Head to Head
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
There are a lot of new Hershey’s Kisses out. Some of them are natural progressions of the classic milk chocolate morsel. Dark Chocolate and their sassy purple foils are one of those and of course Hugs with their almond centers. Some of the new Hershey’s Kisses sound like pre-existing products in the Hershey’s repertoire. When I heard about the Caramel Kisses, I thought, “Aren’t those just Rolos?”
Rolos have been around in the United States since 1971 and I think I remember their introduction. I also remember some of the other advertising campaigns, including the Rolo song (You can roll a Rolo to your pal/it’s chocolate covered caramel ... you can roll a Rolo to your friend/it’s chocolate covered caramel from end to end). They’ve never held much interest for me, I enjoy eating them with other things, like pretzels or apples, but not just as a treat by themselves.
The Caramel Kisses are soft, flowing caramel in a molded chocolate shell shaped like a Kiss. Rolo is a soft but chewy caramel in a molded chocolate shell shaped like a tall disk.
The chocolate on the Caramel Kiss is sweet and likable, with a fair amount of grain and that inimitable Hershey’s tang to it . The caramel is flowing and sweet with only a slight toasted sugar note to it. The vanilla is rather chemical in nature. They’re a good size and have a good proportion to the elements.
The Rolo has a very sweet chocolate outside, with a fair amount of grain and a sort of “graham” taste to it. The caramel inside is pleasingly soft but not messy and flowing. It’s chewy without pulling on the teeth. It doesn’t have much flavor to it, not much of a toasted sugar note, but it’s smooth and milky. They smell of sugar and fake vanilla.
Frankly, neither of these candies float my boat. I know that in a Head-to-Head the battle is supposed to be fierce and the winner takes a huge prize, but I’m just not fond of either of these candies enough to purchase them again. Instead it’s one of those board games that you start and it gets so complicated or boring that you just agree to wander away.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I got the Cookie Joys from Crate and Barrel through their excellent post-Christmas sale. The Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint were acquired at Sav-On at a lackluster post-Holiday sale (basically the nuggets were on the sale table heralding they were 50% off, but they didn’t ring up that way and were put there “by mistake”).
Harry London makes the Cookie Joys, but sells them under a few different names, including Botticelli Bites. They also make it in a few different formats, including the Harry London Mint Cookie Bar. A Cookie Joy is minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The shape is a little dollop of candy, not really the most attractive or appealing candy shapes, but it gets the job done. I find they’re usually two bites. The bonus in the Crate & Barrel tin is that they were individually wrapped. When I get them in a little tub at Trader Joe’s (it looks like a pint of ice cream) they’re loose and can go stale if not eaten quickly.
A Hershey’s Mint ‘n’ Cookies is also minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The chocolate is rather milkier, as you can see in the color difference bewteen these two. The cookie bits are also slightly more regular, like little dots of cookies instead of rather irregular crushed cookie bits.
Now that I have them side by side, I’m able to really compare the two. The Cookie Joy is smooth and not terribly milky, which I like. There are already quite a few flavors going on here, I don’t need some sort of dairy taste intruding. As long as the milk is providing a creamy backdrop I’m happy. The cookie bits give it some crunch and they’re a good dark, toasty flavor (they’re pretty much the cookie part of an Oreo).
The Hershey’s has that familiar Hershey’s milk chocolate tang to it. Think yogurt. It’s not unpleasant, but doesn’t go as well with the mint and cookies. There’s a noticeable grain to the chocolate, but again, it works with the crunchy cookies. The cookie bits seem to be distributed rather unevenly, just on the top of the nugget, but since you’re going to bite it the other way, it probably doesn’t matter much. A Nugget could be eaten whole as well.
