Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Just Born, which makes the class Peeps marshmallows and Hot Tamales also make Mike and Ike. Since these are classic candies, recently they’ve been marketing them in nostalgic packaging, sold especially at places like Cracker Barrel and in decade themed gift baskets. Every once in a while they revive a classic flavor mix, as well.
This year Just Born announced the return of their Mike and Ike Cotton Candy, which was discontinued in 2002, and Mike and Ike Root Beer Float.
I’ve been looking for these since they were announced and finally found them at a Dollar Tree in Pennsylvania (but not at two I checked in California). I’m always curious how Mike and Ike does these limited mixes, especially since I know that cotton candy isn’t much of a flavor.
There are two colors in the mix, pink and blue, but it’s unclear if they’re intended to be different flavors of cotton candy.
The box smells like the box, no fruity or floral aromas, nothing that reminded me of the county fair. Cotton Candy isn’t much of a flavor to begin with. Originally cotton candy was just spun sugar, so the flavor is toasted but otherwise just sweet. But somewhere along the way cotton candy was colored (a great choice, in my opinion) and given different flavors. The flavoring of cotton candy is usually subtle, often strawberry or blueberry.
The blue and pink jelly rods tasted the same to me. They’re sweet, with that burnt sugar note and a the lightest hint of strawberries. There’s no tartness, no zest, not much else ... these could be sold without any color at all as minimalist Mike and Ike.
I found the flavor pleasant and clean. The texture as good, they felt fresh, kind of like that feeling I have about 10 minutes after a nice cup of jasmine tea.
I don’t know if I would buy these specifically for the flavor, but because of the extra mild flavor and the pastel colors, they’d be great for a party favor or decorating baked goods.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
I have very little to say about this product today. On Candyology 101, for our first Easter episode, Maria presented some Dollar Tree candies, as a sort of dare. Of course, once I said I might be interested in one of them, I felt compelled to actually follow through. So, off I went to the Dollar Tree to plunder their aisle filled with R.M. Palmer and Ferrara Candy found nowhere else.
The item I expressed I wanted to try was Melster Marshmallow Fluffies with limited edition Spring Flavors: Vanilla, Lemon, Cherry and Green Apple.
Melster is one of two American companies I know that make Circus Peanuts (Spangler is the other) and I always hope that I will find a version of the Marbits-style candy that I actually like. So, my optimism and one dollar got me this bag. Thankfully it’s only 6 ounces, which means there won’t be much waste after I try them and throw them away.
They’re absolutely ugly. The little cartoons on the package are great, but these just look like hammer-wrecked pastel thumbs.
Since I dreaded them, they were far more likely to impress me than not.
The Lemon Yellow one was pleasant enough. The texture of the marshmallow is firm. There’s a slight grain to the fluff, which is pretty dry but not stale. The sweet lemon flavor is light, giving the whole thing the vague taste and texture of an Italian nougat.
The White Vanilla was also nondescript, it had virtually no flavor aside from sugar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact that it had no coloring also meant that there were no strange aftertastes.
Green Apple was mercifully bland, as I was afraid it would be Jolly Rancher-ish. Instead it had a vague note of “flavor” but nothing I could pin down.
Pink Cherry smelled like a new vinyl showercurtain. It tasted like a cross between an antiseptic spray and a generic fruity candle from the dollar store. There was such a bitter aftertaste that upon eating one while taking their photo, I made a mental note to make this the last of my tastings for review. Which is good, because this leaves a long and lingering bitterness.
So, the three decent flavors weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, but that’s only because I thought they’d be as bad as bad could be. The Pink Cherry actually exceeds the expected horribleness.
For an Easter candy, these should be more attractive, not look like actual pre-hatched chicks and ducks or a roadkill bunny. Brach’s also makes a version of these for Easter, which are equally unattractive. This really isn’t a candy that’s likely to wow me, but if you’re a Circus Peanut fan, you might enjoy the variation on the standard Banana flavor.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
One of my favorite candies is malted milk balls. Easter brings the pastel version, which is egg shaped and has a candy coating. I rounded up four of the most popular versions in stores today for a little comparison.
