Thursday, October 22, 2009
Every once in a while I wander into a Gelson’s grocery store. If you don’t have this small upscale market chain in your area, perhaps you have a similar one. Regular food you see everywhere, only more expensive, but then they also carry hard to find and superior items. They do have a good produce selection, but charge a premium.
What I find interesting about the store is the candy. They have Twizzlers and 3 Musketeers but they also tend to have an odd idea (or maybe perfectly appropriate for their customers) of what Halloween is like. Their trick or treat selection tends to be a little upscale.
One of the items in their area was not a trick or treat item, but just a Halloween themed one: Jelly Belly Deluxe Halloween Mix. I got a similar mix a few years back for Easter, but this one seemed a little different so it was definitely worth a try. (Even though it was $3.99 for a 9 ounce bag.)
The mix likely offers something for everyone. There are mellocreme items, a few jelly beans, crisped rice milk chocolate balls and some licorice dots.
There aren’t that many jelly beans in there. As far as I can tell, they’re lemon, licorice and orange. All are definitely favorites of mine, so we’re off to a good start.
The story goes that the Goelitz family was making Candy Corn sometime around 1900, one of the earliest candy corn makers (and they made a lot of other mellocremes, which they called Butter Creams). They might not have been first, but they’ve definitely be doing it uninterrupted for over 100 years.
The Candy Corn in this assortment is the big stuff. It’s basically an equilateral triangle, but the tip is just a bit pinched. (Yes, they look a little breast-like to me.) The texture is smooth and the flavor quite mellow. Not as salty or honey tasting as the Brach’s/Farley’s stuff. There is a slight butter note to it.
Mellocreme pumpkins are cute. They’re quite squat and about half the height of the Farley’s/Brach’s stuff, but with a much more pronounced stem. They’re quite firm, but still have a smooth and not-quite-grainy texture. The flavor was surprising. It’s supposed to be orange, but it was just horribly bitter to me. I can’t fathom why, as they’re not that intensely colored, but I ate them several times over a week and each time they were just so bitter to me that I couldn’t finish a whole one.
The yellow ears of corn are the cutest of the bunch. Long and narrow, they’re a pretty big punch of pure sugar. The design on them isn’t very well defined so they didn’t photograph well. The flavor is lemon. It’s sweet and more of the floral lemon, now the tangy or zesty kind. Far too sweet for me.
To break up all that sweetness, I indulged in some of the foil wrapped chocolates.
The odd thing about the package was its vagueness. There was no inventory of the stuff inside. The ingredients were just a huge messy listing of all the ingredients of each element in one list (which I think is a huge disservice to customers).
I was careful to pick a bag that had a lot of the foiled chocolates, so I wasn’t disappointed here.
The balls are small and are the perfect single bite of milk chocolate with crisped rice. I wouldn’t call them the perfect milk chocolate and crisped rice though. It was sweet, perhaps a little waxy. The texture of the chocolate wasn’t quite creamy enough for me, but at least wasn’t grainy. Compared to the other items though, they were far from sweet. So at least they were a little counterpoint.
I wasn’t sure what these would be (again, no inventory), but I recall seeing these in the Licorice Bridge Mix years ago.
The flavor of the licorice is a little different from the Licorice Jelly Belly. It has more anise and a less watery flavor.
The issue for me again though was the bitterness of the artificial color from the nonpareil coating.
It’s a fun mix that everyone should find something in it they like. I found that there was too much I didn’t like for the price though. Jelly Belly also makes a Fall Festival Mix, which is all flavored mellocremes in different shapes. They also make three different flavors of the giant candy corn: traditional, chocolate and cinnamon.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Years ago I toured the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA. At the end I was given a taste of their not-yet-introduced Pomegranate Jelly Belly, which boasts an infusion of antioxidants in addition to pomegranate flavor.
At the time I told them that I was hoping that someday they’d introduce a tangy citrus mix of Jelly Bellys with vitamins. (And then when I was done with the tour, I went and made my own custom mix in their store that consisted of all the citrus flavors.)
Three and a half years later, it’s here! I have no idea if they took my suggestion or realized it was simply something that had to be done.
At the Fancy Food Show Jelly Belly displayed this package (shown here in a rather dim photo taken by Emanuel Treeson). Over the weekend I got my first taste via a sample from Jelly Belly.
Though I like Jelly Belly, I rarely buy the pre-made mixes because there are just too many flavors that I don’t like and at the price of the product, it’s far too expensive to toss a third of them.
Jelly Belly’s Sunkist Citrus Mix is a blend of five jelly bean flavors all fortified with Vitamin C. Each 40 gram portion (1.41 ounces) provides 25% of the daily US RDA of Vitamin C. (Sorry, no other antioxidants - it would have been nice to sneak some beta carotene in there.)
