Monday, September 16, 2013
Russell Stover started releasing some of their favorite items in a new, larger format called Big Bites about two years ago. Most are sold year round and represent a cross over sort of candy. They look like giant box candy chocolates but are portioned more like a traditional single serving candy bar.
The new Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple come in two versions. The first is a traditional caramel pattie, flavored with apple and covered in milk chocolate. The second goes further and gives it a coating of crushed peanuts.
The candy emulates a caramel coated apple, but in this case it should be easier to eat and probably has a better shelf life.
The package says naturally flavored, which was a bit of a surprise after eating some other, well, not-so-natural green apple candies lately. The piece is very attractive, it’s a caramel center covered in milk chocolate and then drizzled with dark chocolate. Even out of the rather flimsy package, it looked nearly pristine.
There’s a light apple sauce note to the sweet chocolatey scent. The bite is soft, though the chocolate is pretty thick. I was surprised at the smoothness of the caramel center. It has a pleasant apple peel note to it but not much in the salty or caramelized sugar family. The chocolate was passable, sweet and though note exceptionally smooth, it was creamy. The overall sweetness got to me about halfway through. Basically, a two ounce caramel pattie is just too much for me. A couple of small ones and I’m pretty happy, I don’t need quite this much at once, even if the shape is done well.
The crushed peanuts on the Russell Stover Big Bite Caramel Apple with Peanuts adhered pretty well. The package had a little pile in the bottom, though, about a third more peanuts. Though the no nuts version is 2 ounces, the peanutty one is 2.25 ounces, I’m guessing that’s the nuts and no dark chocolate stripes. Overall, the peanut notes overshadowed the apple flavors, but the whole thing seemed even sweeter, giving me a sore throat in about half the time as the straight one.
I like the Russell Stover caramel, and think they do a good job, especially for the price with these items. This is, by far, one of the best caramel apple candies I’ve had, but it’s still not my thing. I’d just like to see some flavors I’m interested in, like Coffee Caramel (maybe call it a Caramel Macchiato and shape it like a coffee cup) or perhaps Bananas Foster.
Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Monday, September 09, 2013
Candy Corn is brilliantly simple and captures the essential nature of corn itself very well. Corn (I mean dent corn, not the fresh-eating sweet corn) is ubiquitous and exceptionally versatile; it can be used to create oil, sweeteners, cereals, starches, feeds and even plastics.
Candy Corn reflects that versatility well, in that it looks like food, but it is much better at boosting the appeal of other foods as a decoration or merely a side dish to more appealing things. Like corn in our everyday lives as North Americans, it’s everywhere at Halloween. Candy corn is a fondant, and fondant is basically a butterless, chocolateless fudge. It’s just sugar and corn syrup, sometimes flavored with a bit of honey and sometimes held together with a bit of gelatin or egg white.It’s kind of sad that candy corn has become some sort of punchline to jokes about reviled foods, but it must have lovers or at least likers, or else candy companies wouldn’t make so much of it.
Wrigley’s seems to have latched onto the seasonal quality of candy corn for their new Starburst Original Fruit Flavored Candy Corn but discarded most of the other qualities of candy corn. They’re brightly colored, fruitly flavored unlike normal candy corn. The only thing that remains is the triangular shape and layering of colors.
Each candy is three tiers of one of the Original Starburst flavors: cherry, strawberry, orange and lemon. All have white tips, light centers and dark bases.What’s particularly odd about them is that they’re flavored the same on all levels. At the bottom of the bag was a bunch of the little white tips that had broken off and they were absolutely just as flavorful as the colored bottoms. The other thing is they’re not a traditionally “flavored” mellocreme. The others that I’ve had are usually light - maple or cocoa flavored perhaps, or with mild fruit essences. The Starburst Candy Corn is going for true Starburst juicy flavor - sweet, fruity and tart.
Cherry was the darkest red. It tasted quite strongly of that artificial cherry that Life Savers and Starburst share. There’s a sharpness towards the end and an overall pleasant tartness. The texture is good, it’s soft and though it doesn’t quite melt in your mouth, it’s smooth. The flavor lingered, again, medicinal and artificial.
Strawberry was pink and had a similar sort of medicinal quality like the cherry. It wasn’t floral or jammy, just artificial tasting.
Orange was like a creamsicle, sweet but tart enough that it had a sort of aspergum finish to it. This too had a lingering aftertaste, kind of like yogurt or soured milk.
Lemon was probably the most successful, but that’s not saying much. The lemon had a hint of zest but mostly was like a lemon sherbet flavor.
On the whole, I found them a pleasant experience, but I was left wondering why I was eating them. I didn’t like the flavor variety, the aftertaste was odd and the tartness distracted from what is usually a very mild and comforting candy. I think to celebrate the season, I’ll just form my regular Starburst Chews into little triangles and enjoy them that way.
Starburst has really extended their fruit chew brand in a lot of ways. There are or have been jelly beans, lollipops, drinks, gummis and now mellocremes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Starburst gum, red licorice type chew or chocolately Tootsie Roll styled product. Only time will tell.
