Monday, September 15, 2014
Albanese Confectionery is a small family-run confectionery company in Indiana. They started in 1983 and though their candies encompass chocolate covered nuts, nut mixes and chocolates. But in the past ten years, Albanese has become known for their extensive line of gummis that not only come in a wide variety of flavors, but also in some innovative shapes.
I finally picked up Albanese Rainforest Gummi Frogs at Lolli & Pops, since I was able to select them from the bulk bins instead of buying a 5lb bag on the internet (there were probably other options in between). There are three different flavor combinations: blue raspberry & orange, strawberry & grape and, sour lemon & sour green apple.
The pieces are quite large, about the size of tree frogs I was familiar with seeing in Northern California. (One lived in the shower of a house I shared in Arcata Bay bottoms.) The gummis weigh about a half an ounce each. They’re two inches long and their armspan is 2.5 inches.
My first little buddy is the blue and orange one. The blue body is blue raspberry with orange legs. The flavor has a wonderful sour bite to it, and a good pliable chew that’s not too tough. The legs are juicy, like an orange gummi should be, and a little more sweet than the body.
The yellow and green one is sour lemon and sour green apple. The green apple legs are absolutely sour, and it seems to emerge the more you chew. The flavor goes on, all the way until it’s completely dissolved. The green apple flavor is very Jolly Rancher. The lemon is equally good, with strong zest notes as well as that metallic Country Time Lemonade powder flavor. (I used to eat lemonade mix as a kid because it was cheaper than Fun Dip.)
The final frog has purple legs and a red body. The red parts are strawberry. It’s nicely tart and chewy, but not too tough. The legs are grape, and those have the same tart note, the flavor takes quite a while to develop and is very mildly “grape soda.”
The pieces are quite large and two is more than a serving as far as I was concerned. I liked the flavor combinations and the molding and design is well done. I can see children and adults enjoying these. They’d also fit well in theme parties or as decorations. It might be fun if Albanese considered wrapping them individually for Halloween treating.
Note, I did not have the nutrition information for the Rainforest Frogs specifically, so I used the Gummy Army Guys. I think that Albanese should include the ingredients and nutritional information on their website, since so many of us buy their candies in bulk bins and do not have access to that information otherwise.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
I’m fond of sour jelly beans, though I pretty much stopped being interested in other brands after Gimbal’s came out with their Sour Jelly Beans. I like the sourness, but I also enjoy the actual flavors in those beans. But I noticed that Warheads Sour Jelly Beans has a Sour Meter on the front and only rates these as Sour ... which is more than Tart and less than the highest level of Extreme. So, on the 4 point scale with 4 as the most acidic, these are a 2.
There are six flavors in the box: Orange, Watermelon, Lemon, Blue Raspberry, Cherry and Green Apple.
These beans look different, like colorful, rugged pebbles. They have a sort of powdery look to the outside, which I took to be some sort of a sour coating ... which makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
They’re constructed much like regular jelly beans: a jelly center, then a sort of grainy coating and then a hardened shell. Though they look like they’d be soft, like a Spearmint Leaf jelly candy, they’re actually a bit crunchy on the outside.
Blue Raspberry is quite nice, which is good because I had far more blue beans in my box than any other color. It starts out quite sour but then the flavor has a good mix of the floral berry flavors, a note of grassy seeds and then a sweet finish. It’s artificial, but in the comforting way.
Orange is a little less tangy than I’d hoped. It starts well, with a juicy note and then finishes with some good zest.
Watermelon are soft pink and not easy to tell apart from the cherry in low-light conditions (such as a movie theater). The flavor is bizarre and unappealing to me. It’s sour, like a watermelon rind and some fake melon flavors in there, but then it’s just sweet and bland. It’s not that this doesn’t capture watermelon well, it’s that I wonder why anyone really wants watermelon candy as the actual stuff is more about the textures and large amounts of water.
