Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Sometimes I wonder if these energy bars are really better than plain old candy bars. Back in the depression candy bars were meal replacements. Many were packed with nuts and over two ounces, which made them a pretty cheap source of satisfying calories at a nickle.
Of course the object these days is not the maximum number of calories per ounce, but how good the nutrition profile is.
When I want a little lasting energy & snack, I usually reach for some sort of nutty bar, as they tend to have a good amount of protein. Payday bars are always dependable. But I’m also a fan of Lara Bars, which are basically mashed up almonds and dates with a few spices thrown in. At about twice the price though, I often grab the Payday ... and I don’t feel that bad about it.
This sounded familiar. In fact, it looked familiar ... very familiar. The Take 5 features pretzels, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter and milk chocolate. Wow, not much difference there ... even in the ordering of the elements.
Well, Twisted was $1.29 and a Take 5 is $.89 at the 7-11.
I’ve reviewed the Take 5 before and I stand by it. It’s a good bar with a lot of variety of texture in it, not too sweet and because it’s in two pieces, it’s easy to have a little now, have a little later.
The Twisted bar is merely a Tiger’s Milk bar covered in weak chocolate with a pretzel thrown in. It smells like baby formula. It seriously tasted like I was chomping on vitamin leather or something. I often enjoy things that are rather unpalatable, just because I’m fascinated by all the different flavors there are and maybe catty things I can say about it. I didn’t enjoy this, even for the prospect of reviewing it. Luckily the two piece format of the Take 5 meant that I had a palate cleansing second piece at hand.
So you might feel like you’re doing the right thing when you eat this lower calorie version of a Take 5, but you’re certainly not going to enjoy it.
I have to admit that it’s probably unfair to match a candy bar with an energy bar ... but hey, that’s the breaks. They started it by packaging it to look an awful lot like the Take 5.
For some other balanced reviews of snack bars, check out I Ate a Pie’s special roundup from earlier this year.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
They’re simply a little nibble of licorice covered in a thin sugar shell. Rather like a Jordan Almond, the shell is added in a process called panning, where a sugar syrup is added to the little licorice bites and tumbled and dried and then colored. Good & Plenty come in only two colors, pink and white. (Most other licorice pastilles come in pastels or bright colors, like the version made by Jelly Belly Confections.)
Most licorice pastilles are expensive, but Good & Plenty are surprisingly affordable, probably because they don’t have as much of a candy shell as some others.
The flavor of Good & Plenty is more complex, I think, than some of the European pastilles. First, the sugar coating doesn’t completely contain the licorice flavor so when you stick your nose into a movie-sized box of Good & Plenty and you get a woodsy whiff of anise. The sugar shell isn’t very crunchy, in fact, it’s a little grainy, but it works pretty well for Good & Plenty, letting the flavor permeate. The licorice itself has a high sweet overtone and then the molasses hits, dark and slightly burnt and with a light salty bite. After it’s gone there’s a lingering sweetness and clean licorice/anise flavor ... until you pop the next few in your mouth.
For this review I tried both the new Fresh from the Factory Good & Plenty and a rather fresh box from the convenience store near the office. There were a couple of differences. The molasses flavor seemed a little more pronounced in the FFTF&P and the sugar shell seemed a little softer. The still-fresh-in-the-box Good & Plenty had a mellower, more licorice-intense flavor and a slightly stronger shell. (It might have been my imagination, but the FFTF ones also looked a bit plump.)
While some of the other Fresh from the Factory offerings seem a bit steep in price, the Good & Plenty version, in a 4 pound tub is a bit better deal for $25 ($6.24 per pound). The window to order has closed at the moment (though I believe they’ll cycle through again). Good & Plenty in bulk on the internet is $3.90 a pound for 5 pounds ... or $3.24 a pound for 10 pounds, so it’s not like there aren’t deals out there.
I’ve found the sealed plastic peg bags sold at the grocery or drug stores are the freshest, the boxed Good & Plenty can be tough. But then again, I like mine tough, the candy shell is more crackly and of course it takes longer to eat. While I love Good & Plenty and it’s one of the few candies that I still purchase on a regular basis even with all the other stuff I have to get through, sometimes I prefer the crisper shell of the European varieties (but not the steep price).
Good & Plenty is one of America’s oldest continuously produced candy brands, here are a few moments in their corporate history:
1983 - Leaf and its brands is sold to Finnish company Huhtamaki Oy
Though the company has changed hands a few times and even moved factories (at least three different locations that I know of), the packaging has stayed pretty much the same. A little box with Good & Plenty candies pictured on the the outside and the name inside a circle ... when I was a kid it had a black background, now it’s a purple one. The black, pink & white color combination is often known as “good & plenty” in crafting and decorating circles. Somewhere along the way it dropped the more formal “and” in favor of an ampersand, probably when they became part of Hershey’s.
