Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I was thinking back when I wrote the review of the new 3 Musketeers Mint about the original 3 Musketeers. I’ve been searching high and low for images of it, but alas there are none to be found via my diligent use of google. What struck me as so wonderful about the concept was that it was much like the long-gone 7up Bar and the still here Sky Bar - a combination of segmented flavors.
The old 3 Musketeers would have been the Neapolitan nougat of candy bars.
Imagine my surprise as I ducked in the Rite Aid on Friday to pick up some things for my vacation (yes, I’m on vacation right now as I type this) that not only did the store have much of their Halloween candy on display, they also had this Autumn Minis Mix. It doesn’t say limited edition or anything. Perhaps it’s seasonal, there are golden leaves on it, after all.
Here’s an old commercial I found from the days of black and white television animation:
All for fun, and fun for all! Alexander Dumas would be proud.
The little mini bars are tiny, about the size of a normal boxed chocolate. Take them out of the wrapper and put it on an elegant plate and it might even pass for one at a glance.
While I’ve never quite understood what French Vanilla is (and it’s often used as a description for candles and ice cream), I appreciate that this 3 Musketeers is a little lighter tasting. Where a regular one has a rather malty and dark salt flavor to it, this is light. It doesn’t quite have vanilla oozing from its pores as a flavor (more like the absence of any other flavors distinguishes this one), it’s still pleasant.
Against my better judgment, I love the Strawberry. It absolutely reminds me of Neapolitan ice cream! The strawberry is sweet and has a light caramelized sugar touch to it, a little floral-y and certainly on the fake side. But the soft, fluffy and rather foamy nougat pulls it off. The chocolate is passable enough as an enclosure and adds the cocoa flavor to bring it together (I can certainly see me hating it if it were covered in white chocolate).
The pink color of the insides is a little shocking and I’m guessing where the artificial colors listed in the ingredients are used. Kind of unnecessary in my book (especially since it seems that folks accepted the uncolored insides to the new Mint bar).
Mocha Capuccino are surprisingly nice. Not too sweet, a good texture and creamy counterpoint of the chocolate to the nougat. However, they don’t taste like coffee. Nope, they taste like pecans or maple, but not like coffee.
I don’t mind the flavor in the slightest, and considered it my second favorite of this bunch, but someone really needs to tweak their “coffee flavor” that they’re selling to these candy companies. (It could have been much worse, it could have been that dastardly Mocha that those limited edition KitKats had.)
Overall, these are a nice change up from the standard 3 Musketeers and the simplicity of the bar in the first place makes the flavor changes perfectly acceptable.
The price point on these, $3.79 for a 9 ounce bag was a bit hard to swallow. I prefer paying about $2.50 for these sorts of things, but I figured, I’m on vacation (or will be).
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Bit-O-Honey is one of those candies that I’m always surprised (and pleased) to see that they still make. And why wouldn’t they? There’s nothing else like it out there.
Bit-O-Honey was introduced in 1924 by a company called Schutter-Johnson Company in Chicago, Ill. Schutter and Johnson later split (Johnson went on to invent the PowerHouse bar which became a Peter Paul product, a nougat, peanuts and caramel product covered with chocolate, something I’ll have to write about further later).
Schutter’s made a nice variety of chewy goods including the Bit-O-Choc and the Bit-O-Coconut and a chocolate bar called Old Nick that featured milk chocolate over fudge and nuts.
In the 1960s Schutter’s sold out to the Chunky folks who discontinued the Old Nick citing that it competed with their much more popular Oh Henry! Then in 1984 Nestle bought Chunky and the now orphaned Bit-O-Honey. (There may have been some intermediate companies in there for a while too, candy history is mighty confusing!)
