Monday, August 02, 2010
In 1888 Frederick Switzer founded F.M. Switzer and Co. in St. Louis. He sold licorice and other sugar-based penny candy from a push cart along the riverfront. The company did well and even managed to make it through the sugar shortages of World War II by concentrating solely on their licorice line since it required less sugar than other candies. In 1966 the Switzer family sold the company to Beatrice Foods. The company continued to thrive and by 1968 a second factory was added and the company became the largest licorice manufacturer in North America. As I’ve chronicled elsewhere on Candy Blog, Leaf then bought the Beatrice candy companies then Leaf was sold to Hershey’s. Hershey’s split up some of the Leaf product lines and sold some off and simply discontinued others that competed with their existing lines ... Switzer competed with Twizzlers.
So about eight years ago the Switzer grandsons decided to re-boot the abandoned company. It took a while, but by 2005 the candy was on store shelves in the St. Louis area and Cracker Barrel stores. About 18 months ago I finally spotted it in Ohio, but it wasn’t until my trip last month that I finally picked up a bag of their classic, real Switzer’s Black Chewy Licorice Bits.
I remember eating Switzer’s as a kid, the “bar” format was popular in vending machines in Ohio and back then there were pricing tiers for sugar candy and chocolate candy. Sugar candy was often quite cheap and that was attractive to a gal who would get her candy money from checking phone booth coin slots and pennies on the street. Despite the achievement of acquiring it, I don’t recall how much I liked it.
The bag of nibs was well priced for something that wasn’t on sale. The 10 ounce bag is generous and I like the nibs because they’re simply one bite. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then molasses, wheat flour, corn starch, water, sunflower oil, caramel color, licorice extract, salt and anise oil.
The candies are shiny and that gloss on them is sticky. But still, they’re fresh which is a plus. The bite is firm and slightly crumbly when chewed. They don’t stick to my teeth the way that some of the Aussie style stuff does. The flavor is odd, at first I was getting a strong rose note with the bitter molasses. The anise is stronger than the licorice, but the overall effect is that the candy isn’t too sweet. It’s not as molasses-y as I prefer, but the woodsy notes are decent. The texture didn’t end up satisfying me, maybe there wasn’t enough wheat flour in there.
It’s a unique flavor profile, much richer than Twizzlers or Red Vines but still in the same price range. The flavor was more like the new Broadway Rolls than Kookaburra or Panda licorice. I would probably buy these in the single-serve bars in a vending machine or convenience store if I was in the mood for mass-manufactured licorice. But it in no way dethrones my favorite, Good & Plenty.
More information about Switzer’s history: St. Louis Business Journal (2005), News Tribune (2005), a faded ad mural plus more shots of the old factory, a 1955 ad featuring Switzer’s as a low calorie candy, and a trade ad that also shows licorice suckers from the 70s.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Their new Scottie Dogs licorice are also all natural. That means real licorice and anise extract and no artificial colors in there to muck up the flavor.
The package is classy and kind of European. The description on the front talks about the history of licorice and how the Pontefract Monastery in England spread the popularity of licorice candies. There’s a picture of the English castle, but then there’s some tartan there on the side, you know, for the Scottie dog. A little confusing. But hey, it’s candy, not a documentary.
When I got a black dog earlier this year, I resisted the temptation to give her a licorice themed name. Scottie would have been my choice (we had a cat named licorice when I was a kid). Of course she’s not a Scottie dog, nor a male and not even close to looking like James Doohan. Which probably would have been perfect. We named her Maya instead.
The pieces are thick and well molded. They’re about 1 inch tall (when they’re standing on their feet) and 1.25 inches from nose to tail.
This version of licorice isn’t based on wheat or molasses, so it’s a bit more one note. The base is corn syrup and sugar with a bit of starch for thickener. The texture is quite smooth when they’re dissolved as a lozenge. But they’re soft enough to chew, and soft enough to stick in my teeth.
The flavor is mostly anise but there’s a little hint of the woodsy and glycerin smooth licorice. They’re fresh and not filling or bitter. I enjoyed them, but it took several months for me to get through the bag, especially when I had other licorice items to choose from.
The classic bag of Gimbal’s Scottie Dogs is easy to identify as well, though I really liked the new all natural version’s packaging. I don’t think there’s actually any difference in the product itself, Gimbal’s didn’t use artificial colors or flavors in them before.
