Thursday, June 28, 2012
The description matches the Mars Milky Way bar pretty well. It’s been around since 1923 and pretty much established the Mars candy company. Companies come and go over the years trying to make that simple formula better, and right now the prime contender in the field is the new line called UNREAL which features all natural ingredients and even some nutrient fortification.
The UNREAL #5 Chocolate Caramel Nougat Bar is 22% smaller than the Milky Way bar, so that right there makes it a more responsible portion. (Milky Way is 57 grams, UNREAL #5 is 45 grams.)
What’s so bad about a Milky Way? Well, just look:
According to UNREAL, the junk ingredients are partially hydrogenated soybean oil, GMO corn syrup and artificial flavor (I’m guessing vanillin. )
The UNREAL #5 bar is pretty impressive to look at. The insides contain just as many ingredients, though I wouldn’t say that all are specifically better.
The bar is 3.5 inches long and a little over an inch wide.
It smells good, quite a bit richer and darker than a standard Milky Way. The cocoa notes are far more pronounced. The caramel has a wonderful, stringy and chewy pull without being too stiff to chew easily. The caramel isn’t really a buttery caramel, as far as I can tell from the ingredients it’s just sugar with more palm oil than real cream like they promise. The chocolate is much darker than the standard milk chocolate of Mars, it’s rich and has a smooth melt on the tongue, though a light bitter note.
Oh, but that nougat. I’m not fond of the nougat in the Milky Way or 3 Musketeers. But this nougat, this is something else. It’s like a fluffy Tiger Milk bar. There’s a lot more protein in this bar than the Milky Way, and it’s easy to assume that it’s in the nougat as “milk protein concentrate”. It’s grainy, it tastes like cardboard and stale Nestle Quik powder. It really ruins it for me.
I was concerned that I got a bad bar, so I actually went out, to a different store across town, and bought another. It was the same texture and flavor profile. (The did share the same expiry date of 5/4/2013.)
I think the rest of the line is doing great things, but this one is a huge miss for me. Fortification is one thing, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the primary reason I’m eating it: for enjoyment. (And the burps later on remind me of B vitamins.) For a bar that wants to be transparent, I’m having some trouble getting info directly out of the company. I’ve tried emailing them and messaging on Twitter. They haven’t replied to either. They say that they’re sourcing things ethically and sustainably, but there’s nothing to back that up. (Where does the chocolate come from, what kind of Palm Fruit Oil is that? Is that really non GMO soy lecithin? Why doesn’t it say those things on the package?)
The bars are made in Canada. They contain milk, soy, eggs and wheat. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, wheat and tree nuts.
UPDATE 8/1/2012: I have sent multiple messages to UNREAL on several different addresses. The first was to the address they published on their website on June 20, 2012. In the interim I’ve sent twitter messages. Then on July 20, 2012 I sent another message to a named contact at UNREAL at an email address given to me by a reader who met her at a twitter event. I have still not heard back (and sent another message today). So my confidence in the company’s transparency is quite low at the moment. Eat it for the taste and what you know is in the package, but I can’t buy into the ethics at the moment for the claims on the website.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Thursday, June 21, 2012
UNREAL is a new line of candy that may finally be the solution for people looking for sweets with fewer dubious ingredients. It just launched and I picked up one of each of the new candies at CVS last week. They’re not reinventing candy, each of the products is just a standard tried-and-true candy format, just with “unjunked(tm)” ingredients.
To start with, I thought I’d examine one of my favorite candies of all time: the peanut butter cup.
UNREAL has given their candies some odd code names. Their PB cups are called UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cups. Their other candies also have what seem like arbitrary numbers assigned to them. Their caramel nougat bar is #5 and the candy coated chocolates are #55. I don’t know if there are plans for 77 different candies in the line, or if they’ve gone through 77 different formulas. You can read more about the candy line’s origin story on their website and in this Wall Street Journal article.
The packaging for UNREAL is unlike other candies, that’s for sure. It did not entice me. In fact, I didn’t recognize it as something I’d be looking for. The packaging is black (a heat absorbing color, for the record, which is bad when it comes to chocolate candy) with neon colors and a difficult to read logo. It looks more appropriate for a caffeinated product than a candy touting the purity of its ingredients.
That said, it is different and as an isolated design, it’s interesting. I like the logo as a use of lines and typography. The color choices do not say “delicious” to me, they do not say “natural” or “wholesome.”
