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”
Friday, September 1, 2006
There are a lot of candies that are not unique, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to have choices. But usually there are similar products on the market becaue they’re made by different companies. I ran across these recently: Chewy Mini SweeTarts and Chewy Tart n Tinys. SweeTarts and Tart n Tinys used to be nearly identical products, except for the shape of the little pieces. And that was fine because one was made by Sunline (SweeTarts) and the other was made by Wonka (Tart n Tinys). Then Tart n Tiny’s were glazed in a bright candy shell and they were suddenly a vastly different product and coincidentally now owned by the same company (Nestle).
But here we are again with the same thing?
Chewy Mini SweeTarts are little spherical versions of the larger Chewy SweeTarts which, in turn, are like the original SweeTarts. They come in five flavors: grape (purple), cherry (red), orange (orange), lemon (yellow) and apple (green). There are also Giant Chewy SweeTarts, which have been around since I was a kid.
They have a little glaze on them to keep them from sticking together and their colors are a little mottled, but not unattractively so. The chew is soft but grainy, with a nice cool feeling to it and a quick dissolve. The flavor is about what you’d expect from a SweeTart - a lot of tart at the beginning with a round, chemical flavor and then it finishes sweet and grainy.
Somewhere back in the distant past Tart n Tinys were not colorful - they were plain and chalky, like SweeTarts only pellet shaped. Then someone gave them a shiny color coating. They have little character versions of the candies on the package, but I’ve never paid much attention to them, but I guess that’s what sets them apart from SweeTarts.
The Chewy Tart n Tinys are little chewy pellets of tartness, a bit of flavor and a grainy chew all coated in a thin, crunchy shell. They come in five flavors: grape (blue), cherry (red), orange (orange), lemon (yellow) and apple (green). Sound familiar?
Besides the colorful coating and the difference in the color of the grape flavor, and the slight difference in size (the Tart n Tinys are 11% smaller than the Chewy SweeTarts Minis) they’re the same candy.
SweeTarts come in a handy dispenser tube (but I’ve seen them in the bags before, too), which is kind of fun for sharing and saving for later. There’s a little more in the Tart n Tinys package (1.6 ounces vs 1.75 ounces) but I guess it all comes down to how you want your candy to look. Chewy SweeTarts Minis look kind of like tiny Trix and Chewy Tart n Tinys look like little beads. Chewy Tart n Tinys have fewer calories per ounce, I can only guess this is because the tartness ingredients are higher on the list and perhaps there are more colorings in the Tart n Tinys, which take up mass but have no calories. Both deliver a lot of variety and a consistent product. Why they both exist from the same company is beyond me, but then again they stopped making Wacky Wafers because they said they were too similar to Bottle Caps, and I really miss Wacky Wafers.
In the end, the Chewy Tart n Tinys win out by a very slight margin. I’m not sure why, I think it’s just that I like the look of them better, and when the taste is the same, that’s just about all it comes down to.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I’ve been a little depressed lately and I figured the thing to cheer me up would be some bouncy candy. So I headed down to Little Tokyo over the weekend to buy myself some candy. I was lucky enough to find the Juntsuyu that I love so much (they were out the last time I was in there) so I bought two packages. I also scoured the aisles for something new to lift my spirits.
I enjoyed the Strawberry Hi-CHEW I had last year and a friend at the office recently gave me some green apple ones that were equally lifting. I found a new variety I hadn’t seen before, Grapefruit!
Flavored with real grapefruit juice, I figured I couldn’t go wrong. They’d be like a super soft version of the Pampelmousse Mentos.
These did not disappoint. The chew is soft and smooth and has a sort of pleasant rubbery quality that I can only report as ‘bounce’. The flavor is complex, with sweet and tart notes and some of the grapefruit oil essence in there, too.
If you’re ever confused about Japanese candy, so far I can say that the Morinaga brand is one that doesn’t disappoint. The candy has always been of high quality, the flavors good and the packaging is great. So if you’re standing in front of a big display of Japanese candy, try something Morinaga. (I like Meiji, too.)
