Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I have my favorite candies, and I’ve been pretty faithful to them over the years. But there’s always this longing to experience new candies and how different cultures, countries and regions express their love of sweets. That’s part of the reason for Candy Blog, to help everyone overcome that fear of the new and different and embrace the new and different.
This is a story about my first “exotic” candy.
Sometime when I was a kid in grade school I was given Botan Rice Candy. I know I’d been exposed to foreign candy already (Torrones, Toblerone & other European chocolates), but this one was exotic because of the pictures on the box and that it had no associations with a holiday at all. It’s possible I had it at school as an observance of Lunar New Year, or just a show & tell from another child whose parents bought a box for them to bring into class. It came in a simple little box that’s pretty much unchanged today. At one end of the box was a little compartment that contained a little toy, like you would also get in Cracker Jacks back in the day. In the other 3/4 of the box were little cellophane wrapped jelly candies.
Things have changed a little since then. There is no longer a little toy in the box, but now a “Free Children’s Sticker” instead. But I guess this leaves more room for candy.
The candies are little cubes of jelly with a mild orange/lemon flavor wrapped twice. Though it seems like it’s not that different from those sugar encrusted jelly orange slices, these are less flashy. And this is what’s important about the Botan Rice Candy - the inner wrapper is edible. It looks like a slightly clouded cellophane, but it’s really made from rice and will dissolve in your mouth. (I was also fascinated with this ‘edible’ packaging in the classic Torrone as well, which have a starch wafer to keep them from sticking.)
What could be better for a kid looking to expand her horizons? A candy you could show to your friends and freak them out when you eat the plastic wrap plus a little toy!
Sometimes I like to pick the inner wrapper off as completely as I can. For no real reason of course. It’s not like it’s tasty. It’s kind of gooey, starts sticky and then becomes slippery on the tongue. Later when I had sake for the first time, it reminded me of yeasty rice candy wrappers. (Not really in a good way either, I don’t care for sake at all.)
As a candy, Botan Rice Candy is okay. It’s sweet and mild, though a little sticky sometimes. It has some of the barley sugar or millet jelly taste that I like, but the real appeal has to be the edible wrapper. There’s not much in the box either, at 3/4 of an ounce, there are only six pieces in there. With import costs, it’s usually about a dollar a box, even down in Chinatown where everything is cheap.
I went poking around the ‘net to see what else is out there and found another brand that also features the rice wrapper but looks like it could be of higher quality.
So, what was your first experience with Botan Rice Candy?
UPDATE: Several folks have mentioned White Rabbit in the comments since it also has an edible inner wrapper, here’s my review on that.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
You may not have caught the news recently that Ben Meyerson Candy Company was purchased by Jelly Belly. They aren’t known for much in the chocolate realm except for Christopher’s Big Cherry and in the sugar world, the Sunkist Fruit Gems.
I came across the Fruit Gems at Rite Aid and thought I should give them a go again. I used to buy them from Trader Joe’s in little tubs, but then I discovered the chocolate covered nuts and never went back. I figure the Gems are a bit like the West Coast version of Chuckles. But really they’re not. Chuckles are all essence and no juicy tang. When you’re branding something with the Sunkist name, I’m expecting a tangy juice.
What’s really interesting about these is how they differ from other jellies covered with sugar. Instead of having a rough outer coating, these are practically smooth, with the sugar mushed against the jelly center. They don’t sparkle quite as much, but then again there’s no little bits of sugar left in the package or crumbling off when you bite into them like you might get with Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices.
Orange - it is tangy, nice rounded orange flavor. Not terribly vivid, more like pleasant.
Cherry - very cherry, kind of medicinal tasting. There was a long-lasting aftertaste with severe bitter notes. (Oddly enough, the package makes no mention of Cherry on the package, just a list of the other flavors.)
Lemon - mmm, zesty and tart and smooth. I love lemon.
Grapefruit - not that strong and with a slight bitter note that makes it believable.
Lime - yeah, lime.
Raspberry - floral with only the slightest sour bite. Again, it had a little bitter aftertaste, like the color red.
