Friday, September 29, 2006
As I’m often found eating expired (or at least past prime) candy, it was a wonderful comment on the Skittles Fresh Mint post that breaks the code on the package of Mars products. Reader Dave posted the code in the comments and I’m putting it here for everyone to use.
Here’s how do figure out when that candy was made:
The date of packaging is within the first three digits of the code - the first digit is the last number of the year and the next two are the week of the year.
So, the Milky Way bar I have in front of me says:
That means it was made in the 20th week of 2006 - or sometime between May 14th to the 21st. Pretty fresh.
The Milky Way Dark I have says:
That means it was made in the 14th week of 2006 - or sometime between April 2nd to the 9th. Not bad.
This seems to work with Canadian Mars products too, as this is what the Mars Dark says:
That means it was made the 35th week of 2005 ... hmm, sometime between August 26th and September 2nd. That’s a little old. But I it must have been stored properly as it was still fresh and tasty.
The week of the year thing is a little tricky unless you have a payroll calendar nearby, so a quick and easy way to approximate the month is to divide the week by four (it gets less reliable the higher the number because there’s usually a fraction of a week left in the month).
The UK Mars bar I have simply has an expiration date on it (12-11-06). I’m not sure if that’s the European date style (November 12th, 2006) or the American (December 11, 2006) but at least neither of them have passed yet.
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this array of bars, but here it is. Readers write in and ask what sorts of American candy they should take with them as hostess gifts or ship to friends overseas as quintessential American bars. The Milky Way is right up there, as one of the earliest bars that Mars developed (1923).
It’s a bar that I should love, after all, it’s supposed to be a malted milkshake in a bar.
There are several iterations of this bar both here and abroad. I got a hold of the American versions of both the milk chocolate and dark versions and the UK Mars (milk chocolate) and Canadian Mars Dark (dark chocolate).
The bar is called Milky Way in the United States but everywhere else on the planet it’s known as the Mars. (There was once an American Mars bar, but that’s since been renamed Snickers Almond ... there is a bar called Milky Way in the rest of the world too, but that’s like the American 3 Musketeers bar.)
I haven’t had a Milky Way bar in about 10 years. I’ve always thought they were too sweet, but after breaking one open the smell of malt was really compelling, making me doubt the wisdon of my embargo. The nougat here is the highlight, a medium color of fluffy, slightly grainy nougat covered with a stripe of caramel and covered in milk chocolate.
The flavors go nicely together and the caramel has a slight salty note to it that balances out the very sweet and only passably smooth chocolate. The malt is earthy and brings flavor to the bar.
The UK bar known as Mars has a similar cocoa colored and grainy, fluffed nougat covered with a stripe of glossy caramel and then milk chocolate. The caramel here was noticeably smoother, but the maltiness was much more subdued and replaced with a milky flavor.
The American bar is on the left and the British on the right. There was a difference in size, the British slightly larger at 62.5 grams over America’s 58.1 grams. The UK bar as slightly longer and a little taller.
Recently the standard bars started to appear in darker coats. Back in 1936, based on the success of the Milky Way bar, Mars introduced the Forever Yours bar. It remained in the Mars product line until 1979 when it was discontinued. Customers complained and the Milky Way Dark bar was introduced in 1989 and then the name changed to Milky Way Midnight in 2000.
Milky Way Midnight - beautiful dark bar with little folds of chocolate on the top. The dark chocolate has a little reddish tone to it. Inside is a fluffy white (with a yellow tone) nougat and a stripe of caramel. Smells slightly smoky and very sweet. The caramel dominates in this bar and its sweet stickiness isn’t completely offset by the smooth but otherwise flavorless dark chocolate.
Mars Dark - a stunning dark bar with glossy dark brown chocolate. Inside is a fluffy white nougat (with a slight yellow tone) and a stripe of caramel. The nougat on this one seemed slightly grainier but still sweet and only slightly less overwhelmed by the caramel. The chocolate, though pretty still doesn’t add much of a flavor counterbalance for the whole bar just a smooth texture.
The wrapper on the Mars Dark bar is a bit of a blunder, if you ask me, as it seems to indicate milk chocolate by its lighter, creamy color over the black package of the Mars bar.
So, you’re wondering what the difference is? The American one is on the left and the Canadian on the right. The Canadian bar is larger, by .1 grams. The ingredients list is virtually identical as well. The only difference on the labeling is that the Canadian one lists the true trans fat content at .1 grams (American food does not have to be labeled if it’s less than .5 grams).
The important thing to note is that the milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions differ in more than their coats. The nougat is markedly different. The dark bars are missing the malt component, and instead have the vanilla nougat (that’s found in the American Snickers Almond bar). The difference between the American and foreign bars isn’t that marked and I think that fans should be happy with either when they’re traveling. I give all bars a 6 out of 10.
