Monday, September 25, 2006
There are plenty of sites that can offer you info on all the gross and spooky treats for Halloween. I thought I’d offer up a series of posts that might help you make some more environmentally and socially aware decisions for Halloween.
It’s a good opportunity to give kids a special treat that isn’t necessarily full of artificial chemicals or results from a lot fertilizers and pesticides being applied to the earth. And just perhaps child slaves weren’t used in the creation of it. But who wants to be that house on the street that gives out toothbrushes or quarters or apples? There must be products out there that can satisfy everyone.
I’ll be posting for the next few weeks on the topic of different good tasting treats you can hand out to the kids, some that might even be affordable and available in your local area.
If you want a top-to-bottom approach for the whole Green lifestyle, Siel at GreenLAGirl is going to be helping me out by posting about the big picture. She started today with the first in her series. She’ll cover the politics of chocolate, organic and fair trade issues and of course positive changes we can all incorporate into our lives.
Here are a few of the organic and fair trade sweets I’ve reviewed to date. Not all are appropriate for handing out to Trick-or-Treaters, so I’ll make an effort to bring you more about those, but learning more about the brands that are available might help you make a decision at the store:
I’ll have some hard candies, lollipops and more chocolates soon!
These were introduced almost two years ago, so I was a little confused by the NEW! starburst on the package. But I hadn’t had them anyway, so into the basket they went.
I don’t know when citrus flavors stopped being the normal “sour” flavors, but I’ve missed them a bit. It’s not like blue raspberry is any more natural as a “licorice” flavor than orange or lemon.
These are a wheat-based chew, which is what most “licorice” is. The center is flavored and then dusted with a sour sugar coating. They smell really nice as a combo - a little floral, a little fruity and a slight tangy essence. Leave them in a desk drawer and it’s kind of like an edible sachet.
They’re wee morsels, smaller than most licorice bites. They have the same basic star shape in cross section, which is great for holding onto all the sour dust.
Strawberry - mild in the strawberry department and with a decent tart bite.
Cherry - a nice chemical cherry flavor with a solid sour kick, but no complexity. A bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Green Apple - a pretty good sour apple flavor with a combo of the floral notes and that realistic apple juice taste and a sizeable tartness that satisfies. My favorite of all of them.
Blue Raspberry - floral and with an odd sort of yellow mustard note in there that confused the heck out of me. Not as sour tasting as some of the others and of course the mustard thing was kind of unpleasant.
Overall, they’re tasty, but don’t really provide any more candy satisfaction than some other tangy chews that I’ve had lately. I might even prefer the Sour Strings I had this summer or the SweeTarts Shockers - Shockers have the lead because of the variety in a single roll.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
There are some great candy webstores out there. And there are also that are not so great. I’ve been contacted twice in the past month regarding HometownCandy.com, which is run by the same company that runs JordanAlmonds.com and ebulkcandy.com. (I’m not doing any linking here where not necessary.)
The complaints I’ve heard are from people who place an order and never get their candy. Their credit card is charged but then nothing is shipped and of course their emails and phone calls go unanswered.
First, JordanAlmonds and ebulkcandy are not completely secured. Sure, when you put stuff in a cart and check out at either site, it is a secure page (that’s when you see the https:// in the address). But there are also prompts on JordanAlmonds to input your credit card on unsecured pages and on ebulkcandy. Bad form. You’re opening yourself up to someone else sniffing out your credit card number and other personal info.
Now, I haven’t ordered from either of these companies so I cannot testify one way or another personally. But here are the Better Business Bureau listings for them:
HometownCandy.com - 1 complaint which is unresolved. HometownCandy is not a member of the BBB.
JordanAlmonds.com - 7 unresolved complaints this year. Not a member of the BBB.
EBulkCandy.com - 52 complaints, 4 resolved in Morrisville, PA. It’s not clear if this site is still in operation. It’s up, but doesn’t appear to have been updated this year. The have had several different locations, and each one has its own file with the BBB. Ewing, NJ (28 complaints, 2 resolved), Hamilton, NJ (1 complaint, unresolved), West Trenton, NJ (18 complaints, 3 resolved)
Also, go to Complaints.com and check any one of those business names.
Alexa and a domain name search reveals that ebulkcandy’s domain is held in the Czech Republic by the same contact info as HometownCandy but doesn’t show a direct relationship to JordanAlmonds (except for an address in NJ in common).
Now, for the record, just having complaints filed at the BBB does not make the company bad. Lots of large companies have complaints lodged against them (sometimes people go there first, without contacting the company directly). The key is whether or not the company is a member of the BBB and further, if they respond to and resolve the complaints. Volume has a lot to do with it as well. Even when you have 99.9% satisfaction, if you have 100,000 transactions a year you might have 100 unhappy people ... and if 10% of those don’t get a resolution through you, they’re gonna go complain elsewhere. It’s not just complaints that are important, but resolutions.