If you wanted to try the Pink Grapefruit Mentos but you’re a vegetarian, you’ll be happy to hear that there is no gelatin in Hi-CHEW, it’s all vegatable ingredients in there!
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
At first I was irritated when I saw this new flavor set from Starburst. What the heck would Icy Bursts be? I thought that they’d have some sort of cooling sugar alcohol like Xylitol that’s all the rage these days, but instead it’s just the addition of mint to each of the flavors.
Once I figured that out, it reminded me of the not-so-great Bear Bubble Gum that had that awful menthol in it. But then I settle down and stopped trying to draw negative connections.
Part of what changed my mind was that I’ve been going to a new Gelato joint (well, I’ve been there twice) and sampled quite a few of their sorbet flavors. The ones that I’ve liked best were Limoncello & Basil, Strawberry & Licorice and Pineapple & Cardamom ... you can see where I’m going with this, right? Fruit and herbs are a great combo!
What’s even better about the addition of mint is that I don’t have that awkward chemical aftertaste when I’m done. I’m left with a minty feeling, not a strange green apple burp taste in my mouth.
Strawbrrrrry - yes, that word has six Rs in it, and five of them are in a row. I can actually pronounce that, as I can trill my uvula, so if you ever run into me in person, ask me to say it out loud. This one looks and smells like a regular strawberry Starburst and it isn’t until very late in the chew that the mint comes out. It didn’t rock my world, nor feel like a burst of anything, but I liked it.
Kiwi Snowberry - creamier than the others, kind of like kiwi/strawberry, but who knows. The wrapper was green but the candy itself was mauve. Of all of them, the mint was the least welcome.
Blue Raspberry Freeze - a rather pleasant surprise, the raspberry had some nice floral notes to it, a good tart burst and then the minty overtones. It ended up being my favorite of the set, which is odd because I never would have thought that raspberry should go with mint.
Polar Citrus - it’s an orangy/lemony citrus with a little bit of a creaminess to it and a much more subdued minty undertone. It didn’t really have anything “blasty” to it.
The thing that I’ve always liked about Starbursts is their way of tickling my salivary glands and making them tingle. These don’t do that. They’re mild and pleasant and don’t really deserve the word BURST in their name twice. That said, they’re nice enough and if they were in a bowl on my desk mixed with regular Starbursts, I’d eat them after the others were gone. These are a limited edition product.
Did you know that Starbursts have 50% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C? That was their unique selling proposition when they were introduced in the 60’s.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Here’s a candy that never entered into my field of candy vision: the Mint Julep. In fact, until about a year ago, I’m not sure I knew these existed. It’s not like I’m mint-blind. I guess what brought these into my realm was a new push by Necco to introduce them to new generations. That and there was a huge barrel of them at the All Candy Expo’s freebie room.
Frankly, I was afraid they were going to be like Mary Janes and pull out my teeth or something. Or maybe they were going to be like mint-flavored Starbursts.
But here’s what they are: they’re spearmint taffy.
They were nice. Not super strong tasting, very soft and chewy and pleasant. They didn’t rock my world, but I think they have a solid place in it now. They’re a really satisfying little candy - larger than a Starburst and in a flavor you’re not going to get anywhere else in this format. I can’t see myself buying a tub of these online or anything, but I would pick up one or two after brunch or something at the local diner to clear my palate.
Mint Juleps are also known as Southies and were made by the Squirrel company that also makes Nut Zippers. They are most often sold in little tubs by the register at convenience stores and diners. (This type of retailing is called “changemakers” as people will often spend the change from their bill on little items. The tubs are placed in places where it makes sense for such an impulse buy.) They were introduced in the 30s and then disappeared back in the nineties as the company was bought out and went through some changes. Necco brought them back about a year ago.
In case you were wondering what’s in the drink also called a Mint Julep, it’s simple syrup with some muddled spearmint sprigs in it, then combined with Bourbon and served over ice with more mint.
