These are chewy.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Aji Ichiban is a chain of stores that sells dried and cured fruits as well as candy by the pound.
I went to the location in Chinatown in New York City while I was there. The store was kind of small and the woman behind the counter barked at me when I took some photos. This one was taken from the street. I actually think they’re doing their customers a disservice when they can’t take photos, because that’s the only reason I know what some of the candy is. It’s marked in the bins, but not on the wrappers.
They have a large selection of bins that contains individually wrapped candies or salted fruits or nuts and rice snacks. There are even samples of the fruits by the bins, but I made the mistake of taking what I thought was dried ginger and it turned out to be a salted plum. Quite a shock and made me parched instantly.
It’s not a huge store, but then again, they don’t have large tubs of everything. A third of the display space is for snacks and dried fruit, the rest is candy. Most of the candy is a mix & match by the pound, but some of it you could buy prepacked.
I liked just about everything in this mix. I chose carefully, so this is a good sign about the way that the packages are marked. Some have English on them, most are just pictures and sometimes the bin they were in at the store had some clues about the contents. Items came from all over Asia, some marked from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan.
I got some super fizzy sours, something called Zour Bomb, which was a cross between a cola flavored hard candy and a Zotz. However, partway through it got a minty flavor to it that kind of turned me off. The outside was dusty looking and super sour, then a hard candy and then the inside had another reservoir of sour. It also came in Lemon which was excellent.
Another was a little orange packet called Sour + from Lot100. It had little orange faces on it making sour impressions. It was a gummi, soft and about the size of a gumdrop with a sugar sand on it. Whoo, it was sour to start, then the soft gummi had a nice orange flavor to it. I would definitely buy these again. I wonder if they come in pineapple. That’d be cool.
Lot100 also had a nice Cola hard candy. It looked a little odd in that it was a plain red hard candy. It tasted like cola but had a slight hint of cinnamon.
Not everything from Lot100 was a hit - I had a rather promising Mango gummi that just didn’t quite hit the right balance. The texture was fantastic, plump and moist with a nice tart note but the mango “flavor” was less “pine meets melon” and more “burnt rubber.” Too bad.
Kasugai had a good assortment of fruit gummis, which I’ve reviewed before. I picked up Litchi and Muscat this time. They’re called super juicy on the label and they are plenty soft, but the litchi was a little flavorless and almost like a Turkish Delight. Muscat smelled wonderful and had a bit more complex flavor, something like white grape and orange blossom.
There was also a line of Milk candies that had calcium in them that came in interesting flavors like chocolate, vanilla and also red bean. They had an odd, firm, fluffed latexy quality to them, kind of like Hi-CHEW. I have no idea how much calcium is actually in it, but they were super soft and very satisfying. The vanilla was a little bland and the chocolate was kind of like a bouncy Tootsie roll, but I really liked the red bean. I mean, I really liked it. I’m sorry they’re gone now.
I picked up a few tea flavored candies, one from Thailand called Didi Honey Lemon Tea Candy was particularly nice. Only slightly tart, there was a nice play between tea and honey in there. The other brand was Cister from Malaysia wasn’t as pleasant looking (brown) but had a much stronger tea flavor and some mint thrown in (which made it taste more like a Ricola drop).
Another assortment were called S’Creams and were just hard candies with a milky swirl to them, kind of like Lifesaver’s Creamsavers. They were pleasant enough, with a Werther’s-like crunch if you bit them but a good tangy hit too to keep them interesting and satisfying. I picked up Orange, Strawberry and Melon.
There were a few flavors of these, I picked up Pudding Marshmallow, Grape Marshmallow, Mango Marshmallow and then two that have no English text on them - one has purple on its wrapper and the other has pink.
Mango Marshmallow - shown above - sucked royally. I had two of them, I at that bite of one and I gave the other to Amy, who promptly spit it out in my trash can. Why is it bad? It just is ... don’t make me think about it.
Pudding Marshmallow - it looks suspiciously like Mango, but thankfully is quite nice. It’s a marshmallow with a little lump of creamy, dulce de leche tasting filling in the middle. Not quite fudge, not quite creme, but pleasant and a little artificially vanilla tasting but with a tasty hit of salt.
Chocolate Marshmallow - there was no indication what this was, just a pink wrapper. The chocolate was a cross between frosting and a Tootsie roll. Not as good as the pudding one, but I liked it.
Grape Marshmallow - hmm, it was okay, but the grape filling was like cheap jelly and it just didn’t appeal much to me.
Basically, Aji Ichiban is as much of an adventure as you want it to be. You can grab a pound of simple mixed candies that you know and love or you can push the boundaries of your taste experiences and just shovel them into your bag blindly and see what happens.
