Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The Boyer Candy Company may be best known for their Mallo Cups, which they’ve been making since the 1930s which they claim is the first “cup candy”. (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were introduced in 1928, but were not actually sold in little fluted paper cups at first.)
It’s natural for there to be other versions of the chocolate cup with a marshmallow filling and coconut topping. The Boyer Dark Chocolate Mallo Cup is really just the same, even the simple packaging looks like they’ve been making this version for 50 years.
The bumpy top of the cup shows that there is actually some coconut underneath. Like every Mallo Cup I think I’ve had in the past 20 years, the bottom stuck to the wrapper (I think freezing them prevents this, but changes the textures). It smells a bit like coconut and of course chocolate with a strong whiff of vanilla.
The interesting thing to note about the Mallo Cups is that they’re not actually marshmallow. (Though the name is Mallo Cup, the description on the package says that the center is whipped creme.) Marshmallow, for the most part, is made with gelatin. The Mallo Cups are made with egg whites. That would mean that these are really a meringue creme. The center is a great texture, it’s soft and creamy without too much stickiness and no grain whatsoever.
The dark chocolate has a decent flavor to it, though not complex or overpowering, it has a nice chocolate candy contribution to the whole. The coconut flakes within give some texture ... overall, it’s a good modernization of the classic candy cups. I’d love it if they spent a little time fixing the production issue of the oozing and insufficient base.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
For me, Klondike Bars always seemed like a candified version of ice cream. So it seemed a bit odd to see that there was a new line of Klondike Bar themed candies, under license from Unilver and made by Flix Candy.
I picked up the Klondike Mint Chocolate Chip: The Candy! at Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is walking distance from my office. The candy bars there are stupidly expensive, this was $2.29, which is pretty steep for something that isn’t fair trade, organic, shade grown and packaged in a reusable, recycled tin. But the back of the package does say that they’re made in the USA.
It’s been years since I’ve had a Klondike Bar, but here’s how they described this room temperature,shelf stable version: Mint chocolate chip center covered in dark chocolate flavored coating.
Though it’s easy to shudder at what the chocolate flavored coating might mean, I reminded myself that most ice cream novelties also aren’t made with real chocolate, in order to get the right mouthfeel on a frozen dessert, many use other tropical oils in addition to the chocolate solids.
First, it’s not one big block, it’s four one inch square pieces. That’s fine with me. That was always one of the most frustrating things about Klondike Bars, they were too big for me to eat before they started to melt from holding them.
The coating is actually okay. It’s not greasy or slippery or too soft or too crunchy. It’s actually chocolatey. The filling is overwhelming tough. The pieces smell strongly of peppermint. The center is kind of like a frosting cream though not grainy. The center is a little smoother, maybe a little fattier than the filling of a York Peppermint Pattie. There’s a salty note to the center, which moderates the sweetness. If there were chocolate chips anywhere in the middle, I missed them.
Ultimately, I don’t see much reason to eat this instead of a York Peppermint Pattie or if I’m really going decadent, the Trader Joe’s Honey Mints. But I admit, the packaging is pretty good.
Thursday, July 18, 2013
Lucky Country is not as easy to find in stores as Twizzlers or Red Vines, but for folks who like a really rich tasting licorice but don’t want to spring for the European or Australian candies, it’s a good option.
Lucky Country sent me some bags of their black licorice and some of their fruity varieties. I’d tried their black before (the photo of the package shown is from 2008, but the pieces below are the more recent shipment).
The nuggets are big. They’re about 1.5” long and about .6 inches in diameter. It only takes five pieces to make a portion, which comes out to about 130 calories. Even though it’s not fat free, it’s very low in calories overall, only 92 calories per ounce, because it’s a wheat-based chew and the primary sweetener is molasses. The molasses also adds a bit of nutrition. There 6% of your daily RDA of calcium and 8% of your RDA of iron.
I was disappointed to see artificial colors in the ingredients. It’s pretty easy to find all natural licorice out there, so there’s little reason to compromise on this if you don’t like Red 40, Yellow 6 or Blue 1 going into your candy or body.
The pieces are a little sticky but overall quite chewy and soft. The flavor is well rounded with a good licorice and anise flavor along with a smoky and earthy flavor of molasses. They’re not as sweet as Panda licorice, and I enjoy the twisted segments as a shape versus the long, smooth bar of Panda.
It’s good stuff, and since it’s made in the US, it’s pretty affordable stuff. Personally I prefer the format of pastilles (like Good & Plenty) so if they ever go in that direction, I’d be interested to try them.
Monday, July 1, 2013
One of my favorite candy bars as a teen was the Heath Bar. At that time it came as a pair of bars, not yet made by Hershey’s. Each little plank of crisp toffee was coated in milk chocolate. With careful work I could cleave off the chocolate with my teeth leaving a pristine and nearly translucent piece of toffee for slow consumption.
Now that the bars all one piece, I’m not as fascinated by them. Ratios matter as do dimensions.
