Monday, October 08, 2007
Gimbal’s LavaBalls aren’t a new product, I even saw them at the 2006 All Candy Expo. But I never saw them in stores (except online in 5 lb boxes), so I was hesitant to write about something that you couldn’t get.
Well, I found them, at Walgreen’s (and they’re probably in other places) ... so here’s a review!
Gimbal’s is an old San Francisco panned confectioner, run by the same family for four generations. They make a line of gourmet jelly beans, some fun licorice product and pectin/jelly items. The bonus with Gimbal’s (besides the high quality) is that their facility is practically allergen free ... their candies are free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, gelatin, gluten, eggs and dairy. They’re also Kosher. (They do use Soy.)
LavaBalls are chewy hot cinnamon candies. Like their name implies, they’re a spicy cinnamon.
They’re like a giant jelly bean. The gumdrop center is lightly spiced, kind of like a Spearmint Leaf, mild but still making a generous contribution to the overall flavor. On top of that is a little layer or super-spice that’s covered by the rest of the nicely warm candy shell.
They’re about the size of a marble, which is a satisfying size for a sizzling chew. They’re not too hot for me, but there’s a pleasant burn and sometimes they’ll catch me a little bit with a tickle in my throat.
The balls are about the size of a marble, so they’re bigger than their newest competitor, the Chewy Atomic Fireballs (which are not allergen free) and marginally spicier and just deeper in flavor.
I enjoy these a lot and would definitely find them good traveling candies, a movie watching snack and good for swift novel-writing. Each LavaBall has about 13 calories each.
They do contain beeswax (and artificial colors/flavors) so may not be suitable for vegans.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
A couple of years ago I tried a Ferrara Pan product called Narbles. I didn’t care much for it, mostly because it didn’t capitalize on the unique properties of a Lemonhead (though it didn’t actually promise any Lemonhead properties).
I don’t know if Ferrara Pan has been reading my blog (they might have, because I was suddenly able to get mixed bags called the Fruit Headline) but they have a couple of new products: Chewy Lemonheads (and Friends) and Chewy Atomic Fireballs which were introduced at the All Candy Expo last week.
Lemonheads have been one of my favorite candies since I was a kid. They were staggeringly affordable (the larger boxes used to be 10 cents), came in a shareable portion, looked really cool, packed lots of flavor and of course the box turned into a noisemaker. (Sadly they don’t use that kind of box any longer).
The candy balls are beautiful. Slightly translucent (if you like to put your candy on your new LED flashlight on your keychain), they feel as dense as the original hard-candy-centered version, but will yield to pressure when squeezed (just like real lemons!).
It took me a while to get used to them. When I eat a Lemonhead I usually “peel” off the candy shell with my teeth to get to the layer or super sour. Since these are soft on the inside, it took me a while to develop a technique ... but it only took one box.
The outside flavor is just the same as the old Heads, the inside is a rather flavorless jelly ball ... pretty much like actual jelly bean. Come to think of it, these are simply round jelly beans with a sour layer in there. I took a few of them apart to examine the innards (sorry, no gory photos of that). Each was color coded very lightly. I was surprised to find that they were actually lightly flavored. Not super zippy, just mildly fragrant to continue the experience all the way to the core.
Of the five flavors the Orange and Lemon remained my favorites, but the Grape was actually more pleasing than I expected. Cherry and Green Apple just weren’t floating my candy boat, but with 3/5 of the mix as standout winners, I can eat a few cherries. I give them a 7 out of 10.
The Chewy Atomic Fireballs were the big surprise for me. First of all, there was no announcement from Ferrara Pan before the show that they were introducing them (press releases? we don’t need no stinkin’ press releases!). So when I went by their booth I though they were just showing off one of their most successful brands in huge bins at the corner. But looking closely ... chewy!
I took three boxes and opened one. They’re dark red and not easily confused with the Cherryheads.
This is quite a different experience because the traditional Atomic Fireball is a panned cinnamon jawbreaker with alternating sweet and spicy layers. The chewy Lemonhead was an easy shift for my brain, simply a chewy center instead of a hard one. This new Atomic Fireball is more Firehead than Atomic Fireball ... or perhaps Chewy Red Hot.
The outer shell is lightly cinnamon and sweet. If you keep sucking on it gets hotter (but not unbearably) until the candy shell dissipates to reveal the spicy mantle over the chewy jelly core. The core is soft and chewy (perhaps a little sticky) and has it’s own level of background cinnamon-ness. So while it’s not quite the same as the jawbreaker’s layered experience, it’s still layered with a sort of alternating strong and mild spice to it.
