Monday, September 17, 2012
A few months back I went on a little buying spree on eBay for some Japanese candies I was having trouble finding here in the United States. I paid far more than I usually would for mass-produced candies, but I also haven’t bought much candy on eBay and wanted to see what that experience was like so I could share it.
I did a “buy it now” purchase from the storefront of jappy11. The prices were steep, about $2.00 to $2.50 per item and then there was the international shipping, which averaged out to about $1.10 additional per item. These were the small HiCHEW packages, something that I usually spend about $1.25 for here. The key to value for me is to find a seller with a large enough selection that buying multiple items that I simply can’t find anywhere else makes sense. Invoicing, payment and shipping was quick and easy. The items arrived quite quickly (but I’m on the West Coast).
Grape was always my favorite soda flavor as a kid. I love to drink Shasta Grape from a matching purple anodized aluminum tumbler at my grandmother’s house. There’s nothing quite like fake grape soda.The HiChew Fanta Grape is achingly close. The tangy start has some actual authentic notes of concord grape at first. In addition to the layered look of the pieces (a light colored center and a creamy lavender colored outer layer, there are little crunchy bits that emulate the pop of effervescence.
The chew is smooth and lasts a long time, without losing its flavor at the end. I enjoyed these so much that I was sure to pick up another package when I finally found them at a local Japanese grocery store.
Orange soda was probably my second favorite as a kid. The HiCHEW Fanta Orange is less distinct than the grape, but still fun and refreshing. The citrusy taste is a mix of Tang drink mix and orange SweeTarts. It has a little bit of zest in it, but it’s mostly a juicy flavor, also with the little crunchy pops of candy inside.
Even though it’s not a Fanta flavor, I’ve been aching to try the HiCHEW Cola flavor for a long time and could never find it in the States.
These pieces look more mundane, a dull brown that could well be a caramel. The flavor is deep and well defined. What I like about Japanese cola candies it that they’re more intense and concentrated than actual cola soda. This version is actually quite caramelly, with some good lemon/citrus note and a hint of cinnamon. I would definitely buy these more often if they were part of the American release of HiCHEW flavors. (They aren’t they?)
Monday, September 10, 2012
Werther’s Original Hard Candies are truly a classic around the world, a kind of standard for hard candy butterscotch. They’re made by August Storck and named for the town where the candy company was formed, Werther in the Westphalia region of Germany. The company was founded in 1903 and may have come up with a version of the Original Hard Candy around 1909 through the efforts of one of the company’s confectioners, Gustav Nebel.
The first branded name of the candy emerged in 1969 when they began selling them as Werthers Echte in Germany, and then in the 1980s they became a world-wide brand under the English name of Werther’s Original.
The ingredients are simple: sugar, glucose syrup (from wheat or corn), cream, butter, whey, salt, soy lecithin and vanillin. There are no partially hydrogenated oils in there, no filler oils. For the most part it’s sugars and dairy ingredients with a splash of salt (about 15 mg per piece). The calorie count is higher than other hard candies, because of the fat content that’s usually absent from pure sugar candy. So these have about a half a gram of fat per candy and less than 25 calories each.
Each is wrapped in a mylar and clear cellophane wrapper. The gold sparkle is hard to miss in a candy dish. For a hard candy, they do a good job of straddling the world of durability and decadence.
The pieces are about 1.2 inches long and .8 inches wide. They’re smooth and nicely domed with a small depression in the top. They fit the mouth nicely and dissolve smoothly and slowly. The flavor is very well rounded, a hint of salt, a creamy burn sugar note and little hint of vanilla. The texture is exceptionally smooth and dense, there are no voids at all. But in addition to the creamy melt, they are quite crunchy if you’re a chewer. (And I am.)
They’re easy to savor, and provide a little more substance than a straight sugar item like a Butterscotch Disk, which is really only flavored like scorched sugar. There are other candies like the Werther’s and companies like Life Savers and Hershey’s have tried to enter the same market. But there’s really no need to try others. The Werther’s are superb. They’re easy to find at drug stores and discounters. The ingredients are decent enough and the price is pretty reasonable. The only issue I have with them is that they can get sticky in humid or hot environments. It doesn’t ruin the taste, but does mar the lovely appearance of the pieces when unwrapped.
