Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Jelly Belly has had their own take on the ubiquitous Valentine’s Conversation Hearts for several years (introduced, I believe, in 2003). They’re called Conversation Beans.
They include the Sour assortment: Sour Apple, Sour Blueberry, Sour Cherry, Sour Grape, Sour Lemon, Sour Orange, Sour Peach, Sour Raspberry, Sour Strawberry & Sour Watermelon.
The sour family of flavors come in rather vivid, opaque hues, without any speckling. So they’re easy to tell apart as long as you can remember that raspberries are darker than cherries and apple is lighter than watermelon.
What’s special about these is that they’re sporting teensy printing on them.
I’d hazard the visibility of this printing is similar to that noise that only children & teenagers can hear. It’s quite small and rather faint on the lighter color beans (and nonexistent on others).
The words range from mildly flirty to downright benign. Think of it like a very limited version of magnetic poetry. Here are some three bean masterpieces:
Hi, like joy?
Overall, they’re fun. If you like Sour Jelly Belly or more importantly, if you can’t stand Necco Conversation Hearts but want to spend three times as much to make a sweet connection, this is the candy for you.
I liked most of the flavors. I picked out the Sour Peach ones, which tasted like they had Dr. Pepper added to them, and the Sour Cherry and was pleased with the rest of them. (Eventually I forgot I was supposed to be reading the words ... which I do with Conversation Hearts, too.) The highlight flavors for me were orange, lemon and grape (which was completely fun and artificial) while the blueberry and raspberry were much better than expected. As far as sour goes, well, they’re zappy compared to most regular Jelly Belly.
If puckering isn’t quite your speed for Valentine’s Day, a new item that Jelly Belly sent me to sample a few weeks ago is their Jelly Belly Love Potion. It’s a little re-closeable plastic bottle that holds an assortment of five flavors of Jelly Belly. (They use this same package for their Soda Pop Shoppe assortment.)
There’s no special printing on the beans besides the Jelly Belly logo.
The pink, red and white mix is rather attractive and might make a nice little offering in a gift basket. (Though if you really love someone with a sweet tooth, back up this little package with a big bag! Then they can refill it.)
The flavors are Strawberry Cheesecake, Bubble Gum, Coconut, Cotton Candy and Very Cherry. All the flavors went together pretty well (though I could have used a pink grapefruit instead of cherry) and the color combination is pleasing if a little feminine.
I don’t know the retail price on these, but the Soda Pop Shoppe bottles sell for about $1.50 to $2.00 retail.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Usually for holidays they’ll have some other panned sugar candies. For Valentine’s Day this year the trend seems to be cinnamon flavor. So I picked up a bag of their See’s Hot Hearts and their Cinnamon Lollypops.
The Hot Hearts were a bit expensive, in my opinion, for a sugar candy. It was $4.50 for a 12 ounce bag of what are basically heart-shaped Hot Tamales.
But hey, the bag was pretty and included a real piece of ribbon on it and a thick plastic bag with pretty little red foil printed hearts.
While See’s makes their own chocolates and lollypops, I’m pretty sure they have their sugar candies specially made for them by an outside company. I was hoping my trip to the Fancy Food Show might shed some light on that, because, spoiler alert ... these were good and I think I might want some more after Valentine’s Day!
The candy shell is crisp and a little grainy. The jelly center is sweet and very cinnamony. The sizzle of these heart-shaped jelly beans is substantial.
The cinnamon flavor is both woodsy and fiery, capturing all of the great aspects of cinnamon.
Even though there’s a fair amount of food coloring in these (including Red 40), there’s no bitter aftertaste. Not that there ever is an aftertaste, since I don’t actually stop eating them.
Yes, I want to know how to get them all year long, or themed for other holidays, like Fiery Eggs for Easter or a Screaming Phoenix for Halloween.
See’s has been making their own Lollypops for years. The flavors change from time to time, but lately they’ve been adding in their seasonal flavors.
See’s Cinnamon Lollypops are the same rounded block shaped lolly made from a hard caramel base.
The scent is odd. It smells like caramel and cinnamon. But the scent and the flavors are never completely integrated. They just exist side by side.
