Thursday, November 16, 2006
If you’re of a certain age you may remember Tang, Astronaut Ice Cream and Space Food Sticks. All of these became famous because of the space craze of the sixties and seventies. As normal mortals we couldn’t go to the moon, but we could eat like an astronaut!
I’m thinking the major attraction to these is nostalgia. I’m not sure anyone who didn’t live through the landings on the moon and Skylab is going to be terribly interested in an early version of an energy bar.
I never had these when they first came out. (I did however, plop down my shekles at the Air & Space Museum in junior high for Astronauts Ice Cream ... you know it said ice cream in the name, not food. It was dang expensive at $1.00 a package and really cut into my gummi bear budget.)
Anyway, one to what I have in hand, which are the present day versions of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Space Food Sticks because the persistent Eric Lefcowitz of RetroFuture.com has brought them back into production after they’d become a quaint memory to many of us.
The format has changed slightly, from a pair of long wand to 10 small pieces. The wand shape was because the snack needed to be inserted into a little hole in the astronaut’s helmet. I actually kind of like the new format, they reminded me of protein-packed Starbursts!
The Chocolate ones smell kind of like Nestle Quik. Not creamy but kind of flat like cardboard or a Tootsie Roll. They’re soft and have an easy bite that might border on crumbly. Kind of like cookie dough and less chewy than a Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is just that, more like flavor, though it does boast real chocolate and cocoa in there. I can easily taste the soy in there, which is a pleasant enough. They’re a bit on the salty side (200mg), which I find a little refreshing and if you’re an athlete probably a good idea. As a candy they’re not really that satisfying. As a snack item, I kind of enjoyed eating some with some mid-day pretzels and almonds.
The Peanut Butter ones were more promising. The peanut smell was pleasant with a touch of honey (though none listed in the ingredients). This had the same crumbly chew which reminded me of eating a slightly raw peanut butter cookie or just the flavor of the old Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. The little pieces were great, because I could eat two or three and not have to worry about resealing the package to keep the rest. Just a little twist of the packet and they were safe for later.
As a candy I probably wouldn’t buy them again. As a snack item I appreciate the real ingredients in them. So often the label on a Power Bar or other meal replacement bar can be daunting - this is pretty simple with real ingredients. Of course with only “real” ingredients there’s no fortification with additional vitamins and minerals like you might find in an energy bar.
Cruftbox reviewed the original-style stick-version of them back in ‘04. The SpaceFoodSticks website also has some great old commercials from the Pillsbury product (and one from a competing PET product called Space Energy Sticks).
Old Time Candy sells them in singles (1.99 each) but if you decide you like them and want more, go straight to the source for the best price. It’s possible this will become the hot “stocking stuffer” item this Christmas, as I’m sure there are a lot of 40-50 somethings pining for the good old days.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Starting from the left the light yellow-green ones are Apple. It’s a mild apple, not very tangy, but floral and sweet and very pleasant. The candies themselves are a little smaller than the normal Mentos, not just small pack like you’d get Lifesavers.
In the middle are little lilac wonders in Grape, these were, to put it mildly, odd. They were kind of concord grapey and completely unlike those malic acid wonders you find in a roll of SweeTarts. These were floral and had a sort of balsam note that reminds me of concord grape skins when you eat them fresh off the vine. At first I was a little put off, but I chalk that up to the whole expectations thing. When I stopped thinking about it, I really like them and now I’m regretting sending a bunch of them off to the Mentos winner last month.
The more vivid green ones are Watermelon which are very sweet and have an odd note of mint to them (which could be a manufacturing problem). The melon flavor is true and has that sort of woodsy note to it, but no tartness to it. Not my fave but not terrible.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Last night I watched The Secret Life Of ... on Food Newtork. The topic was Sweet and Sour and part of the episode featured the All Candy Expo in Chicago. Jim O’Connor covered Lemonheads (a special fave of mine), traced the development of America’s Sour Tooth and of course toured the Expo floor.
Then part of the episode took a turn towards a product line called Too Tarts, made by Innovative Candy Concepts. This post is not a product review, because I absolutely refuse to eat the products on purpose. They’re shamefully misrepresented.