I have various sized bags from Jelly Belly, Necco, Brach’s (Ferrara Candy) and Whoppers (Hershey’s).
Though there are some size differences in the eggs, and some other sizes available from these brands, pastel malted eggs are usually larger than malted milk balls and less focused on the milk chocolate coating.
They’re generally an attractive candy, but with a large variation on the look and texture of the shell and color palettes.
From left to right: Necco Mighty Malts, Jelly Belly, Whoppers and then Brach’s.
Name: Mighty Malts Speckled Malted Milk Eggs
Verdict: It’s too messy to eat around the awful coating, so I can’t recommend these at all for eating, only decoration.
Name: Speckled Chocolate Malted Eggs
Verdict: The shells are very thick, probably too much shell for me and the flavor was not a good mix for the other flavors. I still loved the colors and have eaten two full bags so far this season. However, they’re also very expensive ... about 5 times more expensive than the Necco Mighty Malts, though imminently more edible.
Name: Whoppers Robin Eggs
Verdict: The unappealing pink shells and less appealing mockolate layer just make these unbearable. I actually find myself doing the extra work on the Necco Mighty Malts instead of eating these, even though they have an excellent malt center.
Name: Malted Milk Pastel Fiesta Eggs
Verdict: Of the four, I prefer these, though they still don’t quite shine on their own merits, only in comparison. I’ve eaten two bags so far this season and do find them comforting, but I only keep eating them on the naive hope that I’ll find “a good one” as if that’s ever happened or will happen.
The result of this tour only confirms that I love the idea of a great Malted Milk Pastel Egg, but I haven’t found it yet.
Monday, April 14, 2014
In the list of candy holidays, Easter ranks at the top by creating more Candies You Can Play With than any other. The product name, Creamy Lemonhead and Friends JuJu Flowers, actually sounds weird. A lot of those words don’t seem to go together. The Lemonheads and Friends as a brand doesn’t work for me, as I don’t think that the friends are that identifiable. The word creamy before Lemonhead is absolutely jarring and the idea of Jujus are anachronistic enough but then adding the shape of them just makes for a string of “I don’t think I’ve had that before, have I?”
These pretty morsels aren’t shaped like eggs or rabbits, but simply like little six petal flowers. (For the record, I looked up jujubes, they’re in the same order as roses and do actually have five petals or multiples of five.)
The flavors sounded interesting: marshmallow creme, orange creme, strawberry creme, lime creme and banana creme. The last one, banana creme was the one that really got me. Banana is not a common flavor, so this pretty much was why I plunked down my dollar.
Marshmallow Creme is pretty much flavorless. Not that there’s anything wrong with sugar flavored candy. It was very clean with a light vanilla note. I liked using it as a palate cleanser between the other flavors.
Lime Creme has a rather interesting flavor profile. The creamy background gives this a key lime note, though there’s no tart note to it like actual citrus fruit.
Orange Creme is refreshing. It’s like a creamsicle without the zap of the orange juice. It’s just sweetness with the creamy smoothness of the jelly chew and a hint of zest.
Strawberry Creme , unfortunately, has some red dye flavors that just ruin it for me. It’s more strongly flavored that the other pieces, the strawberry is rather fake instead of clean and fresh, which is too bad. Since there’s no tangy component, a candy like this should taste rather like cotton candy, not a vinyl inflatable beach ball.
Banana Creme was not what I’d hoped. Instead of a creamy, sweet tropical banana flavor ... it really tasted like a bland lemon creme to me. It tasted do much like lemon that I have to wonder if the packaging label was a mistake. Now, as a lemon creme, it’s passable, actually good. It’s like the marshmallow but with the slightest hint of lemon.
All the flavors were mild, but the whole thing was, well, simply pleasant. They’re like Dots, except they don’t stick to my teeth quite as much (but they still stick).
I wouldn’t buy these again for eating, but they are really great looking. Their outside texture is smooth and dry, so they don’t stick together at all. The colors are bright enough that they could be used for something other than Easter, as well. I could see these as a nice jar of candy for a candy buffet for a wedding or shower. They’re certainly inexpensive, at $2 per pound, if you wanted to sort them to use only particular colors, that would be a viable option for many budgets. They’re not gummis, so there’s no gelatin in there. They’re made in a facility with peanuts, tree nuts, milk and soy.
