Monday, April 02, 2012
Gimbal’s Sour Gourmet Jelly Beans were introduced on the heels of Gimbal’s other gourmet panned offerings, their Lovers line of heart shaped jelly candies like Cherry Lovers, Honey Lovers and Sour Lovers.
The jelly bean mix has a gourmet price point, at $4.49 for me at the CVS, but the bag is big and it’s made in the USA.
The mix includes 12 flavors in bold colors.
The beans are absolutely lovely to look at. They’re small and well made, each was quite perfect. The Gimbal’s factory advertises that it’s free of most major allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, gluten, gelatin and soy. As a jelly bean product they’re also fat free and contain no high fructose corn syrup (but I’ve never actually seen a jelly bean made with HFCS). The front of the package says they’re made with real fruit juice, and that’d be apple juice. It also says that it’s a good source of Vitamin C, but that’s only 10% of your RDA in a serving of 37 beans (about 1.4 ounces).
But as much as they tout the freedom from allergens, there are still plenty of other ingredients some folks may avoid, such as artificial flavors and colors.
Most of the beans were opaque, but in the case of beans of similar colors, one was translucent, the other opaque. The structure of the bean is the same as other jelly beans. A jelly center (modified food starch give it its smooth texture) covered in a grainy and flavored shell. In the case of these beans, they jelly center is the sour part, so the sourness goes through and through.
They’re tiny, sized like most other gourmet beans like Jelly Belly.
Sour Lemon was fully formed, a mix of juice and peel but with a more boiled marmalade note than a raw flavor.
Sour Grapefruit was fantastic. There was a lot of zest and that pine-type bitterness along with a biting tang of juice.
Sour Tangerine was sour and juicy but unlike the other two citruses, the zest notes didn’t come out until the very end.
Sour Mango was also orange, but opaque. The flavor was similar to peach, and if I wasn’t told it was mango, I probably would have guessed that. It was soft and tart but had that fuzzy fruit flavor that mangoes and peaches share.
Sour Watermelon was the darker green bean. It was pretty good, it reminded me a lot of Jolly Ranchers in the best way possible.
Sour Apple was kind of difficult for me to like. At first I though it was watermelon, it was just too vague. There was an authentic note of apple to it, but not much else.
Sour Lime was almost a key lime. There was soft vanilla note to it but it really finished sour.
Sour Blueberry was refreshing, it had a good berry note to it, almost a raspberry. I wouldn’t say it was really blueberry, but still quite fun.
Sour Grape is an unusual flavor for jelly beans. I see it a lot in hard candies but not so much in jelly beans or gummis. This grape is much like a Pixy Stix, tart and with that malic acid tangy bite and vague artificial grape flavor of soda.
Sour Strawberry had a great mix of flavors, it really had a nice floral start, like a fluffy wad of cotton candy. Then the flavor developed with strong tartness and finished with strawberry jam.
Sour Pomegranate had a lot of very dark floral berry notes to it. It never quite rang true as pomegranate, but it was still a very good bean, not as sour as the others.
Sour Cherry was well done. The flavor was bold and less medicinal than some I’ve had, with green notes and of course that sour finish that most of the beans had.
Overall, it was a good bunch of beans. Even those that I didn’t really like that much such as cherry or mango were still quite good enough that I just ate them instead of trying to pick them out. It’s hard to tell some beans apart unless you’re someplace well lit, so sort before going to movies if you really don’t want to get a flavor you dislike. I did like this flavor set better than the Jelly Belly sour variety which only has five flavors, but that’s purely personal preference.
The intensity satisfied me quite quickly, without giving me acidic burns on my tongue. The price is a bit high compared to generic beans but less than half of what you’d pay for Jelly Belly. They do pack quite a punch and I’m unlikely to finish this 13 ounce bag before Easter even with daily grazing.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Lately as the artisanal, slow and local food movement has taken hold I’ve been seeing more wholesome candy bars coming to the market. It’s an interesting idea, to take the fantastic flavor and texture combinations made famous and delicious by the mass-manufacture candy companies and tweak them with better ingredients.
But what actually makes a candy bar great. After you get past the concept and the basics of the ratios, what sets a good candy bar apart from a great candy bar? Is it the quality of the ingredients? The freshness? Can the ethical repercussions of your purchase effect your enjoyment?
