Wednesday, May 2, 2012
They’re narrow tins that open like drawers. Inside are little spheres of chocolate. They call them Pearls. They’re not so different than the Godiva Pearls that are sold in the United States in much smaller tins.
The chocolate actually seemed to be of higher quality than the ordinary Hershey’s bars, but that could just be the premium packaging. It’s a great way to portion just a little bit of chocolate and the tins are nicely reusable. They’re thick enough that I could put a few thumb drives in them, or a card reader for my camera and some extra flash memory. Or I suppose I could refill them with other edibles and stash it in my bag.
Another view of the Hershey’s Extra Creamy Pearls.
Hershey’s Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate Pearls close up.
They’re each about the size of a fresh garden pea.
There was also a version of Hershey’s Special Dark Pearls, which I didn’t find as creamy as the milk chocolate version. I picked these up as samples at the ISM Cologne show last year.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Matthijs Liquorice is from The Netherlands and comes in an amazing array of shapes, flavors and sizes.
Animals, toys, fish, geometrics and even money.
A school of fish.
The Russian Matroesjkas were my favorite to look at. They also come in a combination version that’s half wine gum and half licorice.
Their website has loads more. I’m not certain where to find them in the United States. From the sampling I tried, I’m more fond of their wine gum and cola flavored products than the licorice.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
While I was in Europe earlier this year I made a point to sample as much licorice as I possibly could. What I found is that the world of licorice products varies greatly by cultural tradition, price point and intensity. Here are a dozen items I found, in descending order of my affection.
I meant it when I said I’m starting with the high point of my European licorice adventures. I loved this stuff.
When I was walking the exhibits at ISM Cologne (the largest candy trade show in the world), I knew that I wanted to visit the Amarelli Licorice booth. They sell wonderful little tins of intense licorice pastilles. I’ve been buying their minty coated version called Bianconeri for about 10 years, though not very often because each tin is about $6 and holds about an ounce.
I was not disappointed by their booth. They had so many different products I had never tried. The ones that impressed me the most were little glycerine pastilles that were rose or violet along with the intense and smooth black licorice. (I don’t know how they sell those, they just said that they didn’t come in tins.)
I tried their pebble looking candy coated licorice called Sassolini which I was enchanted immediately.
They’re much bigger than their other products, most of these are larger than a Peanut M&M. They’re irregular and do a convincing imitation of an actual little rock. The thickness of the soft cream and blue colors have a pleasing heft to them.
The flavor of the candy shell is vanilla, soft and with a hint of the anise underneath. The center is a chewy black licorice that has an intense flavor of both licorice and anise. They’re really strong and the dense chew of the center means they last a long time, though they do get stuck in my teeth if I chew them up instead of letting them dissolve. The flavor lingers as a dull buzzing feeling on my tongue long after its gone. I like this so much I found that Licorice International carries the nuggets in bulk, so I ordered two 6 ounce packages to refill my tin.
The tin shows a child at the beach (or perhaps just a lakeshore) with a big red pail and sail boats in the background. Of all the designs of their tins, this is my least favorite, perhaps because the design is less focused on the typography.
I first read about Lakrids by Johan Bulow on Chocablog last year. I was hoping to sample their line at ISM Cologne, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found their booth and got to try everything. They sent me home with a few packages of their line of gourmet licorice using real licorice root. The whole line comes in these chic little plastic jars. The products are all named with numbers of letters. The Choc Coated Liquorice is A.
They’re gluten free, which is pretty rare for a licorice product as most of the American and Australian styles are wheat based.
They’re also really expensive at about $8 to $10 per 165 gram (5.8 ounces) jar. (I see a trend already with my licorice leanings, I like the quality stuff.)
They smell a little woodsy and milky. The powdery coating on the outside isn’t cocoa, it’s ground licorice. True licorice is very sweet, and this stuff definitely was real and potent. A little touch to my tongue and it was a sweetness that has no thick or sticky quality like sugar. There’s a deep woodsy note to it as well. The chocolate is sweet and milky, and provides more a texture to the candy than a chocolate flavor. Most of what I got was milk, not chocolate. The licorice center isn’t very sweet but also not quite a salty licorice. There were strong molasses and toffee notes, burnt flavors and dark mossy notes.
It’s more of a savory treat than sweet. It’s incredibly munchable but at the same time, very satisfying to have two or three and be done.
Johan Bulow makes a wide variety of products already, including Habanero Chili Licorice and Chili Cranberry Licorice. I was also taken with the simplicity of the Lakrids 1: Sweet Licorice.
The glossy little nibs hardly look like real edibles, but they are. The flavor is rich and actually creamy. The flavor has a backdrop of roasted notes that come from treacle. It was sweet and bitter. The texture was a little gummy, and did stick to my teeth a bit. Like the chocolate covered version, I didn’t feel the need to keep eating it after a few pieces because they actually satisfied me.
