Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Trader Joe’s makes little fanfare with their new products, they just quietly appear on the shelf and perhaps get a mention in the Fearless Flyer. There are rarely announcements of upcoming products, they just show up. However, the same day that the email announced the new Trader Joe’s Ts & Js Sour Gummies, I wanted some for myself. (Sadly, the first location I tried didn’t have them yet, just a blank space.)
The new sour candy pieces are shaped like the letter T or J and come in four flavors: Key Lime, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Grapefruit.
As I mentioned last month in a long profile about the difference between gummis and jellies, this is another case of jelly candies called gummies. It’s kind of sad that Trader Joe’s did that, because their ingredients are quite clean and vegetarians would probably be more likely to pick them up if they weren’t called gummies.
So, if there’s an analogue to this candy in the big brand world, these are all natural, citrus-flavored Sour Patch Letters. Sorry, I think Trader Joe’s buried the lede ... because this is an incredible concept. It’s everything I already like in Sour Patch Kids, with flavors I prefer and ingredients that shouldn’t interfere with the intensity of the flavors.
The colors are muted, with the lime and grapefruit a little hard to tell apart ... except for the fact that I liked both and didn’t care after a while. All are similar to the structure of Sour Patch candies, a sweet jelly center with a mild flavor and an intense sour sanded exterior. Each piece is a mere bite, not too big and pretty clean to eat with minimal mess.
The red ones are Tangerine: the sour coating is tangy and textured, but melts away easily or provides a bit of crunch if you can’t wait. The center is less flavorful, more zesty. The orange notes definitely veer off into authentic tangerine with quite a bit of orange peel flavor.
The light orange are Lemon: the combination of the sour sanding and lemon peel notes of the center give a good approximation of Meyer lemon, which is more mild than the common Eureka lemons.
Clear is Grapefruit: such a great tangy coating with a very strong bitter zest component. Definitely a winner.
Light green is Key Lime: These have a bright lime flavor that’s pretty generic but really refreshing in a too green apple world. It’s pretty good Key lime notes, which have a little creamy component to them instead of the straight acid of Persian limes.
They’re vegan, there are no artificial colors or flavors ... Kosher and priced pretty well. Really, my only complaint is the fact that they call them gummis.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Though the name of the new flavor is a little trendy, the idea is pretty solid. Maple is a great, distinctive but mild flavor. It’s an ideal addition to Jelly Belly’s line because it can be combined with other flavor beans. Though I didn’t have any on hand to try out, I would think that Banana and Strawberry would go well.
The packaging is fun, an aqua gingham motif on the bag gives it a homespun feel. The image on the front, though is not of Vermont maple trees with running sap and buckets, like I might have imagined, instead it’s more in line with what I see any neighborhood diner, a plate of pancakes with butter and a little pitcher of syrup. (Now, I love my little diner I go to, but I highly doubt they use actual maple syrup because their menu just says syrup.)
The beans are uniform looking, a medium caramel color, kind of like Sugar Babies. The bag does smell a lot like maple syrup, which is a sweet smell with notes of bourbon and vanilla with a little molasses or pipe tobacco.
The interesting things is that these are not just maple flavor but also pancake, so there are other flavor notes to the actual beans. Though the primary flavor is definitely, and perhaps over-the-top maple syrup, I also caught sort of buttery notes. It’s not the overwhelming buttered popcorn flavor, just a sort of salty and creamy flavor to it. (There are 25mg of salt per serving.)
So, there’s lots of maple-y flavor and buttery notes, but no actual pancake, which is fine, because just a jelly bean that tastes like pancake topping is good enough.
The fun part for many candy fans is that Jelly Belly are gluten free and peanut free. So if you can’t have actual pancakes because you’re gluten intolerant, you can have these.
I think the trendiness of these makes them appealing in the short term for buzz, but maple should stand the test of time. Of course the Honey jelly beans introduced a five years ago didn’t do so well and I think those did better in combination with other flavors than Maple.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Honey Acres in Wisconsin has been keeping bees since 1852. They sell a variety of honeys as well as some very specific honey-based products. I picked up these samples from the Fancy Food Show last month.
