about Mentos. (Okay, chatted is hardly the word, I think I overwhelmed her with questions and comments.) There are several things I wanted to know about, the major one is about the differences in flavors between the United States and everywhere else in the world (why do the Australians get the Citrus Mix? Why do the Japanese get Pineapple?). The other thing is whether or not their switch from gelatin (an animal derived product) to gellan gum (safe for vegans).
The Sour Mix Mentos from China (but available all over Asia) are a pretty good representation of all of the questions I have about the global brand.
Santos brought me some more Mentos a month or so ago and I was puzzled at first by the Mentos Sour Mix, but she quickly pointed to the reason she included it ... pineapple. The other two flavors in the roll are grape and green apple. In fact, green apple is the only flavor that’s in the American mix (which also has watermelon and lemon).
I liked the pineapple so much that I decided to order the “Pine Fresh” Mentos from JList in Japan. I’m hoping they’ll be at the house when I get home. Hopefully I’ll get some answers on the above questions soon too!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I was thinking back when I wrote the review of the new 3 Musketeers Mint about the original 3 Musketeers. I’ve been searching high and low for images of it, but alas there are none to be found via my diligent use of google. What struck me as so wonderful about the concept was that it was much like the long-gone 7up Bar and the still here Sky Bar - a combination of segmented flavors.
The old 3 Musketeers would have been the Neapolitan nougat of candy bars.
Imagine my surprise as I ducked in the Rite Aid on Friday to pick up some things for my vacation (yes, I’m on vacation right now as I type this) that not only did the store have much of their Halloween candy on display, they also had this Autumn Minis Mix. It doesn’t say limited edition or anything. Perhaps it’s seasonal, there are golden leaves on it, after all.
Here’s an old commercial I found from the days of black and white television animation:
All for fun, and fun for all! Alexander Dumas would be proud.
The little mini bars are tiny, about the size of a normal boxed chocolate. Take them out of the wrapper and put it on an elegant plate and it might even pass for one at a glance.
While I’ve never quite understood what French Vanilla is (and it’s often used as a description for candles and ice cream), I appreciate that this 3 Musketeers is a little lighter tasting. Where a regular one has a rather malty and dark salt flavor to it, this is light. It doesn’t quite have vanilla oozing from its pores as a flavor (more like the absence of any other flavors distinguishes this one), it’s still pleasant.
Against my better judgment, I love the Strawberry. It absolutely reminds me of Neapolitan ice cream! The strawberry is sweet and has a light caramelized sugar touch to it, a little floral-y and certainly on the fake side. But the soft, fluffy and rather foamy nougat pulls it off. The chocolate is passable enough as an enclosure and adds the cocoa flavor to bring it together (I can certainly see me hating it if it were covered in white chocolate).
The pink color of the insides is a little shocking and I’m guessing where the artificial colors listed in the ingredients are used. Kind of unnecessary in my book (especially since it seems that folks accepted the uncolored insides to the new Mint bar).
Mocha Capuccino are surprisingly nice. Not too sweet, a good texture and creamy counterpoint of the chocolate to the nougat. However, they don’t taste like coffee. Nope, they taste like pecans or maple, but not like coffee.
I don’t mind the flavor in the slightest, and considered it my second favorite of this bunch, but someone really needs to tweak their “coffee flavor” that they’re selling to these candy companies. (It could have been much worse, it could have been that dastardly Mocha that those limited edition KitKats had.)
Overall, these are a nice change up from the standard 3 Musketeers and the simplicity of the bar in the first place makes the flavor changes perfectly acceptable.
The price point on these, $3.79 for a 9 ounce bag was a bit hard to swallow. I prefer paying about $2.50 for these sorts of things, but I figured, I’m on vacation (or will be).
Friday, August 10, 2007
Sometimes I look at candy and I think, “How did they do that?” And while the why isn’t as important as the taste, sometimes I’m so curious about it I can’t fully enjoy it until I know.