When I found out that Justin Gold of Justin’s Nut Butter was releasing a version of the classic Snickers bar, I figured if anyone was going to top Mars, it might be a guy who knew and loved peanuts. The new line of bars are called, simply, Milk Chocolate Peanut, Dark Chocolate Peanut and Milk Chocolate Almond.
The press release said “Justin’s All-Natural Candy Bars contain 25% less sugar, 50% more protein and 100% more fiber than the leading conventional candy bar, Snickers.” So I was prompted to take a look at what a Snickers actually had in it and what I’d get out of it nutritionally.
Snickers Stats: 2.07 ounces - 57 grams - 280 calories 130 calories from fat
Justin’s All Natural Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar Stats: 2 ounces - 57 grams - 270 calories - 130 calories from fat
So the ingredient list may look longer on Justin’s, but that’s just because they have to qualify so many of those items with organic. A Snickers bar isn’t really made with horrible things (no high fructose corn sweetener, no palm oil, real milk products and real milk chocolate). But a big selling point is that Justin’s attempts to use sustainable ingredients. But don’t go in thinking that there are fewer calories in Justin’s, just because there’s more protein and fiber, the calories are pretty darn close and the fat is identical.
The bars look great. The wrapper’s not bad either; it doesn’t look like some sort of dog-eared hippie candy bar. So no compromises there. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but the whole bar is about the peanuts and peanut butter. The caramel is chewy and has a nice pull to it, the nougat tastes like roasted peanut butter with a little note of salt. I was missing the crunch of big peanuts though. There were some, but not quite the same thing as a Snickers, which seems to have more distinction between the layers.
Still, a very satisfying experience. Sweet, crunchy, salty and toasty with a light creamy chocolate finish. Is it better than a Snickers? It’s hard to say, I’ve been raised on the ratios of the Snickers (just like I had the same problem with Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups not quite arriving at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup experience).
The package looks remarkably like the Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar, except the small print that says Dark Chocolate and the coloring of the illustration of the bar is a little darker. If I had one piece of advice about this bar it would be to make it easier to tell them apart.
The dark chocolate that Justin’s uses is quite dark, though has a smooth buttery melt and bitter, slightly astringent finish. Part of the time I actually got a green olive note from it. The peanut and caramel and nougat ratios are otherwise the same but seem a bit brighter by the bitter chocolate counterpoint. Of the two bars, I actually preferred the Milk Chocolate, which is a bit unusual for me. The dark chocolate is just too pronounced.
It features an almond butter nougat, caramel with almonds all covered in milk chocolate. The bar, like the others, is two ounces.
All of the bars are gluten free but contain eggs, soy, dairy and either peanuts or almonds plus may have traces of other nuts.
My experience with the Snickers Almond didn’t prepare me for this bar, but it’s quite different. It tastes like almonds. The roasted flavors of almonds, not amaretto, are throughout the bar. The nougat is lightly salted and chewy as is the caramel. The nougat has fantastic toasted flavors of almonds and the caramel holds the whole almonds and almond pieces. So there’s a great deal of crunch here along with the smoother chewy textures. The milk chocolate is silky smooth, sweet and has a strong powdered dairy note to it that ties the whole thing in a bow. Of the three, this one tastes like it beats the original in texture and flavor.
The only production note I had for all of the bars was that they had voids in them. Not huge, but enough in each one that I had to wonder about what might cause them during production and how they could avoid it. The other small issue I saw was that the bottom chocolate coating was thin. On the almond bar it was thin enough that I could see the nougat through it. This can let the nougat dry out and of course messes with the flavor ratios.
On the whole, these are great bars. They don’t taste like there’s a single compromise in there. Though the press release boasted about the improved nutrition, I’d say an extra gram of protein is not why you’d choose these bars. The bars are priced at about twice what you’d pay for Snickers. But for that you get ethically sourced, organic chocolate and other organic ingredients. Some of the other hand made bars are five times the price, so when compared to that, I was pleased. The preference between them without that would come down to personal taste. I think the Snickers are more consistent, but the Justin’s bars are new and I’ve only eaten four (two of the Milk Chocolate Peanut) plus the samples I had at the ExpoWest trade show so all were extremely fresh.
