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).
Monday, September 13, 2010
When Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy was discontinued by Tootsie back in the late eighties, candy fans searched far and wide for an adequate simulation. For years candy stores suggested Doschers Famous French Chew Taffy. (I even tried it.) But earlier this year Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy returned. I tried the other flavors: Vanilla, Chocolate & Strawberry, but when I picked them up, I also decided to get a package of the Banana in both the Bonomo & Doscher’s brand to compare head-to-head.
As far as the stats go, they’re a little different on a few fronts. I paid $1.99 for the Bonomo and only 99 cents for the Doscher’s. The Bonomo bar is slightly smaller at 1.5 ounces to the Doscher’s 1.62. The ingredients are similar, both are basically corn syrup, sugar and egg whites. The Bonomo uses mono- & di-glycerides while the Doscher’s uses hydrogenated soybean oil (only 1 gram of fat for the bar, so it’s not that much) and a dash of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
Both bars are artificially colored. The Doscher’s is a little more dusty yellow than the Bonomo. Doscher’s feels lighter and fluffier, in fact, when I bend it, it’s more pliable. It’s like it has a little air folded in, more like a nougat than a taffy.
The Bonomo is very smooth. It’s a bit stiff at first to chew, but the flavor is bold and consistent. The banana is a bit artificial, relying only on that circus peanut note instead of some other things like vanilla to round it out.
The Doscher’s tastes a little more starchy in comparison, like a Nilla Wafer with banana flavoring. The airy texture seems to make it dissolve quicker, so I actually went through the bars in about the same amount of time. The flavor wasn’t as intense but also seemed friendlier.
On the whole, they’re different but similar enough for me to lump them into a list of taffy products that are descent enough but just not my thing. If you’re a die hard fan of either, I can see why you can’t just swap one for the other.
Monday, August 30, 2010
For something that’s described as “Chew Mints”, Mentos fail on diversity of mint flavors. In the United States there is exactly one mint flavor available: Mint. In other countries there are Spearmint, Xtra (double strong Peppermint or Spearmint), Lime Mint, Ice Mint, Cool Chews Orange Mint, Pomelo Mint, Strong Mint, Barley Mint and Lakritz Mint.
The only other flavor in the current American repertoire that I think features Freshmaking abilities is the Cinnamon Mentos. They’re not easy to find, I rarely see them in stores but grabbed this roll when I saw them at Walgreen’s last week.
The package is hard to spot though, because it’s red and looks a lot like Strawberry at first glance.
The pieces don’t smell cinnamon-like. It’s not like having a package of cinnamon gum and having the scent of it waft through your purse or desk drawer. These are quiet and self-contained.
They’re smooth and have a good crunch to the outside. The inside is like a candy version of Big Red gum. They’re woodsy and a little warm from the cinnamon flavoring, but not overly hot. The flavor last through the whole chew and is in general satisfying. There’s a little hint of mint to it, but that may just be me imagining it.
Some of the fruit flavors of Mentos can have a weird aftertaste, but the Cinnamon ones have a fresh note at the end. They cut mid-morning coffee mouth without making me feel like I’ve eaten a wad of toothpaste.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy is a curious little confection. It’s curious in that it’s not really Turkish and it’s not really taffy. But it really was made by a guy named Victor Bonomo, whose father was from Turkey.
Turkish Taffy is made by boiling sugar, corn syrup and egg whites. But instead of being fluffed like a traditional nougat or pulled like taffy it was poured and baked in large sheets like candy bark. The resulting texture has an incredibly smooth and long chew with no hint of sugar crystals. It was originally sold in bulk and pieces could be purchased by weight at candy counters at department stores and five & dimes back in the 1940s. By the 1950s the company started selling bars where the customers were encouraged to whack them before opening to break into individual pieces.
When Victor Bonomo retired in the 1970s, the company was sold to Tootsie who made the candy from 1980 to 1989. Around 2003 there were tickles on the internet that the candy was going to return (including a few emails I got that never turned into anything), but it wasn’t until this year that it actually happened. Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy is now available in the classic bar format and little individually wrapped bites in the original four flavors: Vanilla, Strawberry, Chocolate and Banana.
I’ll start by saying that most chocolate chews are a disappointment. They can never match the chocolate punch of actual chocolate. The only thing going for a chocolate chew is the chew part, so it’d better be good enough to transcend the watered down flavor.
The color of Bonomo Chocolate Turkish Taffy is like chocolate nonfat milk, a light creamy brown. A bit lighter even than a Tootsie Roll, which I’m guessing is the most widely consumed chocolate chew in the United States.
To eat I followed the directions to whack the package firmly before opening on the corner of a table. I did it several times until I felt that the bar had been cleaved into several pieces along its length.
The pieces are thick and firm, but with some gentle pressure they do bend. Bend quickly enough and you can actually break it or pull very slowly and it will stretch. It smells lightly sweet and a little like cocoa and sweet, powdery marshmallows.