Nestle has kept the bar largely the same as when it was first introduced. They even still make the six segment bar with the wax wrapper dividers. This is an interesting way to sell the candy and solves one of the enduring problems for taffy bars ... how do you eat it? Many taffy bars are easy to smack on the corner of the table and break into pieces (but who knows how those pieces will be sized?). The assortment of bars from Annabelle’s and items like Laffy Taffy suffer from this (though Laffy Taffy also makes the ropes, which I think are probably the best format for a large quantity of taffy).
The Bit-O-Honey segments break apart pretty easily, though I always end up with a little smidge of paper on the back side of each piece where the candy has folded over the waxed paper. (It’s not the end of the world if it ends up in your mouth though ... not like the foil on a Hershey’s Kiss if you have fillings.)
As long as the candy is fresh and soft, it’s a pleasant and surprisingly long-lasting chew. There are notes of honey as you would expect, as well as a smooth and creamy flavor of almonds. The chew is consistent to the very end, instead of descending into some grainy mess as many caramels do. There’s a little egg white in there, which is part of what give it the smooth chew (a little different timing on the cooking and it could be nougat).
Bit-O-Honey are also sold individually wrapped, but I’ve never liked those as much (they’re a little boxier in shape). They tend to be firmer (or rock hard). There’s something about the bar that I’ve always loved.
I don’t buy them very often, for fear of pulling out fillings (though I’ve never actually lost a filling on candy ... I lost a filling once on scrambled eggs and cracked a tooth on a rock in a bean salad once). It was nice to see them on shelves again at the 99 Cent Only Store and even better to find the product virtually unchanged.
Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Monday, July 30, 2007
I pretty much love PayDay bars. They’re the original energy bar as far as I’m concerned. Long before I knew about glycemic indexes it was obvious that PayDay contained a lot of calories, but they’re slow and sustained. A nice hit of sugar and quick glucose and then along protein boost that keeps the tummy from growling and prevents that “I need a nap” feeling.
A PayDay bar, as the advertising tagline used to say, is mostly nuts. At its center is a log of inert and dense nougat. Covering that is a layer of usually firm caramel and then the whole thing is rolled in lightly salted peanuts.
The PayDay is one of the older candy bar brands in the country, first produced by Hollywood Brands, Inc. in 1932. During the depression bars like PayDay, that had both a hopeful name and high calorie count (mostly from fat and protein) were actually eaten as meal replacements. The brand has switched hands a few times (as shown in the Hershey’s timeline) but still remains unchanged, now made by Hershey’s.
The bars contain about 3.8 grams of protein per ounce, which is pretty high for a non-protein fortified bar. You can credit the high proportion of peanuts for that.
In the case of the Fresh from the Factory PayDay bars, they were in the fun-zie of .7 ounces (regular bars are 1.8 ounces). I like fun size bars, so this was a nice way to get the bars. (Kind of like the FFTF Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.) I’ve never had such a soft bar before, which is indeed a treat. I don’t mind the firmness of the usual bars, but the caramel is really much more present here than in any other bar I’ve had before. The nougat is soft and has a pleasant sweet fudgy texture. The peanuts taste like fresh roasted nuts and were all good quality (though not huge or anything).
PayDay bars currently come in a few different versions, including the Chocolatey Avalanche which replaced the limited edition real chocolate covered bar. I’ve tried the Honey Roasted PayDay and found it distractingly flavorful ... less about the nuts and more about the honey flavor. The original has survived for a reason, it’s good. It’s really one of the best Summer Bars there is. No chocolate so no worries about melting, long lasting energy to keep you going between meals.
The important thing is that the regular PayDay bar is just fine when it’s not factory fresh (a little time in a pocket or in a hot car to warm up and you can pretend).
You can order now for shipment the week of August 13, 2007. It’s $20 for a tub holding 2 lbs and 14.4 ounces. Not a bad price for nearly three pounds of fresh candy (however, the shipping, I believe is an extra $10 depending on where you live).
PayDay bars contain both milk and egg products, so are not suitable for vegans. Kosher.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Last year M&Ms introduced a limited special tin of eight new gourmet flavors. They were sold only through their website. They were absurdly expensive (I think it was $49 for the set in a tin) and I never saw anyone review them.
