Friday, April 11, 2008
I’m hearing a lot of hatin’ on black licorice in the entries for the Red Vines Giveaway. Which makes me sad. I think a lot of folks are very attached to their favorite candies and I’m probably one of those people and maybe I take it a little personally when someone calls something that I appreciate disgusting. (But I’m not a converter or anything, I don’t like to force candy on people who say that they don’t like something.)
Licorice has a long and wonderful history as a confection and even a medicine. It’s also very flexible, used as a flavoring in hundreds of different sweet and savory items. It has some companion flavors as well, such as anise and fennel. One of the more commonly found licorices is the Red Vines Black Licorice Twists.
The most common kind of licorice here in the United States is the twist. It has a wheat base and is usually flavored and sweetened with molasses (and in this case, corn syrup too). Molasses is a great companion to licorice. While pure licorice is very sweet and soft on the tongue, molasses is deep and only mildly sweet with some interesting mineral notes.
The earthy combination and less sticky complexity to it all makes Red Vines Black Licorice Twists a nice treat. They’re not very licoricey, but that’s okay, they do have a nice texture and feel more like a snack than a candy sometimes. (Wheat-based candies can do that.) I think they’re best when they’re fresh, but stale is okay. I’ve revived stale licorice before by placing it in the microwave on top of a very lightly damp paper towel, covered with another paper towel and zap it for 10 seconds.
Licorice and licorice-like candies are increasing in popularity, probably because of their low caloric density and satisfying chew. As a grocery store purchase of licorice, I prefer Good and Plenty, but if you put Red Vines Black Licorice in front of me, I’ll definitely eat it.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’d never had them until I started the blog. I picked them up two years ago to try and found the bag was so horribly stale that it wouldn’t have been fair. So again with full warning this time that National Licorice Day was approaching, I picked up another bag.
It’s mind boggling. I don’t even know where to begin with how confused, anxious and actually angry these make me.
First, I opened the bag and it smelled like sweet musk. Yes. Like the Australian Musk Lollies. And I know this smell because I recently bought a bag.
At first I thought I was crazy. I’ve had smell hallucinations and I’ve heard that simply coloring a food one way will make someone expect that flavor, so maybe I was just having some sort of synapse malfunction.
But it’s been a full week and I’ve checked with others. The reaction to the smell ranges from “It smells like my grandmother’s purse” to “that’s like a bad candle shop.”
None of it gets better. The colors are odd, like slightly bleached by the sun or perhaps rinsed in the colander with some fresh veggies and they’ve run.
The texture is like eating surgical tubing ... that’s been sitting next to leaking perfume samples for several months. They candy is made of little tubes of a similar wheat-based licorice vine (no twist to it) that is then coated on the outside with a candy shell (I can’t call it crunchy, only colorful). After chewing a bit the flavor does kind of warm up, after the musk has gone away it’s a little bit like licorice, but lacking the anise punch and the deep earthy molasses flavors.
The American Licorice Company explains them this way:
Maybe it’s just because I don’t like musk. But someone must like these candies or they wouldn’t be making them for those rabid fans. Or maybe people just use them for craft projects. They might make some decent kid-safe chunky beads for stringing on some embroidery thread.
I just ... don’t know what else ... to write about them. I can only assume that those people who hate licorice have tasted this and I can’t blame them for their hostility towards the stuff. (Go ahead and call me hypocritical for hatin’ on this stuff, I can take it.)
Rating: 2 out of 10
The Red Vines Giveaway closes on Saturday, April 12th, so enter if you want some! (Don’t worry, there will be no Snaps in the winner packages.)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Those industry analysts say that licorice is the next big thing. It’s a trend. It’s fashionable. It’s hip. There will soon be licorice bars, licorice tastings ... licorice afficianado magazines. (Actually, I heard when I was a Miette Confiserie buying a Dutch assortment that they wanted to do a Sake tasting paired with licorice.)
I don’t know about all that, I’m not adverse to seeing more licorice available on the market, but I fully understand that some people simply don’t like it. Much like some folks don’t like coffee, root beer or cinnamon. (Otherwise referred to as irrational people, which does not apply, of course, to folks who don’t like cherry, butter popcorn Jelly Belly or Dr Pepper, who are perfectly rational.)
I got this ample sample of Australia’s own Kookaburra Licorice at the All Candy Expo.
These nuggets are pretty big, at least two bites in my-sized world. It’s a nice soft chew, sometimes I think it’s a little too soft, like they’re some sort of fleshy thumbs or something, so I left the bag open for a while. They didn’t get rock-hard stale, just a little drier.