One of the lines Honey Acres makes are honey patties which feature an unsweetened chocolate coating around a creamed honey center. This may sound familiar, as I’ve reviewed the Trader Joe’s Mint Honey Patties before. Honey Acres actually makes three varieties of honey patties: the traditional mint, orange and chocolate.
The creamed honey is just honey, that’s been carefully recrystallized in a way that makes it milky looking, spreadable and thick, instead of clear and viscous. There are no additional ingredients, no dairy associated with the creaming process.
The most intriguing of their three patties is the Honey Kissed Dark Chocolate Cocoa. There are two ingredients: chocolate and honey. It’s a little more complicated than that. The chocolate shell is unsweetened chocolate and then the center is honey creamed with unsweetened chocolate.
The pattie comes in a matte gold foil. Snapped in half, the center is a golden brown, set off nicely by they very crisply tempered chocolate.
It’s a very strong chocolate product. The honey melts at a different rate from the chocolate on the outside, so it’s an uneven mix of the honey flavors, the sweetness, the creaminess and then the bitter pop of the chocolate. It’s quite rich and the recommended serving of 3 pieces is very filling. I enjoyed eating them in different ways, sometimes nibbling the chocolate edges so that I had more of a honey proportion for a big bite of the center. Mostly I bit in half and let it all melt together.
Ultimately, I think I prefer a little flavor with it, the chocolate in the honey center did little more than just make the honey less pronounced.
The Honey Kissed Dark Chocolate Orange patty uses Valencia orange extract in the center instead of the peppermint oil for flavoring. This is an interesting combination, because I think that the citrus flavors go far better with honey than peppermint. The oily beeswax feeling on the tongue is cut but the vibrant orange oil. The bitterness of the unsweetened chocolate really shines through all this, with lots more woodsy notes than I noticed when combined with mint.
The calorie count on the website for Honey Acres listed them as about 11 grams a piece and only 110 calories per 3 piece serving. I don’t think that’s quite right, because it works out to less than 100 calories per ounce, which is not possible for a candy that’s also half fat. So, I’d prefer to go with the accounting for the Trader Joe’s which says 140 calories for 3 patties.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
It’s hard to resist a pretty bit of packaging, especially when, as I mentioned in last week’s review of the Theo’s Love Crunch, a chocolate bar is far better than a greeting card. The bubbly design in reds and pinks is a bit feminine, but the flavors should suit anyone who likes their milk chocolate on the deeper side of the pool.
This Theo bar delivers on the promise of the package, for me. The wrapper for the Theo Chocolate My Cherry Baby bar says, Fall in love with cherries in dreamy 45% milk chocolate - tangy, sweet and yummy.
The bars are made in Seattle with ethically sourced, non GMO, no soy, gluten free, Kosher and in this case, at a darn affordable price. For some reason they weren’t $4 a bar, which Theo is usually priced, but I got mine for $1.50 each.
The bar is a dark milk, which is a nice place to start for a high end bar. The flavor is quite deep with rich coffee notes, but also quite a bit of malt and even a hint of yeast in there. The cherry pieces are tiny and a bit on the leathery side. They’re tangy and chewy, but not freeze dried crispy bits either. The flavor combines well, though both seem to bring out bitter notes in each other - I got the cherry skin bitterness on one hand and the roasted acrid notes from the chocolate.
It’s a tasty bar, easy to eat, but I felt no need to eat more than a large square at a time, even though a half of a bar is the recommended dose.
I do enjoy Theo Chocolate’s seasonal bars quite a bit, much more than their standard just-chocolate. The gold standard for them will probably always be the Dark Chocolate Salted Almond ... but toss in a few cherries for a holiday version, and I might be inclined to revise my opinion.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Valentine’s Day candy is disappointing because it’s usually about the packaging. So, I was pleased at Whole Foods when I spotted two limited edition varieties from Theo Chocolate for Valentine’s Day ... and on sale at 2 bars for $3 (they’re usually $4 each). I’ve often said that a fine chocolate bar is better than a greeting card and in this case, far cheaper. There’s even a “To” and “From” spot on the back of the bar. (But the ideal touch would be to include at least a personalized post it note.)
It’s called Theo Red Hot Cinnamon Love Crunch. The description on the back said: The red-hot crunch of cinnamon brittle in smooth, rich, 70% dark chocolate - spicy and sweet.