The ingredients do not list any eggs or gelatin, which I found surprising. It does list confectioners glaze, which usually means shellac so it’s not a vegan product.
Friday, September 06, 2013
I couple of years ago I found out that Haribo had a Smurfs candy, but it wasn’t sold widely in the United States. I did track them down when I was in Germany, and bought a single one, for half a Euro at a Christmas Market in Schmalkalden (here’s a photo of me buying it). The individual pieces were large, about half an ounce (see photo) and a generic berry flavored jelly candy.
Now that the second Smurfs movie has been released worldwide (and a third planned since the first one has already made a quarter of a billion dollars worldwide) Haribo did decide to release a version to the United States in pouch packaging. I picked this bag up at Cost Plus World Market about a month after the movie came out.
This version has smaller candies in the traditional gelatin-based gummi style. The bag a little more expensive than usual Haribo candies at Cost Plus - not the sticker price, but the fact that the bag holds 4 ounces instead of the usual 5 ounces for products like the Gold Bears or Happy Cola.
The candies are shaped like the Smurfs. They’re predominantly blue with different colors on top. Most are clear on top, to emulate the standard white Smurf Phrygian cap. Papa Smurf has a red hat and Smurfette has blonde (yellow) hair.
The pieces are big, about an inch and half tall.
The blue flavor of the Smurf body is berry. I’d say it might be raspberry and it might be strawberry, it’s hard to tell. It’s jammy and it’s tart and overall, has a good flavor. The colored head coverings are a different flavor though.
The standard clear headed Smurf is pineapple, which I love and think goes great with the berry.
Papa Smurf’s red hat is, well, hard to distinguish. If I had to say, maybe it’s raspberry and the body is strawberry ... maybe they’re the same.
The candies are well done, a little monotonous because of the mostly single flavor but the molding and different shapes are pretty good. If you’re keen on Swedish Fish, this might be a fun treat, though they are a gummi, not a jelly candy so they’re not for vegetarians. They’re flat, not dimensional like the Au’some 3 Dees candies that have also come out with licensing agreements with characters from Nintendo, Monopoly and Kung Fu Panda. Maybe the time has passed when I would have been interested in a Smurf themed candy, but for someone who really likes them, and you’re planning on screening the movie, it’d be a fun themed snack.
Tuesday, September 03, 2013
Maria Sharapova, one of the top tennis players in the world, launched a line of candy last year, called Sugarpova. (She even briefly tried to change her name to Maria Sugarpova for the 2013 US Open, but ended up not participating due to a shoulder injury.) The new candy line is made in Spain by the confectionery company Fini. There are over a dozen different candies in her line, all sugar candies like gummis and chews, with fun names like Flirty, Sassy and Chic.
The logo on the front of each package is a pair of lips. The packaging and candy shapes have little to do with tennis, except for the gumballs. I’ve actually tried these gumballs before in a larger size, but only in the traditional yellow color. (See the original review here.)
I ordered the candy online from an eBay sports equipment store, the bags are priced rather steep at $5.95 for only 5 ounces. That calculates to over $19 per pound, which is pretty absurd for sugar candy that’s not made from special ingredients like all natural flavorings, non-GMO corn syrup or organic sugar.
Sugarpova Sporty Mix Bubble Gum come in five color/flavor combinations: orange, pink, yellow, blue and green. The pieces are about .75 inches across (about half the diameter of the jawbreaker version I tried previously). They’re also available separately, in Pink and standard Tennis Yellow. I chose the mix so that I could try as many flavors as possible.
The gumballs are made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners. One of the colorings is carmine, so they’re not appropriate for vegetarians.
Yellow is lemon-lime and is rather bland for the most part but with an oddly strong zest note to it. There’s a grainy filling inside the ball, but that just seemed sweet to me.
Orange is quite mild, it’s sweet with the only burst of real flavor coming from the sandy filling, in this case, it was tart.
Blue is raspberry and quite nice for a berry flavored gum. The floral notes are a bit perfumey, but it also has a lot longer lasting flavor than some of the others.
Pink was difficult to discern completely, I felt it was a pink lemonade flavor, it was different from the lemon-lime, it was more like a standard lemonade drink mix, a little tangy and less zesty.
Green was watermelon. I didn’t care for this at all, it had the requisite melon and cucumber notes, but was far too sweet overall.
The chew was good, the sugar melts away pretty quickly and the chew is pretty soft and easy to blow bubbles. Eventually, though, after about twenty minutes of chewing, there really is nothing left of the flavor or sweetness and it becomes too stiff for chewing or bubbles.
There are three different styles of gummis in the package. One is the standard fruity gummi, one is what I’d call the yogurt style gummi, which is usually opaque and pastel, and the third is the foamy base gummi, which has a bit of marshmallow in it.
