Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One of the new items at Trader Joe’s candy section is a twist on an old fashioned favorite, a chocolate covered caramel. I’ve always wanted a better Milk Dud and Trader Joe’s as been doing a good job of providing some tantalizing options over the years.
The newest is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels which comes in a 7 ounce gusseted bag with a resealable top. They describe them as Soft and creamy, deeply flavored butterscotch caramels are tinged with sea salt and enrobed in dark, slightly bitter chocolate to offset the sweetness.
I was wondering if these were the same as the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels sold in the small, single serving lavender bags. The ingredients are remarkably similar, with one difference: the Butterscotch Caramels use tapioca syrup instead of corn syrup. So these are free of corn (or at least don’t have any stated corn ingredients).
The flavor is very, well, butterscotchy. They taste like a butter flavor, but not an overtly artificial one like some fake popcorn topping can but more like a maple, woodsy flavor with stronger dairy notes. Instead it’s just rich and a little less sweet than the Tahitian Vanilla variety.
The dark chocolate coating is mild, on the semi-sweet side but has a creamy melt with a little smoky and pipe tobacco profile to it, instead of a dried fruit flavor that some darks can have.
I had wondered when the Tahitian Vanilla Caramels came out whether they’d be available in a bulk bag for serving in a bowl (or creating your own snack mix). This is a pretty good value at $3.49 (which is about $8 per pound) and the ingredients are all natural. I hope these stick around after the holidays, they might make a great travel mix with raw almonds, pretzels and milk chocolate drops. For right now they might just be my go-to candy for sneaking into a movie theater.
There is no statement or any info I can find about the sourcing of the ingredients, specifically the ethical sourcing of the chocolate. They also contain palm kernel oil (though very low on the list). They’re made with milk and soy and may contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Let’s see, if I was going to make my own candy, what would be the most popular ingredients to include? Dark Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Caramel. So it’s not surprising that I bought this gable box of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles.
The box holds about 15 individually wrapped bon bons filled with layers of caramel and peanut butter all covered in dark chocolate.
The front of the box says that there are no artificial flavors or colors, but that doesn’t mean that the ingredients are simple. There are things like malto-dextrin, fractionated palm oil (organic) and tocopherol (Vitamin E). But part of what makes the list so long is also how many of the items are preceded by “organic” such as the caramel (organic milk, organic sugar, etc).
The bronzy twisted mylar wrappers hold the bon bons well. They’re glossy and nicely domed, about 1.125 inches in diameter. They’re about 12 grams each, which is approximately the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle (though not spherical).
The shell yields easily to the soft interior. The burst of caramel comes first, as it’s more of a syrup than a firm chewy variety. The flavor is good, a little hint of burnt sugar but mostly a salted sweetness. The peanut butter base is very smooth with a smoky flavor for the most part and a light burst of salt as well. There’s a bit of chocolate in the filling as well, it looks like maybe a layer between the caramel and peanut butter - probably to keep them from mingling. The melt of it all is less than stellar, the chocolate is quite firm but the peanut butter is soft but slightly waxy (is that what fractionated palm oil is like?). Overall, it just never came together for me as a decadent whole. I’ll probably finish the package at some point but I’ve passed them over plenty of times when looking in my goody drawer over the past week, which is a rating in and of itself.
I still might consider these as a hostess gift, especially if you know the person is inclined towards the elements of caramel, dark chocolate and peanut butter. Even though they’re not as flashy, I prefer Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (which I’ve been eating by the tub-full for extra calories).
There is no ethical sourcing statement for the chocolate on the box, though the organic status of many of the ingredients bodes well for the attention the makers pay to sourcing ingredients. The truffles contain soy, peanuts and milk. They’re made in a facility that also processes wheat, eggs and tree nuts.
See also Rosa’s review at ZOMG! Candy.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
They say, “Combining the irresistible tastes of chocolate, rich and creamy caramel and apple, this new item brings a unique, new flavor to trick-or-treating, decorating and snacking.”
I had a tough time finding them in Los Angeles, but spotted them at CVS in Pennsylvania last week and managed to stash a bag in my luggage before leaving.
