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.
Monday, November 05, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
This new version is amped up in size and has another twist, actual flavors to the candy buttons (the classics may be flavored, but it’s not perceptible). They’re called Candy Sweet Spots and they’re made in China by Greenbrier International, Inc.
The package is big. The strips are 11 inches long and 4.25 inches wide. There are three strips inside, which provides a full 2.4 ounces of candy - I paid a buck for it.
I’ve never seen a package include, perhaps even advertise, the word artificial so much. The name of the candy might actually be Candy Sweet Spots Artificially Flavored. Then at the bottom there’s a little arrow that points up to the candies themselves that also exalts, “Assorted Artificial Fruit Flavors!”
The package goes on to list all of the flavors, right there on top of the actual candies in the see through package. I appreciate the information.
Yes, they are bigger than the traditional paper buttons. For the most part they’re 1/3 to 1/2 of an inch in diameter. The old style buttons are a little less than 1/4 of an inch.
They come in four flavors: Artificial Cherry, Artificial Orange, Artificial Lemon and Artificial Raspberry. There are fifteen Sweet Spots of each flavor on each sheet.
The Sweet Spots are pretty much regularly sized and shaped. The bonus over their traditionally sized cousins is that these come off the paper rather easily. I had no trouble getting them off, no bits of paper stuck to the bottom. But they do leave a little residue of color/candy on the paper (so you can’t reuse the paper for notes or anything).
Cherry (red) is sweet and mild, it has an actual authentic artificial taste to it and even a little note of Red #40.
They’re really not that good as candy, but as something to amuse a small child for a while, they’re okay. They’re also made in China and contain gelatin and artificial flavors and colors.
I would say that they’re a good accent item, but the original Candy Buttons are too. You can peel them off the paper and put them on a decorated cake or cupcake, which is especially useful if you just want to do a plain uncolored frosting and not have to mix anything else. (And easy for kids to do.) Unless you’re looking for something in a larger scale, I’d say move along to some candy that’s actually good. But if you can’t resist the look of these, well, the price is good and the quality of the colors makes them at least a good deal as decorations. Other party ideas include hanging a strip on the wall to make “lickable wallpaper” or as an accent behind a candy buffet.
There’s another version of these called Mega Candy Buttons which are actually even bigger and are Kosher (so probably don’t have gelatin in them).
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Zachary has distinguished itself in the past few years as the premiere maker of offbeat flavors for Candy Corn (Egg Nog, Tangerine, Gingerbread, Creme Brulee and Cinnamon Fangs to name a few). They also have a line of economical mints, mostly available in discount and dollar stores.
I’ve noticed that their mints come in the after dinner patty variety, the Thick Mint and now I’ve found these Zachary Mini Mints in a theater box. It holds 3.85 ounces and inside the box is a little cellophane bag to keep the mints fresh.
They also make a little Chocolate Coated Caramel too, like Milk Duds, I did a taste comparison with those last year.
The package is functional and distinctive enough that it caught my attention. The background is a flat, medium green with a starburst of a darker green shade behind the logos and product image. It describes the candy as bite-sized cool creamy naturally flavored peppermint covered in real chocolate. This particular box has 10% more free, so my guess is that there are other even plainer looking boxes out there with only 3.5 ounces in them.
The topography isn’t offensive or riotous like the Cookie Dough Bites family of products, so at least they had that going for them. But the quality level of the product feels like it deserves something a little better. The world of design has changed, bad design costs the same amount to print as good design, so the difference in overall price for making something that’s pedestrian is pretty much nominal.
All that aside, it’s about what’s on the inside, after all. The ingredients here are pretty good - like the package said, it’s naturally flavored. It’s real semi-sweet chocolate (with some dairy in it) and a fondant center made of sugar, some gum arabic and egg whites along with some other ingredients including oil of peppermint. There’s a confectioners glaze on the outside to complete the trifecta of animal ingredients to make this off limits to all but those lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores.
The pieces are big and slightly ovoid. The tallest were about 3/4 of an inch. The chocolate shell is thick, shiny and nicely tempered. The mint fondant center is firm and mostly dry, though not quite as crumbly as the center of a York Peppermint Pattie is. It’s almost doughy, except that it doesn’t have a flour/cake note to it. The chocolate coating is smooth and creamy, except for the slightly waxy coating. The mint is mild but pretty much perfectly balanced. The chocolate doesn’t taste like mint, it tastes like chocolate. The center tastes like mint and not like cardboard. (I also tried their Old Fashioned Creme Drops a few years ago, which I thought were dreadful, so this is worth noting.)