Sounds amazing: for $1.50, I was getting a unique bar that combined cinnamon and chocolate, that was also fair trade certified, non-GMO, organic, vegan, soy-free, Kosher and made here in the USA. Goodbye, ordinary candy in a heart shaped package! (The other bar I picked up was the milk chocolate My Cherry Baby.)
On the tongue at first it’s a little tangy. The melt is a little grainy, I wasn’t sure if it was the crunchy bits or not at first, but it seems that some of it is spices. It became apparent very quickly that this was not just a cinnamon and chocolate bar. My bad for not reading the label fully.
Here’s the deal: the package is pink, the printing on the back is brown. In full light and my reading glasses, I can read it. But not in the dim light and glassesless state I was in at Whole Foods. (My usual trick when I don’t have my glasses and the print is tiny is to take a photo with my phone and then blow it up, but I read the description and thought that was the extent of the flavors.)
The ingredients of interest here are (after you get through the chocolate stuff): cayenne, cinnamon leaf essential oil, black pepper essential oil, nutmeg essential oil and clove essential oil.
I actually like spicy things (curry, cinnamon, black pepper and ginger), but the one I can’t do is red pepper. Capsascin is one of those compounds that people experience differently because of genetic differences. For me, cayenne isn’t fun, there’s a lot of heat that doesn’t seem to dissipate and in higher concentrations it just induces nausea. So, I avoid anything other than mild chili items. While there’s a proliferation of chili peppers in confection, and for the most part they’re tolerable, though not always enjoyable for me.
This was freakishly hot for me. I got the different sensations from the various spices, I could actually discern the difference between the black pepper and the cayenne and the cinnamon. (Clove actually has a bit of a numbing effect.) The cinnamon really only came in at the beginning as a scent. The tangy bite of the chocolate did help to mellow the pepper at first, but once it hit my throat, the one-two punch of black and red pepper was too much. The little brittle crunch pieces were supposed to be cinnamon, and maybe some of them were, but other larger bits seemed flavorless.
I tried this bar twice, eating only one of the large squares each time in small bits. The warming effect from the spices lasts a long time, well over a half an hour. Though it didn’t upset my stomach, it really didn’t please me either and I don’t plan on finishing the bar.
If your loved one is partial to the extremely spicy side of things, this might be a good option, especially if you’re looking for something without dairy or soy (the Lindt dark chocolate products contain milk and soy ingredients). The bar is made in a facility that also handles peanuts, wheat, milk, eggs and soy.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Last year Mars released Red Velvet M&Ms as a Walmart exclusive for Valentine’s Day. This year they’ve created Dove Milk Chocolate & Red Velvet Swirl Promises which are found only at Target.
The description on the bag of the bag is vague about what a Red Velvet Swirl Heart is actually like, only saying that it’s “a delicious blend of luxuriously smooth chocolate and rich red velvet flavor.” But it never elaborates what constitutes red velvet’s flavor ... which might be the buttermilk touched with cocoa of the cake or the cream cheese frosting.
There are two different colors of foil, but the pieces inside are the same inside. The heart shapes and foil colors are elegant, I always appreciate how well Dove does the packaging of their Promises. I was surprised at how light colored the actual pieces are. I know it’s a milk chocolate Promise, but the combination of the lightness of the milk chocolate and the pink swirled white chocolate makes it a very pale candy.
The scent is odd, I’ve had a few red velvet flavored chocolates now, but this one is not quite the same. It’s not just vanilla or pound cake scented, there’s a note of strawberry in there. Now, I have nothing against vanilla, strawberry and chocolate as a combination, there’s actually a lot of history to the Neapolitan. The melt is nice, as always, it’s excpetionally sweet and there is an immediately “cake” flavor that I can’t quite figure out ... but then there are other flavors that just sit on top of the experience. There’s something that’s a little cheesy and something that’s a little metallic. It’s all dreadful, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m absolutely the wrong target demographic for this candy, as I’m not a fan of Red Velvet cake in the first place, but I haven’t seen anyone who I’ve offered this to (that will eat it) that actually liked it.
