Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One of the new items at Trader Joe’s candy section is a twist on an old fashioned favorite, a chocolate covered caramel. I’ve always wanted a better Milk Dud and Trader Joe’s as been doing a good job of providing some tantalizing options over the years.
The newest is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels which comes in a 7 ounce gusseted bag with a resealable top. They describe them as Soft and creamy, deeply flavored butterscotch caramels are tinged with sea salt and enrobed in dark, slightly bitter chocolate to offset the sweetness.
I was wondering if these were the same as the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels sold in the small, single serving lavender bags. The ingredients are remarkably similar, with one difference: the Butterscotch Caramels use tapioca syrup instead of corn syrup. So these are free of corn (or at least don’t have any stated corn ingredients).
The flavor is very, well, butterscotchy. They taste like a butter flavor, but not an overtly artificial one like some fake popcorn topping can but more like a maple, woodsy flavor with stronger dairy notes. Instead it’s just rich and a little less sweet than the Tahitian Vanilla variety.
The dark chocolate coating is mild, on the semi-sweet side but has a creamy melt with a little smoky and pipe tobacco profile to it, instead of a dried fruit flavor that some darks can have.
I had wondered when the Tahitian Vanilla Caramels came out whether they’d be available in a bulk bag for serving in a bowl (or creating your own snack mix). This is a pretty good value at $3.49 (which is about $8 per pound) and the ingredients are all natural. I hope these stick around after the holidays, they might make a great travel mix with raw almonds, pretzels and milk chocolate drops. For right now they might just be my go-to candy for sneaking into a movie theater.
There is no statement or any info I can find about the sourcing of the ingredients, specifically the ethical sourcing of the chocolate. They also contain palm kernel oil (though very low on the list). They’re made with milk and soy and may contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, December 3, 2012
The Peeps Gingerbread are a little harder to find than the Snowmen and Christmas Trees. In my case I bought them at the overpriced FAO Schweetz because I was concerned I wouldn’t find them anywhere else. ($3.49 for a package of 6.)
The name pretty much says it all, they’re spiced cookie flavored marshmallows in the shape of a trio or conjoined gingerbread men. The package has two rows of cookies, all in a fancifully designed package that looks like a gingerbread house. I looked over the packages carefully, as they have the expected icing eyes and mouths, but some were not smiling. I chose the happiest looking set I could find.
A serving is a whole row of Gingerbread Men, which is about 1.1875 ounces and only has 120 calories. (They’re gluten free but may contain traces of milk. There’s no statement about peanuts or tree nuts.) Each Gingerbread Man is about 2.75 inches high.
They smell quite nice, like toasted marshmallows. The marshmen are coated with a brown sugar crust that has a light, spicy flavor that might described as “cinnamon.” The marshmallow center is a similar creamy brown color but has less flavor. It might just be a brown sugar flavor, which is fine with me, I like the slight toffee note to the usually overly sweet marshmallows. I wish they were a little more spiced, I’m not getting any hints of ginger or cardamom or even clove. But it’s a Peep, which is the mildest of all candies, so I shouldn’t expect too much from them.
Overall, it’s a great combination of flavor and form and makes far more sense as a holiday novelty than so many other Peeps. The only thing missing are the gum drop buttons and raisin eyes. My next step might be to try them in hot chocolate. (I often put a bit of spice in my hot chocolate, usually nutmeg and cardamom, so this may go very nicely.)
Monday, November 5, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Monday, October 15, 2012
As a kid, a Toblerone bar was a special treat reserved for holidays, partly because they were expensive and partly because they were difficult to find year round. The bar was different from anything else on the market from the shape of the box and the exotic name to the interesting combination of flavors and textures.
The Toblerone company was bought from Jacob Suchard in 1990 by Kraft and is still made in Bern, Switzerland. The bars are much easier to find now, and easily located any time of the year. Their newest bar released in the United States is the Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond and features Swiss milk chocolate with salted caramelized almonds and honey and almond nougat.