Earlier this year I went to the Fancy Food Show and met the Romanego family briefly through one of their California distributors, Dawn at ArtisanSweets.com. The Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company has been making panned sweets and preserves in Genoa since 1780. While I don’t always buy into tradition and personality as it relates to products, because all that’s really important is what goes in my mouth, I’ve gotta say that I have been fascinated with Romanego’s offerings from both sides.
I had no idea (and still don’t fully understand the process) how they suspended the liquid inside a sugar shell and I didn’t get to try them at the Fancy Food Show. I was afraid to make a full order of the cordials, mostly because I wanted to try everything they make and party because they’re pretty expensive, so I ordered the Confetti Antica Dragee Mix which has panned nuts (pistachios, pine nuts & almonds), the cordials assortment, orange peel and cinnamon.
All of the cordials I’ve had up until this have been chocolate. These, as described above, are like Jordan Almonds, except instead of an almond in the center there’s a flavored liquid. I couldn’t quite tell the difference between them all, possibly rose, orange, cinnamon, clove and anise.
They’re just so beautiful. Smooth, pastel, sugar pebbles. The cordial center, as mentioned above, isn’t alcoholic, but is kind of thick without being overly syrupy. I found them pleasant, but I probably wouldn’t want a whole tin of them, just a few of them mixed in with the nuts is good enough for me.
You know how there’s that thing called “pistachio flavor” but it doesn’t really taste like pistachios. These taste like that. Not in fake “flavored” way, the pistatchio is soft and chewy and it has a bit of a grassy flavor, maybe a little bit like melon and a bit like flowers. The crisp little sugar shell wraps it all up.
The pine nuts were great, I just loved how peppery and smooth they tasted. I love popping pine nuts when I’m cooking (note: that doesn’t happen often) and having them in a candy is truly a rare joy.
The almonds were huge, seriously huge and flat. It was like these were pastel colored skipping stones or something. The almonds inside were sweet and buttery. The shell wasn’t too thick as to make you think that there wasn’t a nut inside.
The two other items look like bleached coral. The larger piece is a candied orange peel that is then panned in a white sugary coating. It’s all bumply and really does look like a little stalk of tumbled white coral. The orange peel isn’t very sweet or jelly-like as some can be. It’s pretty subtle, as you can see from the cross section, there’s a pretty thick coating on there. The other one were smaller pieces very irregular in size and rather delicate called Cannellette. Inside each piece was a little bit of cinnamon. Instead of tasting like “cinnamon flavor” like Atomic Fireballs, these had the authentic taste of woodsy cinnamon (which is sweet all on its own).
As a little bonus Dawn threw in a set of the Romanego Fondants, which I also wanted to try (but ended up getting a nougat instead because I gave myself a budget). I’m not sure how she knew that I wanted to try them, but thank goodness she did. (Note: I paid for everything else in the order and didn’t announce to her that I was ordering or anything, I think she just saw my order there and we’d emailed about the All Candy Expo next month a little while back ... I certainly didn’t expect any freebies.)
The pastel wrappers (each in a different color to represent the flavor as well as being printed in Italian in gold inks) are lovely to look at. Not too ostentatious, but still strikingly elegant. I feel like I need to brush up on my origami to play with them.
Fondant is a tough thing to explain and an even tougher thing to photograph. I chose the raspberry one because it was the only one that wasn’t pure white. They were like sugar cubes (well, two sugar cubes side by side in size), but the crystals were much smaller. They sparkle like snow.
Fondant like the dragees doesn’t have a lot of tricky ingredients, it’s pretty much all sugar. But it’s the careful heating and cooling that forms a soft matrix, kind of like a fatless fudge.
Lampone - at first I thought the raspberry was too light, but as I ate a second bite I realized it was just the lightest floral essence of the raspberry and it was really refreshing.
Overall, they’re expensive treats. Not something I’d eat every day, or probably even every month. I’ve heard of some folks using these as wedding favors, which would certainly be a lovely thing to find at your table and would lend a special elegance. Their unique offerings, such as the cordials, pistachios, pine nuts and cannellette set them apart from other Jordan Almond vendors. But they’re time consuming to make, so you get what you pay for.