Mmm, toasted sugar and butter flavors. Then, wow, a pop of hot cinnamon. Then the mellow and sweet caramel.
I liked them, but not quite as much and not in the same way as the Hot Hearts. They last a long time, but the combo of boiled sugar and butter with cinnamon never quite meshed for me. Plus there was a bit of a bitter artificial color aftertaste on these.
The pops are a great, reliable candy. They’re only 70 calories each, but be warned, they’re not fat free. Not that fat is a bad thing, it’s pretty much necessary for a caramel. Their Butterscotch lollypop is still the best (and the Root Beer is the best of their seasonal flavors). I’ve picked up the other flavors for review twice ... but ate them before I could photograph them.
Friday, January 16, 2009
In Los Angeles this week it’s been in the eighties. Yes, in January. So the thought of Mike and Ike Italian Ice doesn’t feel a bit out of place in this strange heat spell.
Though Mike and Ike are available in single serve bags, I see them most often in the movie boxes. I think it’s cool, I like the bold designs on them and of course they’re usually a better value than the single serve. But the packaging itself has been bugging me for a while. Inside the rather large box (for something that holds 4.2 ounces) is a plastic bag. I’d be just as happy to pick up a peg bag for the same one dollar as the box. (A package that collapses as you eat it is handy, too.)
To have both the box and the bag is wasteful, though probably ensures freshness and keeps the soft candies from getting crushed.
I’ve had my fair share of Italian Ice over the years, though usually in the little cups from the convenience store freezer. And always lemon. What distinguishes Italian Ice flavors from other fruity flavors? There’s no indication on the box, except that it tells me that it has Your Favorite Italian Ice Flavors. Which isn’t exactly true, since as I mentioned, I really just like lemon and they’ve put four other unnecessary flavors in here.
The colors are similar to a set of highlighter pens. A little less vivid, a little less dark than the regular Mike and Ike.
The flavors here are:
Light Red = Cherry: A light woodsy cherry flavor. Because the color isn’t quite as dark, I’m guessing it didn’t need as much food coloring so I don’t get a typical bitter aftertaste. Which makes this a flavor that I don’t have to avoid. (Though it was still the last flavor left after I picked over them anyway.)
Light Blue = Blue Raspberry: this one has flavors on the darker end of the raspberry flavor profile, kind of like jam. But then there was a pop of menthol or mint in there. I don’t know if this was the Italian Ice part of it that was supposed to emulate that cool feeling of sorbet, but really it just make me think I was eating a cough drop.
Light Green = Watermelon: Grossly artificial tasting and a strange aftertaste, especially when paired with the citrus ones. (Bitter & slightly medicinal.) Bad artificial watermelon may replace my dislike of cherry very soon.
Light Orange = Orange: Nice blend of orange essence and orange juice flavors. Could use a little bit more tartness.
Light Yellow = Lemon: Light, tangy but also a little fizzy. Didn’t quite have a minty taste. Becomes rather sweet and flavorless quickly.
As you can guess, my favorite assortment so far was been the Mike and Ike Alex’s Lemonade Stand. But Tangy Twister comes in second and if you look sharp in late February you’ll probably see the Jelly Bean variety for Easter as well (I bought them last year on an after-holiday sale and, well, ate them).
These are filled with artificial colors & flavors but are technically vegan.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Harry & David are known for their fresh fruit boxes & baskets. They also have a pretty good selection of candies, especially seasonal varieties. Like Trader Joe’s, some are made especially for Harry & David and others are just repackaged with their brand name on them.
When looking through their selections I like to spot the items that they carry that I don’t see anywhere else and saw quite a few a couple of weeks ago in their fall selection. Many items aren’t even mentioned on their website. (If you go into the store they’re always sampling things, too.)
Fruit jellies in general are a ho-hum candy. The kind of thing most of us will eat if it’s around but rarely buy. I’m a huge fan of gourmet pate de fruits which are more intense distillations of real fruits and I was hoping that these Harry & David Fall Leaves Fruit Gels were more like that than Brach’s Fruit Slices. Mostly, I bought them because they were pretty.
