Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Cola is an American flavor, invented in 1886 as a tonic mixed with soda water to cure a variety of ailments. The flavor is a combination of kola nuts, spices and citrus. (If not those actual ingredients, there are detectable flavor notes of them.) Though the drink is wildly popular in North America, it is rare in other forms. It’s not a common candy flavor, though it makes good candy. However, Europe seems to have embraced it and Germany has many excellent candies that utilize the unique combination of citrus and spice.
Haribo may have made its name and reputation on gummi bears, but there is one place where I think they do a much better job of creating an exclusive line of candies: Happy Cola. The Happy Cola line is a small group of cola bottle shaped and flavored products. They include the classic Happy Cola, Super Happy Cola (larger sized pieces), Fizzy Happy Cola (sour sanded gummis) and now the Haribo Happy Cola Flüssig gefüllt. These are liquid filled cola bottle gummis.
I first heard about these from CandyBrain.de and knew I had to track them down. This involved a candy swap with Kristian, as you may have noticed, I’ve had quite a few European candies featured since November and he has been featuring the American candies on his blog.
They’re a little different from the regular cola bottles, they’re a layered gummi. The bottom is a foamy, stiff marshmallow then there’s the honey-like goo and the top layer is the standard Haribo cola gummi. They’re about 1.3 inches high.
The effect of all the textures and their variations of flavor work really well together. The gummi itself is soft and chewy, but a bit stiffer than the American-made Trolli or Albanese. The marshmallowy bottom is creamy and has a vanilla note, giving it an ice cream note. The filling has a honey flavor to it with an extra little burst of spice and tartness.
It’s a nice combination and something that Haribo could easily expand to include other kinds of soda like ginger ale and root beer (though I had the root beer Haribo introduced years ago and thought they were horrible, but then again, many Europeans don’t actually like root beer).
Friday, January 10, 2014
A couple of years ago I was treated to a small tasting of a new line of candy bars. They’re from Amy’s Kitchen, which already makes vegetarian convenience foods. I finally started seeing them on store shelves at the end of last year, even at major grocery retailers like Von’s, not just Whole Foods or Mother’s Market. I’ll have reviews of all four of the bars, but I thought I’d start with their unique offering first, the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Chewy Candy Bar.
The package says Soft caramel with pecans covered in chocolate. Well, that not only sounds good, it doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on the shelves.
All the bars in the line are color coded and feature the name large and in the middle of each wrapper.
As you’d expect with an organic candy, they’re expensive. I didn’t see them selling for less than $2.29 a bar, and as high as $2.79.
They’re 3/4 of an ounce each, about 2.25 inches long and one inch wide.
The bite is excellent, it’s soft and chewy, with a stringy pull to the caramel that’s not too sticky. The pecans are small, but provide a lot of texture and maple-flavor. The milk chocolate is robust and stands up well to the rest of the ingredients. The whole thing isn’t too sweet, though it is rather milky.
There’s a lot of information on the wrapper. I love transparency. But it’s poorly organized. So here’s all the info provided, in order for people who read left to right, top to bottom. (I don’t, but I’ll list them that way.)
0 g of trans fat
So when I went looking for the peanut statement it wasn’t with the gluten free statement (which may or may not be contradicted by the wheat in the facility statement), it was on a separate line in different type. It’s a big old mess. Some are marketing statements, some are transparency statements, some are FDA mandated inclusions.
My issues with the back of the package aside, this is a no-compromise bar when it comes to taste and ingredients. It tastes like candy, but I feel like someone is putting a lot of thought and consideration into it behind the scenes. For this bar, the fact that it’s not even something that I can get in GMO form means that I’m more likely to reach for an Andy’s Chewy Bar in the future.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Trader Joe’s Chocolate Kona Coffee Truffles are well priced at $3.99 for six ounces. The truffles are individually wrapped and it appears there are about 20 in the zip top package.