The chew is hard at first but melts after some work and warmth. The flavor is thin and watery - a light cocoa note but very little more than that. It’s not terribly sweet, which is a relief. The texture however, is dreamy. It’s smooth and silky, a chew that has no middle or end, it’s completely the same all along. The only thing that’s different is that it gets smaller the more I chewed.
The cocoa was disappointing, but the fact that it wasn’t too sweet and provided a strong texture without anything left sticking in my teeth was a huge plus.
The chew is firm and tough at first but softens. It’s exceptionally smooth and consistent, all the way to the end. The flavor is lightly creamy and has a good vanilla flavor that’s not too artificial though really not that deep either. It’s more robust than a Vanilla Tootsie but still not exceptionally interesting at a certain point.
Of the three classic Neapolitan flavors I tried, this was by far my favorite. The bar last a long time and since it’s a chew, it’s a lot lower in calories than a chocolate or nut product. So this 1.5 ounce bar has only 160 calories (the chocolate one has 150).
I avoid strawberry taffy for the most part. It lacks the things that I like about strawberries - like the texture of the seeds, the mixture of tartness, sweetness and floral aromas. Strawberries smell like cotton candy to me, or maybe cotton candy smells like strawberries - it’s like part of consuming it is the scent which carries its own portion of sugary calories.
The Bonomo’s Strawberry Turkish Taffy is bright, bismuth pink. It’s artificial looking, like a lump of plastic left over from an injection molding project for Barbie Corvettes. The scent is similarly off-putting. It says “strawberry with a hint of vinyl”. The texture is the same as the other varieties - smooth and a long, glossy chew. The flavor though was all sweet, a strange fake strawberry that was like a cheap body wash and a terrible bitter note from the food dye (it said Red #3 & Blue #3, which is not usually one I call out for bitter, metallic aftertastes).
While I thought it was ghastly, I can understand that some folks will love the stuff. I get it, I love things that I know are fake and weird, too - like American Cheese.
I know that Bonomo’s is a well-loved brand. I know that it’s also pretty intensive to create, so these packages were $1.99 each - twice the price of the Doscher’s French Chew, which is often sold as a replacement. Maybe with time and larger volume the price will drop back down, but I’d much rather have some real nougat. But at this price I expect artisan or all natural. They are Kosher but there’s no statement about gluten or nuts (they do say that they’re processed in a facility with milk products). Classic Caramel of Camp Hill, PA is making the taffy for the Bonomo Turkish Taffy company. Classic Caramel also makes SloPokes, Kits and BB Bats.
It also comes in Banana, I picked that up too, along with Doscher’s French Chew in Banana and will do a comparison soon.
Friday, August 13, 2010
I found this small bag of Crazy Candy Co Candy Laces at Aldi. They have a few sugar-based candies from this Crazy Candy Co on the shelves, like gummi bears and sour neon worms. Though Aldi sells Haribo, this Crazy Candy Co is one of their house brands.
The Candy Laces are like fruity licorice; they’re made from wheat and come in four flavors: Strawberry, Apple Peach, Raspberry, Peach. The package says they use no artificial flavors or colors. The package is cute and inviting and would certainly appeal to juveniles. The price is pretty good at 79 cents for three ounces - it’s not a lot of candy or a lot of money for a little treat.
The laces are about 18-20 inches long each. Though it’s natural coloring, they’re bold and bright.
The laces are soft and flexible, but still strong enough to take a little tugging and pulling. They have a light beeswax coating on them to keep them from sticking and drying out, but it’s not oily or sticky. I found it easy to twist and braid the laces together. Let’s face it, one of the reasons I bought them was because I thought they’d be fun to play with and photograph.
The laces are lightly translucent and well made. Not bumps, tacky or chalky spots.
The peach and apple flavors are authentic. It’s like a lightly sweet glass of juice. The texture of the chew is a little sticky but since the cords are so thin to begin with, it’s not like big gobs can get stuck in my teeth.
The color is bright and the laces sometimes look like a heap of curry ramen to me.
The peach flavor is a little tart and has a little pine note to it, like peach skins. It’s not overwhelming or artificial, though still not quite authentic.
I was hoping for something really intense and jammy. Instead it’s just a little tart, vaguely floral and mildly berry-flavored.
One thing that I noticed about the Raspberry laces is that they’re slightly smaller in diameter from the other flavors. Still the same texture though.
Strawberry is a common flavor for red licorice, so I went into this with a lot of experience with red laces. My first impression: nicely done.
The flavor is tart and good mix of floral, berry and tangy notes. The chew is firm, like an al dente pasta and it’s not as leathery or doughy as some other American and Australian versions.
I found that they kept fresh even without sealing the bag up inside a zippered plastic bag like I do with many of my opened candies. After about a week they got a little firmer, but never tacky or dry.