If you’re looking to buy something online and you feel a little odd, check around. It’s your money and your candy. Running a candy store is not rocket science. You put up a list of what you have, people order it and you send it out to them. There are lots of ways to screw it up (send the wrong thing, charge the card wrong, send it to the wrong place, pack things improperly), but lots of ways to fix it if you do make a mess. The fact that there are so many choices out there means that you can make informed choices.
The first thing to check for is a real address (usually found on their “returns” section), a real phone number and names of the people who run the company. Membership in the BBB, a Yahoo! Trusted Sites seal, a well organized site that uses the latest in web design and technology. Google the company and see if they have complaints against them. If you’re worried about it, move along, there are plenty of places to get candy.
So, if you’ve ever ordered from one of these companies, what was your experience. Good or bad?
UPDATE 2/22/2007: I got this email earlier today:
This does not mean that the websites are gone, the obviously found other internet service, but it’s an interesting approach, getting the service provider involved.
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/comp.htm - (Use the OCP complaint form.)
Since I’ve never ordered from them, I’m unable to file a complain on behalf of a third party.
Also, there is a website called Consumerist.com that helps people get the word out about bad companies. I’ve contacted them, but I’m not able to offer a first-hand experience. Check them out and see if they can give this issue wider exposure. Try this site as well: www.ripoffreport.com.
UPDATE 7/2/2007: Some commenters have noted that the NJ Consumer Affairs office refuses to investigate, saying that it is a federal matter. If you’d like to file a formal complaint, direct it to the Federal Trade Comission, which investigates mail fraud (and now covers internet transactions).
This should be the correct form (do NOT enter your Social Security Number in this instance, as that item is only needed when they’re investigating credit report scams or identity theft. You can read more about the rules governing internet commerce on this page.
Friday, September 22, 2006
M&Ms has launched another online promotion for their new ‘Dark’ Chocolate M&Ms.
It’s a little game that’s actually pretty fun and very well done. It’s a treasure hunt where you search an original painting for visual puns that are the titles of “Dark Movies”.
The style of the painting reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch
It’s flash based and kind of resource intensive (if you’re on dial-up ... anyone still on dial-up?). You move around the image and click when you think you’ve identified a pun and input the title into the little box. The box glows green when you get it right and the pun fades. You don’t have to complete the game all at once, you can save it for later by inputting an email address.
There are 50 movie titles. Check the comments section here if you want to cheat and see the list of titles (you still have to match them up with the images on your own).
A friend recently came back from Sweden, and you know that means I got some fun new European candy bars. The first one has the best name ever for a candy bar ... Pigall.
Frankly, a bar named Pigall is kind of scary. This bar actually had part of the label in English, so let me fill you in on the ingredients: sugar, hydrogenated vegatable oil, cocoa butter, rice crisps, dried partly skim milk, cocoa mass, milk, sugar, milk fat, buttermilk, hazelnuts, fat-reduced cocoa, emulsifier, salt, flavorings. The 40 gram (1.4 ounce) bar had 250 calories ... that’s 177 calories per ounce. (The label says it’s actually two servings) It might win an award for the highest caloric density product I’ve ever tried. Pigall is right!
The bar is long and kind of soft. The chocolate on the outside is very light in color and of course it smelled very sweet. On the inside there’s a “nut truffle” filling that I can only describe as a chocolate buttercream. It was seriously buttery though from what I could read on the ingredients, it’s some sort of whipped vegetable oil filling.
Mixed in with the buttercream filling are rice crispies.
I found the bar interesting, but too much like eating the frosting off of a piece of cake. The prospect of that much trans fat kept me from eating more than half the bar.
I didn’t know quite what to make of the second bar, Brejk. It’s hefty, clocking in at 56 grams.
It also came in two pieces, which I always like. Good for sharing, a little neater and you can save some for later. This one came on a little tray and I thought for a moment that they were Finnish 100 Grand bars.
The bar is built like this - a light chocolate cookie is covered with a stripe of dark caramel then the whole thing is covered in a light milk chocolate studded wtih crisped rice.
The chocolate is sweet and has that European milky taste and a kind of tang to it. The textures are interesting too, think of it as a cross between a Twix bar and a 100 Grand and you’d pretty much have this bar. The cookie center is crumbly and bland but maybe had a little hit of salt to it. The caramel is dark and chewy, but not too sweet. The milk chocolate covering it is sweet and creamy though there aren’t as many rice crispies as you’d get in a 100 Grand.
I thought it was a great bar and I wonder why we don’t have something like it here in the States. The only place that I reliably see Marabou products is at Ikea, so if you see this one there and you like
Twix or 100 Grand bars, pick it up for a try.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
In the continuing quest for “that candy people bring you from vacation” I’ve got two new ones.
This one is called, not surprisingly, Rock Candy. Though it’s nothing like the large sugar crystals most of us call Rock Candy, it really looks like rocks. They look like those pretty tumbled, polished and choice pebbles you see in jars a kitschy gift shops. These came from Colorado.
