Friday, May 30, 2008
This short work-week has been a bit of a round-up period, I’m doing a lot of these short reviews in long posts to try to cover a lot of the candy I have.
I first had these a couple of years ago, at a time when I was gobbling up every Japanese black sugar candy I could get my hands on. Japanese black sugar (kuro sato) traditionally comes from Okinawa and is similar to molasses or muscovado sugar.
I couldn’t resist buying a few boxes of the Morinaga Black Sugar Caramel (Kokutou) in my last order from JList, mostly because I was also ordering other black sugar items and wanted to remind myself.
They don’t look like much, but the little bullion cube sized morsels are packed with dark creamy flavor. Not too sweet and just slightly rummy at the end. They come in oodles of other flavors. I’ve tried the original Milk Caramel, Matcha, Black Sesame and Azuki, but I always come back to the Black Sugar.
Rating: 8 out of 10
While Morinaga has their line of milk caramels, Meiji has their toffee squares called Chelsea that similarly come in many varieties: Yogurt Scotch, Butterscotch, Matcha, Azuki and even mixes like Dessert.
When I saw that the Black Sugar Chelsea variety was available in the single flavor box, I jumped and ordered three packs.
The design aesthetic of the Chelsea line can’t be beat. The little box with it’s slide tray & bronzy flower design is easily distinguished from the other flavors, yet easily identified from a distance as Chelsea.
The flat pack box is easy to stash in a pocket as well, and the individual wrappers keep it all fresh.
The smooth tile of candy has no voids. Though it’s sweet, it’s pretty mellow and milky, kind of like a chai without the spice. There’s a background of woodsy flavors like brown sugar. It’s not as intensely “black sugar” as I’d like, but these are really refreshing. They don’t feel heavy and have a sort of jasmine tea finish that feels so fresh.
Chelsea also comes in bags with plastic wrapped pieces. I don’t like those as much, I really like the foil wrappers (though they’ve done a nice job of designing the sealed wraps).
Rating: 9 out of 10
Even though I already had two packs of Banana HiCHEW sitting around from a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace earlier this year, I just had to order the Tropical Mix along with the Pineapple.
The Tropical Mix package seems to promise peach, white grape, banana and pineapple. I’d assumed that this was a mixed flavor package. But when I opened it I found that each piece was identically wrapped. Sadly (well for me and my silly expectations) it was a fruit punch and not a mixed pack. The flavor of the fruit punch is actually quite nice, I can actually detect the peachy and banana flavors in there.
My Pineapple HiCHEW were backordered (probably because I bought three packs). I was certain they were good and I wasn’t disappointed. They have a light yellow center and were extremely fresh and soft.
They start sweet then build with a tangy and kind of woodsy pine essence. The flavor lasts all the way to the end and still leaves a fresh feeling in the mouth.
Banana Rating: 7 out of 10
I bought these on a lark. Last year I picked up something called UHA Puccho Baked Custard, which sounds dreadful but it was pretty dreamily good. Of course I wanted to buy it again and have had no luck finding it. (It probably said limited edition on the wrapper, but I don’t read Japanese.)
So when I saw this Tsubu Tsubu HiCHEW Chocolate Banana, I thought that sounded something like a custard-like chew. For $1.25 I could take a chance.
It’s a HiCHEW banana base, soft and bouncy and included in the chew are little things that look like large nonpariels (sprinkles). I guess that’s supposed to be the chocolate part. It’s not really. The crunch is nice but not as well defined as the Puccho does with their gummi & crunchy inclusions.
While I think that HiCHEW is made for people of all ages, my guess is that the Tsubu Tsubu is probably for kids and my grown-up palate just couldn’t get into it.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Monday, April 28, 2008
I’ve had my eye out as I’ve been traveling for other versions of Mentos. Once I ran across the pink grapefruit at a gas station outside of Stockton, so you never know. The cool thing was that I knew that I had a package from Japan waiting for me when I returned from my Bay Area Confectionery Escapade (tm).
Japan has great Mentos. Fuji Apple & Pine Fresh have to be some of the best. But their Grape has some devoted followers. I wasn’t sure what Banana ‘n Cream would be like, but I enjoyed my Banana HiCHEW recently (sorry, I never wrote about them).
The packages doesn’t even say banana on it, it just has pictures of the fruit on it. Upon tasting it, there’s no mistaking it. The chews are at first a soft banana flavor, then after chewing for a bit a tangy, kind of yogurt flavor emerges. Not quite green banana, but maybe a little lemony (like yogurt can often taste).
