99 Cent Only Store
Friday, December 9, 2011
The best known American marshmallows are Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows which are big, airy cylinders of fluffed sugar and gelatin. Lately there’s been a movement in the United States for more artisan marshmallows, flavored and in different shapes and often with less chalky corn starch on the outside. In other countries marshmallows are usually flavored (France and Japan have wonderful marshmallow offerings that are rather grown up, while the United Kingdom and Netherlands still have a large selection geared towards kids).
Kraft’s Jet-Puffed brand has a large selection lately that go beyond the unflavored white version. I picked up all that I could find over the past month for comparison and review.
I’m often conflicted about whether Marshmallows are candy. Part of the confusion might be the fact that the most popular marshmallow brands in the United States are not sold in the candy and snack aisle but in the baking section. They’re used to make Rice Krispie Treats and S’mores, but I rarely see people just eating them.
The marshmallows are simple and cheap. I picked up most of the bags in this review for only a dollar - this bag was 10 ounces and nearly the size of an airplane pillow ... a lot of candy for a buck.
Jet-Puffed are large, they’re about an inch and a third tall and about an inch in diameter. Each is about 7.5 grams (about a quarter of an ounce). Marshmallows are pretty low in calories, as there’s no fat in them - they’re just sugar with a little protein (gelatin) to keep them fluffy. Only 100 calories per serving of 4 (one ounce).
They’re chalky on the outside, coated with a light powdering of corn starch to keep them from sticking. They’re puffed, pliable but still firm. They’re a little latexy, like memory foam - squish it and it bounces back eventually.
The flavor isn’t quite vanilla and not a strong as pure sugar. They’re, well, marshmallows. Not much to write home about and not a candy I’d eat on its own. They toast up very well, with more of the burnt sugar flavors. The large size means that the center of mine usually cool while the outside is crunchy and the mantle is molten.
They’re very soft and moist when fresh, but I don’t mind a slightly stale marshmallow either. They get a little stiff and chewy on the outside, providing a little more textural interest.
What started this whole marshmallow episode was this bag of Jet-Puffed SnowmanMallows I spotted at Target. They’re French Vanilla flavored, which sounded good, like a custardy version of the traditional American marshmallow.
They’re called mini-marshmallows on the bag, but they’re actually about the size of two of the standard mini-marshmallows.
I prefer the format of the little one inch tall and half inch wide Man. He toasted up well, the smaller size meant that the center became molten as the outside crisped. Of course it was ridiculously easy to catch him on fire.
They’re pink and remind me of the French guimauve, which often come in long ropes. The color is soft and pleasant. The scent is like Frankenberry Cereal. The flavor is a mild, floral and artificial strawberry. It was like a very watered down Strawberry Quik.
I toasted it hoping it would taste like cotton candy, but it just tasted like hot Strawberry Quik. Like many of the candies that I eat with Red #40 food coloring, I taste a weird, metallic bitterness towards the end and for a few minutes after.
This was the first variety that struck me as seasonal, obviously, but also the first one that I felt like achieved its goals of being an actual good candy. I recognize that not everyone likes gingerbread, so a gingerbread flavored marshmallow will not be as popular as strawberry or vanilla.
They’re shaped like little men. The get squeeze and deformed in the bag, so their little arms point in different directions. They’re about an inch and a quarter tall and about a half an inch thick and an inch from fingertip to fingertip.
They smell rich and spicy. And they taste that way too. If you’re fond of the gingerbread spices: ginger, cinnamon, clove and pepper, you will probably dig these. The overriding flavor is actually ginger but there’s a little cinnamon and pepper warmth to them. It doesn’t taste artificial at all - just like a spicy marshmallow. It’s absolutely like eating a foamy cookie.
I tried toasting them and liked the result, but prefer the soft and foamy texture of them at room temperature.
This bag was slightly smaller, for some reason, with only 8 ounces in it. The mallows were also smaller, which was fine with me as I like to pop a whole one in my mouth. (The back of the package actually has a warning that says to eat only one at a time and supervise children plus cut them up for smaller children.)