Rosa at ZOMG Candy gave the bar pretty high marks, so I was eager to find one in the wild. I spotted them at Walgreen’s over the weekend, though not on sale. It’s $2.99 for the 100 gram (3.5 ounce) bar, which is what I’d expect to pay for something from Kraft that’s in their Green & Black’s range of ethically sourced and all natural chocolate.
The serving size is 1/3 of the bar, and it would be nice if they just said how many peaks that is (there are 12 in the bar, so 4 is a serving). But I did like the packaging. The snug triangular box protects the bar, even though it’s just in a thin foil wrapper inside. I liked the color and the bold, simple design. The nutrition panel, otherwise, is really easy to read.
The look of the bar is the same as the classic milk chocolate bar. Inside I expected to see more almonds, as they’re both in the nougat bits and included as the salted pieces as well. The bar smells milky and sweet. The bite is soft and has a lot more crispy bits in it than I was accustomed to. The chocolate is fudgy and has a lot of milky flavors to it, mostly it holds together the inclusions. The nougat pieces are crispy ... unless they’re a little bigger which may mean that they’re a little tacky if chewed. The almonds are a little larger and have a nice, fresh crunch to them. As for the salt promised, I didn’t really taste it. There’s only 55 mg per serving, so it’s not a liberal dose. Though I can’t say that I perceived it, I will say that this bar seemed less sweet than the standard Toblerone. I actually prefer this to the Classic.
Kraft and Toblerone have scant information on the sourcing of their ingredients except to say that the chocolate is not Fair Trade on their website in the FAQ section and the the cocoa is sourced from around the world (well, at least it’s Earth chocolate). The bars contain milk, soy, almonds and eggs plus are manufactured on shared equipment with other tree nuts.
Friday, October 5, 2012
As I mentioned in some recent reviews, I’ve been chewing more gum lately. It’s hard to find gum that’s doesn’t use artificial sweeteners, but the market has expanded in the past few years as consumers have searched for alternatives to aspartame.
I picked up this package of Glee Gum Sugar Free Peppermint before a recent plane trip but then forgot to take it with me. So I’ve been munching on it at the office.
Unlike sugared gums and other sugar free gums, chewing gum made with xylitol has an amazing cool feeling on the tongue. The candy coating on the Glee chiclets only enhances that.Glee is also made with all non genetically modified ingredients (including sunflower lecithin) and a natural gum base made from real chicle.
The flavor is a mild peppermint, it’s clean and not too overpowering but also lasts quite a long time. The chew is smooth, and while I’ve had problems with the chicle sticking to my teeth before, I don’t have that issue with the sugarless version (it could also be that I’ve had some of my fillings replaced since I started Candy Blog).
Sometimes I find sugar free gums have a strange, metallic flavor, but in this case I got no strange notes. It was refreshing and simple. Xylitol is not a no-calorie sweetener, it’s a sugar alcohol that has a fraction of the calories of sugar. But mostly it has either no effect on the bacteria that cause cavities or, in some studies, can effectively combat it (but it takes more than just a couple of pieces of gum a few times a month). Xylitol, like most sugar alcohols, can cause stomach distress when consumed in large quantities by some people. Gum is usually not an issue, unless you’re chewing more than one package a day if you happen to be one of those sensitive people.
This is pretty much my go-to gum now. I still prefer real Chiclets because of the satisfaction of chewing the sugar out and then going for three more pieces. But this is probably better for my oral health, the flavor lasts longer and is made with all natural ingredients. Now I’m hoping they’ll come out with more flavors, like cinnamon.
Glee Gum does come in little single-serving boxes for Halloween treating, however, the sugar free varieties are not available yet. As far as I can tell, this would be the perfect item for folks who are nut-free, gluten-free and sugar-free to give out without seeming like stick-in-the-muds. (But it would help if it also came in the bubble gum flavor, too.)
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Poco Dolce is a small confectioner based in San Francisco known mostly for their lovely toffee tiles (really, take a look). A few years ago they started making specialty chocolate bars as well.