Update 9/17/2012: Either I misread something earlier this year or something change, but the Justin’s Candy Bars do not use fair-trade certified chocolate. The Peanut Butter Cups in both Dark and Milk do, but the Candy Bars do not at this time. I have edited the above review to reflect that information. I apologize if that was confusing to anyone in the interim (but please, always read the packages and/or websites of the candy companies, as they are more likely to have up-to-date information).
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
I was shopping for candy downtown at Jack’s Wholesale Candy and found these brittle disks. They’re made by a local company named Las Trojes which is based in Anaheim. I’m not quite sure what the name means, as troje is a granary or barn but could also be a storehouse.
The packages are quite simple, and do a fantastic job of showing off the product. They’re all extremely simple: a mix of sugar and seeds and/or nuts. They were also very inexpensive, at only $1 each for a two ounce package.Seed brittles are a beguilingly good snack but they’re also a great way to bind together vexing little seeds into something easier to transport and consume.
I picked up all three varieties they had at the store.
The packaging features a thick piece of cellophane folded over the round disk and held in place by the label sticker on the back (or is it the front?).
Las Trojes Pepitoria Mixed Seeds Brittle is quite a gorgeous little find. There are peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds, coconut and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) with only the addition of sugar to hold it all together. There are no added oils or partially hydrogenated fats or gelatins. It’s a vegan snack.
The disk is easy to snap apart for eating. It’s firm and crisp, but if you live in a humid area, they can become a sticky mess quite quickly. I don’t expect these would do well in parts of Texas or Florida for that reason.
The distribution of nuts and seeds is pretty even, I didn’t find parts that seemed to be all one nut, though peanuts were by far the largest bulk. The plank smells quite toasty, with a little note of toasted sesame and perhaps even a bit of burnt nuts. The sugar has a honey note to it but doesn’t add a whole lot of sweetness to the brittle, as there really isn’t much more than is needed to bind everything together. The pepitas, peanuts and sesame seeds have the strongest flavor, I didn’t catch much of a contribution from the almonds or coconut.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Coconut Brittle is a great looking disk. It’s thick and crisp and doesn’t look like anything you’d make at home with store bought coconut flakes. These look fresh and rustic.
The brittle has a little bit more bend to it, probably because the coconut is more fibrous and makes breaking it a little harder. The toasted coconut scent is incredible, the caramel and creamy tropical notes all swirl together. Though there’s a lot of crunch at first, it turns very chewy after that. The toffee flavor of the burnt sugar is great and again, it’s far from being too sweet, though it is the sweetest of the three products.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Pepita Brittle is a great mix of greens and browns, the pumpkin seeds are glossy and toasty. I love pepitas in trail mixes, but I never eat them on their own. It smells like toasted pumpkin seeds, just like you’d expect. The seeds are crunchy and a little grassy tasting. This is the least sweet of the entire set and for the most part it’s about the pumpkin seeds. Though some of the seeds looked a bit burnt, I didn’t get the same sort of bitter toasted note from this that I did with the mixed brittle.
They’re all beautiful and wholesome snacks that barely qualify as candy. That’s not to say that they’re not laden with calories. The Pepita one is the leanest at 260 calories for the 2 ounce portion, but it also has 7 grams of protein and only 16 grams of sugars. The Mixed Brittle is 300 calories but packs 8 grams of protein and only 15 grams of sugar. The fat in there is from the nuts and seeds, which are generally regarded to be better for you than dairy or animal fats ... though still watch the calorie count. The Coconut one comes in as full on candy, even with only two ingredients with 310 calories, 200 of them from fat and only 3 grams of protein.
All the nutrition aside, I find these sorts of snacks more satisfying than many candies. There’s a great mix of textures and flavors, plus they’re really beautiful to look at. I’d definitely pick these up again, but I’d probably try to share them. They work far better when consumed right after opening and of course I find it hard to keep from eating the whole package anyway.
Monday, March 05, 2012
Mars has introduced White Chocolate M&Ms a couple of times in the past, most notably the M&Ms Pirate Pearls tie in with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
This new Easter version of M&Ms White Chocolate is a little different in all the right ways.
The first thing is the appropriateness. White Chocolate is inextricably tied to my memories of Easter. The white confection works so well with pastel colors, it’s milky sweetness just embodies the sugary overload of the season.
I picked up this bag at Target, it’s over a half a pound but still a little pricey at $3.19 for the bag at regular price. Though they’re Easter themed, with the Red M&M wearing a furry white rabbit suit on the package, it’s just the colors. There are no little icons on them like M&Ms has done in the past with the holiday versions.