The Minis part of the Mars line is rather interesting. They’re far smaller than a snack sized bar, taken out of the mylar wrappers, you could easily tuck them in little fluted cups and put them in a candy box.
Each piece is .3 ounces (or 8.6 grams) and about 38 calories. They’re .8 inches square (a little shorter than a cube, about .7 inches tall). A suggested serving size is 5 pieces for 190 calories.
The big difference between the mini and the regular bar is the proportion of chocolate. The chocolate here is a thin veneer, just enough shell to hold the fillings.
The candies look no different inside than a normal Milky Way Mini. (Not like those Shrek Snickers which had green nougat.) This is comforting, as the candy smells more like apple pie a la mode than green apple Jolly Ranchers.
The scent has a light touch of milk and sweetness along with a hint of cinnamon and baked apple. The caramel and nougat are distinct layers. The nougat is a little on the mellow spice size, with notes of nutmeg and chai. The caramel seems to be where the apple flavors come from, more like apple cider and apple peels than an artificial apple flavor but it’s exceptionally mild.
Of all the formats for Milky Way, I prefer the mini, as it’s not too sweet and three can satisfy me quickly. I was not looking forward to this version, but was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that I thought they were transcendent and there are far better flavor combinations that I think would translate well to this, like Chai Spice.
For a Green Halloween for ethically sourced and clean ingredients, this candy doesn’t make the grade. Mars is making great strides towards using certified chocolate, starting in the US with their Dove line, but has not rolled it out in the Milky Way line in the US as yet.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Squirrel Nut Zippers were introduced by the Squirrel Brand Company in 1926 as a vanilla caramel with peanuts, part of a line of caramel candies. The name, which sounds more like a collection of nouns than an enticing candy, came from a local alcohol drink called Nut Zipper (this was prohibition).
The Squirrel Brand Company or Massachusetts was sold off to Southern Style Nuts in 1999 and moved to Texas. A mere 5 years later, Necco bought the rights to Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the lesser known Squirrel Caramel Chews, and moved production back to the Boston area. In case you’re wondering, the Squirrel Nut Zippers swing band named themselves after the candy (with permission from Squirrel Brand Company).
The candies are a simple format, a little bite sized chew wrapped in wax paper. They’re sold in bulk bins or pre-packaged bags. I found mine at Rocket Fizz, a small chain of candy & soda pop shops that started in Southern California.
Like Mary Janes (also made by Necco now), a good Squirrel Nut Zipper will be slight soft. Don’t be dismayed if you pick some up and they’re hard. The trick is to put it in your pocket or hold them in your palm for a few minutes or someplace slightly warm just before eating. That way the oils rise slightly to the surface to help the wrapper release from the candy and it’s soft enough to chew easily.
A SNZ is an easy to like candy, it’s quite simple. It’s a vanilla caramel with bits of peanuts in it. The flavor of the caramel is mild and sweet, not as earthy as a Mary Jane, which has molasses in it, and not as toffee like as a Sugar Daddy.
I’m sure I’ve had them before when I was a kid, but they didn’t make much of an impression on me. As an adult, well, there are other candies I’d prefer to have, such as a Mary Jane or some Sugar Babies.
I have no clue about possible allergens, but the ingredients show dairy, soy and peanuts.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I picked up the Dove Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises about a month ago at Target. At the moment they’re a Target exclusive flavor, though I understand that when the flavors are popular they go into wider distribution.
The blue and white and brown package is summery and bright and caught my attention right away. But I was curious how different the flavor would be from the regular dark chocolate with caramel that Dove already makes.
The chocolates are expensive, at $4 for just a little over a half a pound. Mars is * still not using certified sustainable or ethically sourced chocolate for the vast majority of their products, this price premium at least prompts me to expect high quality ingredients, not things like hydrogenated palm kernel oil and potassium sorbate.
The Dove dark chocolate is quite smooth and has an interesting flavor profile. It’s quite woodsy and a little on the dry side. But the melt is quick and slick on the tongue, so the dry finish keeps it from feeling to sweet or sticky. The flavor overall reminds me of chocolate sauce, not quite buttery but still silky.
