Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
I know there are a lot of blogs out there that review candy these days, but somehow I feel alone in my obsession for licorice. (And I feel sometimes that I’m alienating my non-licorice loving readers by featuring something black every week.)
I picked up this cute little can from Van Slooten called Flowers & Butterflies Mix of Sugared Liquorice. It’s Dutch and as far as I could tell, was a mix of salted and sweet licorice much like the previous little can I picked up and reviewed of Licorice Figures. It seemed a bit pricey, something the size of a can of beans that cost $3.99, but they really packed the candy in there, it’s over a half a pound at 8.82 ounces.
The mix inside was as described, at least six different shapes and as far as I could tell, three different varieties.
Gummi Flower & Tulip is chewy and dense but with a very mild flavor. It was mostly a toasted sugar flavor, sort of like a marshmallow and some light anise. That was it. I liked it and I ate them all. At first I didn’t realize that the tulip was the same as the flatter 10 petal flower. But once the tulips were gone (yes, I ate them first), I figured it out.
Butterflies are a great medium brown color with sparkly grains of sugar. There are two shapes for the butterflies, but I found the texture and flavor to be the same with them. I expected a griotten flavor and texture, which is a light and airy gummi with a salted licorice flavor. These did have that brown sugar and salted licorice flavor but with instead the texture was sort of tacky and chewy. I can’t say that it as quite a gumdrop, but it definitely wasn’t a gummi marshmallow. I enjoyed these, the salt was quite noticeable but not so much of the ammonia aftertaste taste that I don’t care for.
Gumdrop Flower is really chewy and has a strong molasses flavor. Aside from the grainy sugar coating, it’s quite smooth. I enjoyed it at first, but then there’s a tangy element that creeps in along with something metallic, then I got a hit of the ammonia. As long as I alternated them with the other versions, I found them passable. Ultimately I was left with a dozen of them in the bottom of the can.
I would eat these again, especially for the milder gummi varieties. They’re also pretty and I like the compact, easy to open and close package.
Candy Gurus tried their Fruit Gums called Fun & Sun Fruit Gum
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The company also introduced a line of sugar free, all natural mints called Minteas recently that come in these attractive leaf shaped (or surfboard, take your pick) tins. They’re also expensive, but a little more affordable considering the number of servings in the $2 package. I picked out the Minteas Retreat: Lemongrass Yuzu.
The bottom of the tin says: Get away with the soothing calm of wild-crafted lemongrass and the comforting citrus of Japanese yuzu. Relaxing chamomile offers the perfect antidote to stress. A sanctuary for the senses.
The tin says that they use organic botanicals and fair trade certified, organic white tea. (The fair trade tea is a minor component in the ingredients, the second to the last element, right before calcium stearate. There is also some plain old organic green tea in there.) They’re sweetened with sorbitol and xylitol, natural sugar alcohols that feel cool on the tongue and have fewer calories per gram than regular sugars.
The scent of the candies is quite nice, if you like Murphy’s Oil Soap or other citrus based cleaning products and candles, you’ll love this. Each little leaf shaped piece is a little longer than a half an inch. The pressed tablet candy dissolves or crunches, depending on your eating style.
The first thing I get is a sharp, bitter zest note. It’s not quite lemon and not quite grapefruit. It’s yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus similar to a grapefruit in its flavor components, only it’s usually the size of a lemon or orange and costs about $30 a pound here in Los Angeles. There are more floral blossom notes to it than just oily zest.
The little mint has a slight lemongrass note as well, which is kind of gingery and soft. There are other herbal and tea flavors in there, some green tea, which might also contribute some of the bitterness and soapy notes and chamomile, which always reminds me of catnip.
As far as “mints” go, these do have a long lasting flavor, a sort of jasmine freshness that lingers after the candy is gone. But the flavor while it’s in my mouth is a bit bitter, a little too much for me.
The package says that the product was designed in the USA but made in China. However the website says that the “source” of the ingredients is Egypt for the chamomile (ingredient #5 on the list) and Japan for the yuzu (not specifically listed as an ingredient, but probably is part of the “natural flavors” of ingredient #3. I feel misled about their transparency. If they’re going to say that something contains fair trade and/or organic ingredients, I also want to know where all the other ingredients come from. The website says they’re gluten free but makes no mention of their vegetarian/vegan status or any nuts or other allergens.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Taste of Nature has nugget-ized many favorite sweet snacks with their line of Cookie Dough Bites. One of their new offerings is Cinnamon Bun Bites which promises bite size cinnamon bun pieces in a white chocolatey coating.
