Cost Plus World Market is an American chain of stores with a specialty area of imported and domestic candies.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
On an episode of Candyology 101 last year we talked about this new product called PEZ Hedz. The come in two varieties currently, Bearz and Hello Kitty. I picked up the PEZ Hedz Hello Kitty variety because they were strawberry and raspberry flavored ... two winning flavors from the start.
The whole PEZ branding on them was kind of odd, I wouldn’t expect good candy out of them, because PEZ is really a toy company, not a candy company. Their toys just happen to have candy in them. However, PEZ Heds are made by Katjes in Germany. If it didn’t say that on the package, I would have guessed from its origin and the fact that they’re just the cutest little deposit molded faces. Katjes also makes other face-shaped candies like Tappsy and Percy Pig. So, that was a good sign, because Katjes does a great job with their candies.
I wanted to post this review after detailing what is and isn’t a gummi candy, just to clear up any confusion. Pez rightfully calls these soft candy chews, as they’re not quite gummis. The ingredients are interesting as they use a base of glucose (wheat syrup that’s gluten free) and sugar that’s thickened with pectin and potato protein. Though the colorings are from all natural sources, the flavors are a mix of natural and artificial.
When I first looked at them through the clear window in the package, they looked a lot like the Katjes Tappsy, which is a foamy gummi. (They’re not quite marshmallows, but a little fluffier than gummis.) There are two colors, the striking white face with the pink bow is the traditional Hello Kitty and is strawberry. The light pink color with the purple bow is raspberry.
The faces are big, about 1.5 inches wide and 1 inch high. They’re smooth to the touch, kind of like a cross between the soft texture of a river pebble and the flexibility of an eraser. Until I ate one, I wasn’t quite sure what the texture was going to be.
The texture is very smooth with a really vibrant flavor.The strawberry has a mostly tangy note at first with good floral and cotton candy scents that waft around when eating it. The pieces are big, kind of two bite portions. The raspberry was much more floral, a little on the soapy side but with a creamy vanilla note towards the end. The bows were actually more dense and sweet versions of the face.
The texture was a little tooth-sticky, like Swedish fish, but ultimately a little cleaner feeling in the end. There were no weird aftertastes (probably because there’s no Red 40 in there), so I found them to be exceptionally pleasant. I found they went really well with some strong black tea in afternoon.
They’re in no way like a vegetarian gummi, they don’t pretend to be. They’re more like Swedish Fish, with a bit of personality.
The package says they’re 99% fat free, gluten free, vegetarian and gelatin free. There’s a bit of beeswax in there, for vegans who were wondering and the package says they may contain traces of milk.
Monday, February 16, 2015
One of their new introductions is the Ritter Sport Fine Extra Dark Chocolate 73% Cocoa (also called Amargo Extrafino).
The bar is much darker than their regular bars at 73% and is made from West Africa and Ecuadorian-sourced cocoa beans. Though the format of this bar is new I’m not sure if the concept really is, I’ve had a very dark bar from Ritter Sport before, though my tasting notes reveal it’s a bit different.
Generally, I love Ritter Sport’s milk chocolate. They make a very creamy product, and actually work with several different recipes for use in different bars. Their dark bars, for the most part, are one of the better at the price point, but I don’t eat the plain dark bars, I go for the bars that have nuts or marzipan. So, the idea of picking up a Ritter Sport over the many other very dark bars out there means that it’s going to need something special to turn my head.
The format for this bar is different from their usual 16 squares. Instead, it’s 36 pieces (a 6 x 6 instead of a 4 x 4 array).
The deep scoring makes the pieces easy to snap off. They’re nearly pyramidic, so a little awkward in shape in the mouth. There’s a fair amount of cocoa butter, so it has an easy and quick melt. For the most part the particle size is small, so it’s smooth ... but there were the odd gritty bits from time to time.
The cocoa flavors are overwhelmingly earthy. There are not fruit notes, except for perhaps a little green banana. The rest was like coffee, brownies and toasted coconut. It’s woodsy and deep. It’s satisfying and not at all bitter, though there’s a dry bite to it, but the cocoa butter covers up at the very end.
When I ran the numbers for the calories per ounce, I was a little shocked that it came out so high, though cacao content also includes cocoa butter for that percentage. So this bar has a lot of cocoa butter, far more than most dark bars.
This feels very much like the texture that Dove lovers might gravitate towards. I might buy it again, but I really want some nuts in it, maybe even a little salt hint somewhere. But if Ritter Sport starts using this chocolate base for other bars, I’d be very interested in going down that road with them.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was traveling earlier this week. I went to San Francisco to the Fancy Food Show. Though I drove, I still carried some gums with me, as driving over a few of the passes make my ears pop and the drive can be monotonous.
Glee Gum is made with natural chicle and natural colorings, quite rare on the market these days.
