Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Thursday, November 22, 2007
On my recent trip to San Francisco I was excited to check out the licorice assortments at both Miette Patissiere and The Candy Store, as both were known for their large variety for sale. I wasn’t disappointed at all! (The only sad part was that they were $12 a pound.)
Fruit Filled Rockies - these are gorgeous little nibbles. The dark licorice tube is filled with a firm fondant-style fruit creme. Not quite sweet, they do have a salty bite through and through. There are two different pinks there, one raspberry and the lighter one is, as far as I can tell, orange. The brown one is more smoky, with a strong salty component. 6 out of 10
Schoolkrijt by Venco (Netherlands) is a very common licorice in Europe, kind of like our Good & Plenty but much milder. It’s much like the Rockies, in that it’s a tube of licorice filled with a creme. Then the whole thing is panned with a crunchy mint shell.
The flavor combo is kind of medicinal, like a cough drop, but I rather like that. Peppermint, licorice and some molasses. I’ve had these a couple of times before, but this particular sampling was very fresh. The outside was crisp and the inside was soft and chewy.
UPDATE: Seems I couldn’t get these out of my mind and have bought at least two pounds (not at once) since this review for personal consumption. So the rating gets updated to a 9 out of 10
Griotten by Venco (Netherlands) were completely new to me. If I’ve seen these before I’ve completely blocked them out. They look like little raw sugar cubes, but pick one up and it’s too light for that. Why, it’s a little spongy too!
It’s like a cross between a marshmallow and a gummi. Soft and chewy, but not too dense or tacky.
The flavor is mild, with only a delicate hit of licorice and anise and not terribly sweet either with a mix of the grainy sugar coating and a little salt. 7 out of 10
The smoky molasses is a good background for the light licorice flavor. No salt here, just a light coating of sugar to pull it all together. Very soft, very chewy. Kind of chocolatey. 7 out of 10
The cute little buttons are nice and soft. While I like a hard glycerine-style licorice sometimes (Katjes), I really enjoy the chew of licorice as a feature. As a lightly salted licorice, it was very mild, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have a huge licorice kick.
There was a slight metallic tinge for me and a fleeting glimpse of damp cat-inhabited basements. 5 out of 10
Honey Tops (Netherlands) were the one piece that I thought was one that I’d had before, it didn’t look quite the same, not quite as amber and there is no bee on this hive. The flavor is a round with only the slightest honey tint, some mild licorice (no anise). They’re pretty firm. These and the Kokindjes were the last ones I finished. 5 out of 10
(I was guessing at the brands here based on who sells what. There could be other companies that make these same varieties.)
Friday, November 02, 2007
In the Autumn a candy lover’s fancy turns to Licorice. (Well, if you like licorice.) The cooler air and shorter days seem to beg for the earthy flavors of a good molasses-based licorice. I get that not everyone likes licorice. It’s like mincemeat and cloves ... not everyone gets it.
There are lots of different versions of licorice, but one of my favorites are pastels, which are little nibbles covered in a candy shell. (Just like candy covered chocolate like M&Ms are a great way to eat chocolate!) I’ve had at least a dozen different varieties, from Good & Plenty to Koppers to Jelly Belly. They’re all good ... but after Good & Plenty, they get kind of expensive. (I’m not sure why.)
I was pretty happy to find Kenny’s Licorice Pastels at the All Candy Expo. They do great things with licorice, including using real licorice extract and making their products affordable (you’ve probably seen them repackage and sold under house brands or in bulk bins before).
They’re made from a very thin piece of licorice, think laces chopped into little segments. Nothing wrong with that. But the coatings are irregular. Some are chipped, which may have been me treating the package like a bean bag in my travels. Still, the coating wasn’t complete on some, with little bits of licorice sticking out or appearing just below the thin veneer of sugar shell.
The color choice is interesting. White, Green, Mustard Yellow, Black, Purple and Hot Pink.
They were soft and fresh. The sugar shell didn’t have a sharp and crisp crunch like the ones I get in the little bulk tubs at Cost Plus World Market. I like that kind of shell, but this was okay ... more like the Good & Plenty side of things. The licorice inside is nice and chewy and has a good note of roasted molasses and real licorice and anise extracts. (The anise is detectable in the shell.)
The thing that spoiled it for me (and this is just me) was that there was Red #40 in them. It was absolutely detectable in the pink and purple candies. (I even did several blind tests to see if I was just being dramatic.) It made them bitter. I had to separate them out from the rest of the bag ... and not eating a third of them doesn’t really make them cheaper. (4 out of 10)
I love root beer barrel hard candies and the root beer Bottle Caps, which are pretty much the only candies that incorporate root beer well into their pantheon of flavors.
