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.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
This is one of the most incongruous bits of packaging I’ve seen in a while. Hot Tamales branded jelly beans, in spice flavors ... okay, so far so good. But the colors are all, I don’t know, racy.
Spice jelly beans are far from racy. They’re eaten by little nostalgic old ladies and middle-aged European guys as palate cleansers. These are packaged like they’re supposed to appeal to the NASCAR crowd (not that they wouldn’t enjoy them ... Mike and Ike even have an association with NASCAR).
But still, spice jelly beans are hard to find these days, and it’s even harder to find them made in the USA. (Yes, I get emails from people looking for American made spice jelly beans.)
Just Born is known for it’s jelly bean type products, which are their Mike and Ike and Hot Tamales as well as their lesser known line of Teenee Beanee, a gourmet jelly bean.
What strikes me as especially odd about these (on top of everything else) is that Just Born also has a line of spice jelly beans that Sera at Candy Addict just reviewed yesterday!
They’re lovely looking beans, a little bigger than the Jelly Belly everyone is so used to these days, but not as large as the Brach’s Jelly Beans.
The variety has five flavors (the only ones left out of the “traditional” spice mix are licorice and lemon): Wintergreen, Peppermint, Clove, Spearmint and of course Cinnamon.
The color mix is a little odd too, the assignment of colors defies ordinary candy traditions, but I suppose none of that is written in stone either. At least they have a key on the back.
Really, all that’s missing here is Licorice. But the Licorice beans were sold separately ... literally, in their own bag. There’s also a separate bag of Hot Tamales Cinnamon Jelly Beans, but that’s just silly! Hot Tamales are cinnamon jelly beans!
The beans are traditional pectin thickened, many just use corn starch these days. But they’re not Kosher for Passover (but plain old Kosher). They’re also gluten free. I don’t know if these will be sold year round of if they are just a seasonal offering.
Thanks to Rebecca on Flickr who helped me find these!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Gimbal’s is one of those candy companies where you’ve probably had their products, you just don’t realize it because they’re often sold in bulk. They have fun little sour jelly stars, sour sanded bears and licorice scottie dogs.
They also have an extensive line of Gourmet Jelly Beans.
They’re similar to Jelly Belly, they’re a similar smaller size, have different color codings for the flavors and in this instance, come in an assortment of dozens of flavors in one bag (41 in this case). I’ve seen these 7 ounce bags for sale at Walgreen’s, usually for about $2. I know that CandyDirect.com sells single flavors of these (and you may find them in bulk bins that aren’t identified by brand). At only $3.40 a pound online, that’s about a third off to half off the price of Jelly Belly.
I don’t have tasting notes for absolutely every flavor, but here are a few of the highlights of what I picked out of the mix over the past week:
Tiramisu - like a caramel coffee creamer.
Too many reds! There’s cherry, cinnamon, raspberry, fruit punch, red delicious. I had similar problems with the orange/yellow things. But this is an issue with many candies that have too many flavors in one bag.
I’d probably prefer to buy a more narrow mix of these, like just fruits or maybe carnival flavors (toasted marshmallow, bubble gum, red delicious, root beer… maybe someone needs to invent a funnel cake flavor).
The beans are nicely formed and all had an even amount of distinctive flavor.
Gimbal’s is not only Kosher, but also a facility free of most of the major allergens. They are tree nut/peanut, gelatin, gluten, dairy and egg free. So if you like Jelly Belly but have to avoid gluten and peanuts, this would be an excellent option. As a bonus, Gimbal’s are less expensive than Jelly Belly. Just harder to find.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
It’s a candy resurrection story! Good & Fruity has been reissued by Hershey’s after being off the market for several years (could this petition have anything to do with it?). It should be available in stores any day now.
Good & Fruity is the companion candy to Good & Plenty, which is a sugar-shelled licorice. Really, there’s very little that’s similar about them, though at one time Good & Fruity was a candy coated fruit licorice nib.
The current incarnation of Good & Fruity, simply put, is jelly beans. Tiny, narrow jelly beans in a box.
They’re a little different from typical jelly beans, the shell isn’t as grainy, mostly because there’s so little shell. It’s crispy and has a light cool feel on the tongue with the sweeter flavors.
Lemon - tart, but not quite lemony.
Some of the G&F were a little inconsistent. Some were tangy, others were plain and sweet, like they’d missed their flavor coats.
