Thursday, June 4, 2009
Honestly, it seems odd that Nestle hadn’t entered the gummi category up to this point, especially since the Wonka brand is all about straight sugar candy (every once in a while they have a chocolate product). They’ve returned to the Roald Dahl book for some inspiration on the name. They’re called Sluggles (I’m guessing a vamp off the Arthur Slugworth character combined with the critter theme.)
But once I saw the package it kind of made sense. The says they’re from WONKA’S Edible Garden which sounds like fun! They come in four flavors: grape, orange, lemon & strawberry and say they’re made with natural ingredients and 25% real fruit juice. Yes, naturally flavored and no artificial colors ... from Nestle!
The Sluggles are shaped like little invertebrate creatures. The shapes I could discern looked like chitins, millipedes, snails and larvae. (They’re not exactly named on the package so forgive me if I gravitate towards the sea creature indentifications.)
I was really excited about the flavor array, mostly because there was no cherry, but also because they included grape, which is pretty rare in the gummi area.
Most of the gummis smelled the same, as it’s a mixed bag. The flavor is immediately tangy with a nice berry flavor, though not specifically strawberry and lacking that fragrant floral note.
The tartness has a slight fizzy quality to it towards the end.
Though the colors are all natural, gummis use gelatin so are not for vegetarians ... and in this case the red coloring is cochineal in addition to beta carotene.
I had a little trouble telling these from the strawberry at first glance because the colors aren’t as vibrant.
They’re mostly sweet with a light orange flavor to them, rather like orange drink with a little sprinkling of zest. While I sound underwhelmed, I thought these were the nicest of the bunch.
Wow, grape gummis! I can count on one hand the grape gummis that I know about (Albanese, the Japanese muscat varieties and the Big Bite Giant Gummi Bear).
Since this is a naturally flavored assortment, the grape flavor is much more like concord grape juice (not that there is actually any grape juice in here, the 25% is apple juice) than “artificial grape candy”. It has the deep jelly flavor but is much more sour than a jam. The exterior of the candies isn’t greasy at all, rather soft & dry but the chew is pliable and has a nice soft but rubbery bite.
The lemon flavored Sluggles were a little on the sweet side for a tangy citrus. The zest was mellow, the whole thing reminding me more of canned frozen lemonade than anything made with real lemons. It’s kind of a boiled sweet taste.
Still, they were tasty and all of the flavors went together well, I didn’t feel the need to look at the pieces before popping them in my mouth and any combinations of the flavors were acceptable.
The other product in this “edible garden” line is Puckerooms, which I’ll review soon. The other new items introduced this year are two different flavors of Kazoozles (which are not exactly in the garden theme and are definitely not all natural).
The package I got is a “sales sample” so this may not be the final package, ingredients & nutrition info. They’re made in the Czech Republic on equipment that processes milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sulfites.
I think these are a great option for families that want to shy away from artificial ingredients but still want mainstream treat. (I also expect them to be priced very well.) The information from the All Candy Expo indicates that these should be hitting store shelves in June.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Since the introduction of chocolate covered espresso beans sometime in the seventies not much has changed. Oh sure, sometimes they’re milk chocolate covered ... sometimes dark chocolate and even white chocolate.
At the Fancy Food Show in January I did get to try what I thought was one of the best revisions of the classic caffeinated confection: JAVAZ.
First, they’re all natural and use organic, fair traded coffee beans. Second, they use good quality chocolate. Third, they have a candy shell. But most of all, they actually roast the coffee for eating. That is, instead of roasting it for optimal brewing, it’s roasted with the idea that someone is going to crunch & consume it.
They come in two varieties: Milk and Dark.
JAVAZ Milk are much larger than most chocolate covered coffee beans, so it’s a goodly dose of chocolate. I threw some coffee beans into the photo to show the scale.
They’re even larger than Peanut M&Ms.
They look like little bird eggs: a faint tan color with brown speckles.
The shell is thick and crunchy and the milk chocolate is sweet and has a strong dairy/milky flavor to it. The coffee bean at the center is crispy and light, I wasn’t getting the fibery, woody bits that some coffee candies seem to leave behind. The coffee beans don’t have that acrid, oily taste to them.
