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.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
It’s hot. I’ve mentioned it before, and I know it’s summer ... but I’m guessing it’s hot wherever you are too and you’re wondering, “what sort of candy can I eat right now?”
But then I saw these at the 99 Cent Only Store. Tootsie has timed their new Limited Edition Pops rather well. It’s an assortment of five new flavors. Though they’re hardly tropical, as far as I’m concerned, they’re all nice flavors.
What’s great about Tootsie Pops is that there’s a bit of variety in that single sphere - a tangy piece of hard candy and the soft, vaguely chocolatey center. They’re easy to hold and don’t get you all sticky and only 60 calories a pop.
Pineapple - the one truly tropical flavor here, it’s peppy, tangy and nicely fragrant.
Tangerine - hardly tropical and barely different from the traditional orange, but I’m a huge fan of tangerine flavors and this one is pretty nice and goes really well with the lamely chocolate Tootsie Roll center.
Lemon-Lime - even less tropical because it’s not even exotic, but hey, it’s a nice sassy flavor. A little ordinary and not a very good combo with the Tootsie Roll core.
Watermelon - I’m never much of a fan of watermelon. The only watermelon I care much for is Jolly Ranchers ... but this was nice and the Tootsie Roll goes oddly well with the rather bland and sweet flavor.
Purple Punch - a rather nondescript punch flavor. Tangy, with some passion fruit notes but mostly a bland orangey.
Tootsie Pops aren’t the perfect lolly - they’re a little inconsistent, there are voids in the candy that can make them sharp from time to time and of course the twisted wrapper doesn’t always protect them from more humid conditions.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
I picked these up several months ago, the same time I got the Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies. I ate a few, and while they were fresh, they weren’t really stunning and I gave the rest of the package away.
When I was at the All Candy Expo, Tootsie really seemed to be pushing them, so I thought I’d give them another try.
My first mistake was eating a Storck Chocolate Riesen before eating a Mini Chew ... how could a Tootsie Roll, chocolate coated or otherwise, ever measure up to the chocolatey perfection of a Riesen? Let me just say that it can’t.
The glossy little Mini Chews are certainly cute, though they look like some sort of pelletized animal feed.
The chocolate is sweet and smooth once you get past the food-grade shellac that makes them so shiny. They’re not very chocolatey, but certainly more complex than the Tootsie center.
The Tootsie centers were nice and soft, easy to chew and had a slightly chocolatey hit that never really reached that creamy state that you expect.
If anything, the chocolate coating makes it quite evident that a Tootsie roll is no substitute for chocolate. It tastes too much like cardboard. Watery cardboard.
However, if you set aside your expectations for a chocolate experience and come at Tootsie Rolls like they’re taffy or a chew, they’re pretty good. The best thing about Tootsie Rolls is their durability. With the summer months, I often look for a chocolate alternative because of the heat and Tootsies were often a solution. The Mini Chews probably won’t fit the bill because of the real chocolate though. If you’re dieting, they might be a good option - a little blast of chocolate, but not much in the way of fat. For me, I’m sticking to Orange Tootsie Pops as a Tootsie delivery device.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
I’ve been a fan of Sprees since they first came out. They’re the more attractive out-of-town cousin of the SweeTart (who is of course your mousy best friend). They’re tasty and drop dead gorgeous when spread out on your desk in neat rows of colors like some sort of stereo equalizer display.
Chewy Sprees happened onto the scene a while back, but I never paid much attention to them. But then I got a hold of these Mini Chewy Spree. They come in these cool little plastic packages that look kind of like popsicles and have a little flip top.
The color array is exactly the same as their larger, harder counterparts. Red is cherry, Yellow is lemon, Purple is grape, Orange is orange and Green is now apple (though it used to be lime back in the day).
Chewy Spree are, well, chewy. The outside of them is lightly flavored and completely sweet. But there’s no candy shell to it, just an inside that’s soft and chewy. They’re actually easily crushed with your fingers, like M&Ms are. But they’re lacking the “Kick in the Mouth” that the package heralds. (It says the same for the rolls of regular hard Spree.)