In the Trader Joe’s repertoire of individually wrapped truffles on shelves now, there are the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel (not really a truffle in my book) and the Candy Cane Truffles (sold in the winter). The new Kona Coffee Truffles definitely fill an niche.
The truffles are petite, only about 1.25 inches long, so really just one bite. The coating looks like dark chocolate, but the ingredients list all the chocolates: milk, dark and white. The filling is some sort of chocolate, Kona coffee, natural flavors and coconut oil. It’s firm, might even be a bit crumbly if they’re very cold, but in the mouth they melt quite quickly.
It’s smooth, chocolatey, robust and has a hint of bitterness. The melt from the coconut oil is slick and silky. The coffee flavors are dark without too much bitterness, but very little sugary compensation going on. There may be a little hint of salt there, too. The only thing I didn’t like is the use of actual coffee grounds in there. They’re kind of crispy, but still a little distracting from the otherwise fully fat-laden melt.
These are a nice little item to keep nearby as a pick-me-up. Though they’re calorically dense, it’s only about 55 calories each ... so if you control yourself, two is a pretty nice treat.
Contains milk, soy and coconut. May contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Every once in a while candies get a revamp, so I like to revisit them. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Pretzel M&Ms were introduced in 2010 (original review) and have done well enough for Mars that they have continued as part of their regular repertoire, even getting seasonal color varieties for the holidays. I noticed a new version on shelves that advertised “now more pretzel taste.” Since I was able to find the previous version, I thought I’d taste them side-by-side. They have similar “best before” dates.
They look identical. The originals are on the left and the new version are on the right. Same colors, same shape, same size.
It is striking how much better the new ones are. The new ones are crunchier, taste lighter and airier yet have more of that malty, pretzel toasted coating. There was no difference I could see in the ingredients or in the new nutrition panel. They’re still a pretty low calorie candy treat, at only 150 calories per package, they’re pretty satisfying without being too fatty. (Of course the portion is only 1.14 ounces, but there’s a lot going on with the textures.)
The original rating stands at 7 out of 10. They’re not perfect and I still don’t think I’ve bought them since the first introduction (though I eat them when given a sample package, which happens once or twice a year). I still go for the Almond M&Ms when given the chance.
Hershey’s Rally Bar is a strange sort of candy bar in that it appears and disappears on store shelves with little notice. It’s a Hershey’s candy bar, first test marketed in the late 1960s, it was in wide distribution by 1970 across the country. The advertising theme was: Reach Me a Rally Bar, the Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Roll for the Man-Sized Appetite as well as the more gender-neutral The Crowded Candy Bar. This was one of the Hershey Corporation’s earliest attempts at advertising, before this they stood with the founder’s position that a quality product would sell itself. More about the Rally Bar on Collecting Candy.
The candy bar has no real package identity to adhere to in this reissue. This is what it looked like back in 2008 and this is what it looked like in 2004. The new one doesn’t even mention the name Hershey on the front. I picked it up at Walgreen’s as an exclusive item.
Though it was probably a chocolate candy bar when it was introduced, by the 2004 wrapper it was evident that this was a mockolate item. (Here’s my original review.)
This is smaller than the 2.2 ounce bar I tried back in 2008. This is 1.66 ounces (which is actually a good size for me). It smells like peanuts. The fudgy center is like a nougat, it’s soft and chewy with little flavor of its own. The peanuts are Payday-like, they’re crunchy, though not quite as salty. The chocolatey coating actually has a hint of salt, keeping it from being sickly sweet. Overall, it’s an okay bar but I don’t see it as that different from a Baby Ruth.
I stand by my previous rating of 6 out of 10.
There was a time when there were oodles of limited edition candies - not a month went by in the late Aughts that the major candy companies didn’t present a flavor twist on one of their tried and true candies. Snickers alone went through many iterations including: Shrek (green nougat), Indiana Jones (spiced nougat), Charged (caffeinated), 3X (chocolate nougat, chocolate caramel), Fudge (chocolate fudge instead of nougat), Xtreme (no nougat) and Nut n Butter Crunch (peanut buttery nougat).
The Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road changed up a few items in the standard Snickers Bar. First, they replaced the milk chocolate coating with dark chocolate. I approve. Second, they replaced the peanuts with almonds. I find this to be a good substitution. Third, they changed the lightly peanut butter nougat with a smoother marshmallow nougat. Definitively goes with the other two items. The structure is the same - nutty nougat on the bottom, caramel on the top and covered in chocolate.
I gave these an 8 out of 10 rating last time (full review) and I fully endorse them again this time. The nougat is smoother than the 3 Musketeers style and the crunch of the almonds is great. It’s more of a variation on the classic Mars Bar, but I won’t quibble with Mars if they want to bring this back. (In fact, I prefer it to the standard Snickers Almond, which replaced the Mars bar).
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Justin’s White Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are a limited edition version of their dark and milk chocolate peanut butter cups. They’re available only at Whole Foods this winter.
What sets these apart from other white peanut butter cups is the fact that Justin’s not only uses real white chocolate, it’s also fair trade cacao butter.
All of the ingredients are organic except the sea salt,which is an inorganic item anyway. The palm oil is sustainably sourced and the cacao comes from Rainforest Alliance certified growers. Justin’s is gluten free as well.
Still, with all those qualifiers, they’re still a white chocolate candy, which has a pretty narrow band of fans.
The cups are beautiful, a creamy yellow white with a little dollop in the center. The white chocolate has a lot of milk in it (the third ingredient) and has a lot of dairy flavors to it. The peanut butter center is salty, with a grainy crunch but also a smooth roasted flavor to it. From my early taste tests of Justin’s peanut butter cups, they’ve really come a long way in balancing out the texture of the center without being too oily or too dry. The white chocolate bring a lot of creaminess and vanilla flavors, the overall effect is like eating peanut butter cookie dough.
I’m a fan of good white chocolate (and will eat bad white confections against my better judgement) and this is some very well made stuff. Since Reese’s switched to a white confection, as far as I know, these are the only nationally distributed white chocolate peanut butter cups available.
I did notice one odd thing on the package. The cups are 1.4 ounces total and it says that it’s 180 calories. But the rest of the nutrition panel does not support that. There are 16 grams of fat (9 calories per gram) and 19 grams of carbs (4 calories per gram) then 4 grams of protein (4 calories per gram) all tallies up to 236 calories, not 180. (Reese’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups are 210 calories for 1.5 ounces.) So if these calculations are correct, that’s 169 calories per ounce. Mmm, high fat density.
I like these and I’d probably pick them up again. But Justin, where are those dark chocolate hazelnut butter cups I’ve been longing for?
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I’ve had quite a few “mints” from Big Sky Brands over the years, and appreciate their approach to their candies even if their flavor combinations don’t align with my tastes. The Ginger Zingers line (called Ginger Delights on their website for some reason) come in four flavors: D’Anjou Pear, Mango, Chai and Blood Orange. I picked up the last two, as they were the most appealing to me.
The back of the tin explains the candy:
They aren’t kidding when they say it’s packed with ginger. The ingredients list pure cane sugar first, then ground ginger root.
The Blood Orange Ginger Zingers has a very faint orange cast to it but definitely smells like an orange gelatin dessert. The flavor on the tongue is immediately a sweet orange, but a little later this candy gets intense. The ginger is very warm and has a strong black pepper hotness. I found them too intense and the orange didn’t have any zest or tang, just the sweet juice note.
The Chai Ginger Zingers feature a full list of the spices on the package, which I really appreciated. Star anise (pictured on the box), cinnamon, cardamom, clove and black pepper are the chai to go with the ginger. This combination smells like vanilla at first, or more like a poundcake, with a sweet baked sugar note. The ginger is far from the intensity of the Blood Orange variety, but still warming. I caught a note of the anise, black pepper and a little clove, but it was a nice mellow blend. I found these very easy to eat one after another.