For many years Good & Plenty was also known for their cartoon mascot, Choo Choo Charlie. I found this video on YouTube of an old commercial:
These sorts of ads are probably not going to be around any longer, advertising candy to children is going away. Though candy offers empty calories, it does have some highlights. Candies like Good & Plenty make it easy for kids to share, learn portioning and resealable boxes reward self-restraint. Many boxes were also pretty versatile ... you could shake your box as a percussion instrument when it has candy in it and when empty, you can blow into it like a reed instrument. The current boxes don’t have the tucked tab design that do that ... the day they got rid of those was the day the music died.
Good & Plenty is made with wheat flour so is unsuitable for those with wheat allergies or gluten-intolerance. It’s also colored with Carmine derived from insects and therefore not suitable for vegans. Good & Plenty are certified Kosher.
Candy Addict’s Twizzler’s FFTF review (I totally agree with everything he said)
Good & Plenty is listed as one of the top arousing scents for women (yeah, if you’re looking for some lovin’ splurge for the super-scented Fresh from the Factory).
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
As a kid the best caramels I ever had were the ones that my grandmother would make every holiday season. They were large, two bite caramels usually studded with nuts. She’d make them fresh in large batches and give our family a large tin of them. They were the size of my thumb (my adult thumb, not my child-sized one) and wrapped in twisted wax paper.
Dense, firm and chewy they were the perfect combination of sugar and butter. Later, for my sixteenth birthday my grandmother gave me the recipe (along with a candy thermometer, which I still have). A simple concoction of sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and butter, it was the careful boiling that made all the difference. I’ve made a lot of caramels since then. No two batches are the same (though hers were always consistent).
For years I looked for a mass-manufactured version that would satisfy that desire for some chewy burnt sugar and dairy fat. The closest thing I ever found were See’s caramels, but those weren’t easy to come by when I lived in the far recesses of Northern California. Kraft caramels, while interesting don’t have that chewy pull and a rather bland flavor. Marathons were long gone, Rolos are too runny and don’t even get me started on the sauce bar known as Caramello.
Enter the Storck Chocolate Riesen, a popular candy in Germany and later covered in chocolate and introduced in the United States. Sure Grandma’s caramels were plain and these were chocolate, but the essential texture was there. I found them for the first time at the Canned Foods Warehouse in Eureka, CA. Those were the days where I was on a limited budget but still found some discretionary cash for such indulgences. Riesen put me over the moon when they had them in stock.
The caramels are individually wrapped, a dark and chocoatey caramel covered in dark chocolate.
They smell luxurious, like sweet chocolate. One bite and there’s a soft and slow chew as the chocolate melts and the dark burnt flavors the caramel start to burst through. The caramel is smooth and rich and not even terribly sweet.
Riesen are still made by Storck in Germany, who also make the indulgent Toffifay, creamy Werther’s, sassy Mambas and elusive Merci. In case you’re wondering, Riesen means “giant” in German. I wonder if they also make a plain caramel, I’d love to try it.
If you’re someone with a real chocolate jones but on a limited diet, this might make a good indulgence. The candies are individually wrapped, so it’s easy to parcel them out for portion control. Yes, three of them have 170 calories, but only 6 grams of fat that belie the deep and satisfying chocolate experience. Instead of gnawing on something that just leaves you unsatisfied, why not have a long-lasting creamy chew?
They should really make these in single stack-packs like they do with Mambas. I would probably buy these much more often if I could find them with the other candy bars instead of the peg bags at the grocery/drug stores. The caramel is above and beyond anything that you’d get in a Milk Dud (and these have real chocolate on them) or Snickers bar.
These caramels do have whey in them (and other dairy products) so I’m not sure if it’s processed in a vegetarian manner. Yes, I bought these at the 99 Cent Only store, but they have an expiration date of 2/2008 on them ... they were definitely fresh.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Nope, no special text on these, they’re totally a regular product now.
So, go about your business. No need to hoard them or buy them on eBay. Just buy them whenever you want them.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Here I was lamenting that Starburst wasn’t making the flavors I wanted when there are companies out there that make exactly what I like: strong citrus flavored chews. A couple of weeks ago I ordered from JBox. Even though my local Japanese markets in Little Tokyo stock a huge variety of candies, they always seem to miss the fringy things.
The first item I wanted to try was Valencia Orange HiCHEW.
The candy is fresh and has that inimitable bounce that HiCHEWs always deliver. The orange flavor is well rounded, sweet and a little tangy with a good juicy zest bite to it. It’s not quite tangy enough for me, though it gets tangier and more latexy as the chew goes on.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The one that really got me off my duff to place an order was Yuzu HiCHEW. I didn’t even know what that was, but it had a sliced yellow fruit on the front.
