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.
Monday, January 30, 2012
On my trip to Europe last month I was eager to see what sort of interesting candies were at the airport shops. I departed from Stuttgart, Germany late enough in the morning that the stores were open. (My layover in Paris was a bust, as I had barely enough time to get from one terminal to the other, go back through security and only glance at the Maison du Chocolat kiosk and buy two macaron at the Lauderee cart.)
Even though I was in Germany, there were quite a few varieties of Fazer confections. Fazer is a huge Finnish brand that’s also available in the United States. The sets there were rather reasonably priced boxes for 5.95 Euro (a little less than $8.00) that held about 11 ounces. They had a mix called Geisha, which was themed with lots of Japanese elements but had little milk chocolates with various hazelnut and almond fillings. The other mix was of the classic Fazermints and the third was the one I chose to buy for review: Fazer Liqueur Fills Vodka. I figured Finland is known for Vodka, so this should be something they do well.
It’s a long box that was nicely textured and looked like a good size and shape for gifting but easy enough to tuck into my carry on luggage (I left lots of room in case I saw things at the airport.)
The box has a lid to it that lifts to reveal a perforated opening sealed with plastic, so they’re well protected from evaporation. It’s kind of like poking out that little piece of cardboard on a tissue box. The pieces are individually wrapped in color coded mylar.
The Vodka Liqueur Fills Chocolates come in three flavors: Original, Cranberry and Lemon-Lime.
Inside the mild dark chocolate shell is an inner grainy sugar shell and then a full liquid vodka syrup filling.
Each piece is long and nicely formed. They’re not quite shiny but still well tempered and all were in good condition. However, I noticed the longer I went after opening the package the more likely it was that the underside would be a little dented as the alcohol filling had evaporated.
It’s like a little geode. The chocolate shell cracked well, usually uniformly where I bit it. I liked to bite off a little bit of the end, keep it tipped up so that I could sip out the vodka instead of eating it all at once. The inside of the chocolate was lined with large sugar crystals.
The vodka filling is not very strong, though certainly the real thing. The sugar lining keeps the vodka from leaking out.
Cranberry is sweet and fragrant without any hint of tartness of actual berries. The sugar inner shell is grainy and extremely sweet. The vodka is a little syrupy but also doesn’t have the throat burning bite of full proof alcohol. I liked this one least of all.
Lemon-Lime is mild. It doesn’t have a lot of zest or any bitterness, it’s just lightly citrusy and vaguely generic.
Original is slightly medicinal, like there’s a touch of gin in there. It’s okay, sweet but at least in this version the chocolate flavors come through. I liked this one best, though it seemed I had the fewest of these in the assortment.
For the most part, I found the sugar shell to be far too prominent. It was grainy and sweet and distracted from the other textures and flavors. I’ve had plenty of other alcohol filled chocolates, and I don’t think any had this much sugar by proportion. I’ll finish the box, but I don’t see myself buying these again. It might that I prefer an liqueur that’s more distinctive than vodka, as I do enjoy brandy beans and other flavored liqueurs. I also wanted better quality chocolate. As you’ll see in the other reviews this week, what alcohol does well is help reveal the flavors in good dark chocolate. It does nothing for mediocre chocolate.
As a little bonus review, I picked up a handful of Fazer’s classic Fazermint while at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, since I’ve never reviewed them before. They’re a simple candy. It’s a dark chocolate shell with a flowing fondant with a light touch of peppermint. I had six of them and tried photographing all of them by biting into it and taking a photo. In all instances I only ended up cracking the thing into sticky pieces. So take my word for it, there’s a flowing white filling, like a Junior Mint. The chocolate is better than a Junior Mint though not fantastic either. The mint is fresh and it’s not all too sweet. It’s really only a one bite item, so it’s a good little treat after a meal or with coffee or tea.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Chewy, fruity and soft red licorice is just the thing on a hot summer day. It travels better than chocolate and of course the tart and fragrant flavor can give a little burst of thirst quenching without all that pesky drinking.
I picked up this package of Halva Strawberry Finnish Soft Licorice when I was at the ISM Cologne candy far earlier this year. I knew that they sold it at Cost Plus World Market here in the United States, so the brand gets around. The Halva brand is widely sold in Finland and is generally affordable but not necessarily gourmet.
