Thursday, April 26, 2012
Luckily I found this little package in Amsterdam last year made by Perfetti Van Melle (makers of Mentos) called Lakritz Toffee. The black and silver package stopped me in my tracks, the topography, especially on the inner wrappers is also compelling and completely set my expectations of the morsels within. The only thing missing from the package was the warning that this was salted licorice.
For the uninitiated, some licorice from Northern Europe bears the descriptor of salted licorice, which in the time of sea salt caramels sounds enticing, but in reality it’s not sodium chloride, it’s ammonium chloride that’s added as a flavor enhancer. A little reading about ammonium chloride reveals that it has some medicinal properties, such irritating the gastric mucosa to initiate vomiting.
But I paid less than a buck for this little package, and I’m actually game for learning to love salted licorice, so I gave it my best shot.
The little pieces are wrapped and shaped just like a Starburst fruit chew. The color is great, like the creme on a fresh espresso. They’re barely soft but have a satisfying stiff chew. The licorice flavor is mild at first and has a lot of molasses and toasted flavors to it. The salted flavors come out more as a tangy and metallic bite. All is well, until I allow anything to aerate. I suspect that adding air causes the ammonia in the salt to vaporize into the actual gas, which is, you know, caustic.
The nice part of these toffee pieces, when I manged to eat them correctly, was how the “toffee” part, the creamy note, really brought it all together. It was a smooth chew, not quite buttery, but had a good mouthfeel and never became gritty or grainy. The licorice flavors were authentic, more on the root and herb side than the anise that’s more popular in boiled sugar licorice candies. As long as I only ate one or two, my licorice cravings were quelled. Any more than that and the ammonia notes were too strong.
Unfortunately these can’t be legally imported into the United States because they use a food color that’s banned here. But they’re still widely available in places like the Netherlands and Germany in my experience and sometimes folks will pop up on eBay or other online sweet shops. It contains gelatin as well, so is not suitable for vegetarians.
My go-to licorice toffee still has to be the Krema Batna and maybe the second runner up is Walkers Nonsuch Licorice Toffee (both of which are also banned for import) but if you’re looking for a salted version, this might be it.
Friday, January 06, 2012
It’s the time of year when I find myself turning to cough drops. Not so much this year because of any particular cold, but it makes me feel like it’s winter. There’s something about the flavors of cough drops that are as essential to the early months of the year as cinnamon and nutmeg is to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Spice and herbal flavors have all but disappeared from hard candy on the shelves at mass market retailers, so cough drops are a good place to find that. I picked up this classic looking box of Luden’s Honey Licorice Throat Drops just before I found the revived Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops. I was attracted to the name of the flavor, licorice and honey are both soothing and uncommon.
The box is simple and elegant and features a belt & suspenders form of freshness protection. The drops themselves are inside a thick waxed paper sleeve inside the box, which has a tab top closure. Then the whole thing was inside cellophane shrink wrap. I appreciate the inner waxed liner, because the plastic overwrap only protects the drops while they’re in the store, not after I’ve opened them.
There are 14 drops inside and because these are therapeutic items, they’re not considered food and taxable in California. They’re marked as Kosher, but have no weight listed or a full nutritional panel.
The drops are petite, with smooth rounded corners, they are about 3/4 of an inch long. The color is, well, rather dull, but at least it isn’t enhanced with artificial colors (or flavors). The dissolve is smooth and there aren’t any sharp voids in the boiled sugar base. The flavor is strong on the menthol, light on the honey and with only a touch of anise/licorice. It reminds me of a hard candy version of Fisherman’s Friend. The menthol is strong enough to give me that cool feeling in my sinuses, which are pretty clear at the moment.
I finished the box and now I’m inclined to try some other flavors, like Honey Lemon.
As a side note, the cough drop and candy connection really isn’t that surprising. William H. Luden, who made Luden’s Throat Drops, also created the 5th Avenue bar and made various other items like peppermint patties, chocolate covered raisins and peanuts plus hard candies. Though Hershey’s now owns the rights to the Luden’s candy products (though only makes the 5th Avenue now), Luden’s cough drop business is now owned by a company called Prestige Brands which makes products like Cloraseptic, Efferdent and Compound W. (Let’s hope they never combine the attributes of all three of those products.) The package I’ve reviewed, however, still said McNeill Consumer Healthcare, which sold off Luden’s in late 2010. So there may be some differences in packaging and more current products.