Jelly Belly will start making these soon, I’m not sure if they’re going to leave them alone or not. Jelly Belly has its own line of fabulous Fruit Pectin Jellies that I was blown away by last year. The Jelly Belly jellies are vegan (they use beet sugar instead of cane sugar), so it’s possible that Sunkist Fruit Gems will also become vegan as well (it’s hard to know whether they are or not right now).
My biggest complaint with these is that like Lifesavers, there is no variation in what you get in the pack. Starbursts and SweeTarts are variable, so you might get a lemon-heavy pack. And with the little see-through package, I might be more likely to pick up a citrus-heavy package. As it is, there are only three flavors I really liked here (orange, lemon and grapefruit), so I’ll probably continue to pass on these. Unless I see them in the tub at Trader Joe’s and it’s all citrus!
UPDATE 9/2/2008: An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves with the Jelly Belly logo on them, but instead of holding six fruit jellies, they now only have four.
Worst part of this news? The grapefruit one was missing. (What is it about grapefruit disappearing lately? Is it because of the news that grapefruit juice interacts with some prescription drugs?) This is not to say that the Sunkist Fruit Gems don’t come in grapefruit any longer, just not in this particular package.
Seeing how Sunkist is known as a citrus company, the fact that they made an assortment the neglects one of the citrus fruits and includes a berry is beyond me. The package is also similar to the old one and actually includes images of grapefruit (though the text clearly says which flavors are in the package).
The change in manufacturing location and ownership, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has made no difference at all for the actual candy. It’s still a nice, soft and flavorful fruit jelly without too much of a granulated sugar coating.
The only real difference here is that you get only 2/3 as much as you used to. I was hoping when Jelly Belly took over that they’d sell the jellies in individual flavors like they do with their famous jelly beans. No such luck yet. (For now whenever I see the Jelly Belly booth at a trade show I pick a half a dozen grapefruit jellies out of their sample bin and move along.)
Friday, November 3, 2006
But this candy had the double whammy of being cute looking but also having a completely vague name that I was too curious to pass up the 98 cent gamble. I found these at a Chinese grocer in Chinatown in New York City earlier this spring and just let them sit there looking vaguely sock-like for months. The girl on the package said “I like it!” but that still couldn’t quite compel me to open them up and eat them.
Eventually Halloween came around and they looked kind of Halloweeny so I opened up the pack to give them a try.
First, here’s what I expected. Based on the ingredients (sugar, glucose syrup, flavorings and pectin) I thought it was going to be an orange flavored gummi.
They were definitely soft, as advertised, but I’d actually call them firm. I’m not sure how well something called Firm Candy would sell, but then again, I question how well Soft Candy sells.
They were firm but had an easy bite to them. Kind of like a gumdrop, but a little tougher without feeling stale. The flavor was, well, not there at all. They were pleasant and not too sweet. It tasted like a mild millet jelly candy, which in turn tastes simply like an unflavored, uncoated jelly bean. They are truly the definition of a benign candy.
Besides being pleasantly cute enough for me to want to string them into a bracelet, they’re not much as a candy. Nothing to spit out into the gutter but just no oomph or compelling texture to keep me eating.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Purple is the best color ever. It’s the best of both worlds - half blue and half red, like a melting pot of America. When I was a teenager and on the swim team I had two sets of sweats - both were purple. I loved purple and often wore it head to toe (with purple Robin Hood boots). My attraction to grape candies is based largely on this affinity for the color and possibly influenced my love of grapefruit even though it has no grape in it and isn’t purple.
I had a good experience with the Mike and Ike Tangy Twisters and was hoping with something at least equal to that, after all, Jolly Joes have been around a lot longer, so you’d think they’d have something going for them.
They’re very dark, such a dark purple I’d call it eggplant. They smell fake-grapey, with a slight odor of Bic pen ink. When you first place it on the tongue, there’s a slight tangy tingle, but that soon goes away and there’s very little flavor. They’re soft and chewy like a jelly bean, but with very little going on. At the end the flavor is more like cotton candy than grape. Not really very jolly at all.