The whole thing tastes like coffee ice cream with crunchy bits.
Though there’s obviously caffeine in here it’s not as much as you might think: a 55 gram bag has about the same amount as a cup of coffee.
JAVAZ Dark are decorated in the reverse of the milk ones. The shell is brown with beige speckles.
The chocolate layer here is dark chocolate, though not “pure” in the sense that there’s some dairy in there (sorry vegans, but the confectioners glaze spoiled these for you anyway).
The chocolate is quite sweet and the punch of the coffee bean is nice and balances that sugary-ness quite well. I might have preferred a little more coffee flavor.
They’re substantially crunchy, I can’t say that these are a quiet way to get a caffeine boost.
I like how thick the shells are and how easy it is to hold them in my hand or just throw a few in my jacket pocket without the protection of the bag. As long as they stay dry, they do just fine. (Okay, maybe that’s not the most sanitary thing, but I’m just being honest about my road-testing of the product.)
The coffee is sourced from Indonesia and uses only Arabica beans and benefits the Indonesia Relief Fund.
They’re made in the USA and are Kosher. The packages are a little expensive ($3.00 for 1.94 ounces), but I expect that’s because they’re just starting out ... volume usually helps to even these things out and they’re only sold in the small package. Right now I can only find them on Foodzie, though they’ve been at some food trade shows so might be in cafes and gourmet delis as well.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Surf Sweets has been making fun candies that are also mostly organic and made from non-GMO ingredients for years. What’s fun about them is that other than the ingredients, they don’t look like a compromise to kids. They’re fun shapes and flavors and even the all natural colorings don’t look faded and suspicious.
The Gummi Swirls area also fortified with vitamin C (no big deal there, lots of candies are) and 100% of the RDA of calcium.
Hmm, calcium? That’s stuff tastes pretty nasty sometimes.
The package doesn’t mention it, but these little gum-drop-sized candies come in three flavors: orange, strawberry and cherry.
The little pieces are truly lovely. The white background color and the little swirls are then graced with crunchy granulated sugar.
The bite is firm, they’re not quite gummis (they’re vegetarian, so actually contain no gelatin, think of them more like jellies or gumdrops since they use fruit pectin) but chewy. The flavor is good, not overly tart or sweet but also not terribly intense. They’re simply nice. There’s a bit of a creamsicle vibe to them, a slight creamy background to the flavor. If I let them dissolve a bit on my tongue I was getting that hint of chalky grain that antacids can have. (But pop & chew and it’s not at all detectable.)
My only real complaint is that I can’t tell the cherry from the strawberry. If they’re different colors, I’m not wise to the subtlety. (Maybe one is cream with pink strips and the other is pink with cream stripes.)
I really like this brand, they’re obviously more expensive than the mass-manufactured options, but the ability to buy without artificial colors and the fact that they don’t look “special” to kids must be a huge relief to parents who keep their kids on a more restricted diet. Surf Sweets has also started making smaller packages (.9 ounces) for lunches, party favors and Halloween treats.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Ghirardelli Chocolate introduced their new Luxe Milk line of premium milk chocolate late last year. I started seeing it on store shelves in last fall, especially at Cost Plus World Market, which usually has a great selection of both their bars and the bags of the squares.
I already tried the Luxe Milk Crisp late last year while on my search for the ideal crisped rice bar (it’s pretty good!).
Now I have a full bag of the Premium Assortment which includes Milk Chocolate, Milk chocolate with Almonds, Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts and the Crisp.
The package explains how Ghirardelli is different, because they control all steps of production, from bean selection, roasting, refining and conching. I’m pretty sure even subpar chocolate goes through controlled steps ... just that the raw materials and standards are a little different.
The all natural formula for Ghirardelli’s Luxe Milk does sound promising: sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, soy lecithin and vanilla.
The color is creamy and light, much lighter than I usually take my coffee with cream.
The scent is less like chocolate and more like caramelized sugar and meringue (a kind of toasted protein smell).
The bite is rather soft, but not as fudgy as lesser chocolate such as Hershey’s.
The flavor is, well, quite milky. The texture is very smooth and silky and the melt is creamy. However, the flavor has a distinct dried milk taste to it. There’s also a little sour tang to it, not as pronounced as Hershey’s but certainly it leans towards that end instead of the hot chocolate flavors of Dove or Nestle’s Milk Chocolate. The saving grace is that they’re not overly sweet or cloying.