They’re cute as foamy sugar buttons. They smell good, not that different from the Gingerbread, but definitely on the sugar and cinnamon side of things.
The flavor is like cinnamon the spice, not the hard candy. The corn starch coating kind of pushes that along with the slight chalky texture before it dissolves away. It doesn’t taste overtly artificial, but it’s also not as fun and nuanced as the Gingerbread. I expect they’d go great in hot chocolate. Toasted they were quite nice, but tasted much more sweet when hot.
The Kraft Jet-Puffed Chocolate Royale was a problematic flavor. First, it’s a chocolate flavored marshmallow. There is no actual cocoa, let alone chocolate in there. The scent is ghastly. It was like wet cardboard. It was so bad that after I took a picture of the package and opened them, I had to sequester them.
The problem is that I don’t remember where I put them (I admit the Candy Blog Studios are pretty messy right now) but I can still smell them even though I stuffed them inside another bag first.
Overall, I’m inclined towards the generic American marshmallow and enjoyed the different flavors. I prefer the corn starch coating to the sugar sanding of Peeps. They’re a great candy to share and versatile to keep on hand as an ingredient. If you’re watching your calories, they’re very low stress - I can’t eat that many because their airy texture makes me feel full very quickly. But they’re also all sugar and the texture can be bland (but that’s why folks invented Rice Krispie Treats, Rocky Road and S’mores).
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Necco Wafers are iconic little disks of crunchy dried sugar and flavoring. They’re the shape and size of a coin but the texture of unfired ceramics. The All Natural Necco Wafers SmartFruits come in little mini rolls. There are 23 rolls in the 11 ounce package and feature four flavors: Raspberry+ Acai, Lemon + Goji, Pomegranate + Goji and Blueberry + Acai.
I bought these a few weeks ago at the 99 Cent Only store. They’re a bit of a puzzle, since it appears they don’t even exist. There’s no mention of them on the Necco company website, I can find only two references on the internet to them: a review in Spanish from 2009 and a notice of the registration of the trademark for “SmartFruits.” I know that the product is not that old because of the trademark and the design of the package cannot be before 2009.
The pieces are muted and in most lighting situations I have trouble telling them apart without sorting them. Straight out of the package the little stack of 9 disks smells like ketchup and raspberry jam.
I wasn’t able to actually tell the flavors apart ... they all had a muted berry smoothie flavor to them. One was definitely lemony and tart but the rest were nondescript. They were not disgusting, but they were pointless.
The package says that there were real fruit antioxidants in here, but the nutritional panel doesn’t even register any vitamin C, which is easily the most palatable vitamin to put in a candy. The ingredients list lots of good things like freeze dried fruit (blueberry, raspberry, acai, goji berry) but it’s well after the sugar on the list, so they can’t make up much of the bulk. One roll is 50 calories. I can think of far better ways to spend your discretionary calories.
Like all Necco Wafers and Conversation Hearts, they contain gelatin and are unsuitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Brach’s makes a wide assortment of classic nougats. They’re probably best known for the little block of white nougat that has the jelly bits in it, but what I appreciate are the hand-crafted icon nougats. They make them for Christmas where the center of the nougat is a tree or snowman. For Valentines Day the Peppermint Nougats have a heart inside.
Also for Valentine’s Day Brach’s (now part of Farley’s and Sathers) makes a Cherry Cordial Nougat. The bag was quite a good deal, at only $1.00 for 12 ounces of candy. The package says that the candy combines two favorite tastes to create the perfect treat, chocolate and cherry.
Since I’m not a cherry lover, it’s hard for me to say anything more than this: If Hasbro made Cherry Play Doh, this is what would come out of the Fuzzy Pumpers Candy Shop. They smell like maraschino cherries that have been marinating in the ink that goes in Dry Erase Markers. The texture is soft and less grain than I imagine Play Doh actually is, but just as maleable.
