Known as chalk candy, this is candy that's made from powdered ingredients, mostly dextrose (also known as glucose). Pieces are created compacting the powder with a small amount of binder in molds in a compression machine.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Yes, I’m the type of person who eats sugar straight. Mostly brown sugar, but sometimes raw sugar and of course honey. Then there’s maple sugar. That’s a kind of sugar that’s actually marketed in little molded shapes to be eaten straight by non-sugar-obsessed folks.
Big Sky Brands of Canada is known for their little compressed sugar candies like Jones Soda Carbonated Candies and Yogen Fruz Smoothies. Their new Maple Ice Mints Original are far more subtle and dare I say, elegant.
The tin is rather ordinary but does the job. It has all the convincing faux wood grain of a early 1980s station wagon. It’s about 3.25 inches long and 1.75 inches wide.
Inside the tin are 30 little mints, each is about the size of an extra strength aspirin. They have a small maple leaf on one side. They smooth but leave a little powdery residue. They smell woodsy and sweet, like maple. The ingredients list both cane sugar and maple sugar, the color of them is a light sandy white and since there are no artificial colors in there, I’m guessing that’s the maple sugar that does that.
They’re sweet and have a light fresh mint hint far in the back, but mostly they’re a soft maple flavor. The great thing about the maple flavor is that it’s not sticky like the syrup and other sugar candies.
The problem with them is the price, I suppose. They were about $2 for less than an ounce. It’s tough in a Tic Tac and Altoids world to sink twice as much money into these. They’re not minty enough for me to consider them a mint, in that mints are consumed one or two at a time and then set aside for another day. Nope, I wanted to eat the whole box of them at once. I succeeded in eating them in three separate sittings. They still leave my mouth fresh and were wonderful with tea or just as a little delight in the middle of computer frustrations.
The package doesn’t say anything about the gluten status or nuts but they do appear to be all natural and probably vegan. (There’s calcium stearate in there, but I’ve never seen a candy that uses an animal source for the ingredient since the vegetable version is so cheap.)
Monday, August 9, 2010
While many mints these days are touting how strong they are or that they’re sugar free, the Choward’s line just plugs away at the same mildly-flavored line. They’re not easy to find, so when I spotted these at the Albanese Candy Factory Outlet, I grabbed both the Choward’s Spearmint and Lemon. They have classic textured foil wrappers and list that there are 15 mints in the package.
Choward’s Spearmint are plain white, the ingredients list no colorings. The little squares are are nicely formed. They’re about 2/3 of an inch square and have an excellent embossed Choward’s logo across the center on both sides. They stack easily and have a pleasant texture of unglazed fine bone china.
The spearmint is completely mild. It’s sweet ... much sweeter than I expected. Since they’re made with actual sugar instead of dextrose, it’s noticeable. (Dextrose or glucose is said to have only 74% of the sweetness of sucrose.) Since it’s not very minty, it’s hard to pay attention to anything but the sweetness. But I suppose maybe it’s a good deal - you get more sweetness for the same number of calories.
I found them fun to eat, but really not much for a long-lasting minty freshness. As a breath freshener, well, they didn’t make things worse. Just a little sweet pick-me-up. I can see them going well with mild drinks like tea.
The Choward’s Lemon is a bit more of a curiosity. The ingredients are interesting in that the flavoring is just oil of lemon and citric acid (for tartness). I was expecting a bit of a lemon mint, instead it’s kind of like a SweeTart.
The crunch is smooth and hard and like the Spearmint, it’s quite sweet. But the citric acid gives it a little sour kick. The lemon oil is zesty and certainly more complex than SweeTarts. They less grainy texture took a little getting used to. Ultimately they were just too sweet for a sour chalky candy (I guess that’s why I like the dextrose-based ones) but I liked the texture quite a bit.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I’ve been tempted for the past few months by the Hello Kitty Lucky Stars Candy at Cost Plus World Market. I resisted, I actually did. But then a package turned up from Sweets & Snacks Expo with some samples and this was among them.