Each little “hand” is about 1.75” across at the widest. The colors are all vibrant and though they’re rather thick, still translucent. The sugar coating adheres nicely so they’re not at all messy.
This color was a little disturbing to me, kind of like antifreeze. Happily it tasted like a crisp pear-flavored jelly. Tart and with that strange melon note that pears always seem to have. The grainy sugar coating even mimics those little gritty bits in pear flesh.
Very much the epitome of a lime jelly. It has a strong zest to it, even a little bitter at times, a little tangy bite and an overall LifeSavers flavor (you know, back when LifeSavers made lime).
Biting into it, it has a bit more tartness than many fruit jellies, more like a strawberry-lemonade than straight strawberry. But the scent is wonderfully summery - that sweet mix of flowers and cotton candy.
Raspberry (darker red)
It has a nice berry fragrance and an immediate jammy flavor of raspberries. But something went weird toward the end, there’s a strange very sweet aftertaste, as if it has some sort of artificial sweetener in it (but of course it’s not on the ingredients list, which is what has me mystified). I couldn’t really investigate this anomaly as there was only one raspberry leaf in the bag.
Not as vibrant looking as the other colors, this was a little paler, I’m guessing because it’s tangerine and not orange. The flavor isn’t as intense as I’d like. Mellow and citrusy, but not tart or zesty.
I picked out a package with a lot of lemon because I assumed that I’d like them. The lemon zest was strong and reminded me of fresh lemon balm that my grandmother grew by her back door. As we’d leave her house after a visit we’d all grab a little sprig and rub it in our hands. The smell reminds me of long car rides on farm-lined country roads in Ohio. It’s only slightly tangy and quite smooth.
The price was steep for jellies that aren’t actually real fruit ($8.95) and I’m not likely to buy these again. But if I had a very specific need for an edible decoration such as cupcakes or as an accent on a dessert tray, these more than satisfy. If I’m going for inexpensive fruit taste, I’ll probably keep going for Sunkist Fruit Gems (only in the larger bags that include grapefruit, of course).
These are vegan (no gelatin and all artificial colors) but not Kosher.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Last week I wrote about one of the oldest known confections, Jordan Almonds. This week I’ve got a huge array of Lokum, or Turkish Delight in front of me.
Sweet jellies have been know for at least 500 years in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. Early versions used honey and other fruit juices as a sweet base. Modern Turkish Delight uses sugar for the most part. But the result is similar. Instead of a firm and gelatinous confection like a true jelly (which has pectin as a thickener) or gummi (which uses gelatin as a thickener), Turkish Delight is a fiendishly simple, relying on a touch of starch and careful cooking to create a semi-solid cube of delicate, sweet flavor.
This is from Loukoumi Artisan Confections based in New Zealand since 1970. They use the traditional recipe for the product and it was absolutely fresh when I got it, so this was a real treat.
The first flavor I ever tried of Turkish Delight (which I think I knew as Turkish Paste when I was a kid) was Rose. I find floral flavors to be fresh tasting for the most part, though I know many of us find them a bit soapy.
This rose was a medium pink (kind of alarming, but completely natural). The squares are heavily dusted with powdered sugar, which is the worst thing about Turkish Delight. It’s just not keyboard friendly.
The squares are surprisingly light, not dense and gelatinous, more soft and fleshy like Mochi can be. The texture is more like a soft and smooth paste than a jelly as well. Think of it like a firm honey.
The flavor is rather strong for rose - very straight ahead and traditional, like pushing your whole nose into a bouquet of heavily scented tea roses. But it melts easily on the tongue and doesn’t feel too clingy or cloying.
One of the flavors that had me most excited when Ross McKenzie of Loukoumi contacted me was the line of Manuka Honey flavors. Manuka is from blossoms of the Tea Tree bush and has a strong balsam & spicy flavor to it. I tried the Manuka Honey & Rainforest Lemon which has aromatic Australian Lemon Myrtle.
I absolutely loved the design of the box on this one. Inside each of the boxes is an inset tray lined with light paper. They were only 250 grams instead of a full pound (I’m often stymied when I find Turkish Delight in prepacked pound boxes - I can’t eat all that!).
