Tuesday, December 20, 2005
When I was a kid there was an amazing candy bar called the Marathon. It was made by Mars and came in a bright red wrapper and was almost ten inches long (the candy was only 8 inches). Inside was a braid of firm caramel covered in chocolate.
The Marathon bar came along at a time when I would guess I was particularly impressionable and it was a marvelous time in candy. New candies were being introduced that seemed to speak directly to my soul. It was at this time that things like Reese’s Pieces, Sprees & Starbursts came out and Pringles (okay, not a candy, but I’d buy them at the Stop ‘n Go). And let’s not forget Pop Rocks.
The Marathon bar was probably not marketed towards me. The commercial campaign I remember involved a square-jawed, white-toothed and practically perfect looking Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) who went by the name of Marathon John. This hero of little commerical stories did everything slow, like eating his Marathon bar. He had a nemesis in the commericals, a wirey fellow named Quick Carl. Quick Carl was careless and jumpy and was, of course, always foiled by Marathon John and his candy bar that you can’t eat quickly. (We didn’t have color TV back then, so the whole “red” thing was lost on me ... it’s not that I’m that old that I remember black & white TV, it’s just that we didn’t get one in my family until 1979).
My guess is that this long candy bar that came with a measuring stick on the back was aimed at adolescent boys. You know how obsessed they are with measuring things. And how often do you find yourself at lunch or hanging out at the park with your little paper bag of sweets and wanna measure something with your buds?
Anyway, the candy bar was introduced in 1973 by Mars and discontinued it in 1981. But of course once you discontinue a candy bar the fans come out of the woodwork. The bar has been gone for more than twenty years and still there are rabid admirers who insist that it be returned to the American Pantheon of candy bars. I suspect that one of the issues with it is its non-standard size. It just doesn’t fit on the shelves the same way and slotting is important for the big candy manufacturers. But Cadbury seems to be doing fine with the Curly Wurly ... but for all I know their biggest market may be the United States and these folks in their forties who insist that there is no other candy bar for them than an eight inch braid of caramel covered with chocolate.
A few years ago Mars resurrected the name Marathon but this time gave it to an “energy bar” type candy. I’ve never tried it.
If you’re looking for a fix now that you’ve waxed as nostalgic as I have, pick up the Cadbury Curly Wurly bar. You can find them in the UK or Canada or perhaps in the States at a shop that carries UK imports and of course online. Old Time Candy has a nice page about Curly-Wurly and the Marathon Bar Here’s my review of the Curly Wurly (I gave it an 8 out of 10). The only question that remains (and perhaps you dear readers can help) is who came up with the bar first? Was it a Cadbury product that was licensed by Mars just as Hershey licensed KitKat from Rowntree (well, now Nestle)? Or did Mars come up with it and it was successful enough in the UK to continue?
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Friday, December 16, 2005
Name: Ribbon Candy
When I was a kid I used to buy ribbon candy for my mother for Christmas. It was pretty stuff but I never remembered it being very good. I think part of the problem is that most people put it in a dish or some sort of display for the holidays and it gets all sticky.
Ribbon Candy is simply hard candy flattened out into long ribbons and then folded up like little puffs and twists. They’re usually pretty colors and often flavored according to those colors. This box contains a mix of minty and fruity flavors. The box also has a beautiful photo of the candy on it. The stuff inside doesn’t look quite like that.
First, the ribbons are not uniform. The doubling of the candy strips to form the loops was rather inconsistent and the ribbons weren’t flat, so I’d set them out to photograph and they’d rock. Second, they were not glossy and luminous like the box. I know that they have been in the past. I know the stuff I used to get for my mother looked like it was spun glass. I don’t know if it’s because this is a bad batch or that it’s just not as good anymore, but mine looked milky and dull. Only one was broken, so I was pleased that the poor box wasn’t handled poorly.
The candy itself is kind of neat to eat. Messy, but pretty interesting. You can’t just break off a little loop, it seems for each loop that you want the other half is pulverized into shards as you break it off. We’re all used to the dense sugar of the hard candy, but the wafer thin ribbons rather melt on your tongue. The flavors are ordinary and sweet, no tartness in the citrus flavors. The plain white one was cool because it was vanilla. There aren’t that many vanilla hard candies out there. The oddest thing was that the red and green striped one was some sort of strange mint. A toothpaste mint, which I’m guessing is a blend of spearmint and peppermint but tastes a little too much like toothbrush for me.
You can read more about F.B. Washburn and Sevigny’s at their home page. But here’s the part I liked best:
Did you know that there’s a “ribbon candy business” and that it was so consolidated now?