On the whole, I think I prefer my licorice with either more texture or more of a meaty bite. It’s purely a preference, but I like molasses with my licorice. These are certainly cute and great for themed parties and favors. They’re also a nice shape and size for snacking at movies (why don’t they come in theater boxes?). Obviously they’re a great choice for folks who like licorice but can’t tolerate the gluten in the more common wheat-based chews like Twizzlers or Red Vines.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
Last year I picked up a few Krema Batna in San Francisco at the charming Miette Confiserie. I never thought I’d see them again in the states. There I was a few weeks ago, walking through the Glendale Galleria on my way to See’s and there was a tiny kiosk that had a variety of French gourmet foods. There were Jordan almonds, capers and various spreads and oils… plus a few bags of Krema Batna.
I recognized it immediately by the package, a large leopard with the French words Le bonbon tendre au gout sauvage which means the tender (chewy) candy with the wild taste. Even though it was $6.00 for 150 grams (5.29 ounces), I scooped it up without a second thought. I really wanted to have these creamy licorice caramels again.
The scent is only lightly sweet and herbal - a note of molasses and anise. The chew is soft and easy, kind of like a smooth Starburst. The caramel is silky and has a strong licorice note - that light and lingering sweetness with a darker smoky note to it as well. It’s creamy as well, a little like coffee with Ouzo. It had a lot more true licorice to it than many other licorice candies and not so much of the anise/fennel notes. Of course that makes it very sweet, a sort of strange throat coating sweetness that doesn’t burn in the same way that sugar does.
I would buy another bag of these in a heartbeat. They’re an excellent pocket candy as well, since they’re durable in the summer but the creamy component makes them feel much richer than they actually are.
I did a little bit of web searching and saw on a French website that Krema is a whole line of chews that come in other flavors like Tender Cherry, Lemon, Raspberry, Caramel, Cola, Green, Orange Apple. Definitely something I’m going to try to find, though I’m pretty sure the Batna is the one for me.
They have gelatin in them, so are unsuitable for vegetarians. The package says that they’re made by Cadbury France.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The licorice plant was not native to the area, it was likely brought in and planted sometime after the Crusades, sometime around the year 1000 or perhaps as late as 1090 when the Benedictine monks that came to the town to found their monastery. Licorice root was steeped and used like a syrup to sweeten drinks (or flavor spirits) and the roots were chewed as a treat. Sometime around 500 years ago the locals created a licorice confection known as Pontefract Cakes, which are really more of a little medallion of molasses-based licorice. The disks look rather like a coin or a blob of sealing wax. They don’t grow licorice in the area any longer, but there are still two factories that make the age old sweet: Haribo and Monkhill Confections (originally known as Wilkinson’s).
In fact, true Pontefract cakes were made by hand until the 60s. Rolls of licorice dough were pieced into little blobs and then hand stamped. These Haribo Pontefract Cakes preserve that hand-stamped look.
I was expecting these to be stiff and hard, like the continental European licorice. Instead they’re quite soft and pliable. They have a matte finish and feel like coins made out of silicone. I found that even though I didn’t seal up the bag well, they still didn’t get stale or tacky.
The early cakes had different embossed images in them, it’s said that they were of the Pontefract Castle, but this Haribo one is just a vague rectangle in the center (that might be a castle with a flag) and the Haribo Original name.
They smell sweet and a little herbal. Since these weren’t American-style licorice pieces (that usually contain wheat), I was expecting something a little smoother but perhaps a bit stronger. Instead I found quite a different flavor profile. First, it’s barely sweet. The sweetness is woodsy and rather delicate. The chew of the cake is soft and not quite gummy but more hearty than a gumdrop. There’s a little hint of salt to it (actually quite a bit 200 mg of sodium per serving) and the charcoal notes of molasses. The nice part about the flavor is that it’s a true licorice, not amped up anise. It’s mild and soothing.
They were a little weak to satisfy my licorice desires. I like a really hearty licorice with a lot of molasses with caramel, toasted sugar and charcoal notes, it seems to moderate the very sweet nature of true licorice. But these are easy to eat and though they stick to my teeth a little bit, the smoothness keeps me coming back for me.
These contain real licorice, so those with heath concerns with licorice extract should avoid it. It’s also made with gelatin, so it’s not for vegetarians or those who keep Kosher/Halal.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Barratt makes fanciful and light confections with names like Sherbet Fountains, Frosties, Refreshers, Dip Dabs and Flumps. It’s all happiness and light ... or is it? They they also make Bruisers, Candy Sticks and Black Jacks - names that could be taken as harsh. They’re nothing compared to the Liquorice Catherine Wheels. Sure, Catherine Wheel is an outdated term for a cartwheel but it’s also a torture device named for the method of execution of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
Okay, maybe we’ll consider the name to be taken from the cartwheel.