Even though the pieces are a delicate golden yellow color, there are no colorings in there, it’s all from the ingredients.
It smells like freshly baked lemon cake.
And oh, the flavor.
It feels a bit softer and smoother in the mouth than the Rose (if that’s possible). It’s not a sweet and has an aromatic quality that mixes the mellow honey notes with the light lemon, like a lemon essence or lemon balm.
It’s barely sweet, like a bubble of honey with a touch of zest to it.
I can see how Edmund would sell out his family for something like this.
All of the Turkish Delight I’ve had to date has been aromatically flavored, that is, it’s all about the scent of the flavor. Lemon, orange or rose, it’s never been juicy or tangy in any way.
This box even looks different from the others, with an extreme close up of luminous beads of pomegranate. It says: The sharp distinctive flavors of the pomegranate complement our soft, rich delight to create a perfectly balanced sweet that will leave your taste buds spellbound.
The scent is dark and jammy, like a mix of piping-hot blueberry pie and those raspberry filled shortbread cookies.
The flavor is at first sweet but dark and mellow, then the rich berry flavors come more forward. There’s a little tangy bite to it that really reminds me of a berry jam. It’s a much more intense flavor than the other Turkish Delight varieties here.
Loukoumi makes a wide variety of other flavors, I sampled but a few. They include the traditional array: Almond, Hazelnut, Lemon with Peel, Orange with Peel, Berry, Mint, Vanilla and Lime. And a range of gourmet flavors (many incorporating New Zealand & Australian flavors): Honey & Fig, Honey & Ginger, Honey & Hazelnut, Honey & Quince, Liquorice and Manuka Honey & Blackcurrant.
There are some major and minor issues with these confections. Turkish Delight is notoriously hard to eat. One of the things I like about most candies is that they’re usually pretty easy to portion out and are ready to eat out of the package and require little or no cleanup. I got powdered sugar everywhere trying to eat these out of the box. It’s a little easier when put a few pieces into a small dish and just ate it with it under my chin to catch the poof of powder.
The second issue is humidity. Dampness is not their friend. Luckily Southern California is a great climate to eat these, even when it’s visciously hot. But if they do get a little damp they will get a bit of a crust on the outside, just a bit of graininess. It won’t be great for the texture, but doesn’t impede the flavor.
The third issue is getting a hold of it. Their website isn’t up now, but I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to tell you about a place here in North America that you can order from (and save the international shipping).
Those issues aside, this is the best Turkish Delight I think I’ve ever had. I am really curious to try many more of the flavors, especially the honey based ones.
This is why we keep traditional methods alive, they work.
UPDATE 2/27/2009: Natural Candy Store is having an insanely good sale on Loukoumi right now. If you’ve been curious to try it, now’s the time to grab some. They even had a custom box of Citrus Mix designed, so you can really get an assortment.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
When I was a kid these were called Red Hot Dollars. They were introduced during the depression by Henry Heide when a “red hot dollar” was an enviable thing, even though the candy itself was always raspberry flavored (and red and shaped rather like a one dollar coin).
The Heide candy company later sold out to Hershey’s in 1995 who decided in 1999 that the name was confusing (because many people would buy them thinking they were cinnamon) and changed them to their present name of Red Raspberry Dollars. The company was later sold to Farley’s & Sathers Candy Company in 2003. To make it even more confusing, Farley’s & Sathers does sell cinnamon (and licorice) dollars and reunites them with their name of Red Hot Dollars (I can’t find them in stores, but look sharp and you may see them on the internet).
By all appearances F&S took over the Heide name and production of the candy itself but hasn’t done much else. The box design looks like someone created it with some royalty free clip art circa 1998 (but the copyright on the back says 2003). But what they’re saving on designs, four color photo realistic images, an actual description of the product and advertising they’re putting into value. This box I picked up for $1 holds a 7.8 ounces, making it an excellent deal.
The images on the package don’t really represent the candies either. They make it look as if these are flat disks with large dollar signs. Instead they’re thick, ranging from 1/4 of an inch to 3/8 of an inch and about 3/4 of an inch around. More like nobs than coins. The color is a pleasant red, kind of translucent.
