Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Ghirardelli has really expanded their line of chocolate bars over the past five years. Not only that, I see their products everywhere now thanks to the expansion of higher end chocolate into grocery stores and drug chains. They even have a charming chain of ice cream stores.
But I’ve ignored them on the blog for a long time. Probably because my initial impression of them has been that the chocolate bars is waxy and bland. But they’re wildly popular and have been making chocolate since 1852 in the Bay Area, one of my favorite candy destinations, so I needed to put those impressions to the test.
That’s not to say that I don’t use their chocolate chips, I prefer them to Nestle’s Toll House Morsels or Hershey’s Baking Chips and they’re often on sale for a decent price.
So I picked up this assortment of tasting squares after Christmas when they were on sale. They feature the new line of Intense Dark in three different flavors.
The Espresso Escape wrapper says: dark chocolate with finely ground espresso beans in 60% cacao. As usual I was worried about the bits of coffee beans, but in thsi case they really were so finely ground as they matched the particle size of the cocoa solids.
Roasted brewed coffee flavors mixed with the woodsy taste of real beans. Very little chocolate flavor here, it’s all coffee but with a smooth chocolate texture. Good cocoa butter melt, very silky. Light vanilla overtones. But the cedar and smoke is quite tangy.
While I enjoyed the texture quite a bit, the flavor was just a little too, well, Intense (tm).
The Mint Bliss package says: dark chocolate with natural mint in 60% cacao. What the front of the package doesn’t mention is that there’s also some unidentified “artificial flavor” in this as well.
Nice buttery texture, but an incongruous tangy and musty taste along with the peppermint. It’s more of a fresh peppermint leaf taste, not a pure peppermint oil, which is a nice change of pace from their Peppermint Bark that I had over the holidays. But the combination of flavors still doesn’t quite jive for me.
It has a nice buttery melt with a light cool feeling but the flavor is a little thin. It’s a little fruity, on the raisin side of things.
It’s sweet, only the lightest trace of bitterness. Light dry finish.
Ghirardelli has some other versions in their Intense Dark line, including the Midnight Reverie that has 86% cacao, Evening Dream with only 60% cacao and two other flavored 60% called Citrus Sunset & Toffee Interlude. They also have some filled bars that I haven’t tried yet.
Overall, it’s nice stuff, certainly worth the price and a fun little pickup for coffee or after dinner, maybe a mid-day munch. I like the 10.6 gram squares, it’s a good size for a little taste of chocolate.
Note: the Mint Bliss & Espresso Escape have milk fat in them, so are unsuitable for vegans, but the Twilight Delight is milk-free (though made on equipment that processes dairy).
Thursday, April 10, 2008
I was looking forward to this bar when I heard about it at All Candy Expo last September. It was teased, “Satisfy your taste for adventure! Rich chocolate. Crunchy nuts. And a cliffhanger kick of exotic spice and a hint of sweet coconut flavor.” That description doesn’t sound that gripping, but still a tasty combo.
The bars began showing up on store shelves in the past few weeks, along with the other tie-in items like the new color & icons in the Milk Chocolate M&Ms and Peanut M&Ms as well as the Mint Crisp M&Ms.
Here’s the obligatory and gratuitous cross-section:
It looks like a regular Snickers, it has the same milk chocolate coating and two layers inside. The top layer is caramel studded with peanuts and the bottom is a fluffed nougat.
There is a faint whiff of coconut, but I’m not getting any chai spices in there.
Still, all I’m getting is a bit saltier nougat and the coconut flavor mixed into the caramel.
It’s not bad, but certainly doesn’t live up to its name. If you’ve always wanted a coconut Snickers (and I know a few people mentioned a love of coconut in the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Ideal Candy Bar question) this might be the bar for you. Of course it may also be a big disappointment for true coconut fans, as there is no actual coconut in there. You might just want to pick up an Almond Joy and smash it on top of a regular Snickers for a better effect (and a true mash up!).
While this may have disappointed me (and the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar didn’t), I’ve got to give them props for trying some new things instead of just using the same ingredients in different ways (like the Snickers Nut ‘n Butter Crunch) or taking away an element (like the Snickers Xtreme).
The package design is a bit better on this one, I think, than the Mint Crisp M&Ms. Don’t forget to check out the new colors of M&Ms, too.
