Thursday, June 7, 2012
Lately I’ve been feeling the need for novelty in candy. I want to try new fruits, new combinations of flavors. So when I was browsing around on eBay and saw Mentos Lemon Squash I thought that fit the bill.
Of course when ordering candy to be shipped from another country, it’s good to order a lot. So I got plenty of HiCHEW flavors and all the Mentos I could find in the webstore that I hadn’t tried before. It was expensive and took a while to arrive, but anticipation is part of the fun with foreign novelty flavors.
As far as the exotic flavors, by far the Mentos Ume wins, mostly because it’s so ubiquitous in Japan but nearly unheard of in North America outside of population centers with a lot of Asians.
Plum as a flavor is rare in American candies. It’s hard to explain why. We have plenty of peach, nectarine and other stone fruits like apricots. But Plum is, well, plums become prunes. And prune are just not appealing to the Mentos demographic, no matter how much Worf extolled their virtues as a warrior drink.
In this case the Ume is a sour plum, a different variety than the American type like Santa Rosa or Blackamber, the Ume is more closely related to the Apricot. I’ve had salted dried plums before but found them, well, salty, tangy and bitter. The Ume Mentos are rather like that, though not salty, they’re intense and distilled. There’s a tartness that taste more fresh than prunes or raisins. There’s also a peppery hint of spice, like the peel of a plum and maybe a hint of spice like clove. Then there’s an overriding floral quality, like roses.
They’re quite different, though I didn’t find it appealing. It could be the complexity of it, it could by the sort of grassy note that’s also there that I found unpleasant. But it’s definitely unique and I’m glad I spent the bucks to get it.
The Mentos Honeyed Apple was a flavor I hadn’t heard of before, but did notice a trend of honey flavored candies becoming more popular in Japanese candy I saw available in the United States and online. As with this flavor, it’s often combined with other fruits.
The general flavor profile is soft, the apple notes are more like applesauce than tangy green apples. The honey isn’t very apparent, except that the sweetness is much more subdued and syrupy than regular apple Mentos. Japanese candy, and even Mentos, have always taken pains to create authentic fruit flavors. This tastes like real apples, not that chemical invention called “green apple” that seems to have spread around the world. (That’s a good flavor too, but not the same.)
The Mentos Lemon Squash really made no sense to me at all. At first I thought it was about the game squash (like racquetball), that it was a particular sports drink. But then I looked it up and found out that squash is really just a spritzer or fruit soda. There were no gourds associated with this. The flavor, with that in perspective, is exactly what I’d expect for a citrus soda. It’s tangy and has a lemony flavor, but not a lot of herbal or zesty notes. There’s a strange calcium sort of note to it, like key lime juice can have. It was pleasant but nothing I’d pay oodles of money for in the future.
Friday, April 27, 2012
I have learned more about the fruits of the world through candy than all of my trips to grocery stores and farmers markets. Japanese confectionery, in particular, includes a lot of these lesser known fruits and flavors. HiCHEW from Morinaga have been particularly good at introducing me to new fruits through their limited edition regional flavors.
The Haskap Berry is native to Hokkaido, the large northern island of Japan. The berries grew wild and were an important source of vitamin C for the locals but were only domesticated and more widely cultivated starting in the late 1960. Relatives of the Haskap, known commonly as honey berries, are grown in Russia, Northern Europe, Canada and the United States. The berries themselves are shaped kind of like bullets, long and sometimes with a flat bottom. The Haskap, from the photos and descriptions I’ve seen, is more football shaped. The great selling point with the Haskap variety is that after being frozen, the skin melts away, so making sauces or ice creams means there’s no bitter skin or unattractive flecks in the resulting sweet.
The flavor of the fresh berry is said to be similar to blueberries, but more tart. It’s too sour for some people that they prefer to use the berries in jams, preserves or within baked good. Basically, they’re not for eating fresh off the bush.
