Wednesday, August 14, 2013
If I were to dream big and come up with attributes of an ideal candy bar, I’d probably start with real ingredients. Each ingredient should contribute flavor or texture. It should have real chocolate. It should be organic and fair trade, as ethical as possible. (And if this is a dream, it would be one dollar and sold everywhere.)
Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate has been doing just that, with their new line called Eli’s Earth Bars. They’re organic, fair trade and some are vegan as well as being made right here in California. The bar is a nice size, the portion is 1.5 ounces, which is what I prefer for a snack. I picked up all of their bars when they first came out, diligently took their photos, ate them and then tried to find more for the review. It took me 2 years to find them in a store again.
I finally found my Eli’s Earth Bars Dream Big Bar at Erewhon, walking distance from my office. The packaging design is good, it’s attractive but not too weird looking. It looks like there’s a candy bar in there, not some mush of seed hulls and dates.
Caramel and peanut butter topped with whole peanuts and coated in creamy ‘milk’ chocolate. Vegan
The bar looks great. The milk chocolate coating is actually made with rice milk, so it’s not technically milk chocolate since there’s no dairy in it. But the chocolate is still made with real cocoa butter (none of those palm oil fillers). I was thinking the bar was going to be kind of like a Snickers, but it’s actually a bit more like a Baby Ruth.
It’s about 3.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. The appearance of the outside looks like chocolate, but it tastes a little, well, odd.It’s smooth, but has a bit of a milky note without thinning out the flavor. Mostly I get a rice, or cereal flavor from it. The caramel center is stiff and a little tough to bite at first, which tears the bar apart. The peanut butter is the right balance of smooth and salty, the peanuts are fresh and crunchy. Aside from the tougher than normal chew of the caramel, the textures go well together. There’s the right amount of sweet, salt and fat going on.
The bar most certainly doesn’t taste like disappointment or shame. It tastes like a candy bar. It’s not healthier, it’s still a candy bar, but it doesn’t compromise on the core beliefs - it’s vegan and organic and ethically sourced.
Gluten free but made on shared equipment with dairy.
Friday, August 2, 2013
The front of the package asks, “Feeling hot? Have a shot!” followed by a little heart.
The bar is big and has nicely formed, milk chocolate domed sections which hold the coffee flavored filling. The ingredients are interesting because sugar is so prominent in them, as is vegetable oil (in the form of coconut, palm and palm kernel) but coffee and milk are pretty high up there, too.
It smells good, a little sugary but with a burnt and toasted smell of fresh coffee as well.
At first I found the bar extremely sweet. The milk chocolate is sticky on the tongue, though has a smooth melt. The filling is interesting, because at first I just thought it was a cream with a touch of coffee flavoring. Instead it’s layered - there’s a coffee sort of ganache layer that has crystals or crunchies of actual coffee in it. Then there’s the milky layer, which is a little tangy but not as sweet as I’d expected, so it balances out some of the bitter and very strong notes of the coffee (barley malt powder is listed on the ingredients, that may be in the cream to tone down the sweetness).
As I noted on the previous Nougat Crunch bar, all the Lindt Hello products are milk or white chocolate. I like the flavor profile of this one, but the cream fillings leave me a little on the overstuffed but not quite satisfied side of things. (I have this issue with the much oilier Lindor Truffles.) Lindt was one of the first very dark chocolates I got into sometime in the last century, I’d like to see them add more of that to this line.
Lindt is engaged in a program to create complete traceability for their ingredients, including labor conditions and sustainability for their cocoa but they don’t specifically say anything about palm oils. The package says it may contain peanuts and/or tree nuts. Contains soy, milk and because there’s barley malt, I’d say it’s not gluten free, either.
Monday, July 29, 2013
They come in three flavors: strawberry, red raspberry and cherry berry (which is not a real thing).
Their construction is different from the usual Life Savers Gummis. First, they’re smaller, about same diameter as a hard candy Life Saver, but without the hole. They’re thicker and have two layers. The top is the semi-transparent gummi layer and the bottom is called a white “light textured layer” which is a foamy gummi, a bit denser than a marshmallow.
Strawberry is the lightest color, a pale pink which sometimes looked a little orange. The flavor is well rounded, a good combination of tartness and sweetness. Strawberry is pretty easy to do well, as Life Savers have done here. The foamy layer is also a little tart and seems to be less berry, but not quite creamy.
Red Raspberry is the red and was the least successful of the set. It was tasty, but not jammy enough for me and didn’t distinguish itself from the other two. It was sweet and has berry notes, but it was bland overall.
Cherry Berry is dark red. If it’s supposed to be a mixed berry, that was lost on me, because this was a true Life Savers Cherry flavor. It’s zingy and intense, except for the foamy layer which gives it a bit of air without diluting the flavor completely.
