Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Friday, October 12, 2012
Darrell Lea is an Australian confectionery company founded in 1927. They were known in Australia for their quaint and classic chocolate and licorice products sold at the company’s branded stores. (The company went into administration earlier this year and was bought out by the Quinn family, who also run VIP Petfoods. The shops are closed, but they’re still making candy.)
Here in the United States were get few of their products on our shelves, with their signature item being the Australian style licorice. I’ve even tried another version of their chocolate covered licorice before.
Cost Plus World Market recently had a big display of Australian and specifically a large array of Darrell Lea confections. I picked up a chocolate covered fudge bar and this package of Darrell Lea Dark Choc Liquorice Bullets.
The package holds 7 ounces, but is jam packed with the candies. It’s a heavy bag, like a bean bag filled with lead shot. The pieces are large. Think of a swollen Good & Plenty. Good & Plenty are about 2/3 of an inch long. These are over one inch. They’re consistent, dark and glossy. They smell like sweet chocolate and nothing like licorice.
The chocolate coating is nicely done, shiny and thick. The flavor is, well, thin. It’s like hot cocoa made with hot water instead of milk. The chocolate notes are like chocolate syrup. The licorice nib beneath is hefty and soft with a solid and satisfying chew. The earthy flavors of the licorice go pretty well with the chocolate. It’s almost bitter with lots of notes of dirt and minerals but not a whole lot of anise, more on the green fennel flavors.
The chew leaves behind lots of sticky bits of the licorice in my teeth and has a sort of rib sticking density as well. The ingredients show that this is real chocolate, though it does contain PGPR (an extra emulsifier) and butter (so it’s not vegan ... though it also lists shellac). The licorice base is wheat flour. It was made in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts. There’s no corn syrup though, which I know some people avoid in a licorice.
I found them satisfying as a candy, but not great as a chocolate product or as a licorice product. I ate the whole bag, but it took me well over a month, as I kept losing interest. They also make a Milk Choc variety, which might have a better balance with the added dairy flavors. I don’t know what the financial restructuring will mean to availability of Darrell Lea products outside of Australia.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Fruit Stripe Gum was launched back in the early 1960s as an extension of Beechnuts broad line of gums and fruity candies. The packages were a mix of five flavors, each with striped colors on the gum sticks. The flavors were cherry, orange, lime, mixed fruit and lemon (picture of early ad).
The history of the gum is rather convoluted, as it’s tied up with Beech Nut, which made both candy and baby food. In 1968 Beech Nut (which had also acquired Life Savers in 1956) merged with Squibb to become Squibb Beech-Nut Corporation. In 1981 Nabisco acquired just the confectionery portion with the brands of Beech Nut and Life Savers. In 1999 Hershey’s picked up the brand from Nabisco along with the more popular Bubble Yum, Ice Breakers, Breath Savers and Care Free gums but then sold off the Fruit Stripes brand, along with Rain Blo, Hot Dog and Superbubble, to Farley’s & Sathers in 2003. Just this year Farley’s and Sathers merged with the Ferrara Pan Candy Company.
The concept of Fruit Stripe Gum is largely unchanged over the years. It’s a flat stick of gum, made from a synthetic chewing gum base with artificial colors and flavors. The flavors are now Wet & Wild Melon, Cherry, Lemon, Orange and Peach.
The paper overwraps for the individual sticks are also temporary tattoos. They feature the mascot for the gum, a zebra known as Yipes.
Peach is Peach Smash and has a fresh flavor to it. It wasn’t my favorite, but not too fake or sour. The gum is smooth, the sugar is very sweet, so sweet that I kept checking the label to see if it was some sort of artificial sweetener. I’m actually not accustomed to chewing stick gum, as I prefer the candy coated chiclet styles for the variation in textures.
Yellow is Lemon and as expected, it’s the most sour of the set. The lemon flavor is like chewing on a candle, not at all like a fresh or zesty real lemon, though there are some more zesty notes towards the end but those are reminiscent of cleaning supplies.
Orange is Orange - the flavor starts strongly artificial, sweet and tangy with only a slight grain to it. Later chewing brings out more artificial notes, including the colorings, which have a slight metallic and bitter note to them.
Red is Cherry and seems odd, if only because it’s cherry gum, which isn’t that common. It reminded me a lot of Cherry Life Savers. The flavor lasted longer than the peach and faded into a kind of woodsy medicinal thing that was actually better than the initial overly sweet thing.
Green is Wet Watermelon (but in a pink wrapper) which was much better than I expected. I didn’t care much for the tartness of it at first, but the fake watermelon was rather fresh tasting and lasted longer than I expected.
Overall, it’s passable gum. I’m not that fond of it, but it does offer advantages over most packs of gum in that there’s a variety of flavors. Fruit flavored stick gum has become much more common in the past 10 years, though it was always around in bubble gums, especially the gumball style.
Here’s a classic ad for the gum from the early 1990s:
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
The Cadbury Wispa was introduced in 1981 in the United Kingdom. The Wispa was later reformulated and rebranded as the Cadbury Dairy Milk Bubbly Bar in 2003 (2005 review). Fans of the classic bar clamored for the original, which returned as a regular item in 2008.
The ingredients have nothing special in them that mentions the carbonation (extra nitrogen). It’s just the same ingredients as any Cadbury Dairy Milk bar in the UK: milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, dried skimmed milk, vegetable fat, emulsifer (E442), flavouring. It’s the vegetable fat that sets it apart in the UK from Australia or the US.
Hershey’s recently introduced Air Delight (review) to the US, and wasn’t the first to bring aerated chocolate to the masses. It just doesn’t go over here in the States. I notice a consistent comment from consumers (even if it is from a minority) is that they think that the candy companies are making cheaper candy by putting air in it. The odd thing is that I don’t hear the same thing about marshmallows being filled with air, it’s just part of the texture of the product.
The Wispa bar is milky and a tad malty, slightly salty. It’s not as sweet or sticky as a traditional Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate slab. The aeration helps it melt quickly, but also gives it a drier feeling on the tongue. Often I find Cadbury to be a very soft bar, but this was more crumbly and less fudgy. The bubbles are smaller and denser than the Nestle Aero and many other bubbled chocolates that I’ve tried. It’s no better or worse as far as texture goes, just a slight difference.
The bar contains dairy and soy. No mention of gluten or any nuts. Some of Cadbury’s items are being ethically sourced, including their most popular Dairy Milk Bar in the UK, but the Wispa is not on that list yet. I’m not certain about what kind of vegetable fat is used in the bar, as UK standards don’t require listing it specifically, so there’s no word on its sustainability.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.