Like the American confectionery landscape, European candy makers have been consolidating for years, with smaller companies being bought up and integrated into multinational concerns. Barratt was most recently owned by Monkhill Confectionery which was in turn owned by Cadbury. They sold it off to Tangerine Confectionery in 2008, making Tangerine the #4 sweets maker in the United Kingdom.
This particular candy is an interesting hybrid construction. Licorice strips are wound up around a nonpareil licorice button. The buttons came in a variety of colors - I saw pink, light blue and orange ones. This package had a tray of six wheels and clocked in at almost four ounces. (At first I was a little miffed that it was three bucks, but then I realized it wasn’t a single portion, it was at least three.) They’re made with natural flavorings and colorings, though a word of caution that they use carmine coloring ... but there’s also gelatin in there, so they’re not even close to vegetarian.
Each wheel is pretty big. They’re about two thirds of an ounce each and the package says 60 calories. They’re two inches in diameter and the licorice belts are about a quarter of an inch. Unwound, there’s at least 34 inches of chewy black licorice strip. The strips are made of a wheat and molasses base and strongly flavored with licorice. They’re woodsy and dark, with a deep tangy note. The chew is stiff and kind of tough, but lasts a really long time. There’s no weird aftertaste from artificial colors.
The center button is aromatic and reminded me more of anise and other balsamic compounds like lavender and rosemary than licorice itself. The nonpareils aren’t as crunchy as I would have thought, they’re actually smaller than something found on a SnoCap, so maybe that’s part of it. The jelly/gummi center is smooth and has a good chew to it. They’re a good bite and a light contrast to the molasses and charcoal notes of the black straps.
I was surprised and pleased by these. They’re fun to eat, since there are so many ways to approach the pieces. I like that there’s a variation in the textures and flavor profiles. I wish I could buy a smaller package though, maybe two or three at a time. The tray seemed silly, but maybe they need that to keep them from getting really stuck together. They’d probably make great decorations, like in the center of a cake (but far too much for a single cupcake).
So my European friends, is this the only brand of these or are there other variations on this? I’d like to try them all.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Licorice Caramel Creams are not new, they were made years ago and then discontinued as licorice fell out of favor and Goetze’s concentrated on the core products in their line.
The new caramel creams are formatted in the same way. A hoop of wheat-based caramel surrounds a crumbly soft sugar center. They’re individually wrapped and in the case of this new line, they’re sold in 9 ounce stand-up gusseted bags.
The gourmet part isn’t about fine, locally sourced ingredients or small batches:
First, I have to remind folks that Caramel Creams are a little different. They’re really not caramels at all, they’re a wheat-based chew so they’re hardly even sweet on the outside. I liken them to cookie dough, but in the case of the Licorice variety I can only say that they’re like a very chewy version of the Aussie-style of soft licorice.
The scent of the licorice is strong on the anise and reminds me of Ouzo. The molasses notes are restrained. The chew is tough and long lasting, the acidic notes of the molasses and licorice come through very well. There’s a tar quality to it, the strength is so aromatic at times it’s practically corrosive (I mean the best way possible). The cooling sugar center gives a little splash of cold water and helps spread the flavors around.
I really enjoyed these a lot. I’ve tried them several times now as samples from trade shows and I’ve been looking forward to buying a full bag for myself in stores ... if only I could find them. (Looks like OldTimeCandy.com has them, maybe I’ll have to place an order.)
They’re so different from any other licorice or caramel product. The closest thing I can think of might be a Licorice Allsort - but with a softer, fresher and more intensely-flavored chew.
Each Bullseye has 40 calories each, 10% of your calcium one gram of fat plus they’re made in a no-nuts/no peanut facility.
The second gourmet version is the Double Chocolate Caramel Cream which honestly doesn’t differ that much from the straight Chocolate Caramel Cream. Sure the center has a little cocoa in it, but the chocolate flavor is all in the caramel chew outside. The selling point here is the addition of calcium, which is substantial.
The flavor is like eating brownie batter, or the edges of a freshly cooked brownie bar where it’s really chewy. It’s not terribly sweet, so the cocoa flavors are rich and a little milky with just a slight hint of salt.
They’re both really filling and sometimes feel more like a snack than a candy.
