Tuesday, October 6, 2009
There’s a lot that goes on before our beloved candy hits the store shelves. The same is true with Candy Blog, though it probably looks like all I do is play with candy, take photos of candy and of course eat candy. I also read about what’s going on in the candy business and of course visit trade shows and talk to candy companies, distributors & retailers.
One of the things I always found curious about the American candy business is how some foreign candies are represented in the United States. One such oddity was that the American distributor for Toblerone and Cote d’Or (owned by Kraft) chocolate for two years was Ferrara Pan. Yes, the Lemonhead & Atomic Fireball makers. Well, that deal ended in December 2008. So that left Ferrara free to move into the chocolate bar field without competing with his own interests ... and he’s come up with something that looks familiar yet has its own distinctiveness.
The chocolate is made in Belgium but the rest of the manufacturing is done at the new Ferrara facility in Forest Park, IL. If you like the behind the scenes stuff, you might love this article (which is one of the most blunt I’ve seen about how the candy business is a business and made up of people).
The new Ferrara Imported Belgian Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat bar has a distinctive shape and a similar construction. It’s an atypical shape (a trapezoidal bar with deep sections) enclosed in a box shaped just like the bar. Yes, it’s a Faux-blerone.
The ingredients are in fact quite nice: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, chocolate, soy lecithin and natural vanilla flavor), almond nougat (sugar, corn syrup, almonds, honey, egg white, natural vanilla flavor) plus wheat starch as a processing aid.
Inside the box the bar is sealed in a heavy mylar wrap with the Ferrara “F” crest reminding consumers that Ferrara has been making candy since 1908 on it.
It does smell quite good, sweet and milky with just a hint of the promised honey in the nougat.
Biting into it the first thing I noticed was how packed with nuts & nougat bits it was. My issue with Toblerone has long been the lack of enough bits to satisfy me.
The chocolate is quite milky but surprisingly smooth. The milky flavors are lightly caramelized, so there’s a malty & honey undertone to it. The chocolate comes across as rich, but also a little sweet.
I liked the little almond slivers and crunches and the Italian-style nougat which had a hint of honey and toasted marshmallow flavors. The bits are a little tough and sometimes sticky ... I’d kind of like to try the milk chocolate without the nougat & nuts. (Ferrara is planning on making sectioned chocolate balls a la Terry’s Chocolate Orange later this year as well.)
I’d say this is a great addition to a rather open segment of the candy shelf - better than a standard Hershey’s with Almonds and rivaling Toblerone without the price tag. I paid $1.99 for this bar ... on the shelf next to it was Toblerone, for $2.79 each. The fact that it’s all natural (no artificial vanilla flavor in there) is a bonus.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Last week I told you that pandas have berry flavored noses. This week I’m telling you that all natural pandas are pink grapefruit flavored.
Bissinger’s Naturals line has an excellent array of exotic flavored & nutritionally enhanced gummy pandas. I was frustrated for many years because the only place I could get them was on their website and you had to order 4 packages of each flavor ... I’m more of a grazer than a consumer. So I would visit their booth at trade shows. I’d always arrive and they’d say “oh, we’re not tasting the gummys today.” Or if they were, I’d be directed to go visit a counter where the staff is dressed in white lab coats like they work for Clinique and I would be given one single gummy to try and no access to the packages & labels.
Finally at the Whole Foods by the coffee counter I found a whole display of Bissinger’s Naturals Gummy Pandas. They come in two package sizes, the little 4 ounce stand up pack shown here and some flavors were available in 100 calorie packages for a smaller taste. They come in Goji Guava, Blueberry Acai, Green Tea, Pomegranate White Tea and Pink Grapefruit with Grapeseed.
I was a little aghast at the price - $3.99 for four ounces, but it’s not like I don’t splurge on candy from time to time. (Yes, $16 a pound for gummi bears.)
These gummies are quite soft and a little greasy (coconut oil & beeswax keeps them from sticking together). They’re darker than I would have expected for a grapefruit flavored candy, but the coloring is all natural, from black carrot juice.
