Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Monday, August 13, 2012
The idea was to be able to reach more consumers with Markoff’s taste creations without sacrificing the artisan scale of the original Vosges but still reach more consumers. (Source) I have trouble believing that Vosges is truly artisan any longer since they’re a $30 million company. The Wild Ophelia website feature a hokey story about this mascot for the brand that dipped beef jerky in milk chocolate instead of the traditional lemonade stand as a kid. The story reads like a non-traditional innovator’s checklist:
But again, it’s all just made up. The real story of someone wanting to extend their brand isn’t good enough, yet with this pure fiction they want us to also come on board with the real stories of the artisans that provide some of the key ingredients in the bar flavors.
The Wild Ophelia line features bars that cost one third less than the Vosges bars, but of course are about one third smaller in size. That’s fine with me in principal at least, since I often find the 3 ounce bars a bit too much for me and my short attention span. The new line of bars feature flavors like Beef Jerky, Southern Hibiscus Peach, Salted Chowchilla Almond, New Orleans Chili, Sweet Cherry Pecan, Mount Sequoia Granola, Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips and the final one, Peanut Butter & Banana is what I picked up.
The Milk Chocolate Bar Peanut Butter & Banana is made with a dark milk chocolate of 41% cacao. Then it’s mixed with pieces of dried Williams Banana, which is grown on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Peanut butter is mixed into the chocolate.
It sounds great, though I wish I knew as much about the chocolate and the origin of the peanuts as I now do about the bananas.
The bar is soft and has a smooth break. It looks like the pieces are quite small and well mixed in. It has a strong scent of roasted peanuts and a little note of maple or sweet hot cocoa.
Though the bar has a peanutty aroma, the chocolate, it tastes of both chocolate and peanut butter, like someone melted and mixed together a peanut butter cup. It’s a little grittier and fudgier than a standard milk chocolate bar. The heartiness is then highlighted with bits of dried bananas. They’re soft and chewy, but still kind of tough. They’re sweet and have a strong banana flavor with a fair bit of tanginess.
I found the leathery and sticky banana bits a little off-putting, they’d get stuck in my teeth. But the overall ratios and the fact that it’s not a sweet bar but still has that satisfaction of a sweet snack is really quite good. There are little bits of salt in it as well, and though it tastes like a lot because they’re little granules, it’s actually only 30mg for a serving.
Now for the transparency part. The company says “Wild Ophelia is a uniquely American chocolate brand that features all-natural and often organic ingredients sourced from small farms and artisans to tell an American story. All Wild Ophelia products are made with 100% renewable energy and packaged in 100% recycled board. Proudly, the Wild Ophelia line is developed by a certified women’s business enterprise.” Nowhere could I find a statement about the sourcing of the chocolate (none was listed as organic, the only organic ingredient in this bar was the peanut butter). So I can’t say anything about the ethics of the sourcing of the cacao and at $5 for a 2 ounce bar of chocolate, I’d prefer that the dairy products in it also be organic.
Wild Ophelia is gluten free, but their facility uses dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. I love many of Vosges products, but have had to stop eating them because of walnut contamination issues (which is fully disclosed on the packages). I did not have any problems with this bar and none of the Wild Opheila products have walnuts in them (my only allergy).
For a more complete rundown of the line of bars, check out Jess at Foodette Reviews.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Most bars are the standard tablet of 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces) but several years ago Valor came out with this handier single serving version. It’s thicker and easier control portions with only 1.59 ounces in the bar.
The bar is pretty and one of my favorite formats. For bars with nuts, I enjoy a thicker bar that’s not too wide so it’s easy to snap off a piece or bite it without mess.
The Valor bars, being from Spain, use Marcona Almonds. Marconas are a cultivar of almonds that are not as common in the United States. Here in California we grow about 80% of the world’s almonds, and nearly all are the nonpareil variety. Marconas are more rounded, rather flat and usually quite smooth. They’re also quite crunchy and less fibery than nonpareils.
The nut distribution was a little off. The first section had one almond (shown). The middle two sections had six almonds. The last section had none at all.
The milk chocolate is rather high in cacao, at 34%. There’s a little whey in the ingredients list way down at the end, which is forbidden in US chocolate by labeling standards (it’s really just a harmless filler). The chocolate is barely sweet, has a deep rich and malty flavor to it and has an almost salty note to it. It’s missing complex vanilla notes, which is probably because they don’t use real vanilla in the bar. It’s a very firm bar, even in this heat (I kept it in an air conditioned room though it’s still often 80 degrees in there) but I still found that it took longer in my mouth to melt than the standard Hershey’s, Cadbury or Dove.