Overall, I wish that the Milky Way Midnight or Mars Dark really was just a dark chocolate version of the Milky Way/Mars bar - I think the combo of dark chocolate and malted goodness would be great. But Mars must not believe that (I’m not sure if the Forever Yours had the malted nougat or not ... honestly I think it’s wrong to muck with too many ingredient variations and try to stick the same name on it). I might pick one of these out of a bowl of miniatures, but I’ll stick to the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar as my favorite nougat candy bar for now.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This isn’t the first time Skittles has introduced a mint assortment. They did it back in 2002 (if I recall correctly) and sold them in little plastic containers instead of the normal bags and charged twice as much for half the amount of product. I tried them, and actually liked them, but just couldn’t pony up a dollar for a little box.
This is where buying stuff at the 99 Cent Only Store gets me into trouble. I don’t know if this is a leftover from 2002 or they’re reintroducing the Fresh Mint Skittles. They seem pretty fresh (if someone knows how to decode the batch numbers, please help me figure out what 349BX3 means). They come in five flavors - white, green, aqua, turquoise and light green.
White - tastes like a mint combo of spearmint and peppermint. Like toothpaste.
Green - tastes like toothpaste
Aqua - tastes like toothpaste
Turquoise - tastes like toothpaste
Light Green - wait, this might be wintergreen.
As a chewy mint, they’re fun and refreshing. If they’re different flavors, they’ve done a great job of making sure that none is too distinct so that you can’t combine them instead of picking through the flavors.
I’d actually buy these again. They’re pretty and very agreeable for most purposes. I’ll probably put them in a dish on my desk - a good little pick me up throughout the day. They’re the first Skittles you can eat with your morning coffee (well, I suppose you could have the Ice Cream ones, if you wanted to start the day wrong). If they’re four years old, I have to say they keep really well. I suspect it’s possible because the nutrition label doesn’t mention trans fat content as they’re now required to. Yeah, I’m gonna guess that they don’t make these anymore.
The package advertises that they’re only 5 calories per piece.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
This really isn’t a candy review so much as a product highlight. While I generally don’t like candy novelties, there are a few new products this year that really engaged me (the Gummi Lightning Bugs). Mostly because they combined candy and interactivity, instead of just being a fancy shaped container.
The Bubble Message Maker is a like the old Dymo label makers that uses strips of tape that you embossed letters on, one at a time. Here you make messages one letter at a time on bubble gum strips (bubble tape).
The center handle portion holds the roll of bubble tape, in this sample I have green apple, but the cool thing is that you can refill the Bubble Roll Message Maker with ANY standard width bubble tape.
The top of the message maker has a dial with all 26 letters (but no numbers or punctuation). You simply turn the dial to the desired letter and then press firmly on the little button to imprint the bubble tape. Roll the tape forward a full click and then repeat for your desired word or words.
The button was a little hard to press, so it took me a couple of tries to get the hang of it. The message isn’t really that clear, but it’s possible different colors of bubble tape are better for this than others.
Making a message is a little time consuming and of course takes patience (and there’s no delete button) but looks like a fun toy with a bit of candy with it with the added bonus that it’s refillable.
(The gum is made in the US, the toy is made in China.)
POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:44 am
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Here’s an all natural, organic candy that does a great job of looking and tasting like a traditional mass-manufactured lollipop. But these are different from the moment you pick up the package, because they’ve taken the packaging into account when creating the product.
College Farm Organic has been around for over 50 years (making traditional candies at first) and have only recently gone after the organic hard candy market. Their line of products include hard toffees, hard candies and these lollies.
They’re a nice size and shape. Not huge, but a good morsel. They’re oval shaped and rather flat. They’re smooth for the most part with some bubbles and voids, but nothing to cut up your mouth like a Tootsie Pop can. They aren’t clear, more opaque than most other hard candy lollipops, but the colors are appealing. They’re wrapped in a very noisy biodegradable corn starch cellophane.
They come in a mixed bag of 18 pops in four flavors.
Citrus Blast (orange) - smelled like lemonade, but tasted like very concentrated orange. Tangy, sweet, a little zesty.
Tropical Treat (yellow) - definite apricot and mango flavors with a bit of pineapple. Tart and sweet and tasty.
Cheery Cherry (red) - mild and tart and overall pleasant but with no particular flavor there. It did get more flavorful as I went along, but never really gave me a zing.
Wild Berry (dark red) - floral and sweet with a nice rounded berry flavor that wasn’t particularly raspberry or strawberry but a nice overall experience.
College Farm Organics Naturepops are made with no gluten, nuts, dairy, soy or eggs and with evaporated cane juice, so they’re suitable for folks with dietary restrictions and vegans.
The size is great and they taste just like hard candies - if you’re looking for something to give the kids that you won’t feel quite as guilty about, then pick some up. I saw them at Whole Foods over the weekend ($3.99 a bag), so they’re making their way into stores and you can buy them at Amazon (for about a dollar less per bag, but of course in quantities). As a Green Halloween candy, they fit into the fun factor. Lollies were not on my prime list of Halloween booty, but they were definitely something to be consumed (and not traded). The taste is the same as a traditional lolly and they don’t look any different, so the kids won’t think that you’re that stick in the mud that gives out “healthy” stuff.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.