The one I picked up in San Francisco was one I was particularly looking forward to. It’s simply called Hazelnut Bar made with bittersweet chocolate. The ingredients are exceptionally simple, chocolate, hazelnut butter and sea salt. Since it’s a dark chocolate, it’s also vegan (though processed where it may have come in contact with milk proteins, other tree nuts or peanuts and there’s no statement about the sourcing of the sugar).
Poco Dolce sources their chocolate from nearby Guittard Chocolate Company, choosing from their Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate. The hazelnut butter comes from Oregon.
The bar is not that large, though the box makes it seem like it would be close to one of those 3 ounce tablets. Instead this one is 1.763 ounces ... or what I’d consider a very generous single portion.
The dark bar is nicely tempered and the smooth hazelnut butter is well integrated. The texture is smooth, no hint of hazelnut bits but a strong hazelnut flavor. The bar is bitter, but in a roasted way. The melt is good, though a little firmer than a regular dark bar at first, but has a lighter feel on the tongue than a straight chocolate. It’s lightly sweet and lightly salty, deeply chocolatey and nutty. It’s also exceptionally filling. About two pieces were a great pick me up. So while the bar was expensive and small, I felt like it lasted a long time.
One of my complaints about hazelnut paste (gianduia) as I’ve gotten older is that it’s too sticky and too sweet. This bar has none of those issues, yet still remains decadent.
Monday, July 9, 2012
During the holidays they do a few just marshmallow pieces, like a large marshmallow heart for Valentine’s. But I’ve found that they’re not the same honey flavor or the same dense texture.
I picked up their new box of See’s Milk and Dark Marshmallow. At the moment they’re sold in the single format, there are six marshmallows in the box, three of the milk chocolate covered variety and three of the dark chocolate covered.
They’re the same size and shape as the Scotchmallow, but instead of a single twirl of chocolate on top, these have three rows of chocolate swirls. Each piece is about 60 calories, so a pair might make a good treat yet still pretty spare on the calorie side.
The first is the Milk Chocolate Marshmallow. The chocolate is a pleasant, rich chocolate color. The Guittard-made chocolate is good, it’s smooth and has a strong dairy and deep roasted cocoa flavor to it.
The marshmallow is bouncy and dense. It’s hard to photograph because it looks like a solid white mass, but it’s actually filled with tiny, tiny bubbles, instead of big ones. The marshmallow is smooth, it has no starchy or chalky flavor like the extruded ones for toasting. The vanilla flavors are subtle and there’s a light note of honey, but it’s very mild.
I’ve usually shied away from the milk chocolate version of the Scotchmallow, but in this case the simple balance of the sweet milk chocolate and the frothy marshmallow is well done.
The Dark Chocolate covered Marshmallow starts off a little, well, underwhelming. It looks great, it’s glossy and because I bought these in a box, they weren’t all scuffed up like the stuff I pick out at the store that they toss in a bag.
But it smells a little, well, sweet and kind of fake.
After cracking the chocolate shell though, that changes. The real vanilla notes come out right away. They’re thick and like dark rum. The honey notes comes to the front, like a floral syrup in my nose. The chocolate is not overwhelmingly dark, but it has enough bitter notes that play against the sweetness of the honey and vanilla. The vanilla is soft and cushy, like the marshmallow texture. The chocolate has a dry finish that’s swept away by the thick honey.
I love the play of this. Mostly I liked eating the sides of chocolate off, and having a more marshmallow and less chocolate. I look forward to seeing these in the candy case so I can just get one or two of them.
One of my favorite of the boxed pieces is the Scotchmallow. It’s a layered piece, a base of chewy caramel then a layer of fluffy yet dense honey marshmallow, all covered in dark chocolate. They’ve even started selling them in “quick to go” packages in the store of half pound bags. I’ve always loved See’s caramel, as it was the first commercial caramel I found that reminded me of my grandmother’s homemade. But for this piece it’s the honey flavors of the marshmallow that really sell it.