The Milk Chocolate M&Ms are in a muted color palatte: Red, Brown, Amber and Cream.
They all have assorted new icons on them, integrated with the letter M in some way. I like the one that’s wearing the Indiana Jones hat and the map ordinal. There are also various pyramids and native masks. Some of them feel a bit like a retread of the Pirates of the Caribbean, including the skull. But I guess that’s the genre of movie. The Peanut ones rarely have a legible icon on them as well, but hey, that’s the hazard with using a real peanut center.
All of the Indiana Jones tie in Mars products are available in stores now. I found mine at CVS and Walgreen’s.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Last year Mike and Ike let us vote for a new flavor blend and when the winner was clear, they announced the new Mike and Ike Lemonade Blends. But it wasn’t just a new flavor set, this one has a tie in with the foundation called Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which supports research into pediatric cancers.
There was also a stunning candy buffet, as you can see, that featured all the Mike and Ike flavors and little bags where you could design your own mix. (Mine was mostly pineapple from the Tangy Twister mix and some strawberry-banana from Tropical Twister and a strong dose of the new Lemonade Blends.)
I went to a press reveal at All Candy Expo last September where Alexandra Scott’s father told the story of his little girl who started a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research, all while she was battling the cancer that would ultimately take her life at the age of eight. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, it’s an amazing story of a selfless kid.)
Just Born will be making a minimum donation of $100,000 a year for three years. (And this mix will return each spring/summer as well.)
Finally the candies are hitting stores and I can post my review!
I was pleased with the quality of the Mike and Ike Tangy Twister, but didn’t care much for the set of flavors. Since citrus is one of my favorite flavor sets, I had a much better feeling about the new Lemonade Mix.
The new assortment has the following flavors: Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Lime Lemonade, and Tangerine Lemonade flavors. The odd part is that these flavors aren’t mentioned on the package, or even on the website, unless you dig deep into the Just Born press release archive. But there are little images of five different fruits on the package, so I guess folks need to make the jump themselves.
Yellow - Lemonade - a good zesty and really sour lemon. After chewing, as with most Mike and Ike, the flavor fades and it’s just pleasant and bland jelly candy.
Green - Lime Lemonade - not as tart as the lemonade, but has a good rounded lime flavor.
Orange - Tangerine Lemonade - I was hoping this one would be really tart but it didn’t quite rise to that. It’s definitely tangerine and not orange though.
Light Pink - Strawberry Lemonade - I enjoy real strawberry lemonade and this has a nice mix of the fragrant berry and the tangy lemon-ness.
Purplish Pink - Raspberry Lemonade - not as tart as the strawberry, this has a more floral berry essence to it.
They’re all tasty and all have that lemony zazz to them. It’s easy to eat them together or separate your colors. I liked all the flavors ... I wish they were just a little more flavorful, but that would be wishing away one of the essential parts of Mike and Ike, which is the mellow jelly center. (Which is made with pear juice.)
Mariko at Candy Addict also had a preview of these and found them so good she’ll be happy to hear that they’re on shelves so she can get more now. For more fun Mike and Ike adoration, check out Jason Liebig’s photo set of his collection of boxes.
The package says that these are Gluten Free. The colors are all artificial, so I guess these are also Vegan.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Mars has a series of candies coming out with a marketing tie-in to the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie. (Which is set to premiere in the US on May 22nd.) This is rather similar to the stunt last year with Shrek the Third and the Pirates of the Caribbean movie the year before.
The standard Milk Chocolate & Peanut M&Ms got a new skin: a fun shift in their colors and little Indiana Jones inspired icons on some of them. Then, of course, to really excite candy fans they’ve done something completely new, the Limited Edition Mint Crisp M&Ms.
It’s not like they’re completely new though, there were once Crispy M&Ms in the United States (go to Australia if you miss them) and the seasonal Mint M&Ms.
The package is one of the busiest known, rivaled perhaps only Pirate Pearls. There are lots of leaves all over the front, which at first I thought were mint, but turned out to be various palm and jungle-y things (I haven’t the foggiest what’s going on with Indy’s arm and that big palm leaf though). We’re encouraged to “Dig New Mint Crisp M&Ms” in the top left of the package and down in the lower right we’re told to “Get M before they’re Lost”.