The website says:
However, there is no actual statement on the ingredient panel or the candy packages that say that any of the ingredients are actually “grass fed milk” or “non-GMO soy” or “Rainforest Alliance chocolate.” The closest is the web page for each candy does say NO GMOS (but never specifies which ingredients were verified that way).
So the big evil wolf in this story is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, made by Hershey’s in Pennsylvania. The portion is modest, two cups are an ounce an a half and total 210 calories. I did not eat these side by side with the UNREAL #77 for comparison. But I have a great recollection of them, having eaten one about three weeks ago, and hundreds before that. (Including a full bag of the miniatures in May.)
The milk chocolate is cool on the tongue, very sweet and lacking a noticeable cocoa note but a strong taste of dairy. The center is crumbly, salty and with an overwhelming taste of fresh roasted peanuts. It’s grainy, almost crunchy and rustic. The combination is great, the portion size is ideal for me. After eating one I want another but after two I’m completely satisfied.
The ingredients, while not pure nor verified as ethically sourced are also not completely horrible:
The items of contention might be the corn syrup solids (basically dextrose) which are almost assuredly from genetically modified corn, the soy lecithin is also likely to be GMO. The PGPR is also an emulsifier, made from castor beans, last time I checked with Hershey’s. The TBHQ is the biggest item that people complain about in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. TBHQ (also known as E319) stands for Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, which is an antioxidant which keeps the peanut butter from becoming rancid. While high doses of TBHQ are dangerous, rancid oils are also very bad for you.
So, what about this UNREAL #77 Peanut Butter Cup?
While all those ingredients sound nice and wholesome, I do have a bone to pick with Unreal for putting inulin into the chocolate. First of all, I don’t think the standards of identity for chocolate allow the addition of inulin, as it’s not an accepted sugar. Inulin is a soluble fiber, it’s slightly sweet (only slightly, about 10% of the sweetness of sucrose but generally has no other flavor to it) and has a good, smooth texture that makes it appropriate in both solid foods and liquids (many folks add it to smoothies). In larger quantities, however, it can cause digestive upset in some people. Agave is one of the hot sources for inulin these days, but it’s also found in chicory and Jerusalem artichokes. While it has some lovely qualities, it’s basically an inert filler. (Not a cheap one, by any means, certainly more expensive than sugar, but when you see what it does to the nutritional panel, you see why it may be considered worth it.)
The UNREAL website has a comparison chart (I pulled a screengrab because I think they changed it since I looked at it last week) but it compares them based on the portion size, not ounce for ounce, like I prefer to do things.
Basically, the Reese’s has more sugar and less fiber. If you want sugar in your candy, then you know where to go. If you want more fiber and fat, then get the UNREAL. Oh, wait, I still haven’t reviewed the actual UNREAL #77 cups for you.
The cups look great, and what really impressed me was the attention to detail. The logo on the bottom of the cup? Gorgeous. The cups are not in a little fluted paper cup, but are still protected bu a little white paperboard sleeve inside. This makes it easy to get the candy in and out of the package.
They smell great, like cocoa and peanuts. The chocolate is interesting, and for the record I tried these without reading the ingredients first, so I noticed that the chocolate was a little different without knowing why. It’s a dark milk chocolate, with a lot more discernible chocolate notes than a Reese’s Cup. Not as dark the actual Dark Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but notable. The melt is silky, quite different from Reese’s. The peanut butter center is where things got radically different. The UNREAL peanut butter is like actual peanut butter. It’s not dry, it’s thick and pasty. There’s a little bit of a cookie dough quality to it, but overall the flavor is fantastic. Like true, fresh peanut butter. It’s sweet, it’s a little salty, but mostly it’s smooth without being sticky.
They were great. I loved them. I want to try them again. What I loved about them as well was the fact that they cost the exact same amount at CVS as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Of course the regular price for a candy bar at CVS is $1.19, but perhaps with volume will come better pricing or at least sales.
So I have oodles of misgivings about the packaging style, the marketing spin and the lack of transparency of their claims ... but when I got down to the actual experience of eating it, all of that can be forgotten.
The candy is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains soy, peanuts and milk and may contain traces of tree nuts. There is no gluten statement on the package (along with no statement regarding the sourcing of the ingredients). The shelf life appears to be approximately 6-9 months (these were good until 1/24/2013).
