Thursday, January 17, 2008
Over the holidays my mother was in town for a visit and we went on a hunt for exotic citrus. I thought for sure I could find some fresh yuzu in Little Tokyo. (I was also keeping my eyes open for kalamansi, dalandan and ponkan.) Finally I did see some yuzu at Mitsuwa Marketplace, but at $29.99 a pound (about $8 each), I had to give up on my plans to candy yuzu peel.
There were a few consolation prizes though, including my new favorite Wheat Chocolate and I picked up a tube of Meiji Gummy Choco.
I’ve had these before, one of my co-workers loves to bring in new finds from her local Asian market and shared some with me. But I gobbled them up before I could take any pictures. So here they are, in all their glory.
Meiji packages these in several different ways, but I prefer the tall tube (a little shorter than a standard paper towel roll).
The design on the package is absolutely wonderful. It’s colorful and exciting but not too busy. Even without the English on the package, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going on inside. Each end shows the little candies, just slightly larger than real life. There are also cute little peep mascots on the package wearing little hats ... I think they’re hats, or someone’s dipped their heads in chocolate.
Luckily this was an export package and was in English. The mix of flavors here are Strawberry, Muscat and Orange. The flavored white chocolate coating is real white chocolate. The ingredients for the confection start out like this: sugar, corn syrup, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, palm oil, concentrated fruit juice, skim milk powder, cacao mass, gelatin ... and so on.
Now, you may find this a little odd, but before I was exposed to the Gummy Choco, I’d never had chocolate-covered gummis before. (I’ll have some Muddy Bears up in the next week or so as a comparison). Somehow I always thought that the texture combo wouldn’t work, that the chocolate would be grainy and flaky compared to the gummi or that the chocolate would be subpar. Meiji has balanced theirs with a very soft gummi that’s pretty intensely flavored along with a generous and flavored white chocolate coating.
If the idea of white chocolate is just too difficult for you, Meiji makes a milk chocolate and strawberry version that’s also spectacular (and often sold in boxes instead of the tubes). I haven’t seen them in the States, but here are some more versions on Flickr.
Basically, I love these. I love the look of the package, I love the easy-to-dispense tube. The taste is great, often with flavor mixes there’s one that I don’t like, but I loved all of them. The price for an import candy wasn’t too bad ($1.49 at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Plaza) and it was absolutely fresh. There’s even 8% of my daily RDA of calcium in every serving. If they sold these at movie theaters, I might actually start going to the movies again.
They’re pretty popular and can be found in both Chinese, Korean and Japanese markets as well as various webstores. I’m not sure if they’re carried in comic book stores, but keep an eye out anyplace that you can find manga and other Asian imports.
(Meiji also makes other tubular goodness with their Coffee Beat.)
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Sometimes I order stuff on the internet because I like the sound of the name. I saw Kasugai’s Fruits Lemonade (also known as Ramune Iro Iro) on JBox.com and since I was already ordering a gazillion rolls of Pineapple Mentos, so I figured I should get some other stuff too.
From the description it was clear that these were just compressed dextrose candies like Smarties or SweeTarts. But the intriguing part was it looked like they came in pineapple. As I was in a pineapple mood, it was quickly in my cart and on its way to me.
The little package is cute and has a variety of different sizes. Some are large sweets, about the size of four quarters stacked up. Others were little tablets in rolls - some were tiny, others were a little bigger (like the size of American Smarties).
Most of the rolls were of all one flavor: Lemon, Strawberry, Pineapple, Kiwi or Orange. They were color coded and had little images of the fruits, so I had no trouble figuring out what I was going to get. (Well, the green one was a bit of a puzzle, but I eventually figured out that it was Kiwi, either that or a honeydew.)
There were a couple of rolls that were combinations of flavors. It was extremely hard to tell as they weren’t really different colors. I kind of liked that it was all about the flavor and there were no colors in there.
The texture was softer than Smarties ... in fact, the large ones were downright powdery. There was one larger roll (shown above) that had truly dense ones, but the rest were about the same. While I like a softer style most of the time, because you get right to the flavor, these had an odd chalky taste to them. It was like there was something else in there along with the sugar, maybe some sort of calcium carbonate and I’m actually getting some nutrition or something.