The cute tin is shaped like a Chinese food takeout container, complete with little metal carrying handle.
The tin holds 1.5 ounces of red and white compressed dextrose stars.
The base is 2 inches square, the top is about 2.125, so it has slightly tapered sides. It’s about 2 inches tall as well. The top fits nicely and even has little embossing like the flip top would. The red enameled finish and decoration is very nicely done. Everything is well made on the package, no sharp edge while the carrying handle swings easily.
Both the tin and the candy inside is made in China.
The stars are a shiny glazed compressed dextrose, like SweeTarts, but not actually tart at all. They’re about a half an inch across and rather thick. The mold is nicely shaped, they remind me of little sheriff’s badges. I think they’re the same flavor ... possibly some sort of pineapple. Of course the red ones taste like red food coloring, which I suppose is better than the taste of cadmium or lead that probably comes from licking the actual tin.
They’re crunchy and satisfying, like tiny Sprees without the tangy note.
If you’re buying this candy, you’re buying it for the packaging. Which is fine, it’s a cute little tin and it would be great for something like rubber bands, paperclips or those weird scented erasers. The little plastic bag inside only fills up half the tin anyway. It’s easy to refill with anything else.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Marketing tie ins with blockbuster movie franchises are nothing new. The Necco Sweethearts and Twilight co-marketing continues. I saw these at the Ralph’s grocery over the weekend and remembered that the movie is in theaters and that I actually had a couple of boxes.
I’ve never actually read the Twilight books or seen any of the movies. This is just about the candy.
Inside are two flavors of Sweethearts in the new softer texture and more intensely flavored formula. The Raspberry Freezeout and Lime Frostbite feature a dusting of sparkles courtesy of a newly approved edible mica.
The front of the box says Intense Wave of Cold! ... just what you want in a relationship that might last for all eternity.
The shape of the sweets is nicely done. They come in only two colors, but they’re pretty easy to tell apart. The printing is subpar though. I worked hard to find some good representatives for photographing. The sayings were things like “I “heart” EC”, “Live 4 Ever” “Bite Me” and “Dazzle”. There were a fair number of blank ones, which I’m told is because Edward Cullen can’t read Bella Swan’s mind.
They smell, well, feminine and juvenile. It’s like fruity bodywash or scented trash bags.
The Raspberry Freezeout flavor is light blue. The sparkly quality was evident to me except in extremely bright and direct lighting conditions (like outside in the sun). The flavor is sweet and floral, like a raspberry flavor is supposed to be. There’s no hint of tartness, instead after a moment the overly sweet flavor fades and a throat cooling menthol comes over it. It’s a little medicinal, but also a bit unexpected as it doesn’t really complement the berry.
The Lime FrostBite is slightly more successful, probably because of my indoctrination to the flavor combo via the Mojito. The lime is a light zesty note, again with no tart juicy vibe. Then the menthol emerges and it’s well, okay. It’s a little like toothpaste.
The texture is softer and smoother than the classic Sweethearts, so in a way that’s nice. But the flavor choices here simply aren’t for me.
The second package is Sweethearts Fire which says it has an Intense Surge of Heat. The box features an image of the shirtless Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, a shapeshifter with a tattoo. (Who was jailbait when the image was shot ... okay, maybe photos of shirtless teen boys can’t be jailbait.)
Inside is a plastic bag with two flavors of pink Sweethearts: Steamy Chocolate and Hotter Than Apple Pie.
These candies also come in two colors, though both are pink. One is bright pink and the other is dusty pink. They smell sweet and lightly cinnamony.
The pieces area also difficult to read, about half were not imprinted well enough. But the ones that I could read said things that were themed for the wolf boy and his unrequited love for Bella like “Wolf Man”, “Jacob”, “Save Me” and “Howl”.
Steamy Chocolate were rather rare in my package, about 25% of the candies. The flavor is light and slightly creamy, the cocoa notes come across as flat and cardboard, but maybe a little woodsy. The cinnamon is more earthy than spicy.
