Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I like the licorice style known as Rockies, they’re a black licorice tube filled with a cream, which is usually flavored. Many European versions are made with salted licorice, but according to this list of ingredients, it was sweet licorice. This package didn’t say what the flavors were (there was another variety that were filled with a pastel cream that said Fruit) but the ingredients mentioned cocoa, mint, coffee and toffee flavors.
The illustration on the box appears to show four varieties (white, caramel, gray and brown) but I could really only discern three ... and I ate the whole box.
They were just a little sticky in spots but were fresh and moist. The bag smelled nicely of licorice and toffee with a little hint of smoke, beets and molasses. Each is about 3/4 of an inch long and varied in diameter, though most were about 1/3 of an inch.
The middle pieces, the light beige ones were a coffee flavored center. This was fascinating. I like the combination of licorice and coffee and it’s not an easy pair to find together. The center is a little grainy, like frosting. It’s sweet and has a very mellow coffee and toffee note to it. The licorice flavors and the texture of the licorice chew were at the front with the most dominance. I found myself picking through the package to find these.
The darkest looking centers were chocolate, I think. It was a sort of Tootsie Roll version of chocolate. There were some vague cocoa notes but it was rather empty and couldn’t compete with the licorice and sugar flavors.
The white ones appear to be mint. The mint fondant filling is soft with a bit of a crumble though not completely dry. The minty notes are peppermint and menthol. It’s a strange combination with the licorice, the whole thing has a medicated vibe but it’s also fresh and doesn’t feel heavy like some other licorice can. The mint though was very strong and overshadowed the licorice notes.
Overall in this mix, the actual licorice wasn’t that strong. I liked it, it made it very munchable without giving me that feeling that I was eating too much licorice (it can have side effects) but it also left me wanting more licorice/anise punch.
I don’t know why there aren’t American licorice candies like this, it’s rather like Licorice Allsorts, but without the coconut. I’d venture that many folks who say they don’t like licorice might like it in this version where it’s just a container, not the main event.
I saw that Cost Plus World Market also carries the plain licorice and salted licorice from Halva, I’m thinking I might want to try their straight varieties. I get the impression that this isn’t the most elegant variety from Finland (which is known for its licorice), it’s more like the kid’s version of licorice or mass-produced like Twizzlers or Red Vines though I’m guessing with better ingredients (but perhaps some Finnish readers can help with that).
These contain gelatin, so are not vegetarian.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Long ago there was a cough drop line called Pine Bros Throat Drops. They were a glycerin drop, kind of like a hard gummi. They came in a variety of flavors like cherry, honey and licorice. I bought them often and ate them like candy, even though they said medicated on the package.
I bought this box pictured here on eBay knowing full well that I couldn’t actually eat them as they’re at least 15 years old. I just wanted to take their picture and remember them.
But I haven’t stopped looking for a replacement for them. The melt was smooth and even for a cruncher like me, they lasted a long time. And they really did soothe the throat.
Then a few years ago Gigi wrote about something that sounded similar, Golia Respira
I finally found this roll of Respira Golia at Mel & Rose Wine & Liquors. They were expensive ($2.50), but at least the little roll was cheaper than the box or bag version. (And certainly within their best by date, unlike old Pine Bros on eBay.) They’re made by Perfetti Van Melle, known best for their rolls of Mentos.
The wrapper says they’re caramelle gommose which I take to mean gummy candies and alla liquirizia which I know means with licorice. They’re made with both gum arabic and glycerine.
They don’t smell like my much beloved cough drops, but they do smell compelling. It’s a mix of smoke, black pepper and incense. The pieces are large, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and about 1/3 of an inch high. They sound like bakelite, crisp and hard, but they’re not. They’re a bit pliable in the mouth. The first flavor at the front is licorice, the light and true flavor of licorice which is sweet and a little syrupy. There are notes of anise and clove and of course a pervasive menthol, as that’s what the Respira part of the name is about (breathing).
They get quite soft but never soft enough to pull apart, just dissolve slowly and steadily.
I loved the strong eucalyptus flavor and background of licorice. They are slick and soothing and also, because they’re soft there are no little sores created by sharp edged voids like hard cough drops can do. But they’re really medicinal tasting, so they’re not a casual endeavor and everyone around you will know that you’ve been eating them. I know there are other versions of these, I’m hoping I can find something that’s a little more soothing, like the classic Honey Lemon Pine Bros Drops.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Earlier this year one of America’s largest licorice companies introduced something radically different for them. American Licorice launched Natural Vines. They come in black licorice (true licorice) and strawberry licorice (red licorice).
I liked the package, it’s a sharp looking kraft brown with black vine swirls. It stands up well, with a gusset on the bottom. It looked pretty small but each bag is a half a pound. I was a little aghast at the price though. I paid $2.99 for mine. I’d been looking for it in stores for a while and finally found it at the grocery store and it wasn’t on sale. I bought a half a pound of Red Vines last month for a dollar, so this stuff is three times the price.
As the name implies, they’re all natural and feature real licorice extract. The style is America, with its soft chew and molasses and wheat flour base.
Yes, they’re slick looking and shiny. They’re also sticky; far too sticky for my liking as they’re almost moist.
The smell lightly spicy like a cup of chai or a gingerbread cookie. Each nub is about an inch long and a big bite or two small bites.
The chew is soft and a little bouncy. It doesn’t stick at all to my teeth and has a mild flavor overall. The molasses is woodsy, but not bitter. There are notes of toffee and of course anise. There’s also that true natural licorice flavor, which is light and sweet and a little slick on the back of the throat.
The flavor is fresh but also not very intense. I found it easy to eat but not actually satisfying to my cravings for really intense licorice and deep molasses. They’re better than regular Black Vines (or Red Vines Black Twists as they’re officially called), I can’t give them a higher rating. The stickiness, mildness and vastly higher price didn’t really balance it all out.
The ingredients are considered vegan (although there’s cane sugar in there). Also of note, there’s no artificial colors or corn syrup (they use rice syrup). The only hinky ingredient is palm oil, though it’s not much as each 1.41 ounce serving contains only one gram of fat. There’s also 15% of your RDA or iron, 6% of your calcium and a gram of fiber & protein.
Monday, August 2, 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 6, 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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.