When I opened the package I found they smelled very nice - sweet and with a strong note of grapefruit oils and a little like the powder for Country Time Lemonade. It certainly made my mouth water.
They’re quite gummy & bouncy bears. The chew is stiff but squishy (I think gummi fans know what I mean). The flavor is tart, a slight bitter note of the grapefruit and a not too sweet base. The texture is ultra smooth.
The ingredients are interesting. The product is all natural, gluten/wheat free as well as containing no artificial colors or sweeteners. The main sweetener is tapioca syrup (organic) instead of corn syrup ... so if you shun corn this might be the perfect gummi for you. Later on the list is grapeseed extract. That’s supposed to add some antioxidants, but I don’t much care one way or the other if my candy gives me that sort of stuff.
The flavor is well rounded and doesn’t have any of that weird aftertaste that some all natural candies that are fortified can have. They’re a cute shape and the ability to buy just one flavor instead of a mix is often a bonus.
The bottom of the label does say that they’re produced in a facility that processes milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and eggs. So I don’t know what to say about that Gluten Free statement. Then there was a strange little K over at the edge of the back of the package. Last year Bissinger’s announced that they were going Kosher ... could this be their Kosher symbol? I couldn’t be sure and their website was no help. So I emailed them. A helpful woman named Jenney replied quite promptly to my question with this: The gummies are definitely certified kosher, and the gelatin is kosher and does come from pork. You are free to make of that what you will, I find those statements in conflict. Unless there’s something new in pigs that I’m not aware of.
Besides the price and the incongruity of their claim of gluten free with their allergen statement and this newfangled pork-is-Kosher I like ‘em a lot.
FOLLOW UP 10/10/2009: I continued my correspondence with Jenney at Bissinger’s. She insisted again that the product was both Kosher and porcine. She presented me with a certificate from the ingredient company, Gelita, that shows its status. With that I contacted Gelita who refused to tell me what’s in their Kosher gelatin, as they were bound by their confidentiality agreements with their clients.
I emailed again, telling Gelita that I was referred to them by Bissinger’s for more information but have heard no reply after a week of waiting. So folks who avoid pig products can take this to mean what they wish. I do not feel confident calling this a pork-free product and am extremely uncomfortable with a company that says their products are Kosher yet insists they contain porcine gelatin with no twinkling of acknowledgment of that incongruity.
Friday, September 18, 2009
And they’re also licorice. Actually, the completely unattractive sticker on the front of the bag informs me in English (the rest of the package is in German) that it’s Licorice Foam Candy.
They’re shaped like panda faces and I have to say that they’re fraktacularlary cute. So cute I just wanted to eat them up. And the name? Tappsy! How could you not like something called Tappsy? (It reminded me of Stampy.)
What was also fun was the fact that they’re a European candy, so they don’t use any artificial colorings and seem to have all natural flavorings. (I don’t know if ammonium chloride is consider natural or not ... I mean, it’s a mineral.)
The light & flexible disk are shaped like cartoon panda faces. They’re about 1.5 inches across at the ears. They come in two varieties - licorice faced and foam faced. (Panda’s don’t actually look like that, they have white faces with black eyes and ears.) The white faced ones had little noses made of a berry flavored jelly. (Real pandas also have berry flavored noses, but couldn’t find any verification of this, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and of course make mention of it in conversation until someone starts sending around emails and Snopes investigates.)
The little faces have a kind of cock-eyed smile that reminded me of Wybie from Coraline.
The licorice parts are quite mellow - a light anise flavor and not overtly sweet and a good caramel & molasses undertone. The texture is more like a chewy licorice than the foamy stuff - not the wheat based chew of the US/Australia and not quite a jelly or gummi. The foam white part is rather like a marshmallow - but smashed, just a bit more dense and not at all sticky.
