Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I was surprised to learn at the candy fair (ISM Cologne) last week that Panda Liquorice is the #4 brand of licorice in the United States (Twizzlers, Red Vines and Good & Plenty come in ahead). What was surprising and pleasing about this little tidbit is that Panda makes all natural licorice, the real stuff with real licorice extract and no artificial colors or flavors.
Their newest introduction at the show is their Panda Blueberry Liquorice. It features a very short list of ingredients: molasses syrup, wheat flour, blueberry puree, citric acid, natural flavoring and liquorice extract. The package they gave me as a sample is 200 g (7 ounces) and features a gusseted bottom so it stands up and a zipper top to make it easier to reseal it to keep the candy fresh.
The pieces are striking in that they smell like blueberry pie: a bit like jam and a little like a fruit Danish. But they’re also quite light in color, like little caramel nibs instead of what I was expecting which would have been darker purple.
They’re very soft and have a light, easy chew. They’re not dense at all and have a tart and sweet blueberry flavor. Because of the wheat flour in there, there’s more snack satisfaction going on than candy. They’re satisfying but also feel more like little cookies than a licorice chew. The molasses keeps them from being too sweet, though the licorice extract does give it a little bit of a lighter tea-like sweetness than a straight sugar candy might have.
They’re considered vegan and have very little fat in them, so the caloric load is only 88 calories per ounce. Though I like blueberries as a fruit, a chewy candy made with blueberries isn’t quite the same thing. These would be fun as a trail mix addition (mixed with pretzels and nuts and maybe a few chocolate chips) but I don’t see myself eating them straight in one sitting. I’m sure there are other folks, though, who have been looking forward to a realistic blueberry candy like this.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Newman’s Own Organics has also joined in the all natural licorice arena. The front of the package is simple and classy. It’s a soft creamy color though made of a lightweight mylar and has an old timey font for the logo. It also mentions that the candy is made with organic sugar.
They come in four flavors: Strawberry, Tangerine, Pomegranate and traditional Black. I looked at three different stores for the black but couldn’t find it, so this is a review of the fruity flavors, which are pretty much their own type of product and probably shouldn’t be lumped in with black licorice.
The back of the package has more info as well. They mention that they’re fun to eat, full of flavor and low fat, which is a great thing to mention. These twists are very low in calories, my calculations put them at 88 calories per ounce (because they’re wheat based) or about 25 calories each.
Each twist is only 4 and a half inches long. They’re shiny and quite firm, but not at all sticky or oily. They’re also stiff but pliable enough to bend completely in half without cracking or crumbling. They have a little hole in the center, but it’s rather narrow and sometimes smashed, so I wouldn’t quite call them straws.
Strawberry (left) smells sweet and floral. The texture is really tough though generally smooth after chewing. The strawberry flavor is tangy but a little watered down. They take a lot of chewing, which I guess makes them last a long time but it also makes me dread eating more than one, especially since some of the bits stick in my teeth.
Tangerine (middle) smells fantastic. It’s a realistic zesty citrus smell that got me drooling quickly. This version was just a little softer, but also a bit easier to bite and chew. However, the citrus blast was just too much. The tartness was mild, not even as noticeable as the strawberry, however the zest was too oily and ultimately bitter. The bitterness lingered, a kind of caustic burn on my tongue and gums.
Pomegranate (right) looked pretty much like the strawberry but smelled like raspberry. This stuff was tough, like chewing Kevlar or something. The flavor was a great blend of berries, deep and fruity with a long floral note afterwards that gave my mouth a fresh feeling. There was only a hint of tartness (which is too bad because I like the dry tangy note of real pomegranates). But the texture was just so much work. Sucking on them just gave me a puddle of paste in my mouth. I couldn’t finish them.
Overall, I’m not hopeful about trying the black licorice variety when I find it. The texture is just so far off from what I expected or even find pleasant. I generally find Newman’s Own candies to be hit and miss, they’re often too sweet, lack a strong sense of flavor and are overpriced even for organic products purchased at Whole Foods. They’re made in Mexico and there’s no statement on there about nut status or other allergens (except the obvious ingredients like wheat).