The Haskap Berry HiCHEW look a little bland out of the wrapper. They’re a sort of grayish purple. The flavor is also less distinctive than I’d hoped. It tastes like a cross between black raspberry and cranberry with a little note of concord grape skin. It’s tart and has a good floral flavor to it with some grassy notes of blueberry seeds. They’re good HiCHEW, but the flavor isn’t really any better or distinct enough to warrant me forking over $4 again plus shipping from Japan to get this taste again.
However, if you were from Hokkaido and remember the berries fondly or perhaps you’ve had Haskap Berry ice cream, this is a portable and inexpensive way to get your fix.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Luckily I found this little package in Amsterdam last year made by Perfetti Van Melle (makers of Mentos) called Lakritz Toffee. The black and silver package stopped me in my tracks, the topography, especially on the inner wrappers is also compelling and completely set my expectations of the morsels within. The only thing missing from the package was the warning that this was salted licorice.
For the uninitiated, some licorice from Northern Europe bears the descriptor of salted licorice, which in the time of sea salt caramels sounds enticing, but in reality it’s not sodium chloride, it’s ammonium chloride that’s added as a flavor enhancer. A little reading about ammonium chloride reveals that it has some medicinal properties, such irritating the gastric mucosa to initiate vomiting.
But I paid less than a buck for this little package, and I’m actually game for learning to love salted licorice, so I gave it my best shot.
The little pieces are wrapped and shaped just like a Starburst fruit chew. The color is great, like the creme on a fresh espresso. They’re barely soft but have a satisfying stiff chew. The licorice flavor is mild at first and has a lot of molasses and toasted flavors to it. The salted flavors come out more as a tangy and metallic bite. All is well, until I allow anything to aerate. I suspect that adding air causes the ammonia in the salt to vaporize into the actual gas, which is, you know, caustic.
The nice part of these toffee pieces, when I manged to eat them correctly, was how the “toffee” part, the creamy note, really brought it all together. It was a smooth chew, not quite buttery, but had a good mouthfeel and never became gritty or grainy. The licorice flavors were authentic, more on the root and herb side than the anise that’s more popular in boiled sugar licorice candies. As long as I only ate one or two, my licorice cravings were quelled. Any more than that and the ammonia notes were too strong.
Unfortunately these can’t be legally imported into the United States because they use a food color that’s banned here. But they’re still widely available in places like the Netherlands and Germany in my experience and sometimes folks will pop up on eBay or other online sweet shops. It contains gelatin as well, so is not suitable for vegetarians.
My go-to licorice toffee still has to be the Krema Batna and maybe the second runner up is Walkers Nonsuch Licorice Toffee (both of which are also banned for import) but if you’re looking for a salted version, this might be it.
Friday, April 13, 2012
A few years ago I reviewed Twizzlers Chocolate Twists. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Hershey’s had changed the recipe and even the shape. There were many comments from fans of the classic version of the Chocolate Twizzlers who petitioned Hershey’s to return to that version.
So here it is, nearly four years later, and Hershey’s has heard the requests and responded with the new improved Now in the Classic Twist version.
We’re at a crossover period at the moment, where both versions are on store shelves, so I poked around and picked up both at different stores at different times. I also dug out the wrapper from my 2008 review so I could do a full comparison between the versions. The packages differ in very small ways. But if you’re looking for the return to the classic twist, look for the little blue dot that says Now in the Classic Twist.
First, the packages are virtually identical. The top is the Twizzler red with the blue outlined white Twizzlers logo. The clear center bit of the package shows the candy, which is the best way to tell them apart, as is the image at the top. The “Classic” Twizzlers have crimped ends. The revised formula, which is on its way out, has an open end.
The little diagram at the top of the package shows this and points to them with the text “totally twisted” with an arrow next to it. The thing of special note is that the 2012 version has a (r) mark next to it.
