99 Cent Only Store
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
There’s rarely anything new to report in the world of chocolate rabbits for Easter. There’s plenty of variation: They come in flat styles and three dimensional. Sitting and standing poses. Hollow and solid. Milk, white or dark chocolate (and sometimes flavored solid confection). The chocolate can also have some inclusions. Until recently this was rather rare, and mostly crispy rice. This year Russell Stover, which already makes a white confection Cookies ‘n’ Creme version, came out with the Russell Stover Kris P. Pretzel Bunny.
I learned of the existence of this tasty sounding bunny on Rebekah’s Obsessive Sweets blog. I did find it at CVS but it was a full 7 ounces and four dollars, I just wanted to taste it. So off to the Russell Stover’s website I go and found out that there’s a 1.5 ounce version out there, so I checked out the 99 Cent Only Store. Success ... and only a buck. (Though the large version is a better value.)
The bunny, at only 1.5 ounces, is not particularly large, but compact. It’s quite thick through the middle, and if it were solid (without the pretzel bits), it would probably be more difficult to bite.
Suspended within the milk chocolate are little bits of pretzel. They’re not chunks, they really are teensy bits. My guess is that they have to be in order to get the molding process to work.
The bite is wonderfully grainy, there are a lot of little bits in there. They don’t create the dry crunch that a whole pretzel piece would. Instead there’s more the malty and salty flavors in there and of course the slight grit of a pretzel dust. The chocolate is creamy and sweet, with a light smoky note. Sadly, it’s very salty. There are 240 mg of salt in there, which the package says is 10% of your RDA, but I think, for me, it’s more like 25% since I eat so little salt. So it could easily be cut in half and I think most people would find it still has that zap.
I liked it and would probably buy this variety again. It’d be nice if it came in a dark variety, but the chocolate here was sufficiently strong enough to stand up for itself with the pretzel flavors and textures.
The packaging is excessive. It’s not a large rabbit, but the box is big and has a useless tray inside. I understand needing to box up hollow bunnies, but the solid variety shouldn’t need more than some foil and/or a box, not the tray as well.
Since this has pretzels in it, it’s not gluten free. The bunnies contain soy and dairy. It’s also made on shared equipment with peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no statement on the package or on Russell Stover’s website about the sourcing of their chocolate or other ingredients except that their chocolate sourcing partners are members of the World Cocoa Foundation.
Friday, August 31, 2012
The new SweeTarts Gummies are not exactly new. There have been a few versions around, but they didn’t invoke the classic candies in shape and flavor variety.
The new gummies come in six flavors and though they’re in a bag, they are a similar tablet shape.
The assortment in the bag is soft and fresh and smells like SweeTarts. The pieces are a similar little disk shape as the classic roll version of SweeTarts, complete with a little divot in the center of one side. They’re about .75 inches around and .3 inches thick. They’re coated in a sweet sanding of sugar (not the sour sanding I expected).
What I found interesting about this new product is the list of ingredients indicates that most of these are made from natural colorings ... except for the use of Blue #1. Of course the blue gummi uses blue coloring, but I have to wonder if it’s also in the purple one, too. The other ingredients include cochineal, but also gelatin, so it’s off limits to vegetarians. It’s made in a facility with wheat, soy, peanuts, milk and eggs as well.
Yellow = Lemon - is quite fun. The lemon flavor is well rounded, very sour towards the end but smooth overall. Its flavor is quite close to the classic dry SweeTart.
Green = Green Apple - the spongy texture is fun and the flavor more tangy than apple-y. It’s a generic green apple flavor, but less pronounced than the compressed dextrose candies.
Blue = Fruit Punch - I’m old enough to remember when the Blue SweeTarts came out, and still carry a grudge (this is also when the green switched from Lime to Apple). They’re the one flavor that I usually don’t eat, as I never cared much for the punch flavor itself. That said, these are actually really punch. Smooth, vibrant and the flavor gets less fruit and more sour as your chew or let it dissolve.