For a cheap mint, I think Zachary really delivers for a mostly chocolate product. The ingredients are good (though made with soy, milk, eggs and coconut and on shared equipment with everything from peanuts to tree nuts without any statement about wheat/gluten). It’s a good option for movie snacking, certainly a good price. I don’t know if I’d grab them over Junior Mints, but I’m not afraid to keep trying Zachary products.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
When the classic Slo Poke Caramel was revived earlier this year, its chocolatey partner Black Cow was also on the slate for reboot by the Classic Caramel Company.
Originally released back in the 1920s by Holloway, makers of Milk Duds, the Black Cow was just a chocolate covered Slo Poke (not that dissimilar from the Sugar Mama which was a chocolate covered Sugar Daddy.) In this new version the Black Cow becomes an actual chocolate infused caramel.
The candy now comes in two formats, a large bar (in this case mine is 20% larger at 1.6 ounces instead of the standard 1.5 ounce) and the little individually wrapped pieces.
Unlike Tootsie Rolls which only have cocoa in them, Black Cow uses whole chocolate (cocoa liquor which includes cocoa butter) in their recipe.
The chew is quite soft. Though you can whack it to make bite sized pieces, I found I had to refrigerate mine. (And once I had broken it into pieces, they reformed into the bar after they came back to room temperature.)
The chew is not quite as smooth as the Slo Poke or even Tootsie Rolls. But the flavor is actually very well rounded - the chocolate notes are rich and woodsy thought not entirely chocolatey. It’s kind of nutty with creamy dairy flavors that are authentic without a greasy partially hydrogenated taste. Still, the ingredients aren’t exactly wholesome, which is sad because real caramel doesn’t really have a lot of expensive ingredients and is relatively shelf stable. This one has both high fructose corn sweetener and partially hydrogenated coconut oil in the list (though very far down, not as predominant ingredients).
For a really satisfying, very chocolatey caramel, you really can’t beat the Storck Chocolate Riesen, which is an actual real chocolate covered chocolate caramel. However, these are far and away better than a Tootsie Roll, which never ceases to bring chewable cardboard to my mind unless encased in hard candy and on a stick.
Friday, September 16, 2011
The Slo Poke Caramel Pop was introduced in 1926 by the Holloway Candy Company. It was a simple, firm, rectangular caramel lollipop. It was sold for the first time the year after the Sugar Daddy made its debut (as the Papa Sucker). As the name might imply, the Slo Poke was a candy to savor and enjoy over a long time. The sucker format meant that kids would either allow it to dissolve or nibble off bites to chew.
As with most candy products of this age, it’s been through many owners. MJ Holloway, also the maker of Milk Duds, sold out to Beatrice Foods in 1960. Beatrice later sold off their confectionery division to Leaf and Leaf divested its candy lines to several different companies. Milk Duds went to Hershey’s and Slo Pokes and their chocolate brethren, Black Cow, went to the Gilliam Candy company in 1998. For a brief time in this century, Slo Pokes stopped being made until the Warrell Corporation acquired the brand and recipe and began making them again last year under their new Classic Caramel Company (which also reintroduced Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy).
The new format of the revived Slo Poke is the 1.8 ounce bar. It’s a big plank of caramel. Like Turkish Taffy and other taffy/nougat candies, the simplest way to serve yourself is to whack the package on a hard surface to break it into bite sized pieces. I chose to eat mine in all of its chewy wholeness.
The texture is soft, much softer than a Sugar Daddy, which is the closest approximation to this candy. Like the Sugar Daddy, this is a true caramel. The first ingredient is corn syrup, followed by sweetened condensed milk and then more sugar. The color is dark and authentically toasted sugar. The flavor is quite sweet and the texture is mostly smooth. There’s a slight grain to it towards the end that I can only equate with a Sugar Baby or a poorly made fudge.
The flavor is almost exactly like the center of a Milk Dud (as you can imagine). It’s not quite as tough or smooth a chew as the Duds though.
The ingredients aren’t as pure as I’d like. Far down on the list is high fructose corn syrup, which an extremely rare ingredient in candy as well as partially hydrogenated coconut oil, calcium caseinate, distilled monoglycerides and artificial flavors. For something that’s labeled as Real Caramel I have to wonder what that actually means.
I liked the bar, mostly because it was soft and easy to eat. I don’t recall buying these much as a kid, I really was more of a Sugar Daddy fan, though those are certainly more threatening to teeth and dental work. I think my favorite easy-to-eat caramel is still Sugar Babies though, partly because they’re a bit neater and partly because they’re so cute but mostly because I prefer the mix of the smooth texture of the caramel center with the grainy jelly bean style coating. But if I was really going to satisfy my caramel cravings I’d have to go with Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee.
The candies are no longer made in their original lollipop format. They’re sold in bars or the little, individually wrapped bite sized pieces. I don’t think those who loved the original are going to be disappointed with this resurrected version.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.