Mint Juleps are gluten free according to the Necco website (and the drink probably is too!).
Monday, August 7, 2006
Back in the eighties Nabisco had a candy called Bonkers, which were fruit chews similar to Starbursts ... except they were layered. It was a fruity chew with a fruitier chewier center. If you need a reminder of what they were, watch this commercial from the eighties I found on YouTube.
I didn’t know if they’d stopped making them but that’s what I thought I was buying when I picked these up.
First, these are made by Joyco. Second, there are no flavor layers. Third, the flavors are all wrong. Fourth, the label says they’re citrus fruits, but there’s a strawberry in there and last time I checked those don’t even grow on trees. Fifth, the package says there’s real honey in there. Real honey? And egg whites? What the heck are these, nougats? Sixth, well, none of that matters because these were positively awful.
Most of them were very hard, but some were only kind of hard. All were rather unpleasant in a way that I’m not quite able to put my finger on.
Strawberry: slightly floral and slightly putrid tasting. A little tangy but with sort of moldy/mossy note.
Lemon: tastes like a moist and ripe citrus burp.
Orange: tangy but with a rather uneven flavor that alternates between bile and tang.
I tried several times to taste these (waiting a couple of weeks in between, thinking it was me). It’s not me. They’re bad. I’ve debated long and hard about what to give these. I sat there with the wads of half chewed Bonkers in their wrappers in front of me and a foul feeling in my stomach and it’s clear I’m gonna have to give these a bad rating. (Believe me, I never set out to buy candy that I’m going to hate.) But I wanted to give them one last opportunity, so I offered them to the neighbors (and Amy always seems game for the worst of the worst but Robin conveniently reminds me when I try to get her to try things like this that she only likes chocolate). Amy spat it out on the sidewalk and then kicked it into the street. She described it as at first tasting like the plastic shelf it must have been sitting on in the store and then most decidedly vomit.
Yes, these get my first 1 out of 10. (Amy asked if there was a 0 rating.)
Thursday, July 27, 2006
There’s this rumor going around that you can find European flavors of Mentos in the States if you look hard enough (instigated by the comments section here at Candy Blog, I might add) ... at places like the 99 Cent Only store!
While my last visit did not result in a cache of the coveted Pink Grapefruit Mentos, I did find Licorice ones.
They weren’t quite the transcendent experience I’d hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, they’re nice and all. But they’re no Pampelmousse!
They’re white with a slight grey cast to them. They don’t really smell like anything and at first bite they’re slightly minty but then when you get past the crunchy shell there’s a slightly salty, slightly warm and creamy taste of licorice. It’s not a molassesy bite, just an herbal quality. It’s a bit like the licorice Altoids (but of course chewy and not quite as strong).
I don’t see myself picking these up too often, but they make a nice change from the Mint ones. I’m enjoying the second roll much more than the first, so perhaps they grow on you.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Aji Ichiban is a chain of stores that sells dried and cured fruits as well as candy by the pound.
I went to the location in Chinatown in New York City while I was there. The store was kind of small and the woman behind the counter barked at me when I took some photos. This one was taken from the street. I actually think they’re doing their customers a disservice when they can’t take photos, because that’s the only reason I know what some of the candy is. It’s marked in the bins, but not on the wrappers.
They have a large selection of bins that contains individually wrapped candies or salted fruits or nuts and rice snacks. There are even samples of the fruits by the bins, but I made the mistake of taking what I thought was dried ginger and it turned out to be a salted plum. Quite a shock and made me parched instantly.
It’s not a huge store, but then again, they don’t have large tubs of everything. A third of the display space is for snacks and dried fruit, the rest is candy. Most of the candy is a mix & match by the pound, but some of it you could buy prepacked.