They’re lovely to look at, but they smell disgusting and for me, they taste even worse. The cherry flavor combined with the faint hint of cocoa and the red food coloring aftertaste is just too much for me. I think the other nougats Brach’s make are great, but these are a huge miss for me.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
There are some candies that sound like fantastic concepts. Even new readers to Candy Blog know that I would favor any confection made of caramel, pecans and cinnamon. About five years ago Cinnabon, the little bakers of fresh cinnamon buns in malls, licensed their flavor and name for a line of candies made by Standard Confectionery Company. Standard is known for their GooGoo Clusters, so it’s no surprise that this line features various iterations of the ingredients all in the plopped cluster shape.
Back in 2006 I went to my first candy trade show, the All Candy Expo in Chicago. This was my first experience with “tasting everything”. This was an amazing time where I could keep an open mind and take small bites or samples of items that I probably wouldn’t consider buying for whatever reason. Most was exactly what I expected, but there were some surprises (both good and bad). I learned quickly that even in small bites there were things that demanded to be spit out. While there I spit three things out. The first was the Cinnabon Cinnamon Pecan Caramel Cluster.
What I didn’t know when I ate that sample was the actual description of this item: Rich Makara Cinnamon Caramel Topped with Crunch Glazed Pecans and Toffee Bits, Drenched in Milk Chocolatey Goodness. You already know where this description went awry ... in fact this might have been the item that mobilized me for the fight against anything that referred to mockolate “goodness”. I’d go so far as to call it “evilness.”
Years went by and I tried them again and had a similar reaction to the overly sweet, strangely grainy and waxy confection. Yes, the cinnamon notes were fantastic, but air freshener smells fantastic, that doesn’t make me want to eat it.
The Cinnabon Cinnamon Mousse Pecan Cluster says it’s Rich Makara cinnamon mousse topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in dark chocolatey goodness. My spell checker knows that chocolatey isn’t a word, and I know that it isn’t chocolate.
The packaging is nice, it has an accurate image on the front and I actually liked the little swirly bun designs on the edges of the wrapper. The pieces are 1.5 ounces (about 2.5 inches in diameter), which I think is a nice portion for candy, in this case it clocks in at 180 calories.
My candy had a slight bloom on the top, not bad, just a light haze in some spots. The lumpy shape gave me hope that there were plenty of these glazed pecans.
I don’t know what Makara Cinnamon is. I’ve looked it up and can’t actually find that there is a real thing, it’s just like the Colonel’s 11 Herbs & Spices, a proprietary blend of some sort. Its mystery aside, the cinnamon does smell good. It’s a tantalizing blend of woodsy notes, a sort of heady volatile oil similar to menthol and a warm resin. The patties have a nice bite and texture. The mockolate coating is marginally flavorful, it’s overpowered by the cinnamon but the texture is smooth enough once it melts. The center of the patty is a sort of soft fudge that tastes kind of like the sweet center of a pecan pie, but a little more grainy. The pecans are nicely glazed with a sugary coating that gives them a salty crunch. Other than that hit of salt though, the whole thing is sickly sweet and quickly made my throat sore.
This version comes in a white wrapper and is easy to distinguish from the other versions. It also reminds me that Cinnabon has the flavor that warms the soul.
The description on this one is Rich Makara cinnamon cream topped with crunchy glazed pecans and toffee bits, drenched in white chocolatey goodness. Now, I get how the dark one can claim some sort of “chocolatey goodness” since it does have some cocoa solids in it. This product has not one gram of cocoa content whatsoever. It can’t be like chocolate because there’s nothing that’s even chocolate adjacent about it.
Even the color of the white confection coating is odd, it’s not at all like white chocolate, which has a yellow cast and a translucent quality. It’s opaque, like a primer coat.
It does smell smooth and buttery though, and I loved the way the fake butter smell combined with the Makara cinnamon, in that way that actual Cinnabon kiosks can draw you in.