Flash forward to a year later and I was reading on Chocolate Bytes that Heather found what I think are individual bags of some of those gourmet M&Ms. She picked up Cherry Almondine and Vanilla Crisp at the Las Vegas M&Ms World. Since my husband was off to NYC, I sent him to the M&Ms World in Times Square to see if he could find the Vanilla Crisp for me. Sadly, all they had were Cherry Almondine, which he picked up anyway.
The stand up bag announces these as a Special Edition (not limited edition, I’m not sure of the difference). The package also describes them, “freshly roasted almonds wrapped in cherry flavored white chocolate.” Sounds enticing (if you like white chocolate, cherries and almonds).
The M&Ms come in two colors, a dark marooon and a creamy beige. They smell an awful lot like cherry cough drops. The crispy shell is great and the almonds, though small, are truly fresh and tasty. The white chocolate with cherry? Well, it is strong. It’s not too sweet, but the cherry is quite a kick in the head. There’s no tangy bite to it, it’s just all sweet and nutty and of course cherry.
I do have to admit that I’m coming around on my dislike of cherry things and found these pleasant and they were certainly a hit on a long bike ride that I took on Sunday. (I got the empty package back from my bud and our ride organizer, Will, at the end of the trip.)
At $6 a bag, I don’t think these are special enough to warrant buying them again. Koppers does far better interesting flavor mixes and on the whole if I were looking for a quick almond treat, I’d pick up the Milk Chocolate Almond M&Ms which have never disappointed me.
There’s no word if M&Ms is making any of the other gourmet Special Edition flavors like Crunchy Cookie Mint. Keep your eye out if you’re in an M&Ms World store.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
I’ve always loved Jujyfruits, but probably for the wrong reasons. I never particularly enjoyed eating them, but they’re stunning to look at.
What’s particularly odd about Jujyfruits is that they’re less fruit flavored and more vegetable-oriented: asparagus (which I always thought was a little corncob), banana (the one that says Heide), grapes, pea pod, pineapple, raspberry and tomato (which I thought was the bottom of a bell pepper or just a flower). The shapes, further, have nothing to do with the flavors and are randomized so that all shapes come in all flavors.
And the flavors? Lemon, Lime, Cherry, Orange and Licorice. (Kind of like Chuckles which are also made by Farley’s & Sathers now.)
At the end of the last millennium, a customer survey revealed that the original spearmint green Jujyfruit was not popular enough and was replaced with lime. I rather miss that ... I liked being able to get a licorice and a spearmint candy in one package. Jujyfruits are rather soft when fresh, though not quite as soft as Dots in my experience. They’re chewy and pretty flavorful, though lacking in any tangy notes, it’s all sweet. They’re sticky and can leave big hunks congealed to the sides of molars. I really like the licorice one, which has very nice anise notes and a very clean flavor.
Candy Wrapper Museum has a nice image of an earlier version of the Jujyfruits box, which I much prefer. The current box is rather, I don’t know, primitive looking. (Keep clicking around at the other old Heide products there at the CWM, quite fun to see they had a Good & Plenty knock-off called Hi-D-Ho that were also pink and white.)
A little more history: The Heide company that invented the Juju candies was started by Henry Heidi, a German immigrant in 1869. The company introduced Jujyfruits and Jujubes in 1920. Heide continued as a family run company after Henry Heide died and was then run by his son Andrew and his grandson Philip. But in 1995 they sold out to Hershey’s. Hershey’s then sold Heide (along with their other famous candies Red Hot Dollars and line of gummis) to Farley’s & Sather.
While the Jujyfruits have remained relatively unchanged over the years, the Jujubes have gone through some substantial changes.
According to the Food Network show Unwrapped, the difference between Jujubes and Jujyfruits is really only that Jujubes use Potato Starch instead of Corn Starch as their primary thickener. Add to that, Jujubes are “cured” longer, so they’re firmer.
