Monday, April 6, 2015
I’ve been putting off this review of SweetWorks Celebration Candies for months. I’ve seen them at stores quite a bit lately, not just the bears, but SweetWorks makes a wide variety of shapes and color variations for different party needs. My hesitation was that they look great, but didn’t taste like much at all.
This particular variation is little candy coated bears in pearlescent yellow, green and white. The sparkly coating is created with food-safe mica based pigments.
I got a sample of their peg bag of this variety that’s 12 ounces, but I’ve seen smaller 6 ounce bags and of course some wholesalers will sell by the case. They’re a very popular item for candy buffets, or for decorating and party favors for baby showers and birthday parties. They’re made by OakLeaf in Canada. The package says that it’s peanut free, tree nut free and gluten free, however, the package says that their facility does use milk and soy.
The bears don’t smell like much, a little perfumey but otherwise a clean smell. I don’t know if they have particular flavors, as the package only mentions what you can do with them: candy buffet, baked goods, party favors, themed events, candy dish, bridal shower, baby showers. Nowhere does it mention just eating or how they’ll taste.
They’re a pressed dextrose candy, a compacted powder made from glucose (dextrose) is flavored and stamped out under high pressure to make the candies. Then they’re tumbled with some colors and glazes to make them even prettier.
What is also nice about them is that they’re designed on both sides, so the front is the bear’s face and belly, the back has a tiny little buttocks tushy thing going on.
When I was at the Lolli & Pops candy store, I noticed that they had some uncoated multicolored bears as well, so I picked those up to see if there was a flavor difference.
These are actually quite different from the coated version, which is kind of sad, because these are nicer. The texture is a little on the powdery side, compared to the SweeTarts tablets but not as chalky as Smarties.
Green is Lime - which is rare. It’s a more floral flavor than most lime candies, and much less sour than a traditional SweeTart.
Red is Cherry and passable, though more sour than cherry flavored. Heck, it might even be strawberry.
Orange is Orange and has a good orange soda flavor that balances the tart and juicy flavors.
Yellow is Lemon or maybe Pineapple. It was terrible, sweet and soapy.
Purple is Grape and probably my favorite - tart, floral and completely artificial.
Blue is Raspberry and so flowery, it was more like a soap.
These are nice edible decorations, but not great candy. I think the pearlescent bears may work well in decorating recipes since they don’t have a flavor, they won’t compete with anything. OakLeaf also makes Cry Baby Tears, which are the candies you’d want to get if you want something extremely sour with very little flavor variation.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Christmas candy is mostly about peppermint and chocolate and shiny colored foil wrapping. Holiday gum is rather unusual, so I was pleased to see Concord Confections part of the Tootsie Roll company has a variety for winter: Dubble Bubble Snow Balls.
I enjoy novelty gums for the same reason I enjoy other candy coated morsels: they’re fun to look at before eating. The Snow Balls are extremely cute. Each is the size of a garbanzo bean and rattle around easily in the theater size box. What I also liked about this particular gum was that they were white ... there was no artificial coloring (though there is titanium dioxide as a whitener), so I didn’t have to worry about anything getting into the flavor except what they intended as the flavor. The gum is made with sugar and corn syrup with no artificial sweeteners.
The pieces are beautiful. They’re rough and white and though spherical, they don’t roll around. The bite was wonderfully soft and easy to chew, but the flavor is ... well, it’s kind of like fabric softener at first. It’s floral - somewhere in the neighborhood of violet and maybe musk. After chewing (two pieces seemed like a good portion), the crunchy shell and gum base were very soft. However, within a minute, the sugar dissipated to the point that the gum was getting quite stiff ... another two minutes and it was an unchewable lump that was less appealing than a wad of paper. My style is to switch out at that point anyway, so I just spit out the first piece and repeat.
Now, since this was bubble gum, I should comment on those qualities. It works. The bubbles can’t get that big, as the gum base is too stiff and unforgiving. But it’s not particularly sticky, which is a plus. But it’s most definitely not bubble gum flavored, and any children you give this to might be turned off by the soapy notes.
After chewing, even a half hour later, I did notice a lingering floral taste in my mouth, rather like jasmine tea.
Dubble Bubble is peanut free and gluten free ... and in this instance is also free from dyes but may contain traces of soy. The gumballs are made in Canada.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
What Theo Chocolate is offering in their new line of peanut butter cup are the following qualities: organic ingredients, ethically sourced chocolate, kosher, no palm oil or soy ingredients and free from genetically modified organisms. The new cups come in two varieties, milk and dark chocolate, and the dark chocolate is vegan. Though they’re Theo Chocolate branded, they’re actually made in Canada.