Monday, December 30, 2013
This fall Nestle announced it was launching Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups in January 2014. Butterfinger is an iconic American candy bar, combining peanuts and sugar and chocolate. The bar has been adapted into a half a dozen other formats and confections. There’s were Butterfinger BBs, Butterfinger Crisp, Butterfinger Snackerz, Butterfinger Stixx, Butterfinger Bites, Butterfinger Chocolate Bars and even the caffeinated Butterfinger Buzz.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Nestle decided to take on the cup format and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Nestle plans to go big with their launch of the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups, with a full ad campaign including a commercial during the 2014 Superbowl.
There’s a couple of curiosities about these cups. First, they have no paper cups. They are fluted, but there’s no paper liner on the tray in the package.
The second thing is that they’re not round. The circular base is far smaller than the top, which is a rounded square. There’s quite an angle towards the top which means that the ratio of chocolate to filling changes at the perimeter versus the center.
The cups are described simply as Smooth & Crunchy on the package.
The filling is quite salty. There’s a creamy component that is very sweet, then the chunky, crunchy bits of Butterfinger centers. There’s a very strong artificial butter flavor to the whole thing, much stronger than an actual Butterfinger bar. The chocolate profile itself is overshadowed by the butter flavor of the center, so it’s hard for it to contribute anything other than texture. That said, it’s pretty smooth though sweet. It’s certainly better than the coating on a Butterfinger Bar.
The ingredients are interesting, notably that they’ve removed the artificial colorings from this candy. (Butterfinger Bars have artificial yellow and red food coloring in them.)
Contains milk, soy and peanuts, may contain nuts. No mention of gluten.
The package has the Cocoa Plan logo on the front. This is Nestle’s new initiative to bring sustainable practices to their cocoa growers through education programs. The programs are to help growers use better practices to increase yields, reduce losses as well as creating schools for the children in their communities. It’s an internal program that Nestle operates that does not, as far as I know, have any external audits or benchmarks, though they do also buy from Fairtrade and UTZ certified sources in quantities to match certain products so that they can bear their logo.
There are a lot of similarities between the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It’s probably not a coincidence. Each cup is .75 ounces, with the package holding two totaling 1.5 ounces.
From the above you can see the long and complicated ingredient list for the Butterfinger Cups. The Reese’s cups are far simpler.
Simpler does not necessarily mean better. Both cups have TBHQ in them, which is a preservative (keeps the peanut oil from getting rancid). But both are rather small in mass for a candy bar these days. A Snickers Bar or Butterfinger Bar is over 2 ounces. These cups are kind of puny.
But in the ingredients list, you’ll notice that the Reese’s have no added oils, no fractionated palm kernel oil or hydrogenated rapeseed oil. But I’ve got to admire the bang for the buck I get with the Butterfinger, it has 20 more calories from fat than the Reese’s. Here’s the comparison of the nutritional panels for both cups:
So, the Butterfinger is less salty and just slightly fattier - some of the protein grams of the Reese’s are fat grams in the Butterfinger. This is an odd observation, since the Reese’s Cups I know and love usually have a soft, greasy spot in the center of the chocolate on each cup where the peanut oils have migrated from the peanut butter into the chocolate. As far as I can tell, the Butterfinger Cups are far more stable and consistent.
They’re different candies. They share some of their format and the basic flavors but the textural experience is different. I still prefer the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but that’s probably because I’ve grown up with it. I don’t care for the fake, overly sweet butter flavor of the Butterfinger Bar or these Cups. But I do appreciate the variation in the textures. Overall, I usually go for the smaller ingredients list and I prefer my candy to have the innate oils from the flavor ingredients, not added ones. But it’s a good candy and I think they’ll probably last longer than Butterfinger Stixx.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Sometime about a year ago I picked up some Root Beer Puffs, which were like buttermints but flavored like the soda. A few weeks later I got a note from a company called Red Bird Brand that makes candy puffs in a huge variety of flavors. It took me quite a while to find them, but I did pick up Soft Assorted Puffs at the 99 Cent Only Store that includes 15 different flavors. (Though perhaps not always in the same bag.)