They’re far stronger than Hot Tamales (though may be similar to the Hot Tamales Fire). I give them an 8 out of 10.
As a smaller portion, I really like the 25 cent, one ounce box (hey, it’s 100 calories folks!). The Chewy Atomic Fireball is a real winner, but be prepared as it does have a real burn and you can’t take it out of your mouth like a Fireball. The Chewy Lemonheads don’t quite thrill me, but part of that is that it’s so hard to top the lemony singularity that is the Lemonhead. I’ll probably give them a few more tries. I think I want a box of just the lemon ones for a pure experience. I hope they’ll sell them that way.
No word on when they’ll make an appearance in stores. Please post if you’ve seen them.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Atomic Fireballs were invented in 1954 by Nello Ferrara, the son of the founder of Ferrara Pan. The spicy flavor and the exceptionally long lasting candy was instantly popular (coupled with the pop culture obsession with all things atomic at the time).
Atomic Fireballs are made in a process called hot panning, where layers of sugar syrup and flavor are deposited on a single sugar grain core. The pans are hot as they tumble the developing candies through this long process. It takes two weeks and at least a hundred layers to make the familiar spicy jawbreaker. You can see the process here at the Ferrara Pan website. Ferrara Pan sells over 15,000,000 every week!
Atomic Fireballs come in two sizes, a little pea sized one in boxes similar in format to the Lemonhead and the more popular full-sized, individually-wrapped jawbreaker. (Ferrera Pan still makes Red Hots, which are cinnamon imperials and though they’re nice they’re NOT the same thing.) I haven’t seen the little ones in years, but a quick search on the internet indicates that they’re still around. (Here’s a great shot of their old packaging.)
It’s still easy to find Atomic Fireballs individually wrapped, usually for a nickel or dime each at checkout stands at convenience stores or liquor stores.
All that history and nostalgia aside, how are they?
The outside is rather mild. The shiny ball is smooth and takes a moment to release a strong blast of cinnamon (and a little bitterness too for those who can taste Red 40). Either I’ve become extremely resilient over the years (and judging from my inability to eat my husband’s chili, I’d say not) or they’ve decreased the hotness of this product.
The cinnamon was definitely tingly and spicy but didn’t really gain any momentum until the second “major” layer. I recall not being able to hold one in my mouth for very long as a kid ... it’s no issue at all now.
I also think the texture has changed slightly. It feels a bit lighter, a little more chalky now. It loses flavor after that second internal layer. I had no problem crunching one open for the cross section with some nutcrackers ... something that was extremely difficult years ago because of the density (and possibly they were larger back in the olden days). The best way when I was a kid to break them open was to drop them onto concrete. This was more fun with the old full-sized Everlasting Gobstoppers because they had colored layers.
Fireballs were one of those candies I enjoyed eating while reading and later on long car trips where I found the hotness kept me alert while driving. I’m a cruncher, but the sphere has to be dissolved down to at least a third of its original size before I can crack it open with my teeth. I wish they were as strong as I remember them, they’d get a full on 9 out of 10 if they did. But this watered down version is still a fun 7 out of 10.
Other fun things I found out while researching this:
This package was made in Mexico, I’ll try to find out if they still make them in the United States.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:37 am
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Flavor 70 Cinn is 70% cacao with a hint of cinnamon over cacao nibs. The last time I tried SweetRiot I gravitated towards the darkest as well.
The light hit of cinnamon was more evident in the scent than in the taste. There’s a little spicy kick on the tongue at the start, but basically it’s a rich roasty chocolate taste with a solid acidic hit and a mellow bitterness. The nibs themselves were crunchy and not the slightest bit fibery (which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to nibs).
I covered SweetRiot and nibs pretty well in this review back in the spring, so check that out.
Each SweetRiot tin comes with a little geography “fortune” and mine went like this:
SweetRiot also has a “riot club” where you can select from two different delivery plans so you can get your cacao nib fix regularly (and at a better price). They also have their sets that bring the price down when you buy a mix of three. Ordering a whole box of 12 of course brings the tins down to $4 a piece. Still, not to sound like a broken record, it’d be nice to buy a quarter pound or half pound on the website and be able to refill my little tin myself.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Altoids have been around for well over two hundred years. They’re simple little nuggets of sugar, mint flavor and a little acacia gum to hold it all together. I’m not sure if they count as candy, as they’re intended for breath freshening, not wholesale gobbling. (But just because that’s what they’re intended for doesn’t make it so.)