I appreciate that Life Savers didn’t go out and make too many berry flavors to fit into this mix, just because they do five flavors in their rolls. Three is a good mix and all three of these were successful, though probably not a good match for my favorite flavor ranking. Now ... if they make a citrus mix, we’ll have something to talk about.
Right now I think they only come in the large resealable package, but will probably be available in the king sized packages as some point. They’re similar to the Wonka Whipped Wingers which I believe had natural colors in them.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Lucky Country is not as easy to find in stores as Twizzlers or Red Vines, but for folks who like a really rich tasting licorice but don’t want to spring for the European or Australian candies, it’s a good option.
Lucky Country sent me some bags of their black licorice and some of their fruity varieties. I’d tried their black before (the photo of the package shown is from 2008, but the pieces below are the more recent shipment).
The nuggets are big. They’re about 1.5” long and about .6 inches in diameter. It only takes five pieces to make a portion, which comes out to about 130 calories. Even though it’s not fat free, it’s very low in calories overall, only 92 calories per ounce, because it’s a wheat-based chew and the primary sweetener is molasses. The molasses also adds a bit of nutrition. There 6% of your daily RDA of calcium and 8% of your RDA of iron.
I was disappointed to see artificial colors in the ingredients. It’s pretty easy to find all natural licorice out there, so there’s little reason to compromise on this if you don’t like Red 40, Yellow 6 or Blue 1 going into your candy or body.
The pieces are a little sticky but overall quite chewy and soft. The flavor is well rounded with a good licorice and anise flavor along with a smoky and earthy flavor of molasses. They’re not as sweet as Panda licorice, and I enjoy the twisted segments as a shape versus the long, smooth bar of Panda.
It’s good stuff, and since it’s made in the US, it’s pretty affordable stuff. Personally I prefer the format of pastilles (like Good & Plenty) so if they ever go in that direction, I’d be interested to try them.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Based in Southern California, Sugarfina brings a chic aesthetic to all their candy with their minimalist packaging in robin’s egg blue and square formats. The candy is sold in “bulk” that is, it’s repackaged by them and sold in an array of different weights. They have created a superb curated list of candies. Some you’ll recognize, but their biggest selling point is an array of exquisite European candies that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.
Candy is sold in little boxes of different weights or in mixed boxes (they call Bentos) that make excellent gifts. Their team truly understand that candy should appeal first to the eye and then to the rest of the senses.
I still get plenty of offers for free candy samples, but lately it has to be something pretty special to get me to bite. But when you see this list of candies, you’ll see what got me interested. Today I’m presenting the assortment of gummis (and one jelly candy). All of the gummis are from Germany and most feature natural colors.
Bitty Berries is a mix of three different gummis. There’s a large raspberry looking gummi that has a rather raspberry flavor. Then there are three smaller berries, kind of like petite blueberries that are different colors and flavors. The light amber ones are like a white grape juice flavor, lightly tangy but with a black currant note to them. The pink version is and the purple is like a jammy raspberry. Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Bilberry.
They’re just exquisitely beautiful. Even when I wasn’t interested in eating them, they were just too cute to look at.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Champagne Bears come in two colors: a soft peachy pink and a lightly yellow clear. The clear is like a clean apple juice flavor with a light peppery note. The peachy one is, well, much the same. I couldn’t really tell them apart except that sometimes the pink one seemed to be a little more raspberry flavored. They’re firm and intense. They’re well formed and held their shape well, even though they were jammed into their little cube.
I liked them, but didn’t think that they were anything better than the new juicy Haribo. But I do like the colors and think that for a special occasion, they’d be a nice favor.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Sugar Peach Sweethearts - I was pretty scared of these. They smelled strongly of peach, not in a bad way but in a strong way. They were so strong that I had to take them out of the bento box and sequester them by themselves so as not to contaminate the chocolate pieces they were co-mingling with. So I was afraid that they’d be overwhelmingly chemical tasting.
Quite the opposite is true. They’re little miracle pieces, on the tongue they actual feel for a moment like a real peach. The texture of the sugar sanding is velvety like the fuzz of the peach. The flavor is at once tangy and fruity and honey-sweet and floral and woodsy, like actual peaches. There’s no weird artificial coloring in there to give it a metallic aftertaste. They’re a bit more tart that I’d probably like if I were to eat them by the handful, but as a little refresher on a hot day when I have a dry mouth, these are unbeatable.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Queen of Hearts were billed on the website as three different flavors: pineapple, grapefruit and black currant. They’re also three different sizes of hearts. So it’s a lovely looking combination, although the largest heard gets folded over a bit inside the little cube.
Pink was indistinct, but reminded me enough of pineapple to make me think that’s what it was. Slightly floral with a tart bite and a crisp flavor to it. It was more like canned pineapple though not as syrupy.