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
It’s exciting to see a new Cadbury product for Easter. The Cadbury brand is so inextricably tied to Easter is many American’s minds because of their iconic products like the Cadbury Creme Egg and the Cadbury Mini Chocolate Eggs.
This year Hershey’s in the United States is rolling out the Cadbury Chocolate Creme Egg. (I didn’t see that these are for sale in the UK.) They’re made by Cadbury Canada, not imported all the way from the UK by Kraft.
They’re only 1.2 ounces these days, but I think that’s actually a good size for such a thing.
If there’s one thing that Cadbury Creme Eggs mess with, it’s the definition of creme. I consider a creme to be creamy, something with a bit of fat in it, something that’s smooth. The traditional Creme Egg has a fondant which is actually smooth, but doesn’t rise to the level of something that’s actually creamy. It doesn’t melt in your mouth, it dissolves.
These eggs are not a ganache center, instead it’s a smooth fondant. I expect little from a Cadbury chocolate ingredient-wise; I know it’s a lot of sugar. But I was dismayed to see that the ingredients included things like palm oil and high fructose corn sweetener. (And it’s not easy to see those things, it’s printed on the foil but not on the website, so I had to carefully flatten the foil, then photograph it and zoom in to read it.)
The Cadbury Chocolate Creme Egg gets closer to that creamy ganache that I would hope it would be, but misses a bit. Basically, if you love chocolate frosting, you’ll love the Chocolate Creme Egg.
It was pretty good. Much better, in my opinion, than the traditional plain fondant version. The fudgy center has plenty of cocoa in it, and it is quite smooth, like a rich tub of frosting. There may even be a little salt in there, which offsets the sticky, sickly sweet milky chocolate The cocoa notes of the filling are more like a Tootsie Roll than a chocolate truffle, but that’s just fine for Easter.
I like this addition to the Cadbury Egg offerings.
There’s no statement about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate, though Cadbury is going Fair Trade with many of their UK chocolates. It’s made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts. I couldn’t find a gluten statement.
Monday, January 23, 2012
It’s as if Mars has a multi-year bulk deal with some coconut flavor supplier. They’ve added coconut varieties to their major brands over the years: Dove, M&Ms and Twix. The newest is 3 Musketeers Coconut.
3 Musketeers has been advertising that it has 45% less fat than average of leading candy bars. (This is true because the leading candy bars have more chocolate and/or nuts, which makes them more fatty.) This bar, which is described as Whipped Up, Fluffy Chocolate Coconut Taste says it has 40% Less Fat. This bar is also Canadian. There’s something strange about using our neighbors to the north to tropical-ize an American candy bar.
There are two bars inside, each about 2.25 inches long and 1 inch wide. They’re about .75 ounces each (for those keeping track at home, that’s the same weight as a single Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup).
The set of bars is 30% smaller than the classic (chocolate flavored) 3 Musketeers. The regular one is 2.13 ounces and this set of small bars is 1.49 ounces. Now, if you need help with portion control, not only does the separate bar format help, but the lighter weight means that this package is only 180 calories (90 per little bar) while the classic is 100 more at 280 calories. So while the value of the bar is in question, the moderation aspect is certainly a selling point.
I like the smaller bars, they used this style for the 3 Musketeers Mint. The coating is attractive and has little ripples and swirls on the top. The chocolate doesn’t look particularly dark, not very glossy but still in good condition. It sticks well to the foamed nougat center. The filling is fluffy and sweet but also a little salty. The coconut flavor is there ... but I’m never quite sure where. Is it in the chocolate coating? Is it in the nougat fluff? It’s more of a scent, like a candle is nearby or I’m wearing suntan oil or maybe someone’s baking macaroons. Whatever it is, it’s not in the actual candy bar. No toasted coconut flakes, no creamy coconut milk caramel stripe. Just this vague coconut scent adjacent to my candy bar experience.
That’s okay, I like the combination well enough. It’s extremely sweet, but mercifully small. I wish it was a dark chocolate coating instead, or maybe just better milk chocolate. But I actually enjoyed it more than the classic 3 Musketeers. My favorite would still be the Mini version they made about 5 years ago that were Cappuccino flavored. They should bring that back ... after they run out of coconut flavoring.
