99 Cent Only Store
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Milka is an old German chocolate candy brand that dates back to 1901. The Milka brand fell under Suchard, a popular chocolate bar maker which also made powdered cocoa. The bar was their milk chocolate and named by combining the German words milch (milk) and kakao (cocoa). The earliest chocolate bars sported the lavender wrapper that is still one of the distinguishing marks of their branding.
Milka is now owned by multinational conglomerate Kraft, which also makes Toblerone, Marabou, Cadbury, Cote d’Or, Freia and here in the United States, Baker’s Chocolate. Milka bars are known for their high milk content, soft and sweet melt and favoring of hazelnuts.
They’re far more available in the United States in the past 5 years than I think any other time in history. I’ve been seeing Milka products reliably at discounters like Target. This particular Milka Chopped Hazelnut bar was purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. For only a buck, for a 3.5 ounce bar. Not a bad deal.
Now I must state that Milka is not chocolate by current American definitions, because it contains additional dairy whey. But the coolest additive they use is hazelnut paste, which more than makes up for it.
The bar is soft and extremely sweet. The only thing that moderates that sweetness are the crushed hazelnuts. They’re well distributed though I’d probably want more of them (but I understand that this is a bargain bar). The nuts are fresh and crunchy. The dairy flavors are on the toffee and toasted sugar side, instead of tasting like powdered milk Cadbury sometimes can.
Overall, this is one of the more satisfying bars I’ve had from Milka. I prefer the use of palpable nuts in addition to the hazelnut paste and of course the price can’t be beat. Though Kraft and Milka may have sustainability and ethical sourcing plans, they’re not noted on the package or their website.
I’m a fan of good quality white chocolate. I like cocoa butter a lot and this bar does use the real thing. Again, the only reason it’s not considered true white chocolate in the United States is the use of additional dairy whey.
The bar is nicely sized and the little domed pieces are easy to break off.
In the world of white chocolate, this is probably the best deal you’re going to find for a dollar that doesn’t include other fats besides cocoa butter and milk products. The use of whey doesn’t actually bother me that much. I understand it’s a filler but it allows things like chocolate to maintain their texture without becoming overly fatty or too sweet.Of course I would only endorse it for “candy” type applications, not fine chocolates.
It’s a sweet bar, but not very complex. It’s a bit grainy and fudgy, not a lot of vanilla flavors and the even the fresh dairy taste isn’t that distinctive. I found this wasn’t very interesting eaten plain, but went well with other candy. It’s best with a good chocolate cookie (like an Oreo) or a salty item like nuts or pretzels. (Even tortilla chips.)
While in Germany last December I also picked up a few other Milka items, because of their novelty. One of them was this box of Milka Schoko Drops. I know I’ll probably never see these again, which is too bad because they’re certainly a distinctive product. I think they were about one Euro but the little box only has 25 grams (.88 ounces). It’s a rather different price point for a brand that’s usually dirt cheap.
The pieces are large, almost the size of a quarter in diameter and a beautiful purple or pearly white.
The center is Milka’s hazelnut milk chocolate, the outer layer is white chocolate and then a crunchy shell. The box didn’t hold much, but I didn’t need much. I liked them quite a bit. They’re not better than M&Ms, just different. BTW - why doesn’t Mars make Hazelnut M&Ms?
My favorite of the European Milka Bars was this one I picked up at a Kaufland grocery store (on a big sale display that I think was .59 Euro, or about 80 cents American) in Schmalkalden, Germany. It’s the Milka und Oreo which is a natural combination, since Kraft owns both brands.
If there was a disappointment with this bar, it was the use of that cream in the center instead of just more Oreo Cookies. The cream was okay, more on the yogurt side, though less sweet than the actual filling of Oreos. But without the filling, I suppose there’s nothing to distinguish it from regular Chocolate & Cookies bars.
I would buy this again, though I’m not sure if they’re sold in the United States.
I was pretty excited to see these Milka L’il Stars bags at the 99 Cent Only Store on a more recent visit. The reignited my interest in Milka, and spurred me to dig out these photos from earlier this year and finish this write up.