Again I liked the glazed pecans - they were small but had a salty crunch. The white coating was sweet and had a less convincing melt than the truly chocolatey one. There are toffee bits advertised in both of these, but I noticed that they’re more like corn flakes (rice flour is listed as an ingredient)
Sweet, strange and unreal. I don’t mind candy that becomes fantasy - but this was just a poor imitation of real things that could be fantastic. Call it the uncanny valley of candy.
If you’re a fan of candles instead of candy, well this is the stuff for you. If you’re looking for something that emulates the fresh baked Cinnabon experience, I’d say stick to your memories of that and wait for the real thing.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Since starting Candy Blog my consumption of ice cream has decreased to nearly nothing. Two reasons: I simply can’t afford the calories given my candy habits and as I get older I’m less and less lactose tolerant (which really takes the enjoyment out of it). That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss it. One of the things I miss is the texture; the other is the flavor combinations. Mint chocolate chip just doesn’t work in the same way in any other format than ice cream.
Baskin-Robbins has a line of ice cream themed candies. I tried the chewy candies a few years ago and decided that they were not for me. But I did see these hard candies at the 99 Cent Only Store. Baskin-Robbins Smooth & Creamy Hard Candy. I decided to try the Pralines ‘n Cream because it sounded like a flavor that could be made into a hard candy well. The ingredients looked pretty good too: sugar, corn syrup, sweetened condensed milk, salt, natural & artificial flavors, soy lecithin, honey and soybean oil.
The candies are individually wrapped and well marked (in case you buy several varieties and want to mix them in a bowl). Each piece was a combination of two colors, a light milky caramel color and a darker toffee color. They smell sweet, toasty and rather like walking into an actual Baskin-Robbins.
The texture isn’t quite silky smooth, but they’re still quite slick. I prefer to crunch mine and these have a nice cleave to them (though some could also be tough and chewy - that could be that I left them in my car and it got a little hot). The flavor has a good blend of caramelized sugar notes, butterscotch pudding and a liberal dose of salt. They’re quite sweet, but so is Pralines ‘n Cream Ice Cream. I ate most of the bag in one sitting, so after three or four it got a bit throat searing - that’s a lot of sugar.
I was pretty pleased with these. They’re a little different from something like a Werther’s, more milky. The price was pretty good, too. I know the bag only had 3.5 ounces for a dollar, but that’s a decent deal for a very dairy laden candy. I don’t know why the package says “Value Size”, as I don’t know what other package sizes and price points are available. Usually value sizes are large ... I considered this two servings. (Though the package seems to think three is a serving.)
Each piece has 20 calories. They’re not really low calorie candies, just small. At 121 calories per ounce, there’s a fair amount of fat in there for a sugar candy, about 2 grams per ounce.
The hard candies also come in Very Berry Strawberry and Mint Chocolate Chip. I have my doubts about the success of those flavors in this format, so I’ll probably just quite while I’m ahead.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Ah, Mandy’s Old Fashioned Confections. Just look at that charming packaging, how it speaks of artisans stirring a copper kettle of gooey butterscotch with a wooden paddle. Why, I can just picture Mandy herself swooping in to affirm that the mixture was cooked to perfection before it’s dumped onto a generations-old marble slab to cool.
In reality Mandy’s is distributed by ASA Foods, a 16 year old Southern California importer. They also make candy under the brand Fusion Gourmet, their best known candies are the Bali’s Best Coffee and Tea candies. All of their candy (as far as I know) is made in Indonesia ... a place that certainly knows about coffee.
While I may make fun it, the packaging is nice. The Butterscotch Flavored Hard Candy was nicely priced; I picked up this package for a dollar at the 99 Cent Only Store. It says it has 40 individually wrapped pieces and weighs 5 ounces. The ingredients are decent too:
Each piece is individually wrapped. Sealed tight. Yup, no moisture getting in there. They’re a little tricky to get open, but having spent some time in high humidity areas recently I can appreciate how that would make these even more appealing.