The nuts go really well, they’re a more delicate flavor and that superb crunch is satisfying. The milk flavors are less sticky and more fresh tasting than the Swiss or British style, but almost goaty.
It’s a great bar when you want a less sweet chocolate that’s not too overpowering and difficult like a dark bar. The almonds make it much more filling, but I wanted a few more in there. This is something I’d definitely chose over a Cadbury Fruit & Nut or Hershey’s with Almond. I don’t know what the source of the cacao for Valor is, their website is vague (“all over the world”) so I can’t comment on the ethical policies of the company.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I saw some new packages of Panda Licorice on store shelves about six months ago. I thought it was cute and inventive. But I’ve already reviewed the Panda licorice line, for the most part, so there was no need for me to pick it up again.
What I didn’t realize is that this is actually a different line of licorice, with a different formula. The Panda Traditional Soft Original Licorice is part of the Panda “confections” line. It was formulated specifically to widen the Panda brand’s appeal and to be sold in more mass-market stores, instead of the narrow appeal of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s which usually have rules about what sort of ingredients a product can have.
It doesn’t say much on the front of the package, beyond the brand name and the product but it’s quite clear: No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
So a quick flip to the back of the package where they talk more about the traditional soft licorice and the heritage of the company that dates back to 1927 in Finland and how meticulous they are and how they use traditional ingredients. Those ingredients?
Yes, Panda’s licorice that’s otherwise free of artificial flavors, preservatives and colors, suitable for vegans, fat free and Kosher ... it’s made with high fructose corn syrup.
The price for this product? It was $2.99 at Cost Plus World Market for a 7 ounce bag.
The pieces of the Traditional Soft Original Licorice has 87.75 calories per ounce and 1 gram of protein. The pieces are large, sticky and very sweet. The one inch nubs are doughy and a little more “wheat” flavored than the classic variety.
It’s downright wet. In fact that may account for the lower calories on this variety, the fact that they have more water in them.
The licorice flavor is bland, though distinctly natural. It tastes more like anise though the sweetness has that soft licorice note to it. What’s missing for me is the molasses, that earthy flavor that has lots of toffee, burnt sugar, charcoal, oak and beets in it.
It sticks to my teeth. It sticks to my ribs. It sticks to my fingers, it sticks to the package.
In the interest of fairness, I had to revisit the stuff that’s made Finland famous. The All Natural Soft Licorice is made from an even shorter list of ingredients: Molasses, wheat flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseseed oil). It has 92.14 calories per ounce but 2 grams of protein per serving. The price? It was $2.99 for a 6 ounce bag.
So for the same price you get about 14% less. But what was in that 14%? I have to wonder if it’s just high fructose corn syrup, watering the whole thing down.
The classic pieces in the bag are 3/4” tall and just a little smaller in diameter. They’re also far less sticky. They feel lighter and stiffer than their doughy counterparts. Plus it has all those complex flavors of molasses and licorice and less of the wheat flour.
It’s just baffling to me, since Panda has spent at least 40 years marketing itself in the United States as the premiere natural licorice brand, and competing against all brands, they’re still the fourth largest seller in the US. Much of their marketing, either by their hand or through the efforts of the stores that sell them have specified that Panda contains no “bad stuff” including high fructose corn syrup. So this change not only makes the candy taste bad, I think it’s done to purposely confuse consumers. The package uses the words traditional and original and says lots about how they don’t use those other bad ingredients. (But they do use a dubious ingredient that no one else uses, not even the cheapest of the cheap licorices.)
Lisa Gawthorne, Panda Liquorice spokesperson comments:
I tried engaging Panda in a dialogue about this change. I tweeted to them in March (they’ve answered in the past) but didn’t hear anything back. Then I tweeted to them again in June and they responded (though one of their responses they’ve since deleted). Here’s the exchange as it stands now.