Monday, April 12, 2010
I picked up the Panda Soft Herb Licorice after seeing Gigi Reviews coverage of the product.
First, I like the box that Panda uses. It’s foil lined and completely sealed, after opening the tab top there’s a little plastic film that keeps the contents fresh. Then I just tuck in the double tab top to keep it soft. The contents were soft for weeks, though there is some toughening after that.
This version of Panda’s licorice bites are all natural black licorice tubes made with molasses and wheat flour with an added punch of 18 herbal extracts. They include peppermint, blackberry, plantain, torch weed, sage, star anise and thyme. Sniffing the box it’s like a tea shop: minty, woodsy and clean.
The pieces are soft but separate easily. I like the aerated tubes, it makes it easier to chew them if they do get a little stale. The color is nice, it’s dark but not artificially colored.
The taste isn’t licorice immediately and it’s not molasses either. It’s more like brown sugar in peppermint and chamomile tea. The licorice and woodsier notes come in later. It’s delicate and not as overwhelmingly dark and charcoal-like as Panda’s usual far. There’s a cool menthol aftertaste that makes this kind of like a mint.
There’s a little sticking to the teeth, but it’s not as bad as some other Aussie-style brands. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s mellow and might be a good “starter” licorice for folks who don’t care for the bitter, smoky and overwhelming licorice of Panda.
As a little change of pace I picked up Panda Cremes as well. The stand up bag holds the same amount as the box but has a zipper lock to keep it fresh. I have to admit that it’s not as eco friendly but did a better job of keeping these soft and fresh. A bonus is that the bag is collapsible, so it takes up less space the more you eat. The box is always the size of the box.
Cremes are the same shape as the bites but inside those little tubes are creme fillings. They come in three flavors: Banana, Caramel and Strawberry. I can’t say that any of these were ever really on my mind as great complements to the flavor of black licorice, but Panda usually knows what they’re doing.
The bag says that they’re all natural and suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans, as there’s some milk in there). The creme center is made from palm oil and there’s no indication of the source of it. A 39 gram serving (9 pieces) has 160 calories and 4 grams of fat (3.5 of those are saturated). In case you’re curious, 40 grams of the Soft Herb are 130 calories and no fat. It’s not like either is calorie-dense but still, it’s notable.
The package smelled like strawberries and banana, like some sort of smoothie or yogurt.
The Strawberry were easy to pick out as they were pink. The Caramel and Banana were the same color as far as I could tell.
The creme isn’t soft and flowing, it’s kind of crunchy at first - but at mouth temperature it softens up. It’s cool on the tongue and not too sweet. The Strawberry is fresh and floral. Banana is actually pretty fun, it’s strong banana flavoring but the sweet notes go well. The Caramel had a slightly darker note but the toasted sugar was missing or maybe overshadowed by the strength of the licorice itself.
I don’t think I need this much fat for something that didn’t really satisfy me the same way that a creamy chocolate product does. I think I’ll stick to the regular Panda licorice products. These are pretty enough to put in a clear jar and as compelling as Allsorts (especially if you’re not a coconut fan).
Friday, April 02, 2010
They’re also crazy cheap, most of the time a theater box like this that holds 7 ounces is just a buck. When I looked at the flavors on this box I was a little confused about what made these an Easter version besides the box (Mike and Ike come in holiday boxes that are the exact same candy). The flavors are Blueberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. The flavors of the classic Dots box are Strawberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. So in this version the Strawberry has been swapped for Blueberry.
These were very fresh. Tootsie does a good job of sealing up the boxes well and Dots have a clear cellophane overwrap.
Once I opened the box I found out the big difference, it’s the color. Easter Dots are bright and opaque little nubbins.
Well, maybe there was another difference. These seem to be just as smooth but have a “shorter” chew to them, so they didn’t stick to my teeth like Dots usually do. I liked the freshness of the flavors, though it’s a little bland it’s also soothing. The blueberry was pretty convincing though I wish that one replaced the cherry instead of the strawberry.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Divine Milk Chocolate Speckled Eggs are all natural and fair trade milk chocolate eggs with a candy shell.
They’re freakishly expensive at $4.99 for 3.5 ounces, far more than I’d be willing to pay on a regular basis. I really only bought them because I’d been searching so hard for them it seemed weird to find them and then get decide they were too expensive. The chocolate is made from beans from the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa cooperative in Ghana. Seems like Easter is one of those holidays where folks may want to pay more attention to the social responsibility behind the treats.