Flash forward the new century as Hershey’s is making a candy coated piece version of all their favorite candy bars. It’s all part of the Morselization trend. The Hershey’s Heath Pieces feature a milk chocolate morsel studded with toffee and almond bits in a candy shell in muted earthy colors.
The back of the package exhorts buyers to Enjoy Delicious Milk Chocolate Toffee in Pieces ... in the car! ... on the go! ... at home! ...with family & friends!
The package also lists a website, www.piecescandies.com which is nice enough but makes no mention of this product.
They’re lovely and well made little lentils. They’re nearly identical in dimensions to M&Ms, except they’re a little puffier in the center and don’t have the sharp angle around the edges. Quite a few of mine had chipped edges, but that seemed to be the harsh way I treated them on the way home. They come in three colors: cream, medium brown and dark brown.
Inside is an inconsistent mixture of very sweet milk chocolate, toffee and almond. They’re exceptionally sweet and have a less chocolatey experience than the regular Almond Pieces. The crunchy shell and the toffee work well together. They’re both crunchy, but the toffee has a little pop of salt and buttery texture to it. Every once in a while I would catch a chip of almond as well.
The whole effect was sweetness, though not always in a bad way. I think I’d prefer them mixed in with some straight chocolate baubles (though it appears they’re not making the Special Dark Pieces any longer). But what I really found I liked better than these are from Marich and also sold at Trader Joe’s. These would be great for baking and on ice cream.
Like many Hershey’s products, they’re not ethically sourced or certified at this time, though Hershey’s has a published plan. There are a lot of ingredients in there though nothing terribly surprising or disturbing. There was no note on the package about the peanut or gluten status though it does contain soy, milk and almonds. My guess is that it’s made in the same facility as Reese’s Pieces so may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, June 28, 2013
It’s as if I’ve got a theme going with all these new products that are bite versions of the established candies. Today it’s a nibble from American Licorice’s popular Sour Punch line. These are Sour Punch Punchies and are described, simply as: soft,chewy, sour candy.
The two ounce bag has nuggets of candy coated wheat-based sour chews in five flavors: lemon, strawberry, tangerine, blue raspberry and green apple. They’re similar to the Chewy Sour Extinguisher that they released a few years ago, which had sour nuggets along with a magic one that would neutralize your ability to taste sour temporarily.
Sour Punch Straws and the later Sour Punch Bits are sour chews with a wheat flour base, like Red Vines. They usually have a sour sanding on the outside and a more intense flavor than a regular Red Vine. They’re devilishly messy, as the sanding tends to get everywhere. I also found that one straw was often more than I wanted as a portion. I like sours, but not in large quantities as age has finally taught me that too much sour is bad for my tongue if I’d like to use it for the following days.
The Sour Punch Punchies are have a core of Sour Punch Bits and then a candy coating similar to a jelly bean - it’s smooth on the outside but a little grainy and not crunchy. The colors are bold and very vivid.
Tangerine was the flavor I tried first, because it was bound to be good. The sourness was great but also had a nice hit of zest right away. The grain of the coating reminded me of Lemonheads, since there’s a bit of a “peel” effect with a sourness at the margin between the shell and center. The center is a little gummy and pasty and has a slight wheat flour note to it, as most of the Sour Punch products do.
Blue Raspberry is floral and seedy and sour. It’s very artificial at times, but an overall winner.
Lemon was right up there, again, bringing a lot of the qualities that I love about Lemonheads, but with more flavor in the center.
Strawberry was milder and like a smoothie in a way, not quite as sour but with a creamy note that the chew at the center brought in.
Green Apple was pure artificial in all the right ways. It tasted nothing like actual apples (as some candies will straddle the line) but more like Jolly Ranchers amped up. The sourness was not as strong as the lemon, which was by far the most intense.
There’s enough acid in there to burn my tongue before I finished the bag, I was able to eat less then half before I got a stomach ache. They’re really pretty to look at and I loved the flavor variety in the package better than the Airheads Bites (mostly because I like citrus and strawberry better than cherry and watermelon).
Wheat flour is a major ingredient, so they’re not gluten free. But there’s no gelatin but they do use confectioners glaze, so they’re not vegan. There’s also a lot more sodium in there, 170 mg, than I would have expected in a candy like this. They’re made in the USA and Kosher.
Monday, June 17, 2013
I’m on a bit of a kick with Just Born products, not just because they sent me a package of Peeps last month, but because they’ve got a lot going on with their other product lines. (Once I start, I feel like I have to explore all the versions of a product.)
Mike and Ike have been around for some 70+ years. They’re pretty much jelly beans, sold in boxes in a limited assortment of 2 to five flavors.
The newest Limited Edition version is Mike and Ike Strawberry Reunion. Recently Just Born did a big advertising push for Mike and Ike, including a whole narrative about the characters of Mike and Ike breaking up ... and (spoiler!) getting back together. This version has a strawberry theme, including: Strawberry, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, Strawberry Watermelon, Strawberry Tangerine and Strawberry Pineapple.