The flavors are Sunkist Lime, Sunkist Pink Grapefruit, Sunkist Orange, Sunkist Lemon and Sunkist Tangerine.
I have no idea if these are actually the same flavor as the non-Sunkist varieties. I tried a one-for-one taste test with the pink grapefruit and found that the Sunkist one was definitely zestier, maybe a little tangier. But that could have been a freshness issue.
Of the five flavors, I preferred the ones that had a tangy bite: lemon, tangerine and pink grapefruit. All had a lot more zesty notes than most jelly beans but the orange was just too plain old sweet. The great thing is that I loved the combination of flavors, I liked picking through them but none of them was a “shunned” flavor that was left over.
Since I’ve been battling a cold, this was one candy that I’ve been indulging in. Even without a decent sense of smell on Saturday, the tangy notes were still welcome. While I don’t necessarily think that they’re the reason that I’ve gotten over the cold, they really brightened my day.
Jelly Belly are now listing their products as gluten free, dairy free and this one in particular is gelatin free. They would be vegan except for the beeswax used in the glaze.
They should be in store by Easter, they haven’t appeared on the Jelly Belly website yet.
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, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I realized when I started Candy Blog that there was no way I’d ever sample every single candy out there, let alone review them. What’s making it even harder now is that candies that I’ve already reviewed have changed and it hardly seems fair that the reviews here still stand against the present day products.
So, every once in a while I’ll revisit major products that have changed since my original review at least enough to warrant a new taste.
Hershey’s introduced the Take 5 in 2004 and it quickly became one of my favorite new candies. It combined all the great textures of crunchy pretzels and chewy caramel and creamy chocolate. But that was then, and this is now.
The package now says: made with chocolate & pretzels & caramel & peanuts & peanut butter. That “made with chocolate” part means that the coating may contain chocolate, but it has other additives such as vegetable oils that mean that it’s not pure chocolate. The actual chocolate as an ingredient comes far down on the list as the number 6 item, after vegetable oils and high fructose corn sweetener and before nonfat milk (you can imagine there’s not that much milk in there).
The bars actually still look quite fetching. Little rather rectangular lumps with a pleasant sweet & peanutty scent.
Mine were exceptionally fresh, the pretzel was good and crunchy, a nice salty complement to the sweet coating. The coating didn’t have much flavor but did add a creamy texture.
This one was passably good, but I’ve had others in the past few months (I picked them out of a mix of snack size in a bowl at the office a couple of times) and I didn’t realize why they were kind of empty tasting for what I remembered. I just thought they were stale ... turns out that they’re just not designed to be good any longer.
Hershey’s still has an opportunity to reverse this and make it real chocolate again.
Sunkist Fruit Gems are made by Jelly Belly these days. An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves, 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.)
Mars used to make a bar that was called, appropriately enough, the Mars Bar. That bar was discontinued and reintroduced under the much more famous Snickers umbrella of products as the Snickers Almond.
Then something happened, Mars mucked around with it and created the “More Satisfying Snickers Almond” which was really just the Snickers Almond with peanuts thrown in to make up for a lack of, well, almonds. It wasn’t a bad bar, but it wasn’t really distinctive.
Well, the old new Snickers Almond is back. It’s a white lightly sweet & salty nougat with a caramel stripe and whole almonds covered in milk chocolate.
I like the bar (though I prefer the dark chocolate version) and I’m glad they brought it back.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Long before Jelly Belly made jelly beans, they made all sorts of other kinds of candy including dozens of different fondant-type confections. The Goelitz Bros. Candy Company made buttercream candies which took many different shapes and flavors - the best known is candy corn.
One lesser-known version of those buttercreams were little treats like these Mint Cremes (there is no butter in there).
Looking at the through the cellophane wrapper they were exceptionally regular. About the size of a quarter they came in four colors: yellow, pink, white and green.
They’re smooth and firm to the touch (the hand crafted variety break easily).
But after biting into the first one it was clear, these are a very stiff fondant, flavored strongly with peppermint.
They’re all the same flavor.
The outer shell is glossy and seals in the flavor and scent and keeps them a bit softer than I think they’d be otherwise. It’s a combination of carnauba wax, beeswax and confectioners glaze.
Inside the center is dense, like a mello creme or candy corn but with a strong and heavy mint. Not as strong as an Altoid, but a bit more than a peppermint starlight. It’s pretty much the inside of a York Peppermint Pattie.