On a side note, there will be Red Velvet Oreos this year, which makes a bit more sense as a platform for the flavors.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Jelly Belly announced their new Champagne Jelly Belly just before New Years. I haven’t seen them in stores, but I picked up this sample bag, that calls them Jelly Belly Bubbly. I suspect they’ll be in stores for Valentine’s Day, but I haven’t seen them at my regular haunts like Dylan’s Candy Bar and Cost Plus World Market.
Jelly Belly suggests a flavor pairings with the beans, such as combining them with orange to create a mimosa. I’d imagine strawberry and peach would also go well.
The beans are lovely, with a light sparkling sheen to them. They have a light honey scent, but not much else going on before you eat them beyond the good looks.
The flavor is mild, not like the Draft version they made as a beer flavor. There’s a hint of white grape, a little yeast note ... maybe a touch of honey sweetness. But that’s about it, there’s not tartness or dry bite. They’re appealing, but if you gave them to me without telling me the flavor, it’d be pretty far down on my list of guesses.
Out of curiosity, I went to Dylan’s Candy Bar and picked up just a handful of the Champagne Bubbles, which are white grape jelly drops covered with nonpareils to compare them. They’re similar, the grape and honey notes are on the same wavelength, but there’s a distinct juicy tartness to the Bubbles that isn’t in the Champagne beans. They’re both quite cute and would make a lovely pairing for a candy buffet or favors for a wedding or engagement party. The beans are certainly less messy (the Bubbles do leave little white spheres around from time to time) and can be combined with the other colorful iridescent that Jelly Bean now makes for their favorite flavors.
As a special flavor, I’ll pass on these. I don’t actually like champagne, so a bean flavored like it isn’t of much interest to me. I look forward to seeing folks use them in bean combinations and of course they’ll look nice for special occasions.
Jelly Belly are peanut free, dairy free, gluten free, and considered vegetarian. There is no actual alcohol listed in the ingredients. The beans contain confectioners glaze and beeswax so aren’t vegan.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was traveling earlier this week. I went to San Francisco to the Fancy Food Show. Though I drove, I still carried some gums with me, as driving over a few of the passes make my ears pop and the drive can be monotonous.
Glee Gum is made with natural chicle and natural colorings, quite rare on the market these days.
The chew is soft, the candy shell has a crispness that doesn’t last long. It’s not a thick shell that makes little crunchies in the gum, it dissolves quickly. The flavor is sweet with a mild but indistinct citrus note to it. It’s kind of like a lemon chamomile tea. The sweetness fades quickly, though it is rather cool on the tongue for a while, as most xylitol candies and gums are. The zest continues, and gets a little more intense after about 4 or 5 minutes ... then I think the gum is done as far as the flavor goes. The chew is still good, in fact, I prefer the chew of the sugarless Glee to the sugared kind ... it’s slightly stiffer and doesn’t stick as much.
After chewing the gum, about a half an hour later, I thought my mouth was still rather fresh feeling. Not a lingering mint, but just a sort of jasmine tea freshness. The citrus doesn’t go well with coffee, but for getting rid of coffee breath, it’s pretty good. Xylitol, as a sweetener, is actually good for dental health, so I’m trying to get into the habit of chewing in the afternoon to freshen up my mouth.
Spearmint is a largely underutilized flavor in the confectionery world. Peppermint is the default, though as herbs go, spearmint is far more ubiquitous and easier to grow. The dark green pieces are naturally colored and quite appealing. They don’t smell like much, it’s not like sticking your nose in a half-emptied packet of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, which always smelled so fresh.
The shell on the sugary variety is a little crunchier, though not by much. The flavor of the spearmint is mild and pleasant, but not overt like an Altoid. The chew is soft, though it stiffens up and gets a little bit sticky at times as the minutes pass. I was able to manage some moderate bubbles at time, though I was much better at cracking my gum with this version.
The sugar faded away within minutes, though the herbal and grassy spearmint notes hung around for quite a while after. After discarding the gum, the minty freshness dissipated within about 5 minutes.
When I first tried Glee Gum years ago, I didn’t care much for it. It’s certainly grown on me and it’s become my go-to gum for traveling. Partly because of the natural ingredients and partly because I like the chiclet style and simplicity of the boxes.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.