The design on the pieces consists of a dollar sign and the letters HEIDE curved above it. Of course I coulnd’t really make that out on many of the candies. About half of them were “rejectable” for any number of reasons. Some were underweight (too thin), still others were mangled and irregular in shape and size.
The outer texture is soft and the candies are quite firm, somewhere between Jujubes and a Jujyfruits. (These candies are well sealed in the box, but the box is still only paperboard and has no plastic overwrap to seal it from drying out and nearing their expiry when I bought them.)
The flavor is a bit similar to Swedish Fish. A mild and pleasant raspberry, but all sweetness and floral flavors, none of the tangy sour bite of the berry. It’s pretty mellow, almost like honey. Later there a bit of a bitter aftertaste, but I’ll go ahead and say that’s the Red 40 that I always seem to detect. But then there’s the texture. They’re quite sticky ... not that they’ll pull out any fillings but they sure stick to your teeth in big clumps on the sides and in between. I find hot tea dislodges them well. Or, well, brushing.
I think I’ll stick to Swedish Fish. And I’ll keep my eye out for the cinnamon variety.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Earlier this year I teased a new line of Dots from Tootsie. The single flavor boxes of the [Aristotelian] Elements line are based on the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Each of these elements is assigned a flavor and a not-found-in-nature color. (There’s actually a fifth element in Aristotle’s list, Ether, which makes up the stars and celestial bodies.)
The idea behind these elements was that they were combinations of heat and moisture, or lack thereof. So Water is wet and cold, Fire is hot and dry, etc. We now have an exceptionally complex table of the elements which takes a completely different approach to what makes up the physical world.
The packages for Dots Elements are quite striking. Black and neon, they’re hard to miss at the store as they stand out from other theater-sized boxed candies. (This is the only size I know that these come in so far.)
I didn’t buy these, instead Sera who was visiting Los Angeles last week shared her bounty of huge boxes with me (so look for her perspective soon).
The color is hard to describe, it’s translucent and reminds me of the color that results when you mix water with absinthe. Milky green.
The scent is, well, like walking into a Bed, Bath & Beyond. A strange floral smell that I can’t quite put my finger on.
The nice thing was that these were exceptionally fresh. The smooth bite gives way to a rather delicate sweet flavor.
I tastes very little like green tea to me, which usually has a rather grassy flavor to it. They’re fresh but a little cloying. They remind me a lot of Turkish Delight.
This was the most predictable flavor of the new line. What’s more, there used to be Hot Dots (made from 2004-06, I stumbled across some very old boxes at the 99 Cent Store in Hollywood late last year).
The color is a bit light, but that’s okay with me, as I don’t need the bitter food coloring especially when there’s only one flavor in the box.
These don’t smell like much at all, but have a pleasant cinnamon bite to the. Not too sweet either, there are little pockets of sizzle now and then, they remind me of Spearmint Leaves.
I’d be pretty happy if these stuck around.
This color was freaky ocean blue ... unless you put them under florescent lights and then they were more green.
Like the cinnamon they don’t smell like much.
These seemed a bit firmer than the rest but still had a smooth chew to them.
The wintergreen flavor is pretty strong and brings to mind things like root beer (pleasant), teaberry gum (yum) and ben gay (ewww).
They feel fresh. But I’m always hesitant to eat wintergreen things because so many people have a visceral reaction to them. The good thing is that until you chew them up, no one knows what they are.
This is the only fruit flavor among the group and it makes sense that it represents the earth. The pomegranate was actually cultivated in Aristotle’s time and had great cultural significance.
As daring as I thought the green tea flavor was, I think pomegranate is pretty high up there. I love pomegranates though I don’t eat them as much as I used to. Real pomegranates are intense with a combination of tart berry flavors, a dark drying quality in the mouth and of course a deep syrupy sweetness. Oh, and they’re very pretty both on the tree (they look like huge rose hips) and taken apart in a bowl.
Instead of being a garnet-colored drop these are purple, which I guess is what color pomegranate juice is. This is the only Dot in this group that has a touch of tanginess to it. The flavor doesn’t really feel like pomegranate. If someone gave these to me I’d just say that they’re cherry-berry.