So I got back to Los Angeles with this sample and I was confused and kind of embarrassed by my assumptions. I thought it was Italian. The name is Carletti but I found out it’s a Danish company.
I also picked up some other items they make, such as Dutch Mints (or as they call them Mintlinser Drage) which were also nicely packaged and featured (as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge of Danish) all natural colorings. (See website.)
The little pieces of firm licorice are covered in colorful (naturally colored) candy shells. They’re a little narrower than a regular Chiclet and a bit thicker. The chew was a bit dense but had an excellent flavor profile. It wasn’t salty but also not terribly sweet. The shells seemed to have a light flavor of their own, the orange being notably orange and the purple possibly violet. The center was a bitter and had some good molasses to it.
I was put off by the bitterness, but drawn to the other flavors within, something like charcoal and burnt toast and licorice. But the intensity kept me coming back.
Mentos Lakrits Mint
I’ve purchased Lakrits Mint Mentos a few times before, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually included them in a post.
They look rather watery, not very intense. But don’t let the fact that they’re not full of caramel coloring or molasses fool you. They’re quite licoricey. The flavor does have some of the deep woodsy notes and they’re oddly creamy when chewed. The mint is mostly in the crunchy shell and fades away quickly. The salty tones are very mild, for folks who have never tried salted licorice, this is a good starter.
Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
A more unusual version I found in Amsterdam is the roll that mixes Drop Citroen and Drop Aardbei. Drop is the generic name for licorice in Dutch.
The package may have made it look like one half was Lemon and one half was Strawberry, but they were just a random mix. Mine had about 2/3 aardbei.
The curious structure is revealed ... at the center is a little core of licorice inside the normal fruit chew.
The combination? Well, I wouldn’t say that I loved them, but I did end up eating them all. The center wasn’t so much about licorice, it was more of a salty and molasses flavor, a bit more savory than the bland fruity outside. The lemon was mild and only sweetness. The strawberry was a bit more nuanced, with some more floral and cotton candy notes to it.
This is also made by Perfetti Van Melle, the same folks who make Mentos. What I learned a little bit late in my Dutch adventure was the difference between Zoet and Zout. Drop Zoet are sweet licorice and Drop Zout are salty licorice. One little letter ... so much meaning.
A mix of griotten shaped like large hemispheres and salty rockies. Rockies are a tube of licorice filled with a grainy but slightly less intense licorice cream. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar. They were rooty and earthy. The texture was a bit more doughy than the other brands I’ve been buying and less of a licorice punch with slightly more ammonia salt.
I really bought these because of my curiosity when it came to the little domes. I didn’t know what they were. Turns out, as I mentioned above, they’re like Griotten, a small and dense licorice marshmallow.
It’s a little doughy and spicy. The griotten texture is like a firm, dense marshmallow with a sugary crust. The flavor is deep and not as intense as others I’ve had. There’s a vague ammonia salt note to it, but a strong licorice flavor with a hint of molasses. The molasses gives it the taste of a spice cookie, which is what they look like to me.
Katjes Fruit Tappsy (Germany)
I’ve had the mild licorice Tappsy before. They feature a panda face with different flavors for the ears or other contrasting color parts.
The Fruit Tappsy are gummis with a strong and stiff chew. The licorice portion is mild and the fruity portions are actually quite vibrant. The combination of licorice and fruit, though, is really not to my liking. I think the texture of the Tappsy with the marshmallow base might give a creamier component to these that might bringing it all together for me.
I’m not saying that they’re bad, just not really my favorite of the Tappsy versions out there.
I’ve tried AutoDrop candies before, based solely on the name. The entire brand of AutoDrop candies, made by Van Slooten, are based around the theme of cars and their drivers. Some are winegums but most are licorice. This bag certainly caught my eye, with its matte black background and blue foil line art.
Inside are five different candies, each with a different shape, texture and flavor profile. I don’t actually know what the name means. Donder means thunder, but maybe Donders means crashes.
Megpiraat - one eyed, grinning face - a stiff but smooth chewing molded licorice piece. The flavor has a nice mix of molasses and licorice, which is a light sweetness. A little touch of anise and some deep toffee notes.
Spookrijder - looks like a rustic piece of chalk. I was hoping it would be like Skoolkrijt (a tube of licorice filled with cream and covered in a minty candy shell). The shell is minty, but also a little crumbly. The interior looks like grainy brown sugar and has a pleasant molasses undertone and a faint licorice flavor and a hint of salmiak.
Zondagsruder - a smooth licorice gummi, I quite liked this one. It wasn’t very strong on flavor, more like a light anise with a sweet marshmallow & vanilla note.