They’re just not as sour, not as flavorful. They’re not bad, they’re just ... I dunno, shallow.
As cool as the plastic tube they come in (that says “flip your lid!”), I feel a little bad about the overpackaging. But to allay my guilt about that, I looked around on the Nestle website and they have crafts that you can do with the empties (a Rain Gauge). At the moment I’ve got one filled with band-aids and alcohol wipes as a little first aid kit. You could store little things in there too, or refill with bulk candies. I think you also might be able to make your own popsicles with them, too.
But as the price difference goes, I think I’ll stick with the regular roll of Sprees and their minimal packaging and true “kick in the mouth” taste.
Monday, June 19, 2006
One of the things that I was asked in the FAQ was about the benefits of being the “famous” candy blogger and did I get an all-access, backstage pass. Well, no (not yet, anyway) but there are a couple of small but tasty benefits.
Witness this from last week: on Wednesday morning a large box appeared at the front door. It was marked Perfetti Van Melle. I thought, “Cool, they sent me more Airheads!” But when I lifted the package, it felt like there were three books in there.
When I was at the All Candy Expo I asked at the booth if they had any of the Pink Grapefruit (Pamplemousse) Mentos that I’d heard are so good but sold only in Canada and Europe. I saw that you can order them online, but I really didn’t want to commit to a full box of them without having a taste. But they didn’t have any samples at the Mentos booth. They said they’d send me some, and I figured that’d be the last of it, maybe I’d have my husband pick them up on his travels.
As you can already tell from the photo, they sent me not two or three rolls, but two full boxes of 20 rolls each! I scurried back to my little photo studio and quick-snapped some shots before going off on a long weekend trip to my sister’s wedding. I found that a couple of rolls of Pink Grapefruit Mentos make a lovely hostess gift when staying at a family member’s house. They are the perfect traveling candy.
The color is lovely, like the center of a Ruby Red Grapefruit. The ingredients are pretty intriguing too, with the first three being: sugar, glucose syrup, grapefruit juice (3%). Wow! The front of the package says artificially flavored, but mentions nothing about the natural part!
They don’t smell like anything, which make me a little suspicious at first, but a bite and a chew later and not only is there a wonderful citrusy tartness, but an intense aroma of freshly sliced grapefruit. There’s no hint of that terrible bitterness you can get with grapefruit, but it’s not lacking in complexity at all. There are the sweet and sour notes, but also that oily zesty feel and the fresh scent of grapefruits. There’s a lingering feeling of that grapefruit peel long after the candy is gone - far different from the green apple chemical feeling in the mouth.
It’s actually a fun candy to be around other people when they’re eating it. It’s like someone has lit an aromatherapy candle (the grapefruit scent is supposed to “increase self-esteem and bolster confidence”). Our Canadian neighbors are quite lucky to have these as a regular product. If I were a motivated person, I’d petition Mentos to sell them in the States, but part of me knows that it probably wouldn’t play well here.
I know someone is wondering if the grapefruit ones will work to make an explosive soda fountain, but I’m not gonna be the one to find out, I’m eating all of mine!
UPDATE 5/31/2008: I have word that Pink Grapefruit Mentos are discontinued. They are no longer listed on the Mentos website and I got confirmation from Mentos North America (as if they ever carried them here). However, they are also made in a Kosher version for Israel and still seem to be available at Kosher stores (I found them at Munchies in Los Angeles earlier this week). I took advantage of what may be a temporary loophole and bought a box of 40 of them from Koshermania out of Cleveland, OH a couple of weeks ago.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Okay, this product has a freakishly long name ... almost as long as the product itself. The Florida’s Natural Au’some Fruit Juice Sour String (henceforth called Sour Strings) is a long string about the same diameter as a thick clothesline and made from all natural ingredients and fortified with good stuff.
What I loved about this product is that they’re true to what they say. The first ingredient is fruit puree 64% is fruit ... then sugar. The puree comes from pears and oranges and the real fruitiness is quite evident. It tastes like a zazzed up fruit roll up, but in a little bit friendlier shape.