I liked the flavor, definitely on the dark and smoky side even if it’s a little mild and more about the molasses than licorice. The first ingredient is treacle as well as some molasses, wheat syrup and raw sugar. These all go so well with the woodsy and very sweet qualities of real licorice. It’s very filling even though the caloric density is exceptionally low for candy: 92 calories per ounce. Kind of a “stick to your ribs” kind of candy treat.
Unlike many American licorices, this boasts real licorice extract ... as well as “natural flavors”, palm oil, soybean monglyceride, artificial colors (Red 40 & Blue #1 & Yellow #5) among other things.
I think as super-soft licorice goes I might prefer Panda (especially for the ingredients list), but this is pretty good stuff. As for the naming, a Kookaburra is a bird, a species of Kingfisher. (While it probably doesn’t have much to do with licorice, it’s far more related to Australia than the Panda is to Finnish licorice. And while we’re not on the subject, there’s also a Cocteau Twins song called Kookaburra, which has even less to do with the bird, as all CT songs are wont to do, than Pandas do with Finnish licorice ... have I digressed enough?)
Monday, January 28, 2008
Years ago when I was in college I went to see Twelfth Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s a cool outdoor venue and in true Elizabethan style they had concessions (candies) available to eat right there at your seat. I bought a roll of licorice toffee, I believe by Callard & Bowser. I thought I was getting a roll of licorice medallions or a hard candy flavored with licorice or something.
Instead it was a roll of soft caramels ... licorice caramels. I quite liked them. I ate the whole roll.
I bought them whenever I could find them, which wasn’t very often. And then I never saw them again. Turns out that Callard & Bowser, also known for their Altoids, is now owned by Wrigley’s and many of the traditional candies they used to make are gone.
There are other licorice taffies out there, and those are nice, but don’t have that mix of true cream and dark licorice that I love.
Then at the All Candy Expo I noticed that there were a few places that actually had licorice caramels. I was on a quest for the best. I found J. Morgan, already known in Utah for its excellent caramels. (Utah it seems is a hotbed of confection, owing I believe to the LDS prohibition on alcohol & caffeine.)
The glossy caramels wrapped in clear cellophane were quite appealing to behold. (The above tub actually has a mix of all of their products in it, not just the caramels.)
The Licorice Caramel is wonderfully creamy with a light anise touch that leaves a kind of cool effect on the tongue. The texture is exceptionally smooth, the chew is a bit stiff, but gives it up after warming in the mouth. (The short-caramel of the Callard & Bowser was grainy and not nearly as satisfying as these.)
The plain Butter Caramel is smooth, not a bit of grain to it and a nice well-toasted sugar flavor.
The other one I tried was a Pecan Caramel. The pecans weren’t big or plentiful but still added a nice buttery crunch and nutty maple flavor to them soft chew.
They make two lines of caramels, the ones profiled here are their Signature Caramels line called Old Fashioned Caramels and come in sealed cello. Their other line which is more affordable in the Heavenly Caramels line called Butter Caramels and are nice but have a slight grain to them, a less chewy chew and come in twisted cello pieces.
The ingredients for the Butter Caramels are: Sweetened Condensed Milk, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Cream, High Fructose Corn Sweetener, Palm Kernel Oil, Butter, Vanillin, Salt & Lecithin. So the majority of the sugar is from the sweetened condensed milk & corn syrup, but it looks like there’s a dash of HFCS. But all that condensed milk gives these 4% of your daily RDA of calcium in just 3 caramels!
They’re all tasty, but the Licorice Caramels are a standout of smooth creamy chew with that lovely woodsy hit of anise/licorice in it. (I do wish they’d sell a mixed tub though, so folks can sample.)
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.
7 out of 10
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 2, 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:
1893 - Good & Plenty introduced by Quaker City Confectionery Company (Philadelphia, PA)
1973 - Good & Plenty sold to Warner Lambert
1981 - Warner Lambert sells Good & Plenty to Switzer of St. Louis where it’s later all rolled in to the brand Leaf (a subsidiary of Beatrice) which already includes Jolly Rancher candies
1983 - Leaf and its brands is sold to Finnish company Huhtamaki Oy
1996 - Leaf and all its brands including Switzer Licorice, Whoppers, Milk Duds and Good & Plenty sold to Hershey’s
1997 - St. Louis manufacturing for Good & Plenty moved to Memphis, Tennessee.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.