Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
There are many wonderful people who write into Candy Blog (either via email or comments) to keep me abreast of what’s going on out there in the sweet real world. As I’m mostly a hermit, these tips are invaluable and here are my follow-ups on the most recent tips:
Assorted Fruit Headline
I rushed off to the 99 Cent Only Store to find it’s true! I haven’t opened the bag yet, but I thought I’d share my delight with everyone else. I have no idea when Ferrara Pan decided to make this mixed bag or even if it’s because of that review. Yes, you can buy them separately in little boxes, but this is a much better deal.
Also, the bag is plastic, which means that the Fruit Heads are protected from the enemy of sugar candies ... humidity. (Many of you know the disappointment of a box of Lemonheads where the poor spheres are welded to the box and each other.) I should really follow up on my request for Grapefruitheads.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps
Sandy wrote to me earlier this week to tell me that there was a malted milk ball at the Dollar Tree. Well, I don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby, but as I was already at the 99 Cent Only Store searching for the Fruit Headline, I caught a huge display of these in the peg bag section: Limited Edition Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps.
I’m not sure why they call them “chocolate crisps” because they’re malted milk balls and they’re a pretty well known segment of the American candy pantheon. These were ridiculously good and again upset me to an insane degree because they’re limited edition. The chocolate is sweet and smooth with a slight coconutty note to it. The crisp center is light and malty with only a hint of sweetness. The packaging is completely uninspired, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as it is not only a limited edition item, but Mars has hinted that they’re discontinuing the Pop’ables line anyway. These were made in Australia. Super-addictive ... I ate the whole bag at work yesterday.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate
While I was poking around in the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store, I also found this little gem: Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate.
I’ve become a recent convert to Lindt via their impulsive truffles and couldn’t resist giving this “baking” bar a try to see if it rivaled their regular Lindt Excellence 70% bar that I see for three times the price at Cost Plus. At 3.5 ounces for 99 cents, it’s a fabulous deal for high-quality chocolate. They also had a semi-sweet bar that didn’t list the cocoa content (but sugar was the first ingredient on the list instead of chocolate).
I was worried that the bar would be past its prime, but it’s glossy and dark and with a good snap. Perfectly fresh. Lindt still isn’t my favorite chocolate, but at this price, it’s hard to buy a Hershey bar. This bar was made in France.
I give this a 7 out of 10! (Worth It)
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
It’s hot. I’ve mentioned it before, and I know it’s summer ... but I’m guessing it’s hot wherever you are too and you’re wondering, “what sort of candy can I eat right now?”
But then I saw these at the 99 Cent Only Store. Tootsie has timed their new Limited Edition Pops rather well. It’s an assortment of five new flavors. Though they’re hardly tropical, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all nice flavors.
What’s great about Tootsie Pops is that there’s a bit of variety in that single sphere - a tangy piece of hard candy and the soft, vaguely chocolatey center. They’re easy to hold and don’t get you all sticky and only 60 calories a pop.
Pineapple - the one truly tropical flavor here, it’s peppy, tangy and nicely fragrant.
Tangerine - hardly tropical and barely different from the traditional orange, but I’m a huge fan of tangerine flavors and this one is pretty nice and goes really well with the lamely chocolate Tootsie Roll center.
Lemon-Lime - even less tropical because it’s not even exotic, but hey, it’s a nice sassy flavor. A little ordinary and not a very good combo with the Tootsie Roll core.
Watermelon - I’m never much of a fan of watermelon. The only watermelon I care much for is Jolly Ranchers ... but this was nice and the Tootsie Roll goes oddly well with the rather bland and sweet flavor.
Purple Punch - a rather nondescript punch flavor. Tangy, with some passion fruit notes but mostly a bland orangey.
Tootsie Pops aren’t the perfect lolly - they’re a little inconsistent, there are voids in the candy that can make them sharp from time to time and of course the twisted wrapper doesn’t always protect them from more humid conditions.
Monday, July 10, 2006
This review is in honor of the New York Times Magazine column yesterday, called Consumed and written by Rob Walker on the subject of limited edition candies.
This particular candy is the perfect example. It’s a good, tasty bar that probably has limited appeal and will therefore never be seen on shelves again. Oh, how I mourn for some of these here-and-gone bars.
When I was a teenager my mother got a hold of a tapioca pudding mix that was coconut and orange flavored. You wouldn’t think that’d be a good idea, and I’m not sure I even liked it at first, but here it is, some 25 years later and I’m still pining for it.
The Mounds Island Orange bar is as close as I’ve come to recapturing that taste. (Yes, my mother tried to make it from scratch last time I was at her house, but it just wasn’t the same - something about the proportions was wrong ... don’t get me wrong, it was still tasty and I had two helpings. I love tapioca.)
It’s a regular old Mounds bar from the outside, it doesn’t even smell any different. A strong chocolatey aroma but no trace of the orange burst that awaits inside. That’s right, the coconut is orange flavored. Zesty orange and coconut, which really cuts the sweetness of the filling and allows the chocolate to shine through. (This is a much better idea than last years Key Lime Almond Joy which had a white chocolate coating flavored with lime ... whereas I would have preferred a coconut center with some lime essence in it.)
The center is a freakish orange color, as if someone took the pulp out of a fresh orange. It’s rather unnaturally orange, and it seems pretty silly that they would color the inside of it like that. But the flavor feels natural - not chemical in the least and I really enjoyed how each of the flavors played off each other.
