Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Bar None, originally made by Hershey’s, was a well-loved candy bar. It was launched nationally in 1987 (I believe I lived in the test market area in California in 1986 and became addicted to them early on). The bar was also introduced in Canada under the name of Temptation.
The candy bar boasted chocolate wafers with chocolate cream and then a layer of crushed peanuts all covered in real milk chocolate. It sounds like a giant KitKat, but the reality was a bit different. The wafers were more aerated, the cream layers were more chocolatey and the crushed nuts were, of course, never found on a KitKat. Later in 1992, in an attempt to overcome some manufacturing issues, the bar was changed from a single piece to twin sticks with the addition of caramel. The wrapper was also redesigned to predominantly yellow and sales fell until the bar was discontinued in the United States in 1997. (More about the bar here.)
The Iconic Candy Company of Carle Place, NY specializes in reviving extinct candies; they picked up the rights to the candy bar and are in the final stages of their planned reintroduction of Bar None. They previewed the Bar None at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago last month.
Indulge me for a moment for a little more history, or don’t and skip ahead to the review down there where the candy bar photos start. In addition to one of the early ad campaigns for the bar (which included commercials and the tagline “Tame the Chocolate Beasty”) I also found an intact wrapper online which revealed the original (circa 1990) ingredients for the 1.5 ounce bar (240 calories):
The new bar is 1.6 ounces and 240 calories:
The original bars were made by Hershey’s at their facility in Stuart’s Draft, Virginia (home of Reese’s Pieces). Iconic Candy is also making their bars in the United States.
The bar looks good, though I have to say that it doesn’t look as angular as I remember it. I thought it was a little flatter back in the olden days, but I could be wrong. I rarely took the bar out of the wrapper, instead when I ate it, I opened the end and just pushed out enough of it to take a bite because it was a very messy bar - both the fact that it would melt on the fingers and the fact that biting into it would sometimes scatter bits of the thin chocolate coating. I remember the chocolate coating as a soft chocolate, prone to melting even though I lived in the never-actually-warm Northern California area at the time. The original bar was also fatty, as the calorie count was about 160 calories per ounce, which is very high for a wafer bar.
It smells good, like chocolate with just a hint of roasted peanuts. Again, I don’t remember the peanut element from the original, which was really all about the taste of the milk chocolate and the cream filling between the wafers. The peanuts were for crunch, not flavor.
The bar has a gentle crunch to it. The chocolate gives way well without becoming a flaky mess. The wafers are crispy and light, quite aerated and different from the KitKat wafers, which are more dense. These are like an ice cream cone. Though I would want the wafers chocolate flavored, I think they’re rather flavorless, coming across a bit like malty foam.
The chocolate is sweet and creamy with a good milky flavor. The peanuts taste fresh and have a good crunch and consistent size. There’s a little note of salt, just on the crushed nuts. The wafer stack is good, though not as chocolatey as I would like.
There’s an alternate universe (if you subscribe to the multiverse theory) where Hershey’s didn’t pervert and destroy the original bar with the twin sticks with caramel. But in that universe, in which Hershey’s behaved otherwise identically, the bar would have fallen to the same pressures to use “safe and suitable vegetable fats” instead of cocoa butter like they did with the classic Mr. Goodbar which is no longer a good chocolate bar, or a chocolate bar at all. So even if there were a Bar None today, I doubt I would still like it. Hershey’s simply doesn’t make their products better over time, they just make the more efficiently. We’re lucky if that doesn’t effect the taste and nutritional profile of the product, but it usually does. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Good & Plenty are really their only remaining products that I still enjoy regularly.
So, in a way, I think it was a blessing that Bar None disappeared before it got bad. Because then people wanted it to come back. The new Iconic Candy version of it isn’t quite the same, but then again, the original had its issues. It often slid apart, because the creme between the layers wasn’t held together well enough by the chocolate coating. The sharper corners would get crushed. The chocolate would flake off. I don’t see those as issues with the revived bar. But it’s still lacking that fatty, slick chocolate texture that I remember. So, it may be an uphill battle with the die hard fans of the original. There’s also a case to be made that original fans may have had other qualities about the bar that they liked that are still served by this version.