The box for Cinnamon Bun Bites is eye catching, I spotted it quite easily at Cost Plus World Market as a new item that I was seeking. The front of the box says that they’re new and have fresh from the oven taste. It’s been quite a few years since I had a fresh cinnamon bun, but I admit that enjoy the hot ones with the white sugary glaze (though the pecan sticky rolls are still one of my favorites). The essential elements of a cinnamon bun would be the chewy, yeasty dough, the cinnamon and the sticky, sugary glaze that pulls it all together.
The nuggets vary quite a bit in size but most are disk-like and about a half an inch around. They do actually smell like sweet cinnamony rolls. The waxy and greasy white coating is made of sugar and palm kernel oil with some other stuff thrown in, but basically it’s nothing like real white chocolate or even a vague approximation except for the fact that it’s white. The doughy center has a slight texture of a batter with distinct undissolved sugar and the flavor of cinnamon and raw flour.
I found it much better than I expect. I fully thought they would be disgusting and inedible. I’m not saying that they’re great or something that I’m even interested in eating, but I found the cinnamon flavor and sweetness level (which was rather moderate) to be passable. The white coating is simply terrible though, a real white chocolate might actually make these into a unique candy. Since I reviewed these after the Cupcake Bites, they really couldn’t fare much worse by comparison.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
In the world of trends in sweets, one of the biggest has been the rise of cupcakes. There are hundreds of blogs devoted to the various iterations of the small baked goods. Of course the trend is not limited to actual cupcakes, there are all sorts of merchandising opportunities as well as spin-off products like Cupcake Bites from Taste of Nature, the same company that makes Cookie Dough Bites.
The box is actively ugly with a mix of styles and cultural references that make little sense to me. First, the color yellow (background) with the pink “frosting” top with sprinkles is The Simpsons (see the movie poster) and the text style isn’t an exact copy but there are definite similarities. Other than that, the fonts are a mess, at least five different ones from different font families, a mix of serif, san serif and handwriting.
The description on the back (which is even uglier as they introduced green drop shadow text in yet another font) says: Bite sized cupcake morsels coated with sprinkles and white frosting. They’re egg free, kosher and made in the USA.
The concept is the same as the Cookie Dough Bites, a little moist nugget of some wheat based, sweet nodule is then covered in a confectionery coating. Here are the ingredients:
I’m just amazed that the White Kreemy Coating product doesn’t have a trademark notice associated with it. And no, that’s not a typo on my part with the listing of the first two ingredients for the white cake nor the lyrics to an Archies song.
The nuggets are unappealing. They look like white molding clay that’s been rolled around in other little bits ... it looks like the aftermath of a Mr. Bill clip.
The matte exterior is soft and has a light sweet scent, like inhaling a cake mix. The Kreemy Coating doesn’t even rise to the level of fake white chocolate, it’s just a stiff, sweet and slightly greasy coating. The cake center is a little doughy with a faint raw flour flavor to it. The whole effect is an absolute replication of bad grocery store sheet cake. Very sweet, mushy textures and no actual flavor to speak of.
The timing of the product is a little late for the trend, but I’m sure the company will still get some mileage out of it, as they’re the only product like it on the shelves. But if you get a chance, maybe try the cupcake bites on sticks that started this craze.
Like the other Cookie Dough Bites products, the theater box comes with a clear plastic bag inside that actually holds the candy (so eating it at the movies involves opening it before the show starts unless you want to make a lot of noise). Though the package notes that it’s egg free, it’s actually made in a shared processing environment so they have an allergen notice for soy, wheat, milk, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Back in the roaring twenties there was a new innovation, it was chocolate syrup. Hershey’s led the way, but there were many other brands, such as Bosco, which not only had chocolate in it but also a touch of malt.
I remember Bosco pretty well, I think it was best known on the Eastern Seaboard. Hershey’s was probably the most popular of all, but I preferred Ovaltine since it had a stronger malt flavor and wasn’t so chalky at the bottom of the glass of milk.
I heard last year that Bosco Milk Chocolate Bars were coming out. This was an exciting development. I love how nostalgic brands are being revived and was looking forward to tasting a malted chocolate bar.
Here’s an old series of commercials for Bosco Syrup. The picture quality isn’t great, but the approach to the product and the unabashed joy still comes through.
I finally spotted the bars at Cost Plus World Market, which usually carries the nostalgic candies. The bar is the standard 3.5 ounce large bar. The package says Special Edition Collector’s Series. I don’t know who wants to collect chocolate bars, unless they’re just talking about the wrapper. The wrapper also says that it’s all natural (and Kosher).