Each tin holds about 30 pieces of candy, about 1 ounce total. I picked mine up for $1.99 a package. They’re a bit pricy for mints, especially if I gobble them up. But the flavors were distinct and uncommon enough that I could see getting the Chai again, especially if I were looking for something to help with motion sickness. In the mean time, the tin is the ideal size for stowing my earbuds.
The package specifies that these are made with a vegetarian sourced magnesium stearate, but there’s no notation on whether the sugar is considered vegan. They are kosher and gluten free.
Friday, December 20, 2013
SweetWorks, which makes many flavors of the break apart chocolate orange and Sixlets, also makes a wide variety of foil wrapped chocolate pieces and figures for all occasions.
Their holiday range is quite diverse, featuring chocolate balls, disks and semi-solid figures. The company sent me a huge box filled with confections to sample before Thanksgiving, and I’ve finally made it through all of the items before Christmas.
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Ornaments are one of the classics. They’re just a little solid chocolate sphere wrapped in foil.
Foil Colors: Solid Hunter Green, Solid Red, Diamon Silver, Diamond Blue, Diamond Red.
Taste: The milky chocolate is very smooth and has a lot of dairy notes to it. It’s on the sweet side but also has a lot of vanilla notes to it.
Verdict: Very nice, easily munchable. This sort of piece will appeal to kids and adults.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Crisp Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: The milky chocolate has a nice ratio of crisped rice. It’s creamy, a little softer than the solid chocolate bars but not quite as sweet.
Verdict: This is what I want from my candy in my stocking. It’s comforting and filling but still attractive.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Dark Chocolate Balls
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Gold & Red
Taste: These are extremely dark looking, almost black. I checked and noticed the ingredients list: sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, butterfat (milk), soy lecithin, and vanilla. So this chocolate contains alkalized cocoa, which makes it darker. It also has butterfat in it, so it’s not vegan, which is too bad, because it’s hard to find vegan holiday treats. The flavor profile is a little odd. It’s definitely not overly sweet, but the particle size of the chocolate gives it a slight grain and a dry finish.
Verdict: I liked them well enough to pick them out as something to eat in combination with other things, like nuts, but I didn’t like the dry afterbite.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Solid Milk Chocolate Bells
Foil Colors: Hunter Green, Silver & Red
Taste: These are a bigger bite than the balls, about 2/3 bigger, so it’s a lot more chocolate at once. I noticed the smoothness of the melt much more in this shape.
Verdict: These are easier to peel and eat, though one piece is a little bigger than I prefer a bit of chocolate to be. But they don’t roll around, so that’s a plus.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Bells
Foil Colors: Green with Silver Trees & Red with Silver Trees
Taste: These didn’t smell like much in the package, but once unwrapped there was a nice fresh peanut scent. The milky chocolate is really smooth and the peanut center was part meltaway, part peanut butter.
Verdict: They’re not the same texture or peanut flavor profile as Reese’s, so as long as you’re okay with that, these are very satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Medallions
Foil Colors: White Snowman, Blue Santa, Green Teddy Bear & Red Reindeer
Taste: Milky, sweet and creamy.
Verdict: This was the most disappointing design as far as I was concerned. They seemed dated and missed an opportunity for something a little more splashy. A simple patterned foil or perhaps better artwork for the illustrations would have put these over the top. I like the format of the disks, as they’re easier to bite than bells and something that can be used in S’mores very easily.
Rating: 6 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Green & Yellow Accents - 4 designs
Taste: Thin and long, it’s an easy two bite piece. They were exceptionally shiny.
Verdict: Like the medallions, the design of the Santa foil is a little dated. But in the case I found it utterly charming, especially since I could walk them around on my desk and set them up in little tableaus as if they were interacting. The bonus here is that the Santa is molded with quite a bit of detail, so even unwrapped they’re beguiling.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Santas
Foil Colors: Dominantly Red with Blue & Bronze Accents - 4 designs
Taste: This has a similar light peanutty flavor to the Bells. It’s not a deep roasted flavor, it seemed a bit saltier and a little thick/stickier in the melt.