Overall the flavors were more intense than Smarties, but not as flavorful as SweeTarts. They weren’t truly sour through, not like a lot of other ramune products I’ve had. However, the high proportion of Pineapple items in this was what made it truly tasty. Sure it’s called Lemonade Mix, but it was really all about the Pineapple.
As a small side note, I’ve been experimenting with my husband’s Nikon D70 DSLR. He shot the two photos above in a little session we had over the weekend. I’m debating a move away from my point & shoot Sony DSC-V3. While I love my little camera, the control I have on the focus is a little frustrating sometimes. For now I’ll just borrow his for a while. (I think his photos turned out fantastic. It’s very hard to get a crisply focused shot on cellophane items, and the control on the depth of field is also amazing.)
Thursday, January 03, 2008
First is the Nestle KitKat Peanut Butter from Canada. The format on this bar is the single chunky finger. This is actually larger at 1.76 ounces than the American single finger bar which is 1.59 ounces. I found this bar at Mel & Rose’s Wine & Liquors on Melrose Ave a month ago.
The bar is thick and chunky but follows the standard KitKat formula.
There are wafers with cream filling then a thick stripe of peanut butter all covered in milk chocolate.
The package smelled strongly of raw peanuts when I opened it. Roasted peanuts have a deep and smoky tone to them, this was that higher octave scent, like freshly snapped peas mixed with peanuts.
The crunch of the bar was good, but there’s definitely a lot of chocolate in operation here. The peanut butter stripe is great. It’s very flavorful despite being so thin. It’s not sweetened at all, in fact it’s pretty salty. I preferred eating this bar like I eat most KitKats. I nibble off both ends of chocolate, then all the chocolate off the sides. Then I eat the less-chocolatey remains.
It was really good and I think I’d buy this if I could find it at my local store. Far more satisfying than a regular KitKat (4 grams of protein - one more than a regular) and not nearly as sweet.
Rating: 7 out of 10
She sent me Ginger & Pistachio which I already reviewed and loved last spring. The new-to-me flavor was Cafe Cortado. It’s a vanilla caramel with coffee.
Unfortunately I’m not keen on coffee beans in my food. It might be that I have a problem with caffeine or it might be that I don’t care for the texture, but these just didn’t do it for me. I tried a few, but I was very aware that I needed to eat them before noon (as I don’t drink coffee after that) which always made me feel pressured.
The great news though is that the wrapping of the caramels has been changed to a heavier waxed paper. They no longer stick to the paper and are far easier to keep popping in your mouth. The box looks deceptively small but holds a quarter of a pound of rich, boiled sugar & butter. You can order direct on their website for about $6.99 a box (less if you order more).
Rating: 8 out of 10
They’re not a transparent gummi, instead they’re opaque and matte. They’re still very soft and bouncy. They have a distinct bite, not a rubbery as a German gummi. The thing that was most clear was that this is a real fruit product. The texture feels a bit like pear, there’s a slight grain to it. Then there were a few bits of zest in there.
The flavor is predominantly tangerine with a little dollop of grapefruit & lemon in there for good measure. Completely addictive, I ordered two bags and ate both. They’re small bags though at only 35 grams each. I can’t remember how much I paid for them and of course JBox doesn’t have them on their site right now. (Here’s the official webpage.) See Sera’s review.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Traditional Halva bars from Sultan’s Finest Foods are little .71 ounce bits of plain halva. They’re smooth and creamy with a strong sesame flavor to them.
It’s the perfect portion size, if only I can find them somewhere. These are made in Tunisia, and may be the first Tunisian candy mentioned on the blog! They’re imported by Agora International and come in a sugar free version as well. I think these sorts of sesame snacks are ideal, especially for hot weather. It’s creamy and filling, not too sweet and of course does better in hot weather than chocolate.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I’ve seen the Sencha Green Tea Mints at stores for years. I just couldn’t get my brain around them for the longest time. I like a mint that has some zazz to it, and the idea of green tea in a mint seemed to defeat the purpose.
These were sample packages that I picked up at ExpoWest which is for natural products. They’re usually sold in little maroon or dark colored tins with a clear top. These compressed candies are made from xylitol & sorbitol, which are natural sugar alcohols. They have a cool feeling on the tongue (and shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities because of some digestive troubles they can cause) and a subtle flavor.
The three flavors I got were: Delicate Pear, which is just slightly fruity and sweet. Green Tea was subtle and while fresh tasting, didn’t leave that minty burn.