The Theo Chocolate Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups were $2.25 a package, I picked them up at the factory store in Seattle (I’ll have a write up about the factory tour after Halloween) but they should be available at stores that carry Theo Chocolate soon as well. The packages are 1.3 ounces, so they’re only .2 ounces smaller than the usual Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packages. Theo uses peanut butter from CB’s Nuts, a small batch nut roaster and butterer.
They’re not your ordinary round cups, nope, these are little heart shapes. They’re .65 ounces each, a nice size with a more even proportion of chocolate to peanut butter than some cups with thinner chocolate shells. There’s no oily puddle on the top, but my cups were probably extremely fresh since I bought them at the factory store.
They smell very toasty, the chocolate is crisp and has a good snap to it. The peanut butter is not fatty or oily, but also not quite crumbly. The overall roasted notes of both the chocolate and peanut butter are very strong. For a milk chocolate product, this is only very barely sweet. If you’re a fan of the more savory elements of peanut butter and chocolate, this is probably a good match for you.
The texture of the peanut butter is similar in particle size to Reese’s ... it’s not whipped smooth, there are little crunchy bits and a dryness to it that keeps it from feeling to slick on the tongue. The chocolate is lightly bitter as well but has a milky note and smooth melt.
There’s no notation as to the percentage of cacao, but this photos shows that the milk chocolate cups are very dark looking compared to the dark ones.
The Theo Chocolate Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are packaged so similarly to the milk chocolate variety, the sales staff at the factory store would let each customer know as they rang up their order that they’d chosen a particular variety ... so I sense that there may be a change in the future to help distinguish them.
The cups are beautiful, again, a little smaller than the Reese’s Peanut Butter version, but lacking the little fluted paper cups. Instead they just sit on a little paperboard tray. The mold detail includes the Theo logo on the bottom of the cups, if you’re so inclined to actually look at them before you gobble them up.
These have the same deep roasted scent as the milk chocolate, but without the light dairy note to it. The dark chocolate is immediately bitter and creamy, with a very silky melt but a strong coffee flavor. The peanut butter balanced the intensity of the chocolate with a lightness, a little hint of salt and a comforting peanut flavor.
Just one cup was exceptionally satisfying.
These are much pricier than the traditionally produced peanut butter cups on store shelves, but have none of the additional ingredients that give many folks pause. However, they’re still made in a facility that processes wheat, tree nuts, egg and soy so they’re not for those sensitive folks.
Though Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups were first to market with ethically sourced ingredients, I think I prefer these for the texture and intensity. (But I’ll probably still hand out Justin’s for Halloween since they’re available in singles.)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
While Trader Joe’s has been pouring on the pumpkin around their stores, they haven’t forgotten about one of their other core flavors: Speculoos. Their newest item is their Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups.
There are a few spice mix flavors that are popular right now: Chai Spice, Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice. Another one would be Speculoos. The odd thing about the Speculoos flavor is that it’s not just the mild cinnamon and nutmeg mix which is similar to Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread, it includes the actual cookie. The Speculoos cookie is a crispy butter cookie with some brown sugar notes along with the mild spice. I grew up eating Speculoos, though I didn’t know it by that name, they were just called Windmill Spice Cookies.
The tub holds 11 ounces of foil wrapped cups. This quantity doesn’t fill the tub completely, but it’s true to its weight. The cups are wrapped in gold foil, and inside each little piece does not actually have a fluted paper cup like the dark chocolate Peanut Butter Cups which come in a similar format. Each cup is about 11 grams, basically the same size as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniature.
Trader Joe’s also offered up a bar version of the Cookie Butter in dark chocolate a couple of years ago. That bar was made with Belgian chocolate in Belgium. This version is made in Canada (the Peanut Butter Cups that Trader Joe’s sells are made in the USA, which might also explain some of the small cosmetic differences.)
They smell lightly spicy, like cloves and cinnamon. The cups are shiny and nicely formed. The bite is easy, the center is soft and mostly creamy. It’s not as crumbly as a peanut butter cup can be, with a much creamier texture. The chocolate isn’t overpowered by the center, the chocolate flavors are well balanced with a berry/fruit note and a little dry finish to the quite slick melt. The cookie butter center is not overly sweet, not overly grainy. There are a few little bits of cookie, but for the most part it’s more like a batter than a paste.