I bought two of these bars, mostly because I saw that Joanna loved them as well, so if you’re a Mounds fan and enjoy zesty flavors, pick it up before it’s gone.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 4:09 am
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Monday, May 22, 2006
It seems like some parts of the country are known for different confections. The South does wonderful things with pecan pralines, San Francisco has a wonderful way with dark chocolate, the Jersey Shore has its salt water taffy. Now I’m noticing that Colorado is attracted to toffee. My neighbor got this as a gift at the office from a co-worker returning from Colorado. It’s, apparently, the thing that people bring back from Colorado.
These thick slabs of almond toffee are described thusly on their website:
Instead of pieces of almonds dotting the toffee, this toffee has generous whole almonds. The slabs are extra thick and the chocolate coats both sides with an extra dusting of powdered almonds. The toffee has a crisp bite with a strong buttery taste to it. It cleaves well and melts on the tongue with a good salty bite and caramelized sugar flavor.
I can see why Enstrom’s is so highly regarded. This is tasty toffee. The only thing that bugs me about is the whole slab idea. I’d prefer my toffee to be in regular pieces that I can pick up and bite or pop in my mouth whole. But if that’s my biggest complaint, well, I don’t have much to complain about. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with any of the toffees I’ve had from Colorado (see Silver Bear).
Friday, May 12, 2006
This isn’t so much a review as a rewind. I’ve had Pixy Stix plenty of times before. I’ve been eating them for so long I don’t even remember when I first tried them.
My earliest memory of the Giant Pixy Stix was at Little Buffalo State Park in Pennsylvania. We went up there for the day for swimming and general summer amusement with another family who lived in the area. They had an awesome array of swimming pools. At some point we were given quarters and allowed to go to the snack bar where I bought the most amazing thing I’d ever seen - a Pixy Stix that might have been as tall as me (I was probably about six at the time and a tiny thing at that). Okay, maybe it wasn’t that big, but it seemed huge to me. It was grape.
It seems that Giant Pixy Stix are sold at swimming pool snack bars, because later when we moved back to Mechanicsburg, we had summer passes at the public pool and they had them there too. There’s something about chlorine that makes me crave fake grape and pure sugar.
Here’s a little history of the Pixy Stix:
Pixy Stix used to be made by Sunline which started in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Pixy Stix started out as an accident really, with kids driving the development of the product. Originally it was a drink mix in the late 30s, sold as Frutola, but J. Fish Smith found that kids were eating the sweet & sour powder right from the package. He shifted the name to Fruzola and added a spoon. Later it was repackaged with a dipping candy stick as Lik-m-Aid and also sold in little straws ... Pixy Stix. It wasn’t until parents complained about the grainy, sticky powder that Sunline came up with a compressed tablet form, the SweeTart in 1963.
Sunline was sold to Roundtree Mackintosh of the UK, which was then bought by Nestle. Nestle maintained the Sunline brand for a while and only recently has rolled the SweeTarts, Pixy Stix and Lik-m-Aid into the Wonka brand, which already had a strong line of sugar candy, such as Tart ‘n Tiny, Nerds and Runts.
So, you’re wondering about the Giant Pixy Stix? I did my due-diligence research and can tell you that a Giant Pixy Stix has slightly more than three tablespoons of candy powder in it which weighs in at one ounce. The Giant Pixy Stix are approximately 21 inches tall. (They might have been taller when I was a kid.)
The most frustrating thing about them is that they’re hard to open. The traditional Pixy Stix is a paper straw and can be torn open, or unfolded. The Giant Pixy Stix are thick, flexible plastic and cannot be torn. I recall at the pool that they would snip it open for me, but there were times that I ended up just gnawing off the top.
Giant Pixy Stix currently come in four flavors: grape, Maui punch, cherry, and orange. The regular Pixy Stix also come in green apple (which used to be lime but was changed in 2001). The primary ingredient in Pixy Stix, not surprisingly, is dextrose. Dextrose is just a fancy way of saying glucose, which is a mono-saccharide. Dextrose is generally made from vegetable starches (corn syrup). Sucrose is what’s makes up cane and beet sugar - it’s a di-saccharide (it’s made up of two molecules - one of fructose and one of glucose). It has a slightly different mouth feel. Some folks can actually tell the difference between fructose, dextrose and sucrose. Often you can feel the “cool” feeling of dextrose on the tongue.
So how do they taste? Well, if you’ve never had a Pixy Stix (and I met someone on Tuesday night who hadn’t) it’s rather like eating unprepared Jell-O or drink mix. It’s sweet and cool on the tongue, with a tart bite and some flaky, grainy bits that seem to linger a little longer. There’s not much flavor, but enough to be able to tell the difference, especially if you inhale the dust (not like snorting it, you know what I mean).
I don’t eat Pixy Stix very often anymore; because of that dextrose thing they do go straight into the bloodstream and can cause pretty severe blood sugar crashes on an empty stomach to those of us who are sensitive to such things. But last night I responsibly had a nice, high protein dinner, and then ate my three tablespoons of Pixy dust out of the measuring cup. Yes, I just stuck my tongue in there. Yes, eventually my tongue had acid burns, but I kept eating. Yes, eventually I got a rather sour stomach, but I kept eating. I love my Pixy Stix. It’s a good thing I don’t buy them that often.
In the future, I think I’ll stick to the regular paper straw ones. A little easier on the portion control. But I loved it when Pixy Stix were bigger than life.
(Pixy Stix Box photo from CandyWarehouse.com)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:46 am
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