Yuzu is an Asian citrus that most of us know from Ponzu sauce. It’s kind of like grapefruit with a little lime and a little tangerine thrown in. Technically I guess the fruit is a hybrid of the Papeda Lemon and the Mandarin Orange. It’s an exceptionally hardy citrus that can tolerate frost and freezing temperatures, though not particularly attractive, it’s treasured for its peel.
The lemon notes come out loud and clear early on, then the mellow tangerine juice kicks in and at the end of the chew a really enticing grapefruit zest come out and ends with a slight bitterness. I bought two packs of both of these and as I write this, the Yuzu has three pieces left.
Rating: 9 out of 10
JBox sells them for $1.40 (plus shipping) which is a bit more than the dollar or so that I pay at the local markets. But if you don’t have a local market, that hardly matters. Full disclosure: JBox gave me a gift certificate so that I could try more of the stuff in their inventory, I’ve ordered from them before and like their selection. Even though everything was shipped slowboat, it arrived in great condition. They don’t always have all items in stock, but they just launched a new feature where you can get an RSS feed for all new items or just create a search for the items you’re waiting to be in stock. (A very dangerous feature ... the Pineapple Mentos are in!)
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
They come in a friendly yellow package with no frills. Just a the name blazoned across it and the simple description “Delicious Candy Coated Milk Caramels.” Think of them as jelly beans with a heart of caramel. (Mmmm, caramel hearts.)
Sugar Babies were originally made in 1937 by the James O. Welch Company. Not only was he the producer of the whole Sugar Family (Sugar Daddy and Sugar Mama and later Sugar Step-Mama) but also Junior Mints and Milk Duds as well as a long-gone line of fudge bars. Welch sold it to Nabisco in 1963. The Welch family of products changed hands a few more times, going from Nabisco to Warner-Lambert then to Tootsie in 1993, who makes them to this day.
The little morsels are rather soft. The chew is a little grainy at first because of the sugar shell, then becomes smooth with some nice buttery tones and burnt sugar flavors. Then it gets grainy again at the very end before dissolving into a sweet mess.
They’re such simple little candies and complement a wide variety of snacks. I always enjoyed eating them with some salted popcorn or Fritos (I haven’t had Fritos in probably ten years). They go great with ice cream (they get rock hard, then soften up), pretzels, M&Ms or Reese’s Pieces. And they’re cute! Look how cute they are ... have I ever mentioned that my dog is the same color as Sugar Babies?
For your enjoyment and education, here is the older Sugar Babies wrapper that I grew up with. The Tootsie site also features a recipe for a Molasses Spice cookie that uses Sugar Babies. You may also still be able to find the limited edition Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
I found myself frustrated last year trying to put together a “Green Halloween”, and part of that is that at Halloween we’re buying candy for strangers (trick-or-treaters). For Easter we’re buying candy for our close friends and family, so taking that extra step to pick the most wholesome and ethically produced is perhaps a little easier on the wallet. So if you’re looking to put something together this year, take a look over those product reviews for Green Halloween as most are also available for Easter (and all year round). I’ll put together an updated list of green candy choices this weekend.
Endangered Species makes their little Bug Bites in a “Hoppy Treats” version, which I think are nice Easter basket options. Since I’ve already reviewed those, I thought I’d give a new Endangered Species item a review today!
Introduced late last year, Eco-Rounds are a set of three little dark chocolates with caramelized cacao nibs. They come in a single serving “bar” (a plastic package, instead of the usual foil & paper wrapper). The little disks of chocolate are attractive, rather thick and very shiny.
While the Endangered Species Bat Bar also has cacao nibs in it, these little morsels aren’t quite as dark. The chocolate here is 60% dark instead of the 75% dark in the Bat Bar. The chocolate is smooth and a little sweet. The disks have an excellent crunch from the abundant nibs. Unlike many bars with nibs in the, these are caramelized, so they have a little sweet toffee crunch taste to them.
Excellent stuff, if these were easier to find, this might be one of my favorite new nibby items. I was very disappointed when I finished them (seriously, they could put four in there very easily)!
I think Endangered Species should really consider wrapping these individually in foil (or those little sealed sleeves they use for Bug Bites) and selling them seasonally in larger bags. I’d love a bowl of pastel ones for the spring and some fall colors later this year. Or if you want to go the non-seasonal route, maybe some different patterned foils in animal prints. Some zebra stripes, leopard Spots, tortoise shell ... it could be sassy!
Note: this is not organic, but is all natural and ethically traded. Also note that they call this dark chocolate, but the wrapper says that it contains milk products, so is not suitable for vegans. (Drat!)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.