The package is nicely designed, the format reminds me of the classic box of raisins. The stark and modern design uses a lot of white space, a bold photo of the candy (that actually looks like the candy) and some brief descriptions.
Each strip is about one and a half inches long and are soft and pliable, quite shiny. They have a coating of beeswax and oil, so they’re a little greasy. They’re slightly translucent and a light shade of red.
They don’t smell like much, but once I bit into them I got a lot of other sensory input. The texture is soft and chewy, though a little gummy and doughy. The strawberry flavor is nice, it’s very smooth but mostly middle of the road, not deep and jammy like Panda Strawberry Licorice and not crumbly and artificial like Twizzlers either. It’s satisfying in the sense that it fills me up, but irritating that it sticks to my teeth. The red food coloring has no perceptible flavor, so I enjoyed that part. The light tartness kept it all from feeling like it was too sticky.
The base of the candy is made from glucose-fructose syrup and wheat flour. In case you’re wondering if glucose-fructose syrup is pretty much the same thing as high fructose corn syrup, it is except that it’s probably not derived from corn. Use of glucose-fructose syrup is quite rare in American candies, not because of some high standards candy makers have or any health reasons for shunning them. Simply put, many of the sugars that candy makers choose are because of the way they perform physically and chemically. In a soda, HFCS will sweeten and bulk just the same as sucrose. But in a caramel, the free fructose (it’s bonded to a glucose molecule in sucrose and isn’t unbonded until well into the heating process of caramelization) will not work at all as the sole sugar. In the case of a wheat based chew like red licorice, it turns out you can use glucose-fructose syrup quite nicely.
Monday, March 14, 2011
They’re little, beefy one inch rods of licorice with a candy shell. What’s interesting about these that’s different from most licorice pastels is the fact that the shells are flavored. They come with two flavors in each bag - lemon (yellow) and peppermint (white). As with all Panda licorice, the ingredients are all natural and vegan.
In Europe a slightly different version of this candy is available. I bought a bag in Amsterdam called Liquorice Comfits, which had three different colors (more about that in a moment).
This particular bag is small, it holds 100 grams which is 3.5 ounces. The retail price is pretty steep for a sugar candy, I paid over 2 Euros for mine in Europe and it appears that the American version will be prices around $2.50 to $3.00 per bag.
The pieces are consistent and attractive. They’re not slickly smooth, but they are shiny. The yellow is creamy and the white is stark and bright. (The green ones are from the European mix.)
The white ones are Peppermint and I was hoping they’d be similar to Skoolkrit, which I love so much. The licorice center is soft and chewy but not deeply flavored. It’s a bit doughy, like Panda can be, but missing the dark molasses notes. The licorice flavors are exactly that, the mellow and lingering sweetness of the licorice root. Though they have aniseseed oil in them, there’s less of that flavor in the profile. The mint shell gives is a fresh start and finish. It’s crunchy and sweet as well, but doesn’t really stick with me after consuming.
The lemon was a bit more of an unconventional combination. It was definitely sweeter to me with a lemony start that reminded me of icing. The licorice just seemed sweeter in this version.
Both are fun to eat, but I kept waiting for some stronger licorice flavors that I was relieved when the bag was empty and I could move on to something else.
Without the flavored shell, you’d think they’d have more of a licorice punch, but it was the same thing. Too sweet, not enough rich burnt toffee notes.
I don’t expect that I’ll pick these up again. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who will like these and I expect for parents who want a great family licorice, this is a good place to start, especially with younger kids who are turned off by strong flavors.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I like Good and Plenty better, I certainly prefer the price.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I was surprised to learn at the candy fair (ISM Cologne) last week that Panda Liquorice is the #4 brand of licorice in the United States (Twizzlers, Red Vines and Good & Plenty come in ahead). What was surprising and pleasing about this little tidbit is that Panda makes all natural licorice, the real stuff with real licorice extract and no artificial colors or flavors.
Their newest introduction at the show is their Panda Blueberry Liquorice. It features a very short list of ingredients: molasses syrup, wheat flour, blueberry puree, citric acid, natural flavoring and liquorice extract. The package they gave me as a sample is 200 g (7 ounces) and features a gusseted bottom so it stands up and a zipper top to make it easier to reseal it to keep the candy fresh.
The pieces are striking in that they smell like blueberry pie: a bit like jam and a little like a fruit Danish. But they’re also quite light in color, like little caramel nibs instead of what I was expecting which would have been darker purple.