The package is nicely designed and the candy itself is well made. I don’t care personally for the flavor mix much, but I know that children would probably be drawn to the bright colors and mainstream flavors. (They might be disappointed that the apple isn’t more like the Jolly Rancher Green Apple.) These would be great for decorating as well.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
About five years ago Twizzlers, a Hershey’s company, introduced Twerpz (original review). They were cute little nibs of flavored “licorice” that had a grainy and flavored cream filling. They were around for about three years then slowly faded away. Twizzlers introduced a few similar products such as the Twizzlers Sweet & Sour Filled Twists, but didn’t relaunch the Twerpz line. In a completely unrelated area, Hershey’s had a line of chocolate bar “Awesome Twosome” brand mashups around the same time. They were regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars with bits of other bars mixed in, like Whoppers, Heath, Almond Joy and Reese’s Pieces.
So it appears that this new product, now under the Jolly Rancher brand is taking over the Twizzlers Twerpz product, but giving it a little twist by combing two flavors in each piece (that’s the Twosome part).
The flavors of the Awesome Twosome Chews are standards in the Jolly Rancher palette. One is Watermelon on the outside and has a Green Apple filling. The other is Cherry on the outside and has an Orange filling. Each has a sour grainy dusting.
The Watermelon/Green Apple is kind of fun because it’s a reverse of the colors of an actual watermelon. That’s about where the fun for me ended. The package itself smells rather plastic and artificial, like bubble gum, wood glue and one of those discount movie palaces that always smells a little damp. They’re soft and chewy and the sour coating isn’t that powerful, just a nice zap.
The tube of watermelon licorice is well flavored, in the Jolly Rancher arena, which is good if you like that sort of thing. The green apple inside goes pretty well, but again, horribly artificial and acidic in a way that reminds me of burps.
The Cherry/Orange was at least made up of one flavor that I generally like. The cherry chew part was very flavorful, but sadly it was a very bad flavor. The use of food coloring and one note of medicinal cherry kept me from enjoying it at all. There were only four of these in my bag, so I didn’t get a lot to try. The paste filling was an interesting texture but in the case of the orange one, far too mild and like Tang instead of a well rounded zesty orange to stand up to the cherry.
The aftertaste was like I’d chewed on PlayDoh for a while and then swallowed Country Time Lemonade drink mix. However, I know that there are folks who are really looking forward to these. I like the concept but the texture, flavors and general execution just doesn’t fit my style.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I was cruising the aisles of Cost Plus World Market looking for a pick me up after Christmas and saw this rather generic looking Sukoka Soft Coffee Candy by Unican on the shelf. It said it was made with real milk and apparently real coffee, so I figured it’d have a little caffeinated kick. So I bought it. Then I ate them all, without reviewing them. So I had to buy another bag.
It seemed a bit on the expensive side, 3.2 ounces was $1.99. But it was also only $2 and it might be great, so why not give it a try.
Mostly the package was focused on the nutritional benefits: With 6% daily value Calcium in each serving, which is 5 pieces. So a little more than 1% per piece. There are 30 pieces in the bag, so at least I know if I went wild, I wouldn’t overdose on calcium.
Each little piece was individually wrapped and sealed. I’ve noticed this is common with candy from Indonesia (also Malaysia and Philippines), I’m guessing it’s because people buy single pieces and that the weather there is very humid so sugar candy needs to be well sealed to keep from getting sticky.
The description on the back of the package goes on to extol more of the virtues of the candy:
But I don’t think that the ingredients are the very best (that that they’re terrible):
I don’t know what condensed filled milk is, I’m guessing it’s sweetened condensed milk.
The pieces are about the size and shape of a cough drop. Just light and creamy brown lozenges. They smell sweet and like black coffee. The flavor is immediately like coffee ice cream: milky and with a soft bitter note of coffee and burnt sugar. The toffee notes are most evident and the coffee has a good mix of bitterness, charcoal and woodsiness. They’re firm but have a give to them that’s more dense and more dairy than a caramel. The chew is smooth but never quite gets grainy or diluted.
The coffee flavor wasn’t intense but it was satisfying and rich. I have no idea if there’s a measurable amount of caffeine in them, I didn’t notice any effects, and I’m rather sensitive to it. I bought this second bag yesterday and it’s already gone, so I must have liked them. I wouldn’t eat them for the health benefits though.
These are a great summer candy. They’re exceptionally durable, even in the heat they might melt a bit, but are still perfectly edible even if they lose their shape and reform. They’re creamy and rich, so it’s kind of like chocolate without the sticky mess. The individual wrapping means you can even tuck them in your pocket.
Unican also makes a milk tea version called Suteka and a mint chocolate one called Mint Choka as well as a whole line of fruity milk candies called Milkita (strawberry & melon). The tea one sounds like it would be very good. These are marked Halal and should be suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans, obviously).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.