The roll of string is coiled up and allows you to unravel a little and then clamp the package shut to cut it off. It’s covered in a little granulated sugar to keep it from getting sticky.
It’s super sour. I mean, the outside really is sassy, back of the mouth tingling sour. Once that dissipates it’s a nice mellow orange flavor with both the sour and zest notes to it. As you eat it there’s a slight grain to it, which I suspect is the pear puree - you know those little crunchy bits you get in pears?
Overall, it’s a really nice fruit and candy product that I would buy again. It’s more wholesome than some other gummis/fruit chews and has no gelatin for vegetarians (and it’s Kosher, too). However, my husband, who usually likes gummis and sours was not wild about it at all, so go figure.
The whole pack has 100% of your vitamin C and 30% of your vitamins A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin and Iron & Zinc. There’s even 10% of your Calcium. However, I can’t see eating this in one sitting. It’s a nice little pick me up because of the super-sourness, but the texture doesn’t quite engage me the way that a gummi bear does.
The pack is kinda cool, easy to share and easy to throw in a bag or stuff in a pocket. From their website it looks like they also come in bags instead of the hard pack coil and in other flavors (strawberry, apple and blueberry). I also picked up some of their Fruit Juice Nuggets, which I’ll also review shortly. The price is a little steep for so little candy, though the easy to share pack is nice. I recommend looking for them on sale, but you know, fruit is far more expensive than sugar.
Thursday, June 1, 2006
When I came up with the idea to do this head to head comparison, it was because of the most obvious similarities between SweeTarts Shockers and Mentos Sours. They’re both rolls, they’re both sour and they’re both chewy pastilles. But they have completely different flavor mixes (the only flavor in common is green apple), different shapes and rather different takes on what a sour chew should be.
Mentos has always been known for intense chewy mints, so it seems only natural that they’d develop Mentos Sours. The package is a little odd because it says “The Chewy Mint” above the Mentos logo ... but these are not mint flavored. I guess “mint” has become a kind of candy, not a flavor.
Mentos Sours come in three flavors: Watermelon, Green Apple and Lemon. The colors are beautiful, and if they weren’t candy you’d want to string them into a chunky beaded bracelet. The finish on them is matte and not quite a continuous color. They don’t smell like much.
They’re soft and chewy, the shell is a tad bit waxy only lightly sweet. Upon biting into them the flavor erupts.
Green Apple: typical fresh sour flavor. Not too tart.
Watermelon: at first it’s sweet, like a cotton candy flavor with some floral overtones, then it kicks into sour gear. This is a really nice flavor, not too chemical tasting.
Lemon: immediately it has a good zesty essence to it and then the sour follows quickly behind to combine into the protype of lemony goodness.
Basically, they’re nice without being radically toxic feeling on the tongue. There’s a strange waxy thing that develops at the end of the chew though. I’m not sure if it’s the remnants of the “glazing agents” on the shell, but it’s an odd, undissolveable substance on my teeth that tastes only vaguely like the chew.
Mentos Sour are made in Brazil. (Note: the packaging I have may not be the way you see it in the stores - the website shows them in little reclosable boxes.)
Green Apple: intense and chemically flavored, it dissolves away into a sweet grit pretty quickly.
Orange: oh, this is the best! There’s an immediate blast of blisteringly sour tangerine on the tongue. Not as long lasting in the chew department as the Mentos.
Grape: it’s like a Purple Pixy Stix made chewy. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. (TMI Alert - for some reason the grape ones make me burp.)
Cherry: the sour outside tastes like a very cherry candy, much like the SweeTarts, but with a stronger flavor instead of just more sour.
Blue Raspberry: an immediate sour hit is followed by some fragrant notes that remind me of cotton candy and violets.
All of the Shockers are intensely sour on the tongue from the moment you place them in your mouth but then mellow out to have a pleasant cooling sensation towards the end, but the chew doesn’t last long before they descend into sugary grit.