So I’ll start just with a straight review of the Classic Twist Chocolate Twizzlers. The expiration date is November 2012. Actually, nowhere on the package does this say that they’re Chocolate Twizzlers. It just says on the lower right of the front that it’s made with real Hershey’s chocolate. Otherwise, they’re just Twizzlers Twists. It’s as if Hershey’s thinks that saying “made with chocolate” is a flavor.
The twists are nicely made, glossy and consistent. There were exactly 20 twists in my package. They’re slightly flattened on one end, but otherwise a soft of oval tube with set of six twisted ribs.
The scent is mildly cocoa, a little on the woodsy side. They’re stiff but flexible. The bite is soft enough to cleave off easily without much pull. The base of the recipe is wheat flour (the second ingredient after corn syrup), so it’s a sort of doughy chew. The flavor is very clean, again it’s quite woodsy and not terribly deep. It’s like weak cocoa or slightly warm chocolate milk.
I found it pleasant enough though not satisfying as a chocolate candy, and not really compelling enough for a snack either texture-wise or with enough flavor intensity to hold my interest.
Now, I was on the fence about re-reviewing the rejected formula for Chocolate Twizzlers. But as I mentioned, I found the wrapper from the review from 2008. (Please don’t get the impression that I hoard my wrappers, I was cleaning out my studio because my roof was leaking and just happened to find it stuck in with some nice tins and boxes that I have been keeping.)
Inside this package there were only 15 twists, even though the packages weighed the same. They’re actually shorter, so I can only assume that they’re simply beefier than the other version.
They look just the same as the 2008 version. No crimped ends, slightly milkier color than the crimped end Classic.They’re soft, much softer than the other version.
They smell sweet but not much like chocolate or really much else. The chew is doughy and soft, the texture is kind of sticky but smooth overall. The chocolate flavor is bland and lacks the slightly bitter edge of the Classic.
Mostly it’s the texture that’s different here, globs of it would stick to the edge of my molars and gums. Probably a dental nightmare.
There are 20 twists in the new bag, 15 in the old bag. So the new twists are 25% lighter. But the portion size on the package is still the same. It says on all three that 4 twists weigh 38 grams and provide 130 calories. But how could that be? If Hershey’s is providing information that’s off by 25%, isn’t that causing problems with portion control? And which one is correct?
The ingredients from the version I reviewed in 2008, which were uncrimped, look more like the current crimped version than they do with the uncrimped 2012 version. How can that be explained?
Basically, it’s not like you have a choice. The people spoke, consumers said they preferred the old crimped twists ... whatever the ingredients happen to be ...with or without palm oil, with or without soy lecithin.
Given the choice between both versions ... I choose neither. I stick by my 4 out of 10 rating from four years ago. It’s a middling candy. If you want a cocoa-rich flour based product, have an Oreo. If you want a chewy strip of candy, have a real Twizzler. The chocolate versions are just lacking zing. The new ones are prettier, that’s about all I can say.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
But I should have known better, considering how disappointed I am that Nestle has replaced the beautiful large Easter SweeTarts with little ones this year.
This isn’t so much a review as a reveal, for those who were curious about the product. (I reviewed them back in 2006.)
Mini Chewy SweeTarts have been around for at least 10 years, I think. They’ve been packages in different ways, they came in little single serving packs and these plastic flip top tubes. I like these theater boxes, they were certainly inexpensive at $1.00 per 4.5 ounce package.
The box calls them Springy, which sets them apart from the regular item. But there’s nothing different about them except for the box design ...which isn’t really better, just different.
The little banded spheres are made of a chewy, tangy compressed dextrose candy. They’re coated in a little glaze to keep them from sticking together. They’re firm but chewy. They’re grainy, but have a satisfying cool and quick dissolve on the tongue with a nice blend of tartness, artificial flavor and weird texture.
I like them, I had no problem eating both boxes (except for the cherry and green apple, which I set aside). I was glad they didn’t have that blue punch in there as well. I was just irritated that they weren’t cute little seasonal shapes.