Hotter Than Apple Pie tastes like a holiday candle, like cinnamon with a little apple juice flavor thrown in to mellow it out. It’s a little spicier and more intense than the chocolate one. The pink coloring means that I got a bitter aftertaste after eating too many (about five).
While I liked the Fire version better than the Ice, I wouldn’t say that I liked them all that much at all. Perhaps the fact that the flavor was rather mainstream pleased me, just like most people really don’t want to love an immortal undead guy.
These candies suffer as novelty items instead of solid products that tie into a theme. The hearts and mottoes are a great idea, but the flavors are just ghastly for the most part. But maybe that’s the target market.
The good news is that Necco didn’t make a Bella Swan version, which as far as I can tell would be sugary sweet and flavorless.
Sweethearts have gelatin in them, so are not suitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher/Halal.
Full disclosure: I’m not against escapist entertainment, I’m sure if someone dug through my reading and viewing habits there’d be some goofy items as well. And I give folks full permission to make fun of those.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The first new Choward’s flavor that I can remember in my lifetime is Guava. Introduced earlier this year it joins the current line up of flavors of square compressed sugar mints that come in Peppermint, Spearmint, Lemon and Violet.
This new version is called simply Tropical Candy. It’s not a mint at all, more of a little treat with no breath freshening powers.
The package is the same weird salmon pink of guava flesh and mid-fifties tiled bathrooms.
Chowards are not your ordinary mints. They’re exquisitely made to exacting tolerances. Build a house for your Lego mini-fig out of Altoids? Never! But these little squares are smooth and perfect with straight sides, consistent colors and crisply chiseled logos.
The best thing about them, as far as I’m concerned, is their stack-ability. They’re stable. Dependable. The same on both sides.
I’m not a guava fan. If it’s in a fruit salad, I pick around it. I’m not even keen on the musky flavor it imparts by proximity. So I wasn’t really looking forward to these.
They smell tropical, like pineapple and orange blossoms. Or a Tommy Bahama store.
They’re tangy and fruity, the flavor is a mix of melon and pineapple for those who have never had guava before. For those who have had guava, it’s authentic enough though a bit more tart.
The texture is smooth. Since they’re made with sugar and not dextrose they have a very sweet note to them with a strong honey-fruity finish.
On the whole, they’re better than I expected and they’re certainly different from other candies on the market (as are all of Choward’s offerings). They’re not minty but still leave my mouth feeling fresh (like a tropical green iced tea will); they’re not quite tangy and flavorful enough to compete with SweeTarts.
Friday, April 23, 2010
While most candy is fruit or spice flavored there are a few that are floral. Parma Violets, made by Swizzels Matlow, are probably one of the best known, perhaps because they’re widely available in the UK and pretty cheap.
They come in little rolls of tablets, similar to another Swizzels Matlow product, Swizzels Fizzers. (Those in North America are probably more familiar with Ce De Smarties, also known as Rockets in Canada.)
The name Parma Violet is for the city of Parma in Italy. Starting in the 1500s the violet plants (possibly originating in Africa or East Asia) were grown, hybridized and traded by the ruling elite. They spread through Europe in manicured gardens as well as greenhouses and sunporches in cooler climates. The flowers themselves, besides being cut and used in bouquets, were candied and used as decorations and eaten. Violet flavoring was common in candies like chocolate creams, fondants and dragees through World War I when it eventually fell out of favor. Of course it’s still around, but certainly not as ubiquitous.
Parma Violets a compressed sugar tablet flavored like violet. The roll holds 14 little tablets that are 1/2 inch in diameter. They’re a soft lavender color and are now made with all natural colorings (since 2008).
The big difference I noticed in the ingredients is that they’re made with sugar (sucrose), not dextrose. Dextrose or glucose is the sugar of choice for Smarties and SweeTarts in the US, it’s a monosaccharide that is actually less sweet than sucrose (which is a disaccharide). Parma Violets are made from sucrose. So they’re quite sweet, sweeter than I expected from a “chalky” candy. The texture is the same as most other compressed sugar candies, it’s soft on the tongue and has a slow and sugary, slightly grainier melt.