The package I picked up at All Candy Expo was purely by accident. I was sitting in a seminar and they were in a bowl and both me and the other folks at my table idly grabbed a bag and dug in. I spit mine out and so did the fellow next to me. It was seriously foul - the chew was rubbery and the taste was instantly fake and had a strong aftertaste. The package says they’re Real Fruit & Honey with NO REFINED SUGAR ... “up to 5 times more natural ingredients than any other fruit candy snack” ...blah, blah, blah. What they don’t holler at you on the front is that there are TWO different artificial sweeteners in there ... Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Acesulfame Potassium is also known as AceK. It’s 180 times sweeter than sugar and is not retained by the body. It’s known for a bitter aftertaste so it’s often used in conjunction with other sweeteners. In this case it’s Sucralose (found in Splenda), which more than 500 times as sweet as sugar and is also not retained by the body. If you’re curious about artificial sweeteners and their possible cancer causing/nerve damage potential, cruise around the ‘net.
Now, you might wonder why I rage against artificial sweeteners. Yes, I have a bad reaction to aspartame, but I actually believe they have their place. However, their place is not in candies marketed for otherwise healthy children. Childhood is time of training our bodies to understand what we put into them and learning our satiety levels with different foods. Part of how our bodies and brains judge how many calories we’re consuming has to do with how sweet they are. They’ve done studies and have shown that there may be some connection between diet sodas and obesity because the body is no longer able to judge properly how many calories it’s taking in. If adults are messed up with this stuff, what will it do to kids who consume it from a young age? What’s worse is these candies are making it look like they’re sweetened with either honey or fruit juice. Sure, the package says “No Refined Sugar!” But it doesn’t once mention the complex chemical compounds called ‘sweeteners’ they’re putting in there except in the fine print of the ingredients.
There’s no reason to give kids fake candy ... there are other options for sweet treats out there. Please read the packages carefully. I’m irritated that this candy exists and further irritated that Food Network gave them such a huge feature without ever mentioning the presence of artificial sweeteners in the candy.
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
You thought Pink Grapefruit and Licorice Mentos were exotic? How about these flavors from the Philippines ... sent to me by Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They’re both citrus flavors: Dalandan Fresh and Juicy Ponkan.
Dalandan Fresh comes in green, yellow and blue wrappers, but the candy itself is a lovely sherbet orange. A dalandan is a citrus commonly known in the Philippines as the Sweet Orange. They’re likened to Valencia oranges, but the main difference is in the appearance. A ripe dalandan has a green peel (hence the wrapper is green).
The candy has a nice chew, of course, and a good sweet burst of orange essence with a bit of a tangerine or clementine note and maybe a little pomelo thrown in. It’s more sweet than tangy, but the flavor is pretty intense. I miss the sour notes that are in the Pink Grapefruit but this is much better than the plain orange available in the mixed fruit box.
The Juicy Ponkan flavor comes in an intense orange wrapper but the candy inside is a soft orange. Like the dalandan, the ponkan is a citrus but this one is in the tangerine/mandarin family and has an orange rind that’s leathery and easy to peel. It’s a bit more tangy than the dalandan and has a more robust flavor with floral notes, tartness and a zesty essence that lingers.
I really liked this one, but they’re both a great change from plain old orange. Every once in a while one would have a slight minty or menthol taste, which made me wonder about the manufacturing process. Both varieties were manufactured in Indonesia for the Philippino market. (More about ponkan here.)
UPDATE (10/9/2006 - 3:02 PM) - No more entries, please… we have a winner! (To be announced shortly.)
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This isn’t the first time Skittles has introduced a mint assortment. They did it back in 2002 (if I recall correctly) and sold them in little plastic containers instead of the normal bags and charged twice as much for half the amount of product. I tried them, and actually liked them, but just couldn’t pony up a dollar for a little box.
This is where buying stuff at the 99 Cent Only Store gets me into trouble. I don’t know if this is a leftover from 2002 or they’re reintroducing the Fresh Mint Skittles. They seem pretty fresh (if someone knows how to decode the batch numbers, please help me figure out what 349BX3 means). They come in five flavors - white, green, aqua, turquoise and light green.
White - tastes like a mint combo of spearmint and peppermint. Like toothpaste.