They’re really jelly beans. Each apparently random variety of rock is actually a different flavor. The panning and artistry on them is great. The colors are deep and complex and really convey the “rockness” of them. It would have been nice if they gave you some sort of guide about the flavors though.
Maroon: Cherry. Pretty flavorful, a little tart bite and the rest was just sweet black cherry flavor.
Purple: Grape. Kind of a strange and artificial tasting grape, but the prettiest of all the rocks.
Putty: Lemon. Really nice and flavorful. Wholly unexpected because of the color.
Brown: Spice. Nice and strong with a spicy cinnamon and licorice combo. It might just be licorice, but I can’t tell and why is it brown?
Aqua: Wintergreen. Nice and cool.
The other rock candy were these Glacier River Rocks from “Montana’s Glacier Country”. They really do look like rocks. Instead of going for the ultra-polished look, these are kind of lumpy. Most are the size of raisins and even have a bit of pucker to their coats. They’re muted colors and the shells of the rocks are soft and matte.
Inside the crisp shell is a rather sweet and milky tasting milk chocolate. The crunch is nice and the look is great, but the chocolate is not very chocolatey - more milky and because of the ratio of shell to filling, thy don’t have a lot of flavor.
I really liked the look of both candies, even together.
Neither are a candy I’d probably purchase as a native of either of these areas, but they’re pretty and easy to carry gifts that have a little more pizazz than the ordinary salt water taffy.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Months and months ago a reader suggested I get familiar with a strange favorite it Australia - musk sticks. Basically they’re pressed candy stick flavored like musk. You know, the perfume. I figured if I’ve eaten violet candies, rosewater ice cream and 10 year old Lifesavers, there’s no reason I shouldn’t try these.
I found them at Mel & Rose’s, which seems to carry a lot of Australian candies. The package doesn’t make them look that appealing, the word musk has those little “smell wafts” coming off of it. The candies themselves are the pressed chalk variety like Pep-O-Mint, not a hard candy like the Butter Rum Lifesavers.
They smell like incense or a soap shop. It’s more like a lightly floral patchouli. So when I took the photo and then put the roll in my desk drawer, it was kind of like a sachet in there.
The little candy is sweet and of course easy to crunch. The flavor has no other notes besides this soapy detergent scent and made me wonder if this is what it’d be like to eat incense cones. There isn’t any listing of ingredients on the package or dietary info, so for all I know, they are meant to be burned.
I have no idea if the Lifesavers version of musk is consistent with the other musk sticks so popular in Australia and New Zealand, but I think my curiosity is satisfied. I suppose if I were trying to cover up strong mouth odors (like smoking or antibiotic side effects) this might be a good candy, but for some reason I think my neck should be perfumed, not my breath.
Note: though these candies are branded Lifesavers, they’re made by licensing agreement by Nestle.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I know folks were clamoring for them, and now they’re back again. Limited Edition Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses were first offered last year as part of Hershey’s ever-expanding Kisses line. I’m not sure Hershey’s realized how popular they’d be, but folks really wanted them and Brian from Candy Addict even started a petition online which led to a column in the NYTimes magazine this summer.
After all that hullabaloo, Hershey’s has quietly brought them back. Again as a Limited Edition item. It’s a little unclear if they’re going to become a seasonal offering which would be kind of cool ... I’d suggest Valentine’s Day, but no one asked me.
After all this, I’d never tried them before. With good reason, they’re cherry flavored.
Here I am with two bags of them, so I’ve got to give it a go.
They’re dreadful. Truly, I find them disgusting. They’re beautifully made. A shiny milk chocolate shell containing a flowing fondant with a strong wild cherry flavor. The center actually isn’t that sweet, but the milk chocolate is, so there’s a little “too sweet throat tingling” going on. The cherry flavor is very strong and lasts a long time. I ate about eight of them last night, brushed my teeth, went to bed, got up, brushed my teeth and I can still taste that cherry flavor ... it must be like garlic and gets into your bloodstream or something.
Granted, one of the reasons I probably don’t like cherry is this medication they used to give kids to sedate them before surgery (I’ve had it twice) - it was bright pink and they’d bring it in a little paper cup and it smelled kind of appealing at first (that’s how they suckered me in, that and I hadn’t eaten in 12 hours) but once in the mouth it washed down my throat with a fire that made me distrust those nurses for the rest of that stay in the hospital and the next. It seriously made me think that I was on fire and of course anytime any of my hospital roommates were faced with drinking a similar cup I warned them of the consequences (much to the dismay of the nurses and orderlies ... it was a good thing I was in traction and couldn’t spread the word further afield).
All that said, you may find it hard to believe that I’m happy Hershey’s is making them and if you’re a fan you should start scouring the stores and pick them up. It’s great to see that perhaps public opinion shaped their decision to bring them back. They’re a little more expensive than the regular solid Kisses (they’re pretty complex to make and they’re dumping way more of that cherry flavor in there than I expected). So if you’re a fan, celebrate! If you don’t find them at stores there’s always eBay and of course, my source, CandyWarehouse.com.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.