The morsels are larger than regular M&Ms. I’ve come to expect this with the limited edition M&Ms. The Dark Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also oversized and part of me wonders if they’re just using the former Mega M&Ms production line or the M&Ms Premium.
The large size and thick shell means that there are a lot of textures going on, and each gets to shine. The shell is crunchy and crisp. The light coloring means that there’s no perceptible off flavoring from the colors for me. The centers are smooth and creamy. When I say cream, it’s like it’s real dairy cream. Instead of tasting like frosting, these taste more like vanilla pudding. The white chocolate has both a lot of cocoa butter and milk solids in it. Cocoa butter is the second ingredient, so it’s quite light without being overly sweet or greasy.
While I wasn’t blown away by the earlier Pirate Pearls, this larger size and less sweet flavor is really quite good. Granted, you have to like white chocolate in the first place, but for a mass-marketed white chocolate product, Mars has addressed a lot of the confections shortcomings quite well.
The package lists possible allergens as peanuts, almonds and wheat and it’s definitely made with dairy and soy. Mars has not released any information about going fair trade or ethically sourcing their current American cocoa products, though they’re planning release of ethically trade chocolate products in Europe. (More on that here at Change.org.)
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Bees & Beans is a Portland, Oregon artisan candy bar maker. Faith Dionne says, “These are candy bars that you can feel great about eating.” I found the bar at BiRite Market in San Francisco’s Mission District, one of the best places I know to find artisan candy.
The Honey Bar is Honey caramel, salted filbert and honey nougat, hand dipped in dark chocolate with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Many of the ingredients are organic and, as much as possible, they are sourced locally in Oregon.
Based on the ingredients list, I believe this chocolate is sourced from Scharffen Berger. The Bees & Beans site says that they use both Theo Chocolate, which is fair trade, and Scharffen Berger, which is not, and is owned by Hershey’s. (Theo does not use soy lecithin.)
The construction of the bar is interesting, the caramel is on the bottom, the nougat on the top, then a coating of very dark chocolate sprinkled with sea salt. It looks just like a candy bar.
The nougat is almost marshmallowy. It’s soft and fluffy and has a bit of a pull when bitten, a silky sort of chew without any hint of sugary grain. The caramel is soft, not too chewy as to make the bar fall apart when bitten. There’s a sprinkling of salt on top, but also a fair amount of salt, as far as my tongue can detect, in both the caramel and the nougat. The filberts are only lightly toasted but have an excellent crunch, almost like a macadamia nut instead of like a hazelnut.
There is no perfect analogue to this in the mass-manufactured candy bar offerings in the United States. (Perhaps the European Nestle Nuts would be similar.) The textures are great and the ingredients are top notch. The prevalence of the honey flavors also sets this apart from so many other candies that might use honey but not enough to make it part of the texture and flavor profile to this degree. The short shelf life is an issue for folks like me who like to stock up (they sell the bars online in quad packs), but I was lucky to pick mine up a month ago and still eat it within its 2 month window of freshness. If I had to chose between this bar and the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew bar (which is all nougat and no caramel), it’d be hard. Bees & Beans makes several other bars that all sound fantastic, including a seasonal Malt Bar that I’ll have to order soon.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Ferrara Pan which is known for Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs got into the chocolate business a few years back making very good domestic versions of segmented chocolate oranges (with Belgian chocolate) and panned nut treats. This new Ferrara Chocolate group is also creating some new holiday items, I was excited to see these fun speckled eggs called Candy Coated Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs at Walgreen’s.
The bag is priced pretty well, at $2.49 for a half a pound, it’s about what I will pay for Almond M&Ms on sale.
The eggs are a nice size, indicating that they either have a lot of chocolate in there or start with very large almonds. They’re a milk chocolate product with a lot of milk in them. The first ingredient in the chocolate coating is sugar, the second is whole milk. So, that’s some milky chocolate. The coatings are attractive. They start with a pastel base and have little speckles on them. Some are quite speckled, others have barely a burnishing of color.
The ratios are great, the chocolate is thick and the almonds are nicely sized and well roasted to a crunch. The milky chocolate is sweet, but not that Easter-cloying sweetness. The level of milk in it gives it a cool melt on the tongue and a light toffee and dairy finish. The other notes are a bit of smoke, either from the chocolate itself or the almonds and maybe a hint of cinnamon (they are the makers of Red Hots). The shell is a little thinner than M&Ms so it has a lighter crunch.