Here’s the thing, though all this battle over high fructose corn sweetener, even as a candy writer, I haven’t had much to say. There’s not much to say, because HFCS in candy is incredibly rare. I’ve seen it in probably about five candies I’ve reviewed, and often when it does appear in other candies, it’s part of a whole ingredient like crushed cookies or a jelly, not something the candy company actually made themselves. HFCS just doesn’t behave the same way as a pure glucose syrup would or actual full sucrose. Ordinarily I would just be baffled that someone would use HFCS, but in this case I’m angry because Panda has cultivated their brand so carefully, in many cases specifically saying that they don’t use HFCS, as if everyone else does. When in reality it’s just them, in this lower price point line.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Haribo Gold Bears stand as the epitome of the gummi bear for good reason. They were the first and they are known around the world. Haribo is so big that they have 18 factories, but only five of them in Germany.
I’ve been told over the years that the German Haribo products are the best. The Haribo products we most often see here in the United States, especially the Gold Bears, are made in either Turkey or Spain. So while I was in Germany I made sure to pick up a bag of the original version made in Bonn, Germany. Flipping over the bag, it was immediately clear that they’re different. There’s an extra flavor.
The German Gold Bears have six flavors:
The Turkish or Spanish Gold Bears have only five flavors:
Further, the German Bears are made with all natural colorings. Here’s an array of Bears and Bunnies for color comparison:
On top are the German Gold Bunnies, packaged for the American market, in the middle are the German Gold Bears purchased in Germany and on the bottom are the Turkish Gold Bears purchased in the United States.
So let’s start where things are weird. First, the Green Gummi Bear. As you may have noticed in the listing above, in the United States, the green gummi bear is Strawberry.
I compared the colors of the Green Gummi Gold Bears because they show the most difference between the countries. The German bear is a light olive color, not a true green. Other than that though, the bears are the same shape and mass.
I thought maybe one was taller than the other, or thicker, but the variations are just that, variations across all the bears. Some are slightly thicker or taller, some have different facial expressions. But there’s no real difference in the moulding.
Turkish Strawberry (Green) compared to German Strawberry (Pink): The Turkish bear is just slightly firmer. The flavor (once you close your eyes and forget that it’s not lime or green apple) is light and only slightly floral. It’s tangy, but not puckeringly tart. Mostly it’s a bland gummi bear. The German bear is softer and just slightly more pliable. It’s jammy and has a good blend of florals and tartness, and though it’s slightly more flavorful, I wouldn’t say that there’s a huge difference in the intensity, just the nuances. Germany Wins.
Turkish Raspberry (Red) compared to German Raspberry (Red): The artificial nature of the Turkish bear is much more apparent when placed next to the deeper, wine red German bear. The Turkish bear is sweet and tangy, the berry flavors are fresh and have only the lightest note of seeds to them. The German bear is softer and has richer, more dense flavor with more boiled fruit flavors to it. Germany Wins.
Turkish Orange compared to German Orange: this is tough. Both looked virtually the same, and the textures were also so similar. The zesty and tart notes on both were dead on. The German bear tasted every so slightly more like freshly squeezed juice, but that could have been my imagination. Tie.
Turkish Pineapple (clear) compared to German Pineapple (clear): The Turkish version had an ever—so-slight yellow cast to it, which really only showed when I placed the bears next to each other on white paper. Pineapple happens to be my favorite flavor for the bears and this was no exception. The Turkish bear actually had enough tartness to make my jaw tingle. It’s sweet and floral and just wonderful. The German version was just as good, but had an extra little flavor towards the end, a more intense thing that I can’t quite peg as pineapple zest, but that sort of buzz that comes with fresh pineapple. Even though there was a slight difference, I will indiscriminately gobble both. Tie.
Turkish Lemon (yellow) compared to German Lemon (yellow): Lemon is a great flavor and Haribo really can’t fail. There’s a wonderful blend of zest and juice in the Turkish version, with so much lemon peel that it verges on air freshener. The German version is more like a candied lemon peel or marmalade, slight more bitterness but still plenty of juice. Turkish Win.
The last one is the German Apple. It tastes, well, like tart apple juice. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not in the bags that are sold in the United States, it would be one I’d pick around ... and there currently aren’t any Haribo Gold Bears that I don’t like.
So if there’s an additional flavor in Germany, I thought maybe this Easter Haribo Gold Bunnies version which features little rabbits instead bears and says it’s made in Germany would have that apple in it.
It does not.
The Green Bunny is actually strawberry.
But what’s more disappointing about these Haribo Gold Bunnies is that they’re terrible compared to both the Turkish Bears and the German Bears. Sure, the shape is cute and the colors are all natural, but the flavors are pale and watered down.