They’re not completely peanut free, so it’s not like these are a great option for those with allergies. But if you’re a lover of candy cups but don’t actually like Peanut Butter, this might be what you’ve been searching for. I think it’s a unique new product and look forward to more cupification of Trader Joe’s products, such as the new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I mostly chew gum made with sugar, not because I necessarily want sugar in my gum, but because it’s so hard to find sugar free gum that’s not made with artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. It’s very rare to find a gum like the PUR line that is sugarless but also made only with xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol. Xylitol has been around for years and is often used in sugar free mints and gums, though usually in combination with artificial sweeteners. It has a light ans sweet note to it, but like most sugar alcohols, it also has an odd cooling effect on the tongue (which is usually a desirable feature for mints).
The PUR Gum is is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. I’ve tried the other flavors that were introduced when the gum line launched about three years ago: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. I liked them quite a bit, though they’re not easy to find.
The pieces are simple chiclets, rounded rectangular pieces, a little rustic and uneven, measuring about 3/4 of an inch long and about 1/3 of an inch wide. A serving, for me, is two pieces. (With actual Chiclets it’s usually 3 pieces at a time.)
The chew is very soft at first, with a very cool note on top and a strong sweetness before the other flavors kick in. The sweetness is not the same as sugar, it’s less round, cool on the tongue and rather slippery.
The flavor is very odd. At first it was a bit on the wintergreen side, which some people find medicinal ... or repulsive. There are other notes to it, a little hint of eucalyptus and then another more balsam note, it reminded me of mastic, which is a resin that’s also used a chewing gum in the Mediterranean. (If you’ve never had mastic, it’s also similar in its flavor profile to tea tree oil, which is not meant to be eaten but is found in many natural personal care products.)
The wintergreen notes dissolve away and all that seemed to be left was that sort of resin note with a hint of something like jasmine tea. It’s pleasant, at least for me and did definitely freshen my mouth after eating some curry for lunch.
Cinnamon is predictable and comforting. It’s woodsy and a little on the clove side of spicy, but has a wonderful warming hotness to it. The intense and rounded flavors dissipate pretty quickly, but the lingering flavor is just sweet and with the lightest tough of cinnamon.
There’s no weird bitter note, either, which I think is often caused by artificial colors. There are no colors here, so it’s all about the gum flavor. The xylitol sweetness lasts for a while, I’d say the pieces are satisfying for about 15 minutes. After I tossed the gum, I still had that lingering warmth of the cinnamon for at least a half an hour. It definitely cut through coffee breath.
I’d probably still stick with the Peppermint (from the original review) for a gum to keep in my desk, but for travel, I think I would go with the Coolmint because I really felt like chewing the pieces longer than the other flavors. It’s a little expensive and the packaging takes up a lot of space for such a small amount of gum. (I might like it if the blister pack was scored so I could just tear off a few of them to keep them in my little case that I take on airplanes.)
The gum is not easy to find, and not cheap. I’ve seen it at natural food stores and grocers, such as Sprouts and Erewhon.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
I don’t chew gum often, but when I do, I chew it a lot. It’s particularly hard to find gum that’s still sweetened with only sugar and not artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucarlose. I enjoy gum as a candy, which means that I chew all the sugar out of it and before the flavor has much chance to fade, I swap that piece out for a fresh one. (It’s probably a style of consumption that gum companies should welcome.)
I love chiclet style gum because primarily because it’s attractive, but also because it has texture to it; the crunchy shell has its own flavor and goes with the pleasing experience of chewing until the sugar is depleted. I can line up the pieces like Skittles or M&Ms on my keyboard. I got a huge sample bag of Oakleaf Refresh Triple Mint Chewing Gum from SweetWorks late last year and have been making my way through the bag. This is the kind of gum you’d find in a quarter twist vending machine, a little handful of pieces for some of the change in your pocket.
Wintergreen - these white pieces have little speckles of blue on them, some of the time. The flavor is clean and soft, with a good note of wintergreen. It’s not overpowering, but definitely strong enough that others nearby may think you’ve been rubbing lineament into your joints. There’s a little numbing tingle towards the end, as wintergreen can have that sort of effect. The flavor lasted longer than the sugar, but did taste a lot more medicinal after the sugar was gone.
Peppermint - is a nice medium blue. I don’t really need this much food coloring in my gum, as the point of minty gums is to act as a bit of a digestive but mostly to freshen my breath. don’t want my tongue looking blue when I’m done with it. It’s fresh, it’s not terribly strong but very sweet. I found it comforting but not challenging.
Spearmint is a pretty rare flavor in gum these days, so it’s nice to see it here. It’s green, for some reason spearmint is green and peppermint is blue (or red and white). The flavor is good, it’s peppery at first and quite strong, but mellows out after chewing and mixing with the sugar.