Green Apple is admirably nuanced. It starts out with a good tangy bite and a note of apple juice, then it goes into the fragrant artificial green apple flavor. It’s not very sour, but still well balanced.
Cherry tastes like sour powder on top of some flavored lip gloss. Not my sort of thing and certainly not sour enough to be called Warheads.
Lemon starts out with a nice tangy bite that’s almost salty. That’s the best they got, however, most tasted like vinyl packaging or, worse, something stored under the kitchen sink adjacent to cleaning supplies. I don’t know what went wrong with these, but a sour lemon candy should be the best flavor in any assortment.
The beans are odd, the texture is different enough to distinguish them from the otherwise superior Gimbal’s Sour Jelly Beans (which are hard to find) but not quite the same as the Nerds Jelly Beans. If they’re similar to anything, it would probably be Sour Patch Kids, which have the same sour outside then sweet inside. The flavor assortment was not quite to my liking, though I’m sure others will appreciate the Green Apple and Cherry. They’re good candy, just not good for me.
Friday, September 5, 2014
As part of the new trend of morsel snacking (morselization), more candy makers are creating mixes of existing candy to capture consumers. The Haribo Funny Mix is a combination of existing candies into a new variety.
I picked this up on London not really because of the mix idea, but because it was Halal, which means that the gelatin used is not porcine in origin. I’ve had Haribo’s Kosher grapefruit slice gummis before and found they had a slightly different texture and was curious if there was any difference here. The package says it’s made in Turkey, which is where most Haribo candies sold in the US are made. Haribo makes a range of Funny Mixes, which contain different mixes of sugar candy, including a version of jelly candies that are vegetarian.
The mix consists of:
There’s nothing new in this mix that I haven’t tried before, but the variety is well done. There’s a good mix between the gummi items and the other novelty pieces like the berries and foam-bottomed frogs. Since most of them are mini sized, they tumble out of the bag well and would do well mixed in with other candies or eaten at the movies or while gaming.
A quick review of each of the items:
Mini Gummi Bears are great. They’re firm but very flavorful and wonderfully consistent in their bouncy texture. There isn’t a flavor I don’t like in the standard mix, which is a huge plus when grabbing from a mix like this, I don’t even have to look.
Cola Bottles are great, they’re a little spicy, lightly tart and just the right size for a single bite.
The Blackberries & Raspberries are my least favorite item in the mix, in fact, I skipped them. Luckily they’re easy to spot either visually or simply by touch if you’re reaching into the bag. The candy beads are simply too sweet, they’re crunchy but grainy and offer no flavor. The center doesn’t pack much punch to mix in with the textural addition and the colorings also give it a weird flavor.
Gummi Worms are not overly large and are pretty much like the Gummi Bears, except they’re a little larger.
The Mini Hearts have a white foam base. I only got one of these, and found it similar to the Frogs that Haribo has made very popular.
I like the minis and in general, all the candies in the mix are great. I like having the mix of fruity flavors plus the cola ... but the berries are a bit of a dealbreaker. This is a very attractive mix, though, so if you’re looking for something fun to put in a bowl for kids or folks coming over to watch a game, it’s a good option since there’s something for everyone (who likes gummis).
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Labor Day is kind of the marker for the beginning of Candy Season ... which is the ramp up to Halloween. Candy Corn is inextricably tied with this time of year, for its associations with harvest and, of course, North America is known for its corn.
In order to keep people interested in Candy Corn, Brach’s has been introducing new flavored varieties for the past five years or so, in addition to their classic Candy Corn, Indian Corn and Mellocremes. I was rather interested in the Brach’s Caramel Macchiato Candy Corn because it sounded less sweet. Coffee actually sounds like a natural flavor combination for Candy Corn, and a touch of salty caramel should help it fit in nicely with the fondant flavor profile.
The pieces do a good job of replicating the look of a coffee drink: dark base, caramel orange middle and white top. (Though the picture shows the caramel on the top of the foamed milk.)