It would be nice if they’d make them gluten free, though. Contains milk, soy and wheat.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Yuzu is rare in the United States but a popular and hardy variety of citrus in Japan. The flavor is a cross between grapefruit, tangerine with a little note of lemon and bergamot. For the most part the rind of the citrus is used though the juice is also included but not as notable. I was so entranced with the candies and marmalades I’ve been eating that I got a tree for my back yard. (Here’s a photo of a couple that I picked from my tree.)
So when I saw that Kasugai, a makers of one of the best gummis in the world, I bought up two packages. The gummis are more expensive than the European and American varieties, but also a bit more precious and special. The Kasugai Yuzu Gummy Candy comes in a rather light bag, with only 3.59 ounces inside. Each piece is individually wrapped and a bit larger than the mass of an ordinary gummi bear.
The gummis are nearly one inch in diameter, a cute little domed disk. They have a soft, powdery skin instead of a glaze of oil or wax. They smell like lemonade. The flavor inside is a bit more complex. The tartness is good, the texture is smooth with a jello-like chew that dissolves quickly. It’s truly a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, the bitterness of the grapefruit and harsh oily flavor is combined with the fruity, sunny flavors of the tangerine juice.
They’re really satisfying and have a fresh, zesty lingering note. Two or three were plenty as a little treat between meals for me. The individual wrapping means I can throw a few in my bag or just throw them in a dish.
They are ridiculously expensive, I think I spent $3.49 for a bag. But it’s easy to moderate my consumption, I’ve managed to make my two bags last quite while. The intensity of the flavor and the wrappers mean these are more of a solitary treat than the kind that I might mindlessly nibble on during a movie. There are no artificial colors but they do use artificial flavors. They’re made on shared equipment with milk, wheat, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.
Friday, June 29, 2012
The final candy I have in the initial launch of the UNREAL candy line is the UNREAL #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar. If the description doesn’t spark any recognition for you, it’s a Snickers-type bar.
Like my other profiles of the UNREAL candies, there’s a lot to explore and expose in this new line. There are inconsistencies and it’s a little hard to find things out, but if you’re just interested in the review, skip to the third picture and read on from there. If you’re interested to know more about what’s inside and what they say is inside, well, then read the whole review.
I was really surprised with the #5 Nougat Caramel Bar being so low in calories, but figured it was all the protein. It clocks in at 106 calories per ounce, which usually pure sugar candy, like Starburst or gummi bears. York Peppermint Patties are about that level of caloric density, but they have so little chocolate and a
So I went through and added up all the elements to get to the listed 200 calories listed for the #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar.
Well, that adds up to 228 calories (and accounts for 42 of the 49 grams, fiber which has no calories makes up an additional 5 grams)
The only way it adds up to 200 is if you only added the sugar, not the full carbs. The package lists 17 grams of sugar (4 calories per gram) which would be 68 calories, making the whole bar 196 calories (rounded up to 200 calories). That would make the calories per ounce a more believable 134 calories for a chocolate and nut candy bar. (For the record, a Snickers bar is 135 calories per ounce.) When I redid the calculations for the #5 Chocolate Nougat Caramel Bar I got 191 calories instead of the stated 170 calories on the package. They’re off by 10-12% of what I believe to be the true calorie count. (The other candies in the UNREAL line seem to add up properly.)
The bar is the same size as the #5 Nougat Caramel, about 3.5 inches long and a little more than one inch wide. It smells like toffee and roasted nuts. The bite is soft, the nougat on the bottom of the layers gives easily. The caramel has a wonderful stringy pull and chewy texture. The chocolate is creamy, has a light bitter chocolate note to it, but a good dairy profile to emulate the milky caramel experience that was missing in the #5 bar for me. In this case the peanuts are what changed it. They’re crunchy, not roasted too dark and all fresh and perfect. If there was an extra level of protein enhancement to the nougat on this bar, I didn’t catch it at all.
The textures meld well, the bar isn’t too large and is completely satisfying. It’s great that it doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils in it, though I’d prefer a bar without palm oil. The darkness of the milk chocolate also keeps it from being too sweet with the really sugary filling of caramel and nougat.
This bar is a winner on so many levels. I have to hope that the company gets through it’s labeling and transparency issues (still haven’t heard back from them) and can expand to make snack size version for easier portion control and Halloween.
The bar is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains dairy, eggs, peanuts and soy. Made in a facility with tree nuts and wheat. The website says the ingredients are GMO free, but not the package.