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Brach’s Christmas Nougats are classics. The disk shaped, mostly circular candies are wrapped in clear cellophane with green triangles on a red band at the edges where the wrappers are twisted. They’re about an inch and a half around. The style highlights the look of the candy, which features a green triangle (Christmas tree) in the center of the white chew. There are little red bands around the edge as well. To make the pattern, the candy is constructed like a giant burrito, the triangular green piece at the center, a little red piece for the “trunk” and then the mass of white nougat is wrapped around that with the strips of red added at the end. Then the whole thing is rolled out into a long rope and sliced to reveal the design.
The base of the candy is called nougat and I admit that there is some egg white in there, but the texture isn’t quite nougat as far as I’m concerned. It’s not as chewy as a taffy, but not as fluffy as most nougats. So I’m just going to call it a chew.
They’re soft and easy to chew, not stringy or particularly sticky but could be considered clingy. They’re strongly flavored with peppermint, but it’s a clean flavor. The texture is mostly smooth, though there were some grainy bits of sugar now and then. They dissolve pretty quickly, so I found it easy to eat them one after the other. There’s a little hint of salt to keep them from tasting far too sweet. They’re fresh, most definitely, I’m sure that old ones get tacky and stiff.
I can see why these are a classic for the holidays. They’re a little on the bland side for me, not quite enough like true nougats and I didn’t care for the aftertaste from the artificial colors. They’re quite pretty and easy to share.
They also come in Wintergreen and Cinnamon (I haven’t found those in stores).
Monday, November 29, 2010
A couple of years ago Tootsie brought back their classic Tootsie Pop Drops. The package heralds them as Tootsie Pops without the stick! but they’re actually a mini version of a hard candy with a little filling of chewy, chocolatey Tootsie Rolls.
It only makes sense that they’d do seasonal versions, such as the Candy Cane Tootsie Pop in this smaller, sharable format. I believe these hit the shelves last year, but I didn’t find them until this year.
The 3.5 ounce box holds a thick foil/plastic pouch with the candies inside. I’m never keen on this “bag inside a box” package, but I do admit that all of the candies came out looking great, no chips or broken ones and it wasn’t just a bag of sugar dust.
I loved the look of them when I dumped them out of the bag. They’re thick and feel heavy and solid, like pieces of glass. The color of the candy is a very light and milky pink with red stripes. They’re smaller than a Starlight Mint but I find the size and shape excellent in the mouth.
The hard candy is smooth and has very few voids. The dissolve is good with a good mint flavor that has a few pops and sparkles of extra flavor on occasion. At the center is a small piece of a Tootsie Roll. I found the ratio to be a bit off, I’d like more Tootsie Roll, but still the chew of it is good. The flavor of the Tootsie Roll itself is always a bit disappointing, mostly because the chocolate flavor is often a bit musty and watery instead of woodsy and cocoa-ish. In this case there’s a hint of rum and less of the cardboard taste, probably because of the essence of Peppermint at play here.
There’s only the one flavor in the package, just like the old days when I would buy a roll of just Orange or Grape Tootsie Pop Drops. It would be fun to see these wrapped individually in wax paper and sold in rolls at least for the nostalgia value at Christmas. But the addition of seasonal flavors is a great touch that I hope Tootsie continues.
The new packaging advises that the Tootsie facility that made these is peanut free, gluten free, egg free and tree nut free. (It does contain milk ingredients and soy.)
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Mentos are the KitKat of chews. There are dozens of flavors worldwide, and of course most of the interesting flavors are found in Asia. This newest version is the oddest one I’ve had to date: Mentos Jam Filled - Strawberry Lemon.
They’re made in China and sold in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. I got this package from Santos of Scent of Green Bananas after two failed efforts to buy them on eBay from a Thai seller.
They’re double packaged (like the Sour Mentos often are.) There’s a main package of stiff, thick foil backed paper which is then encased in a plastic sleeve.
Inside the inner package are 8 soft candies. The most noticeable difference is that they don’t have a crunchy shell. They’re a little glossy and might have a bit of wax but are basically shell-less. They’re soft enough that they don’t really have a native shape, they’re a little flat on the sides where they meet and sometimes stick together a bit.
They seem a bit bigger than a traditional Mentos. They’re also more fragrant, authentically strawberry scented.