They’re very soft and have a light, easy chew. They’re not dense at all and have a tart and sweet blueberry flavor. Because of the wheat flour in there, there’s more snack satisfaction going on than candy. They’re satisfying but also feel more like little cookies than a licorice chew. The molasses keeps them from being too sweet, though the licorice extract does give it a little bit of a lighter tea-like sweetness than a straight sugar candy might have.
They’re considered vegan and have very little fat in them, so the caloric load is only 88 calories per ounce. Though I like blueberries as a fruit, a chewy candy made with blueberries isn’t quite the same thing. These would be fun as a trail mix addition (mixed with pretzels and nuts and maybe a few chocolate chips) but I don’t see myself eating them straight in one sitting. I’m sure there are other folks, though, who have been looking forward to a realistic blueberry candy like this.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I like the licorice style known as Rockies, they’re a black licorice tube filled with a cream, which is usually flavored. Many European versions are made with salted licorice, but according to this list of ingredients, it was sweet licorice. This package didn’t say what the flavors were (there was another variety that were filled with a pastel cream that said Fruit) but the ingredients mentioned cocoa, mint, coffee and toffee flavors.
The illustration on the box appears to show four varieties (white, caramel, gray and brown) but I could really only discern three ... and I ate the whole box.
They were just a little sticky in spots but were fresh and moist. The bag smelled nicely of licorice and toffee with a little hint of smoke, beets and molasses. Each is about 3/4 of an inch long and varied in diameter, though most were about 1/3 of an inch.
The middle pieces, the light beige ones were a coffee flavored center. This was fascinating. I like the combination of licorice and coffee and it’s not an easy pair to find together. The center is a little grainy, like frosting. It’s sweet and has a very mellow coffee and toffee note to it. The licorice flavors and the texture of the licorice chew were at the front with the most dominance. I found myself picking through the package to find these.
The darkest looking centers were chocolate, I think. It was a sort of Tootsie Roll version of chocolate. There were some vague cocoa notes but it was rather empty and couldn’t compete with the licorice and sugar flavors.
The white ones appear to be mint. The mint fondant filling is soft with a bit of a crumble though not completely dry. The minty notes are peppermint and menthol. It’s a strange combination with the licorice, the whole thing has a medicated vibe but it’s also fresh and doesn’t feel heavy like some other licorice can. The mint though was very strong and overshadowed the licorice notes.
Overall in this mix, the actual licorice wasn’t that strong. I liked it, it made it very munchable without giving me that feeling that I was eating too much licorice (it can have side effects) but it also left me wanting more licorice/anise punch.
I don’t know why there aren’t American licorice candies like this, it’s rather like Licorice Allsorts, but without the coconut. I’d venture that many folks who say they don’t like licorice might like it in this version where it’s just a container, not the main event.
I saw that Cost Plus World Market also carries the plain licorice and salted licorice from Halva, I’m thinking I might want to try their straight varieties. I get the impression that this isn’t the most elegant variety from Finland (which is known for its licorice), it’s more like the kid’s version of licorice or mass-produced like Twizzlers or Red Vines though I’m guessing with better ingredients (but perhaps some Finnish readers can help with that).
These contain gelatin, so are not vegetarian.
Monday, April 12, 2010
I picked up the Panda Soft Herb Licorice after seeing Gigi Reviews coverage of the product.
First, I like the box that Panda uses. It’s foil lined and completely sealed, after opening the tab top there’s a little plastic film that keeps the contents fresh. Then I just tuck in the double tab top to keep it soft. The contents were soft for weeks, though there is some toughening after that.
This version of Panda’s licorice bites are all natural black licorice tubes made with molasses and wheat flour with an added punch of 18 herbal extracts. They include peppermint, blackberry, plantain, torch weed, sage, star anise and thyme. Sniffing the box it’s like a tea shop: minty, woodsy and clean.
The pieces are soft but separate easily. I like the aerated tubes, it makes it easier to chew them if they do get a little stale. The color is nice, it’s dark but not artificially colored.
The taste isn’t licorice immediately and it’s not molasses either. It’s more like brown sugar in peppermint and chamomile tea. The licorice and woodsier notes come in later. It’s delicate and not as overwhelmingly dark and charcoal-like as Panda’s usual far. There’s a cool menthol aftertaste that makes this kind of like a mint.