The gummi octopus was fun because they were multicolored and each color was a different flavor. So they’re similar to gummi worms. Each piece had three flavors or so, something in a range of lemon, grape, strawberry, raspberry and cherry. It’s all soft with a good texture though the flavor was far more mild than I’m accustomed to with Haribo or Albanese.
The flat swirly fish are what I’d call the yogurt style. There’s a creamy component to the flavor. The pink version was like a strawberry cheesecake flavor. It was sweet and had a creamy note along with a tartness. The floral flavors of the berry were less jammy than some other clear gummis. The green version was similar, milder than a transparent version, with a vague green apple flavor.
The foamy base gummis looked like sharks. This is a popular candy, a lot of different gummi companies make a version of these. This is a very flavorful version, soft and chewy, the marshmallow has a strong vanilla flavor and the blue shark top is strawberry. The other red and blue whale looking gummi was similar, except that the domed center had a softer goo inside - not a full syrup, just a softer jelly center.
The sea turtles were about the best of the bunch, vanilla base and flavored gummi tops. The orange was like a creamsicle and blue was a nicely rendered raspberry.
Fini is a nice, mid-range brand of sugar candy sold rarely in the United States under their own brand. You can find them in bulk bins, mostly as sour sanded, fruity licorice ropes and tape. But there’s nothing to merit the price of these though the packaging is decent enough. As far as Sugarpova goes, they’ve done a good job curating a specific set of candies and packaging them in a way that makes them appealing. But aside from the gumballs, there’s very little unique in the candy line otherwise.
The gummis and gum are gluten free. For those people who are sensitive be careful to read the labels on all the packages, as some varieties do contain wheat and soy.
Friday, August 30, 2013
I’ve only been to Amsterdam once, so I’m not certain whether the name of this chocolate bar is compelling in its native culture, but I found it a little odd: Droste Cookie Milkchocolate XXL Pastille. It’s also possible that in the year 2013, all the good candy bar names have been taken and now confectioners are just using random word sequence generators based on the elements within the bar.
Luckily the picture on the package does most of the communication. It’s a chocolate bar, made with milk chocolate, in the form of a sectioned circular disk, filled with cookie bits.
The bar is only 50 grams (1.75 ounces) so it’s a generous single serving or two petite portions.
The disk is three inches across, and if my math is sufficient, each section is about 7/16th of an ounce.
The chocolate smells very milky, quite sweet and has a hint of malt to it (my guess is from the cookie). The snap is good and the distribution of the cookie bits looks generous but well balanced with the chocolate.
The melt is nice, silky even. It’s a little sticky but the cookie dust cuts through that. The chocolate tastes a bit salty, which is odd because the sodium content isn’t alarming (55 mg). The cookie bits are like digestives, quite dry and crumbly with a little hint of salt and malt and barely sweet at all. On the whole, it was very munchable and it reminded me how much I loved Droste as a kid. It was the premium chocolate I remember getting the most (the pastilles in the hexagonal box) and helped me to appreciate dark chocolate.
The price as a little steep, $2 for a single serving. The Ritter Sport Biscuit bar, with 100 grams (twice as much) for only 50 cents more at Cost Plus is probably what I’d put in my basket next time.
The bar contains gluten and may have traces of peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no statement about sustainability or ethical sourcing, but the Droste website is mostly in Dutch and the English part isn’t very well written. There are other versions of this bar at Cost Plus World Market, so I might try some as the weather cools off. (The “feels like” temp here in the neighborhood is 119 today.)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Ritter Sport is the brand of German chocolate bars that come in a square format and more than a dozen different varieties. The newest is Ritter Sport Coconut in milk chocolate. The package says it’s with tropical coconut flakes in a coconut and milk filling.
I like how inexpensive Ritter Sport is compared to other consumer brands from Europe, like Cadbury Dairy Milk or Lindt, and balances quality and munchability. No, it’s not exquisitely fine chocolate, but it’s fantastic chocolate candy.
I tried another version of a coconut bar from Ritter Sport a few years ago, a sample bar from their store in Waldenbuch, Germany called the Ritter Sport Kokosmakrone which also had some corn flakes in the coconut cream. The cream center is a common format for Ritter Sport, in fact, a lot of German candy bars like those from Milka also use this style.
The ingredients were a little disappointing. Ingredient #1 is Sugar and ingredient #2 is Palm Oil. This is similar to the Amarena Cherry I had earlier this year, which is also a filled bar. The saturated fat content is 45% of your daily RDA in 6 pieces. The other interesting ingredient, though far down the list, is hazelnut paste.
The milk chocolate is rich, sweet and smooth. The coconut center is interesting, because the coconut is actually crunchy and the filling with it is quite smooth and creamy, unlike the moist and chewy Mounds bar filling. I liked the filling quite a bit, and had no trouble finishing the bar. Coconut is not my favorite of all of their inclusions and I don’t usually like their white cream filled bars either. So I’ll probably stick to the Corn Flakes bar over this one.
Though Ritter Sport has a sustainability pact for their cocoa, there’s no mention of the source of their palm oil.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.