In this Head to Head, I’m going to have to go with the Cookie Joys. The chocolate is just better and the even though they look like glossy cow pies, the name Cookie Joys is dead on perfect. They’re joyful little mixes of cookies and minted chocolate. If you like the Girl Scout’s Thin Mints, you may like this chocolatier version, too. There’s no benefit to either in availability either. The Hershey’s are Limited Edition (though they seem to return rather faithfully) and the Harry London’s are only sometimes available at Trader Joe’s and a seasonal item for Crate & Barrel. (Sadly, it seems they are sold out on the C&B website.) The Hershey’s are usually cheaper, but the Crate and Barrel sale puts this one over the edge for me. At 28 cents per ounce for the Cookie Joys versus the 24 cents per ounce on the Nuggets, I’m willing to pay the premium (and I have a tin, too!).
Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
I know that the 5th Avenue is a lesser known bar, but it’s quite similar to the Butterfinger. Though they’re both a peanutbutter crunch center with a chocolate(y) coating, they do have some differences. I’m doing this head-to-head in part to introduce Butterfinger fans to what I think is an exceptional bar. But in order to do that, I had to see them side by side again:
Both are massive bars. The 5th Avenue rings in at exactly 2 ounces and the Butterfinger at 2.1 ounces. The main difference, as far as I can tell between the two is that the Butterfinger coating is not chocolate but a chocolate-like substance where the 5th Avenue has a creamy milk chocolate enrobement.
The 5th Avenue bar of my childhood was not a Hershey product but made by Ludens (yes, the cough drop people). Also made in Pennsylvania, the 5th Avenue bar may not have had the wide distribution of the more well-known Butterfinger. When I first got to college I was forced to eat Butterfingers and developed a taste for them, but now that I’m back in an area that offers both, I’m a 5th Avenue girl. Of course, I seem to have a vague recollection of there being a couple of almonds on top. Does anyone else remember that?
The center is a crispy, crunchy peanutbutter crisp. Kind of like a flaky toffee. It has some peanutbutter between the layers, as far as I can tell. It also has a distinct molasses flavor to it, which brings out the roasted flavors of the nuts.
The Butterfinger bar was also not originally made by its current owner, Nestle. It was invented by the Curtiss Candy Company based in Chicago (a great candy town) that also made the Baby Ruth (also made by Nestle now). It predates the 5th Avenue, and frankly, has a much better name. It’s buttery and resembles a big finger and of course the play on words of being a clumsy person is kind of fun. The Butterfinger was always known as a great candy buy when I was a kid. Because the bar was so huge, you were sure to be satisfied. The center has similar crunch peanutbutter toffee-like layers that seem a bit crumblier (in a good way) than the 5th Avenue. The overwhelming taste in this center is buttery. A good hit of peanuts and a smooth, sweet and salty buttery taste. I’ve always loved the inside of Butterfingers ... it’s the fake chocolate coating that’s always bugged me. It’s waxy, overly sweet and just not milk chocolate.
So, if the fake chocolate doesn’t bother you and you’re looking for flaky, crunch buttery experience, pick up a Butterfinger. If you like your crunchy peanut flakes with real chocolate and a good robust hit of molasses, 5th Avenue is for you.
UPDATE 2/21/2007: I just found out via the comments that 5th Avenue no longer uses real chocolate ... such a shame. It was such a good bar, it’s sad that Hershey’s has now taken away the unique position it had in the market as the only chocolate covered peanut crispy bar. They have, however, introduced the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy bar, which has peanut butter and crushed peanuts in it. Not the same, but at least real chocolate.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Yes, in the continuing quest to not only bring you the best and worst candies in the world, I’m going to educate you on the subtleties between our seemingly identical candy choices.
First, a little background (some of this I only know vaguely so feel free to correct me). M&Ms were originally developed as a candy for soldiers to give them quick energy in combat situations and be easy to carry. Some people wonder what M&M stands for, and many think it’s for the Mars brothers, but in reality it’s Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie’s father was one of Hershey’s trusted partners at the company and provided the chocolate inside M&Ms until the 70s.
As with most UK treats under the Nestle name, they were originally made by Rowntree which was later swallowed up by the growing Nestle corporation. Developed several years before the M&M, Smarties are still one of the most popular candies in the UK. The UK version are purported to have orange chocolate flavored orange Smarties (and back when there was a brown Smartie it was mocha flavored) but I am using Canadian Smarties for this head to head.
