Friday, September 11, 2009
When I was in college at Humboldt State University one summer I house-sat for a friend and as a thank you they gave me some tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So my best friend and I packed up her rabbit puppet in her yellow Dodge Dart and we hit the road for the journey to Ashland to see the show.
The theatre was in the classic outdoor Elizabethan-style, except for the electric lights and assigned seating. The show was fantastic. In addition they also had an amazing selection of treats and sweets to consume during the show. At an intermission I picked up a roll of Callard & Bowser Licorice Toffee. The roll was long and had individually wax-wrapped pieces. I was ill informed what they were, I was expecting buttery hard candy with a licorice note to it. Instead it was what we call a caramel here in the States and it had a pleasant spicy & woodsy flavor. I ate the whole roll right there during the show.
Over the years I found them here and there but the last time I had some was when I was in London sometime late in the last century.
Callard & Bowser was a British founded in 1837 and the maker of toffees but most notably to Americans are their Altoids mints. They were swallowed up by Kraft, which later spat them back out in 2004 to Wrigley’s ... which in turn was bought out by Mars last year. Somewhere along the way they discontinued the Licorice Toffee. So I no longer look for it. Instead, I’ve been on the prowl for alternatives and found a few promising options to suggest to readers. Today, I present to you the Walkers’ Nonsuch Liquorice Toffee.
Unlike the other Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees I’ve reviewed so far, these are individually wrapped in twisted paper-backed foil. The wrapper is cute & easy to identify as licorice since it’s a simple black & white design with a checkerboard pattern and red text.
Each little nugget is a little bigger around than a quarter and a lovely lump of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and treacle. It also features real liquorice extract as well as oil of aniseed.
They’re softer than the bar toffees; it’s an immediate stiff chew that softens with heat & mastication. The flavors are buttery and dark - not so much licorice but a soft anise with deep woodsy tones that reminded me of pumpernickel bread and spice cake. It’s smooth and satisfying.
I found the 150 gram (5.3 ounces) package to be completely inadequate (but it’s partly my fault for sharing these with my other licorice loving friends). The good news is that I got them at India Sweets & Spices and have also seen them listed online at The British Food Shop down in Orange County and if I get really desperate I can order online at Licorice International (though more than twice the price I find them locally).
Thursday, September 3, 2009
In my current attempt, I’ve been looking for very lightly salted stuff and hoping to find non-ammonium versions.
The latest item I found was this cute little can from Van Slooten called Lakrids Figurer which features both sweet and salty liquorice in one package. It’s Dutch, so it does feature ammonium chloride as the salt of choice.
But the package was just so cute and so were the little licorice pieces inside. I had their Autodrop Total Loss mix before and was enchanted with the imaginative shapes they make.
Think of them like animal crackers! Or perhaps some sort of licorice roulette if you don’t know the key.
The salty licorice shapes were Zebra, Elephant, Lion and Kangaroo. Each was about an inch or inch and a quarter at the longest.
They’re soft and pliable, though not quite chewy like Dots. The immediate taste on the tongue is not quite salt but more like a savory sizzle, a little smoky. Once I chewed it a little I got some notes of ground pepper and woodsy licorice. But later the salt turned a little odd, as it usually does. When I exhaled it was a bit like ammonia and also a bit rusty tasting.
I have to say that I did very well with these overall. If I managed to grab one by mistake when hunting for the sweet ones, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The sweet figures were Koala, Crocodile and Turtle.
I was trying to figure out if there was a reason for the different animals being salty or sweet. I tried breaking it down by species type, by habitat and even used the Wallace Line. There is no logic for the consumer as far as I can tell.
They aren’t easily sweet - putting it on the tongue to dissolve is rather subtle - not quite salty but definitely deep and smoky with molasses, anise and burnt toffee notes.
Rating: 7 out of 10
They texture is a cross between a gumdrop and something a little denser but not as hard as some other licorice cakes or coins. There’s no wheat in it, like most American and Aussie style products. I also found them very soothing to my throat - even the salty ones.
Even though I found the salty ones edible, they’re still not quite my style ... though I would definitely recommend them as a “starter” salty licorice for those looking to broaden their candy experiences. They do get a little stuck in my teeth.