The bar doesn’t actually look that good unwrapped. It’s poorly molded, there are lots of bubbles and voids, easily seen when I flipped over the bar when I took it out to photograph.
The ingredients are all natural, it’s true. The list is very short: sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin, vanilla. Remember when I said that Bosco was a malted chocolate syrup? Well, this is not a malted chocolate bar.
So as a milk chocolate bar it’s quite ordinary. You’ll notice the ingredients listed sugar first, it is most definitely sweet. The milk flavors come next and are strong with a slight powdered milk note to them. The chocolate flavors are faint and evoke cardboard, musty and sawdust flavors for me. Frankly, the chocolate tasted no better than the R.M. Palmer stuff I eschew around Easter.
It’s such a disappointing bar. The price wasn’t bad, at $1.99, I’ve certainly spent more in the past. But if you’re buying this for nostalgia, make sure it’s for the package and not the flavor.
The bar is distributed by Praim Group, not a well known brand but you may recognize their other partner, Bloomsberry & Co, which also make ho-hum chocolate in clever packages.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Yes, I’m the type of person who eats sugar straight. Mostly brown sugar, but sometimes raw sugar and of course honey. Then there’s maple sugar. That’s a kind of sugar that’s actually marketed in little molded shapes to be eaten straight by non-sugar-obsessed folks.
Big Sky Brands of Canada is known for their little compressed sugar candies like Jones Soda Carbonated Candies and Yogen Fruz Smoothies. Their new Maple Ice Mints Original are far more subtle and dare I say, elegant.
The tin is rather ordinary but does the job. It has all the convincing faux wood grain of a early 1980s station wagon. It’s about 3.25 inches long and 1.75 inches wide.
Inside the tin are 30 little mints, each is about the size of an extra strength aspirin. They have a small maple leaf on one side. They smooth but leave a little powdery residue. They smell woodsy and sweet, like maple. The ingredients list both cane sugar and maple sugar, the color of them is a light sandy white and since there are no artificial colors in there, I’m guessing that’s the maple sugar that does that.
They’re sweet and have a light fresh mint hint far in the back, but mostly they’re a soft maple flavor. The great thing about the maple flavor is that it’s not sticky like the syrup and other sugar candies.
The problem with them is the price, I suppose. They were about $2 for less than an ounce. It’s tough in a Tic Tac and Altoids world to sink twice as much money into these. They’re not minty enough for me to consider them a mint, in that mints are consumed one or two at a time and then set aside for another day. Nope, I wanted to eat the whole box of them at once. I succeeded in eating them in three separate sittings. They still leave my mouth fresh and were wonderful with tea or just as a little delight in the middle of computer frustrations.
The package doesn’t say anything about the gluten status or nuts but they do appear to be all natural and probably vegan. (There’s calcium stearate in there, but I’ve never seen a candy that uses an animal source for the ingredient since the vegetable version is so cheap.)
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Around Christmas Cost Plus World Market usually has an eclectic collection of candies for entertaining and gifting. Many of their products are brands that have very little presence in the United States but are really well priced.
I saw this package of mixed chocolates called Sorini Maxipiu Assorted Chocolate Pralines. It’s a big bag, 500 grams (17.63 ounces) but I was attracted to it even though it was on the bottom shelf because it just looked so different from the little novelty marzipan, torrones and panettone on the shelves. I didn’t recognize the Sorini brand name but the images on the package made the assortment look like a good bet.
The chocolates are nicely packaged and easily distinguished. They’re all in a bright gold mylar with clear print that says what’s inside. There’s also an inner paper-backed foil that just covers the candies and seems to cushion them and keep them from getting scuffed.
There were five varieties. Most of my assortment consisted of the Cereali and Arancia (well over half of the 42 pieces). The other three were Nocciola, Creme and Cocoa Beans.
The Arancia (Orange) is a dark chocolate piece. The chocolate shell is thin but has a nice sheen and crisp snap. The pieces are about an inch and a quarter long, so a nice piece to put in your mouth whole or take two smaller bites.
It smells a lot like orange, but more like orange extract than orange zest. It’s like sniffing a bottle of baby aspirin.
The chocolate center is soft but not creamy, it’s more like a Frango. However, it has a smooth melt once it warms in the mouth. The chocolate notes are strong enough to stand up to the one-note of orange. It’s a bit on the dry side and a little bitter but the chocolate also has a fair amount of sugar in it. It was better when eaten as an accompaniment, like with coffee or strong tea.
I was disappointed that I only got three of the Nocciola and used two in the photo shoot. (I should have been paying more attention.)
There’s a milk chocolate shell with a darker hazelnut paste cream filling. Inside was a half of a hazelnut. It was nutty and fresh but could have used more of a chocolate punch. I would have preferred more of these instead of all the orange ones.