The candies are cute little disks, they’re just shy of one inch around (about the size of a quarter). They’re smooth and have a satisfying clink when dropped on a hard surface (and an unsatisfying tendency to split into a bajillion pieces when dropped on a hard surface). The package calls them Rich, Creamy and Buttery and I’m inclined to agree. They are wonderfully smooth. The melt is slow and silky, though not sticky. The butter flavor is good, though artificially flavored it doesn’t taste like microwave popcorn. There’s a light note of salt and a milky background to it. They’re like little toffee pieces, easy to crunch. Far to easy to crunch. That’s the way I was eating them, just crunching them up. Sometimes they’d get stuck in my teeth a little bit.
The second flavor I found for Mandy’s Old Fashioned Confections was the Caramel Flavored Hard Candy. This package is largely identical to the Butterscotch. This one describes the candy as Rich, Smooth and Creamy and uses browns as the predominant background color.
The description on the back of the package also says that Mandy’s makes an Orange Soda variety.
The package depicts the candies as dark brown in color, like coffee and cream. But the reality is not quite that way (though really not disappointing either). I put the caramel and butterscotch ones next to each other. See if you can tell the difference:
I don’t remember which is which. The ingredients are pretty much the same, too:
Again, it’s ultra smooth. The lightly salty hard caramel is very satisfying, especially when I crunched them up.
Though the flavorings are supposed to be different, they really don’t taste much different. Buttery smooth, salty, slick and satisfying.
I enjoyed both quite a bit, especially as it’s extraordinary hot this week, I get to enjoy a creamy treat that can take the heat. They’re a good deal, a really nicely sized piece and don’t have artificial colors in them.
There’s no statement about gluten or nuts on the package. They’re not Kosher (nor Halal). The freshness date was “best by May 2012.” They’re pretty diet friendly - even though they have 125 calories per ounce (about the same as toffee or caramel) the little pieces are only 4 grams each and 16 calories each.
Monday, August 16, 2010
I think one of the best comfort confections out there has to be a fresh Pecan Turtle, especially if it’s made with dark chocolate. But when I saw this box of Demet’s Hazelnut Turtles at the 99 Cent Store on Friday I was willing to entertain the notion that hazelnuts would be equally delicious.
I have to say, I’m surprised that I haven’t seen hazelnut turtles before. I’m even more surprised to see them from DeMets, especially since their website makes no mention of their existence at all. The other weird thing about the package is that it doesn’t say “made with Nestle chocolate” on the front. Not that this is a bad thing, I don’t really care much for the chocolate on DeMet’s turtles, so the lack of it brought the possibility that it was better.
The box is huge but clearly says that there are 6 pieces and they weigh 3.5 ounces. Since I purchased them at the 99 Cent Only Store they were only a buck, which I think is a great deal for a real hazelnut and real chocolate confection. The box was shrink-wrapped, so they were definitely fresh though I couldn’t find a freshness date on them. Each little turtle is about 1.5” inches around but sits in a larger slot in the box. They’re just plain over-packaged.
They smell sweet and a little like caramel and fresh oatmeal. Biting into them it was clear that these were mostly caramels and not that studded with nuts at all. The caramel had a nice chew, a good stringy pull and light salty note. The hazelnuts are chopped pretty small but still have a good crunch and grassy/roasted flavor. The chocolate is fair; it’s very sweet and has a strong dairy flavor but not much cocoa really.
I would have loved a good quality, hazelnut rich chew here, but I shouldn’t have expected so much for a buck. Still, it’s better than many candy bars and hazelnuts are pretty hard to find in mainstream confections.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
I buy candy a lot of places, but probably the ones that fit best with the original intentions of Candy Blog are the dollar stores. Dollar stores and discounters like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar Store and 99 Cent Only Stores have a mix of closeout products, mainstream candies and then a bunch of weird stuff that you’ve never seen before and may never see again. One of the purposes of Candy Blog was to seek out those fringe candies and demystify them. Here’s a bunch of stuff I’ve picked up:
There’s no reason a couple of handfuls of fresh peanuts and some sugar can’t be dirt cheap and delicious. The good news is that I think Old Dominion has done an excellent job filling that niche. Old Dominion Butter Toffee Peanuts don’t come in the most attractive package ever, but the package has five ounces and boasts only four ingredients: peanuts, sugar, butter and salt. They’re Kosher and American made.