Kenny’s also makes a huge line of flavored Juicy Twists (I’m loathe to use the term “red licorice” which is like saying “unsweetened sugar”.) They come in watermelon, green apple, chocolate and of course, Root Beer.
The twists aren’t really that twisted (only a half twist per length), but have pleasant ridges. They’re shiny and rather firm (but not stale). They don’t have the firmly pinched ends that other brands like Red Vines have. But they are hollow (if you’re a straw person).
The root beer flavor is sweet and has a nice balsam quality, not as intense as some other more spicy candies, but still a good match for the flour-based twist. I’d love it if they were more intense, but this is often my problem with root beer in general. I want lots of flavor. But, as I mentioned before, I take my root beer enjoyment where I can. These are a fun change from hard candies. (7 out of 10)
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
They’re simply a little nibble of licorice covered in a thin sugar shell. Rather like a Jordan Almond, the shell is added in a process called panning, where a sugar syrup is added to the little licorice bites and tumbled and dried and then colored. Good & Plenty come in only two colors, pink and white. (Most other licorice pastilles come in pastels or bright colors, like the version made by Jelly Belly Confections.)
Most licorice pastilles are expensive, but Good & Plenty are surprisingly affordable, probably because they don’t have as much of a candy shell as some others.
The flavor of Good & Plenty is more complex, I think, than some of the European pastilles. First, the sugar coating doesn’t completely contain the licorice flavor so when you stick your nose into a movie-sized box of Good & Plenty and you get a woodsy whiff of anise. The sugar shell isn’t very crunchy, in fact, it’s a little grainy, but it works pretty well for Good & Plenty, letting the flavor permeate. The licorice itself has a high sweet overtone and then the molasses hits, dark and slightly burnt and with a light salty bite. After it’s gone there’s a lingering sweetness and clean licorice/anise flavor ... until you pop the next few in your mouth.
For this review I tried both the new Fresh from the Factory Good & Plenty and a rather fresh box from the convenience store near the office. There were a couple of differences. The molasses flavor seemed a little more pronounced in the FFTF&P and the sugar shell seemed a little softer. The still-fresh-in-the-box Good & Plenty had a mellower, more licorice-intense flavor and a slightly stronger shell. (It might have been my imagination, but the FFTF ones also looked a bit plump.)
While some of the other Fresh from the Factory offerings seem a bit steep in price, the Good & Plenty version, in a 4 pound tub is a bit better deal for $25 ($6.24 per pound). The window to order has closed at the moment (though I believe they’ll cycle through again). Good & Plenty in bulk on the internet is $3.90 a pound for 5 pounds ... or $3.24 a pound for 10 pounds, so it’s not like there aren’t deals out there.
I’ve found the sealed plastic peg bags sold at the grocery or drug stores are the freshest, the boxed Good & Plenty can be tough. But then again, I like mine tough, the candy shell is more crackly and of course it takes longer to eat. While I love Good & Plenty and it’s one of the few candies that I still purchase on a regular basis even with all the other stuff I have to get through, sometimes I prefer the crisper shell of the European varieties (but not the steep price).
Good & Plenty is one of America’s oldest continuously produced candy brands, here are a few moments in their corporate history:
1983 - Leaf and its brands is sold to Finnish company Huhtamaki Oy
Though the company has changed hands a few times and even moved factories (at least three different locations that I know of), the packaging has stayed pretty much the same. A little box with Good & Plenty candies pictured on the the outside and the name inside a circle ... when I was a kid it had a black background, now it’s a purple one. The black, pink & white color combination is often known as “good & plenty” in crafting and decorating circles. Somewhere along the way it dropped the more formal “and” in favor of an ampersand, probably when they became part of Hershey’s.
For many years Good & Plenty was also known for their cartoon mascot, Choo Choo Charlie. I found this video on YouTube of an old commercial:
These sorts of ads are probably not going to be around any longer, advertising candy to children is going away. Though candy offers empty calories, it does have some highlights. Candies like Good & Plenty make it easy for kids to share, learn portioning and resealable boxes reward self-restraint. Many boxes were also pretty versatile ... you could shake your box as a percussion instrument when it has candy in it and when empty, you can blow into it like a reed instrument. The current boxes don’t have the tucked tab design that do that ... the day they got rid of those was the day the music died.