UPDATE 3/2/2012: The packaging has changed. I have to say that I’m a little disappointed, because they’ve looked the same as long as I can remember. But then again, the new boxes are quite nice as well.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I went to Germany last week on a Candy Junket sponsored by German Sweets, part of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. Our group consisted of 10 American journalists & writers and covered 1,500 kilometers and in only five days we saw seven confectionery factories (map).
Though the weather was rather dismal (but expected) with temperatures in the forties and rain the whole week, we still braved the brisk and damp weather to take advantage of the famous Christmas Markets in as many towns as we could. The first one we stopped at was Lubeck, Germany, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) feature mostly food and hot alcoholic beverages but also a small smattering of seasonal tasties like confections and some giftware like Christmas ornaments, hats, leathergoods and other small items.
One of the most common confectionery stalls that I saw at all three markets was the one that sold fresh candies nuts and gingerbread cookies. The cookies are for gifting and many were decorated garishly with frosting and had little affectionate sayings on them (photo). Most were heart shaped and came in a variety of sizes. Of course they’re horrible for bringing back in a suitcase, so I just looked at them.
The nuts were really appealing, just toffeed nuts of all kinds (photo). Almonds were the most common but each booth had a good assortment of walnuts, cashews and some peanuts. Some had more exotic flavors, the most common was a Christmas spice, but others had licorice or Nutella. The prices were pretty good, a little 100 gram (3.5 ounces) was 2.50 Euro and I believe they would mix if you asked.
The market in Berlin at Alexanderplatz near our hotel also had a small assortment of booths, again, most selling drinks and hot food and a more international fare of gift items (Russian nesting dolls, Indonisian carved bowls) as well as one confectionery stall with a rather large range of traditional candies from Germany and a few that looked more Nordic or Dutch.
The booths that sold Krauterbonbons, and I saw at least three of them in Lubeck, all smelled quite strongly of anise. It was as if they were using aromatherapy to attract customers. Two of the booths looked like they produced the candy right there. They had a copper kettle, a large counter of marble and a small pressing machine that can either cut the little candy pillows from a pulled rope of the hot sugar mixture or mold press them into individual pieces. However, we walked through the Lubeck market twice, once on the night we arrived around 8 PM, then again the next day when we visited the Niederegger cafe at lunchtime. Neither time did I see them making any candy, nor any of the other booths. Perhaps it was all theater, and perhaps it was just something they did in the morning to make their inventory for the day.
As it was my first visit to a Christmas Market, I picked up a small bag of their Krauterbonbons Mischung (Herbal Sweets Assortment), which fit easily in my pocket and I thought would travel well.
Inside the homely little plastic bag were 28 pieces in about ten different varieties. The shapes varied, some were just little pillows, others were rather rustic but pressed lumps and then there were the gems with their ornate patterns. They’re lightly sanded to keep them from sticking.
I can’t say what the flavors were supposed to be, as there was no key and many of the flavors I purchased were not sold separately (so I couldn’t match them up with the photos I took of the varieties in the jars at the booth).
Some were completely foreign to me. The little red puff was at first rather like raspberry, but there was a note of cola and maybe even Dr. Pepper (whatever that flavor is).
The light green flattened rod was pure peppermint. It was quite strong and fresh.
The black one that looks like a stylized corn cob is dark and sort of like molasses but lacking much else in the herb or spice area.
The brown rock looking thing was like a chocolate flavor, it tasted like black bread (Schwarzbrot with an hint of malt. If I had to find an American analogue, it’d be a chocolate Tootsie Pop. I actually liked this one quite a bit, it’s weird getting the flavor of dense, fresh bread in a hard candy.
The amber piece with a bee on it was honey, naturally. It was lovely. It tasted like honey and I wanted a whole jar of these, if not to eat, then just to look at.
There was also a single clear pillow with some black specks in it. It was a light anise and the exact flavor of the smell they were using to attract folks to the booth.