Special note: this package has both a manufactured date and expiration date ... all in plain English. Hooray for clarity! However, the back of the package was also printed in Hebrew (I think it’s Hebrew, it’s going right to left). I have no idea what market these were intended for, that’s what you get at the 99 Cent Only Store!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
In the continuing quest for “that candy people bring you from vacation” I’ve got two new ones.
This one is called, not surprisingly, Rock Candy. Though it’s nothing like the large sugar crystals most of us call Rock Candy, it really looks like rocks. They look like those pretty tumbled, polished and choice pebbles you see in jars a kitschy gift shops. These came from Colorado.
They’re really jelly beans. Each apparently random variety of rock is actually a different flavor. The panning and artistry on them is great. The colors are deep and complex and really convey the “rockness” of them. It would have been nice if they gave you some sort of guide about the flavors though.
Maroon: Cherry. Pretty flavorful, a little tart bite and the rest was just sweet black cherry flavor.
Purple: Grape. Kind of a strange and artificial tasting grape, but the prettiest of all the rocks.
Putty: Lemon. Really nice and flavorful. Wholly unexpected because of the color.
Brown: Spice. Nice and strong with a spicy cinnamon and licorice combo. It might just be licorice, but I can’t tell and why is it brown?
Aqua: Wintergreen. Nice and cool.
The other rock candy were these Glacier River Rocks from “Montana’s Glacier Country”. They really do look like rocks. Instead of going for the ultra-polished look, these are kind of lumpy. Most are the size of raisins and even have a bit of pucker to their coats. They’re muted colors and the shells of the rocks are soft and matte.
Inside the crisp shell is a rather sweet and milky tasting milk chocolate. The crunch is nice and the look is great, but the chocolate is not very chocolatey - more milky and because of the ratio of shell to filling, thy don’t have a lot of flavor.
I really liked the look of both candies, even together.
Neither are a candy I’d probably purchase as a native of either of these areas, but they’re pretty and easy to carry gifts that have a little more pizazz than the ordinary salt water taffy.
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
One of the problems with getting “preview” candy from a trade show like All Candy Expo is that I never know what it’s actually going to look like in stores. One of the new products that I thought was pretty cool in concept was a new flavor assortment from Jelly Belly called Soda Pop Shoppe.
The flavor assortment includes: 7 Up, Dr. Pepper, A&W Root Beer, Orange Crush, and Grape Crush. What I find a little odd about this soda pop assortment is that there’s no cola in it. But it seems that the variety is determined by some sort of flavor licensing from the Cadbury Schweppes people.
I got this little 3/4 of an ounce packet as a sample, but the fun part about these is that they’re going to be packaged in soda bottles (1.5 ounces in a bottle). Sounds like a good way to share and to reseal them.
7 Up: a nice lemon lime with a good zesty hit at the front that gives it a slight bitter bite. There’s no tangy component though.
Dr. Pepper: I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb) but these seem to taste pretty faithful.
A&W Root Beer: these look almost like the Dr. Pepper, so be careful. Nice root beer flavor with a little creamy finish to it, like a foamy head.
Orange Crush: This one’s a real winner. Tangy with a slight effervescent quality and a nice fake orange flavor.
Grape Crush: a little too sweet and not tart enough for my tastes, but then again I outgrew my appreciation of grape soda when I was twelve.
I’m a little confused if the A&W Cream Soda flavor is supposed to be in this mix or not, but it would sure fit well, but I wouldn’t miss it if it doesn’t make it.
These should be available in stores next month and might make nice stocking stuffers for Christmas. I like all of the flavors in here except for the Dr. Pepper, which could easily be plucked out and set aside for someone else. I think the real surprise flavor here is the 7 UP which was far more complex than I’d figured it would be.
Friday, July 28, 2006
There was nothing else like a Jolly Rancher when they first came out. Back then green apple and watermelon were radical flavors ... actually, when I was a kid, the slang term “radical” wasn’t even in use yet.