I liked just about everything in this mix. I chose carefully, so this is a good sign about the way that the packages are marked. Some have English on them, most are just pictures and sometimes the bin they were in at the store had some clues about the contents. Items came from all over Asia, some marked from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
I got some super fizzy sours, something called Zour Bomb, which was a cross between a cola flavored hard candy and a Zotz. However, partway through it got a minty flavor to it that kind of turned me off. The outside was dusty looking and super sour, then a hard candy and then the inside had another reservoir of sour. It also came in Lemon which was excellent.
Another was a little orange packet called Sour + from Lot100. It had little orange faces on it making sour impressions. It was a gummi, soft and about the size of a gumdrop with a sugar sand on it. Whoo, it was sour to start, then the soft gummi had a nice orange flavor to it. I would definitely buy these again. I wonder if they come in pineapple. That’d be cool.
Lot100 also had a nice Cola hard candy. It looked a little odd in that it was a plain red hard candy. It tasted like cola but had a slight hint of cinnamon.
Not everything from Lot100 was a hit - I had a rather promising Mango gummi that just didn’t quite hit the right balance. The texture was fantastic, plump and moist with a nice tart note but the mango “flavor” was less “pine meets melon” and more “burnt rubber.” Too bad.
Kasugai had a good assortment of fruit gummis, which I’ve reviewed before. I picked up Litchi and Muscat this time. They’re called super juicy on the label and they are plenty soft, but the litchi was a little flavorless and almost like a Turkish Delight. Muscat smelled wonderful and had a bit more complex flavor, something like white grape and orange blossom.
There was also a line of Milk candies that had calcium in them that came in interesting flavors like chocolate, vanilla and also red bean. They had an odd, firm, fluffed latexy quality to them, kind of like Hi-CHEW. I have no idea how much calcium is actually in it, but they were super soft and very satisfying. The vanilla was a little bland and the chocolate was kind of like a bouncy Tootsie roll, but I really liked the red bean. I mean, I really liked it. I’m sorry they’re gone now.
I picked up a few tea flavored candies, one from Thailand called Didi Honey Lemon Tea Candy was particularly nice. Only slightly tart, there was a nice play between tea and honey in there. The other brand was Cister from Malaysia wasn’t as pleasant looking (brown) but had a much stronger tea flavor and some mint thrown in (which made it taste more like a Ricola drop).
Another assortment were called S’Creams and were just hard candies with a milky swirl to them, kind of like Lifesaver’s Creamsavers. They were pleasant enough, with a Werther’s-like crunch if you bit them but a good tangy hit too to keep them interesting and satisfying. I picked up Orange, Strawberry and Melon.
There were a few flavors of these, I picked up Pudding Marshmallow, Grape Marshmallow, Mango Marshmallow and then two that have no English text on them - one has purple on its wrapper and the other has pink.
Mango Marshmallow - shown above - sucked royally. I had two of them, I at that bite of one and I gave the other to Amy, who promptly spit it out in my trash can. Why is it bad? It just is ... don’t make me think about it.
Pudding Marshmallow - it looks suspiciously like Mango, but thankfully is quite nice. It’s a marshmallow with a little lump of creamy, dulce de leche tasting filling in the middle. Not quite fudge, not quite creme, but pleasant and a little artificially vanilla tasting but with a tasty hit of salt.
Chocolate Marshmallow - there was no indication what this was, just a pink wrapper. The chocolate was a cross between frosting and a Tootsie roll. Not as good as the pudding one, but I liked it.
Grape Marshmallow - hmm, it was okay, but the grape filling was like cheap jelly and it just didn’t appeal much to me.
Basically, Aji Ichiban is as much of an adventure as you want it to be. You can grab a pound of simple mixed candies that you know and love or you can push the boundaries of your taste experiences and just shovel them into your bag blindly and see what happens.
I think the candy is horribly expensive for pure sugar stuff - $10 a pound is way up there even for the fancy fruit candies from Italy that I see at Zabars or something. But the variety is pretty special and with no minimums and the ability to mix and match is a huge plus. You can also order online, but there’s a half-pound minimum with most candies and of course the selection is limited. They have stores in several large cities across the edges of the United States, but they don’t have the addresses on their site.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.