So far I like the Van Slooten stuff I’ve had though I don’t think I’ve found their item that’s precisely suited to me yet. I’ll keep looking.
Friday, July 31, 2009
The matte beige & powder blue wrapper does give it that classic look, though the mylar/plastic packaging made it feel modern (as did the presence of a web address on the back of the package).
It also comes in a raspberry licorice version, which I also bought but was disappointed to find it crumbled to bits (so I’m not reviewing it now).
The bar is attractive and looks like it could easily be an unsalted pretzel rod covered in milk chocolate.
It smells nice, a bit like anise and chocolate cake.
The bite is soft, the chocolate barely flakes, which is a great relief after the red licorice catastrophe.
The licorice at the center is quite soft and has a strong molasses flavor - the chew is almost jelly like, but has the satisfying rib-sticking of a wheat-based confection. The anise and licorice notes are rather mild and more of a generic spice cookie feel. The chocolate is sweet, not terribly chocolatey but seems to seal in all the flavors well.
It’s nice to see an Aussie licorice being sold at American candy prices. It was a nice change up from Twizzlers, Good & Plenty or Crows, which are really the only plain licorice products sold in single serve packages any longer.
My big hesitations are why they put artificial colors in a chocolate covered item. But my guess is that this licorice is available bald.
Aussie readers, do you recognize this bar? (I was thinking it was RJs but those aren’t real chocolate.)
I’m eager to try the raspberry again and see what else Walgreen’s is going to put in their Candy Classics brand.
Note: The calories made no sense on this package. 220 calories for 1.4 ounces is insane for a chocolate covered licorice. It says 2.5 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs and 2 grams of protein (that makes 120 calories or so) ... I can’t figure where the rest of the calories are coming from. The ingredients are Sugar, Treacle, Wheat Flour, Molasses, Chocolate, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Licorice Extract and then a bunch of less than 2% things.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Instead salted licorice seems to produce awkward faces ... though not always an unpleasant reaction, I’m usually ready to eat more, but I’m not sure if I have that “oh I must gobble this and then find a source in bulk” reaction.
Perhaps it’s that most other salted sweets use either plain sodium chloride (table salt) or sea salt. But salted licorice usually employs other metallic salts such as aluminum chloride and ammonium chloride.
In an effort to give it all another try, I made sure to check out the licorice selections while I was in Solvang a few weeks ago. Solvang is a Danish-themed town near Santa Barbara which happily has many candy & chocolate shops. I picked out this mixed bag from Venco called Drop Toppers Salmiak & Mint. It was appealing, even though it was $8.25, because it had at least one tried and true favorite of mine: Schoolchalk.
The assortment is an attractive mix of black and white pieces in a variety of textures and combinations of salt, sugar, licorice and mint.
Schoolkrijt - I’ve reviewed before but I’ll recap it here. It’s a tube of mellow & rich licorice filled with a cream. Then the whole thing is coated in a crunchy, thin minty shell. I love them, I’m addicted. I buy them when I can and I pretty much pulled them all out of this mix and finished them within days.
Instead they were like a dense brown sugar & salt combination infused with licorice encased in a crunchy mint shell.
The salt is quite strong, but less metallic than many others I’ve had. The brown sugar & molasses notes helped me to overcome that electrical pop and of course enjoy the licorice.
I couldn’t really chow down on them like the Schoolkrijt, but I still found a way to appreciate these.
Drop Tikkel - looked like jelly beans. They were quite mellow and as far as weirdness factory, they were a little musty tasting, but otherwise not very salty. The licorice flavors were also rather muted.
The texture of the jelly bean center was more like a soft gummy than a jelly, so it had a nice chewy quality too.
Salmiakrondo - I avoided these for a while, because I figured if I could take a small amount of salted licorice, I probably couldn’t handle this much. The nuggets are about as big around as nickels. I didn’t know what was in there, so I carefully cleaved one apart for the photo with my teeth.
I found it’s pretty soft, happily. The black portion is rather smooth, kind of like a solidified taffy. The center is a softer, crumbly version of the Zwartwitjes. Still, it was salty ... and with no candy shell or minty backdrop to wash it away.