The ingredients list real coffee as a flavoring, as well as honey. The ingredients also list sesame oil, which I don’t think I’ve seen on the list before and note that the candy was made on equipment with milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy are present. Brach’s also uses gelatin in their Candy Corn.
The base is a bit salty and a wonderfully sweet, woodsy coffee flavor. It’s a bit of a stale flavor, like coffee powder, but this is Candy Corn, not a high end truffle. The middle section is lightly salty with a note of honey plus a little hint of butter and the continuing coffee flavor. The white top is less flavorful and also a bit on the crunchy side.
I’m finding that I like these. I was surprised, but I also enjoyed the Carrot Cake Candy Corn earlier this year. If you like Candy Corn, you may enjoy these as a little change of pace. If you don’t, these will not change your mind.
Friday, August 29, 2014
In general, covering anything in chocolate probably makes it better. Along those lines, there are plenty of examples of confections that are simply candy covered in chocolate. Chocolate covered gummi bears have been around for quite a few years, but in a rather limited concept: it’s a fruity gummi bear (who knows what flavor) covered in chocolate.
At Lolli & Pops, a new chain of candy stores, I found Chocolate Covered Banana Gummis. So instead of the flavor gamble of most chocolate covered mixes, this was just one kind of gummi bear ... the Albanese Banana Gummi Bear.
They’re easily identifiable as Albanese bears, as the little A on the belly can be seen clearly on many of the bears, even with the chocolate coating. (To confirm this, I also melted the chocolate off of a couple just to be sure. For the record, the Banana Bears are a transparent yellow, not white.) The bears are enrobed, not panned. This means they have a flat side, so though they’re lacking some of the 360 degree qualities of regular gummi bears, they also don’t have that glaze seal on them that can make it waxy.
They smell sweet and milky, kind of like breakfast cereal. The banana flavor is recognizable, not exactly artificial and not as caustic as Circus Peanuts. They taste rather creamy but have just a slight tangy bite, like a not-quite-ripe banana. The chocolate is thin and creamy, with a good melt but not an intense cocoa infusion overall.
By itself, a banana gummi bear is a little bland. And the milk chocolate itself is milky and sweet, but also not extraordinary enough for me to eat it on its own. But together ... yes, I ate my quarter pound portion of these with no trouble at all. They’re passable on their own, but a new confectionery treat together.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Back in 1995 Cadbury introduced a hollow, molded chocolate novelty called Yowie that included an animal toy in the center in Australia. They were wildly successful not only in Australia but in Oceania, as well, even outselling the more globally known Kinder Surprise Egg in those territories. Then about 10 years ago some disputes between Cadbury and the product line’s creators, they were discontinued (more about that here).
There are plenty of hollow chocolates out there filled with little candies, but it’s not easy to find them with a toy surprise. In the United States they are banned because in most cases the toy inside qualifies as a choking hazard. Even though the toy is enclosed within a plastic egg that is far too big to be swallowed, it’s the tiny toys (often requiring assembly) that have American regulators on watch for them. (I’ve brought back the toys from Kinder Eggs from Germany, but never the intact candy.)
The Yowie Group has found a way around all of this regulation by simply making the toy inside too big to be a choking hazard and are reintroducing the Yowie line of toys enclosed in chocolate ... starting this time with the United States.
Yowies also have a few other features that Kinder Surprise Eggs do not. The chocolate is considered real chocolate (all natural) and is Rainforest Alliance certified. They’re shaped and molded not like a simple egg, but in the form of different characters. Inside the molded chocolate is a plastic capsule (also kind of a toy itself) that holds the toy. The toy is actual decent quality and are themed as little animal figurines with information inside the capsule about them.
The chocolate is formed in halves, fully designed on both sides (though the back is less interesting). It comes apart rather easily to reveal the capsule inside. They’re rather large, about 2.75 inches tall.