They’re made with egg whites, so not appropriate for those with egg sensitivities or vegans. Also made in a facility that processes wheat. There are no other allergen ingredients (except all those artificial colors) nor any statements about nuts.
Friday, February 24, 2012
Jolly Ranchers probably single-highhandedly made hard candies cool for kids. The flavors are bold and fresh and more intense than most others available back in the seventies when they went national and really still to this day. The brand has obviously branched out with chews, gummies and jelly beans. But their core product remains their individually wrapped hard candies in flavors like green apple, cherry, blue raspberry and watermelon. (One of my favorites has always been the Fire Sticks, though they’re not made any longer.)
The candies come packaged in a variety of formats. They should be available as little packages in vending and convenience stores as well as this peg bag that holds 6.5 ounces. Each piece is individually wrapped. Instead of the twist clear wrappers, these have sealed ends. The new logo design is bold and appealing, but the color difference between the watermelon pink and the cherry pink is quite faint. (Though the names are also printed on there.)
They’re about 7/8ths of an inch. The construction is interesting, it reminds me of the Jolly Rancher chewy center lollipops. There’s a chewy center, kind of like a Starburst and a hard candy shell. The shell is different from the texture of a regular Jolly Rancher. It’s not transparent, it’s milky and doesn’t have that same smooth melt and light pliability.
Cherry (Dark Pink) is the flavor I wanted to get out of the way, as it’s usually my least favorite but a good time to concentrate on the qualities of the candy. The candy rod is pretty thick, though it’s called crunch and chew, I don’t recommend biting into it right away, I suggest dissolving it a bit. The cherry flavor is strong with both tartness and a sweet woodsy but artificial flavor. Crunching brings an interesting set of textures. The chew in the middle was quite sour but worked well with the crunchy bits of hard candy. I suppose you could be patient and let the hard candy dissolve completely ... but the product is called Crunch ‘n Chew.
Green Apple (Green) is the flavor that I most associate with Jolly Rancher. It’s good, it’s nicely rounded with both that artificial green apple plus a helping of apple juice and a little bit of dried apple. The center is chewy and much more mild, almost milky.
Watermelon (Pink) is quite artificial and reminds me of scented lip gloss. It’s tangy with a good dose of that fake watermelon. The chew inside is also tart and has a weird sort of plastic flavor to it, kind of like Play Doh smells.
Blue Raspberry (Blue) is rather berry flavor. It’s not quite as intense as the standard Jolly Rancher clear hard candy, but has a well rounded flavor that pulls in flavors of seeds and boiled jam all with a tangy backdrop.
They’re just not my style. The part I like most about Jolly Ranchers is their incredibly smooth dissolve, no voids and with a sort of syrupy thickness to the flavor. This was just another hard candy with a weird plasticy chew at the center. If I were 11 and someone gave this to me, I might like it. But as a grown up, I think I’ll probably just stick with the Cinnamon Fire or Wild Berry flavors.
Contains gelatin, so not suitable for vegetarians. Made in Brazil, no statement about gluten or peanuts/tree nuts but does contain corn starch, sulfur dioxide and soy.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Here’s a little shift of gears in my All Alcohol Theme Week. I have a couple of rolls of Mentos that are inspired by mixed drinks:
Mentos Pina Colada & Mojito is available in Europe right now, but should be sold in the United States shortly.
The pieces are divided, each flavor is on the advertised side of the roll. But if you get them confused, they’re all white with either green or yellow speckles.
Pina Colada tastes a little different than the standard Pineapple that’s available in the Rainbow and Japanese Pine Fresh rolls. That’s because it is actually a pineapple and coconut combination. The coconut here is less of the toasted variety and more of the creamy coconut milk flavor. The pineapple is floral and only slightly tart. On the whole it’s a rather sweet chew, but has a satisfying combination that keeps it from getting too sticky.