The caramel filling is like most of the other Dove caramels I’ve had. It’s thick and almost like a sauce or syrup without a chewy component. I’d call it a pudding or custard. (Or perhaps German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut.) It has the advertised touch of salt to it and a smooth slightly toffee note to it. It’s not as rich or butterscotchy as some others I’ve had from artisan styled companies like Fran’s, but still a nice desserty flavored chocolate.
They felt less sweet than the regular Dove Caramel Promises, though it’s not like they had a lot of salt, there’s only 30 mg per 5 pieces. Because I picked up Hershey’s Simple Pleasures on the same trip, I have to say that I preferred these by quite a large margin. They’re less caloric than a solid chocolate bar, but still more than the Simple Pleasures or a Peppermint Pattie. Dove is still not my go-to premium chocolate. I’ll eat them if they’re sitting around, but when I want a chocolate treat I find myself shopping for things like Green & Black’s (which I wish came in little bite sized pieces) or something like Trader Joe’s which have more intense or vibrant flavors and better ingredients.
* UPDATE 7/18/2012: A rep from Dove Chocolate called me to let me know that Dove is switching to Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. This particular product is not Rainforest Alliance Certified, and still has unverified palm oil in it and preservatives. You can read more on their website, but the fact remains that Mars, the company that owns Dove, is far from converting their entire line of chocolate products to certified sustainable and ethical sources, but at least have a plan and are hitting targets. At this time they are sourcing only 20% of their cocoa from certified cocoa.
Friday, June 29, 2012
The final candy I have in the initial launch of the UNREAL candy line is the UNREAL #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar. If the description doesn’t spark any recognition for you, it’s a Snickers-type bar.
Like my other profiles of the UNREAL candies, there’s a lot to explore and expose in this new line. There are inconsistencies and it’s a little hard to find things out, but if you’re just interested in the review, skip to the third picture and read on from there. If you’re interested to know more about what’s inside and what they say is inside, well, then read the whole review.
I was really surprised with the #5 Nougat Caramel Bar being so low in calories, but figured it was all the protein. It clocks in at 106 calories per ounce, which usually pure sugar candy, like Starburst or gummi bears. York Peppermint Patties are about that level of caloric density, but they have so little chocolate and a
So I went through and added up all the elements to get to the listed 200 calories listed for the #8 Chocolate Caramel Peanut Nougat Bar.
Well, that adds up to 228 calories (and accounts for 42 of the 49 grams, fiber which has no calories makes up an additional 5 grams)
The only way it adds up to 200 is if you only added the sugar, not the full carbs. The package lists 17 grams of sugar (4 calories per gram) which would be 68 calories, making the whole bar 196 calories (rounded up to 200 calories). That would make the calories per ounce a more believable 134 calories for a chocolate and nut candy bar. (For the record, a Snickers bar is 135 calories per ounce.) When I redid the calculations for the #5 Chocolate Nougat Caramel Bar I got 191 calories instead of the stated 170 calories on the package. They’re off by 10-12% of what I believe to be the true calorie count. (The other candies in the UNREAL line seem to add up properly.)
The bar is the same size as the #5 Nougat Caramel, about 3.5 inches long and a little more than one inch wide. It smells like toffee and roasted nuts. The bite is soft, the nougat on the bottom of the layers gives easily. The caramel has a wonderful stringy pull and chewy texture. The chocolate is creamy, has a light bitter chocolate note to it, but a good dairy profile to emulate the milky caramel experience that was missing in the #5 bar for me. In this case the peanuts are what changed it. They’re crunchy, not roasted too dark and all fresh and perfect. If there was an extra level of protein enhancement to the nougat on this bar, I didn’t catch it at all.
The textures meld well, the bar isn’t too large and is completely satisfying. It’s great that it doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils in it, though I’d prefer a bar without palm oil. The darkness of the milk chocolate also keeps it from being too sweet with the really sugary filling of caramel and nougat.
This bar is a winner on so many levels. I have to hope that the company gets through it’s labeling and transparency issues (still haven’t heard back from them) and can expand to make snack size version for easier portion control and Halloween.
The bar is made in Canada and is Kosher. It contains dairy, eggs, peanuts and soy. Made in a facility with tree nuts and wheat. The website says the ingredients are GMO free, but not the package.
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 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:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.