On the whole, I actually think they’re a good effort. They’re different, the hook of the elements had me more than interested and of course they’re dirt cheap. It’s a bit different for Dots to have just one flavor in a box, so you’d really better like it. I finished the cinnamon first, then the green tea, then the wintergreen and I still have some pomegranate left.
Dots are a starch-thickened candy, so there’s no gelatin in there. These are suitable for vegetarians and even vegans.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Earlier this year I attended ExpoWest, a trade show which highlights natural products. It’s actually a great place to find candy, though most of the time the products were advocating what they put in them. There were candies with added vitamins, minerals others fortified with omega3 fatty acids, exotic gums & algae and still others made from completely raw ingredients or buying carbon offsets. Instead, Zootons are highlighting what they don’t put in them.
Zootons is a line of soft, chewy jelly candies that are organic and vegan. That’s it.
I know that many parents (and adult candy fans) can be frustrated with sweets that say they’re healthy but then fail to match the appeal of the unnatural counterparts that are so ubiquitous (and let’s face it, less expensive).
At first glance Zootons seem to narrow the gap. The packaging is kid friendly - black boxes that each have a different big-mouthed monster icon on them. They also have a little window that lets you see the candy. Inside the box are two sealed packages (50 grams each) which counts as a full serving.
While I hesitate to call them healthy, they’re certainly easy to add to a kids diet as a treat.
Cute little star shapes with a coating of coarse granulated sugar. They come in four flavors: strawberry (pink), pineapple (yellow), blackcurrant (dark red) and lemon (also yellow).
The distinction between the flavors wasn’t that significant. I was able to tell the pineapple and the blackcurrant from the others, but it all kind of blended together. They’re not terribly tangy, just sweet and fruity.
The texture is fun, the sugary coating gives them a little crunch and the smooth jelly center is moist.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping the Sours would give me the pop that I was looking for in the Jellies.
The Sours come in strawberry, orange, raspberry and lemon. Again, not easy to tell apart visually.
These were much moister than the Jelly stars. The sour started with the sugary coating. Not super-tangy, just a little sizzle of flavor on the tongue.
The lemon was quite nice, not as zesty as I might have liked, but very authentic tasting, like a lemonade jelly. Strawberry was amazingly vivid, both fragrant and tangy, it was like an intense slice of strawberry jam. Raspberry felt very flavored and less like distilled fruits. But it was tingly-tart and satisfying.
These are quite a winner. They’re not too sour for littler kids, I think the only ones who would be disappointed are older kids who are obsessed with the tongue-blistering-super-dare sours.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was where things went a little strange. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to using the word gummi. Gummis should have a jelling agent in them like gelatin or agar-agar. In this case, they do not have either of those. I was hoping there was some innovation or technique not evident in the ingredients that would give them that inimitable bouncy gummi texture that any child who has had the real thing will expect. Sadly, no. These are just fruit jellies.
The surface is a bit dry, but not covered in the granulated sugar like the other Jellies and Sours. They say they come in four flavors: pineapple, blackcurrant, orange and raspberry. Honestly, I had a hard time telling them apart visually. They were sweet and fruity, but not terribly tangy. Soft and quite moist once I bit into them, they did have a bit of a bounce. Of the set, I think they were my least favorite. Just not enough zip for me.
Rating: 4 out of 10
This was the most exciting concept of the whole line. I’ve had organic jelly candies before (and have written about Surf Sweets). But so few companies - traditional or organic - make anything cola flavored. I just had to try these.
The little stars don’t look like much in the package, but take them out and they’re quite lovely. The dark amber is spot on correct for Cola.
The flavor is absolutely cola - it has that tangy, almost lemon flavor at first, then that ... whatever cola flavor is ... a bit of cinnamon a bit of rum and a bit of caramel. They’re not intense, none of the Zootons are, but they’re pleasant.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m not sure where these are being sold so far, but keep your eyes peeled if you have a picky kid or are trying to get only candies with natural colorings in them. They don’t wow me like some pate de fruits, but they’re not intended to ... it’s just a fun candy treat.
Candy Addict also did a taste test of these last month.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.