Mars still isn’t ethically sourcing their chocolate for the North American market. There’s hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil in there. Of course vegans can’t eat it because of the milk and the egg whites. There’s no statement about gluten but it does say it may contain peanuts.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
I bought these Bubble Gum Cigars while on vacation last month, mostly because it’d be so longer since I’d seen the full array of the flavors in quite a long time. They’re made by Concord Confections in Canada which is now owned by Tootsie. (They also make Dubble Bubble Gum.)
I picked out three of them, in a standard array of colors orange, green and yellow. Each has a special name on the band, which is smaller than the standard cigar band (so I can’t wear it as a ring, even on my pinky). The wrapping is simple, just a clear cellophane sleeve, all were fresh and pliable (though if you’ll notice I dropped the orange one and it broke into pieces).
Cigars have faded a bit from pop culture, but starting sometime in the early 20th century it was common to celebrate a new baby with a gifting of cigars to friends (mostly by the father to friends, coworkers and contacts). As something that children today are aware of, it’s kind of an anachronism, as I know I can go months without even catching a whiff of the scent of a cigar, much less actually seeing someone smoking one. The relationship between real cigars and bubble gum ones is so far removed, I don’t think anyone can say that they actually improve the opinion folks have of tobacco. The reverse is probably true, the shape and association of a cigar with a children’s chewing gum is more likely a hindrance to sales.
El Bubble is green and Apple Flavored. I admit that I’m kind of a gum purist. Chewing gum should be mint, cinnamon or that Juicyfruit flavor ... and bubble gum should be bubble gum flavored. None of these cigars is actually bubble gum flavored (I couldn’t find a pink one). The apple is actually rather more on the actual apple juice flavor side of things than tangy green apple. It’s sweet and light. Even after the sugar fades, it’s not offensive or even very strong at all. I don’t think anyone sitting near me would recognize the flavor.
The gum is soft and easy to chew. It’s gets very soft and grainy quickly, kind of made my mouth fill up with saliva. But a little chewing and the gum firms up into a stiff enough piece that makes decent bubbles.
Gold Dragon is yellow and Banana Flavored. Banana is a rare flavor of gum in general, so it’s nice to find. I’m sure there are some sort of Freudian/Mae West jokes about cigars and bananas, as well. The chew is soft and sugary with a mild and sweet banana flavor. Eventually as the sugar fades the flavor is much more artificial and caustic. Bubble blown at this point end up filled with noxious vapors like walking into a poorly ventilated nail spa.
Wild Tiger is orange and Orange Flavored. It’s a purely sweet affair here, sickly sweet with only a touch of orange flavoring. Don’t worry, it’ doesn’t taste like Aspergum, that would be too intense. Instead it’s more like some sort of sugar paste that was next to something orange flavored at one point.
They’re a fun little piece of gum, mostly inoffensive and colorful. They could easily just be little rods of gum or tubes ... but the idea of the little bands and their colorful names is the one bit of novelty here I enjoyed. The gum itself was passable, but I’m sure something that kids would chewy like I do ... just long enough to get the sugar out, then blow a few bubbles and move on.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Cadbury Adams, makers of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids have introduced a new product to their line of jelly candies. Sour Patch Kids Berries are a variety of four berry flavors of the classic chewy jelly candy covered in sour sand.
There’s no mention of this product on the Sour Patch Kids website, and the package is rather scant with details as well. There are four colors for the candies, but there’s no mention of the flavors. I think they’re: Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Strawberry and Grape.
The regular Sour Patch Kids come in four flavors: orange, cherry, lemon and lime. The Sour Patch Fruits come in watermelon, orange, lemon, lime, grape and cherry. Then there are the individual flavor packs like Watermelon, Peach and Cherry. It seems like cherry gets a lot of attention from the Sour Patch family, here it is in three different assortments plus a package all of its own.
Sour Patch Kids are a simple construction, a firm jelly candy is molded and then coated in a sweet & sour sand. They’re small, so one is a good bite.
Grape (Purple) is a great sour flavor. This grape is just like a jelly version of Pixy Stix or SweeTarts. There’s a lot of fake grape flavor to go along with the sour.
Cherry (Red) is as I expected, tart and sharp with the strong woodsy notes then sweet and a little on the medicine side, especially as the food coloring kicked in.