Altoids were made by Callard & Bowser for many years. Then there were a series of buyouts, Callard & Bowser was bought by Suchard. That company was owned by Beatrice. The whole shebang of Callard & Bowser-Suchard was then sold to Kraft which sold it in 2004 to the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company. As a Wrigley brand they make more sense than belonging to a company that makes Velveeta, however, I’m still cross with Wrigley for discontinuing Reed’s.
What was once just a humble piece of peppermint chalk is now a veritable empire of its own. There are the mints, a line of gum, sour hard candies and even some freako weird breath strips.
So that brings us to the newest brand extension. The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints. Called “Curiously Chocolate” on the tin, I have to admit I find it curious myself. I got a hold of two of the new flavors - Peppermint and Cinnamon.
Out of the package they’re not remarkable looking at all. They look kind of like buttons or maybe slightly smaller Junior Mints. They smell only vaguely chocolatey but that’s probably because the peppermint or cinnamon scent is so strong.
On the tongue the chocolate melts rather readily and is much thicker than I would have expected. It’s dark and with a slight grain to it (but hey, Altoids are pretty grainy too) but a rich taste permeated with the mint or cinnamon in question.
I really didn’t think these were going to be any good at all, but I enjoyed the little creamy hit of chocolate. I preferred it when I immediately cleaved the mint so that I got mint and chocolate at the same time, but letting the chocolate melt off and then getting to the mint has nice too.
My biggest concern is the durability of these. What I like about Altoids in general is that I can leave a tin in the car or at the bottom of a bag and not worry how long its been there. I know for a fact that I’ve eaten five year old Altoids. But I wouldn’t want to eat old chocolate.
These are preview packages of the new Altoids, they’ll be available in January 2007 on CandyWarehouse.com, though there is word that they’re popping up in places.
Note from the package: Altoids are made with gelatin, therefore not suitable for vegetarians.
Other strange notes: I went to the Altoids “Shoppe” on their website and they’re out of stock on about half of the products. Come on! You’re the factory, make some more! (And here’s a link to a recent story in the Chicago Sun Times I read.)
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
As National Novel Writing Month approaches my mind turns to writing-friendly candy. This is a tough category. Not only does the candy need to be neat (no sticky bits to get in the keyboard) but it also has to support the work at hand. In years past I’ve nibbled on licorice vines, Reese’s miniatures (not really recommended as they are a two-handed candy), M&Ms and orange Tootsie Pops.
This year I think I’ve found my new writing candy. It’s a little expensive at $6.50 for 150 grams (about 5.25 ounces), but writing a novel in a month is an indulgence anyway and if a few hard candies can keep me on task and perhaps ingest a little less caffeine, I’m all for it.
The Apothecary’s Garden is a line of hard candies made by Sweet Botanicals of England. Infused with different herbs and spices, they’re all drop-dead gorgeous little morsels. Not only that, they’re all natural. No freaky sweeteners, they’re just sugar, corn syrup and some spices with a little juice for color. The come in a clear plastic container, which of course gives you full view of their mouthwatertingness. (The only bad thing about this packaging is that I found them to be positively DIFFICULT to recap.) Today I’ll tackle the spices:
Cinnamon & Clove - gorgeous red spheres with white stripes. They’re the size of marbles and smell of Christmas. I’m not usually keen on clove, as it reminds me of dental procedures, but this was more on the mild side. The cinnamon was spicy and has a pleasant and mellow burn with the slight floral note of the clove that was more on the violet end than the medicine side.
The candy itself is dense and sweet with few, if any, voids that can make for sharp edges to cut your tongue.
This candy would be appropriate for novels taking place on damp moors, alien infested swamp planets and anything set during the Civil War.
Chili (a useful digestive aid) - delicate little candies, no larger than a dried garbanzo (the smallest of all I tried). They’re lightly pink and have the disarming smell of cotton candy. On the tongue they start with a slight floral note of rose and are clean tasting. But after a moment the chili spice kicks in. It has a little burn, but something I feel on the tongue, nothing in the back of the throat.
This candy would be appropriate for writing time travel scenes, large spans of exposition in any style novel and of course anything set in the Southwestern US, Mexico or Central America.