The colors are vibrant and really compelling. Like little pieces of beach glass.
These are probably a good movie candy, a palatable mix of flavors, easy to eat with a very low mess factor. I’m just not that into them. They’re Kosher and unlike Good & Plenty, the colors here are all artificial so I guess it’s okay for vegetarians. Earlier versions of the candy were known as Good ‘n Fruity.
UPDATE 5/4/2010: For those who miss candy coated red licorice, you might want to find Wiley Wallaby Outback Beans. While they’re not exactly like the original Good ‘n Fruity, they’re closer than this.
Friday, March 7, 2008
It’s funny how many different interpretations there are in the confectionery world for the word “creme”. In the case of Cadbury Creme Eggs, it’s simply a runny fondant. In the case of many of the Hershey’s Kisses it’s a firmer fat based ganache style and in Starbursts it’s just a flavor.
In the case of Nestle, it means “something softer than chocolate”. I picked up their Nestle Crunch Creme Egg with Caramel and Butterfinger Creme Egg at the drug store to complete my All Egg Week.
At 1.1 ounces, the Nestle Crunch Creme Egg with Caramel is virtually the same weight as a Cadbury Creme Egg, but slightly narrower and denser.
The outer shell looks almost like dark chocolate. It has a pleasant little squiggly design and the name Nestle on both sides of the egg.
It’s easy to bite without any mess. The chocolate shell is pretty thick and contains the fillings well (no sticky eggs for me). The base of each half of the hemispheres is filled with a firm and lightly salty chocolate creme studded with crisped rice. Each side is a little shy of full and that reservoir holds a scant bit of flowing caramel along with a rather large void.
The caramel is a bit salty, not very caramel flavored, but I don’t expect that from Nestle. The chocolate creme is still chocolatey without any greasiness or sticky-milk qualities. I wanted more crunches though, I really like crisped rice and think this would benefit from more of it.
It’s a very dense egg, I think I might prefer it in a slightly smaller form (maybe a half an ounce like the Canadian Cadbury Eggs I tried last year) but it’s a rare egg these days in the drug store that’s just going for chocolate (with that little bit of caramel & crunchies).
I give it a 7 out of 10.
Nestle also makes the Wonka Golden Creme Eggs, which are pretty much the same thing except there are graham cracker flavored bits in there instead of crisped rice.
The Butterfinger Creme Egg says it’s 1.15 ounces but I have my doubts with that huge void there. At first I thought it was just that one that was a little underfilled, but the second one (still wrapped in the photo) had a similar large cavern of nothingness.
It smells sweet chocolatey with a good roasted peanut butter undertone.
My major complaint with Butterfinger bars is that they don’t use real chocolate on the outside. In the case of these (and the Butterfinger Jingles), it’s real Nestle Milk Chocolate (which still isn’t spectacular) ... well, that’s what the foil says, “Butterfinger Pieces & Peanut Butter Creme in a Milk Chocolate Shell” but I’m kind of unclear when I read the ingredients that featured the second ingredient as “confectionery coating” but that may be a mock white chocolate base of the creme filling.
All that aside, it’s an enjoyable egg. The center has all the flavor of a Butterfinger. That buttery flavor with the little crunchy bits of peanut butter brittle (that don’t stick to your teeth!) a little bit of salt to even out the very sweet chocolate shell. It’s nothing like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg, but that’s okay, they’re both pretty inexpensive, get both.
A solid 7 out of 10 for this one as well.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Okay, this probably one of the saddest names for a fine Easter confection I’ve ever seen: Hollow Eggs with Novelty. See’s has gone through the trouble of naming every last one of their 102 boxed chocolates. Okay, some of them are ordinary names, like Buttercream, but others are original like Scotchmallow, Chelsea, Bordeaux & California Brittle.
Naming aside, everything else is spot on. The little carton holds the chick-egg-sized, foil-wrapped hollow chocolate eggs just like a half a dozen eggs you’d buy a the grocery store.
The foil is nicely applied (you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find foil-wrapped eggs where you can actually read the lettering on them). The blue, magenta and pale green colors are pretty sedate but match really well with most of the other Easter offerings at See’s. Each foiled egg has an interesting little rattle to it when shaken. There’s definitely something in there, and my guess is it’s a novelty. (It does sound kind of like the whole thing is plastic, but trust me, it’s chocolate.)