If you want to read more about the marketing, AdWeek had a nice summation of it.
Strawberry Watermelon is a light pink color with darker spots and completely believable in its flavor. It’s a floral and tart and ends with the watermelon flavor notes without tasting like chemicals.
Strawberry was red rather ordinary, but still a good piece.
Strawberry Banana Smoothie is yellow. It’s tangy at first with an artificial note of banana and none of the creamy component that makes strawberry banana smoothies so great. As an artificial creation though, it’s nice candy.
Strawberry Tangerine is orange and fantastic. Tangy and citrusy and floral all at once. It has a zesty finish to it, instead of being purely sweet.
Strawberry Pineapple is speckled and more peachy. There weren’t as many of these in my box, which is too bad because they were also wonderful. Tart and zippy with more pineapple than strawberry.
Overall, a nice mix, each of them were distinct but could also be combined ... the only one that didn’t like to play with others was watermelon.
Just Born also recently started releasing their candies in classic packaging. To go along with that, they brought back a few of their old flavor varieties. I found the Mike and Ike Lem and Mel and the Mike and Ike Cherri and Bubb at the Dollar Tree.
These are full variety mixes though, each box only contains a pair of flavors ... and odd pairs at that. The packaging has a fifties feel, a little more muted and simplified, but a quick check online shows that the Lem and Mel variety was introduced in 1991 and the Cherri and Bubb was out in 1989 ... back when we had another obsession with nostalgia.
The Mike and Ike - Lem and Mel is yellow and green, featuring Lemon and Watermelon flavored jelly bean rods. The lemon is already found in the classic Mike and Ike fruits box and a pink version of the watermelon is in the RedRageous package.
Lemon is not as sparkly as the Lemonade Blends. It’s sweet and zesty, but not tangy. Watermelon is sweet as well, with only a tart hint and then a sort of cotton candy finish.
Cherri and Bubb is Cherry and Bubble Gum. I bought this variety because of the Bubble Gum Peeps and though maybe I’d review them together, but ended up separating the products this way instead.
The cherry is an odd sort of flavor. It’s very bold, it starts out with a strong wild cherry flavor that reminds me of Sucrets throat drops. Then it gets very sweet and has a little bit of a raspberry note. They’re not for me.
Bubble gum is pink. They seemed a little bit stiffer, not quite as soft and jelly-like as the cherry. This make them seem more bubble gum-like as well. It’s a good bubble gum flavor, a bit on the sweet strawberry side with only the lightest note of wintergreen. It’s fresh and veers off into juicyfruit. There’s no weird aftertaste from the artificial colors, which was my problem with the Peeps.
About 9 years ago I remember a Root Beer Float version of Mike and Ike, I’d like to see those come back ... or maybe a whole soda pop flavor mix.
They’re a really good value, for a buck a box which holds 5 ounces. It’s the kind of price that I don’t feel bad if I throw out the flavors I don’t like. I’d opt for the Strawberry Reunion or the Lemonade Blends out of all the Mike and Ike varieties.
Monday, June 10, 2013
KitKat Minis are unwrapped versions that are only 1 inch long. They’re also solo. Instead of “fingers” of KitKats served up in quads, these are like “pinky toes,” if you have those kind of pinkies that never quite fit in regular sandals and just hang out by themselves.
This isn’t the first time KitKat has attempted a bite sized version, there were KitKat Bites on the market about eight years ago. Those were smaller and more spherical as they were a panned chocolate (the centers were tumbled in a pan and then sealed with a little glaze).
The issue I found with the earlier KitKat Bites violating the interactivity I’d come to love about the KitKat bar is not an issue here. The miniature bars do have all the layers. This means that my process of eating them is the same. I cleave off the chocolate on each, making a melt-free spot to hold the bar while I peel off each layer of the cookie wafers with my teeth.
I enjoyed these, but not quite as much as I would have liked. The ratio of chocolate to wafers is higher now. I wouldn’t mind if it was good chocolate, but it’s not. It’s overly sweet, a little grainy and because it contains PGPR, I always think it has a rancid note to it.
I’m hoping these will come in the dark variety at some point. But the reality is that the Japanese Adult Taste Dark Chocolate KitKat (called Otonano Amaso) version is so untouchably superior, and actually comes in a nugget version, I don’t plan on buying Hershey’s again after this bag is gone.
The price is okay, I got mine on sale for $3.50 for the bag, which is a half of a pound. The wrapped candies can often be less expensive, but these may come down in price over the coming months as the economies of scale kick in. The stand up bag does have a zipper on it so they do store well. I can also see these being a good addition to ice cream or used as an ingredient in baking projects.
Though KitKat bars in the rest of the world, made by Nestle, are becoming fair trade certified, the American made KitKats from Hershey’s are not quite there yet. (Even when they do make it, that doesn’t mean they’ll taste better.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.