I loved the licorice parts and ate the licorice-faced ones first (sadly they didn’t make up half the bag). Licorice-eared ones were just a little bland, so towards the end, I just ate their ears and tossed the face ... it’s the candy equivalent of shark finning.
I would definitely buy them again, though I would like to find them in bulk bins so I can pull out a better proportion of licorice. (They also come in a fruity version.) I looked on the Katje’s website and think there may be some other products that are more balanced to my liking like the Domino Delicious (which appears to be the first same-sex-marriage-marketed candy I’ve seen - well, besides the Rainbow Mentos).
Finally, here’s a commercial for Tappsy starring Heidi Klum:
I don’t know what’s going on in that commercial except that it’s a pretty accurate depiction of my Saturday mornings in my breezy white-clad bed, rolling around with my candy.
Finally, just a note about the calories: each piece has only 28 calories. And a whole ounce clocks in at 97 calories. So this is definitely a candy you can use a a little low-calorie treat that looks like a high calorie one.
Friday, September 11, 2009
When I was in college at Humboldt State University one summer I house-sat for a friend and as a thank you they gave me some tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So my best friend and I packed up her rabbit puppet in her yellow Dodge Dart and we hit the road for the journey to Ashland to see the show.
The theatre was in the classic outdoor Elizabethan-style, except for the electric lights and assigned seating. The show was fantastic. In addition they also had an amazing selection of treats and sweets to consume during the show. At an intermission I picked up a roll of Callard & Bowser Licorice Toffee. The roll was long and had individually wax-wrapped pieces. I was ill informed what they were, I was expecting buttery hard candy with a licorice note to it. Instead it was what we call a caramel here in the States and it had a pleasant spicy & woodsy flavor. I ate the whole roll right there during the show.
Over the years I found them here and there but the last time I had some was when I was in London sometime late in the last century.
Callard & Bowser was a British founded in 1837 and the maker of toffees but most notably to Americans are their Altoids mints. They were swallowed up by Kraft, which later spat them back out in 2004 to Wrigley’s ... which in turn was bought out by Mars last year. Somewhere along the way they discontinued the Licorice Toffee. So I no longer look for it. Instead, I’ve been on the prowl for alternatives and found a few promising options to suggest to readers. Today, I present to you the Walkers’ Nonsuch Liquorice Toffee.
Unlike the other Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees I’ve reviewed so far, these are individually wrapped in twisted paper-backed foil. The wrapper is cute & easy to identify as licorice since it’s a simple black & white design with a checkerboard pattern and red text.
Each little nugget is a little bigger around than a quarter and a lovely lump of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and treacle. It also features real liquorice extract as well as oil of aniseed.
They’re softer than the bar toffees; it’s an immediate stiff chew that softens with heat & mastication. The flavors are buttery and dark - not so much licorice but a soft anise with deep woodsy tones that reminded me of pumpernickel bread and spice cake. It’s smooth and satisfying.
I found the 150 gram (5.3 ounces) package to be completely inadequate (but it’s partly my fault for sharing these with my other licorice loving friends). The good news is that I got them at India Sweets & Spices and have also seen them listed online at The British Food Shop down in Orange County and if I get really desperate I can order online at Licorice International (though more than twice the price I find them locally).
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It’s odd how I look back into the Candy Blog archives when I pick up a new candy and see how seasonal some of my finds are. Over the weekend I went out to India Sweets & Spices for a tasty & dirt cheap vegetarian Indian lunch. The restaurant (which serves cafeteria-style) is also a grocery store. In their refrigerated section, right next to the yogurt & kefir is where they store their candy. I was pretty pleased to see a large selection of Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee which I really enjoyed two years ago this week.
They carried the nutted varieties, both Roasted Hazelnut and Brazil Nut plus the Fruit & Nut (raisins in caramel?). I opted for the Roasted Hazelnut Toffee.
The package looked pristine. The last packs I got, and everything I’ve seen on other candy review sites show the bars mushed. This one still had its sections intact - I’m guessing since it was stored in the cooled boxes.