Brokkenpiloot - this was the saltiest of the bunch and one that I pulled out of the mix. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I had the most of.
Bumperklever - caramel colored piece that has a light toffee and licorice flavor. This had a bouncy texture that was almost a marshmallow gummi. Sweet but a little salty as well but without the bitter metallic aftertaste.
Overall, kind of a losing situation for me. Out of duty I ate all the Zondagrsruder and a few of the Spookrijder and Bumperklever, but the rest have just been sitting around.
Haribo Lakritz Parade
This mix was like a German version of All Sorts. It included cream licorice (made with fondant) and other panned candies in addition to molded salted licorice pieces. I picked up the peg bag at the grocery store, again, for about a Euro ($1.40).
The little colored pieces were lovely, what’s more, the package said that they only use all natural colorings. There were licorice rods covered in a candy shell, covered in fondant (like All Sorts without the coconut) and larger diamonds of salty licorice covered in a shell (I reviewed those already). There were also little M&Ms which were a crumbly molassesy sugar mixed with licorice and salt.
They looked great, but I can’t say that my problem was with the flavor as most were just bland. The pastilles were bland, just kind of earthy and chewy. The little lentil thing was just grainy and a little bitter, the colorful licorice tubes were just sweet.
The molded licorice shapes were enchanting to look at. I can’t say that their attention to quality control was great. These were the best in the bunch. The salino is like a Zout, it was doughy and yes, a little bland except for the strong ammonia quality. The others were, again, watery and tasteless except for a dirt and vague anise note. The chew was smooth.
This is another licorice I bought in Amsterdam. It was pretty cheap, I’d say less than $2 American. I wanted just a simple licorice pastel. I’ve had Venco products before, I buy their Skoolkrijt all the time. So I thought their version of Good & Plenty would be great as well. I also lucked out that I chose a zoet licorice (unlike that Haribo Sali-Kritz)
I was worried about the word hard in the description, but at least that part turned out not to be true.
First, I’m not keen on dark colored candies, they tend to need more coloring, which displaces actual flavors and textures that should be there. So the blue and the black ones were not ones I ate with much interest.
The little rods of licorice are covered in a thin but crunchy shell. The licorice at the center is actually overpowered by the flavor of the shell. The shells, in some cases were flavored. I don’t know if they were supposed to be flavored, but the blue/purple ones were definitely floral, like violet. Not heavily licorice flavored, these just left me bored. Even the color assortment didn’t thrill me. Half of the fun of candy coated candy is the look of it.
While I was traveling in Germany I mostly when off of how things looked, but every once in a while, I pulled out my Android phone (which didn’t work as a phone) and used the German-English dictionary to look things up. So I knew that this was a black licorice bar. The character on the front says that it’s soft licorice. So at least the words were helpful.
The package is creepy. I like the boldness of it, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the graphic work that Haribo does. But this anthropomorphic character of a string of licorice palling around with a boy is just weird. Go ahead, look at it closer. But hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, right. I didn’t even flinch at the insulting Asian caricature in the previous mix.
It’s a hefty bar, at 125 grams (4.41 ounces) for about a buck.
The bar pulls apart into licorice rods quite easily. Each is about the size and shape of an unsharpened pencil. It is soft and pliable, glossy and really looks so promising.
But it tastes so bad. The chew is dense and has a strong wheat flavor to it, yes, it actually tastes a bit like flour or al dente pasta. But there’s more, it’s a bit tangy, in the way that weak coffee can be tangy. And it has a weak licorice flavor to go with that. It’s only vaguely sweet and not quite salty. It’s not overtly earthy but tastes a little musty.
This has pushed me over the edge to proclaim that I don’t wish to ever eat another Haribo licorice product again.
Friday, March 4, 2011
While I was sorting my candy from the ISM Cologne trade fair, I usually grouped products together in little baggies according to the manufacturer. At one point I found that I had a lot of little cream fudge pieces that had pictures of cows on them.
I reviewed this version of Polish Cream Fudge last summer.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
There are some trends that I’ve noticed at the confectionery show. One of them is the lack of trends. There is very little trendiness, perhaps I noticed this because I’m from Los Angeles where we’re very trend conscious. But as far as I can tell, confectionery, at the moment, is all about doing what it does well. It’s not retreating, it’s not fighting back, it’s just putting itself out there: proud and sweet.
I feel like confectionery apologizes for itself a lot, at least in the United States At this show, there’s very little talk of 100 calorie treats or obesity crises. The only politic notes are conversations about Egypt and sometimes about Fair Trade and chocolate slavery issues.
Most of the confectioners and representatives I’m meeting are proud to talk about why their product is the best in its class, or at the very least, why they think it’s the best in their market.