Mojito is not one of my favorite mixed drinks. It’s weird. I don’t know who decided that citrus and mint are supposed to be good together, but I guess if you put in enough rum, no one will care. I’ve had a few citrus and mint combinations, so I’m not coming into this candy unaware of good and bad versions. The mint here tastes like dried spearmint leaves, like a spearmint herbal tea. The lime is tart but has no zest to it. Some lime and mint combinations can taste a bit like cough drops, but that’s not the case here. Instead this just tastes a little old. I didn’t get anything even remotely like rum, but that wasn’t there in the Pina Colada either.
On the whole, I liked the idea of two flavors in one roll. But I didn’t care much for the Mojito, so half of the roll was suddenly off the table for eating.
Mentos Duo only seems to be sold in Europe. I tried them last year in a licorice version. Those were like the version above where there were two flavors in the roll. The added bonus on top of that was that the outside was one flavor and then the center of the chew was another. Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
I wanted to be fair to the poor lime after being so harsh on the Mojito, and the good news is that this version called Mentos Duo (Strawberry & Lime) is like a Strawberry Daiquiri.
All of the pieces are the same, a strawberry outside with a center of lime. The outside is a soft pink and smells like cotton candy. The initial strawberry flavor was light and fragrant, a little floral and sweet. The chewy center gets a little more intense with a tangy lime note. It’s not very sour, but different enough from the strawberry layer that it creates a counterpoint. Lime can be too sour and sometimes bitter; strawberry can be bland and too sweet. But together they make a great flavor combination that I think is all but ignored in candy.
Both European versions of Mentos are made with natural flavors and natural colors.
I’m more likely to buy the Duo than the Pina Colada/Mojito, but both are great additions to the range.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I’ve been waiting for a new variety of Skittles to come along to blow me out of the water. Something that really turns expectations about Skittles on their ear, like the Skittles Carnival limited edition version a few years back. Mostly I’ve been hoping for Skittles Soda Pop: cola, root beer, lemon-lime, orange and grape soda. But that doesn’t look likely. Instead I picked up this teal blue bag of their newest called Skittles Riddles.
The newest version of Skittles have a new set of flavors and a new twist. The riddle is that The Colors Don’t Match the Flavors. There are the standard set of five colors, in this case aqua, light green, blue, red and pink. The flavors are apple, strawberry, punch, watermelon and raspberry. And as they note, they won’t necessarily match up with their colors. Some of the flavors aren’t actually that new, raspberry, strawberry and punch are found in other mixes.
My big curiosity was whether or not the color swap would be consistent throughout the bag. Would all blues be the same flavor, or would it be completely randomized? My initial observation is that they’re randomized. (Though limited, I found one flavor in three colors at most.)
Watermelon was unmistakeable. The first time it was a dark red, another time it was aqua. It was like a Jolly Rancher in chew form. The flavor dissipates fast, but comes on strong.
On the whole, I like the idea of mixing up expectations. But one thing that I like about Skittles is how I eat them. I like to line them up, grouped by color and then eat them in matched pairs. When I get to the end with the singles, I like to keep my citrus flavors together and mix my grape with strawberry. With this version, I simply can’t do that. I can’t ever be sure I’m putting two of the same flavor together, and not all of the flavors actually go together well. I didn’t like watermelon combined with anything else and strawberry probably would have gone well with raspberry.
It’ll be fun for folks who don’t actually look at the colors and it is nice to see new flavors. But I’m still waiting for my Citrus Mix or Soda Pop. The novelty flavors like Crazy Cores and Fizzl’d Fruits are wearing thin and I don’t even want to talk about the poor execution of the Chocolate Skittles.
Skittles are gelatin free now and labeled as gluten free. There’s no statement about other allergens like nuts, eggs or gluten.
UPDATE 11/28/2012: Wrigley’s in the UK will be introducing a version of these called Skittles Confused (I believe they were a Sainsbury exclusive limited edition back in 2008.)
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