The chew is soft, the candy shell has a crispness that doesn’t last long. It’s not a thick shell that makes little crunchies in the gum, it dissolves quickly. The flavor is sweet with a mild but indistinct citrus note to it. It’s kind of like a lemon chamomile tea. The sweetness fades quickly, though it is rather cool on the tongue for a while, as most xylitol candies and gums are. The zest continues, and gets a little more intense after about 4 or 5 minutes ... then I think the gum is done as far as the flavor goes. The chew is still good, in fact, I prefer the chew of the sugarless Glee to the sugared kind ... it’s slightly stiffer and doesn’t stick as much.
After chewing the gum, about a half an hour later, I thought my mouth was still rather fresh feeling. Not a lingering mint, but just a sort of jasmine tea freshness. The citrus doesn’t go well with coffee, but for getting rid of coffee breath, it’s pretty good. Xylitol, as a sweetener, is actually good for dental health, so I’m trying to get into the habit of chewing in the afternoon to freshen up my mouth.
Spearmint is a largely underutilized flavor in the confectionery world. Peppermint is the default, though as herbs go, spearmint is far more ubiquitous and easier to grow. The dark green pieces are naturally colored and quite appealing. They don’t smell like much, it’s not like sticking your nose in a half-emptied packet of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, which always smelled so fresh.
The shell on the sugary variety is a little crunchier, though not by much. The flavor of the spearmint is mild and pleasant, but not overt like an Altoid. The chew is soft, though it stiffens up and gets a little bit sticky at times as the minutes pass. I was able to manage some moderate bubbles at time, though I was much better at cracking my gum with this version.
The sugar faded away within minutes, though the herbal and grassy spearmint notes hung around for quite a while after. After discarding the gum, the minty freshness dissipated within about 5 minutes.
When I first tried Glee Gum years ago, I didn’t care much for it. It’s certainly grown on me and it’s become my go-to gum for traveling. Partly because of the natural ingredients and partly because I like the chiclet style and simplicity of the boxes.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Combining spirits with chocolate is pretty common. There’s a new genre, though, the combination of brewed drinks added to chocolate. I picked up the Guinness Luxury Milk Chocolate Caramel Bar at an after Christmas sale, when it was only $1.49 for the Ireland-made bar.
I’m not a beer drinker, as I don’t care for very bitter things, so Guinness has long been on my list of things that I don’t drink. Guinness is a dry stout introduced in Ireland in 1759. It’s quite dark and has a very distinctive look and long history.
Flowing caramel skilfully handcrafted in small batches, flavoured with GUINNESS and set in a creamy milk chocolate shell to create a unique bitter sweet chocolate experience.
So, as is the case with most alcohol-infused chocolates, the stout is mixed with the caramel, not the chocolate itself.
The bar is nicely crafted. It’s a long bar, with domed segments. The indentations between the segments are pretty thin, so my bar was broken in several places, but along those margins. The good news is that the caramel does not enter those segment breaks, so it didn’t become an oozy mess.
It smells distinctly of beer and milk, which really isn’t a pleasant smell in itself, only by association with pleasant experience with actual beer products. The yeasty notes reminded me more of bread, which is a nice combination with chocolate. The milk chocolate is quite sweet, though smooth and a bit on the fudgy side. The caramel filling dominated the flavors, though.
There’s not a lot of caramel in there, but certainly flavorful stuff. It’s the flowing kind, with bready, malty flavors and a definite bitter hop note that wasn’t too distracting. There’s a smidge of salt, but not a lot of toffee or toasted sugar.
I’m curious to try their Guinness Fudge, if it’s done with a lot of butter, because I think the yeasty flavors might go well. I’ll pass on the beer, caramel and chocolate here, though. It’s just too sweet, which is exactly what I wouldn’t want with beer.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Just when I think I’ve finished with my chocolate covered cherry experience, I find another.
Perugina is probably best known for their little foil wrapped Baci hazelnut kisses. But they have a similarly packaged cherry treat ... simply called Cherry on the front but then descriptively named Perugina Dark Chocolate Covered Whole Cherries on the side of the box.
The box is only 1.2 ounces, but I found it on sale at Cost Plus World Market for $1.49, which isn’t a bad price for a single serve imported item like this. There are three pieces, wrapped in red foil, with gold cherries on top; so they’re prettier out of the box. Unwrapped, the chocolate shell was shiny and unmarred.
This chocolate covered cherry is in syrup. The cherry is big, as big as the See’s, but in a smaller cup, so there’s not much room for syrup in there. The flavor of the cherry is mild, as is the sauce that comes with it. I found this refreshing, as it meant that it wasn’t as artificial as some, but also a little bland. The texture of the cherry was as firm or crunchy as others I’ve had in the past week either. The chocolate has a more distinct cocoa flavor, but also isn’t as creamy or integrated. So the cocoa notes are a bit chalky.