I never got the ‘n Cream part, just the banana. A nice taste and an interesting change of pace from the tangier fruits. It doesn’t have that freaky artificial taste like Circus Peanuts (that may be a plus or a minus depending on where you fall on the whole Circus Peanuts as valid confectionery debate).
Rating: 6 out of 10
I found these Red Orange Mentos at Holland’s Best in San Jose. I’m unsure of their age. The code at the end of the wrapper says 2007 E50264C, which is either a manufacture day, or a pull date (I suspect the latter since the banana ones said 2009 on them). Either way, they were still fresh enough for me to eat.
The color is more of a pink than an orange. The flavor is more of a tangerine than a blood orange (which is what I think red orange means in North America), but it’s still very tasty. It’s zesty and tangy. It’s not quite the dreamy dalandan & ponkan ones I’ve had, but at least these seem to be a regular product. I’m glad I bought two packages. There’s vitamin C in there, if I can do math properly in Dutch, it’s about 50 mg per roll.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I talked to Caitlin, who runs Miette Confiserie about the now-discontinued Pink Grapefruit Mentos. She spoke with Perfetti Van Melle about it, who said they were happy to make them again, if she could guarantee that she’d buy the minimum order directly from them. (Which is literally in the tons.) So it doesn’t look like they’re going to be coming back soon in the single flavor pack. (The Citrus Mix still exists in Asia/Australia though.)
Monday, April 14, 2008
KitKat in Japan has been hard at work churning out new limited edition and seasonal flavors. I’ve been kind of picky about which ones I want to buy and review, so here was one that I was particularly interested in: KitKat Vanilla Beans.
As with all of the premium limited edition KitKats in the single serve size, this comes in a box with two individually wrapped finger pairs.
It’s basically a white chocolate KitKat. I picked it up because the ingredients listed real cocoa butter, so this is true white chocolate instead of some partially hydrogenated/tropical oil mess.
It features real flecks of vanilla beans in the coating as well, which I’d hoped would be like the rich bourbon flavors of the Green & Black’s White Chocolate bar.
It smells quite milky and sweet, almost cloyingly so. The melt is nice, it does have a good dairy flavor and it’s not as sweet as I’d feared. The vanilla flavor is true and well rounded (not single-noted like the nature-identical vanillin).
The wafers balance it all out ... but I think I could have used a little bit of salt in the cream or something to keep it from being throat burningly sugary.
It’s not spectacularly better than a regular US white chocolate KitKat, certainly not for the price. In fact for the price per ounce the Green & Black’s is a better deal and ethically traded (but you’ll have to add your own crispy element). Rating: 6 out of 10
Like the KitKat, Nestle goes through a lot of different limited editions of their popular Aero Bar for Japan. Aeros are available in the UK, Canada and Australia but for some reason have never been introduced in the US. (There was a Nestle chocolate bar called the Choco-Lite back in the 70s-early 80s.)
I’ve reviewed the Mint and Milk Chocolate Aero before and have a Caramel Aero in my review queue. The UK also has a version of little spheres (about the size of malted milk balls) called Aero Bubbles. I find the UK Aeros at import shops including Cost Plus World Market pretty regularly.
It’s the Japanese Aeros that are so fun though, especially since they have these cute little individually wrapped nuggets in the Limited Edition versions. I found these at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Little Tokyo but they’re also available online through eBay and JBox. This one is called Aero Bitter Orange and has a companion KitKat bar that came out last year as well. (I tried them but didn’t review them. Pretty tasty milk chocolate with a mellow orange cream filling between the wafers.)
It lives up to the Aero name. It is a fluffed bite of chocolate. The orange topping is orangy, not in the least tangy or complexly zesty but slightly bitter as promised.
The bubbles in Aero give it an interesting texture, more fudgy than chocolatey, it’s still a nice confectionery experience. The box makes them seem like a nicer candy treat than perhaps they actually are, as does the price ($1.99 for 1.76 ounces.) Rating: 7 out of 10
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
It’s fun to see some more inventive materials used. Every Burger (or maybe it’s all one word, Everyburger) is two little sesame cookies with a dollop of chocolate to simulate the burger and a dollop of white confection to simulate the cheese.
I’m not sure if they count as candy or if they’re just cookies sold in the candy aisle.