Since sugar panning was invented as a way of preserving nuts and seeds as confectionery items, I have to admit that these keep very well in a pretty jar or tin, so you can enjoy them as a decorative item as you slowly make your way through a batch.
You can order Romanego products from ArtisanSweets.com or ItalianHarvest.com (I’ve not ordered from them, but enjoyed their website and large selection but their prices seemed a higher than Artisan Sweets). If you are in Genova, I highly recommend stopping at one of their shops:
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1814)
Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano (opened in 1930s)
If you’ve been there, please tell me how it was!
UPDATE 8/14/2007: I got an email from Dawn at ArtisanSweets that clarified a few things.
The Cordials I got in the Dragee Mix are not the same as the Rosolio Drops that Italian Harvest sells. The cordials have a harder shell ... I’ve not seen them side by side, but I do recall the Rosolios being quite a bit smaller and more translucent when I saw them in January.
Second, Italian Harvest doesn’t carry the Dragee Mix I reviewed above (though they carry many of the elements individually), apparently that item is exclusive to Artisan Sweets. (And the price per ounce on everything at Artisan Sweets appears to be quite a bit lower - they also recently stopped using tins as mine was pictured and instead give you more candy in a bag.) It’s a really nice way to try a good sampling of their product line instead of committing to a whole package of one item.
Thursday, August 9, 2007
I was standing in the drug store last week staring at the candy aisle. There were lots of new things, one that caught my eye was the Werther’s Caramel Coffee hard candies, mostly because I got an email the week before extolling their virtues (thanks for the suggestion .
So I thought, I should pick some up. I didn’t want a lot of them, but luckily they had two sizes. A 3.5 ounce bag, which is a nice size for sampling, reviewing and sharing. And the second bag was 5.5 ounces ... a little more than I wanted to buy. The price? Both were $1.99. Neither were on sale. They were just the same price. So I bought the larger bag (what, am I stupid?).
The little hard candies are like the Werther’s Original, a creamy toffee or buttery hard candy.
They’re attractively packaged, each individually sealed in its own easy to open gold mylar pillow. No, they’re not in the twist wraps like the original Werther’s Original which I really need to cover, but you can check out this review of the classic by Jamie on Candy Addict.
These little disks are exceptionally pretty. They have a pleasant swirl of two different colors (though I can’t really tell the difference in taste between the pieces) that look like black coffee and coffee with cream.
The flavor is, well, very sweet and creamy. The coffee comes out as a little bit of a background hint to the stronger toffee/caramel. It’s missing a bit of the salty hit that I enjoy with Werther’s Original. As coffee hard candies go, these don’t rival the other set that I’ve had from Bali’s Best and United Coffee. But if you’re the type of person who likes their coffee sweet and perhaps enjoys Caramel Macchiatos (I’m sorry, I’ve never had one so I can’t really compare it), this might be a fun little pocket treat.
I enjoy crunching them, they have a wonderful way of cleaving in flakes and shattering. Of course then it kind of becomes a sticky mess in my teeth, but that gives me something to work on later. They’re exceptionally smooth, which makes for a good candy to be patient and dissolve in your mouth. No voids whatsoever, so it’s not going to cut up the roof of your mouth like some candies like butterscotch disks can.
Werther’s Original are a great summer candy. They give you that creamy boost like chocolate but they’re so freakishly durable - you can leave them in a hot car or let them get frozen and you can even dunk a package of these babies in the ocean and they’re gonna come out of the package exactly the same.
Notes from the package: may contain wheat products, definitely contains milk & soy. Each candy is about 20 calories (more than most hard candies because they’re made with cream & butter). Made in Germany. These also come in a sugar free version (that I’ve not tried, but perhaps someone else can weigh in on how they are).
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Atomic Fireballs were invented in 1954 by Nello Ferrara, the son of the founder of Ferrara Pan. The spicy flavor and the exceptionally long lasting candy was instantly popular (coupled with the pop culture obsession with all things atomic at the time).
