Leaf Brand Candy
Friday, October 26, 2012
Astro Pops were introduced in 1963, a time of great excitement in the space race, by Nellson Candy Company in California. The design of the pop was a simple cone with three layered flavors to emulate the three stage space rocket of the time.
The shape and production technique for the pops was rather unique, as they were molded right in the wrappers and sealed at the ends with a small layer of food-grade paraffin wax. Astro Pops were discontinued in 2004 and after several years of work to both secure the rights to the product and re-innovate the production, Leaf Brand Candy got them back on shelves recently.
The style of the candy itself is a little different, as most lollipops are made from a stamped hard candy that’s usually slightly aerated before molding. This can lead to bubbles and voids. (Gourmet lollipops such as Linda’s Lollies and the Jelly Belly Lollibeans are also super-dense hard candy.)
It’s hard to eat an Astro Pop without creating a hazard. They’re already unbalanced, with a very short stick and a blunted point. Once you start licking it, the point becomes rather sharp. Add to that the stark ergonomics of consumption: it’s a hands-on pop. You can’t hold it in your mouth because it’s so bottom heavy and long (unless you clench it in your teeth, and that presents another problem because the candy style can become soft and cement your teeth together). You can’t put it down without having it stick to things because of the larger surface involved when it’s a rest (it’s not one point of contact like a sphere, instead it’s a plane/line of contact with the length of the pop).
So, all those physical things aside ... it is a fascinating confection, especially for someone like me who is a fan of Barley Sugar Candy. The flavor layers are Pineapple (top yellow), Passion Fruit (middle green) and Cherry (base red). The candy is dense and smooth with a slow dissolve. The flavor is mellow and all sweetness. Pineapple is floral, a little like strawberry with a hint of pina colada. The passion fruit layer was a little hard to distinguish, partly because it’s sandwiched between the more distinct flavor layers. It’s a little pine-like and kind of like a fruit punch. The cherry base is a little like a cough drop in that it’s syrupy and even though it’s an intense red, I didn’t have any metallic bitter aftertaste from the coloring.
The candy lasts for a long time, the density of the boiled sugar means that it’s not crunchable (like Jolly Ranchers) so you have to dissolve the whole thing, lick by lick. There’s no way, until the pop is shorter, to tuck it into your cheek and rot your teeth either.
Here’s a classic commercial from the Astro Pop heyday when they made a bunch of different flavor varieties.
What I found most amusing about this history is that the Nellson Candy Company sold the rights to the pop to Spangler Candy in 1987. A scant 9 years early Spangler made a name for itself by creating the SafeTPop, the little lollipop with the looped string for a handle instead of a stiff stick.
Overall, a fun candy but not necessarily an everyday confection nor for everyone. The version I tried is 1.5 ounces, larger than the one ounce size that may be more ubiquitous and perhaps easier to eat. It’s definitely expensive, I paid 2.99 for my little pop, something I wouldn’t plan on doing again.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
In 1976 David Klein began selling a new kind of jelly bean he commissioned at a small ice cream parlor, Fosselman’s, in Alhambra, California. It was different in a lot of ways than the jelly beans folks usually sold. They were sold as individual flavors and included new flavors like Root Beer and Cream Soda along with the traditional fruity flavors like Very Cherry and Green Apple plus the required Black Licorice. This was the start of Jelly Belly and a revolution in the way that Americans viewed their sugar candy. Notably, it got people interested in intense and more unusual flavors as well as moving the bar on how much someone would pay for a pound of jelly beans.
The collaboration of David Klein with the Herman Goelitz Candy Co. came to an end when Klein was bought out. His settlement meant that he was paid a royalty for every bean sold (with a yearly cap) but couldn’t compete in the jelly bean category until that contract came to an end. Since its recent expiration, Klein has been collaborating with Marich Confectionery with family members of those that developed the original Jelly Belly in the 70s. The new line of David’s Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans are now available.
The beans are made with real fruit, flavorings and all natural colors. It’s a little frustrating to find out definitive information about the product line, the Leaf website has a couple of press releases, but no standard product information. The Facebook page for the product has a picture of their flavor offerings, which include wasabi, habanero, Thai chili and chipotle, but those weren’t in my sampler.
I found this sampler box on Amazon (sold by Oregon Trail Foods) for $16.95 for a half pound assortment of 16 flavors (plus shipping). I ordered it on Thursday and it arrived the following Monday. The box is a bit problematic, the little sections of the tray allow the beans to hop from one bin to another when the box is tipped, so when I opened mine I had to re-sort my beans. This was difficult for several of the colors which were extremely similar.
While the beans inside look great, I was disappointed at the flimsy and generic package that really didn’t entice me or create any excitement about what was inside. For something over $32 a pound, I expect a little of it to go into packaging.
David’s Signature Beans are unbranded and look like little pieces of polished glass. Each one was nearly perfect and consistently shaped. They’re a little larger than the Jelly Belly, which is on the right above. (The flavor on the left is cranberry, the one on the right is the Jelly Belly Snapple Cranberry-Raspberry, which is also all natural.)