The cookies are very sesame. Probably too much for me. I love halvah and those sesame snaps, but I just don’t like the darker taste of toasted sesame, and these have that.
But how can I not love the little detail of the seeds on the bun?
The chocolate is sweet and less than chocolatey - mostly it just has a cool and buttery feeling on the tongue. The cookie isn’t very sweet, it’s kind of like a sesame animal cracker.
Overall, it’s a fun little treat, in a convenient package (about 1.2 ounces per tray and 182 calories per tray).
They’re kind of like Pocky. Just a bland cookie and some chocolate. But in this case, it’s a really fun bit of tromp l’oeil.
There is (or was) a Bitter version and Caramel and if you’re looking for them, the packaging can vary depending on the size. Here’s an earlier version of the package from Robyn in 2005 and really old school and a current single-serve version.
Bourbon, the Japanese manufacturer of EveryBurger also makes the wildly popular CubyRop.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Since I’m still down with this aggravating illness, I thought I’d do some short & sweet briefs on a few things that I’ve been eating. Mostly it’s stuff that I’ve reviewed but in different flavors & varieties ... so they don’t warrant a full write-up on their own.
I took a little jaunt to Little Tokyo three weeks ago because I was craving the Gummy Choco I had last year. Mitsuwa Marketplace (3rd & Alameda) has an awesome selection, including single flavor packs of Muscat and Strawberry. I opted for the Strawberry Gummy Choco. (Oh, and I got another tube of the mixed fruits.) However, the price seemed to be better at Nijiya Market in Little Tokyo Village at only $1.49 instead of $2.49 ... but of course parking is a little more difficult over there at times.
They have a milk chocolate coating with an innner coating of real white chocolate. The gummy center is a rich and jammy strawberry. Ultra-soft and combines well with the creamy chocolate.
They’re still a satisfying candy to eat when you have no sense of smell, the combination of textures and the zap of the tart berry center keeps me amused.
Rating: 9 out of 10
It’s as simple as can be, just puffed wheat (I think puffed barley, actually) that’s covered in a shiny & thin coat of milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and kind of earthy and freakishly addictive. I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I think I prefer the Japan Confectionery brand, if only because each kernel was separate from the others. It seemed like more of these were stuck together. ($1.69 for 4 ounces ... which doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a lot of air in there.)
This stuff should be sold in movie theaters ... it’s an ideal movie candy.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Back in November I visited with Chuck Siegel at Charles Chocolates and saw all the new stuff, including a preview of one of his new bars that sounded right up my alley: Candied Hazelnut in Dark Chocolate.
What has me so excited (besides the prospect of creamy dark chocolate with perfectly roasted hazelnuts) was that it might be an easier to find version of that wonderful Spanish bar I had last summer: Avellana Caramelizada Chocolate by Mallorca.
Instead of whole hazelnuts encased in a crunchy sugar glaze, these were bits of hazelnuts. The bits were crunchy and fresh, but didn’t have quite the burnt sugary crust that I was aching for. (But how was Chuck to know that’s what my expectation was?)
It’s still a great bar, I love his 65% dark chocolate blend. It has an excellent soft and silky melt, it’s a little tangy with mostly mellow flavors that let the other inclusions shine. I would have liked slightly bigger crunchy bits.
The packaging has changed slightly with the Charles Chocolates bars as well. When I first tried them each bar was wrapped in a microthin piece of foil. Now they’re a metallic airtight pack inside the box. Probably a much better way to keep the chocolate fresh in the stores, but not as easy to reseal if you tear the bag when opening.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The last item is kind of a fun thing that I picked up last summer. I noticed that there were two different designs for the same roll of Cryst-O-Mint Lifesavers on the shelves at Walgreen’s, so I picked them up.
Over the years Lifesavers has changed more than their packaging. The only thing that has remained the same is the shape of their product. The familiar donut shape is here to stay, even if they’re made in Canada now.
The Cryst-O-Mint is unlike the other mint Lifesavers in that it’s a boiled sugar sweet, not a compressed dextrose candy.
It’s not an intense mint like an Altoid, just a soft and clean peppermint flavor. The production of the candy is good, the pieces were all intact and didn’t have any voids or sharp spots like some of those Brach’s Ice Blue mints.
Also a plus, there are no artificial colors in there, because they’re colorless. If they’d just left out the High Fructose Corn Sweetener, they’d actually be an all-natural candy.
You can read more about the Lifesavers redesign here.
Rating: 6 out of 10
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 9, 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 3, 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
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.