The Green M&M wearing a pith helmet is looking admiringly at Indy saying, “Treasure is a girl’s best friend.” At first I thought it was a little creepy that Green has the hots for Indy, then I realized that the Green M&M is actually a year older than Harrison Ford. (M&Ms were introduced in 1941, Harrison Ford in 1942.)
There’s only 1.4 ounces in the bag, but that little bit of air inside each center does wonders to bulk them up.
I was really looking forward to these, though it’s interesting to note that George Lucas has cautioned fans of the Indiana Jones movies not to build up their hopes to unreasonable levels. (And I think I know a bit about how much Lucas can let fans of a franchise down.)
They don’t look so great, some are horribly bumpy and the size variations are pretty extreme, from rather sphere-like ones smaller than a regular M&M all the way up to large ones that could be mistaken for Almond M&Ms.
The little icons are themed shapes that include the letter M. There are pyramids, masks, a compass ordinal and even a hat like Indiana Jones wears. They’re rather irregular as well, but more obvious on the themed Milk Chocolate M&Ms:
But shape and color aside, it’s what’s inside that counts, right?
They’re really easy to keep crunching away at ... a little chocolate, a little mint, a little crisped rice. Kind of like a Girl Scout Thin Mint.
I’d be happy to see these as a seasonal item, though I doubt I’d eat them as often as the Almond M&Ms. I suspect they’ll be a huge hit.
UPDATE: Sera at Candy Addict also has a review now & I have the Snickers Adventure Bar. These are also available as a limited edition in Japan, here’s a photo I found by CindyC81 (you too can share photos in the Candy Blog Flickr Photo Pool).
Friday, April 4, 2008
The American Licorice Company was founded in 1914 in Chicago, IL and began making something known as Raspberry Vines in 1920. In 1952 they tweaked the flavoring and renamed them simply Red Vines.
I’ve opened the can of worms in the Red Vines Giveaway about the category of confection called red licorice. In their defense, the American Licorice Company has always skirted this by simply coming up with a new and trademarked name of Red Vines for their Original Red Twists.
Red Vines are so popular (apparently they’re Crazy Delicious when combined with Mr. Pibb) that they’re the number one non-chocolate candy in the western region of the United States. I don’t know what the number one non-chocolate candy is in the eastern region. As is the case with things like tissues being called Kleenex, all colas are called Coke or adhesive bandages being identified as Band Aids, Red Vines are simply the default for red licorice. (Though in other regions that’d be the same for Twizzlers.)
What are ya gonna call it otherwise? A twisted, wheat-based confection? A long, red chew?
The candies are sold in a variety of formats, some single vines and others in a pull apart bar or textured bites. They’re exceptionally durable and can withstand temperature variations within reason inside the sealed package without much deterioration or flavor or texture. The standard in the tray is about 8.5” long and is formed via an extrusion method with a twist (four complete twists per vine). They are hollow and have crimped ends. Each vine has about 35 calories. All carbs, no fat, a trace of protein.
They smell faintly like coconut, new flip flops and strawberry shortcake lip balm. (Mmm, the smells of summer.)
They’re soft and pliable, unless you left the package open or bought expired ones, then they’re stiff and hard. Either way, they’re only lightly flavored. They’re not terribly sweet, the first ingredient is corn syrup, but the second is wheat flour ... then citric acid, artificial flavor and Red 40. That’s it. Pretty simple really.
Though it may have been raspberry flavored at one time, I think the flavor is now simply red licorice. It tastes like red. It has only the lightest tangy bite to it (the citric acid) and doesn’t leave a funky aftertaste and is one of the few red candies that I don’t actually taste the red food coloring in.
The cool thing is that it’s cheap, easy to share and has that lowest common denominator factor that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who won’t join you when you offer it (and it’s usually because of allergens, not true dislike).
I don’t eat the stuff very often. It’s fine for movies or when I want to share with my husband (they actually make a pack of Bites which has a mix of the black and red which I’ve bought just for that purpose). I’m not saying it’s bad candy, but I’m happier to give it away than eat it. Red Vines just makes me want real licorice.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Theo Chocolate, the only all Fair Trade and Organic chocolate company that makes their confections from bean to bar in the United States is growing. This year they added two new bars to their 3400 Phinney line, bringing the total to four milk chocolate bars and four dark chocolate bars.