Of course the overriding flavor of the candy is violet. Yes, the flowery kind. A honey-sweet smell of violets - cloying and definitely not nuanced. Violet for me is a humid flavor, moist and sticky like syrup. Part of this is probably because I gathered bouquets of violets in the yard as a kid and associate the smell of the real thing with dewy grass. These are dry and don’t stimulate a whole lot of saliva from me.
The aftertaste is mellow and long-lasting. For folks who like jasmine, rose or orange blossom over mint as a breath freshener, violet might be for you.
The good news (at least for me) is that the package contained the smell adequately. Since I tend to carry around a lot of candy at once, it would have been a travesty to contaminate my Mast Chocolate Bars with violet.
They’re a curiosity for me, I ate three packages without complaint but only because they were in front of me. I can’t see buying them again, but I guess I’ll have to see if a craving kicks in. I prefer the panned layering of Anis de Flavigny.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I’m sure some folks recognize it, it’s a Super Mario Power Up Box. Inside this mystery block are eight power ups: Starman, Super Mushroom and the gold coin in the form of Snerdles.
Next question: What are Snerdles? They’re are a candy mosaic made by Au’some. Chewy fruit strips covered with tangy, crunchy candies. Think of them like a Nerds Rope, but flat with the Nerds forming an image.
Au’some introduced Snerdles about 10 years ago and they appear on the market from time to time. The last time I heard of them was when they did a limited edition for Marvel back in 2003-2005 including Spiderman. They also made a generic version which was little squares or strips with images of the different flavors of fruit on them.
The promo material I got last year said: Each candy fruit strip is decorated with tiny and tart crunchy candies for an amazing mouthful of texture. I was fascinated and really wanted to see them in person.
Each Power Up Box holds eight individually wrapped Snerdles. Each weighs 11 grams (.39 ounces). They’re not quite square - they’re 2 inches high and 1.75 inches wide and about an eighth of an inch thick (without the toppings).
They absolutely look like the box illustrates. The translucent fruit squares have designs made from little crunchies in different colors. They’re not quite as perfect, but the effect is quite cute and all of mine were faithful and easy to identify. They come in three flavors to go with the designs (though they’re not matched at all, any color can be any design). Blue Raspberry is Aqua, Strawberry is red and Apple is green.
It doesn’t smell like much out of the package. The fruit bar is a little sticky but very pliable. There’s a little pull to it, but it’s not at all a gummy.
It’s not quite fruit leather, it’s not as pulpy as that.
Goodness, this was realistically like an apple. The peel flavors and actual flavor of a granny smith were in there. The second ingredient is pear puree, so it really is fruity.
Really authentic scent of strawberry jam. It’s tangy and sweet with just a hint of grape in the background, but mostly a vague strawberry flavor. The candy pieces provide a crunch and flavor somewhere between a nonpareil and a Nerd. They’re tangy and sweet, but not quite flavored. They’re crunchy but have a slight starchy and chalky afterglow.
I found I could just bite them and eat them that way, but like a fruit roll up or fruit leather I did play a bit. I rolled some up, with the crunches on the inside to keep them from falling off (they’re little devils inside a keyboard). I also pulled some apart, so the mosaic was distorted, like the scattering of galaxies after the Big Bang.
The crunchies just sit on the top, they’re not pressed into the fruit square.
Blue raspberry was certainly an odd color, an ocean aqua. It had an appealing scent, a mixture of floral berries and limes. This one was more tart than the others, though I can’t say that any rise to the level of sour candy. The flavors were like a berry jam, though not subtle or nuanced. Just straight ahead real berry flavor.
These really are an inventive candy. They’re not quite a fruit leather and without the nutrition panel I can’t say exactly whether I’d call these a snack or a candy. The fact that they’re made with a substantial amount of fruit puree should make parents happy and the cute designs and inventive package should make any kid who gets these the envy of his friends.