Verdict: I didn’t like the ratios as much as the Bells, but I have to appreciate the cute little Santa expressions.
Rating: 7 out of 10
SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Hollow Foil comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. They have Turkeys in full feather, Santas, Nutcrackers and a Rocking Horse. (I think they also do a Teddy Bear.) These are very sturdy, the foil is thick and well designed. Instead of a bit piece that wraps around to the back, these are crimped. This means that there’s a full front and back design with a large seam where the two sides are pinched together.
The sizes vary, as you can tell from the photos. As an example, the SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Santa is a little shy of 6 inches and weighs 70 grams (2.5 ounces). The base of the Santa is thick, which makes it very stable when standing. They’re all very attractive designs and would be good as either stocking stuffers or as decorations on a cookie plate or as place settings at a table.
The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Rocking Horse is 3.5 ounces, so the same as a standard tablet bar, only in a fancier format. SweetWorks uses all natural milk chocolate for their hollow molded figures. The ingredients list only: sugar, cocoa butter, milk, chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla. They’re also kosher and gluten-free though processed in a facility with tree nuts and peanuts. The SweetWorks Hollow Chocolate Nutcracker is the largest of the pieces they make for Christmas, at 4.5 ounces and is nearly 7 inches tall.
The SweetWorks Milk Chocolate Turkey is only 1 ounce, but seems like a far larger portion. The base, like the others, is mostly solid which keeps the figure upright whether it’s wrapped or not. The chocolate tastes milkier and smoother than the foil covered balls. (My guess is that the formulation is just a little different for the molded chocolate because of the production demands of filling the intricate molds.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Like the others, the molding details are great, it really is a nicely sculpted turkey and completely recognizable when it’s unwrapped. I liked these much better than the Hershey’s or Dove versions found at Easter, but they’re not quite as rich as the Lindt foil figures. I really liked the Rocking Horse though, I thought its design set it apart from the other offerings on the store shelves. I saw the Turkeys at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I think they were $2.99 but online they’re a bit less. I just wish they were easier to find. For Easter they make a 3.5 ounce Yellow Chick and 3 ounce sitting Rabbit. It makes me wonder if there are figures that could be more “year round” or generic for parties and decorations since the Teddy Bear seems like a natural item for a baby shower.
SweetWorks can be found in the bulk bins at Dylan’s Candy Bar (and probably other places). Their foil balls actually come in a dozen colors and are also available as hearts year round in a wide color and texture palette. You’re more likely to find these online (you can buy direct from SweetWorks.net) and usually for a pretty decent price for all natural chocolate that isn’t Hershey’s Kisses.
Monday, December 16, 2013
A few weeks ago I went to the preview opening of the brick & mortar store for Sugarfina. (More photos here on la.eater.) The evening included tastings of a half a dozen of their favorite candies and of course I got to meet one of the co-owners, Rosie, whom I’ve been corresponding with via email for about a year.
Sugarfina opened earlier this year as a webstore, selling a carefully curated selection of candies from around the world. Many of the gummis are made with all natural flavors & colors and come in extraordinary flavor combinations and shapes. The chocolates are a mix of whimsy and sophistication, with an array of malted milk balls, caramels and cordials.
Sugarfina displays morsels, everything in the shop is morselized, easy for hand-to-mouth sampling and when you’re not eating it, it’s fun to look at. While browsing the store, if you didn’t know it was candy, everything could easily be mistaken for beads or buttons.