They are all a standard format of two ounces in four sections and feature artwork on the wrapper by Kitten Chops.
I picked my full-sized samples of the new bars at the Natural Products Expo last month. The Fig, Fennel & Almond in 65% Dark was the one I was most looking forward to.
Let’s see, favorite things:
Figs? I never knew fig love until I had my own tree. Check!
Fennel? Love it in salads, prefer licorice in candy. Check!
Almonds? I eat them every day. Check!
65% Dark Chocolate? Not too dark, not too dry is the way I like it. Check!
Upon first bite this was too dark, too complex, kind of a mess. But like some Philip Glass piece, the spareness of each note eventually started making music.
It took about half the bar, but I started liking it more and more. The fennel stands out in the scent of the bar, a light and grassy licorice or anise note. Upon letting a bite melt it becomes a bit acidic, a little tangy and rather like raisins, but fresher. Not quite figgy but the seeds help. Later the little bits of crushed almonds pull it all back together.
The chocolate is dry and not quite as buttery as I’d like for a “candy bar” but for a chocolate bar, it has a nice bitter component that keeps the figs from feeling to sticky sweet. Still, it requires a bit too much effort for me to just eat the bar.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I had a very hard time with this bar ... I have a very hard time not eating it all before I finished writing this review.
It’s simply called Hazelnut Crunch Milk Chocolate.
It smells hazelnutty, and has little bits of crushed hazelnuts and a toffee crunch mixed into the creamy and rather dark milk chocolate.
The toffee bits are what makes this really fabulous. They’re very salty (in fact, there’s a lot of salt in this bar: 140 mgs) but man, each little milligram makes a little jolt of electrical energy delivering those flavors right to the pleasure centers of my brain.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Where I had trouble with the FF&A, the Hazelnut Crunch was one I couldn’t believe I ate the whole thing when it was gone. It’s a perfect afternoon bar, not too filling, not too sickly sweet and the little dose of nuts makes it feel very satisfying. In fact, I’d probably eat it anytime, anywhere ... but the Fig, Fennel & Almond would definitely need to be the kind of bar where I’d need to be in the mood.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I know nothing about this bar except what is in front of me: Limited Edition Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar.
I got it directly from the Mars company, but no press materials. So all I have to go by is what’s on the wrapper and of course what’s inside that chocolate enrobing.
The package says: Almonds, Caramel and Marshmallow-Flavored Nougat wrapped in Dark Chocolate.
I was kind of dubious. I wasn’t fond of the Hershey’s S’Mores bar ... but that’s S’Mores, this is Rocky Road, which has the addition of nuts and the subtraction of graham crackers.
Like all the limited edition Snickers bars, this is smaller than the regular, clocking in at 1.83 ounces instead of 2.07 for the original. I’m okay with the slight of .24 ounces, it’s a satisfying bar, it says so right on the back.
It smells lightly of vanilla and dark toasted nuts with a touch of chocolate. The chocolate shell is decent, and sets off the sweet innards well. The caramel has a good mix of almond pieces in it, they’re all fresh and crunchy and much more noticeable than those in the Snickers Almond. The nougat though is where this bar really differs from all others I’ve tried. It’s not the grainy fluffed nougat that ends up in Milky Way and 3 Musketeers. Instead this is like a dense marshmallow. Smooth and not too sweet, a little stringy like the caramel.
It’s a completely different texture experience with this smoother “marshmallow flavored nougat”, kind of like real European-style nougats. (The ingredients list says egg whites, there is no gelatin in here like marshmallows have, so this is still vegetarian-safe ... and probably a nice option for vegetarians who miss marshmallows.)
Perhaps it’s because I have a bounty of these bars and have eaten at least five for this review (instead of the usual 1 or 2 for most reviews), it’s grown on me quite a bit. Dark chocolate was a good choice, it keeps it all from feeling heavy and sticky. Brian also liked them, but also stopped short of love (and I agree, regular Snickers is still the best.)
Still, I can’t tell you where you can find them or when they’ll be available. (Except, of course, from me if you read on.)
Here’s a special peek into the life of a candy blogger.