Again, for only a dollar, it’s a great deal for a chocolate hazelnut product. Think of them as giant, shell-less Crispy M&Ms.
The Milka L’il Stars Crispees look completely different than anything else on the American market and fill that hole I often have for a cereal and chocolate combination. The bag is a decent deal for a buck, it holds 3.88 ounces of little spheres of wheat crisps covered in Milka chocolate coating.
The pieces are a bit rugged and uneven. The good part about that is that they don’t roll around as well as a Malted Milk Ball would.
The crispy center is airy and light. It’s a little crunchier and less honeycomb/foamy than a malted milk ball. The flavor is also delicate and cereal-like. It’s a rice puff, made with rice malt and malted barley syrup. It’s not very malty, not like a malted milk, but has the hints like Corn Flakes do.
Of course there’s gluten in there and hazelnuts, dairy and soy. They’re made in Slovakia.
They’re just single, whole roasted hazelnuts covered in the Milka chocolate which has hazelnut paste in it.
This bag (also made in Slovakia) also has 3.88 ounces in it, though not as much volume as the Crispees because of the density of the nuts.
They’re crazily simple, but really well done. The nuts are well chosen, good quality and lightly roasted. The coating is soft and sweet, a little on the fudgy side but the dairy flavors come out more than I noticed them in the bar. The roasted hazelnuts are crunchy and satisfying.
Since chocolate covered hazelnuts are so hard to find, I can see myself picking these up again, especially if I wanted to combine them with the Crispees and some other savory items for a little bit of trail mix to create the perfect movie snack.
The touch of hazelnut paste in Milka products distinguished them from other dairy milk chocolate products like Cadbury. Though it’s not great quality chocolate, it is satisfying candy.
Monday, June 04, 2012
One of my favorite candies, especially lately, has been Hot Tamales. They’re incredibly simple, basically just spicy cinnamon jelly rods. They’re cheap and easy to find. I have been buying the five pound bags at places like Smart & Final and at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles. They look great in a candy jar and are an excellent pick-me up in the middle of the day or during long car trips.
Just Born, makers of Hot Tamales, recently introduced a new twist to their standard box. It’s called Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and as you might imagine, has three different spice levels inside:
The Hot level is orange. It’s mild but still a good mix of spicy and sweet.
The Hotter level is red. It’s warming but it’s just in the shell and dissipates pretty quickly. The flavor is well rounded, the woodsy bark flavors of cassia (sometimes sold as cinnamon but with a slightly more floral note to it), the sweetness of the bark and then the burn. There’s some throat tingling, but pretty much the normal Hot Tamale experience.
The Hottest level is maroon. It’s hard to tell these apart from the Hotter level sometimes, unless they’re side by side. But make no mistake, there’s a difference in flavor. The hotness is obvious. It’s more than just cinnamon hot, I could swear there’s some sort of capsaicin (hot peppers) in there. It burned my throat quite a bit. If I ate it with another level of hotness, I could take it, but otherwise I found it unpleasant.
I like the Hot Tamales Fire and I like the Hot Tamales classic. But I’m not so keen on this Hottest level in Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and find the Hot level a little too tame. Seems like Just Born got it right the first time, so that’s what I’ll stick with. This is fun, but nothing that will become a go-to candy for me.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
In the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store they always seem to have a lot of boxed items filled with sugar and labeled as Snacks. When I go into Target or a grocery store these same items are shelved with the granola bars, not far from the cereal, as if they’re real food.
I picked up this box of SpongeBob Squarepants Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Snacks made by Frankford Candy. They also make Disney licensed candy, including a similar set for the Cars characters.
But again, I puzzled over what made these snacks instead of candy.
Inside the box are 6 packets, each are .53 ounces each and hold what must be a child’s portion of teensy little milk chocolate character shapes.
The ingredients are:
It’s not so different from the ingredients for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. So, let’s just stop calling these snacks, unless all foods designed to be eaten outside of a meal are deemed snacks. They’re candy. Teensy little bags of candy.