The tea ingredients are fair trade and xylitol is supposed to be a pretty good base for gum & mints (not bad for your teeth, but bad for dogs). It’s hard to find sugar free mints that don’t have artificial sweeteners in them, so if you’re looking for something that fits that niche, these might be for you.
Rating: 5 out of 10
I’m very late with my write up on Stained Glass Candy. I ordered it online about a year ago. I expected it to be pretty little hexagonal disks of candy (about the size of a quarter), but the photography on their website didn’t prepare me at all for how lovely this stuff was.
Though it’s expensive for hard candy at $12.95 a pound (when you order 2 pounds), I figured I’d give it a try. The cool thing is that you can custom design your flavor mix, so I chose one pound of herbs & spices: cinnamon, hot cinnamon, wintergreen and anise. The second pound I did as fruits: banana, orange, lemon and pineapple.
Each piece came sealed in a little clear plastic sleeve with the name of the flavor printed on it. This was helpful as I’d ordered both cinnamon and hot cinnamon (definitely a difference!). The shapes were lovely, the colors clear (except for banana), distinctive and tasty. I loved the pineapple and anise especially.
The downside is that they’re a little softer than some hard candies, so they either need to be stored in a fridge to keep them from losing their shape eventually or just eaten quickly. The softness also means that they stick to teeth and can’t be crunched. But I kind of like slowly shaping them to the roof of my mouth.
I probably wouldn’t order these again unless I had a special need for them like a party or something. They’d make nice wedding favors or for a shower or something. But at five times the price of regular hard candy, it’d have to be a very special occasion or a very special flavor.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Friday, December 28, 2007
For a couple of years, over in the snack aisle of the Japanese market, I’ve noticed these larger bags of chocolate covered grains on the bottom shelf. Most are wheat, some are rice. They’re usually in rather generic looking bags and not as demanding of my attention as the other Japanese candies on the other side of the aisle. But last time I just had to pick this up. It was called by the very simple name of Wheat Chocolate (Mugi Chocolate).
It looks like it’s a puffed wheat covered in shiny milk chocolate. And that’s pretty much what it is.
The English nutrition label says that the ingredients are barley puffs, not wheat. These are a little small, about half the size of the wheat puffs you might be familiar with if you eat Sugar Smacks. Of course the idea of barley was pretty appealing to me (I’m a barley nut).
Whatever grain they are, they’re all perfectly crisped and coated with a thin layer of milk chocolate and then given a shiny confectioners glaze.
They’re all about the size of a green pea, though a few are doubles stuck together. The chocolate is sweet and thin with a pretty strong milky flavor to it. This goes perfectly with the strong malty puffed grain inside. Each is foamy and crisp.
The bag held 5.46 ounces and I ate it in two days. Seriously addictive stuff. I couldn’t stop popping them in my mouth and I have to wonder why I can’t get an American version of these. The package was really charming too, mostly clear cellophane to display the lovely chocolate and bordered with pink and some little drawings of people and houses. (It felt kind of Dutch to me, honestly.)
Oddly enough I also had another puffed grain candy from the other side of the world recently too. It’s called Kinder Country made by Ferrero. It’s a small bar (23 grams - a little more than 3/4 of an ounce), about half the size of a regular Hershey’s (though a bit thicker). I got this at Mel & Rose’s Wine & Spirits on Melrose in Los Angeles.
The outside is a milk chocolate shell, which is that really sticky sweet milk chocolate that Kinder is known for. Inside is a smooth and buttery cream filling. It’s not quite white chocolate, much more dairy flavored and not too sweet. The fun part is that it’s studded with puffed rice. (Not crisped rice.) The flavor combination is like cereal and milk. The puffs are so light and airy, it makes this tiny bar pretty satisfying. (Sera also reviewed it this week - her wrapper looked different than this import though.)
It’s a tasty bar. Not quite as addictive as the Wheat Chocolate, but certainly different from our usual American crisped rice goodies.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A few months ago I was contacted by JBox, the webstore that lets North Americans buy Japanese snacks directly from Japan. I’ve ordered from them before, so I was happy to have some personal contact from them and I suggested they start carrying some items that I know readers here are interested in. (Juntsuyu for one and Mentos.) They also gave me a sassy gift certificate so that I could try a wider variety of their products. (I’ve already reviewed HiCHEW Yuzu & Valencia Orange, UHA Puccho Custard, Lotte Crunky and Shigekix Aha! Brain on their dime.)