I think the candy is horribly expensive for pure sugar stuff - $10 a pound is way up there even for the fancy fruit candies from Italy that I see at Zabars or something. But the variety is pretty special and with no minimums and the ability to mix and match is a huge plus. You can also order online, but there’s a half-pound minimum with most candies and of course the selection is limited. They have stores in several large cities across the edges of the United States, but they don’t have the addresses on their site.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I miss living where there are lightning bugs. When I was in Pennsylvania last month it was a little early for them ... we saw one or two, but not the nighttime display I so longed to see. It was certainly fun catching them as kids and putting them in a jar and setting them on a bookshelf in my bedroom overnight to watch all night (and then release in the morning).
I thought this product was pretty cool looking. It’s just gummis shaped like bugs and they include a set of tweezers with a battery and LED at the tip that activates when you close them around something.
The tweezers work really well, they’ll light up when they get close to being closed, so you can grasp one of the gummis and without even squeezing hard they light up.
The LED is red, which is kind of disappointing because fireflies have a more green/yellow color to their luminescence in real life, but I understand the limitations of making a novelty product at a particular price point. The other thing that I found a little bit of a bummer is that the gummis aren’t actually lightning bugs ... they’re glow-worms.
The gummis are pretty good. A little different than a Haribo, more like a Trolli. They come in two different colors: red and yellow. They’re very soft and chewy. The orange one is citrus of some sort and the red one tastes like strawberry.
Once you’ve eaten the small portion they give you, the fun with the tweezers isn’t over. You can pick up all sorts of things with them. Light colored jelly beans worked well, gumdrops, hard candies (they’re really cool with these), vitamin gel capsules and of course any small gummis like the traditional bears. If the battery lasts as long as that light up lolly I got last year, you can have hours of fun with them!
I’ve never been particularly fond of most of the novelty items out there (such as clear plastic cell phones with little candy inside) but this one really seems to provide interactivity and promotes imagination ... as well as being a candy delivery device!
If you’re looking for a fun little party favor for a summer kids birthday celebration, these aren’t priced too bad at $1 per if you find a good sale. However, I’m seeing them online for about $1.50 each ... still not a bad deal for a little toy.
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Lifesavers are known for being highly-flavored hard candies. If there were a candy model that Jelly Belly might have gone off of, it was probably Lifesavers - here is a hard candy, a little smaller than usual, but super-flavored and in a huge variety. Lifesavers got into the gummi game a while ago and I tried them when they first came out, but didn’t think much of them. I decided to revisit them, especially since they changed the flavors out on the five flavor tray.
The 5 Flavor variety bears little resemblance to the hard candy rolls that have been around since 1934. The flavors in this roll are Cherry (an original flavor), Watermelon, Green Apple, Blackberry and Strawberry. No orange, no lemon, no pineapple. Drat! The candies are much larger than the hard version, they’re soft, if a little greasy on the outside to prevent sticking and are positioned upright on a clear plastic tray inside the wrapper.
The Cherry is just as you’d expect it, great woodsy cherry flavor with a good tart bite. I’m not fond of cherry flavored stuff, but I actually find Lifesavers rather acceptable, probably because the flavor doesn’t seem as artificial as many others. The Green Apple, the lighter of the two green flavors, is rather mild, not too sour but good overall flavor. Watermelon is a darker green and bears little resemblance to real watermelon flavor but has a nice tart bite to it without that overwhelming fragrance that many watermelon candies have. Strawberry was a bit disappointing. It was sweet and had only the slightest hint of a berry flavor to it. I’d tell you about the Blackberry, but this roll had none. I think they’re dark purple. I’ll hazard that it’s the same blackberry flavor in the Wild Berries below.
The Wild Berry mix held more promising flavor for my tastes: Cherry Berry, Strawberry, Red Raspberry, Black Raspberry, Blackberry and White Grape.
The colors are a little bland, but I guess when you’re making a dozen different flavors you’re going to run out of primary and secondary colors. The White Grape was my favorite. Soft and delicate, it’s just a bit tart and has none of that artificial grape note that I only seem to like in Tootsie Pops and SweeTarts. The Cherry Berry was remarkably similar to the Cherry in the 5 Flavor, but I’m not complaining. The Blackberry is the only one that seemed opaque, a lustrous dark purple it was tart and fragrant but hardly had a flavor different from the other berries. The Strawberry was the same as above. The rather lavender looking one was, I think, Black Raspberry. It was sweet and tart like the others and much more perfumed, as raspberries tend to be. The lightest red one was probably Red Raspberry and was similar to the Black Raspberry one, but perhaps a little tarter.
The good thing about this mix is that the flavors all blend together well, you can eat them one after another without the flavors fighting or combine them if you’re so inclined.
I like to eat gummies when my throat is bothering me, and I’m just getting over a cold (so if my tasting is a little off, it’s some sort of leftover malaise). They’re soothing and not too sour, so I don’t have to worry about burning my tongue like I often do on my overdoses of SweeTarts. I bought these in a Christmas Storybook on an after-holiday clearance for 98 cents ... so I certainly got my money’s worth for five packages of these.
While these flavors all have merit, I’d really like to have my favorite Lifesavers flavors - Lemon, Orange, Tangerine, Banana, Pina Colada and Pineapple. Actually, I’d be game if they wanted to try a Butter Rum gummi, too!