The bar is a big slab weighing 3.5 ounces but only about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide - so it’s a dense mass of boiled sugar and milk. It’s scored into 10 pieces and whacking it on the side of the table seems to split it along those marks ... for the most part. (I hit it one time on one of the nuts and got, well, nutmeal for my troubles.)
The hazelnuts are pressed into each piece - one per piece ... there aren’t more hiding within.
While it’s called toffee in England, here in the United States I consider this caramel. It’s firm but softens easily in the mouth or warmth of your hand and makes a satisfying stiff chew. It stays completely smooth until it’s gone - no graininess at all.
The hazelnuts were roasted to perfection - crunchy, buttery and nutty. The combination of the texture and the burnt sugar notes & butter of the caramel was amazing. I wanted to gobble the bar up, but of course it has a limiting factor on it ... the caramel must be chewed and it takes time.
I wish there were twice as many hazelnuts. But still, pieces without nuts were awesome. No hint of rancid butter or nuts (which I do get sometimes with caramel products). Even better - I got this bar for $1.09 (I paid $1.77 for the last ones I bought). It’s a great deal for a quality product.
If I can’t get this again soon, I might just make my own hazelnut caramels.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A week ago I went to one of those warehouse gourmet sales. Maybe you’ve seen them mentioned on sites like Chow - a wholesaler opens their doors for just one day so that normal folks can buy hard to find foods at near wholesale prices. I went to Gourmet Imports in Alhambra with the full intention of stocking up on nougat, honey and Valrhona.
This is what I came away with: just this little 8.8 ounce jar of Mas des Abeilles Boules de Miel which are candy drops made from French lavender honey. (It was a madhouse with far too many people and much of the chocolate/candy they had was hopelessly past its expiration.)
I didn’t even know how much it was until after we’d checked out. This little not-even-glass jar was nine dollars.
They’d better be good.
They’re rather large artisan styled spheres about 3/4 of an inch around. They felt a little light for their size.
It turns out that they’re pretty good - good enough that I’ve eaten them all.
They’re a firm honey center with a rough hard candy shell. I could easily crunch through the shell to get to the center - which was thick & chewy but completely smooth like honey. The flavor was a deep honey, buttery and malty. I didn’t catch any lavender essence to it, but it was still a good floral honey.
It has a throat coating & soothing feeling to it. There’s no weird aftertaste ... no real flavor. Just some honey in a less sticky format.
They’re the perfect thing to eat when your throat is aching from the burning of 125,000 acres of brush within 15 miles of your house.
(For the record, the other things I purchased there included French lentils, tomato paste in tubes, a gallon of really good olive oil and my prize was a big frozen tub of pureed Yuzu.)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
One of the items I previewed at the Fancy Food Show back in January was something that might not even be candy. It’s called Hot Chocolate Mochi Krunch and it’s made by Impressions Fine Foods.
The product is a dark chocolate covered spicy tamari brown rice cracker. The crackers are made in Thailand, but they’re covered in chocolate right here in the US.
I finally found them at Marukai Forum in Gardena this weekend (while on an epic attempt to find Japanese KitKats for sale in Los Angeles). There are two varieties, the other is a non-spiced cracker covered in chocolate.
I’ve had other chocolate covered rice cracker candies before - usually the little banana shaped ones. This version is different in that the cracker is, well, cracker sized.
They look rather like giant snowflakes or stars. Each piece is about one inch across - kind of like a chocolate covered Honeycomb cereal piece.
They smell really intense. The scent is a cross between dark Dutched cocoa and soy sauce which is a woodsy caramelized grain smell.
The chocolate outside is a bit sweet immediately, but crunching into the cracker immediately releases the hot. The spice is a blend of chili and perhaps a little toasted sesame with a dash of salt. The sweetness of the chocolate dissipates quickly though the smoky flavors linger. The cereal flavors of the rice cracker kind of pull it all together at the end and quench the fire of the chili.
