Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Yes, in the continuing quest to not only bring you the best and worst candies in the world, I’m going to educate you on the subtleties between our seemingly identical candy choices.
First, a little background (some of this I only know vaguely so feel free to correct me). M&Ms were originally developed as a candy for soldiers to give them quick energy in combat situations and be easy to carry. Some people wonder what M&M stands for, and many think it’s for the Mars brothers, but in reality it’s Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie’s father was one of Hershey’s trusted partners at the company and provided the chocolate inside M&Ms until the 70s.
As with most UK treats under the Nestle name, they were originally made by Rowntree which was later swallowed up by the growing Nestle corporation. Developed several years before the M&M, Smarties are still one of the most popular candies in the UK. The UK version are purported to have orange chocolate flavored orange Smarties (and back when there was a brown Smartie it was mocha flavored) but I am using Canadian Smarties for this head to head.
First, Smarties are slightly bigger than M&Ms. An M&M is approximately 1 cm in diameter while the Smartie is 1.5 cms.
However, the Smartie is slightly flatter than the M&M. I didn’t weigh them.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the candy shell. The Smartie shell is much thicker and has a very pronounced crunch to it. It also seems to have a flavor. When I looked at the ingredients for the Smarties, I saw that there is wheat flour (and cornstarch & sugar) in the shell whereas the M&M shell is made only of sugar, cornstarch and color. The Smartie has a slightly graham cracker taste to it. It’s pleasant and perhaps a little cinnamonny (I know there’s no cinnamon in it). The M&M provides more chocolate punch. I guess geometry would tell me that even if the mass of the Smartie is the same as an M&M it still has more shell by virtue of being less spherical.
As appearances go, they’re both exceptionally pretty candies. Given a choice between the two, I prefer less shell and more chocolate. In reality I usually buy Almond M&Ms more often than the plain ones, but if someone puts a bowl in front of me, I can hardly resist. But I can see that there would be times that I’d crave the cookie-like taste of the Smarties.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Name: Kinder Bueno
I’m a little confused by the name of this bar. Maybe my language skills aren’t that good, but I’ve had a dabbling of German and took five years of Spanish. Kinder, as far as I know is Children in German. Bueno means good in Spanish. The package for this particular treat was in English and French.
All that linguistic stuff aside, candy is good in all languages. What we have here is a crisp shell filled with a hazelnut cream and covered in a very thin shell of milk chocolate. As with most candies, two pieces are better than one, so Kinder Bueno gives you two fingers. Each is further sealed inside a clear plastic sleeve to protect the crispy wafers from getting stale. The candy is basically a formed, crisp shell filled with a creamy, milky hazelnut paste and covered in a sweet and melty milk chocolate.
I know that all of the stuff in here is probably horrible for me, reading the ingredients in either language reveals copious amounts of palm kernel oil and 30% of my daily RDA of saturated fats (oddly enough no cholesterol). No matter, it’s really good. Hazelnut is such a wonderful complement to milk chocolate and the tasteless wafers, I’d probably accept a hit of 100% of my saturated fat.
It’s rich and creamy and the roasted flavor of the hazelnuts lingers. They were wonderful with my morning coffee. Even though they’re sweet the fatty texture spreads the goodness all over allowing all the notes of the nuts to come out. The filling is a little sticky, so keep some milk or coffee nearby to cut it. I would probably buy these again if I were to take a long flight or something where I really wanted an indulgence to go with bad airplane coffee. Even though they’re double packaged, these candies don’t travel well, so don’t throw an apple on top of them in your purse. I’m also eager to find some Kinder Eggs to try out sometime soon.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Friday, September 16, 2005
I know, you’re probably getting sick of me reviewing malt candies! But I’m not, as I’m on the search for the perfect malt candy in all markets. The description of Maltesers on the package is this, “Crisp, light honeycombed centres with chocolately coating.” In the States when a package says “chocolately” it means that the coating is not chocolate (it’s usually made with some other fat than cocoa butter). However, the ingredients list says Milk Chocolate in the first position, so it’s real chocolate (one of my pet peeves with Whoppers is that they use some sort of chocolatey wax).
What I noticed about these right away is that they’re small. About the size of a peanut M&M. The chocolate coating is rather thin, more like a shell than a dip. When you pop it in your mouth it’s rather easy to chip off 1/3 of the chocolate by chiseling it with the eye-teeth. At first I found the candy salty ... really salty for a malt ball. But then I came to really like the taste. The extra salt brings out the malt as a separate flavor from the chocolate. After chipping away most of the chocolate on many of them I let the malt honeycomb dissolve on my tongue. It’s a rather complex flavor, almost like a cereal flavor with good solid malty overtones along with some other notes that you’d find in a good hearty loaf of bread or kashi breakfast cereal.