They come in three shapes: SpongeBob, Patrick and Mr Krabs. There are about 15-16 pieces in each little pouch. The pouches feature the full ingredients list and calorie count and a large portion of the front of the wrapper is dedicated to the face of SpongeBob.
It’s hard to imagine that something this small is actually filled, but they are. They’re about a half an inch across (except for Patrick’s spiky arms, which give him another eighth of an inch) yet still have a thin reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
The pieces are waxy and smell like Easter. The chocolate doesn’t really melt, but it dissolves well enough and they’re not as greasy as some peanut butter candies can get. They’re sweet and have a strong roasted peanut scent. The but the peanut butter flavor is lacking. The sweet and marginal chocolate is barely smooth and the slightly grainy peanut butter center is rather bitter. There’s a little extra salt in there but for the most part it’s a big old bag of failure.
These have been around for two or three years and Hungry Girl raves about them. My opinion is, if you really need a teensy portion of a snack, buy some really good candy. Even if it’s only a half an ounce, if you’re eating this as a treat, it’d better be good. If you love peanut butter cups, have two of the Reese’s foil wrapped minis - those are 44 calories each or even better, the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Cups. Or go for something fantastic like a beefy chocolate truffle or a set of very dark chocolate tasting squares. Something that you really pause and enjoy, not this stuff that is only good enough to shovel down your maw without chewing.
What I’m left with when it comes to licensed merchandise is the dismal reality that most of it sucks. My guess is that the candy maker spends a large sum of money securing the branding for the product and they don’t have much left for the actual ingredients and quality. There’s also no indication of the ethical sourcing of any of the ingredients. They’re made in the USA, but for those with allergy issues, it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. At least these sea creatures have no shellfish present.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
In the history of candy, I’m pretty confident that some of the earliest boiled candy sweets created were nut and seed brittles. The genre of sesame brittles fit in nicely as one of those candies that I think has been around for a thousands of years. Early versions probably used date sugar and honey instead of refined sugar.
The Joyva Sesame Crunch is a dead simple candy, made well and without much fuss or fanfare. It’s sold in two formats, the large single serving plank (1.125 ounces) and little individually wrapped snaps.
It has only four ingredients: sesame seed, sugar, corn syrup, honey. It’s packaged equally simply, a small paperboard card to keep the slab from breaking and then inserted into a cellophane sleeve. The logo may not be a thousand years old, but certainly looks like it could be from the 1970s.
I’ve been eating these candies for years, and they seem to fall into the genre of healthy, judging by the number of natural food stores that carry them. They’re exceptionally durable too, since there’s no chocolate they don’t melt and the coating of sugary candy over the sesame seals them up so they don’t oxidize (get rancid).
The brittle base is just boiled sugar and some honey, the flavor is mostly from the sesame seeds themselves, which are nicely toasted and have a good oily, nutty balance with a light grassy and bitter note. The sweetness is mild, and the overall crunch and chew is long lasting. I find that when I buy these, I have a hard time not eating whatever quantity I have in one sitting. Still, my ideal version would probably have a little more candy to it, and a little more honey flavor.
Since sesame seeds are the main ingredient, there’s a fair amount of fat in the bar, though I’ve read that sesame oil is quite healthy as far as vegetable oils go. The bar is filling, but not too sweet, so it straddles the line of snack and candy very nicely. It’s filling and even has a little bit of protein, so it will probably keep blood sugar levels from spiking like other pure sugar candies might. The calories on the label say 180 for the bar, but I think that’s steep for a sesame candy that’s only 1.125 ounces. (Tahini is about 160 calories per ounce and has no sugar in it, which is lower in calories per ounce than sesame oil.)
The bar is Kosher, naturally, as well as being marked as gluten free. It may contain traces of almonds or pistachios. The package doesn’t say anything about peanuts. It’s not vegan, unless you’re the kind of vegan who’s okay with honey.
Friday, December 09, 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 04, 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 06, 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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.