Made in a no peanut facility but no other notations of allergens on the list (such as tree nuts, eggs, milk, wheat/gluten). They’re also Kosher. Full ingredients: Sugar, pear puree from concentrate, dextrose, corn syrup, tapioca starch, citric acid, apple fibre, sodium citrate, artificial flavors, pectin, maltodextrin, carnauba wax, colours. They are made in China, though it says “Made responsibly in China.” I talked to some folks at the company, it’s a family run business who supervise the manufacture of the candies themselves so it appears that there’s more oversight than a company that outsources the production. They have more information on their website.
The box is easily reusable, it’s a 2.5” cube with a well fitted lid. I think you can peel off the top sticker and then throw change in there or game tokens or just keep refilling it with different candy. I don’t know the true retail price, I expect a box like this will be under $2.00, but on the internet where licensed merchandise can go for more, they might be around $3.
Aggrogate had a roundup of many Nintendo-themed candies, including Snerdles.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
As we’re in the middle of Candy Season one of my favorite things to do after a holiday is to see what’s on sale from the previous holiday and glance at the early merchandise on the shelves for the next one. The Epiphany usually marks the emergence of Valentine’s Day candy. I scour the aisles looking for something new. So when I saw the new packaging for Necco Sweethearts I thought they’d expanded their line. They have been offering an all-chocolate version, Spanish language version and lately a Tart version. I thought this new fruity array was an addition.
I bought them but didn’t open them, just tossing them on my pile for review. Then the comments started trickling in from readers, who were finding my old review and weighing in on the changes. It appears that it’s a complete replacement for the classic Necco Sweethearts (see my review of them in 2008).
There are so many things wrong. Let me start on the front of the package.
The Official Candy of Love
Does Love have a governing board that can decide these things, like the Olympic Committee? No, no it does not. Love, Freedom, Justice and Anger ... these concepts and emotions are boundless and cannot have anything official about them. Invoking any sort of official in association with them is false advertising. Love does not do endorsements. (Unless Necco would like to step forward and show me their contracts with Love.)
New Package Design
I actually like it. It’s bold but still soft and, yeah, a bit feminine and childish. At first I though the colors of the hearts were a little too vivid, but after seeing the actual candies inside, I’m setting that aside. The choice of Love Bug as the statement on the featured heart is a bit odd.
It’s marked in a black stamp there in the upper right corner, 99 cents and the package holds 7 ounces. Can’t really beat that, especially when the little boxes are usually selling for 50 cents for one ounce (though sometimes on for as little as 20 cents each). Not terribly attractive but kind of makes me nostalgic for the time before bar codes.
Lack of Branding
The front of the package does not bear the name of the maker. The name Necco isn’t actually on the package anywhere ... just New England Confectionery Company under the nutrition facts panel (followed by the web address of www.necco.com). The previous years’ packaging does have Necco and its logo featured prominently both on the front and the back of the packages.
It’s January 13, so a little more than a month before Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s candy has been in stores for at least a week. On the back of the package is says for baking, gifting, craft ideas and more visit mysweethearts.com. You know what’s on that page as I write this? It’s a placeholder about some sort of iPhone app. No promised recipes or craft ideas ... not even any mention that would be what I expect to find it there. (See screengrab.)
The New Flavors - Show You Care ... 6 Delicious Ways to Share!
Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.
I’m not going to break the flavors down one by one. What was nice about Necco Sweethearts was the subtle sweet flavors, nothing exciting, they were simply pleasant.
The new flavors are a blend of sweet and tart. The texture is smoother than the usual compressed dextrose candy like SweeTarts, because this is made with mostly sugar and corn syrup instead of dextrose (which is just a powder form of glucose and has a different mouthfeel).
The citrus flavors are completely artificial with a tangy note that is wholly un-citrus and more like a chemical. The pink ones taste like a combination of lipstick and the old wintergreen ones, which is just a disgusting mix. Grape has as much clove flavor in it as food coloring though the mixture is nearly palatable.
These do not show I care ... these show that I have no regard for my lover or friend’s expectations of what a heart shaped candy should taste like.