As all round chews, the Mentos Sours are middle of the road - they’re exceptionally pleasant and can be shared with adults who might ordinarily be afraid of something called “sour”. The SweeTarts Shockers, on the other hand, are a blast but you can’t keep eating them if you’d like to preserve the tasting functions of your tongue.
The packages hold slight different masses - SweeTarts Shockers clock in at 1.65 ounces (which the label says is three servings) and Mentos Sours are 1.32 ounces (which the label says is 14 servings ... one Mentos is a serving). Both contain hydrogenated oils, but not enough to warrant any fat content on the nutrition label.
Personally, I love the Shockers, if only for the intense orange ones. But the Mentos Sours have a much longer, consistent chew, especially the full flavor of the lemon ones, and I would probably pick them up in a pinch.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:30 am
Friday, May 26, 2006
I know this sounds really weird, but I’ve never had Airheads before. It’s not that I shunned them, but they really never entered into my field of view at all. Sure, they’re on the racks at the 7-11 and in assorted bags at Target, but I didn’t quite know what they were, and they never really
piqued my curiosity. But I’m probably alone in that and I probably should remedy it.
So imagine my delight when I came home from work and found a box of candy from Perfetti Van Melle (the company that makes both Airheads and Mentos). I’ve been corresponding with Pete in Marketing, but we’d never talked about sending me anything. I can only guess that I’m on a list because of my registration for the All Candy Expo. That is the BEST MAILING LIST EVER!
What was even more fun is the timing of one of their co-marketing pushes - a tie in with the new Pixar/Disney animated film, Cars. (The movie premieres today at the Lowe’s Motor Speedway and gets its full release on June 9, 2006.)
This packet of 6 Airheads bars has the regular flavors: Watermelon, Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Mystery White and also includes two new flavors - Mater Punch and Burnt Rubber. Okay, that last one doesn’t sound that good to me.
So, Airheads are planks of a chewy, taffy like substance. I’d always thought they were like LaffyTaffy or TangyTaffy, but they’re really not. Airheads are about 5” long and about 1” across and pretty thin.
Airheads are soft and pliable and have an easy chew that has a slight, sugary grain to it. They’re very flavorful and not unlike Mentos in their texture (also made by the same company). What’s nice is that it’s not sticky like I expected. There’s no worry about pulling out fillings.
Watermelon: juicy and tart. A little bit on the chemical side of the flavor, but it aroma is nice and sweet.
White Mystery: it tastes rather like green apple to me. Tart and fruity with a little floral note to it.
Cherry: sweet and tart with a strong dark cherry/woodsy flavor to it. Of course it’s not my favorite flavor, but I ate the whole thing. Imagine what cherry fans would think.
Blue Raspberry: surprisingly more complex than I thought. It’s got a nice tart and sweet thing going, but also a really good floral balance for the fruity berry flavors.
Mater Punch: Mater is one of the characters in Cars, he’s a rusted out tow truck, and I think Mater is short for ToMater ... maybe he used to be red. I was hoping he’d be tomato flavored. No such luck. He’s fruit punch flavored. Heavy on the citrus and whatever that “fruit punch” flavor is, it’s tangy and sweet but the smell is definitely chemical in origin.
Burnt Rubber: Yeah, I had no idea what to expect for this flavor - I was kind of hoping they went Bertie Bott’s and actually made a burnt rubber taffy. The bar was dark purple, almost black, but it was quite obvious that it was grape. It was like a sweet & chewy grape SweeTart.
Overall, the Airheads that I tried were pretty cool. Summer is tricky for candy, especially in SoCal where chocolate starts to get dodgy even in May. Taffies and other sugar candies are a good way to make it through summer with tasty treats that can stand the heat. The one flavor in their repertoire that I’m more interested in that wasn’t in the mixed bag is orange, so I’ll pick that up at some point. I don’t see myself buying these very often, but I wouldn’t turn one down.
Mentos has come out with some Sours that I suspect are rather similar to Airheads fruity flavors, so I’ll report back on that soon.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.