I bought two of them at Lolli & Pops in Glendale (I can’t even find anywhere online to buy them as I write this). They were expensive, $3.75 each. Sadly, one of them was badly bloomed and inedible. They had the same expiration on them, and none of my other chocolate I purchased had any texture/blooming issues, so I’m going to have to say that it happened somewhere between manufacturing and the checkout counter. (So, I staged the photo below to make sure you’d see both of the toys.)
The chocolate itself is pleasant. It’s very thin, so once I put a piece in my mouth, it melted very quickly. It has a fresh “dairy milk” flavor, a rounded cocoa note and a smooth texture. It’s not the best milk chocolate I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly very good for a chocolate novelty item.
You’re not buying it for the chocolate anyway, and as far as candy indulgences go for kids, it’s only one ounce (most chocolate/candy bars are 1.5 to 2.5 ounces) so it’s pretty low in calories overall (153). The little toys are solid and good quality for something considered a novelty ... though certainly not a product I’d be willing to pay more than 50 or 60 cents for, let alone $3.75, even if it does include an ounce of chocolate. But this is for kids.
It’s difficult to read the foil for the ingredients and other information. The press release from the company says that the chocolate is ethically sourced and their website shows the Rainforest Alliance logo. The chocolate is gluten and nut free and Kosher certified. The novelties are made here in the United States at Whetstone Chocolate of St. Augustine, Florida.
Monday, August 18, 2014
It seems odd that I picked up Jelly Belly jelly beans while I was in London, but this particular box isn’t available here. I bought this cute little pocket-sized flip-top box of Jelly Belly Beanaturals: 14 Flavors at Selfridges.
These beans are made in Thailand. In fact, if you see Jelly Belly candy in a store outside of North America, it’s probably going to be the Thai-made version. Many European countries have strict rules about genetically modified ingredients, the factory there uses non-GMO sugar and non-GMO glucose syrup (from tapioca instead of corn. (You can read more about that here.)
So, in addition to being free of any GMO ingredients, the beans are also made with all natural flavorings and colorings. They’re kosher, made in a nut free facility and gluten free. This is actually not that different from many of the jelly beans and other candies that Jelly Belly offers ... except for that GMO thing. Jelly Belly has plenty of beans mixes that are all natural ... so what I’m really trying out here is the European version.
The box is not large and only holds 1.59 ounces, so there were not even that many beans in there considering there were going to be 14 different flavors. In my assortment I had six Lime. Only one Barbecue Banana, but six Lime beans. These are the hazards of random distribution.
The first thing I noticed was how quickly the beans lose their freshness. The box was shrinkwrapped, and when I photographed them over the weekend, the beans I ate were soft and normal. But later in the week, oh, about Wednesday, when I worked on this post in earnest, they were suddenly hard. They were kept in the flip top box, closed, out of the sun and within a reasonable temperature span. Yet they were stiff and, well, stale.
Lime (light green) is nicely rounded, a little bitter towards the end and missing more of the juicy tartness.
Plum (dark maroon) is sweet and sort of like actual plum ...maybe just the plum skin but not much of the fruity, juicy notes.
Barbecue Banana (speckled yellow) is quite nice. Very sweet but the banana does have more of a baked sweetness to it, instead of the artificial vanilla note. I actually thought I only had one of these until I realized later that I had a bunch of opaque yellow ones that weren’t lemon leftover that were banana. Yum.
Orange (orange) is sweet but with a zesty note towards the end. It reminded me more of an orange jelly slice than a jelly bean as it lacked that tart bite.
Tangerine (orange) was really similar to the orange, so much so, I wasn’t sure they were different except that there were several of those and they were definitely a lighter orange. I wanted something intensely orange with that hint of lemon that real tangerines have. They were fine, but I really had my hopes up.
Lemon (yellow) was in the citrus zone that I hoped Tangerine would be. It was both sweet and tart and had a strong lemon peel bitterness at the top.
Cherry (red) was good. It was fruity without any hint of the bitterness that artificial colors can bring. The flavor also lasted a while, with a sort of jasmine floral finish.