There’s a little sticking to the teeth, but it’s not as bad as some other Aussie-style brands. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s mellow and might be a good “starter” licorice for folks who don’t care for the bitter, smoky and overwhelming licorice of Panda.
As a little change of pace I picked up Panda Cremes as well. The stand up bag holds the same amount as the box but has a zipper lock to keep it fresh. I have to admit that it’s not as eco friendly but did a better job of keeping these soft and fresh. A bonus is that the bag is collapsible, so it takes up less space the more you eat. The box is always the size of the box.
Cremes are the same shape as the bites but inside those little tubes are creme fillings. They come in three flavors: Banana, Caramel and Strawberry. I can’t say that any of these were ever really on my mind as great complements to the flavor of black licorice, but Panda usually knows what they’re doing.
The bag says that they’re all natural and suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans, as there’s some milk in there). The creme center is made from palm oil and there’s no indication of the source of it. A 39 gram serving (9 pieces) has 160 calories and 4 grams of fat (3.5 of those are saturated). In case you’re curious, 40 grams of the Soft Herb are 130 calories and no fat. It’s not like either is calorie-dense but still, it’s notable.
The package smelled like strawberries and banana, like some sort of smoothie or yogurt.
The Strawberry were easy to pick out as they were pink. The Caramel and Banana were the same color as far as I could tell.
The creme isn’t soft and flowing, it’s kind of crunchy at first - but at mouth temperature it softens up. It’s cool on the tongue and not too sweet. The Strawberry is fresh and floral. Banana is actually pretty fun, it’s strong banana flavoring but the sweet notes go well. The Caramel had a slightly darker note but the toasted sugar was missing or maybe overshadowed by the strength of the licorice itself.
I don’t think I need this much fat for something that didn’t really satisfy me the same way that a creamy chocolate product does. I think I’ll stick to the regular Panda licorice products. These are pretty enough to put in a clear jar and as compelling as Allsorts (especially if you’re not a coconut fan).
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
I got a few samples at ExpoWest of their different flavors, but ended up opting for a full package of the Cinnamon XyliChew for this review.
The package is a nice paperboard box with a blisterpack that holds 12 pieces inside. Two pieces are normal serving size (though sometimes I go for three pieces).
XyliChew boasts 70% of its content is xylitol, which is supposed to have many health benefits. Studies link lower incidences of dental caries (cavities) to consistent use of xylitol (either in gum or mouthwash) and others have said that it keeps teeth & bones strong as we age. But the amount needed for those more substantial positive effects are probably greater than would be consumed normally. A pair of pieces gives the chewer only 1.6 grams per serving. (Studies were using dosages of 20-40 grams per day.) You can read more of the features at their website.
But that aside, this is gum and most often we’re chewing it for other reasons, such as to freshen the breath, a boost of flavor, keep us from munching and just plain old enjoyment of chewing.
These are cool on the tongue immediately, which is one of the big appeals of xylitol as a confectionery sweetener. The cinnamon flavor is much more like the powdered spice or chewing on an actual stick of the bark than those “cinnamon flavors”, so it’s a bit deeper. It’s not at all spicy though, there’s no burning feeling to it. The chew lacks much grain to it like sugared gums have (well, there’s a little from the shell, but that dissipates quickly). The flavor remains for quite a while, I tracked it as still having a satisfactory amount of cinnamon flavor after 30 minutes, though the sweetness had abated.
It didn’t stick to my teeth, which is also a nice feature (yes, I have fillings - those old fashioned amalgam & those new fangled white composite ones).
As a sugar free product, I don’t feel like I’m missing a thing. Some folks may not like that cooling sensation and of course you have to get used to xylitol. I still prefer my good old Peppermint Chiclets, but I could get used to this, too.
XyliChew is all natural, even the gum base is from the sapodilla tree. It uses beeswax though, so may not be appropriate for all vegans.
Many stores like Whole Foods, Nature Mart and health food shops carry XyliChew, you can also order online through Nature Mart or Amazon. They retail for about $2 a package. It also comes in other flavors like: spearmint, peppermint, tropical fruit, licorice and chocolate.
UPDATE: Also, be aware that xylitol is dangerous to dogs, so be very careful to keep xylitol sweetened products away from pets.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.