Guest were treated to a $10 gift certificate, which I put to good use right away. I even had a shopping list before I got there so I wouldn’t be distracted. I chose to create my own bento box. It’s a sleeve with three slots. It’s exceptionally well designed. The robin’s egg blue and white design is carried through the store and packaging. The inside of the box has blue scalloped concentric circles on white, as does the tissue in the bag it was placed in. The box itself is $4, which isn’t bad when you consider it doesn’t need wrapping and is durable & reusable. The cubes that fit in there were either $7 or $8.
The other change from my previous Sugarfina sampling is that the boxes for the candy have changed. They were a polyester soft plastic, which were not really that secure (hard to keep closed once you took the clear plastic stickers off). The new boxes are acrylic and after you take the labels off, they’re also reusable. They’re airtight, so any leftover candy keeps far longer.
One of the things that got me to actually go over to Beverly Hills after work was the fact that one of the new products is an Italian fruit gumdrop mix called Citrus and Berry Fruttini. They’re little pâte de fruit, coated in crunchy sugar.
The berry is a Wild Blueberry. They’re mild and sweet with a dark raspberry jam flavor and then that hint of black tea that I often taste in blueberries.
The yellow is Italian Lemon made from femminello lemons. I’ve never had a fresh femminello lemon before, but I’ve had limoncello, which is a sweet lemon liqueur that uses the peels. These are quite zesty and reminded me of Meyer lemons. It’s tart, it has a great balance between the sweetness and the oily flavors of the lemon oils.
The orange is Blood Orange. This one was definitely orange, but lacking the zesty notes that the lemon had. If I were to pick these up again, I’d go with the all Lemon selection, which they sell separately. There’s also a Wild Strawberry which I didn’t get to try.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I am quite fond of candies citrus zest, but the Aphrodite Kumquat goes far above and beyond that humble confection.
At the heart (sorry it’s not better depicted) there is a whole kumquat. It’s about the size of a small olive and completely candied. Unlike regular orange peels, the rind of a kumquat is pretty thin but when you eat the whole thing, you’re also getting the pulp inside. So there’s a juicy, tangy orange syrup at the center, along with the very strong clementine-like peel around it. Then it’s covered in a thin layer of chocolate. That chocolate is infused with the orangey oils and then the whole thing is encased in a beautifully treated apricot-colored sugar shell.
One is more than enough. They’re quite intense, the strength of the citrus oils are enough to leave my tongue burning for several hours. Sure, there are only eight of them in the box, but how could anyone eat more than two in a day?
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Chocolate Sparkles are also Greek and another special find. They’re like the smooth and flat little rocks you might pick up on the beach: except they’re an exceptionally unnatural shimmery blue.
The candy shell is thick, like a Jordan almond so there’s a lot of crunch. The dark chocolate center is smooth and creamy with an excellent silky melt and deep cocoa flavors. Unlike many dark chocolate lentils, these truly are made with dark chocolate that has no additional milk or dairy fat in it. (Though there may be traces of milk, wheat or nuts as they’re processed on shared equipment.)
Rating: 8 out of 10
These also came in yellow and pink, also with the shimmery finish. I don’t see them on the website, but they were definitely for sale in the store.
The prices are, well, Beverly Hills. However, unlike someplace like Dylan’s Candy Bar, where you portion out your generic candy into generic bags for $12.99 a pound, many of those products can be purchased at the drug store for a fraction of the price. Sugarfina’s per pound price point is more, about $25.00 per pound, but about 40% of Sugarfina’s candy can’t be purchased anywhere else in the United States and is far better quality than the drug store fare at most pick a mix candy stores. $25.00 per pound isn’t out of range for the chocolate items, but it is steep for sugar candy, even if it’s all natural.
Even though they don’t scoop by the pound, if you stop in the store, they do have little 1 ounce packets you can buy of many of the items to sample or just have a little treat. In true SoCal fashion they also offer a candy concierge.
It’s hard to rationalize it as an everyday candy shop (like I seem to treat See’s now that they’re walking distance from me), but the decadent packaging and precious treatment of the candy elevates it all to a different level. It’s not snacking, it’s sampling. It’s for grown ups.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.