At first I wasn’t wild about them, this exercise was more of an intellectual one, but as I ate more and more of them, I was trying to perfect removing the chocolate so that I could enjoy just the malted centers and found this to be a great activity while working tackling a rather complex project here at the office.
Next time in the UK or Canada, I’m definitely going to pick up more of these.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
I don’t know if this bar is sold at this little candy shop at the Pittsburgh airport because it’s called Sky Bar or because they carry a lot of other hard to find nostalgia candies (they didn’t have Valomilks, but they did have Cow Tales). I’d seen these when I was growing up, but was never really interested in them, as I’d always assumed that they were the candy bar version of Whitman’s Samplers.
It turns out that it’s not far off from that. The bar is undeniably pretty. Four joined pieces of candy, with pretty domed tops, fluting up the sides and the Necco logo on top. Unlike Necco wafers, where you never know what you’ll get in the roll, the Sky Bar is consistent. The far left piece (if you set your bar like the package shows you) is caramel. Not a chewy caramel, it’s a sweet, sticky concoction with a nice salty hint and good carmelized sugar notes. The next one over is by far the least interesting to me, the vanilla cream. Slightly light, very sweet and rather bland, it simply brings out the rather cardboard notes in the milk chocolate. After that is peanut which I think is their masterpiece. This is not a peanut butter, like you’d think, it looks like caramel and is smooth but has the wonderful roasted taste of peanuts and a good hit of salt to balance out all the other sweets. The last section is fudge. Sweet and with that slightly cooling grain to it, the fudge is nice and not too sweet but suffers from the same blandness of the whole bar - too much sugar and not enough chocolate in the chocolate.
I can see how this bar was so successful for so long. Steve Almond talks about the history of the bar in Candy Freak (chapter 2), that it was one of the most popular bars on the east coast and had a prominent billboard in Times Square which was re-lit at the end of WWII. As a bit of nostalgia, it’s fun. But it’s not my nostalgia, I have not particular affinity for it, so it’s merely an experience for me. It’s probably a great bar to share with friends (as long as there actually is something for everyone) and probably speaks to people who really like variety in their candy.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, September 12, 2005
Name: Five Star Bar - Caramel
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview and on the show Steve Almond gave the host a Five Star Bar. Steve had also featured the bar in his book Candy Freak, so I was already aware of its virtues. Still, I’d not seen one in person. I did get a gift over the holidays though, of a little package of their milk and dark chocolate squares, which were very nice and smooth.
The bar has it all. It’s a hefty little log, about as wide as it is high and twice as long as that. At two ounces, it’s bigger than your normal candy bar, but smaller than a king-size. It’s not quite gourmet, but too good for the regular candy shelf.
Upon biting into it there’s an intense explosion of caramel. The first ingredient on the package is CREAM, so you know how fatty and smooth this bar has got to be. The caramel has a good carmelize sugar taste to it, without going too far into toffee land. It’s very sticky and smooth. Inside there are nuts and a few dark chocolate bits (not enough for me, but you know, who am I to quibble with something so positively reviewed).
One thing’s for sure, I’m going to try all their Five Star Bars. For the record, my husband also picked up the Java Truffle Bar and a Peppermint Bark (I don’t have the package in front of me and their website is down). The Java bar is really nice, with a good smokey coffee flavor to it and it’s not too sweet (and made with dark chocolate). The mint one is really smooth but not quite minty enough for me.
Interesting note - I give high marks to all candies with the word five in their name. Coincidence?
Rating - 9 out of 10 (they’re really expensive)
Friday, September 9, 2005
I know it seems strange to do a head-to-head tasting of the same candy bar, but there are rather interesting differences between the KitKat sold in the United States and the one sold in the rest of the world.
A little history: KitKat was first introduced in 1935 by London candymaker Rowntree under the name Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. A couple of years later they settled on the name KitKat Chocolate Crisp. The bar has always been the familiar four finger design and was an immediate big-seller for the company. It was briefly produced as a dark chocolate bar during the war because of dairy shortages, but returned to its familiar sweet milk chocolate recipe in 1947. In 1969 the American owned Hershey Corp bought the rights to manufacture and sell KitKat bars in the United States. I don’t think you will find American KitKats sold anywhere else in the world, probably part of the agreement. Rowntree was later purchased by Nestle in 1988 but the KitKat remains the same. The KitKat bar is pretty much the best-selling bar in the world.