Good & Plenty is made with wheat flour so is unsuitable for those with wheat allergies or gluten-intolerance. It’s also colored with Carmine derived from insects and therefore not suitable for vegans. Good & Plenty are certified Kosher.
Candy Addict’s Twizzler’s FFTF review (I totally agree with everything he said)
Good & Plenty is listed as one of the top arousing scents for women (yeah, if you’re looking for some lovin’ splurge for the super-scented Fresh from the Factory).
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Jelly Belly is introducing a new product to their Confections line. Not quite a jelly bean and not quite a gummi bear, these are Licorice Bears. I previewed these little guys at the Fancy Food Show in January but it was nice to have more than three to give them a real taste drive.
These sassy, spicy and soft bears aren’t quite like black vine licorice either. The texture is rather like a smooth gumdrop. They’re made with corn syrup and a potato starch base, which makes them softer on the tongue and easier to dissolve than a wheat & molasses based vine. (All that ingredient talk really takes the magic out of it, doesn’t it?) The natural and artificially flavored bears are super sweet but have a nice woodsy and clear licorice/anise flavor to them.
The size and shape is rather close to the Haribo bears I’m so fond of.
I would find these irresistible in a bowl or jar in front of me. The bag I got as a preview sample from Jelly Belly is just about gone (and I just got it on Friday, which is saying a lot about my lack of control). I much prefer these to the black jelly beans, something about the consistent texture that I really like. Unlike Black Crows, they don’t stick to my teeth in the same way, either.
I’m not sure how easy these are going to be to find, I even had trouble finding them on the Jelly Belly site at first . But the price is decent enough, only a little more than Jelly Belly beans at $4.99 for the half pound bag. I’m rather fond of Licorice Pastels and I’m wondering if these could be panned with a crunchy candy shell ... that might be heavenly.
There’s no gelatin in this product, so it’s suitable for vegetarians (and I’m pretty sure they use American-grown beet sugar as well in all their products, so these would be okay even for vegans). There’s also no wheat in there.
(As a silly side note, I took that photo of the bag of Licorice Bears seen at the top. Later I went to the Jelly Belly site and found that while my photo looks lovely and professional, it also looks exactly like theirs which led me to wonder why I bothered taking mine. Oh well.)
UPDATE: It looks like Jelly Belly sent these samples out to a few places. Candy Addict’s Caitlin just posted her thoughts as well.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
I’m a licorice fan, so it’s hard to do it wrong. I’ll eat it as a hard candy, a chewy rope or classic pastille. What I thought was great about this Black Ace Licorice is that it fits into that niche of licorice products that just about everyone can enjoy. Until I saw this package it didn’t occur to me that so many gluten/wheat sensitive folks were missing out on some great chewy licorice goodness.
This licorice has no wheat flour in it, as most laces, twists and ropes do. Most mass-produced licorice products in the United States don’t even contain real licorice any longer, they use anise flavoring instead. Black Ace is all natural and contains real licorice (which is a good thing and a bad thing, I’ll get to that in a moment.) Licorice has been used for centuries in teas and medicinals. The extract is extremely sweet and has been used an alternative sweetener. It’s a natural expectorant as well, so it’s often found in cough remedies. Some of the effects of too much licorice can be welcome (laxative effect), unpleasant (green stool), or downright dangerous (high blood pressure & edema). Again ... that’d be too much licorice. What’s too much? More than six servings a day.
Black Ace are little dots of licorice. They’re soft and chewy, pretty much melting away in the mouth smoothly as you chew or dissolve them. They have corn starch in them, which I guess might make them a jelly product. They’re very sweet, but have a mellow peppery, woodsy taste to them. They’re sweetened with corn syrup and sugar, not molasses, so I miss some of the more earthy flavors. There’s also a little hit of salt in here that tones down the high sweet flavors of the licorice itself.
Black Ace also does a Red version, which also has a similarly pleasant, smooth and soft chew. The flavor is a good fruity/floral mix, something like raspberry. I’m not a big fan of Red in general, mostly because it reminds me I could be having black licorice. But these were definitely nice.
I enjoyed them quite a bit but would probably prefer a molasses & wheat based candy. But if you’re a fan of licorice and can’t have wheat and don’t want boring old hard candies, this might be a solution. Since they’re all natural, you can expect to find them places like Whole Foods as well as Beverages & More, Oakville Grocery or Bristol Farms and possibly TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
Note: though this is all natural, fat free, wheat and gluten free, the package states that they were made in a facility that processes peanuts & other nuts.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.