First, Smarties are slightly bigger than M&Ms. An M&M is approximately 1 cm in diameter while the Smartie is 1.5 cms.
However, the Smartie is slightly flatter than the M&M. I didn’t weigh them.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the candy shell. The Smartie shell is much thicker and has a very pronounced crunch to it. It also seems to have a flavor. When I looked at the ingredients for the Smarties, I saw that there is wheat flour (and cornstarch & sugar) in the shell whereas the M&M shell is made only of sugar, cornstarch and color. The Smartie has a slightly graham cracker taste to it. It’s pleasant and perhaps a little cinnamonny (I know there’s no cinnamon in it). The M&M provides more chocolate punch. I guess geometry would tell me that even if the mass of the Smartie is the same as an M&M it still has more shell by virtue of being less spherical.
As appearances go, they’re both exceptionally pretty candies. Given a choice between the two, I prefer less shell and more chocolate. In reality I usually buy Almond M&Ms more often than the plain ones, but if someone puts a bowl in front of me, I can hardly resist. But I can see that there would be times that I’d crave the cookie-like taste of the Smarties.
Friday, September 9, 2005
I know it seems strange to do a head-to-head tasting of the same candy bar, but there are rather interesting differences between the KitKat sold in the United States and the one sold in the rest of the world.
A little history: KitKat was first introduced in 1935 by London candymaker Rowntree under the name Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. A couple of years later they settled on the name KitKat Chocolate Crisp. The bar has always been the familiar four finger design and was an immediate big-seller for the company. It was briefly produced as a dark chocolate bar during the war because of dairy shortages, but returned to its familiar sweet milk chocolate recipe in 1947. In 1969 the American owned Hershey Corp bought the rights to manufacture and sell KitKat bars in the United States. I don’t think you will find American KitKats sold anywhere else in the world, probably part of the agreement. Rowntree was later purchased by Nestle in 1988 but the KitKat remains the same. The KitKat bar is pretty much the best-selling bar in the world.
Just as most folks have a preference for one chocolate brand over another, the differences between the Canadian KitKat (CKK) and the American KitKat (AKK) are pretty noticeable. First, the CKK is larger. Weighing in at a hefty 50 grams (1.75 oz), it beats the AKK which is a dinky 42 grams (1.5 oz). The CKK packs those extra grams into a longer bar. The AKK has a more pyramid shaped finger, with more of an angle to the sides, which means, oddly enough, less crisp because there’s less room for them though it is slightly higher. You can see that in this photo:
The color of the bars is virtually the same, with the CKK slightly darker. As I opened the package, the AKK smelled sweet and chocolatey with a little tint of vanilla. The CKK had an overwhelmingly graham cracker smell, kind of like the Wonka Bar (also made by Nestle). After the graham smell dissipates, there’s far more chocolate smell to the CKK.
It’s been a few months since I’ve had a KitKat, so I tried to experience it fresh. The first one I tried was the AKK. It was immediately sweet but had a good crisp. My usual way of eating a KitKat is to eat off both ends of a finger, then pry off the top layer of crisp & chocolate with my teeth in a single plank, then continue eating the finger from the top down. For this experiment, I’m eating them straight on in order to fully experience the crisp to chocolate ratio (okay, after two fingers of each, I ended up eating the rest of them after the tasting in my normal manner). The AKK was crispy and solid, with perhaps a little more chocolate than I’d like, but it’s the most popular bar in the world, so who am I to tinker with perfection?
The CKK has a lighter crisp. A little foamier, a little airier. It dissipates quickly so that the melting chocolate takes over. The chocolate on the CKK is not quite like a European Nestle nor like the AKK. It’s milky, like a Cadbury, with a very distinct powdered milk taste to it. It’s a taste that took me some years to get used to, but now I rather enjoy it as a contrast to the slightly yogurt notes of a Hershey’s Kiss.
Though the Trolli vs Haribo head-to-head had a winner, I can’t quite say that one of these bars is better than the other. I like the heft and vanilla notes to the CKK, but I also enjoy the dense crunch of the AKK.