The other interesting thing is how low in calories these are. A full ribbon, which is a little over an ounce and looks huge is only about 60 calories. So if you’re looking for a little holiday indulgence that won’t fatten you up so fast, a couple of ribbons instead of a piece of pie ala mode might save you about 300 calories. It’s actually kind of nice to have with a little tea and the calories probably end up being lower consider that much of it shatters into microscopic shards that you’re more likely to inhale than consume.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I bought these at a natural food store. I think the reason people interested in they kinds of food they eat like these is that they have no refined sugar in them. The ingredients list is pretty short (with some variation based on the flavor): molasses, wheat
flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseed oil). Pretty simple. The interesting part is that these are Finnish. Just like the Lemon Lakritsi only without the racially insensitive packaging. Who could be offended by Panda bears? Actually, I’ve passed over these bars for years because I had them confused with Australian licorice I bought in bulk. I mean really, who expects a Panda on a product from Finland of all places? (Okay and I guess it wouldn’t belong on an Australian product either, that should have a Koala or Kangaroo on it.)
The bars are rather simple. A bit thick rope of not quite soft candy.
Licorice: Nice and glossy/dark on the outside. It has a good smokey, woodsy smell that gives off a lot of anise scent. The bit itself is pretty soft and the molasses flavors are pretty evident. Molasses has always been a good base for spicy flavors and licorice is a natural to combine with it as it offsets the very sweet aftertaste true licorice has.
Raspberry: Fragrant without being too perfumy this raspberry bar doesn’t really have much berry flavor to me. The chew isn’t as molassesy, not as woodsy tasting. It’s tart and of course has a nice robust chew but the flavor doesn’t really match the texture and I wanted more berry in there.
Strawberry: Sweet smelling with an immediate tart bite to it, it definitely feels more like a berry bar. No woodsy hints from the molasses here either.
The licorice bar has to be my new favorite. Easy to bite, mellow and with a strong pop of flavor. It’s a bit pricey for licorice and I’ll probably stick with licorice pastels now and in the future, but if I’m in the store and need a little sweet fix, this might do the trick.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Name: Frolic Bears
I picked these up at the 99 Cent Only Store a while back and was rather scared of them. I don’t know why I’d pick up candy I was afraid of, maybe it’s a way of facing demons. I’m not afraid of Manischewitz products in general (except for their sweet wines) and of course I love lollies. Maybe it was the name Frolic Bears. Maybe I don’t want my candy to be active and enjoying itself before I chow down on it.
After opening the package I figured out why they were at the 99 Cent Only Store at a fraction of their grocery store price. The bears were missing their ears. You can see from the photo above that the lollies are made by pouring the molten chocolate directly into the trays and inserting the sticks. This tray was a little short on chocolate and some of my bears were deformed.
Once I got over their appearance I decided to eat a few. First, the sticks are a little short for adults. Maybe they’re not made for adults. Okay, they’re not made for adults. The chocolate itself was very sweet and the rather American style of being creamy without milky. It was kind of crunchy at first (it’s kinda cold today and my office isn’t heated at night so it may as well have been refrigerated) but melted easily after that. They don’t have a lot of flavor other than that, no chocolate nuances. The vanilla isn’t real, so that note is a little lost too. However, this is certainly something I’d be happy to give to a kid. They’re Kosher and of course are meant for Passover. The price is great, but I just can’t get over the bland chocolate. If I had kids coming over to the house I might be slightly more inclined to purchase them again.
Rating - 4 out of 10
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Name: Xocoatl Venezuelan 73.5% Dark Chocolate Bar
My sister-in-law brought this for Thanksgiving (she brought a lot of stuff and we didn’t get to this that evening). It’s part of the whole trend in authentically flavored chocolates in the Aztec tradition. This bar is from a company called Xocoatl - A Master Chocolatier (which I still haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce, though I excel at saying Huitzilopochtli ). Here’s a list of Aztec Gods in case you were wondering about their names. Xocoatl was the fire god, which only makes sense that so many folks are naming their spicy chocolate after him. As Chocolate is a New World discovery, it’s natural thatchocolatiers investigate the roots of the food and its original preparation. Though few people drink it as it was originally made as a peppered, salted and spiced drink mixed with milk or water, we can learn a lot from the original preparations about the complex flavors inherent in the beans.
The gold wrapper not only makes this bar look precious, it’s actually really good protection from odors and probably reflects a little hit that might come its way in an ordinary day. It’s a pretty big bar too, rather flat and about the size of a 3x5 card. The bar I got was exceptionally fresh, with a good snap and wonderful aroma. The major smells from the bar are woodsy and with a big pop or rum/vanilla. The bar is smooth, but not terribly buttery. Not at all grainy, the spicy part doesn’t hit until the morsel has melted completely on the tongue. There’s a dry finish that helps to deliver the slight heat from the spice andcinnamon.
I wish it were just a little smoother, a little more buttery, but at 73.5% cocoa solids, they packed a lot in there. It’s not overly sweet and very flavorful. If you are in the area and check out the shop, I actually recommend their Mayan Hot Chocolate, which has a wonderful Mexican style like Ibarra hot chocolate mixed with some spice but most notably almond bits which give it a bit of nuttiness and smooth everything out. I’m also curious to try their fruit and nut bars sometime. They do a violet and rose petal that sounds right up my alley.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.