They’re also kind of bitter. But the salt wasn’t so strong or metallic that it turned me off. Still, not something I just wanted to shovel into my mouth mindlessly.
I like to dip my toe in the water sometimes when it comes to adventurous or exotic candies, so a mix like this is a nice way to ease into it. But it was pretty pricey ... but at least the package had some names & explanations for me to post here to guide others. The problem now is that I’ve eaten all the Schoolkrijt and my desire to eat the others since the review is over has evaporated. Luckily, I have a salted licorice friend.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I’ve had my fair share of skoolkrijt (schoolchalk) licorice on the past few years, after being given some by a coworker returning from a vacation. Since then I’ve bought pounds and pounds of the stuff to eat over and above the normal Candy Blog review queue. For those who have never had it, it’s a mild fondant/cream inside a black licorice tube, then covered in a crunchy, slightly minted candy shell. The little pieces look like blackboard chalk.
The idea of fruit flavored licorice was more than intriguing. I had no idea what it’d be like ... would it be flavored licorice, like Red Vines/Twizzlers or the traditional black stuff? Would it be white?
The package explains it all pretty well - the candy coating outside is pastel colored and lightly flavored, then a black licorice rope filled with a creamy flavored center. There were three flavors: Lemon, Apple and Raspberry.
I am accustomed to the Venco brand of licorice chalk, but this was pretty much the same shape and size. One inch long and about one half an inch in diameter.
The pieces look an awful lot like chalk. They smell an awful lot like raspberry flavor ... doesn’t matter which piece I pick out of the assortment, they all smell like sticky, sweet, floral raspberry body wash. I separated out the pieces and dove in.
Raspberry is pink, of course. The crunchy shell is all sweetness, the cream center is more sweetness of a deeper more jam-flavor. The licorice is hard to discern, it contributes a slight woodsy and molasses note to the whole thing, but chewing quickly means missing it entirely.
Apple is light green. These were rather vague on the outside, perhaps because of the strong raspberry thing going on. On the inside though, the cream center is very strong and tastes of apple juice. The licorice is a nice texture variation, but there is no anise, no molasses, not beet-like root notes. I did not like apple.
Lemon in the lightest yellow is the redeemer here. The shell has a kiss of sweet lemon essence, like lemon balm. The cream center, though, is like a regular Skoolkrijt, a bit minty/menthol. The black licorice notes aren’t very strong, but dark and tasty.
I would buy just Yellow Chalk. I would not buy this fruit Schoolchalk. As it is, I’m just picking out the yellow stuff to eat. Eating the other flavors last week gave me a tummy ache and spoiled my appetite for dinner.
Made in Slovakia. I gave the Lemon a 7 out of 10, the rest a 5 out of 10.
The nice thing about the Leaf folks was that they were happy send along some of their other classic products to give me a sense of their product line. So after the Schoolchalk, I visited with their Licorice Allsorts.
Allsorts vary from company to company but are generally mild, sandwiched squares of flavored fondant and licorice along with various pieces of coconut fondant and the occasional jelly button covered in nonpareils.
I loved the colors and font on this package.
My favorite was the little cream filled licorice tube. The outside was a tough and only mildly spicy licorice with a lemon cream center. Easy to eat in one bite.
Next came the plain licorice bites. Tough to chew but a good woodsy flavor along with some beets & charcoal.
Chocolate sandwiches had a slight cocoa flavor to them. The licorice slabs were less flavorful than the plain bites, I figure they must leach flavor into the fondant. The yellow layers were lightly lemon and the pink ones might be a slight strawberry.
I was fond of the blue jelly dots, though the nonpareil crunchies kind of fell off large parts of them, and there were only four in the whole bag. They’re still so cute ... I wonder how necessary the blue food coloring is and if anyone makes a white version. The jelly center is lightly anise, soft and smooth.
The little pink and yellow circles were coconut. There may have been some flavor in there as well, but the coconut was the big player here. The licorice centers were softer than the other pieces.