Tasting this bar today, without the reference point of the original, it’s a very well done effort. It’s airy and light but still very satisfying. The peanuts are a nice crunchy touch that don’t veer off into peanut butter territory as a flavor. But my tastes have changed now, being exposed to fine and dark chocolate from around the world have made me demand more from my candy. Now I think I’d want this in a dark chocolate version over a milk one.
The cross section though did give me pause. It’s purple. Why are the wafers purple? Well, glance back up there at the list of ingredients and you’ll see five artificial colors. I’m not sure why it needed them, but they’re there.
I’ve emailed with Iconic Candy, and the bars aren’t in stores quite yet. I’ll have some more information on that, and of course they’ll have information at their website as they start shipping to wholesalers and stores. If you have a favorite spot for buying candy, you may want to mention to them that you’d like to try the bar so they’ll order it.
Here’s a newsletter from Hershey’s called Chocolate Town USA from back in 1990 that details the launch of the original chocolate bar.
Monday, June 10, 2013
KitKat Minis are unwrapped versions that are only 1 inch long. They’re also solo. Instead of “fingers” of KitKats served up in quads, these are like “pinky toes,” if you have those kind of pinkies that never quite fit in regular sandals and just hang out by themselves.
This isn’t the first time KitKat has attempted a bite sized version, there were KitKat Bites on the market about eight years ago. Those were smaller and more spherical as they were a panned chocolate (the centers were tumbled in a pan and then sealed with a little glaze).
The issue I found with the earlier KitKat Bites violating the interactivity I’d come to love about the KitKat bar is not an issue here. The miniature bars do have all the layers. This means that my process of eating them is the same. I cleave off the chocolate on each, making a melt-free spot to hold the bar while I peel off each layer of the cookie wafers with my teeth.
I enjoyed these, but not quite as much as I would have liked. The ratio of chocolate to wafers is higher now. I wouldn’t mind if it was good chocolate, but it’s not. It’s overly sweet, a little grainy and because it contains PGPR, I always think it has a rancid note to it.
I’m hoping these will come in the dark variety at some point. But the reality is that the Japanese Adult Taste Dark Chocolate KitKat (called Otonano Amaso) version is so untouchably superior, and actually comes in a nugget version, I don’t plan on buying Hershey’s again after this bag is gone.
The price is okay, I got mine on sale for $3.50 for the bag, which is a half of a pound. The wrapped candies can often be less expensive, but these may come down in price over the coming months as the economies of scale kick in. The stand up bag does have a zipper on it so they do store well. I can also see these being a good addition to ice cream or used as an ingredient in baking projects.
Though KitKat bars in the rest of the world, made by Nestle, are becoming fair trade certified, the American made KitKats from Hershey’s are not quite there yet. (Even when they do make it, that doesn’t mean they’ll taste better.)
Monday, May 13, 2013
When I was in Germany a couple of years ago, I picked up a bag of a new Haribo variety of gummi bears called Saft Baeren. They were made with real fruit juice and had a much softer, juicier texture than the traditional Haribo Gold Bears.
Well, Haribo has decided to sell a version of those bears in the United States as Haribo Juicy Gold-Bears. They’re coming out now and feature more than 20% fruit juice and no artificial colors.
They’re a little different from the bears that I tried. First, the version I tried was made in Germany, and as I found out from my taste test, the German Haribo products are usually the ones I prefer because they’re more intense and have a better texture. This bag was made in Turkey. Second, the flavor variety is a little different. The original version had five flavors, this one has six. The flavors are black currant, pear, lime, apple, raspberry and peach. No orange, lemon, pineapple or strawberry.
Black Currant (Purple) is deep and jammy, slightly bitter, in an authentic way with a dry note to it.
Apple (dull green) is very, well, green tasting. It’s an authentic apple flavor, like juice, but it’s also very green, like someone threw a dash of wheatgrass in there or something.
Peach (orange) is fascinating. It’s more apricot if you ask me, and that’s probably a good thing. It’s quite tangy and has a lot of that balsam note that gives peach their fuzzy flavor. It’s a dense and nuanced flavor, done very well, far better than any other peach candy I’ve had.
Raspberry (red) is a great bear. It’s tart and juicy and has a light tannic quality that’s kind of jammy and lightly floral.
Pear (clear) is tangy and a little bland compared to the others. It’s like a baked pear.
Lime (yellow) is actually pretty boring. It’s not as vibrant as the citrus flavors in the original Gold bears.