On February 27th I got an email from someone at Mars, thanking me for my positive review on the Twix Java and offering, “I will be happy to send you samples of new products as they become available.” (Emphasis mine.) She also mentioned that Mars has launched a new direct buy store, where you can pick up boxes of their candies, including the hard to find Munch and Snickers Dark. Instead of being more expensive than regular stores (like the M&Ms online store - $5.99 for 7 ounces of green M&Ms?) it’s about $.68 cents a bar.
Well, I’ve been looking for an “in” with Mars for quite a while, as I’d love to know about the new releases and get them in advance of release (it’s pretty frustrating to have people ask about something they found in the store, and I can’t find it in any stores near me and no where to order it on the web). I do get some notice from PR folks, but it’s not always consistent.
I replied with my address and reminded her that there is no need for thanks for any reviews, “I just call them like I taste them.” (And it’s not like I’ve raved about everything Mars has ever made, but in general I like their products and usually turn down offers for items I don’t think I’d like.)
Then on March 5th I came home from work and found this in my kitchen. Perhaps I don’t understand the term “samples” but even in the world of generous interpretations a single box of 24 bars would be an ample sample. A full case of the bars? (Yes, that’s 12 boxes of Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bars with 24 bars each = 288 bars.)
Plus a case of Twix Java! (360 bars.) And another more responsible box of 24 packages of Starbust GummiBurst (goo filled gummis) and another box of 24 Snickers Charged.
I wrote back to Mars, thanking them for their generosity, but gently nudging that I really don’t know what to do with all that candy (seriously, almost 700 portions!). She responded, “Share with your friends ”
So here I am, with oodles of candy. I’ve given away quite a bit, boxes to the office, a couple for raffle prizes for the American Cetacean Society, three to a neighbor to take to work.
It’s drawing time.
I’m offering a box of candy bars (your choice: Twix Java with 36 bars or this new Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar with 24 bars - you can tell me which you want if you win). There will be two lucky winners of this drawing. The rules are as follows:
And there you have it, dear readers. With great candy comes great responsibility.
UPDATE 3/30/2008: Since this post has now been linked a couple of places (I kind of thought it was a treat for regular readers), I’m going to award three prize boxes instead of two if the entries reach 500. Just to keep the odds similar. (So if the deadline is coming and we haven’t hit it yet, tell your friends!) Thanks to everyone new who’s stopped by, I hope you keep reading!
UPDATE 4/9/2008: Thanks to everyone who entered. I drew three winners: Elise, Stijn & Donna ... two picked the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bars and one chose the Twix Java. They’re all in the mail on their way to their recipients! To everyone else who is interested in trying the bars, they’ll be available starting in July 2008 according to Mars. Comments are open again.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
They turned up at Walgreens, and on sale to boot (well, it was strange sale where they’d charge $2.99 a bag to mortals off the street, but someone with a coupon could get 3 for the price of 2 or something like that, but I was charged $1.59 after I gave them my best, “I don’t understand, the tag on the shelf says they’re a dollar each, but I don’t want to buy three.” and then they tried to explain it and I just kind of kept sweetly repeating that I should be able to just buy one and still get a sale price, even if it’s not the super-low price. Finally they just put a key in the register and that’s what I paid).
Each of these ropes is just shy of an ounce (.988 ounces), so it’s a satisfying portion and about 100 calories to boot.
They’re very soft, sometimes so soft that it’s hard to pull apart the ropes without breaking off pieces.
They’re fun to twist and roll, even tie in knots or probably do macrame. (I should have photographed the little scarf I made for a Peeps Bunny.)
And the taste? Well, it’s definitely a spicy cinnamon. It smells like Red Hots and has both a sweet flavor, a bit of a tangy bite and then after chewing for a bit, a low and pleasant cinnamon burn.
I don’t know what’s taken Twizzlers so long to make a really good cinnamon twist like this, but I’m glad they did. For those minding their calories, you may enjoy the interactivity and the low caloric density and overall satisfaction of the candy. I’m not sure when they’ll come out with these in single serving packages, but they should.
For some bizarro reason, these aren’t listed on the Hershey’s website even though they’ve been on shelves for at least three months.
These are made with a corn syrup and wheat base, so they’re not suitable for those who cannot have gluten.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.