Of the three flavors, I preferred the wintergreen, but I’m usually mindful of not smelling like wintergreen in social situations or closed spaces. So the spearmint was my go-to flavor of the variety, especially since I can get peppermint chiclets in the form of actual Chiclets that don’t have blue food coloring. But since I already have these, they’re being consumed.
I did find that they stuck to one filling in my teeth (just that one old amalgam, even though I have other fillings). It’s hard to rationalize the large amount I have, but it works for my consumption style. It would be nice if they came in boxes like Chiclets or perhaps a tin like Altoids. The company that owns Oak Leaf, SweetWorks was recently purchased by the Swiss company called Frey which makes chocolate but also has their own line of gums, so maybe they’ll start doing some more gum packaging.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Milton S. Hershey is one of great entrepreneur stories of the 20th century. Hershey always wanted to be a confectioner. He was apprenticed to a candy maker as a child and then later tried several times to make it on his own. He focused on caramels and small wrapped sweets, peddling them on a cart pushed around the streets. While working in Denver for another confectioner, he learned a new recipe for boiled sweets, a caramel that was extremely stable as well as delicious because of the use of milk in addition to butter. However, even in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City ... each of these companies failed. In 1886 he returned home, in debt but still convinced that his new caramel recipe he learned in Denver could succeed. He convinced family members to invest once again and this time was the right time. He created the Lancaster Caramel Company which flourished.
He built this little enterprise into a full factory business by the turn of century, employing over 1,300 people and then sold it off for a million dollars in order to fund his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s is finally introducing their own line of caramels, under the nostalgic name of Lancaster.
The new Lancaster Caramel Soft Cremes’ package looks nostalgic. What’s inside, though, is unlikely to be anything close to what Milton Hershey used to make in copper kettles. The package says “His [Milton Hershey] original caramel recipe is the inspiration for Lancaster Cremes. The ingredients tell the story of a modern confection:
Though I was a little disappointed to see the use of things like palm kernel oil, tocopherols and high fructose corn sweetener, I was more disappointed at the price for such things. Kraft Caramels are usually about $2 a bag on sale and contain similar ingredients but not the premium price. But, I was willing to give these a try.
The little nuggets are glossy and soft. They don’t smell like much, but have a beautifully soft and chewy bite. The chew and dissolve is impossibly smooth and rich, with good flavor notes of caramelized sugar and butter. It’s like a soft version of Pearson’s Nips. (I could imagine these as fantastic in coffee flavor.) It’s not a completely stiff caramel chew, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen, but much smoother than the soft bite of a Kraft Caramel.
As much as I wanted to hate these for their divergence from Hershey’s original simple ingredients, they are quite good. The texture, the consistency and overall not-too-sweet profile is really ideal. I begrudgingly love them. They come in two other varieties: Vanilla and Caramel and Vanilla and Raspberry. Honestly, I plan to quit while I’m ahead. If they come up with chocolate or coffee flavored ones, I’ll give those a go.
Oddly enough, the Lancaster Caramels are made in Canada, not Central Pennsylvania. Also, they’re not Kosher and there are no other notations on the package regarding nuts, wheat or eggs though the ingredients list dairy and soy as ingredients.
Friday, February 7, 2014
The weblisting for the product says that they’re pastel, but they’re much brighter than that. It’s hot pink, magenta/purple, turquoise blue and light yellow. The heart shapes are small, rather pillowy in form and about the size of a nickel.
I wasn’t really interested in how they tasted, at this price, it was more about having a pretty candy jar filled with little hearts before Valentine’s Day to share with co-workers. That was about two weeks ago and the jar is empty. (I didn’t eat them. But they were popular.)
These are not tart candies. I don’t think there are any acid flavorings at all in here. They might be flavored, but it’s so mild it’s hard to say for sure.
Purple is a lightly floral grape. Red has some strawberry notes. Blue is a kind of bitter raspberry, really the only flavor in the bunch I didn’t care for. Yellow is lightly lemony, quite fresh.
They’re pretty. They make a nice decoration, but not really very good candy. There’s nothing to offend anyone, no weird flavors because there’s barely any flavor at all. But I’m not saying that they’re not compelling, they’re gorgeous to look at and easy to munch. I’ve had other much more flavorful Oak Leaf candies before, so this must be from a much more subtle line of candy than I like.
Ultimately the review around the office was that they were too pretty to pass up. But no one wants me to buy them again. Kind of a weird relationship to have with candy. Personally, I’d prefer the Wonka Heartbreakers, so that’s what I’ve been eating while others have emptied the jar.
The SweetWorks website lists these as gluten free and nut free, though take care if you get them from a bulk bin (if you have concerns about cross contamination, it’s always best to get it in a factory sealed package).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.