Overall, the flavors are good, even great, but the actual flavor variety is a little weird. I’m all for not using mainstream flavors, but this mix is just a little too strange for me. There were only two that I liked, and I found myself picking them out of the mix, which is something I never do with the standard Gold Bears. I think the fact that they’re using natural colors and lots of real juice is great and I hope that trend continues ... now if they could just do an all citrus mix of bears that way. However, I know that these flavors, since they’re so specific and so rare in a mix sold in the US, are going to be someone’s favorite.
Friday, May 10, 2013
M&Ms are ranked as the #1 candy by companies who track such things. But that popularity has always been limited to the lentil type candies, not other candies branded under M&Ms. As an example, Mars launched the M-Azing bar, a chocolate bar with M&Ms in 2004 but it was discontinued in 2008.
Mars is trying again trying to flatten and solidify the candies with the new Milk Chocolate M&Ms Chocolate Bar. The tagline is chocolate bars are better with M.
The bar, as you can imagine, is a milk chocolate base studded with M&Ms (candy coated milk chocolate pieces). I was curious if the chocolate of the bar was the same as the chocolate inside the M&Ms. Looking at the ingredients list, it appears they are slightly different.
The embedded candies are the mini sized M&Ms, not the full sized. (As you can imagine, the bar would need to be pretty thick to full encapsulate them.) The minis have a much thinner shell, so less of a sharp crispness.
The bar is cute to look at. It’s nicely segmented and molded and breaks apart easily with a good snap. The scent is sweet and a little on the sugary side; it didn’t smell rich and reminded me of R.M. Palmer. The melt is pretty smooth overall, but there’s a slight cereal flavor to it, which I’m guessing is from the candy shells. It’s also has a slight sharpness to it, almost verging on a Hershey’s taste. On the whole, I was unimpressed.
The candy pieces inside gave a little crisp crunch to it and added sweetness. There was little difference in the flavor when it came to the centers of the M&Ms when eaten in the context of the bar. Overall ... the chocolate itself was never the strong suit of M&Ms, it’s always been the munchable, colorful portability of them.
If you’ve been looking for a milk chocolate bar with more artificial ingredients, this might be just the thing. Not only do you get the artificial colors on the actual M&Ms, there’s also the added bonus of PGPR,
Friday, May 3, 2013
Trader Joe’s always selects their confectionery products with a bit of an atypical flair. Sure, they have some organic mints in tins at the check out counter, but they’re also offering these Trader Joe’s Organic Gingermints as well.
The tin is cute and bold, featuring orange and salmon accents and some wasabi-green highlights. The mints are Kosher and made with organic ingredients, gluten free and vegan. The steel, hinged box holds 50 “mints” though they’re really just ginger flavored ... no peppermint or spearmint flavors in there.
The ingredients are simple:
They’re rather creamy looking, just slightly off white which could be from the maple syrup or ground ginger root. They’re also very gingery. They’re smoother than Altoids, less of a chalky quality to them. When I let it dissolve, it was a little syrupy instead, kind of like a slippery elm lozenge. Mostly I crunch them, which means that I get a big kick of the ginger immediately. They’re sweet, but it’s more earthy and clean with a lingering heat from the ginger. They’re spicy, but the burn doesn’t accumulate, so I didn’t have trouble eating three or four in a row.
I suspect that these are just repackaged VerMints which are also made in Canada and have the same agar and gum tragacanth ingredients, but that’s fine with me these are certainly easier to find. Trader Joe’s also sells a straight Organic Peppermint tin as well.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I saw these Haribo Hot Sticks first on the Candy Gurus site and knew I had to have them.
They’re a strange combination of flavors, at least to the American palate. The package describes them as Fruity-Spicy & Liquorice. They’re sugar crusted gummis in three flavor combinations: Hot Orange + Liquorice, Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice and Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice.
Haribo is a global confectionery brand, but this package is for the German market, with the majority of the package information in German and a smattering in English.
There are three flavors, but I have trouble telling them apart. The raspberry was easy, since it was pink, but the orange and lemon versions were more difficult.
The texture is soft and bouncy, the sugar crust is fine and adheres well to the candy, so well that there was barely any in the bottom of the bag. Each has a licorice end, and that flavor was consistent across all the pieces. It was very sweet with a mild anise flavor. I’m not usually the keen on Haribo’s licorice, but this gummi version was mild and traditional.