On the whole the Allsorts were pleasant. I found myself picking through the assortment and finding enough to eat in there and nothing left over at the end that I found so unpalatable that I would throw it out (and I’m not shy about throwing out candy I don’t like). They’re pretty to look at and don’t necessarily get stale even when left sitting open on my desk overnight.
Made in Denmark. I give them a 7 out of 10
I know that licorice shapes are pretty popular, and in many European countries there are dozens. Here in the states I think that licorce comes in whips (twists or laces) and perhaps Scottie dogs, and that’s pretty much it.
I have no idea how licorice and pipes became so intertwined, but from the first moment I opened this package, I felt that Leaf had this one nailed.
Not only is this piece of black, wheat flour based & molasses sweetened licorice shaped like an old tobacco pipe ... it has glowing pink embers in the bowl!
The licorice is softer and maybe even denser than the others, perhaps because they’re individually wrapped. They smell like toffee, anise and a little touch of sulfur, figs and banana notes. The licorice isn’t that strong, not like other “Finnish” licorice like Panda. It has more of a dark & mild spice cookie-like texture and flavor.
Made in Italy. I give them a 7 out of 10.
Leaf is a Finnish brand but available widely in Canada at drug stores & large retailers (WalMart, Dollarmax, London Drugs, etc.). In the United States they may be harder to find, so stick to import shops.
Overall, one of the cool things about licorice and the family of licorice candies is that it’s rather low in calories (usually about 100 to 110 calories per ounce), colorful and fun and with some fun flavor combinations. They can be very satisfying because of the wheat flour ingredient, but of course that means they’re unsuitable for those with wheat & gluten issues. Schoolchalk contains gelatin, so is not suitable for vegetarians.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I was a little confused that this package says “new” since I saw them on sale last year, but the freshness date says best by 06/2010. I was also confused when I tried to find these via the Just Born website and it said they were carried by a handful of Albertson’s markets in Southern California ... but then I stumbled across them at the 99 Cent Only Store near my office. They also had the all-cinnamon Hot Tamales Jelly Beans and the Hot Tamales Spice Jelly Beans.
Before gourmet jelly beans came along, the only jelly bean I knew of that was sold as a single flavor was licorice. (It ranks among Jelly Belly’s top sellers.) I often felt like the beans were being segregated, like they didn’t belong in the regular mix of beans. I certainly had friends and family members that would sort them out of their mixes (and give them to me). But in this case, the Hot Tamales Spice Beans don’t actually include licorice, they are definitely sold separately.
The packaging is rather unusual. Though as far as I can tell the Hot Tamales beans are only sold around Easter, but they’re packaged as if they’re an all-year round item. No pastels, eggs, bunnies or baby animals on this package. It’s black and gray with the red Hot Tamales logo & fireball mascot.
The beans are attractive and very black. They’re rather tall and narrow - the same length & width of a Jelly Belly but much taller and boxier.
The bag smells a bit like licorice spice tea, but mostly like sweet beeswax (not unpleasant).
The beans are soft, they can easily be squished between my fingers (Jelly Belly tend to be firmer). The shell isn’t very thick so there’s not much grain to these beans.
The licorice notes are high on the anise side with a clean and sweet lingering aftertaste. It’s missing a lot of the darker woodsy notes that a licorice whip has but they’re definitely beans that I have no trouble eating, no sickly feeling of consuming too much sugar like those Bunny Basket Eggs can do.
Though the ingredients list pectin, they’re not a true pectin bean - they utilize modified food starch as the primary thickener. That said, it is a smooth flavor that’s not too sweet.
There’s a fair bit of food coloring in here, which meant that after a handful my tongue was greenish/blue. Licorice twists tend to be black because of the molasses ... it seems to me that licorice jelly beans sold separately could simply be uncolored and we could skip all that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1.
These may be Kosher, it’s hard to tell. It’s not mentioned on the package, but the Just Born website says that only their Peeps products are not Kosher. They are gluten free! (And made in the USA.)
Friday, March 13, 2009
That’s kind of sad for the oldest candies.
Today I’ve got Candy Coated Fennel Seeds. From reading Sweets: A History of Candy by Tim Richardson, some of the first candies are still produced today. Those are the panned nuts and seeds.