All I know is that after eating two KitKat bars for breakfast, I need a cup of coffee.
Ratings - Canadian KitKat - 8 out of 10
Monday, August 1, 2005
This is my first “taste off” for CandyBlog. I’ve chosen Haribo Gummi Bears to go head-to-head with Trolli Gummi Bears. They’re both the “original” gummi bears that most Americans remember hitting big on the candy scene in the early eighties. I spent quite a bit of my allowance on these. My in-school supplier was a German girl I hung around with, Tina, who must have had them imported by the case by family members. She always seemed to be able to sell me a little 2 ounce packet of them when I needed a fix. Later I found a place in Georgetown (yes, all the way down in DC - I grew up in Pennsylvania) or at the White Flint Mall where I could get them by the pound. Eventually, by the mid-eighties everyone carried them and of course there were more brands available. But the two that I had first contact with were Haribo and Trolli. There are plenty of other brands, like Heide, Black Forest, Brachs and of course a Disney cartoon franchise.
Personally, before this taste test, I would say that Haribo was my favorite. Let’s see how they do…
Name: Trolli Gummi Bears
Trolli Gummi Bears come in five flavors. From left to right they are (as far as I can tell): Cherry, Orange, Lemon, Pineapple and Lime. The shape of the bears is a rather stylelized bear shape, with a large head, narrow legs and little bumps for eyes and a nose.
Trolli are soft, soft bears. Squishy and aromatic, they yield their flavor instantly on the tongue. Inside the package they look a little greasy, but they don’t feel that way once you pop them in the mouth, they’re far softer than Haribos with a better burst of flavor when you put it in your mouth. The cherry is very strong, and overwhelms all the other flavors in the package, all of them smell like cherry.
Name: Haribo Gummi Bears
Haribo Gummi Bears are kind of freaky looking in these photos, they look a little evil. Trust me, in person they’re just cute as can be. Their heads are smaller than their body (as it should be) and they have softer curves and cute little dimpled ears. Their bellies have a little texturing that I think is supposed to be fur.
They’re far firmer than the Trolli Bears. What’s cool about them is that you can have them in your hand or pocket (yes, I sometimes stick candy in my jacket pockets not in any sort of wrapper so I can snack discretely when walking or in a meeting) without them sticking to anything. The Trolli bears have that oily coating that just makes lint stick to them. The flavors from left to right are: Berry (strawberry or raspberry, I can’t tell), Orange, Lemon, Pineapple and Lime.
Flavor for Flavor:
Red - this is the only color where the flavor is different in the brands:
Orange - the color and the flavor
Yellow - lemon, one of the most enduring flavors in the world
Clear - the puzzling flavor of the gummi bear world, I’m going with Pineapple here
(The funnest part of the clear ones is that they remind me of invisibility. You know, like Wonder Woman’s invisible plane on the Superfriends. See, you can cast the whole cartoon with gummi bears! The Red Bear is Superman, the Orange Bear is Aquaman, Yellow is Batman and Green is Robin. It’s a perfect match!)
Green - everyone’s least favorite flavor, Lime
Since I’m not a fan of cherry, the Haribo Bears are a more logical choice for me because I’ll eat all the flavors in there (and their Pineapple is so phenomenal).
In the end, this test only confirmed what I already knew, Haribo is the bear for me. The slightly waxy outer coating and firmer bite might be a negative for some folks, but I find it to enhance their durability. The flavors are all intense and distinct. Trolli’s softer chew is compelling but the overwhelming intrusion of the cherry flavor on its companions is a real turnoff for me.
UPDATE: I should have known that Haribo would win ... Google Fight told me so.
UPDATED UPDATE: Haribo’s green bear is Strawberry ... kind of strange, but if you close your eyes and don’t look at the color it’s a little more obvious. (Thanks to the readers who pointed that out.)
Friday, July 29, 2005
Yes, on Monday I’ll launch my first head-to-head review. I’ll take on the original gummi bears, Trolli and Haribo. I’ll tell you what flavor each color actually is and give you my assessment of which bear is best.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.