I was hoping they’d have a more “melt in my mouth” quality than I got. They’re a bit stiff and lacking some personality. But they’re very pretty and would make a different offering in a wedding favor mix or at the end of a meal at a restaurant with the check. I was hoping for a bit more creamy consistency, especially since they’re called cremes like the Romanego Fondants I had last year as well, but considering the price of these, I really shouldn’t have been expecting something that delicate. But it’s not as though these were cheap either. At $12 a pound I’m entitled to expect something.
In the end, I think I prefer good old fashioned pillow mints (after dinner style).
These have a confectioners glaze so may not be appropriate for vegetarians who don’t wish to consume shellac.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Jelly Belly is always coming up with new flavors and themes. This spring it’s their new Ice Cream Parlor Mix inspired by Cold Stone Creamery. Cold Stone is known for their freezing plank of granite where they scoop & mix your custom mix of ingredients (or you can pick from their standard menu). An appropriate tie in with Jelly Belly that already produces an extensive list of “recipes” for combing beans.
As a mix, the list of flavors here is pretty short:
Chocolate Devotion: combines the flavors of Chocolate ice cream, chocolate chips, brownie and fudge. This is pretty similar to my reaction to all chocolate flavored items, it’s watery and being jelly based, it doesn’t even have the mild dairy component that Tootsie Rolls have. It’s not as sweet as I expected.
Apple Pie a la Cold Stone: combines the flavors of French Vanilla ice cream, cinnamon, graham cracker pie crust, apple pie filling and caramel. I’d say that they nailed this flavor, though part of me asks why they’d even bother. It has a nice cinnamon & apple essence at the start, which descends to a sweet frenzy of artificial graham and vanilla notes.
Our Strawberry Blonde: combines the flavors of Strawberry ice cream, graham cracker pie crust, strawberries, caramel and whipped topping. It smells only lightly of strawberry, but sweet. It’s immediately tangy and nicely berry, much like a strawberry sauce. I get nothing else, perhaps a hint of vanilla ... it tastes like a strawberry sorbet might. Nice and simple (and I’m kind of glad I don’t taste the caramel & graham crackers).
Birthday Cake Remix: combines the flavors of Cake Batter(tm) ice cream, rainbow sprinkles, brownie and fudge. This is very sweet, with all the artificial enjoyment of a boxed yellow cake mix. It does actually evoke a cake batter ... but then again, I don’t care much for cake or overly sweet frosting & sprinkles. It is a cute little bean, with little multi colored confetti flecks.
Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip: combines the flavors of Mint ice cream, chocolate chips, brownie and fudge. As I found in my tasting of the Baskin-Robbins Soft Candy, mint chocolate chip is probably best enjoyed as actual ice cream. This flavor is very minty but similarly watery tasting and flat. The cocoa notes are barely perceptable, and come in with that Tootsie Roll flavor.
While I think that some folks may enjoy these mild little beans, I have to wonder if you want to grab a handful and actually mix the Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Apple Pie a la Cold Stone. Some combos obviously work fine, but I like to think that a custom mix like this would be completely compatible. The only ones I ended up eating were the strawberry.
Jelly Belly are Kosher and Gluten Free. There are no dairy products in here (even though they’re ice cream flavors) so they may be suitable for Vegans (as long as you’re okay with beeswax). Made in a facility that processes peanuts.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Jelly Belly prides itself on its extensive flavor list. (See Brandon’s exhaustive tasting notes and listings of all the flavors that have ever existed.)
Jelly Belly has had a chocolate pudding flavor in the mix for quite some time and I’ve avoided it for the most part. Chocolate is not a flavor, it’s an experience made up of far too many things like alkaloid compounds, monounsaturated fats and polyphenols that simply cannot be bottled and applied to other confections.
Jelly Belly went ahead and introduced a new bean anyway, Dark Chocolate. I picked up some samples at the Fancy Food Show, tasted a few and then put them away for a time when I wasn’t innundated with so many good things.
In short, chocolate jelly beans are to chocolate the same thing that Tootsie Rolls are. Something utterly different and unsatisifying if you were expecting anything approaching chocolate. However, if you’re looking for something that’s durable and attractive, but not necessarily tasty, these may be your new favorite.
They got the color right, they’re pretty. A little on the dark purple side (cuz of all those artificial colors like Red 40, Yellow 6 & Blue 2) and containing not more than 2% of actual chocolate.
But they’re postively bitter to me. I chomp down ... there’s a mild sweet taste, like cocoa made with hot water, but then there’s a strong bitter blast. I’m not sure if it’s all the antioxidants (hah!) or the artificial colors, but they’re just inedible.
I thought at first it was just a bad bag, or just me. So I opened a different sample bag that was sent to me later by Jelly Belly. Same thing! Turns out I’m not alone, both Caitlin & Brian at Candy Addict recorded the same reaction.
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