After my wonderful experience with the Asian Sour Mentos that had pineapple in the mix, I had to try the Japanese Pine Fresh Mentos.
I was so encouraged that I ordered three rolls of the Pine Fresh. Can I just say that I’m sorry I only ordered three?
The package is so funny. Usually the upper corner above the local says “Chewy Dragee” or “Chewy Mint”. In this case it says “The Chewy Pine Fresh.”
The color is a delicate and soft yellow. They don’t smell like much, but Mentos rarely do.
Upon biting into them I get a nice burst of floral fruitiness - it reminds me of freesias (which remind me of Froot Loops).
Then there’s a tart bite and a good rounded flavor of pineapple.
I love ‘em. I’m out of ‘em.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
These are from Japan and come in a few different varieties. They’re called Inside Out KitKats. I was calling them Naked KitKats for a while until I found out the real name.
They’re a KitKat without the coating. The bar is longer (about 5.5”) and generally larger. The center filling is lightly flavored. I think the one pictured is Chestnut.
A few KitKat variations out there seem to be breaking the rules of KitKats ... KitKats are supposed to be multi-bars that can be snapped into fingers to share or enjoy slowly. (I’ve never met anyone who just chomps on a whole KitKat.)
But this comes down to the discussion of what should be included under a particular candy “brand”. When I think of Reese’s, the essential element is peanut butter and the secondary element is cups ... the third element is chocolate. You can add things in there, but but taking away more than one of those essentials just mucks with it so much that it ceases to be a Reese’s.
The same goes with KitKat. It has to be fingers (even if the fingers are sold individually), it has to have crispy wafers and it has to have some sort of chocolate coating (be it white, milk or dark). Here we’ve lost the coating and the “fingers” have become as large as rods.
Okay, so maybe they’re not KitKats. What are they? They’re cookies. Cookie wafers with a cream filling and I dare say it, they’re no longer candy. They fall into the confectionery category, but out of my realm of specialization.
Naming and placement on the taxonomic chart of candy aside, these are okay. The wafers are certainly crispy, but they’re also dry. There’s not enough cream filling to give them much of a flavor, and subtle is fine, but there’s so little going on here. I’d say they’re the perfect summer candy bar because there’s no worries about melting, but there’s also so little moisture here I’m worried about dehydration and these sucking what little fluids I have left out of my system.
I tried two flavor sets: chestnut and mango. Chestnut is pleasant because the sweet nutty flavors go with the cream sweetness. The mango was just weird, the pine-type flavors of the cream just seemed to fight with the bar on the whole. Perhaps if it had a bit of a tang to it or recognized more of the juiciness of the fruit instead of just the flavor, it might have worked more. Of course that would be an even larger departure from the KitKat-ness.
I still have a few of these left (and I’ve had them since January - both Amy in Japan and Santos gave them to me) and even when I eat them and find them okay, I keep forgetting I have them and when I see them sitting there I have no impulse to eat them.
Friday, July 06, 2007
This is just a bunch of candy that I photographed but never got around to reviewing. I ate it and everything, but I couldn’t come up with more than 50 words about it and that seemed like a slight for regular readers. (Okay, now that I’ve finished writing this very long post, it seems that I am able to come up with more than 50 words.)
Chocovic is one of my favorite brands of Single Origin chocolate. They’re not even that expensive when you find them at Trader Joes and the Ocumare is smooth and buttery. I was excited that they were adding milk chocolate to their line with the Jade 40% Cocoa Solids Milk Chocolate Bar. The bar was nice, a little acidic and maybe tasted a bit like raisins. It was not as smooth and creamy as I’d hoped but really rich. I loved the package.
This one got a little broken when I brought it back from Chicago, so I thought I’d wait around until I saw another one before I gave it a full review. It’s been a full year and I havne’t seen them anywhere.
These are just a wee little treat from Fauchon that Santos at Scent of Green Bananas gave me last year. They’re so cute!
I was going to review them, and then Sugar Savvy did, so I thought I’d wait and well, here it is, July.
They’re little guanduias, just hazelnut chocolates. They’re rather like the Caffarel ones I reviewed, and I’ve since found that this little “hat” shaped chocolate is pretty common in Europe.