Licorice & Anise (Helps Coughs and Catarrh) - beautiful large medallion-like pieces, they’re the largest of all the Apothecary’s Garden candies I tried. They’re also not a solid hard candy but a filled candy. The hard shell is a mellow licorice flavor with a liberal note of both anise and molasses (the ingredients lists brown sugar treacle). Inside is a soft, moist and grainy center of a rich brown sugar that soothes the throat (and tastes good!).
This candy would be appropriate for steampunk novels with characters involved heavily in action scenes, anything set in the middle ages, circuses or in cold climates and of course action-adventures that involve going places without proper vaccinations.
Ginger & Orange (Useful for Travel Sickness) - these are long hexagons that are squashed into rods. The smell slightly of orange and on the tongue they immediately get me tingly with a little tangy bite and the spice of the ginger. There’s a definite rooty flavor to these that overpowers any orange essence other than the color and tangy quality.
I can’t attest to their ability to stave off motion sickness, but I will in a few months when whale watch season opens and I hit the nearshore seas. I have, however, found that ginger is good for keeping the queasies at bay, so I’m looking forward to giving these a real test.
This candy would be appropriate for novels with sea voyages or taking place on spaceships with questionable inertial dampeners/artificial gravity. It is also good for consuming during scenes involving early pregnancy and dizzying passages describing architecture.
I have lots more flavors and I’ll be posting about those soon. At $6.50 a package, they’re a wee on the expensive side. But they’re also not a candy you gobble down, so they last a while. The flavors are unique and it’s obvious the attention that’s paid to their creation, so I’d be willing to pay a little more. Right now the only place I know to get them in the States is ArtisanSweets.com (they sent me the samples) ... but they also sell the Montelimar Nougat that I love so much, so you know, you could get some of that at the same time.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
There once was a company that made boiled sweets (hard candies) in Chicago. Founded in 1893, The Reed Candy Company used copper kettles to boil sugar and corn syrup and other things together to create flavorful treats. In 1931 they started making their most famous product, the Reeds’ Butterscotch candy roll. Later they added more flavors including Cinnamon, Root Beer and Butter Toffee.
At some point in their history The Reed Candy Company was bought out by another Chicago area based sweets company, Amurol Confections (known for their novelty gums like Big League Chew and Bubble Tape) ... and they in turn were bought by Wrigley’s (also based in Chicago). The larger distribution chain should have helped, but I still rarely saw them at drug stores or groceries. I usually saw them at newsstands. Reeds continued to be made with startling consistency from the taste and packaging I remember from my childhood.
For those who have never had them, Reed’s are kind of like Lifesavers, except there’s no hole in the middle, just a slight dent. They’re individually wrapped, which makes for extra-sanitary sharing as well as the ability to pop out the individual candies and put them in your pocket for later (try that with a Lifesaver!). They come with eight little pieces in a roll. But what was really extraordinary about them was the incredible amount of flavor packed into such a small candy. Part of this was the exceptional texture - these were high-quality boiled sugar sweets that had very few voids or holes so they were extra smooth on the tongue and dissolved well.
The Butterscotch ones used real butter and had a nice hit of salt to them. Though I’m sure the recipes changed over the years (going with artificial flavors and whatnot) they were still much more flavorful than many other candies.
Cinnamon was not for the faint of heart. The little dented red disk had a smooth and soft mouthfeel at first and then exploded with a very strong cinnamon flavor that could rival an Atomic Fireball. It was like the flavor popped and sparkled with itty-bitty reservoirs.
Other roll candies and mints came in cinnamon and butterscotch but no one else made a Root Beer candy. Soft and spicy with a complex flavor that just made you want to roll the little candy over and over in your mouth. Reed’s Root Beer were my go to roll candy - they had the satisfying freshness of a mint and the tingly “activate those salivary glands” stimulation of a fruit sour.
They were always a 10 in my book. But I guess I ignored them and now they’re gone. Back in April they told their distributors that they weren’t going to be making them anymore and the supply was cut off. There are still a few places you can find a reserves on the web (and happily these hard candies are pretty durable when stored correctly):
I got my last rolls at Powell’s in Windsor, CA but they said that they will not ship nor sell whole boxes at any discount.
UPDATE: Reed’s are coming back. Iconic Candy of New York is working on their final formulations and packaging design and hope to have Reed’s back on store shelves in a limited number of flavors by the end of the year.
You can see the preview of their new candy revivals here. They’re also working on Regal Crown Sours and Bar None.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.