The whole effect is more savory than sweet, more snack than decadence.
I found myself munching on them and eating half the package in one day. They’re rather sizable & airy pieces so it feels like I ate a lot.
Yeah, I expect I’ll get them again. I might even try the plain version.
For those of you in the Los Angeles area, if you’re a fan of Japanese cooking, definitely stop by the Marukai Forum, it’s a membership store but it’s only a dollar for the day pass. I picked up HiCHEW on sale for 3 packages for 98 cents and Meiji Lucky (like Pocky) for only 49 cents a box. Great prices - especially for items on special, huge selection and not too far from the freeways. If you’re making an afternoon out of it, the Mitsuwa Marketplace is also just a couple of miles away down Western Ave in Torrance. They have a similarly large selection and good food court.
But if you’re also on the prowl for Japanese cuisine, I love spending time in Little Tokyo downtown which also has a Marukai Market plus another small grocery called Nijiya. (The Mitsuwa at 3rd and Alameda closed earlier this year.)
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When on vacation I often pick up candy that fits in the intersection between my candy tastes (pretty broad) and The Man’s (not quite as broad but also includes many red flavors). Often we share things like Swedish Fish, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, dark chocolate with nuts or gianduia.
On our travels we selected some Marich 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews at the Sweet Offerings shop. Yes, they were expensive at $6.95 for a 4.5 ounce package but they weren’t for Candy Blog, they were just for eating. But I enjoyed them so much and was positive that I’d be referring to them again that I needed to review them.
Well, I couldn’t find them. Instead I ended up with the pictured Marich Organic Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews which were similarly priced at Whole Foods.
The box seems like a little bit of overpackaging, but they do the job of protecting the candy inside (which is just in a cellophane bag). The box is 9 inches tall and 3 and a half inches at the base ... far larger than a four and a half ounce packet of candy really needs to be. It could easily be two inches shorter and not press on the candy at all. (But maybe they use the same format for a large variety of weights and this is simply efficient.)
Even though they’re called a Sea Salt Cashews, the sodium levels are quite responsible. The package says that there are 60 mg in a 40 gram serving (about 1/3 of the package).
First, these cashews are huge ... and then the thick dark chocolate coating is, well, thick. So they’re amazingly large. (I would compare them to my thumb, but I don’t really want to repeat the photos of my digits & candy.)
The chocolate is dark and slightly bitter, the grassy and clean flavors of the cashews come through with the deep woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate. Just three or four of them were quite satisfying. They hardly seemed like a sweet treat though. I honestly did a double take with the first few 72% ones I ate - they hardly seemed like candy because they’re not sweet. It wasn’t the little bit of salt in there that made them seem like they weren’t sugary ... it was the fact that they weren’t sugary. The salt just brought out the flavors.
Some of the cashews seemed over-toasted, to the point that they were actually a creamy brown color, so they were far crunchier and of course had a darker, breadier flavor. I liked the lighter cashews, personally.
I kept the package from the 72% and a couple of the cashews and found that the non-organic ones were made with a darker chocolate, if that’s possible for it to be more savory. (Okay, full confession, that photo includes the packet of cashews from the organic in there, instead of photographing it empty, but believe me, you really can’t tell them apart by looking at them.)
These are incredibly tasty, easy to eat and even though the packages are small and expensive, it’s easy to be satisfied with only a handful. The ingredients and panning is superb - both packages were fresh & shiny.
Inside the flap on the organic version it says Brown is the new Green. Inside the 72% it says Rich, Dark and Gorgeous Has Never Looked Better.
Unfortunately the last ingredient on the list is resinous glaze, so even though the chocolate contains no dairy products, these aren’t vegan. (But they are Kosher.) Another curious note, the 72% dark version contains 20% of your daily RDA of iron! Finally, though I paid the same amount for both versions, Whole Foods is actually cheaper overall - they have the non-organic items for $4.85, which felt kind of like a deal at this point.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.