Clear tastes like peach. I’m not sure what flavor it was supposed to be, I was hoping it was the promised grapefruit, but it was tangy and a little peppery. (I did notice that the peach mentioned earlier were very strong, I was wondering if the flavor migrated from the more delicate grapefruit.)
The dark one was definitely black currant. It was strong and had notes of wine and deep boiled cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cuba Libre is simply amazing. It’s a cola gummi, so far so good, with a little softer bubble of rum within. It’s stunning. The cola flavor is spicy and tart, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps a little warm kick of ginger but nothing overt and then the acidic bite of lemon. The rum is sweet and a little on the caramel side. I’ve never seen these anywhere else, and I can’t believe they aren’t being imported and sold in the US by the cargo container as it is. If there’s a reason to order from Sugarfina, it’s the Cuba Libre gummi.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Minty Polar Bears are downright weird and I’ll go ahead and warn you that they’re not mint. They’re like a bubble gum flavored mentholated chewy cough drop. The first note on the tongue is a little tartness then a huge whiff of what I can only describe as acetone (which I sometimes get confused with banana flavoring). Then there’s a menthol hit, a little more of a sort of mild lime flavor and the bitterness of that zest. It all ends with a slight queasy feeling.
I’ve had eucalyptus gummis before and liked them quite a bit, so I was hoping for something like that. I find them curious enough that I continue to sample them from time to time. But I never feel like I want to eat another one, just that I should.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Heavenly Sours are little stars, comets and crescent moons in fruity flavors. They’re sour sanded and come in lovely naturally tinted colors. They’re not actually gummis, they’re jellies. They’re made in the US, not in Germany like most of the other gummis from Sugarfina. They’re tart and have nicely distinguished flavors. Orange is a zesty and tart orange. Lemon is wonderfully sour. Blue is raspberry and a little overdone. Red is cherry and is, well, cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
As a thank you gift or something for someone who has everything, this is a great option. It’s not cheap, so it’s not something I’m likely to treat myself to very often. They also have lots of themed boxes and kits, so it’s easy to pick for Coffee Lovers, Licorice Aficionados, or Caramel Fiends. The large bento boxes with 8 x 4 ounce boxes of treats are $50. By the pound, the candy is $17.50.
They do a good job of labeling for allergies as well, even if they won’t tell me who make those Cuba Libre gummis.They’re currently only available via the web, but there’s talk of a store in the future here on the west side of Los Angeles.
Monday, July 1, 2013
One of my favorite candy bars as a teen was the Heath Bar. At that time it came as a pair of bars, not yet made by Hershey’s. Each little plank of crisp toffee was coated in milk chocolate. With careful work I could cleave off the chocolate with my teeth leaving a pristine and nearly translucent piece of toffee for slow consumption.
Now that the bars all one piece, I’m not as fascinated by them. Ratios matter as do dimensions.
Flash forward the new century as Hershey’s is making a candy coated piece version of all their favorite candy bars. It’s all part of the Morselization trend. The Hershey’s Heath Pieces feature a milk chocolate morsel studded with toffee and almond bits in a candy shell in muted earthy colors.
The back of the package exhorts buyers to Enjoy Delicious Milk Chocolate Toffee in Pieces ... in the car! ... on the go! ... at home! ...with family & friends!
The package also lists a website, www.piecescandies.com which is nice enough but makes no mention of this product.
They’re lovely and well made little lentils. They’re nearly identical in dimensions to M&Ms, except they’re a little puffier in the center and don’t have the sharp angle around the edges. Quite a few of mine had chipped edges, but that seemed to be the harsh way I treated them on the way home. They come in three colors: cream, medium brown and dark brown.
Inside is an inconsistent mixture of very sweet milk chocolate, toffee and almond. They’re exceptionally sweet and have a less chocolatey experience than the regular Almond Pieces. The crunchy shell and the toffee work well together. They’re both crunchy, but the toffee has a little pop of salt and buttery texture to it. Every once in a while I would catch a chip of almond as well.
The whole effect was sweetness, though not always in a bad way. I think I’d prefer them mixed in with some straight chocolate baubles (though it appears they’re not making the Special Dark Pieces any longer). But what I really found I liked better than these are from Marich and also sold at Trader Joe’s. These would be great for baking and on ice cream.
Like many Hershey’s products, they’re not ethically sourced or certified at this time, though Hershey’s has a published plan. There are a lot of ingredients in there though nothing terribly surprising or disturbing. There was no note on the package about the peanut or gluten status though it does contain soy, milk and almonds. My guess is that it’s made in the same facility as Reese’s Pieces so may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, June 28, 2013
It’s as if I’ve got a theme going with all these new products that are bite versions of the established candies. Today it’s a nibble from American Licorice’s popular Sour Punch line. These are Sour Punch Punchies and are described, simply as: soft,chewy, sour candy.