Strawberry Jam (light pink) was actually more like jam than fresh strawberries. This left it more on the sweet side, without that delightful cotton candy floral note, but still good and nice in combination with my many Lime beans.
Juicy Pear (medium green) was weird and grassy and maybe even a little garlicky ... to the point where I was wondering if I got a Bernie Bott’s bean by mistake. But I only had one of these beans, so there was no way for me to get someone else’s opinion.
Pineapple (uncolored) was bland overall, like canned pineapple instead of the fresh stuff. Too much syrup and not enough acid.
Passion Fruit (speckled orange) is okay, it actually didn’t taste like much except for that generic “tropical candle” flavor.
Coconut (white with small speckles) tastes undeniably like coconut. It just does. Sometimes I thought there were actually coconut bits in it. You’d think it would go well with Pineapple ... and you’d be right.
Yup, there’s one missing here ... I didn’t get any Fruit Punch in my box. I’m okay with that.
I don’t think I’ve had this issue with the beans getting really hard so quickly before. Jelly Beans are one of those candies that is intended to be put in an open container for serving ... a bowl of jelly beans. If they can’t take being in a closed but not sealed box for several days without losing their freshness, I’m not sure I can commit to eating the full box (I know, it’s less than 2 ounces) within a day.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I mostly chew gum made with sugar, not because I necessarily want sugar in my gum, but because it’s so hard to find sugar free gum that’s not made with artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. It’s very rare to find a gum like the PUR line that is sugarless but also made only with xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol. Xylitol has been around for years and is often used in sugar free mints and gums, though usually in combination with artificial sweeteners. It has a light ans sweet note to it, but like most sugar alcohols, it also has an odd cooling effect on the tongue (which is usually a desirable feature for mints).
The PUR Gum is is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. I’ve tried the other flavors that were introduced when the gum line launched about three years ago: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. I liked them quite a bit, though they’re not easy to find.
The pieces are simple chiclets, rounded rectangular pieces, a little rustic and uneven, measuring about 3/4 of an inch long and about 1/3 of an inch wide. A serving, for me, is two pieces. (With actual Chiclets it’s usually 3 pieces at a time.)
The chew is very soft at first, with a very cool note on top and a strong sweetness before the other flavors kick in. The sweetness is not the same as sugar, it’s less round, cool on the tongue and rather slippery.
The flavor is very odd. At first it was a bit on the wintergreen side, which some people find medicinal ... or repulsive. There are other notes to it, a little hint of eucalyptus and then another more balsam note, it reminded me of mastic, which is a resin that’s also used a chewing gum in the Mediterranean. (If you’ve never had mastic, it’s also similar in its flavor profile to tea tree oil, which is not meant to be eaten but is found in many natural personal care products.)
The wintergreen notes dissolve away and all that seemed to be left was that sort of resin note with a hint of something like jasmine tea. It’s pleasant, at least for me and did definitely freshen my mouth after eating some curry for lunch.
Cinnamon is predictable and comforting. It’s woodsy and a little on the clove side of spicy, but has a wonderful warming hotness to it. The intense and rounded flavors dissipate pretty quickly, but the lingering flavor is just sweet and with the lightest tough of cinnamon.
There’s no weird bitter note, either, which I think is often caused by artificial colors. There are no colors here, so it’s all about the gum flavor. The xylitol sweetness lasts for a while, I’d say the pieces are satisfying for about 15 minutes. After I tossed the gum, I still had that lingering warmth of the cinnamon for at least a half an hour. It definitely cut through coffee breath.
I’d probably still stick with the Peppermint (from the original review) for a gum to keep in my desk, but for travel, I think I would go with the Coolmint because I really felt like chewing the pieces longer than the other flavors. It’s a little expensive and the packaging takes up a lot of space for such a small amount of gum. (I might like it if the blister pack was scored so I could just tear off a few of them to keep them in my little case that I take on airplanes.)
The gum is not easy to find, and not cheap. I’ve seen it at natural food stores and grocers, such as Sprouts and Erewhon.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.