Green - tastes like toothpaste
Aqua - tastes like toothpaste
Turquoise - tastes like toothpaste
Light Green - wait, this might be wintergreen.
As a chewy mint, they’re fun and refreshing. If they’re different flavors, they’ve done a great job of making sure that none is too distinct so that you can’t combine them instead of picking through the flavors.
I’d actually buy these again. They’re pretty and very agreeable for most purposes. I’ll probably put them in a dish on my desk - a good little pick me up throughout the day. They’re the first Skittles you can eat with your morning coffee (well, I suppose you could have the Ice Cream ones, if you wanted to start the day wrong). If they’re four years old, I have to say they keep really well. I suspect it’s possible because the nutrition label doesn’t mention trans fat content as they’re now required to. Yeah, I’m gonna guess that they don’t make these anymore.
The package advertises that they’re only 5 calories per piece.
Monday, September 25, 2006
These were introduced almost two years ago, so I was a little confused by the NEW! starburst on the package. But I hadn’t had them anyway, so into the basket they went.
I don’t know when citrus flavors stopped being the normal “sour” flavors, but I’ve missed them a bit. It’s not like blue raspberry is any more natural as a “licorice” flavor than orange or lemon.
These are a wheat-based chew, which is what most “licorice” is. The center is flavored and then dusted with a sour sugar coating. They smell really nice as a combo - a little floral, a little fruity and a slight tangy essence. Leave them in a desk drawer and it’s kind of like an edible sachet.
They’re wee morsels, smaller than most licorice bites. They have the same basic star shape in cross section, which is great for holding onto all the sour dust.
Strawberry - mild in the strawberry department and with a decent tart bite.
Cherry - a nice chemical cherry flavor with a solid sour kick, but no complexity. A bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Green Apple - a pretty good sour apple flavor with a combo of the floral notes and that realistic apple juice taste and a sizeable tartness that satisfies. My favorite of all of them.
Blue Raspberry - floral and with an odd sort of yellow mustard note in there that confused the heck out of me. Not as sour tasting as some of the others and of course the mustard thing was kind of unpleasant.
Overall, they’re tasty, but don’t really provide any more candy satisfaction than some other tangy chews that I’ve had lately. I might even prefer the Sour Strings I had this summer or the SweeTarts Shockers - Shockers have the lead because of the variety in a single roll.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The Japanese have some strange candies and these have to be right up there at the top. Puccho are pretty popular and with good reason, they deliver just about everything. They have variety in both the experience and the range of flavors, great packaging, they’re inexpensive and of course you can share them easily.
There was a wide variety of flavor combinations at the store and I was especially interested in the Cola one but wanted to stay away from the yogurt ones (I like yogurt, but not as a flavor).
The Cola (in the red package) was awesome. The little piece had white and brown stripes in the candy and every once in a while there was a little piece of cola flavored gummi or a nugget of sour foamy grains. The grains gave it a lemon-cola zap and the gummis gave the soft, Hi-CHEW-like taffy a little bump of longevity.
The second one is a bit more of a mystery. The English sticker on the label calls it Genki Drink, which didn’t really help me to narrow it down because I didn’t know what a Genki Drink is. A little time on Google and I knew EXACTLY what they are ... you’ve probably seen them before, those mysterious brown glass bottles by the checkout at the Asian markets and tea shops that claim to boost your mental acuity and, um, other things.
The saffron colored chews are similarly soft and have a tangy, lemon tea flavor to them but also a floral note that reminded me of violets. There are similar nuggets of white powder that release a little zap of fizz and tartness, but these seem to have a bitter bite to them. The little gummi bits linger and have a little fruity taste to them and help to scrub away any lingering taffy bits in the teeth (that’s how they’re described on the Puccho website).
I definitely found the Cola ones fun and practically addictive except for the later burps that the little fizzy bits seem to generate. The Genki, not so much, even though it probably has infusions of all sorts of healthy things (the only one I’m sure of is vitamin C). I’ll probably stick to my tried-and-true Hi-CHEW but the Cola ones are definitely compelling if I’m in a mood.
Interesting note: the motto for UHA Mikakuto is “Deliciousness is Gentleness”
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.