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:
Thursday, June 21, 2012
UNREAL is a new line of candy that may finally be the solution for people looking for sweets with fewer dubious ingredients. It just launched and I picked up one of each of the new candies at CVS last week. They’re not reinventing candy, each of the products is just a standard tried-and-true candy format, just with “unjunked(tm)” ingredients.
To start with, I thought I’d examine one of my favorite candies of all time: the peanut butter cup.
UNREAL has given their candies some odd code names. Their PB cups are called UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cups. Their other candies also have what seem like arbitrary numbers assigned to them. Their caramel nougat bar is #5 and the candy coated chocolates are #55. I don’t know if there are plans for 77 different candies in the line, or if they’ve gone through 77 different formulas. You can read more about the candy line’s origin story on their website and in this Wall Street Journal article.
The packaging for UNREAL is unlike other candies, that’s for sure. It did not entice me. In fact, I didn’t recognize it as something I’d be looking for. The packaging is black (a heat absorbing color, for the record, which is bad when it comes to chocolate candy) with neon colors and a difficult to read logo. It looks more appropriate for a caffeinated product than a candy touting the purity of its ingredients.
That said, it is different and as an isolated design, it’s interesting. I like the logo as a use of lines and typography. The color choices do not say “delicious” to me, they do not say “natural” or “wholesome.”
The website says:
However, there is no actual statement on the ingredient panel or the candy packages that say that any of the ingredients are actually “grass fed milk” or “non-GMO soy” or “Rainforest Alliance chocolate.” The closest is the web page for each candy does say NO GMOS (but never specifies which ingredients were verified that way).
So the big evil wolf in this story is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, made by Hershey’s in Pennsylvania. The portion is modest, two cups are an ounce an a half and total 210 calories. I did not eat these side by side with the UNREAL #77 for comparison. But I have a great recollection of them, having eaten one about three weeks ago, and hundreds before that. (Including a full bag of the miniatures in May.)
The milk chocolate is cool on the tongue, very sweet and lacking a noticeable cocoa note but a strong taste of dairy. The center is crumbly, salty and with an overwhelming taste of fresh roasted peanuts. It’s grainy, almost crunchy and rustic. The combination is great, the portion size is ideal for me. After eating one I want another but after two I’m completely satisfied.
The ingredients, while not pure nor verified as ethically sourced are also not completely horrible:
The items of contention might be the corn syrup solids (basically dextrose) which are almost assuredly from genetically modified corn, the soy lecithin is also likely to be GMO. The PGPR is also an emulsifier, made from castor beans, last time I checked with Hershey’s. The TBHQ is the biggest item that people complain about in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. TBHQ (also known as E319) stands for Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, which is an antioxidant which keeps the peanut butter from becoming rancid. While high doses of TBHQ are dangerous, rancid oils are also very bad for you.
So, what about this UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cup?
While all those ingredients sound nice and wholesome, I do have a bone to pick with Unreal for putting inulin into the chocolate. First of all, I don’t think the standards of identity for chocolate allow the addition of inulin, as it’s not an accepted sugar. Inulin is a soluble fiber, it’s slightly sweet (only slightly, about 10% of the sweetness of sucrose but generally has no other flavor to it) and has a good, smooth texture that makes it appropriate in both solid foods and liquids (many folks add it to smoothies). In larger quantities, however, it can cause digestive upset in some people. Agave is one of the hot sources for inulin these days, but it’s also found in chicory and Jerusalem artichokes. While it has some lovely qualities, it’s basically an inert filler. (Not a cheap one, by any means, certainly more expensive than sugar, but when you see what it does to the nutritional panel, you see why it may be considered worth it.)
The UNREAL website has a comparison chart (I pulled a screengrab because I think they changed it since I looked at it last week) but it compares them based on the portion size, not ounce for ounce, like I prefer to do things.
Basically, the Reese’s has more sugar and less fiber. If you want sugar in your candy, then you know where to go. If you want more fiber and fat, then get the UNREAL. Oh, wait, I still haven’t reviewed the actual UNREAL #77 cups for you.
The cups look great, and what really impressed me was the attention to detail. The logo on the bottom of the cup? Gorgeous. The cups are not in a little fluted paper cup, but are still protected bu a little white paperboard sleeve inside. This makes it easy to get the candy in and out of the package.