So if you’re a Green Apple fan, it’s worth it to seek out the true German Haribo Gold Bears. If you don’t care, then the Turkish version that we’ve been served all these years is great ... it’s not quite as intense, but it’s still a good quality product. The other think I noticed is that I paid one Euro (about $1.30) for my 200 gram (7 ounce) bag of German bears ... and I paid $1.50 for my Turkish bears, which only has 5 ounces in it. The German Bunnies were on sale for $1.00 at Cost Plus.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Schluckwerder Fancy Eggs - Fine Marzipan are featured at Cost Plus World Market every year around Easter. It’s a very simple, almost mousy looking package. A gold plastic tray with ten sections holds pastel candy coated marzipan eggs.
I’ve been stalking these eggs for years. I’ve even taken photos of them in the store, hoping to go back after Easter when they’re on sale. The only problem with that plan is that there’s never any left after the holiday for discounting. They’re a little on the pricey side, $3.99 for a package weighing only 5.29 ounces from a German brand I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, I have a lot of confidence in German marzipan, now that I’ve visited a few factories in Germany and tasted quite a variety over the years. Germany knows what it’s doing when they combine sugar and almonds.
Each egg is about a half an ounce, so two is a good and filling portion. The center is pure marzipan with a thin chocolate coating then a sugared candy shell. They use all natural colorings, however, they do also use carmine, so the product is off the table for vegetarians who draw the line there. (There’s also milk in there, so it’s a no for vegans.)
The eggs vary a bit in size and shape. Some were spherical and about 1.25 inches in diameter and the more ovoid ones were about 1.5 inches long.
Even though they’re kind of big, they’re easier to bite than something like a Malted Milk Egg or Marshmallow Hiding Egg. They have a slightly floral scent, nothing really overt, just a clean sort of orange blossom or fig perfume. The chocolate is thick enough to provide quite a bit of flavor. It’s not very dark but has a well rounded woodsy cocoa flavor and a smooth, silky melt. The center is soft and quite moist, which is nice because I don’t care for the chalky and tough marzipan.
The marzipan is a little doughy but not overly sweet. There’s a faint bit of amaretto flavor, but mostly it’s a clean rosewater and nutty almond flavor. They’re hearty without being sticky sweet. They’re easy to eat, though I usually ate mine in two bites instead of popping the whole thing in my mouth at once.
I’m glad I took the plunge and tried these. They’re definitely worth full price, especially if it’s something you had as a kid or in your travels. When you come down to it, the price works out to about 1.33 per ounce, which is far more reasonable than Caffarel. And I think I prefer this marzipan to the Caffarel version. I’ll still keep an eye out for them on after-Easter clearance.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The new Valentine’s version of Peeps has a little decadence going for it. The Peeps Strawberry Creme dipped in Dark Chocolate come individually cradled in a tray, each just lightly dipped in dark chocolate, like a fresh strawberry.
The package is a bit small, each weighs only a half an ounce, so the whole package is 1.5 ounces and are priced around $2.00 if you can find them. However, if you’re watching your calories but still want a treat, it’s an appealing choice since the whole package has only 170 calories (or 57 calories each). Far less calorie-laden than a box of truffles.
I had my doubts about these. They are a rather unnatural shade of red. Well, I’ve seen camellias this color, but I’ve never felt the desire to eat them.
However, they smell quite appetizing; like strawberry shortcake, a sweet scent with a light creamy note to it. The dark chocolate dipped foot sets off the color well, but doesn’t smell of chocolate on its own.
The semi-sweet chocolate, when bitten so that its on the tongue, is quite strong and rich. It’s woodsy enough to stand up to the rather artificial notes of the strawberry. The big problem comes with the marshmallow’s grainy sugar coat. It’s sweet, I expected that, but the artificial colors have a very noticeable aftertaste for me that’s far too bitter to be outshone by the interior.
The center is also lightly and unnecessarily colored. (Regular colored Peeps are always uncolored in the center.) The marshmallow center is sweet and rather like a very mild strawberry ice cream.
If the artificial colors don’t bother you, these are actually a very good combination of chocolate and flavored marshmallow. I prefer this style to the completely coated version that Peeps are also coming in lately (those marshmallows are too moist and lack the visual appeal that the true Peep shape provides).