Strawberry (Pink) this was the flavor I wasn’t quite sure about. It’s soft and floral and more delicate than the others, perhaps even a little citrusy.
Blue Raspberry is a well rounded flavor. It’s quite tart at first then morphing into a sweet and floral berry flavor that’s reminiscent of the Swedish Fish.
Here’s something that’s been bothering me for years. Sour Patch Kids don’t look like kids. They don’t look like much of anything except maybe shaving brushes. There are little characters on the package, but I’ve never quite been able to make them out. Jelly Babies manage to look like their little characters on the package, so I know the molding technology allows this. Even Swedish Fish do an excellent job of looking like little fish.
It’s interesting to see a new mix of flavors for the Sour Patch Kids, even if the actual flavors are not new. There’s nothing earth shattering here or innovative, just a limited mix that might appeal to folks who don’t like the citrus flavors in the regular Sour Patch Kids or Sour Patch Fruits.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Their tins are always quite smart looking and I rather liked the simplicity of this one, just a smaller version of the standard set by Altiods. The embossed top flips open to reveal the candies inside.
The tin says that the “mints” are made with real Canadian maple sugar. The full ingredients are: pure cane sugar, maple sugar, natural flavor, calcium stearate and malic acid. There are thirty in a tin, which holds less than an ounce, .85 ounces.
The candies have a polished yet rustic look. They’re shiny and sharply stamped with a little maple leaf in the center. But the texture and color of the candies is a little mottled, it’s not a bright white and has little caramel colored flecks in it.
The scent is definitely smoky and like toasty maple syrup. The flavor of the candies though was a bit different from what I was expecting. It is a combination of all the flavors that are listed in the description, they are mint, they have maple sugar in them and blueberry flavor. It’s a riot of flavors. Not a “burn my tongue down” riot, but the kind that pulls off my backpack and steals my books kind. The blueberry is tart and floral, the maple is rustic and woodsy ... so far so good. But the mint is cool and minty with a little note of eucalyptus. It’s like a blueberry cough drop made in some sort of colonial re-enactment apothecary shop.
I liked the straight ahead Maple Ice Mints, so I’ll have to stick with those, because these are just not for me. But I’m also not very happy with the combination of mint, lime and white rum that are used to make a Mojito. So if you’re down with mojitos, maybe you’ll be down with Wild Blueberry Maple Ice Mints.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
In the world of new candies, I think that names are important. They should either be descriptive of the product experience or novel enough creation that it arouses curiosity and the ability to associate that product forever with that name. Last year I tried something called Powerberries at Trader Joe’s. The name certainly doesn’t say much about what the product is, but is evocative enough that I could glean attributes, especially when I got to see the package. I bring this up because I’m now faced with a similar product that doesn’t quite have the naming mojo. They’re called Brookside Dark Chocolate Pomegranate.
Now there’s lots to love about that name if you happen to like a pastoral name like Brookside and the two elements of dark chocolate and pomegranate are also favorites of mine. (But I’m not so keen on eating actual pomegranate seeds, I know they do sell those, but that’s not what these are.) So while it didn’t have the sexy punch of Powerberries, I did actually buy this package.
It’s a stand up pouch that holds 7 ounces of smooth dark chocolate surrounding a sweetened real fruit juice piece made from a blend of pomegranate juice and other select fruit juices. The image on the front actually looks a heck of a lot like the one I shot below. Hooray for accuracy!
The bag certainly smells fragrant, like a bowl of dried fruit. There are notes of blueberry, raspberry and apricots. The pieces are mostly spherical and glossy dark chocolate. Some were more like disks, about the size of an M&M.
Inside each piece were one or two little pods of this fruit juice pieces. It’s a grainy little “not quite jelly” bit. They’re quite fruity, to the point where some actually had a slight bitter note to them, like the membrane of a pomegranate can impart. The chocolate is smooth and has a good woodsy cocoa note that stands up well to the fruit.
As I mentioned in my original review of the Powerberries, these are a little strange but quite compelling. Though the actual name isn’t quite as exciting and the price is slightly higher than Trader Joe’s, they’re still a fun change of pace for chocolate. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re a health food, though the package stresses that there are 100 mg of flavanol antioxidants in each 42 gram serving (20% of your vitamin C as well), I’d say eat them because you like them. There are certainly more nutrients in here than the standard M&Ms, but the key is always to practice moderation.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.