When I was a kid, Jujubes were always hard as rocks and only a fool would try to chew them. (We were all fools back then. Of course the cool part was to soften them up enough to chomp down and glue your teeth together ... what fun!)
The Jujube that both the Jujyfruits and Jujubes are named after is a little tropical berry that really has nothing to do with the candy, it was probably just a romantic sounding name and in the early part of the last century many candies tried to adopt such exotic names. Both candies actually used something called Ju-Ju Gum at one time as an ingredient (it’s similar to many of the other vegetable gums like Gum Arabic, Acacia, Agar or Guar).
Today Jujubes are a little softer, kind of like stale Jujyfruits. They also have a bit more range in their flavors which are: Lemon (yellow), Violet (purple), Lilac (orange), Lime (green) and Cherry (red). So they’re basically little floral pastilles that are slightly soft. (Think of them like the Grether or Doolittle pastilles.)
I haven’t had them in years and was actually rather pleased with them. I don’t think I really need a box of 6.5 ounces, a little tin filled with an ounce or two might do me for a week. All of the flavors, even the fruity ones, are rather delicate and floral. I wish they did still make the spearmint ones (but it’s okay if there’s no rose in there, I think two flowers is enough).
They’re just lovely to look at and because of their durable and inert nature, I feel fine leaving them sitting out on my desk without worrying about anyone eating them or them getting any staler. If you do find them inedible, a fun craft project is to stick an ordinary sewing pin through them and use them as push pins!
Overall, neither are candy I’m likely to buy or consume, but it was fun to revisit them and I’m glad they’re still around and have their ardent admirers.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
One of my favorite chocolate treats since I was a teen are Koppers’ Cordials. They’re little dark chocolate spheres, about the size of a hazelnut that hold a crystal sugar shell inside filled with a “cordial” of some sort. They’re just flavored, not real alcohol. The easiest flavor to find is Rum, but I’ve picked up Cognac, Mandarin Orange, Mint and Sambucca (Anise). In fact, Koppers has at least 40 different varieties.
Most of the time I find them at the chain bulk candy stores like Candy Station or Sweets Factory. They’re usually rather expensive (being a chocolate item and also rather difficult to make), most of the time approaching $20 a pound. But I was happy to see them at the Jelly Bean Factory over the weekend. They’re a great movie candy because they’re easy to eat and easy to savor, so that’s what I did with them.
The bonus to buying them in a pre-packaged bag is that you’re pretty sure you’re getting the flavor your want. The problem I have getting them in bulk sometimes if they have a large assortment is that they all look the same and can get jumbled up by a careless employee or a devilish customer. There are a few flavors that I find really unpleasant (Amaretto), so it’s no fun to get one of those by accident.
I’m positively spellbound by everything Koppers makes. They’re all so beautiful to behold. They’re always so shiny and perfect. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to about the All Candy Expo ... that huge wall they do of all of their products with little spoons so that you can taste each and every morsel.
The dark chocolate is sweet and mellow. Not too bitter or complex. It’s really just there to hold the cordial. The sugar shell is crunchy if you like to bite yours in half or just chew the whole thing. The cordial filling is like a hit of rum extract. I felt very sophisticated as a kid when I’d go to the candy counter at the department store and get a quarter pound of these (and a half a pound of gummi bears).
It’s also kind of fun to dissolve the chocolate slowly to get to the sugar sphere. It’s pretty durable, until of course enough of that to dissolve and out comes the little trickle of the cordial center.
Rum Cordials are the easiest to find, but I have to say that I prefer the darker flavors of Cognac and Whiskey or the real flavor zaps of Mandarin Orange or Sambucca.
If you want to feel really sophisticated, you can try real cordials from K Chocolatier in Bevery Hills (I know I was kind of harsh about the price, but they were $40!) for a real vodka martini inside of a chocolate sphere. Now that’s a sophisticated indulgence.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.