The stand up box is charming. Inside is a little clear cellophane bag with a little more than a handful of eggs.
They’re very similar to Cadbury Mini Eggs. The shape is more football than pear. They beautiful muted colors and a matte finish.
The shell is smooth and softly decorated. The shell is quite thick and crunchy. The chocolate inside has a silky melt, a little sticky with a good caramelized dairy note. I liked them a lot and will probably buy them again next year. Hopefully they can be found in larger packages for better value. (Also, Whole Foods could do a better job of putting them where people can find them. I went to three different stores and it wasn’t until the fourth circuit of the one at 3rd & Fairfax that I found them - even after asking a stockperson.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
I liked the box a lot, it was easy to tell apart from the regular Sour Patch offerings. The only quibble is really the packaging. Like many theater box candies, inside the box the candy is inside a plain cellophane bag. As I mentioned above, the Dots are just tumbling around in the box and there’s a cellophane seal on the outside. For this version I have to open the box top completely to get the bag out, dump the candy into the box and then I’m faced with an opening that is really too large for dispensing.
They’re a little lighter in color compared to the Sour Patch Kids. Honestly, I prefer this. They’re colored enough that I can tell them apart and guess the flavor and that’s really all I need. Other than that, the shape was so vague, unless you told me these were bunnies I wouldn’t have known. Pink is the classic Swedish Fish flavor with a tangy coating. Green is lime, yellow is lemon and orange is orange. A biting sour coating, a chewy sweet jelly candy in the center ... they’re great.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The rabbit is similar to the white chocolate one I tried last year (and didn’t like that much, so I wonder why I was curious about this one). It’s a peanut butter coating (like peanut butter baking chips) with a peanut butter filling.
The three ounce flat rabbit is nicely molded. The butterscotch color is also really appealing. It smells like vanilla pudding and peanut butter. The coating though is a bit waxy and stiff, it melts but not in a dreamy way that good white chocolate does. But it’s not too sweet, which is a relief as well. The filling is a crumbly peanut butter with a salty note and a dry grainy crunch. I kind of got into it. I’d prefer it in a smaller format though, maybe one of the smaller eggs they do.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
They’re only 99 cents for a generous 9 ounce bag. Even at that bargain price, they’re not much of a deal. They’re pretty enough to look at and probably decorate with, but they’re inconsistent in flavor and execution. I also resent not knowing what’s inside. It’s not like the bag is tiny and has no room for information like the flavor array.
White is pineapple. It’s sweet and floral but bland. Green is lime and rather strong but lacking zest. Purple is grape and is utterly stupid ... seriously, it tastes like sweet stupidity. Black is licorice. All of the black ones seemed to be smaller than the other jelly beans. Still, they were tasty and well done. Pink is bitter and just dreadful. Perhaps it’s strawberry. Red is not as bitter but still dreadful. Orange is sweet and empty. Finally there’s yellow, which is actually pretty good, it’s like a sugared lemon peel.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping for rich flavors, but of course I know Brach’s well enough that I really won’t be getting much more than a decent looking product. The bag doesn’t promise much more than a good value, so I should probably adjust my expectations.
Red is a mild cinnamon, not as good as Hot Tamales and kind of tinged with some of the mint notes, but still pleasant like a cup of spiced chai. White is peppermint. I have to say that a peppermint jelly bean is a little odd especially since it’s so grainy but still fresh tasting. Pink is wintergreen which I really love except when there’s too much food dye like this one that has a weird bitter clove & plastic aftertaste - but at moments it’s kind of like root beer. Purple is clove and is actually mild enough for me to enjoy though true clove lovers will probably be disappointed. Orange is sweet and again lacking in any pizazz. Black is again licorice and pretty good (though it makes my tongue dark green).
I think the problem is that I’ve already had some pretty good spice jelly beans from Hot Tamales (Just Born) and there’s really no need to switch brands, the price is comparable, availability is the only issue.
Rating: 5 out of 10
POSTED BY Cybele AT 1:17 pm All Natural • Candy • Review • Easter • Brach's • Cadbury • Divine Chocolate • Farley's & Sathers • Russell Stover • Tootsie • Chocolate • Ethically Sourced • Jelly Candy • Licorice Candy • Peanuts • Sour • 4-Benign • 5-Pleasant • 6-Tempting • 7-Worth It • Canada • United Kingdom • United States • Rite Aid • Target • Walgreen's • Comments (8)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.