The flavor variety is, well, extraordinary: Peppermint, Cherry, Lemon, Green Apple, Wintergreen, Strawberry, Orange, Grape, Peach, Blueberry, Butterscotch, Watermelon, Cream Penny, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit. There’s a menu guide on the back that shows the key for the combination of colors and stripes. There are about 25 candies in the bag, but the flavors were not distributed evenly.
One of the differences between this style of Puffs and the traditional Buttermint of After Dinner Mint is the size. These are quite large, at about 1 inch across and all of them are individually wrapped. (No more candy dish with the stuck together.)
Cherry was bold and easy to spot. It’s a flavor that’s both heavily scented and with a light tartness to it. It was smooth and had a good melt, but overall, it’s not usually my favorite though at least this didn’t have a lot of red coloring in it.
The flavors not in my bag: Peppermint, Cotton Candy, Passion Fruit and Orange.
For the most part I didn’t like the fruity flavors. The others like butterscotch and wintergreen were more to my liking, even the unflavored Cream Penny were pleasant.
The puffs themselves are quite nice, I liked them more than the variety package. There’s a floral, sort of honey note to them. But they’re also quite cinnamony. I wouldn’t call them hot though, it was a nice heat but they never approached anything like the fire of an Atomic Fireball.
The cinnamon smell is strong, even when they’re in the package, so I had to keep them separated from other candies.
The package for the Assorted Puffs said it was Gluten Free, they’re also Kosher Pareve and appear to be vegan ingredients.
It was strange that I didn’t get the classic Peppermint in the Assorted mix, which is what Red Bird Brand is known for. Overall, the texture was good, they softened up nicely. The package mentions that they’re rather hard when they’re first made, but if you prefer a softer puff, to open the package and wait ... it was true. After a couple of months, mine reached the melt in your mouth texture that I was expecting.
Monday, June 17, 2013
I’m on a bit of a kick with Just Born products, not just because they sent me a package of Peeps last month, but because they’ve got a lot going on with their other product lines. (Once I start, I feel like I have to explore all the versions of a product.)
Mike and Ike have been around for some 70+ years. They’re pretty much jelly beans, sold in boxes in a limited assortment of 2 to five flavors.
The newest Limited Edition version is Mike and Ike Strawberry Reunion. Recently Just Born did a big advertising push for Mike and Ike, including a whole narrative about the characters of Mike and Ike breaking up ... and (spoiler!) getting back together. This version has a strawberry theme, including: Strawberry, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Strawberry Watermelon, Strawberry Tangerine and Strawberry Pineapple.
If you want to read more about the marketing, AdWeek had a nice summation of it.
Strawberry Watermelon is a light pink color with darker spots and completely believable in its flavor. It’s a floral and tart and ends with the watermelon flavor notes without tasting like chemicals.
Strawberry was red rather ordinary, but still a good piece.
Strawberry Banana Smoothie is yellow. It’s tangy at first with an artificial note of banana and none of the creamy component that makes strawberry banana smoothies so great. As an artificial creation though, it’s nice candy.
Strawberry Tangerine is orange and fantastic. Tangy and citrusy and floral all at once. It has a zesty finish to it, instead of being purely sweet.
Strawberry Pineapple is speckled and more peachy. There weren’t as many of these in my box, which is too bad because they were also wonderful. Tart and zippy with more pineapple than strawberry.
Overall, a nice mix, each of them were distinct but could also be combined ... the only one that didn’t like to play with others was watermelon.
Just Born also recently started releasing their candies in classic packaging. To go along with that, they brought back a few of their old flavor varieties. I found the Mike and Ike Lem and Mel and the Mike and Ike Cherri and Bubb at the Dollar Tree.