Hot Orange + Liquorice - the orange end had a little tangy citrus note and at first, I had trouble detecting anything else, but soon the warming spice of what I can only guess is hot pepper started. It was really just the heat, there wasn’t much of the vegetable note to it. The licorice combined well with it, mostly evening it all out and providing a more lingering sweetness.
Ginger-Lemon + Liquorice - this was the flavor that drove me to find the Hot Sticks. I love Haribo’s Ginger Lemon gummis, so the addition of licorice sounded great. The earthy flavor of the ginger balanced very well with the herbal notes of the anise-licorice. The tartness of the lemon cut the sugary sweetness of the grainy coating.
Raspberry-Jalapeno + Liquorice - I have to admit that jalapeno is not one of my favorite flavors. The raspberry and jalapeno flavors were well balanced here. The tangy and floral berry notes came right out, but so did the green vegetable flavors of jalapeno along with the very warm notes of the pepper. When I just ate a bite from that flavored end, I found it slightly too hot for me. However, when eating as a whole candy, with the soothing woodsy note of the licorice, it’s interesting ... still, it was a bit chaotic. Of all the flavors here, this one was the least successful. But it could just be that I’d never tried that combination before and it was too jarring for me to appreciate.
Overall, it’s a really fascinating mix. Each bite is different, and because the flavors are separated on different ends, you can kind of control how much of a mix you get. I’ll probably stick with the much more mundane Lemon Ginger, but the addition of licorice, especially this particular version of a gummi licorice, is quite good.
Monday, April 8, 2013
In a world where more financial transactions are digital and something like Bitcoin is a reality, it’s comforting to know that barter still exists. Over the new year my mother had a neighbor request to use her empty parking space in her condo parking lot to store a car while they were on a trip to the Philippines for a month. My mother agreed for a nominal fee and the simple request: bring back some Mentos, the kind you can’t get in the United States.
They obliged! So upon their return I was gifted three different 810 gram bags of individually wrapped Mentos. (Yes, for mental metric converters, that totaled 6.36 pounds.) Each large bag, the size of an airplane pillow, contained 300 pieces. There were three varieties: Mentos Duo, Mentos Tropical Mix and Mentos XTreme Spearmint.
Mentos Duo Lemon Grape has that wonderful Asian grape flavor instead of the American artificial grape. It’s soft and floral and reminds me of concord grapes right off the vine. The lemony center is subtle and lightly zesty without adding too much sour. They’re more subtle Mentos, not like a Skittle. This was one of my favorites.
Mentos Duo - Mango Orange is orange on the outside and mango on the inside. The orange flavor is sweet with a little bit of tanginess. The center is also sweet, but without the tart bite and a little note of pine and peach that mango can sometimes have. It’s a nice little change of pace from regular citrus Mentos.
I’ve tried the Duos before and like the idea of them and in this bag the two combinations are well done. They’re a little different which sets them apart from the usual chews like Starburst.
The Tropical Mix doesn’t have anything that new in it, as all of these flavors are now available in the Mentos Rainbow worldwide.
Mentos Watermelon reminded me of a Jolly Rancher. It’s an odd sort of flavor, at first is was actually a good representation on the outside, but the inside got strange. It was a little plasticky - like styrofoam and had notes of mint to it. I don’t know if it was because they might have been too close to the Spearmint pieces, or they were just weird. I’m not that big on Watermelon candies, so for the most part I chalk it up to personal preference.
Mentos Orange starts with a floral orange blossom flavor, and maybe even a hint of bergamot. The tangy juice flavor don’t develop until the pieces are well chewed. There’s not much zest to it, but a good well rounded orange flavor still emerges.
Mentos Pineapple is probably my new favorite Mentos flavor since Pink Grapefruit disappeared. It’s tangy and floral and the flavor is intense enough to last to the very end. I found myself pulling them out of the mix pretty consistently.
I enjoy the fruity Mentos a lot. I took a large zipper lock bag of these with me on my trip to Hawaii. A little treat like this is good for the ears like chewing gum on a flight. The pineapple and orange felt like they were breath fresheners, too. I don’t know why they don’t sell the individually wrapped version here in the United States. The rest are going in a jar on my desk at the office, even my most germaphobic office-mates won’t have a problem.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.