They’re good. Good enough that I ate the whole bag in three days. They’re different from M&Ms, the melt of the chocolate is less sweet and less fudgy and a little smoother, but the flavor isn’t quite as intense. I prefer the look of the Ferrera to M&Ms and the consistent shape of the candies.
The candies are Kosher and made in the United States with Belgian chocolate. No gluten statement. There’s also no statement about the sourcing of the cacao and ethical concerns on the package or their website.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
One of the earlier reviews I did on Candy Blog of a favorite Easter candy was for Wonka SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. They were large SweeTarts in the shape of spring animals. At that time they came in Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple and Grape. Later, around 2008, the flavors were shifted to include the Blue Punch, Grape and Cherry only.
What I loved about the Easter edition was the flavor set, which really only had one flavor I didn’t like (Cherry) and the extremely dense and large pieces (over one inch across). See this photo from the 2006 package. They sounded like plastic poker chips and were so much harder that they required an entirely different eating method from the less dense tablets.
This year, not only has the flavor set been changed but the size as well. It’s a different product for those of us who loved the former. It’s more like the Valentine’s edition. They now have a more traditional set of flavors: Orange, Grape, Cherry, Blue Punch and Green Apple. (No Lemon.) They still come in the shape of chicks, bunnies and ducks, but they’re quite small now, less than half an inch across.
Orange and Grape are exactly like the tablets from the roll. They’re tart, almost to the point that they’re salty. The grape is completely artificial, like a grape soda. The orange is bland, like a more sour version of Kool-Aid. The Cherry is quite strong, more on the woodsy side than the medicinal version. It’s sour, like a sour cherry flavor, not a black cherry or wild cherry. The Green Apple is tasty, and quite sour with less flavor than some other green apple candies. The Blue Punch flavor came along after my obsession with SweeTarts waned, which is good, because I really don’t care for it, even though it is one of the more intensely flavored pieces in the mix and doesn’t get messed up with a red flavor after taste.
The little guys do actually stand up and they’re molded on both sides, I appreciate that attention to detail. The flavor set is now 3/5 in my wheel house, which are not great odds. I really only love the orange and grape and will eat the green apple. The cherry and blue punch are equally artificial in their flavoring, but just not to my liking. I could probably go back to giving these at 10 out of 10 if lemon was still in there. How could you have something called a SweeTart without the one fruit that actually is exactly that?
I’m disappointed that the special-ness of the SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies is now gone. They were different from all the other SweeTarts candies, they were large but also more substantial and really wonderfully pressed. There’s really nothing wrong with these, except that they’re missing the lemon ... which is a very nice pastel color that fits right in with the season plus the fact that little ducks and chicks are actually yellow. But there’s no need for me to stock up on these.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Morinaga caramels from Japan are classics; they’ve been around for about a hundred years. They’re cute little cubes made with real milk in the traditional style. They come in seasonal and limited edition flavors. Some return like Black Sugar, Adzuki and Matcha. The new one I found this year is Morinaga Satsumaimo Caramels, which are sweet potato flavored. I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me.
They come boxed just like the other varieties. It’s sealed in cellophane to keep the caramels fresh, so once the box is open, it’s best to eat them within a few weeks. The little sleeve holds a tray with a dozen foil wrapped cubes.
It smells milky and a little earthy, like pumpkin or adzuki. The flavor is rather like squash or yam. The milky notes are caramelized and toasty with only a faint hint of bitterness. The sweet potato flavor is rooty and earthy without tasting like beets. It’s a wholesome and satisfying flavor that isn’t overtly sweet.
The chew is smooth, with a slight grain to it, not as distinct as fudge and certainly creamy and chewier than a Kraft caramel. It didn’t matter how long I chewed it, it maintained its texture instead of disintegrating into grainy bits. It was a slow and smooth dissolve.
I easily ate the whole package shortly after taking the photos, holding off on the last two in order to finish up the review. And then last weekend I popped down to Little Tokyo and found another box ... and promptly ate those within a day. (I also bought a Coffee Caramel version, which I started eating without photographing. All I can say on that is that I recommend them.) They’re expensive for just a plain old box of caramels, but they’re certainly distinctive and an easily afforded treat to share.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.