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
NOTE: I’m not going to make a habit of revisiting previous reviews, but I was contacted by Jason Barba, the inventor of CraniYUMS! He pointed out the product that I tasted was probably not at its best:
I have to admit that I got my sample last summer and hung onto it for many months (and perhaps didn’t store it properly, as I opened the package, took the photo and didn’t eat it for several days). The new samples seemed “plumper” which leads me to believe that mine dried out a bit. Combine that with the candy center which was opaque instead of transparent and it seems like I had an over-ripe sample.
So, here’s an updated review.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
The skin is soft and pliable, like a very soft gummi (not the more firm ones like Haribo). The mellow, uncolored cherry flesh tears easily from the skeleton and reveals a transparent green skull in the shape of a T-Rex. The skin is pretty mild, not tart but not terribly sweet either. The center candy is dense and smooth in a very pretty shade of emerald green. The other flavor is lemon flesh with a cherry hard lolly center. The gummi on this one is actually really good - it’s very zesty with an intense burst of lemon essence. Again, not very tart, but really fragrant.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. It’s a good combination of taste, interactivity and design. I’m upgrading my review from a 5 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10. Still a little pricey, but a nice treat. If they made a giant ape one, they could sell them as a set for fans of King Kong! Maybe something to think about if you’re planning a DVD viewing party.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:16 pm
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I’ve noticed that I get a lot of Google search hits on this blog for CraniYUMS. Well, that and Choxie. So it’s about time I gave folks what they’re looking for. This has got to be one of the more innovative candy formats I’ve seen. I got this as a sample at my Candy Warehouse visit over the summer. They hadn’t decided to carry the pops, so I didn’t want to blog about it until it was available then I forgot about it until I saw Candy Addict‘s post a few weeks ago.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
I wasn’t quite sure how to approach consuming it. A gelatinous skin does not lend itself to sucking, and of course it’s a bit big for putting in the mouth whole. So when I tried nibbling on the end of his snout, I kind of get the sense that there should be some growling involved. The gummi part is definitely gummi, but I guess that’s a good thing. You kind of have to rip it off the candy skull with your teeth. As a gummi it’s rather mild, not zesty orintensely flavored. The skin is cherry flavored and the skeleton is green apple. Once a corner has been started it’s pretty easy to nibble off pieces then to get to the center. The skeletal center is hard candy, but not quite hard, because I’m guessing the gummi softens it a little bit. The flavor overall was just bland, I wanted some zip to it all. Maybe mine was a little old, but I also think I’d prefer the lemon/cherry combo.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. But I can also see a kid getting kind of bored with it after a few minutes. It depends on the kid. I found myself eating all the gummi skin but I didn’t eat the center. They get big points from me on originality, but I see it as more of a special occasion candy than a regular one.
The package says it’s made in China, but it’s distributed by an Denver, CO company.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, December 19, 2005
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Friday, December 2, 2005
My blogging buddy, Lisa, sent this to me. She didn’t pick it up in Japan, she got it in New York, which makes the trip it’s taken extra special.
They look like little incense cones, little hard cones covered in a salty, sour powder. I wasn’t quite sure what they were, as the package is in Japanese, but what I could glean from the package was that these were sour. (I’m not quite sure what the female schmoo thing is on the front, but she sure is cute.)
They smell like cola, which is an odd smell in and of itself, really. The gummy isn’t really gummy either, it’s a hard little piece that’s not quite hard enough to be considered hard candy. Pop one in your mouth and you pucker. There’s no way to not describe these as incredibly sour. The flavor of the sour is a bit lemony but a little salty too. Then that subsides and you get the cola flavor and a little hard gummy bit. Then you want another one. They took a little getting used to, but with a lot of the extreme candies, they’re rather addictive.
They remind me a lot of the So Wonderful Lemon Drops I tried months ago. I think I might pick up the grape ones sometime, but for now, cola is a great choice for a sour treat. I have to say that eating to many will eventually burn the tongue. And give you a tummy ache. But I’ve found that to be true with most foods.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Friday, September 2, 2005
Name: Wine Gums
Imagine a gummi candy that smells like Elmer’s Glue. It took me a couple of days to figure out what they smelled like, but it was one of those non-toxic smells that kind of get under your skin.
There are a variety of colors/flavors in this package:
They’re random, not the systematic stacking that you can count on in a roll of Lifesavers. The flavors are smooth, not terribly tart, not terribly sweet. There is a definite musky taste to it, which is what I guess the “wine” part is. This is most noticeable in the purple one. The flavors kind of grew on me - at first I didn’t care for the purple one so I ate them first, then I was sad that I didn’t have any more.
What really suprised me is how much I liked the red ones. I’m not a fan of red candies but these weren’t too cherry or strawberry and had a nice sort of sizzly flavor to them. The only flavor I didn’t like was the green one, which tasted just like floor cleaner smells.
Next time I go to Canada or the UK, I’ll be sure to pick a roll of these up. They’re easy to carry and a good little zesty pick-me-up.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.