These are full variety mixes though, each box only contains a pair of flavors ... and odd pairs at that. The packaging has a fifties feel, a little more muted and simplified, but a quick check online shows that the Lem and Mel variety was introduced in 1991 and the Cherri and Bubb was out in 1989 ... back when we had another obsession with nostalgia.
The Mike and Ike - Lem and Mel is yellow and green, featuring Lemon and Watermelon flavored jelly bean rods. The lemon is already found in the classic Mike and Ike fruits box and a pink version of the watermelon is in the RedRageous package.
Lemon is not as sparkly as the Lemonade Blends. It’s sweet and zesty, but not tangy. Watermelon is sweet as well, with only a tart hint and then a sort of cotton candy finish.
Cherri and Bubb is Cherry and Bubble Gum. I bought this variety because of the Bubble Gum Peeps and though maybe I’d review them together, but ended up separating the products this way instead.
The cherry is an odd sort of flavor. It’s very bold, it starts out with a strong wild cherry flavor that reminds me of Sucrets throat drops. Then it gets very sweet and has a little bit of a raspberry note. They’re not for me.
Bubble gum is pink. They seemed a little bit stiffer, not quite as soft and jelly-like as the cherry. This make them seem more bubble gum-like as well. It’s a good bubble gum flavor, a bit on the sweet strawberry side with only the lightest note of wintergreen. It’s fresh and veers off into juicyfruit. There’s no weird aftertaste from the artificial colors, which was my problem with the Peeps.
About 9 years ago I remember a Root Beer Float version of Mike and Ike, I’d like to see those come back ... or maybe a whole soda pop flavor mix.
They’re a really good value, for a buck a box which holds 5 ounces. It’s the kind of price that I don’t feel bad if I throw out the flavors I don’t like. I’d opt for the Strawberry Reunion or the Lemonade Blends out of all the Mike and Ike varieties.
Friday, December 21, 2012
A few years ago Jelly Belly introduced a mix of jelly beans flavored like popular sodas under their Soda Pop Shoppe line. They’re sold as the pre-mixed flavors or in individual packages and even in little soda bottles.
Their newest addition to that brand is their Soda Pop Shoppe Gummi Bottles which are gelatin gummis.
Each little bottle shape is about 1.75 inches long. They’re flat and lightly dusted, perhaps with starch, to keep them from sticking together instead of being shiny.
The ingredients are quite interesting. They start with corn syrup but use potato starch instead of corn starch. They do contain gelatin, but it’s Kosher gelatin (so it’s not pork, but not otherwise identified). They also contain small amounts of coconut oil and caffeine and phosphoric acid. They’re gluten free and peanut free.
To emulate soda bottles, the shapes are “full” of color, though the flavor goes all they way to the top of the bottle. They’re soft but not quite a bouncy as many other gummis. They’re like a cross between a Swedish Fish texture and a gummi bear.
Grape is fun. There aren’t really that many grape gummis around, so it’s refreshing to see it included in a mix. It’s tangy and artificial but not quite as intense as a grape SweeTart which is pretty much my favorite.
Orange is ordinary. I only got one in my mix, so it’s hard to say more than it was just like Tang.
Root Beer is a star. It’s quite spicy and intense, much more than I expected from it’s rather muted appearance. They’re sweet, a little like wintergreen and bubble gum. It’s missing that little pop of nutmeg that sassafras often has, so it came off more like Birch Beer ... not that I object.
Lemon Lime is actually more lime. Lime soda is good, and this has a lot of zest to it and a nice tangy bite. But ultimately it’s just a piece of lime candy, which always ends up as one of the last flavors I pick when included in a mix. (Which is strange considering how affectionate I normally am towards citrus.)
Cherry Cola is, well, disappointing. It tastes to me more like Dr. Pepper, but my experience with actual cherry cola is absolutely empty. The cola flavors are mostly in the background, there’s no spicy cola bite and there’s no cherry tartness, it’s more of the maraschino flavor than a black cherry.
They’re not the first candy I’d pick up, but I love the concept and the execution is pretty good, better than the Trolli version. For folks looking for American-made candy that’s gluten & peanut free and fun for kids, this is a good mix. It’s too bad they didn’t go all the way and use natural colorings and flavorings.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.