The outer layer of chew is soft and has a good pliable taffy texture and tangy/sweet strawberry flavor. The inner jam is not very complex, more like a lemon flavored syrup, more like a reduction of lemon drink than lemon marmalade. It’s not as tart as I would have liked and lacked a lot of lemon essence. The texture is sticky but not at all grainy. It didn’t do much for me. The difference in the flavors wasn’t strong enough to be called complementary and wasn’t close enough to match.
I’m not sure why they did this. It’s a lot of packaging and not a lot of excitement inside.
I might have felt differently if it were a uniquely named and branded item, but coming to me with a Mentos logo on it, I expected more authentic flavors and for it to, well, be a fresh take on the goo filled candy field.
Friday, October 8, 2010
One of my favorite global candies are Mentos because they reflect local flavors so well. Sometimes it seems unfair that other locales get such great flavors and in the US we’re stuck with a more limited assortment.
This little plastic jar of Mentos Mix Grape was given to me by Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They’re sold in the Philippines and other parts of the Pacific. They’re actually made in Vietnam but Perfetti van Melle and have Halal certification, but all of the other packaging is in English.
Instead of a mix of fruity flavors, this combo pack has a mix of different kinds of grapes - purple, white and red.
Muscat - a green grape. This version has a light peppery flavor at first followed by something that’s more like apple cider and then a grape skin note. It also reminded me of hibiscus iced tea. Tangy and fresh.
Standard Grape (magenta) is the most disappointing of the bunch. It does taste like real grapes, but like a far away version of the, like I’m tasting concord grapes from across the street or watching it on TV.
Red Wine Grape (light pink) has an amazing flavor profile. It’s like white grape juice but with more of the grape skins flavors, right down to an almost-dry finish.
I’ve found with the Asian Mentos that the quality isn’t always consistent. Some are soft and chewy, others are crunchy in the middle. These were close to their expiry, but I experience this on a consistent basis with all varieties not made in Holland.
I love how Mentos gets subtlety. While grape isn’t my favorite flavor, I like how distinctive these are yet how well the package holds together and a single candy. I can pop them mindlessly or I can pull out the flavor I feel like at the moment. I wish that the American ones were like this, but then maybe I wouldn’t appreciate them as much.
These are Halal but not marked Kosher. They no longer contain gelatin (they use gellan gum) which is vegetarian ... but they also use carmine color, so they’re not actually vegetarian.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The companion to last week’s Licorice Natural Vines are the new Strawberry Natural Vines.
I’m often hesitant to call them red licorice, but in this case the wheat based chew made by the American Licorice Company does have a small amount of licorice extract in it. As a natural product they’re made with wheat flour, cane syrup, sugar, brown rice syrup, palm oil, malic acid, natural strawberry flavor, beet juice (for color), glycerin and licorice extract.
The package is nicely designed, I had no trouble spotting it on the store shelf. It’s a soft but light plastic bag that looks kind of like kraft paper at first glance. It has a resealable zipper top, which is handy for a half pound bag.
They’re not as sticky as the Black Licorice version, which was a bit of a relief. The Strawberry version are slightly translucent, which kind of got my mouth watering, like they might be some sort of wheat flour thickened Strawberry jelly.
The twists are pleasantly big with a good bite and chew. They’re soft but not mushy. They don’t smell like much, just a light fresh and slightly sweet scent that’s not even strawberry.
They’re tangy. That’s the first thing I noticed, they’re not quite sour but definitely tart. The chew is smooth but eventually a little crumbly, so they don’t stick to my teeth like some soft licorice products can. They’re not doughy but still have a bit of a starchy film towards the end.
The strawberry flavor is a bit green, since it’s more on the tart side of things, it’s not the sweet, cotton candy floral note that some real strawberries exude. The only other all natural product that I’ve had that’s similar is the Panda Strawberry Bar, but that’s almost like a fruit leather texture to the chew and has a slightly more earthy and jam flavor because of the molasses in it.
I found them appealing to eat, but not exactly begging for me to have more. They seemed more like a snack than a candy since they’re not that sweet. But of course the “less sweet” part and wheat base may be appealing to some parents - there’s only a trace of fat (1 gram per 1.41 ounce portion) and slightly more than 100 calories for that serving. A serving is nine of these pieces, so a child or adult could be satiated by this. They’re expensive at regular price (2.99 for this half pound bag) but a bit cheaper than some “fruit snack” options - though these have no vitamin C fortification. These might be considered vegan (depending on your feelings about sugar).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.