Black Cherry is the flavor I heard that was really startling in this mix. The color is quite dark, a milky maroon color. The shell is firm and crunchy with a light and consistent graininess right beneath that.
The flavor is a little bit tart and a little bit sweet. But it’s nothing like real fresh cherries or fake cherries to me. It reminds me of cherry juice, in that it’s a deep and has a sort of boiled berry jam note to it, but nothing distinct.
The construction of the beans is very consistent. The centers were mostly colored, though not with some sort of imposed artificiality, it’s just whatever the combination of real fruits made them.
In some cases the centers matched the shell like the Black Cherry. In other cases they were colorless.
The flavor is floral, at first it’s like a raspberry flavor, but then it gets that little kick that I associate with blueberry. It’s a tannin note, kind of like tea. It’s a rather confused tasting bean though, because it ends with a little creamy note, almost a vanilla. So think of it more like a blueberry smoothie.
The shell is crisp, but not thick. The flavor is a very strong coconut milk, sweet and with that aromatic nuttiness. There’s no actual shredded coconut in the center, but the flavor is really authentic. It didn’t have that oily note that brings to mind hot and humid days by the pool with suntan oil, it was a bit cleaner than that.
Bacon is something I consider a novelty.
Bacon is also not a food I eat. I’d say it’s because I don’t eat pork, which is true (though I do eat candies with gelatin) but to go further, even as an omnivorous kid I didn’t like bacon. I don’t want a jelly bean that tastes like bacon. I’m not eating it.
Cranberry is very tart and bracing. There’s a light vanilla note to it as well and maybe a little hint of concord grape. I really like a good puckery cranberry, and I think if I were designing them, I’d make it even more sour.
That said, it’s still pretty well rounded and tastes more like dried cranberries than some sort of cranberry fruit juice cocktail.
Ginger is fascinating. It’s a bit of a tougher bean, the shell seems a little crisper. The flavor is immediately rooty, with lots of woodsy notes and less of that lemony tang that fresh ginger juice can have and more of the deep honey notes of ginger ale.
I would buy a bag of these, they also went well with the lemon, which is good, because they look nearly the same.
Grape was a good flavor, it was like grape juice, but missing that concord note that the Japanese seem to have pegged really well in many of their candies.
Green Apple was also very authentic, it was like unsweetened apple sauce, a cooked apple flavor without as much sour zing as a fresh apple.
I don’t know quite why I’d want to eat salted sugar, but there it is. I can understand a salted caramel jelly bean, but just a salted jelly bean is mystifying. It was a cross between eating cake batter and licking my own sweat off my arms. It was kind of like a sports drink, but without the actual flavor of fruit juice.
I didn’t catch much in the way of zest, which is too bad, because I think that would have sent this one over the top.
Though I wasn’t as keen on this one as I’d hoped, it paired very well with other beans such as strawberry and ginger.
Again the zest notes were missing, so it was more like a really good glass of Tang with an extra spoonful of the concentrate added to it.
Of course if this was called Fanta Orange, I’d want to add it to my soda pop mix and call it fabulous.
It’s a combination of apricot and peach, with a lot of tartness, quite a bit of “fuzz” flavor and a clean finish. It reminded me of baby food, really good peach puree.
I think what distinguishes pomegranate from cranberry is the floral notes for pomegranate. It was quite reminiscent of raspberry with a sort of dry finish like Key limes have when compared to Persian limes.
Root Beer is fantastic. All root beer candies should take a hint from this one. It certainly puts the other root beer jelly beans to shame, it’s far more intense and vibrant. There’s a lot of flavor without that artificial red aftertaste that I can get from Root Beer Barrel hard candies.
Of course this makes me wish for a whole set of soda flavored beans in exotics like tonic water, birch beer and guarana.
It’s sweet and tangy, but missing a bit of the floral note that I get with many other strawberry flavors. Instead this was more like jam than fresh strawberry. But these also varied, some were larger than others and some were tarter than others.
It’s best in combination and actually went well with coconut.
Vanilla Bean was also great. The vanilla flavor was creamy and rich with a lot of dimension. There’s the sweet and soft note of the vanilla extract and then the deeper bourbon notes of the vanilla beans.
There were real little bits of vanilla seeds from the pod which stuck with me for a while. That’s fine because vanilla went well with most of the other flavors, including ginger, root beer and strawberry.
Overall, they’re wonderfully vibrant even if I’m not fond of the direction of each of the beans. However, the price is prohibitive and not quite justified by the product. While I like the use of real, whole ingredients, the packaging was not worthy of a product that’s so expensive. My guess is that if they do catch on they economies of scale might bring things more into line with my expectations ($10 a pound is still steep in my world). The thing that would set them apart though would be the quirkier flavors such as ginger and perhaps other spices. I am curious to try the other more exotic flavors, but I’ll wait to find them in stores when I’m not paying shipping on top.
Other bean flavors I am interested in, if someone wants to make them: cola, lemon cola, rum, gin, molasses, peppermint, cucumber, celery, spearmint, cardamom, lavender honey and an intense all natural black licorice.
You can read more about the history of David Klein and Jelly Belly on MSNBC.
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