The two ounce bag has nuggets of candy coated wheat-based sour chews in five flavors: lemon, strawberry, tangerine, blue raspberry and green apple. They’re similar to the Chewy Sour Extinguisher that they released a few years ago, which had sour nuggets along with a magic one that would neutralize your ability to taste sour temporarily.
Sour Punch Straws and the later Sour Punch Bits are sour chews with a wheat flour base, like Red Vines. They usually have a sour sanding on the outside and a more intense flavor than a regular Red Vine. They’re devilishly messy, as the sanding tends to get everywhere. I also found that one straw was often more than I wanted as a portion. I like sours, but not in large quantities as age has finally taught me that too much sour is bad for my tongue if I’d like to use it for the following days.
The Sour Punch Punchies are have a core of Sour Punch Bits and then a candy coating similar to a jelly bean - it’s smooth on the outside but a little grainy and not crunchy. The colors are bold and very vivid.
Tangerine was the flavor I tried first, because it was bound to be good. The sourness was great but also had a nice hit of zest right away. The grain of the coating reminded me of Lemonheads, since there’s a bit of a “peel” effect with a sourness at the margin between the shell and center. The center is a little gummy and pasty and has a slight wheat flour note to it, as most of the Sour Punch products do.
Blue Raspberry is floral and seedy and sour. It’s very artificial at times, but an overall winner.
Lemon was right up there, again, bringing a lot of the qualities that I love about Lemonheads, but with more flavor in the center.
Strawberry was milder and like a smoothie in a way, not quite as sour but with a creamy note that the chew at the center brought in.
Green Apple was pure artificial in all the right ways. It tasted nothing like actual apples (as some candies will straddle the line) but more like Jolly Ranchers amped up. The sourness was not as strong as the lemon, which was by far the most intense.
There’s enough acid in there to burn my tongue before I finished the bag, I was able to eat less then half before I got a stomach ache. They’re really pretty to look at and I loved the flavor variety in the package better than the Airheads Bites (mostly because I like citrus and strawberry better than cherry and watermelon).
Wheat flour is a major ingredient, so they’re not gluten free. But there’s no gelatin but they do use confectioners glaze, so they’re not vegan. There’s also a lot more sodium in there, 170 mg, than I would have expected in a candy like this. They’re made in the USA and Kosher.
Monday, June 24, 2013
When some folks love a particular product, they can be pretty specific about it. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate is known worldwide, and because it’s so popular it’s made in several different locations around the globe. I’ve had Cadbury from Australia, South Africa, the UK, the United States and now Ireland.
I picked up these Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that have little crisps in them. The Dairy Milk Golden Crisp is milk chocolate with golden honeycomb granules. It’s a bit bigger than an ordinary single serving bar, at 54 grams, that’s 1.9 ounces.
The Cadbury Dairy Milk in Ireland is much like the UK version I’ve had, it’s made with a dash of vegetable oil. I can’t quite decide if this means that it’s mockolate or still chocolate, as it’s a small amount, but still replaces some of the much better cocoa butter that could have been in there. This chocolate also uses two emulsifiers, PGPR and ammonium phosphatides, which is similar to lecithin but made with rapeseed and glycerol instead of soy.
The bar has a wholesome milky scent to it, not too sweet. There are a lot of little honeycomb bits in there. The honeycomb is also known as sponge candy or cinder toffee. It’s aerated boiled sugar, it’s usually a little salty tasting since it uses sodium bicarbonate to make the foamy texture.
I love sponge candy, so this was definitely a plus. It’s less sweet than other crunchies can be, so it moderated the heavily sugared milk chocolate. Still, the chocolate was more on the fudgy and grainy side of things. It’s candy, not fine chocolate, so I considered it satisfying in that respect.
The ingredients were the same except for the notation for the honeycombed granules, which contain vegetable extracts of spinach, stinging nettle, and Tumeric.
The Cadbury milk chocolate is 23% milk solids and 20% cocoa solids. I guess the rest is sugar and vegetable oil.
The minty bar didn’t seem to have quite as many honeycomb bits in it. What it did have was a lot of mint. The peppermint was strong, though it was flavoring the chocolate, not the honeycomb ...so it’s not quite a Peppermint Bark experience. The milk is sticky sweet and the mint seems to highlight that, instead of diluting it. The chips were crunchy and had that lightly salty note to them. It didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Golden Crisp, but still found it engaging.
Overall, I didn’t sense too much that was better with the Irish version of Cadbury except that I liked this size of bar better than the large 100 gram tablets. I’m not a huge Cadbury fan, if anything, I’d opt for Kraft’s upscale and ethically sourced Green & Black’s dark milk chocolate. (And comparing the import price I paid for these bars, it’s actually a better deal.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.