Atomic Fireballs are made in a process called hot panning, where layers of sugar syrup and flavor are deposited on a single sugar grain core. The pans are hot as they tumble the developing candies through this long process. It takes two weeks and at least a hundred layers to make the familiar spicy jawbreaker. You can see the process here at the Ferrara Pan website. Ferrara Pan sells over 15,000,000 every week!
Atomic Fireballs come in two sizes, a little pea sized one in boxes similar in format to the Lemonhead and the more popular full-sized, individually-wrapped jawbreaker. (Ferrera Pan still makes Red Hots, which are cinnamon imperials and though they’re nice they’re NOT the same thing.) I haven’t seen the little ones in years, but a quick search on the internet indicates that they’re still around. (Here’s a great shot of their old packaging.)
It’s still easy to find Atomic Fireballs individually wrapped, usually for a nickel or dime each at checkout stands at convenience stores or liquor stores.
All that history and nostalgia aside, how are they?
The outside is rather mild. The shiny ball is smooth and takes a moment to release a strong blast of cinnamon (and a little bitterness too for those who can taste Red 40). Either I’ve become extremely resilient over the years (and judging from my inability to eat my husband’s chili, I’d say not) or they’ve decreased the hotness of this product.
The cinnamon was definitely tingly and spicy but didn’t really gain any momentum until the second “major” layer. I recall not being able to hold one in my mouth for very long as a kid ... it’s no issue at all now.
I also think the texture has changed slightly. It feels a bit lighter, a little more chalky now. It loses flavor after that second internal layer. I had no problem crunching one open for the cross section with some nutcrackers ... something that was extremely difficult years ago because of the density (and possibly they were larger back in the olden days). The best way when I was a kid to break them open was to drop them onto concrete. This was more fun with the old full-sized Everlasting Gobstoppers because they had colored layers.
Fireballs were one of those candies I enjoyed eating while reading and later on long car trips where I found the hotness kept me alert while driving. I’m a cruncher, but the sphere has to be dissolved down to at least a third of its original size before I can crack it open with my teeth. I wish they were as strong as I remember them, they’d get a full on 9 out of 10 if they did. But this watered down version is still a fun 7 out of 10.
Other fun things I found out while researching this:
In Europe they’re called Atomic Fire Blast.
Each large sized Atomic Fireball has 20 calories (if you’re able to eat the whole thing) and weighs 5.67 grams (.2 ounces)
The bag I bought says it was produced in a factory that also handles peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat, soy and eggs ... all that’s missing from the list of allergens is BEES!
This package was made in Mexico, I’ll try to find out if they still make them in the United States.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:37 am
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Months ago YumSugar urged me to try the Sour Gummi Bears from Bristol Farms, and I didn’t. Most of the time when I go into Bristol Farms (which may be five or six times a year) I opt for the Licorice Pastilles or some imported chocolate bar. But this time I not only remembered, I found a bag that was mostly clear ones (that means Pineapple, my friends!). This didn’t stop me from picking up that Italian torrone as well.
YumSugar wasn’t wrong, these are tasty gummi bears. They’re rather like the Sour Patch Kids - a sour sand covers a traditional fruity gummi bear. I suspect that these are made by Farley’s & Sathers. I’m actually concerned that these are not labeled correctly, the ingredients said: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Fumaric Acid, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Artificial Colors. What’s missing on this list is some sort of jelling agent, like Gelatin. I actually sent Bristol Farms an email, but it’s been over a week and there hasn’t been even an automated response (so much for trusting them with my top dollars).
The gummis are soft and chewy (and most definitely gummis with some gelatin in them, you can’t get this texture with corn starch). The flavors aren’t deep, the sour sand keeps everything on a tangy + sweet level. The orange one reminds me a lot of orange jell-o with a hit of orange pixy stix. They’re not quite as tart as Sour Patch Kids, but of course they’re also a different flavor set, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison.
I was especially thrilled at the high ratio of Pineapple ones, which is a flavor that goes so well with the sour sand it’s ridiculous. The least favorite flavor out of the bunch, oddly enough, was the green apple, which I would have thought would do well. The red was strawberry instead of cherry, so the assortment scored points there.