I like that. It’s a simple sort of thing and sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching these folks as a writer who wants to hear their story, instead of a buyer who wants to make a good deal.
If there’s disappointment from me about the show, it’s that there are a few very big confectionery companies that are not represented: Haribo, Ritter Sport, Mars/Wrigley, Nestle, Kraft and Lindt are the biggest ones. There are other large companies that also have huge booths (honestly, if my house and yard can fit in the space, I can’t call it a booth) with receptionist and appointment books who do not wish to talk to the likes of me. This is fine, I can continue my relationship with these brands like the rest of Candy Blog’s readers, as a buyer and consumer. To that end, since I’ve been in Europe I’ve visited dozens of stores, just so I could see what’s on shelves and buy what everyone else is buying. So don’t think that just because I went to Germany and the trade show didn’t have any Haribo that I didn’t pack up this extra suitcase with some stuff from the grocery store.
The last day of the show is about to begin, and I admit I’m more than a bit weary but also a bit energized because I still have some important meetings. (Really, I dread packing and leaving this lovely city.)
Monday, January 31, 2011
Day two consisted of much walking. I have a better sense of the layout of the show at this point and did pretty much walk through about 70% of the aisles on day 1, so day 2 was about diving deeper into those that caught my eye. For most of the day I was in the company of some other Americans who had some different goals. This was fun for me to watch, as they were experiencing some different products and confectionery styles for the first time. I was also smitten with quite a few things which I’ve picked up samples for.
Part of what I enjoyed was finding a brand that I was familiar with and seeing what else they make. In the United States, when something is imported and carried at a store I shop at, it’s usually been carefully curated for a reason. For example, I went to the booth of Amarelli, which makes “Liquirizia di Calabria”. You may have seen their tins before, they’re beautiful and charming (the same basic format as the Altoid tin).
They had some lovely tins, many products which we can’t get in the States. I’ve usually purchased their tiny nibs of licorice coated in a white candy shell with a light mint flavor to them. What interested me though were their other, more exotic, flavor combinations, such as orange and licorice and even violet and licorice. I got a sample of their vanilla rocks, which are large chunks of licorice coated in a vanilla shell that of course look like white pebbles (in the lower right of the photo).
You can follow along as I post some of my photos on Flickr.
Also, after the show I realized that there are some important German brands that are either not exhibiting at the show or not willing to talk to the blogging press, so I hopped on the U-bahn and hit the local stores (Aldi, Rewe & Penny Markt) to pick up some local Haribo, Katjes, Mars and Ritter Sport candies.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
After day one of ISM, the international Sweets and Biscuit Fair in Cologne I have no handy, condensed update.
I am officially overwhelmed, and if you know me and my ability to take in candy, you’ll understand how huge this thing is.
That building up there is filled with candy. There are 10 halls and 6 of them are taken with candy displays. I went through about two halls on the first day and it took me at least 90 minutes to just get my bearings. I don’t speak German, though I understand it pretty well for the basics and at least can read some of it. But I’m never prepared for the overwhelming crush of a big show like this.
I’m on the look out for trends, but it’s hard to spot because it is such an international fair and the companies and products are so specific. If there’s one trend I can spot it’s that every country makes it’s own version of the same thing. You like Chupa Chups? There are 20 other regional versions of them around the world made by other companies. Same goes for Mentos and of course things like Caramel Wafer Bars.
I’ll leave you with a photo, as I prepare for my second day:
Monday, January 24, 2011
ISM Cologne is the world’s largest confectionery trade fair. For over forty years it’s featured the best in European candy and biscuits (cookies). About 1,500 companies from 70 different countries around the world come to display their wares to buyers, wholesalers and brokers.
I’ll be attending this year, with a full press pass to cover the show. The show lasts four days, starting Sunday, January 30th to Wednesday, February 2nd at the 4th largest convention hall in Europe, Kolnmesse. The exhibits cover more than one million square feet. (I’m bringing good walking shoes.)
I’m really excited to go to Germany, which has such a rich and varied tradition of candy. They have such a wide array of confectionery traditions, from their invention of the Gummi Bear, traditional devotion to dairy milk chocolate and marzipan and globally known brands such as Ritter Sport, Haribo and Kinder (part of Ferrero).
My journey will begin in Amsterdam, where I plan to spend three days checking out the local licorice and chocolate scene. Then I head to Cologne via ICE (high speed train) on Friday. I’m hoping to spend a day before the show starts visiting local German stores to see how and where candy is sold to get a sense of how confections fit into daily life in comparison to North America. Cologne is also home to the Chocolate Museum, so I plan to get a world-class education on chocolate.
Posting may be a little lighter here for the next ten days or so, but after I get home with my lovely samples and photos, I’ll have lots to share.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.