Purple = Grape - is one of my favorite SweeTarts as it is. The purple color is vibrant and appealing, but it also indicates a hefty bit of food coloring is in there. The moist and bouncy gummi, like the others, gets more tart as you chew. The flavor is artificial and not quite as subtle as the chalky SweeTart. Instead it has more floral notes that are not at all in keeping with actual grape or even fake grape, it’s more like an ink flavor. I was disappointed with it, but only because I had high expectations.
Hot Pink = Cherry - is medicinal and woodsy, it almost has a raspberry flavor to it at first, but then as it gets more sour, it tastes more like cherry.
My true love has always been the classic chalky candies, but I’m sure there are some people who are looking for the texture experience of a gummi with the bold artificial flavors of SweeTarts. As far as tart gummis go, I’m a little more grown up now when it comes to sour and probably won’t even want to stray from the Haribo Ingwer-Zitrone.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
They’re called Werther’s Original Caramel Apple Filled Hard Candies and are a bit of a curiosity to me. They’re a green apple filling covered with a hard shell of the famous Werther’s butter toffee candy.
The objective is to emulate a caramel coated green apple.
The ingredient list for this strange candy creation is, well, long. Here’s another example of a European candy (like the downscale version of Panda Licorice) that uses glucose-fructose syrup, which is the same as High Fructose Corn Syrup, except it’s made from something other than corn. There are other fun things in there like artificial colors though it does use actual concentrated apple juice.
They look like a nice candy from the outside. They were in good shape, no crushed or sticky pieces. They’re hard and glossy and smell buttery-sweet. The candy shell is exactly what I’d expect a Wether’s candy to taste like. It’s silky smooth and sweet with a hint of salt. The shell is thin and the center is soft. It’s easy to just chew up the candy, which I ended up doing most of the time. The center is a soft goo with an apple flavoring, kind of like apple juice instead of a Jolly Rancher candy. It’s sweet and flavorful but without an artificial sourness to it.
Overall, it’s an interesting take on the apple and caramel combination. Sweet, salty and a little fruity. I ate the whole bag (which wasn’t hard considering that the fact that for a buck there were only 12 pieces in it. I don’t think I’d buy them again, but I do think they’re better than I gave them credit for in the concept stage.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Butterfinger Bites made by Nestle come in a few sizes, but I picked up their theater box. It was a helpful box with a little image of the candy with the words “actual bite size” pointing to one of them that is actually far smaller than anything inside the box.
The box also says that they’re new, though I’m pretty sure Nestle has made these before, or something amazingly similar. Then the box also says that they’re Easy To Eat! which is a huge relief, because Butterfingers are menacingly difficult what with all that wrapper and ... largeness.
The box actually had 3.5 ounces of candy bites in it, which is a pretty decent deal for a buck. Of course it’s also filled with Butterfinger Bites, so maybe I’d be happier with less than 3.5 ounces considering what dismal tasting candy it actually is.
There are so many things wrong with this, like the fact that there’s more hydrogenated palm kernel oil in it than cocoa (and no chocolate), artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives.
The pieces are about an inch long and are, in fact, easy to eat. If you don’t have a sense of smell. I found the odor simply offputting. It’s overly sweet, artificial and reminds me of a combination of birthday cake and fake butter topping. They are not even vaguely peanutty or chocolatey.
The pieces are lighter and crunchier than a regular Butterfinger. The mockolate coating is chalky looking, very light in color and not the slightest bit chocolatey. The crispy layers of the center are wonderfully crispy and do have a lovely proportion of salt. But that’s about it, the level of peanut butter is so far below what I love in candies like Chick-O-Stick or Clark Bars that it’s more like a butter flavored center.
The mockolate coating really ruins it, it tastes about as good as sucking on the cardboard box. These can’t be stale (they were plenty crispy and they expiry is more than 6 months away), they’re just poor excuses for candy. What’s sad is that I would absolutely love to buy little nuggets of real chocolate covered peanut butter crisp, even at twice the price.
I have a little poll running over there on the sidebar about what companies should do when they need to cut costs. Maybe we should let them know that making bad candy really isn’t a way to increase sales.
Tuesday, June 5, 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 4, 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.
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