Just as most folks have a preference for one chocolate brand over another, the differences between the Canadian KitKat (CKK) and the American KitKat (AKK) are pretty noticeable. First, the CKK is larger. Weighing in at a hefty 50 grams (1.75 oz), it beats the AKK which is a dinky 42 grams (1.5 oz). The CKK packs those extra grams into a longer bar. The AKK has a more pyramid shaped finger, with more of an angle to the sides, which means, oddly enough, less crisp because there’s less room for them though it is slightly higher. You can see that in this photo:
The color of the bars is virtually the same, with the CKK slightly darker. As I opened the package, the AKK smelled sweet and chocolatey with a little tint of vanilla. The CKK had an overwhelmingly graham cracker smell, kind of like the Wonka Bar (also made by Nestle). After the graham smell dissipates, there’s far more chocolate smell to the CKK.
It’s been a few months since I’ve had a KitKat, so I tried to experience it fresh. The first one I tried was the AKK. It was immediately sweet but had a good crisp. My usual way of eating a KitKat is to eat off both ends of a finger, then pry off the top layer of crisp & chocolate with my teeth in a single plank, then continue eating the finger from the top down. For this experiment, I’m eating them straight on in order to fully experience the crisp to chocolate ratio (okay, after two fingers of each, I ended up eating the rest of them after the tasting in my normal manner). The AKK was crispy and solid, with perhaps a little more chocolate than I’d like, but it’s the most popular bar in the world, so who am I to tinker with perfection?
The CKK has a lighter crisp. A little foamier, a little airier. It dissipates quickly so that the melting chocolate takes over. The chocolate on the CKK is not quite like a European Nestle nor like the AKK. It’s milky, like a Cadbury, with a very distinct powdered milk taste to it. It’s a taste that took me some years to get used to, but now I rather enjoy it as a contrast to the slightly yogurt notes of a Hershey’s Kiss.
Though the Trolli vs Haribo head-to-head had a winner, I can’t quite say that one of these bars is better than the other. I like the heft and vanilla notes to the CKK, but I also enjoy the dense crunch of the AKK.
All I know is that after eating two KitKat bars for breakfast, I need a cup of coffee.
Ratings - Canadian KitKat - 8 out of 10
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Name: Malted Milk
On the outside the package promises malt. On the inside of the chocolate bar delivers sweet and bland, fluffy nougat. If you’re someone who likes Milky Ways or 3 Musketeers, this’ll be a good bar for you.
The bar is built like this: a foamy nougat that’s slightly malty with a strip of caramel on top and then the whole thing is covered in sticky sweet milk chocolate. I know, you’re thinking Milky Way. So am I. The nougat is actually more malty, a little more flavorful than an American Milky Way, but not enough that I’d go branding it with the word MALT on the package.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all that bad. The best part about this bar was the caramel. It’s slightly salty and was a good balance to the sweetness of the center and the chocolate coating.
If you’re looking for another version of a Milky Way bar, you’ll probably feel very at home with this bar. If you’re looking for a bar like a malted milk ball, this ain’t it.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
I reviewed the regular Milk Chocolate Aero bar a few months ago and while I found it pleasant and rather novel, it didn’t really compel me to buy another. However, many folks urged me to try the Aero Mint so when my husband called from the drug store in Canada and listed all the candies he could see (we have free mobile-to-mobile minutes), this was one I was curious about trying.
The first thing that surprised me was that the center was green! I thought it was a milk chocolate bar that had a touch of mint flavor to it and that famous fluffy Aero bubblyness. Instead it’s a white (well, green) mint bar covered in milk chocolate. Because of the lighter color the bubbles were much easier to photograph for you. Yes, it looks like some sort of styrofoam but melts quickly in the mouth and is very minty. Like one of those pastel smooth & melty mints ... or maybe like an Andes Mint.
Oddly enough the label advertises that the bar is a source of calcium. The nutrition information lists that it provides 7% of the daily recommendation. Hurray, I only need to eat 13 more for my full day’s supply!
As there are few minted chocolate bars out there, this one is right up there at the top (well just about everything is above that Cup-O-Gold Peppermint). I liked it a bit more than the regular milk chocolate bar but not as much as the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.