The outside shell is milk chocolate, the interior chick is white chocolate. The ingredients label is a little vague about that chick but the ingredients are still pretty pure: Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Milk, Chocolate, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin & Salt. The shell has a geometric pattern on it ... kinda like an eggshell looks when you roll a hard boiled egg around.
The price isn’t bad, especially when you buy the batch of 6. At $5.60 each is less than a dollar and are a little less than an ounce each (26 grams).
The first egg I opened I carefully sliced through the seam with an exacto blade. Now that I’ve eaten several, I can tell you the trick if you want to split it open cleanly ... hold the egg firmly and press along the seam at the widest part of the egg very gently. Most times it will split cleanly. Sometimes you end with your thumb through the egg ... just like when you play with real eggs!
The milk chocolate is nice. It’s sweet and has an mellow dairy component, not very malty or dark ... just a nice middle-of-the road chocolate flavor.
The white chocolate is very sweet but milky and mostly smooth. The appearance of them varies. Some are pristine little chicks, others are a little smudged up from rattling around in the chocolate shell (well, I’ve been rattling them around). It’s a nice couple of bites, I probably wouldn’t want more, but white chocolate is inextricably tied to Easter for me, so I enjoy it for the nostalgia alone.
They don’t sell these as solo treats, just in the half dozen box or in other pre-mixed baskets. Though I think they’re great, I just don’t see myself buying these when I can have the Scotchmallow Eggs (except those aren’t individually wrapped for nestling in baskets so someone will have to put a whole box in mine) at the same price. But if you’ve got a group to please, this is a good way to go.
Each egg has about 145 calories each.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
In general, it’s a great idea. Why not have pretty foil confections?
Hershey’s has a few heart-shaped chocolates this year, but they’ve also created a special mix called Heart’s Desire. It features Hershey’s Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate Hearts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Filled Hearts and Hershey’s Special Dark Hearts (natural source of flavinol antioxidants (tm))
I was actually kind of pleased that they weren’t completely pink and red and pink. Instead the color coding is a little more intuitive. The Special Dark employs the global-standard purple, the milk chocolate is in the typical pink and the Reese’s is in gold.
They’re about 1.25” wide and 1.5” tall and weigh about .29 ounces each. (A Hershey’s Kiss weighs about .16 ounces.)
Special Dark - I used to think that the Special bar was just that. Mostly because I thought that it was my mother’s favorite chocolate bar. Back when it first came out in the 70s there simply weren’t any mass-produced dark chocolate bars available at the corner store. (To get a dark chocolate fix I had to eat chocolate chips.) I didn’t care much for it as a child, I found it a bit waxy and bitter. As an adult I find it chalky, grainy, too sweet and lacking in real chocolate oomph. It contains 45% cocoa solids, which you would think would make it extra chocolatey, but it is simply middle or the road fare. It’s not true dark chocolate as it contains milkfat. They are pretty though.
Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate - this version is, I guess, Hershey’s answer to critics who said that their chocolate tastes weird. The “extra creamy” kick may come from extra emulsifiers, this one sports both soy lecithin and PGPR. This version of Hershey’s chocolate actually tastes quite a bit different than the typical Hershey’s bar or Kiss. It is sweeter and lacks those deep musky dairy notes. Instead this has a bit of a toasted marshmallow taste ... and very little chocolate-ness. (I did some calculations ... standard Hershey’s chocolate is 27% carbs, the extra creamy variety is 29% carbs. So there you go, it is actually made up of more sugar.)
Reese’s Peanut Butter Filled Hearts - this was the one that I bought the bag for. In fact, I looked around at all the bags and picked the one with the most gold wrappers visible. The outside was a little greasy but still smelled over wonderfully roasted nuts (I love a fresh Reese’s!). The inside wasn’t quite the soft crumbly version of Reese’s peanut butter, instead it still had the same “crumb” to it, but it was slicker, maybe a little sweeter or a little oilier. It didn’t quite satisfy me the same way that a peanut butter cup does, but still, it’s a Reese’s!
They’re a pretty assortment, rather traditional and in a rare, large bag (16.5 ounces.). I don’t think I’d buy them again for myself, but everyone at the office seemed pretty jazzed when I popped the remainder in the communal candy jar (but then again, all that’s been in the jar for the past week is Tootsie Rolls).
I don’t know how far in advance Hershey’s makes these, but the expiration date is June 2008 ... that doesn’t seem like a very long shelf life to me.
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