The Cereali is a big milk chocolate ball filled with a milk chocolate cream and crisped rice. The size is similar to a Lindt Lindor truffle, about one inch in diameter.
These are fun because of the texture variations. They smell sweet and very milky. The chocolate shell is milk chocolate and very soft, the center is even softer but has a good sugary cocoa texture that’s extremely sweet but at least not as greasy as the Lindor. There are little crispy rice bits that provide a little hint of malt and salt.
I would prefer a bit richer chocolate, something that’s not quite so sweet.
The Creme piece is basically a milk chocolate truffle.
It smells milky and sweet with a little hint of cocoa (and a bit of a whiff of orange from the other chocolates). The milk chocolate cream center is soft and though not quite silky, it’s very smooth.
It’s a bit like eating a bit spoonful of chocolate frosting. I wasn’t that keen on them, but there weren’t that many of them (I think six), so it was easy to eat around them or just kind of grin and bear it until it was time to eat another variety that I preferred.
Cocoa Beans Crema Caffe was the most interesting of the bunch. Unfortunately all four pieces I got were slightly bloomed. It wasn’t a bad bloom that made the chocolate hard or chalky, just a very slight white haze on the spheres.
The dark chocolate shell has a good flavor profile balanced with woody and coffee notes and a light fruity plum note. The cream center is a mix of strong, sweet coffee and cacao nibs. There are toffee and caramel hints along with the crunchy texture of the cacao nibs.
I paid only $6.99 for well over a pound, so I thought it was a good deal for an assortment. They’re not really my style, I prefer chocolate that’s darker or with more powerful flavors. I wouldn’t say that they’re a great hostess gift, at least not in this bag, maybe if you put them in jar or basket. They do look nice though out of the bag and are an easy item to put into a candy bowl to share with folks for the holidays. They’re individually marked, which is a plus and they are different enough. I don’t know if Lindt fans would be satisfied with the milkier flavor and less slick texture but maybe if you’re looking for something to satisfy a larger crowd they’re a good choice. But if you like something like Ferrero Rocher, I’d say stick with those ... these aren’t for folks looking for nuts.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I like the licorice style known as Rockies, they’re a black licorice tube filled with a cream, which is usually flavored. Many European versions are made with salted licorice, but according to this list of ingredients, it was sweet licorice. This package didn’t say what the flavors were (there was another variety that were filled with a pastel cream that said Fruit) but the ingredients mentioned cocoa, mint, coffee and toffee flavors.
The illustration on the box appears to show four varieties (white, caramel, gray and brown) but I could really only discern three ... and I ate the whole box.
They were just a little sticky in spots but were fresh and moist. The bag smelled nicely of licorice and toffee with a little hint of smoke, beets and molasses. Each is about 3/4 of an inch long and varied in diameter, though most were about 1/3 of an inch.
The middle pieces, the light beige ones were a coffee flavored center. This was fascinating. I like the combination of licorice and coffee and it’s not an easy pair to find together. The center is a little grainy, like frosting. It’s sweet and has a very mellow coffee and toffee note to it. The licorice flavors and the texture of the licorice chew were at the front with the most dominance. I found myself picking through the package to find these.
The darkest looking centers were chocolate, I think. It was a sort of Tootsie Roll version of chocolate. There were some vague cocoa notes but it was rather empty and couldn’t compete with the licorice and sugar flavors.
The white ones appear to be mint. The mint fondant filling is soft with a bit of a crumble though not completely dry. The minty notes are peppermint and menthol. It’s a strange combination with the licorice, the whole thing has a medicated vibe but it’s also fresh and doesn’t feel heavy like some other licorice can. The mint though was very strong and overshadowed the licorice notes.
Overall in this mix, the actual licorice wasn’t that strong. I liked it, it made it very munchable without giving me that feeling that I was eating too much licorice (it can have side effects) but it also left me wanting more licorice/anise punch.
I don’t know why there aren’t American licorice candies like this, it’s rather like Licorice Allsorts, but without the coconut. I’d venture that many folks who say they don’t like licorice might like it in this version where it’s just a container, not the main event.
I saw that Cost Plus World Market also carries the plain licorice and salted licorice from Halva, I’m thinking I might want to try their straight varieties. I get the impression that this isn’t the most elegant variety from Finland (which is known for its licorice), it’s more like the kid’s version of licorice or mass-produced like Twizzlers or Red Vines though I’m guessing with better ingredients (but perhaps some Finnish readers can help with that).
These contain gelatin, so are not vegetarian.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.