Thursday, December 15, 2011
A couple of years ago Trader Joe’s started carrying something called Chocolate Crisps. They’re thin pieces of chocolate, slightly bent with a few little bits of crisped rice in them.
As with many of Trader Joe’s products, they’re actually a much larger product line. I started seeing a nearly identical product in stores like Cost Plus World Market and Target called Belgian Chocolate Thins. In this case they’re made by a company called Royal Chocolates who actually patented their machine process for making these little thins. It’s underUS Patent 6,303,171. The process is kind of simple, according to the patent, deposit a little disk of chocolate on a flexible surface, then before it cools completely bend the sides up. (I’d hazard that Pringles are made in a similar fashion - but are fried while in their little forms.)
The package describes them as Luscious, milk chocolate filled with crispy rice puffs. Simply irresistible!
They come in a tray, which is sealed in cellophane. The tray holds three stacks of approximately 12 pieces. Each little flick is two inches long and an inch and a half across, so a bit smaller than a Pringles potato snack.
The package exhorts buyers to enjoy them all year round and suggests serving them with ice cream, coffee or decorating cupcakes. I think it’s safe to say that simply eating them is also a good year-round option. But I can imagine that they melt much quicker in the summer heat than more solid bars.
The milk chocolate is rather dark, much darker than UK and American style dairy milk chocolate. The smell as much like sweetened cereal as they do like chocolate. They break easily and melt pretty well too. The first thing I got was a caramelly sweetness. The cocoa notes do come out and are quite woodsy. The rice crisps are crunchy, but not overly present as a texture as they disappear quickly. It does give a little malty flavor to it though.
Overall, a good little treat. It’s very easy to manage portions, because each piece is so light but takes a while to consume. They suggest a full stack of 12 pieces (1.5 ounces) but I found that about 8 or 9 was plenty and stretched out the package for four portions. I feel like it’s priced rather expensive, but a Belgian chocolate bar that actually weighs less often costs more. There’s a lot of packaging, but it’s well engineered since every single piece was whole and nothing was melted or bloomed.
They come in a variety of flavors: Caramel, Almond, Hazelnut, Dark and Mint. They’re not the first company to make this sort of thing. For a few years Hershey’s made a version called Swoops, which were pricey and didn’t catch on. Fast Company recently did a brief profile on the product line.
Belgian Chocolate Thins contain gluten, dairy and soy plus may contain traces of other tree nuts. (There’s no statement about peanuts, but they are made in Belgium where peanuts are less common.)
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The combination of sweet and savory is nothing new. Peppers and chocolate were traditionally mixed together in Central America. Here in North America we’ve come full circle again with the new craze of adding spicy peppers to everything.
One of the classic hot pepper sauces is McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco sauce, made in Louisiana from tabasco peppers. Tabasco sauce was first produced in 1868, so it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for it to be combined with chocolate. (Though I do recall a strange hot pepper chocolate fudge someone gave me in the 90s.)
I picked up this little tin of McIlhenny Co Tabasco Brand Spicy Chocolate that holds 1.75 ounces at Cost Plus World Market. Right now they’re featuring it in their Christmas area with the stocking stuffers, but I think they carry it year round.
Like other Chocolate Traveler products, it’s a disk of chocolate divided into eight “slices”. The circle of pieces is about three inches in diameter, so each little slice is about 1.5 inches long and about one inch wide.
The portioning is great, each piece is only 30 calories and less than seven grams.
The pieces are thick, easy to grasp and pull out of the tin and bite. The chocolate is semi-sweet (55% cacao), not terribly smooth and any graininess I noted was probably from the peppers. There are no milk products added, so this can be considered a vegan product (though it’s processed in a shared facility with dairy, peanuts and nuts if it’s an allergy issue).
The sweetness is a little distracting, but gives way to a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The spicy burn of the red pepper comes in slowly but is quite noticeable, especially as a cumulative effect over several pieces. The pepper has a distinctive and notable Tabasco note to it, as there is a little bit of distilled vinegar in there.
As someone who’s not overly fond of Capsaicin heat, this was probably about as hot as I can take. So if you’re craving something really hot, this is probably not going to do much for you. The tin is absolutely lovely and would probably be useful to hold small things like jewelry, maybe some earphones or sewing items. It’s a great gift item for less than $5 mostly because of the packaging, but since Christmas can be a hard time for gift giving, this might fit the bill for a gift basket for a pepper fan or a stocking stuffer.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.