I’ve had quite a few of these squares over the past few months, starting with some sample squares at the Fancy Food Show and I have to say that I don’t care for it much. It worked very well with the malty notes of the Crisp and the texture is certainly great.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The Luxe Milk Almond has crushed almond bits in it. The square is a bit thicker and it’s actually bigger than the plain square (.528 ounces versus .375).
The almonds are pretty big and do go well with the milk flavors of the chocolate. The smooth texture is highlighted well by comparison. The nuts have a dark roast to them so the toasted almond flavors come out well and stand up to the strong dairy component.
Rating: 8 out of 10
This piece is also .528 ounces. The hazelnuts are wonderfully toasted and have that grassy and buttery crunch to them that goes so well with milk chocolate. No hint of stickiness.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Overall, I like the fact that someone is paying attention to milk chocolate, which has a rather bad rap as being some sort of starter chocolate instead of valid gourmet confection. The plain isn’t my style, but certainly not bad quality ... but it’s also possible that I’m just not a plain chocolate persons ... most times I feel like a nut.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Das Foods which is already known for their cute little caramel morsels has expanded into the gourmet lollipop market. (Did you know there was a gourmet lollipop market?)
Their initial offerings are petite pops that look suspiciously like ordinary lollipops you’d get at the doctor’s office after bravely taking an injection without crying or biting the nurse.
These, however, are made in decidedly grown up flavors and with all natural ingredients.
This amber pop looks rather blah, like an all natural candy usually does.
It doesn’t mess around though. It didn’t smell like much, kind of like lemon, but maybe like tea. The first sensation I got when putting it on my tongue was a zap of ginger. Spicy. The tangy lemon entered and brought its companion bitterness with it (I guess that’s the naughty part, bitterness is like a lack of gratitude but sometimes a reminder of what we have).
It was a cross between a cough drop and a ginger hard candy. The spicy feeling on my lips, tongue & throat lasted quite a while.
The ingredients are pretty impressive: sugar, rice syrup, citric acid, crystallized ginger pieces, citric acid, lemon oil, natural ginger extract
Unlike many pomegranate candies, this is just a light and natural pink, like a garden rose. It smells rather woodsy - like tea in a sandalwood or cedar box.
The flavor is tangy and bit like a mellow cherry or raspberry. But then the orange kicks in. Instead of the juicy flavor it’s all about the zest here. There are little bits of orange zest as well, they give it a less than smooth melt on the tongue but also vibrant pops of flavor.
This dark brown pop was opaque. It smells a bit like a bowl of brown sugar - just lightly toasted.
The texture is just a smidge less smooth but the caramelized sugar flavors come out right away. It’s a little salty and not very sweet overall. The butter or cream components are missing ... so it’s more like a brulee topper for me than an actual hardened caramel. But that still kept me happy.
For an all natural hard candy, they are extremely expensive. Right now the variety pack is going for $3.99 for 4 ounces on the Das Foods website. (Each pop is about a half an ounce and there are 8 in the package. So they’re $16 a pound or 50 cents per pop.)
If you’re going through morning sickness or have motion sickness problems, the ginger pops are an excellent option. The caramel pops are a nice take on the hardened caramel, I appreciated that they weren’t too sweet. The orange & pomegranate didn’t thrill me, but I think I was detecting more bitter citrus oils than most folks probably would. I don’t mind it at first, but it does leave a weird taste in my mouth.
In addition to the flavors reviewed here there’s also one called Man Bait which is Bacon & Maple. (I gave it to Amy, who thought it was pretty tasty, much more on the maple & smoke side and not much else from the bacon ... for the record she’s one of those people who doesn’t like her syrup to get on her bacon.)
Expensive but certainly unique. If you’re going for really vibrant flavors and all natural ingredients, these may be a great option. They’re certainly a fun impulse item at a cafe or gift shop but I don’t think I’m crazy enough about them to buy a whole box.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
It’s marketed as candy with benefits in this case a bit of fortification with 500 mg of calcium. The candy balls are also made with all natural ingredients, so no artificial colors or flavors.