I really wanted these to be good ... like a gummi bear version of a Jolly Rancher, only in Jolly Rancher flavors.
They come in four flavors - Watermelon, Apple, Orange and Cherry. They’re a little tart jelly candy with a sugar sand coating on them. They’re not gummis at all, there’s not even any gelatin or pectin in the ingredients list, it’s sugar, corn syrup and corn starch plus a little flavor, tartness and color. They’re kind of small morsels too, about the same size around as a nickel.
Cherry - not quite a black cherry flavor, this was like a sour cherry and definitely a chemical flavor. This one differed most from the hard candies I was used to.
Watermelon - oh, it’s like summer distilled into a strange pink chemical. Sweet, tart and floral all at once but not really much like the real stuff. But still good.
Apple - tart and appley with that distinct artificial taste, but completely faithful to the Jolly Rancher flavor.
Orange - as usual, my favorite. Tart and with a good citrus essence mixed with a completely middle-of-the-road Tang flavor. Satisfying.
The package warns that mouth irritation may result from the high “sour level” but I didn’t find them that sour at all. The flavors actually blended pretty well - you can pop an apple and watermelon in your mouth together or an orange and cherry and find a pleasant surprise. But they weren’t “Screamingly” sour in the slightest.
My biggest quarrel with these is that they go sticky very quickly. I don’t know if it was the insane heat of Los Angeles or that they just do that after the package has been opened. It doesn’t seem to have effected the flavor, except maybe they’ve bled together a smidge. But really, there’s nothing really compelling here. It’s not a true chew like a Starburst or a gummi or a jelly ... they’re just kind of soft and certainly not sour enough to warrant being called anything more than tangy jellies.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
So, I’m walking around the All Candy Expo, minding my own sweet business, and I walk past the Just Born booth (which is pretty close to the entrance) and there are some free samples for eating right there on both sides of the aisle. One side has the new Hot Tamales Fire and the other has the Mike and Ike Tangy Twisters. The first couple of days I made sure that I grabbed a couple of Hotter Tamales when I walked by because I love them so. But at some point I found myself on the other side and I picked up a Tangy Twister ... not being terribly fond of Mike and Ike, but you know, it’s free and it’s my job and all.
Well, zowie if that wasn’t good. Turns out it was a pineapple one and it was zazzy.
So I picked up two packages to bring home for a full review.
All of the colors, except for the raspberry red ones look like highlighters.
The Tangy Twister flavor set goes like this:
Dark Red/Raspberry - nicely floral with a good sour kick before it turns sweet and bland.
Yellow/Pineapple - shazaam, I want to buy a whole bag of these. The flavor is tart and sweet and very much like pineapple with some nice floral notes and a smidge of and herbal bitterness.
Red/Cherry - what can I say, it’s cherry? It’s got a nice tart bite and a full rounded flavor of woodsy notes.
Orange/Citrus Punch - I’m a big citrus fan, but this one just doesn’t float my boat. It’s too much punch and not enough orange or lemon or whatever it’s supposed to be. It reminds me of those “juice drinks” that I had at other kids’ houses when I was a child.
Green/Apple - intense green apple flavor and very tart at first, a little on the chemical side.
The Mike and Ikes live up to their name. They are tangy. Unfortunately the flavor set doesn’t wow me. I loved the pineapple and the raspberry runs a close second but the rest of them are just ones I’ll eat, not ones that I’d pick out of a mix to consume. I usually like to have over 40% of a mixed flavor set to be ones that I’m ga-ga for. However, if you’re the kind of person who loves green apple, punch flavors and of course cherry in addition to the fantastic pineapple, this might be a good fruity mix for you. They certainly get higher marks from me than a standard mix of Jelly Belly candies. With Jelly Belly I can’t just buy a mix, I have to do my own from the bulk bins because I find so many flavors unappealing a box of the mix is pretty much worthless to me.
The back of the package exhorts “Bursting with Fruit Juice Flavor!” and sure enough on the ingredient label the fourth ingredient is Pear Juice from Concentrate. What is it with pears and tangy fruit candy?
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.