I’m sure there are cheaper places to get these, especially if they are made by Farley’s & Sathers, which are a really well priced, good quality brand.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Charms Blow Pops are a classic lollipop. Like their Tootsie Pop cousin, they’re a hard candy pop with another candy inside, in this case it’s bubble gum. However, Tootsie Pops and Charms Blow Pops are related only by marriage. Tootsie bought the Charms Company in 1988, making Tootsie the world’s largest lollipop producer.
I was especially fond of Charms pops as a kid and the little Charms hard candies in a roll. In the case of the Charms Blow Pop, it was always grape for me. The current flavor range is Cherry, Watermelon, Sour Apple, Strawberry and that Grape.
Blow Pops are pretty big, they’re not Dum Dums. Of course if you’re going to put a decent sized piece of bubble gum at the core, the lollipop has to be bigger (unless you’ve somehow invented the candy-equivalent of the TARDIS or bag of ultimate holding ... depending on what sort of geek you are).
The hard candy is passably good. It’s flavorful but usually has a lot of bubbles and voids in it and because of the size it means that there’s a very good chance I’m going to tear up the inside of my mouth at some point. That’s okay, bubble gum has soothing properties, right?
My preferred method for eating is to suck on the lolly until I’ve gotten down to a spot that’s close enough to the bubble gum center that I could start biting and crunching.
It’s okay to get some candy in your bubble gum.
The bubble gum center is usually soft enough to chew easily, though I’ve had bad ones that were rock hard. The gum has a lot of sugar in it, so it takes a while to get it to a consistency that supports bubble blowing. The cool thing about Blow Pops is that they’re usually available as individual items. Usually about 25 cents ... so you can buy a few of them or just add it to your impulse purchases at the check out.
As lollipops that I’d eat as a child the order of preference went something like this:
The Charms line at Tootsie also added the Zip-a-Dee Mini Pops assortment to their line of candies recently. They’re smaller round pops, kind of like miniature Blow Pops in format, except for the lack of a gum center.
I though the flavor assortment sounded good and I was actually really pleased by the packaging on these. If you’re a fan of the smaller format of Dum Dums, this might be a nice change. They’re slightly longer than Dum Dums and perhaps a little zazzier.
The little wrappers are pretty solids with a white printed design for each flavor. I thought they were so charming, I’d recommend these to folks who are looking for a nice, inexpensive candy to include in a Candy Buffet (they’re popular at weddings and showers these days). I got this half pound bag for $1, so filling up some pretty glass jars or vases with these would be a snap for those on a budget but still want to look elegant.
Crazy Cotton Candy - sweet and rather bland and a disconcerting opaque light blue color. Tasty.
Strawberry Splash - mild and really fruity, not too tart but a nice round summery flavor.
Groovy Grape - pretty much the same grape from the Blow Pop. Not terribly strong, but then again, not terribly fake tasting either. More like grape soda than grape candy.
Cherry Mania - I ate two of these just to be sure, they tasted more like watermelon than cherry.
Watermelon Rush - light and refreshing, not too tart, kind of like cotton candy.
Awesome Orange - sweet and zesty and a little tangy.
Chillin’ Pink Lemonade - tart and lemony but rather sweet as well.
Boppin’ Banana - nice, a little fake tasting and also has a little tart bite to it that I don’t care much for.
Fruit Punch Blast - mellow and more on the berry side of things than anything else, a weird little bitter aftertaste for me, but that could just be the red coloring.
Bubble Gum Burst - really tastes like bubble gum, it has that sweet and round bouncy flavor that also has a little hint of the medicinal wintergreen in the background that says BASEBALL CARDS to me.
Green Apple Crash - this was kind of like the lemonade to me, and maybe tasted more of lime than green apple. Not unpleasant, just not what I thought.
Blue Razzberry - tangy and fruity with florals, tasted a little like the fruit punch.
Lollipops are just a way to dress up hard candy, but it does solve the essential problem of wanting to take the candy out of your mouth and not touch it with your fingers. Genius!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.