See’s chocolate are made on shared equipment that may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts. It also contains milk, eggs, soy and gelatin.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Candy coated chocolates are so simple, yet so many folks find many of the commercial ingredients objectionable. It seems like it would be easy to make a good chocolate lentil with all natural, wholesome ingredient. Yet, here we are in 2012, and I can’t say that I like any of the alternatives to M&Ms very much.
You can imagine that I greeted the new UNREAL candy line with a bit of trepidation and suspicion. After all, if it could be done, why isn’t it done? (Try Sundrops.)
The UNREAL line uses all natural ingredients, specifically no artificial colors, no preservatives, no GMOs and no hydrogenated oils. The two elements that are interest in the instance of M&Ms would be artificial colors (which can make some colors taste bad to some consumers and have been linked with hyperactivity and other sensitivities with some kids) and genetically modified organism.
Part of what irritates me is their positioning of this candy on their website. They compare the candy to M&Ms and to a fresh peach. The listing of qualities below the specs for #41 Candy Coated Chocolates is:
Okay, that’s great. But to be fair, M&Ms do not have any partially hydrogenated oils and no preservatives. And a peach also has none of those (though I’d say that somewhere out there, there are GMO peaches, I don’t think they’re commercial at this time.) The comparisons are also a little skewed by the portion sizes. M&Ms are sold in bags of 1.69 ounces (47.9 grams) and UNREAL #41 are 1.5 ounces (42 grams). So the grid is not converted to a one to one comparison.
The little candies are pretty, and I appreciate that they don’t look as unnatural as I ofter regard M&Ms to be (the blue and red ones, especially). However, the colors are a little on the dark and morose side. Honestly, I don’t know why they have to be so dark, why couldn’t it just be a touch of color, instead of some sort of thick slathering of turmeric extract?
The lentils are slightly smaller than M&Ms but consistent for the most part and well made. The package protects them, they weren’t crushed or cracked.
The flavor is interesting and far different from the wide appeal of M&Ms. They’re creamy and smooth, the melt is great and only slightly sticky. The crunchy shell is crisp and has a great dissolve, depending on your eating style. But the chocolate is where these little lentils are completely different from M&Ms or any other chocolate candy lentils.
The chocolate is smoky, rather dark and has a toffee and charcoal note from both the cocoa and milk. I get a lot of bitterness from it, something I noticed in the peanut butter cups, but it was well moderated by the peanut butter center. Here, it’s just the chocolate and the candy shell. I didn’t care for the intensity, however, I recognize that not all people detect bitterness in the same way. So some folks may find these delightful, I found they required a little more effort on my part to appreciate.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The UNREAL #54 Candy Coated Chocolates with Peanuts have a consistent package with the rest of the UNREAL line, this one with a neon or highlighter green and yellow logo and little candies scattered across the front of the package.
This packet also holds 1.5 ounces with the same sticker price as the non-natural M&Ms which are 1.74 ounces.
I’ve often found that Peanut M&Ms, though good, are not my favorite when given a choice. In this case, I preferred the UNREAL #54 to the UNREAL #41. The nuts were fresh, big and not roasted too dark. The bitterness of the chocolate was still there, but moderated by the savory characteristics of the peanuts.
A curious item on the nutrition panel says that the Peanut variety has 45% of your daily value of Calcium and the Milk Chocolate one has 50% of your daily value. The full ingredients list shows that it’s not the milk that’s contributing that (M&Ms have about 4% of your DV), it’s Calcium Carbonate. (No source is given for that, is it oyster shell? Egg shells? Bone meal?) Full ingredients:
So, it still has that inulin stuff in it that I remarked about in the #77 Peanut Butter Cup review. It’s basically a nice, clean candy that has some nutritional fortification. Personally, I’d prefer just clean candy and let me get my nutrition elsewhere.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I like the line. I’m annoyed at the marketing and lack of true information (but they’re new and I’m still waiting for a response to my email on Saturday). But the candy is good, they’re on the right track and I’m excited about it. It would be fun to see where they go with it, if they create a few candies that are vegan as well, or at least dairy free.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.