The package is rather large considering the amount inside. The wrapper is over 6.5” long, that’s an inch longer than an M&M package (so think of this like a King Sized pouch) but only holds one ounce. (However, when I talked to the folks who are just starting up the company, they designed the bag before knowing exactly how big & heavy the portions would be and will probably alter this during their next production run of wrappers.)
That said, I think the package design is nice - it’s bold & seems friendly and appealing.
The candy is made of a crisped rice center surrounded by milk chocolate and then a hard candy shell. There are 10-12 per bag.
The most noticeable flavor at first is the cereal notes of the rice then there’s a bit of milky flavor from the chocolate. The chocolate flavors come across as a kind of cocoa breakfast cereal. The calcium part is completely undetectable. Not a hint of unusual graininess, no weird mineral aftertaste. I find it hard to believe that I’m getting half my daily RDA of calcium ... but that’s what it says. They’re sweet and definitely crunchy ...
My only hesitation with them is availability and price. Right now they’re for sale on place online (healthysnackstore.com) and are about $1.70 a package when sold by the dozen. It’s far cheaper to just down Tums for the calcium. However, if you have a kid that you need to get that extra calcium into or are an adult who just needs a little help with boosting your mineral intake the caloric hit isn’t even that bad because of the scant portion size - only 130 calories a bag. I felt pretty satisfied ... and strong.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
At the same time I bought the Sunspire Peppermint Pattie, I also picked up both of their Coconut Bars.
Sunspire makes premium candy with all natural ingredients, nothing artificial. In my experience with their products they tend to use evaporated cane juice instead of refined sugar and often use unsulfured molasses as a sweetener. They also eschew genetically modified sources so most of the products I’ve seen use a rice syrup when needed instead of corn syrup. Besides the malty, earthy flavor that molasses usually adds, I have no problem with sweet & satisfying candy being made from these elements.
Add to that Hershey’s decision to move manufacturing of Mounds, Almond Joy and York Peppermint Patties to Mexico, I thought it’d be cool to find an excellent American-made substitute for folks who want to buy more local. (Though in my case Monterrey, Mexico is a bit closer than Hershey, PA.)
Instead of the two piece style of Almond Joy or Bounty this is a long, one-piece bar, a bit thinner. The rippled milk chocolate enrobing is glossy and appealing.
The almonds in this bar are not whole ones popped on top like Almond Joy, they’re crushed & mixed in with the moist coconut flakes.
I didn’t really see the almond bits in there, but the color was a bit more on the cream-colored side than the dark chocolate & no almond version (see below.)
The bar smells pleasantly like coconut and unpleasantly like Hershey’s Milk Chocolate often does - a bit gamey & sour ... rather like baby vomit.
But I pushed on, because I actually like the taste of Hershey’s milk chocolate, even though I can’t take the smell of it for very long.
The flavor of the milk chocolate is tangy, it’s like acid reflux but in the convenience of a pre-packaged bar. It’s terrible. I can’t eat it. I tried several times, it’s just too awful for me to stomach. (I even waited a couple of days, just in case I was the one who wasn’t feeling well.)
Then, as some sort of deja vu, I lured Amy into my office to try it. (Remember, not only does Amy have no problem spitting things out, she also has a hate-hate relationship with Sunspire’s Sundrops.)
I understand personal preferences for certain flavors, it’s rare for any candy product to induce a verified gag reflex.
Rating: 1 out of 10
It’s a simpler bar, just a firm coconut center, lightly sweetened and some dark chocolate enrobing.
The enrobing on this one looked similar, though there were a few bloomed spots. As the expiration date was March 2010, I felt pretty safe eating it.
The chocolate is slightly bitter, not extremely creamy but has its own decent flavor. The center is firm and chewy, more like an uncoated coconut bar than something soft & moist like a Mounds.
This tastes like no compromise candy. All natural ingredients, not organic but at least not genetically modified or overprocessed. The ingredients are vegan however they were made in a plant that processes wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs and soy. Kosher.
The price is a bit steep and to be honest, if I’m going for a candy bar when at Whole Foods or similar stores, there’s very little that could pry me away from the Q.Bel wafer bars. But if I was in the mood for coconut, the dark bar is notable.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.