The process is simple, a syrup of liquid sugar is drizzled over a bit that forms the center (in this case a fennel seed). After each layer dries, another is added. The most famous version of this is the Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny, which creates a huge peanut sized pastille. In this instance the fennel seeds are coated with a little crunchy shell, like an M&M without the chocolate.
This variety is made by Al-Karawan based in Amman, Jordan (you know, Jordan, the place they named Jordan Almonds after). My mother picked it up for me at her local deli.
The summer before I went off to college I worked at an herb shop where I packaged up bulk products, including a version of this. I admit that I would sneak a spoonful when doing the little baggies. I might add that fennel is supposed to be a digestive aid, easing indigestion and suppressing appetite. It also freshens the breath. I usually see this stuff at Indian restaurants where you usually encounter a bowl of mints.
The colors are bright pastels: pink, green, yellow, blue and lavender. The size of the pieces varies greatly, some are tiny little spheres (with nothing inside) and others are the size of sunflower seeds.
The bag smells sweet and like a light anise. For those who are familiar with fennel, it does have a distinct, fresh anise flavor to it (licorice).
The sugar coating is sweet and crunchy and gives way to the seeds pretty quickly. The seeds are soft and fibrous for the most part. They have a light fresh flavor to them, soft anise mixed with some woodsy notes of beets, vanilla and root beer.
It’s kind of an odd candy. I find it very refreshing, though not terribly filling. It’s certainly pretty. For something exotic, it’s not that expensive (this bag had a price tag of 99 cents on it) for four ounces. For the most part it’s well made, but the bottom of my bag did contain a bunch of little bits that either didn’t get the full color treatment or were just single candy layered on a thread of fennel instead of a full seed. A little sifting might have eliminated that.
Al-Karawan lists Sugar Coated Cardamom on their site, now that sounds like something I’d like! The panning process is used on lots of other unlikely foodstuffs as well, like chick peas (garbanzos) and more traditional ones like almonds & pistachios.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
A few months ago I reviewed Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice from Australia. I enjoyed it quite a bit and now that the weather should be turning chillier (though we’ve had our ups and downs in Los Angeles lately), I was keen to try more chocolate covered licorice varieties.
The Kookaburra variety I tried used milk chocolate, the Darrell Lea Dark Chocolate Covered Liquorice is made with dark chocolate. (Well, it’s not vegan, as it does have butterfat in it.)
Anise and chocolate are a natural pairing, quite common in Italian and Greek confections but pretty rare here in the United States.
There are not a chocolate covered version of the Soft Eating variety I reviewed before. Instead these have artificial colors in them, which makes even less sense since it’s covered in chocolate. They’re also a bit thicker and have a twisted band to the shape.
The scent is nice, a mix of the woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate and the mellow molasses and anise of the licorice.
The bite is soft and the chocolate melts easily. The overwhelming flavors are of molasses with those hints of sweet licorice, fennel and some cedar and spice notes. It’s not at all like the Indian curry and coriander I noticed with the Soft Eating variety.
Overall, even though these have the senseless addition of my nemesis Red 40 food coloring, it’s satisfying stuff. The price difference for the addition of chocolate is substantial. The regular bags are $2.99, the chocolate variety at Cost Plus World Market are $4.99.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I also like the packages. They’re simple, but the striped color coding makes it pretty easy at a glance to tell which is which (and this is the fifth package of Darrell Lea I’ve had).
Like the Licorice, this strawberry variety is also not all-natural like the Soft Eating variety. But it’s still a generous 7 ounce bag with a clear expiration date, which I always appreciate.
I found these much more attractive than the black licorice counterparts. The pieces are slightly smaller, just narrower, but still have the little twist in them. The chocolate was glossier, but that could simply be attributed to handling.
The bag smelled like bubble gum and chocolate. Sweet and summery. The strawberry flavor of the licorice is mild with a good combination of the floral notes and the light tangy berry flavor. The chew is a bit stickier than the black variety, leading to some glops stuck to the sides of my molars.
The chocolate sets off the sweet elements well and melts smoothly to a creamy syrup to go with the strawberry chew. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.