It’s as if Necco took all the artificial colors that they aren’t using for their new All Natural Necco Wafers and pouring it all into these improved Necco Sweethearts. Simply put, they’re a mess. (Now, I would’ve been thrilled if the conversation hearts were also going to be all natural, what an awesome innovation that would have been.)
Once I opened the bag I was in trouble. The smell is a blend of Love’s Baby Soft and strawberry candles. And if I were just sniffing the bag, well, yeah, I have to expect that. But this thing made my car smell, they make my office smell. When I’m done with this review they’re going in the trash someplace where I am not.
The one thing they have improved upon was one of my beefs with them previously. They production quality is better. The pieces are well formed and most especially the printing is clear. Sure about a quarter of them aren’t printed square in the center, but they’re still readable.
The sayings are cute. They’re using the heart symbol quite a bit. Hey Baby, Smile, Sweet Love, Dream Big, You Rock, Puppy Love, Meet Me, Love Me, Hug Me, Kiss Me, For Ever, Ask Me, even Marry Me
I’m not saying they shouldn’t make these, someone probably likes them, but they should be an additional product in the line, not a replacement for the iconic original.
UPDATE 1/27/2010: It’s been a few weeks and it seems that the response posted here has been overwhelmingly negative about the flavor change (few have mentioned the new texture).
So I talked to Jackie Hague, the Vice President of Marketing for Necco who navigated this new change (along with the All Natural Necco Wafers, which I fully support). We had a great talk about candy in general (she worked for Mars for 20 years and was responsible for many of the limited edition M&Ms that so many of us have loved over the years).
First, you can still get the classic Necco Sweethearts. The change over was made mid-way through the production schedule. So the first part of the production run was the classic flavors (Banana, Wintergreen, Orange, Cherry, Grape) and then they switched over the ingredients and equipment for the new formula. They are sold at very few stores, basically the discounters: Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar , 99 Cent Only, Freds , Odd Lots, Wakefern and Sav A Lot. (The image shown here is the classic flavors on the left that I found at Dollar Tree and the ones on the right are the new flavors/colors - here’s what the package looks like.)
Second, Ms. Hague said that the changes were made based on consumer feedback. The most common requests from folks who wrote or called were for a softer texture and for more intense & modern flavors. Banana was not well liked, apparently yellow is not ordinarily expected to be banana. The texture was introduced first with the Twilight version of Sweethearts (though future versions won’t have Passion Fruit) as well as the tangier, more vibrant flavors.
So the takeaway from this would be, if you don’t like the new flavors, make sure that Necco knows that. Return the product, write to them or call. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot in return (a canned response) but I do think that they log the feedback - it’s in their best interest. (Ms. Hague also said that they’ve assigned more people to help out with the feedback process, so perhaps the responses will be more appropriate instead of a copy/paste FAQ.) Ms. Hague understood my frustration with not just the lack of information but the contrary information provided by the website and candy packages and it’s apparent they’re working on that.
The Necco website’s Sweethearts product page used to say this, “One thing Sweetheart lovers can count on each year is the candy’s simple, familiar formula. The basic recipe has never been changed. Both Sweethearts and the familiar NECCO Wafers use the same batter—sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring.” However, they’ve finally updated their websites to reflect this new change and have omitted that statement that they honor the time-tested flavors ... because they were tested by time and after about a hundred years, even as the #1 Valentines candy selling 8 billion hearts a year, they lost. Necco thinks that this new version will appeal to more people, which is possible, but it’s clear it’s not the same people who have been buying them.
Update 2/10/2013: Both versions of Necco’s Conversation Hearts are on store shelves this year. By far the most ubiquitous are the newer fruity version, but I did find the almost-classic “Conversation Hearts” at Walgreen’s. The old ones are called Conversation Hearts, not Sweethearts. I’ve only seen them in the little boxes, only as singles (not in the shrinkwrapped five packs and no bags).
The classic version has white (cinnamon), green (lime), yellow (banana), pink (cherry), purple (grape) and orange (orange). So they’ve eliminated clove and wintergreen. It’s too bad. The texture has returned to the crunchier version. The colors are more vibrant and the printing just as inconsistent.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.