They’re a simple panned nut. A buttery toffee coating on whole peanuts.
They’re buttery, a little salty, crunchy and fresh. Not much more to say except that I wish they sold these in the vending machines in the basement of my office building. (My old office had PNuttles from time to time, which is similar, but a little more “toasty” where these are “buttery”.)
I bought the Zachary Thick Mints at the 99 Cent Only Store because they’re called Thick Mints. I mean, how could I resist. They’re mints and they’re thick.
They’re real chocolate, so they have that going for them. I don’t know much about Zachary as a brand for chocolate, I’ve had their sugar candies around Halloween and found them passable, but I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to sugar ... not so much when it comes to chocolate. The tray is flimsy and insubstantial as a serving piece (it bends and spills out the contents) but it did its job along with the box of protecting the product.
They are as advertised, they’re big and thick. They’re about the same diameter as the mini foil-wrapped York Peppermint Patties (about 1.33 inches across) but they’re at least a half an inch high. The inside is more like a Junior Mint (a flowing mint fondant) than a York Peppermint Pattie (a crumbly and dry fondant). The mint fondant is smooth, with a tiny grain to it but a smooth pull and strong almost alcoholic peppermint flavor. The chocolate is a letdown, not terribly cream and lacking a solid cocoa punch. It still does a good job of containing the minty center.
A couple of months ago I got the notion that I should review the chocolate covered caramel bites that come in Movie Theater boxes. (Yeah, a very specific genre of candy, but there are at least three of them.) This one got as far as the acquisition of the candy, photography and consumption. I just couldn’t think of much of a hook for it. But hey, I can’t let it go to waste.
I found Hershey’s Milk Duds, Tootsie Junior Caramels and Zachary Chocolate Caramels at the Dollar Tree. So they’re all the same price and basically the same thing. But very different.
Zachary Chocolate Caramels are the newest one on the market. The box is rather generic but at least well made. The photo of the baubles of milk chocolate are appetizing and the product within does actually look like that. The box holds 4.8 ounces, not the biggest value of the bunch, but still a lot of candy, especially if it’s real chocolate.
Of the three this was the only one that had a protective bag inside. They’re really big and have a decent milky smell. The milk chocolate is thick but not very flavorful. There are some dairy notes but the melt isn’t smooth. The caramel center is soft and easy to chew. It doesn’t have a strong butter or caramelized sugar flavor, it’s more like a cereal note. Just slightly toasty and sweet, it reminds me of Kraft Caramels.
The Junior Caramels box says that it has 10% more free, which is good because it doesn’t even manage to cram 4 ounces in there. The package says that they’re soft milk caramels in pure chocolate. (Here’s my original review when they were first introduced in 2005.)
The chocolate isn’t as thick as the Zachary ones and they’re not as glossy. They don’t smell like much and don’t taste like caramel or milk chocolate either.
The chew of the center is soft but not grainy. Again it’s lacking in butter, toasted sugar and that stringy pull that I love about caramel.
Milk Duds have been around since the 20s. They’ve gone through many changes in corporate ownership, packaging and formulation. Recently Hershey’s stopped using real milk chocolate to coat these choice little caramel bits which is too bad.
They really live up to their name when it comes to appearance, the caramel centers are rarely spherical, they’re flattened lumps. The caramel centers of Milk Duds are quite firm. The chew though is completely smooth and slick. The flavor is authentically toffee-like with a luxurious milky note. It’s so sad that the cardboard mockolate on the outside trashes the flavor with off notes and waxy cocoa. (I can’t say that the chocolate was great when it was real chocolate, but at least the flavor wasn’t off even if the texture was.)
It’s hard to declare a winner with this motley bunch. I love the center of Milk Duds, but the Zachary really do look the most appealing. I can’t say I want to eat any of them again and will probably dump out the rest of them before I flatten the boxes to be saved in my collection.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.