They smell great, like cocoa and peanuts. The chocolate is interesting, and for the record I tried these without reading the ingredients first, so I noticed that the chocolate was a little different without knowing why. It’s a dark milk chocolate, with a lot more discernible chocolate notes than a Reese’s Cup. Not as dark the actual Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but notable. The melt is silky, quite different from Reese’s. The peanut butter center is where things got radically different. The UNREAL peanut butter is like actual peanut butter. It’s not dry, it’s thick and pasty. There’s a little bit of a cookie dough quality to it, but overall the flavor is fantastic. Like true, fresh peanut butter. It’s sweet, it’s a little salty, but mostly it’s smooth without being sticky.
They were great. I loved them. I want to try them again. What I loved about them as well was the fact that they cost the exact same amount at CVS as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Of course the regular price for a candy bar at CVS is $1.19, but perhaps with volume will come better pricing or at least sales.
So I have oodles of misgivings about the packaging style, the marketing spin and the lack of transparency of their claims ... but when I got down to the actual experience of eating it, all of that can be forgotten.
The candy is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains soy, peanuts and milk and may contain traces of tree nuts. There is no gluten statement on the package (along with no statement regarding the sourcing of the ingredients). The shelf life appears to be approximately 6-9 months (these were good until 1/24/2013).
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:
Friday, March 30, 2012
Haribo Gold Bears stand as the epitome of the gummi bear for good reason. They were the first and they are known around the world. Haribo is so big that they have 18 factories, but only five of them in Germany.
I’ve been told over the years that the German Haribo products are the best. The Haribo products we most often see here in the United States, especially the Gold Bears, are made in either Turkey or Spain. So while I was in Germany I made sure to pick up a bag of the original version made in Bonn, Germany. Flipping over the bag, it was immediately clear that they’re different. There’s an extra flavor.
The German Gold Bears have six flavors:
The Turkish or Spanish Gold Bears have only five flavors:
Further, the German Bears are made with all natural colorings. Here’s an array of Bears and Bunnies for color comparison:
On top are the German Gold Bunnies, packaged for the American market, in the middle are the German Gold Bears purchased in Germany and on the bottom are the Turkish Gold Bears purchased in the United States.
So let’s start where things are weird. First, the Green Gummi Bear. As you may have noticed in the listing above, in the United States, the green gummi bear is Strawberry.
I compared the colors of the Green Gummi Gold Bears because they show the most difference between the countries. The German bear is a light olive color, not a true green. Other than that though, the bears are the same shape and mass.
I thought maybe one was taller than the other, or thicker, but the variations are just that, variations across all the bears. Some are slightly thicker or taller, some have different facial expressions. But there’s no real difference in the moulding.
Turkish Strawberry (Green) compared to German Strawberry (Pink): The Turkish bear is just slightly firmer. The flavor (once you close your eyes and forget that it’s not lime or green apple) is light and only slightly floral. It’s tangy, but not puckeringly tart. Mostly it’s a bland gummi bear. The German bear is softer and just slightly more pliable. It’s jammy and has a good blend of florals and tartness, and though it’s slightly more flavorful, I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge difference in the intensity, just the nuances. Germany Wins.
Turkish Raspberry (Red) compared to German Raspberry (Red): The artificial nature of the Turkish bear is much more apparent when placed next to the deeper, wine red German bear. The Turkish bear is sweet and tangy, the berry flavors are fresh and have only the lightest note of seeds to them. The German bear is softer and has richer, more dense flavor with more boiled fruit flavors to it. Germany Wins.
Turkish Orange compared to German Orange: this is tough. Both looked virtually the same, and the textures were also so similar. The zesty and tart notes on both were dead on. The German bear tasted every so slightly more like freshly squeezed juice, but that could have been my imagination. Tie.
Turkish Pineapple (clear) compared to German Pineapple (clear): The Turkish version had an ever—so-slight yellow cast to it, which really only showed when I placed the bears next to each other on white paper. Pineapple happens to be my favorite flavor for the bears and this was no exception. The Turkish bear actually had enough tartness to make my jaw tingle. It’s sweet and floral and just wonderful. The German version was just as good, but had an extra little flavor towards the end, a more intense thing that I can’t quite peg as pineapple zest, but that sort of buzz that comes with fresh pineapple. Even though there was a slight difference, I will indiscriminately gobble both. Tie.