I liked these, but not because they were great quality, mostly because they didn’t taste too much like maraschino cherries and weren’t really large and sweet ... which in most cases would be attributes folks would seek out. So, they were cute, but not something I would buy again.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Haribo makes the number one selling gummi bear in the United States, the Haribo Gold Bear. But Haribo makes a wide variety of other gummi candy, including sours. This year Haribo introduced the Haribo Sour Gold Bears which brings together their assortment of five flavors with a sour sand coating.
This new product follows the trend where the sour version of an established candy gets a sour sanding. This has happened with Skittles, Sour Patch Kids (original candy was Swedish Fish) and Sour Punch Straws (Red Vines). I’m not sure why the sour can’t just be in the candy, though I appreciate the texture change.
Right now they’re available in stores in the regular peg bags and in bulk, but I expect they’ll come in other variety packages soon. I picked mine up at Cost Plus World Market, but I know that they’re in pretty wide release. I’m a little irritated at the size of the bag. The bag is the same size it’s always been, but it seems like there’s less and less candy in them. This bag holds 4.5 ounces, but years ago it was 6 ounces.
The back of the package helpfully lists all the flavors with their colors: pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, lemon and orange. Though some of the Haribo gummis use real fruit juice and natural colorings, these use a blend of natural and artificial flavors and artificial colors.
Raspberry (red) - this is one of those bears that make me love Haribo. Their red is raspberry, not cherry. The flavor is more on the tart side of the berry flavors, more like an actual raspberry than a raspberry jam. There are seed notes, but less of the flowery perfume that the standard bear delivers.
Orange is fun. The outside starts nicely tart, but not too puckery ... it’s just enough to give my jaw a little tingle. The sour flavor continues with the gummi itself, though not every flavorful in its own right. It’s missing a lot of the orange peel notes that are usually in a Haribo Bear, but this is still fun.
Pineapple (pale) - this has always been my favorite flavor in Haribo bears, and this one is no different. The first touch to my tongue reveals that this is not ordinary sour sanding on the bears ... there’s actual flavor. The pineapple is floral and tangy and zippy, more like fresh pineapple than the canned stuff.
Lemon (yellow) - this is sharp but with a lot of zest and juice notes. It’s not quite as sour as I’d hope a sour bear should be, but it still holds up well as the chew goes along. This one definitely showed that the centers are not just the same Haribo Bears with a sour coating, they’re actually more sour on the inside.
Strawberry (green) - yes, the package confirms that green is strawberry - it’s not lime and it’s not apple. This one is a little disappointing, the sour levels seem uneven and less on the berry spectrum and kind of veers off into watermelon. However, it goes well with all the other bears even if it’s not as intensely flavored.
I liked or loved every bear in this assortment. They’re tried and true classics with a little bit more intensity than the standard Gold Bear. They’re sour, but it took most of the bag over three days to finally burn a hole in my tongue. I’m sad that these didn’t come out 30 years ago, but I’m glad they’re here now.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Ritter Sport has been releasing seasonal variations on their popular square bars for the past few years. Only in the past few years have they appeared reliably on US shelves, and usually for the Winter Editions.
The new Ritter Sport Coffee & Hazelnuts is a new bar, though it combines elements from other existing bars. I found my bar at Cost Plus World Market with the Christmas candies, they had all three varieties for this season, including the return of the Caramelized Almond and the also new Vanilla Crescents. It’s nice to see new bars in the mix, but disappointing that they’re all milk chocolate. This bar was $2.99, a smidge higher than the regulars, which sell for $2.49.
The bar looks like all the other Ritter Sport bars ... a 4x4 grid of sections, each with the Ritter Sport logo on top. This is a filled bar, a coffee cream studded with crushed hazelnuts. It’s a simple concept and rather baffling that no one has been doing this all along.
The ingredients, however, were not promising when it comes to cocoa content:
I’m not against fat, I love the stuff. All that fat made this bar pretty high on the calorie count, 172 calories per ounce ... that’s 600 for the whole bar (for reference the whole hazelnut dark bar has 550 calories for the whole bar). Ritter Sport has been pretty good about the sourcing of its cacao, but they’re not forthcoming about their palm oil. For that reason and others mostly of taste preferences, when buying their bars for just eating, I usually stick to the solid chocolate varieties (or marzipan).
It looks great, smells mildly like coffee and cocoa but mostly sweet. The bite is soft, as most of the milk chocolate Ritter Sports are. The cream center has a cool melt and a vague coffee note to it, but it’s not as strong as the Espresso Bar, which is disappointing. The cream center is a little slick and thin, ultimately. The bar is extremely sweet for something that’s supposed to be coffee and hazelnuts. There are some hazelnuts, enough for a crunch and a touch of gianduia in the center. I really wanted a deep roasted experience ... the mix of the hazelnuts and coffee were promising, but ultimately not as deep as I’d hoped. But if you like Ice Cubes, you’ll appreciate the decadence of this bar. Dark chocolate would improve this bar immensely.
It’s not a bad bar, but like many of the bars that Ritter Sport has been making, especially the filled ones, they’re sweet and too oily without enough flavor. I want more dark chocolate options.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.