There were two little candies in each pink “purse”. While I thought these were adorable, they’re also fantastically expensive. This is something that’s confused me for a while. Guanduia was invented as a way to “extend” chocolate supplies, so while hazelnuts themselves aren’t cheap, they aren’t that expensive either. But these are. ($6.50 for two pieces of chocolate?)
It’s all in the packaging. The price and branding led me to believe that these would be top notch. Sadly they weren’t. I found them a little chalky. Now, I’ve had plenty of bloomed chocolate, but this wasn’t like a bloom, it was just like it was a little dry.
But the nuts were fresh and crunchy. If you’re really in the mood for some guanduia, just pick some plain old stuff up. Or get one of these and a big bag of Caffarel and keep refilling the pretty pink purse for portion control and fashion.
Last year at All Candy Expo I came across a company that was showing off some really nice candies. They had several lines, they included all natural gummies and some little fruit chews called Gazillions that I really loved. Their booth was pretty cool too, spacious and inviting and pretty sassy with the candy displayed in giganto martini glasses.
The company is called Value Quest Foods ... no website, really, no info out there.
It’s a shame, because I could see a lot of their products going places if they were packaged for the North American market a little better. Candy is really a tough business.
Gazillions are little chewy candy morsels that look like itty bitty pieces of popcorn. They’re about the size of a lentil. They’ve got a slight crackly shell and inside it’s a chew. They came in a bunch of different flavors but I liked Pineapple best. Kind of like an itty bitty Starburst or fruit Mentos. I didn’t care much for the box, which was about the size of a box of matches. I think they’d do better in a little tin or a more appealing box.
They come in Green Apple, Pineapple, Orange, Lemon, Fruity Punch, Raspberry and Strawberry. But that doesn’t matter because I’ve never seen them for sale. Great name though.
The other cool item that they later sent me as a sample was something called Fruities, which I have to say are stunning to look at. They’re also like the Gazillions in that they’re a fruit chew, a little latexy, kind of like HiCHEW with a hard, crunchy shell. And of course the selling point is that they look like real fruit, down to the variations in the colored candy shell. The scale is a little weird, that the limes are bigger than pears ... but hey, they were lovely.
Tasty? Not quite as flavorful as I would have hoped and not really in the flavors I would like.
Last year in Chinatown in New York City I found these things called Fruitips. They’re a long tube, almost as long as a paper towel core and filled with sugar sanded jellies and weighs about 5 ounces. That’s it. They’re fruit jellies. They’re nice and come a few different varieties, I chose the mixed fruits. I like all of them except for purple, which is blackcurrant.
I mention this one because I actually saw these for sale at Big Lots. I can attest that even stale as they are now, these were pretty good, so if you can get a tube for less than $1.50 (what I paid) then I say give them a whirl.
Everything here gets a solid 6 out of 10 for whatever reason. If you’re ever curious what I have sitting around that I might be preparing to review, check out my Flickr set of photos called “Unreviewed”.
Friday, June 15, 2007
One of the things I like so much about some of the Japanese candies is that they’re incredibly flavorful. I couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at JBox telling me about a new UHA Shigekix product called Aha! Brain. It comes in a few different flavors, including “Energy Drink Flavor”, which puzzled me and scared me enough to prompt me to stick to the comfortably familiar flavor called Citrus Flavor.
I tried Shigekix a couple of years ago in the Cola flavor and found them kind of fun. This package doesn’t have the familiar schmoo character on the front, instead a PacMan type character with some sort of electrified brain.
The little gumdrop shaped candies are covered in a light and uneven candy shell. The shell is merely sweet and carries no flavor as far as I can tell. The gummi center, however, is jam packed with flavor. The gummi is much softer than the regular Shigekix, rather like a slightly stale Haribo Bear.
The citrus flavor is just bursting with complexity. It has the zesty notes of grapefruit and perhaps yuzu and lemon then the tart bite and a bit of sweet juiciness. I have no idea if my brain is more awake than before, but my salivary glands are working overtime here.
I probably wouldn’t go popping this to solve problems, but I could see it being a good treat for long car trips where I need to stay alert.
Shigegix Aha! Brain also comes in Muscat flavor.
Check out the JBox site where they feature four different ads from Japan for the product. I have no idea what’s going on (I believe the dancing woman in the yellow helmet is caused by eating Aha! Brain). Now I want that helmet (I rode my bike to work today and my plain white helmet just isn’t doing it for me ... well, except for protecting my now super-Aha’ed brain).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.