Turkish Lemon (yellow) compared to German Lemon (yellow): Lemon is a great flavor and Haribo really can’t fail. There’s a wonderful blend of zest and juice in the Turkish version, with so much lemon peel that it verges on air freshener. The German version is more like a candied lemon peel or marmalade, slight more bitterness but still plenty of juice. Turkish Win.
The last one is the German Apple. It tastes, well, like tart apple juice. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not in the bags that are sold in the United States, it would be one I’d pick around ... and there currently aren’t any Haribo Gold Bears that I don’t like.
So if there’s an additional flavor in Germany, I thought maybe this Easter Haribo Gold Bunnies version which features little rabbits instead bears and says it’s made in Germany would have that apple in it.
It does not.
The Green Bunny is actually strawberry.
But what’s more disappointing about these Haribo Gold Bunnies is that they’re terrible compared to both the Turkish Bears and the German Bears. Sure, the shape is cute and the colors are all natural, but the flavors are pale and watered down.
So if you’re a Green Apple fan, it’s worth it to seek out the true German Haribo Gold Bears. If you don’t care, then the Turkish version that we’ve been served all these years is great ... it’s not quite as intense, but it’s still a good quality product. The other think I noticed is that I paid one Euro (about $1.30) for my 200 gram (7 ounce) bag of German bears ... and I paid $1.50 for my Turkish bears, which only has 5 ounces in it. The German Bunnies were on sale for $1.00 at Cost Plus.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
This Zotter Scotch Whisky bar has everything that I would want in the perfect decadent candy bar. It’s made by Zotter in Austria from fair trade, bean to bar chocolate. The ingredient list is mercifully short and virtually all organic with more than a smidge of Scotch Whisky (9%).
The things that make it hard to give the bar my fullest recommendation would be how difficult it is to actually buy it (I picked mine up while in Germany) and when purchased in the US, it’s rather expensive at about $6 to $8 for the 2.47 bar. (There’s also a little bit of a question about one ingredient, fructose-glucose syrup, which sounds like high fructose corn syrup, though since it’s organic it’s not from GMO sources.)
I’ve had a few Zotter bars over the years and have read plenty more reviews of their products as well. They have a weird twist to a lot of their flavors, some that I think work well in unexpected ways, and others that seem strange simply for the sake of it. I’m talking about combinations like Coffee-Plum with Caramelized Bacon or Cheese-Walnuts-Grapes to just a little unorthodox like Pear Cardamom to the downright unthinkable like Cornelian Cherries and Pig’s Blood. Think of them as the Jones Soda of fair trade candy bars.
The bar is the same format as all the others I’ve ever had. It’s about 5 inches long and about 2.3 inches wide. It’s not a thick bar but it is filled. They call them hand-scooped bars but they’re rather angular and always rectangular. This bar is enrobed, which is my preferred construction method. (My second favorite is panned, third is molded - that’s the kind of lists Candy Bloggers keep.)
The full name of the bar on the front is Scotch Whisky “Highland Harvest”. There’s no other information on what kind of Whisky it is. The bar is glossy and has the slightest ripples across the top. The chocolate is 70% for the shell, the center uses the same but with he addition of the whiskey, milk, cream and fructose-glucose syrup.
It smells a lot like Scotch, leathery and smoky with notes of vanilla, tobacco and of course the deep cocoa flavors.
The coating is thin, but still has a bold flavor, a smooth melt and woodsy flavor profile with a touch of coffee notes. The center is like a truffle, soft and with a silky melt. It’s barely sweet, with more than a touch of salt to it as well. The whiskey is quite evident, with a light burn on the tongue and throat. There’s a dryness and sort of acidity to the filling that’s unlike the profile of the chocolate in the coating. The leathery and smoky notes are strong and for some, probably, repulsive. I enjoy the pipe tobacco flavors to it, the mix of vanilla, red berries, oak and a touch of black walnut.
I loved the bar. It’s completely decadent and I found it difficult to eat more than a third in one sitting. The 9%alcohol is pretty intense, too. I would buy this bar again, most definitely. I think I prefer Zotter’s more traditional formulations. I like their spirit though I don’t care much for the pork products in my chocolate, even if they’re not in this particular bar. (I know, I’m a hypocrite since I eat gummis, which also contain gelatin.) I haven’t been able to find Zotter bars in Los Angeles, so there’s little hope of these becoming my weekly habit.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.