The light green flower with the cross in the center (back right) was rosemary. It was really refreshing, a little like pine and menthol but without any hint of bitterness.
The ribbed one with the cross in the center was like a cough drop, a mix of flavors similar to Ricola. It was minty but not completely peppermint, there was a menthol component and maybe a little touch of honey. The shape was fun to look at, as I kept an example of each on my desk lined up while tasting.
The black one with the hammers on it was like the one that I thought was like black bread, but with a strong note of licorice to it. It wasn’t overly sweet and I found it very soothing, especially with some bland, black tea.
If I had more time and was able to scope better, I probably would have gone back and picked up the flavors that were missing from my assortment. Lubeck definitely had the best assortment of these little lozenges and of course I would have loved to have seen them making them. (Mental note, next time, add “When do you make the candies” to my list of phrases I might need.)
If you’re going to be in Germany in the winter, the Christmas Markets are definitely something you should see, if only for a few hours. I think they’re probably more appealing to folks who eat sausage and drink alcohol but the one we saw in Schmalkalden actually had some fantastic looking cheese and cured meats. The architecture of many of these cities is lit up so I really felt like I was part of the place.
I was hoping to see more of a variety of sweets, but I fully understand the 90% of the Christmas Market is about tradition and the time warp of walking around a square in the dark with pretty lights and a cacophony of sounds and smells. There were no chocolates anywhere, though some of the stalls sold long ropes of flavored licorices and I actually got a giant Smurf gummi at one of them. The smaller the town we went to, the more they felt like they were true community events, not just something made up for the tourists. Their Christmas celebration through Advent, though front and center at every town, felt less commercial and more about community, even if it was temporary.
(Disclosure Note: The trip to Germany was sponsored, so I did not pay for my airfare, ground transportation, accommodations or food while I was there. At the factory tours we were given generous samples to consume on site as well as some to bring home. Any reviews of those products will be noted as to that fact. But I also brought a couple hundred Euros with me and spent them liberally and almost exclusively on candy both from the companies we were introduced to as well as many other Germany/European products that I found in my prowlings of grocery stores, department stores and the factory outlets.)
Sunday, December 11, 2011
When I was in Amsterdam, instead of seeing Altoids by the check out stand at the grocery, I saw Potter’s Original. The funny thing was, there was already one in my purse. Several months before my trip to Europe, I picked up a little tin to tuck into my bag.
It’s a cute little tin, light and narrow, it’s like a longer box of wooden matches. It has a pleasant rattling sound from the little candies inside. It was pretty cheap for licorice, too. They sell for less than 1 Euro, so about a buck and even in the United States I only paid $1.50. Of course there’s not much in there weight wise, it’s only .44 ounces.
In Holland folks call them simply Pottertjes. The flavor is a combination of licorice and menthol.
The tin has a clever dispensing set up under the lid. The second lid has a tiny hole that allows only one or two pieces to come out at a time. Each piece is about the size of a French lentil, though a bit square and pillowy.
I was fully expecting these to be strong and possibly salted. I was spared the latter, though they are quite potent not only in the licorice department but also have some sort of yin yang thing going on with some warming and some cooling.
The ingredients list a base of licorice and sugar then an addition of both menthol and capsathine. Capsathine is one of the constituents of hot peppers.
The flavors start bold and smoky, there’s a lot of molasses and woodsy licorice notes. Then the menthol gets things pepped up with a bit of nasal clearing ... then towards the end there’s a little burn, like a cayenne but without those green notes.
The texture is odd. Sometimes I thought I was chewing on a piece of paper, other times it was like slightly grainy gummi bear. They’re very small, but one does quite a bit. I’ve had the tin for nearly a year and do partake every once in a while. The overall flavors are on the medicinal side but much more interesting than the standard honey lemon variety.
Potter’s also makes a mild version, which I’ve bought but can’t bring myself to open until I finish (or get close to finishing) this one. They also make glycerine drops, similar to Pine Bros and Grether’s Pastilles. Hopefully when I have a layover in Amsterdam I can try to find some.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Before I started Candy Blog there was a rather short but significant list of candies that I had never tried before. One of them was Licorice Allosrts. This is mystifying for regular readers, I’m sure, who already know that I love licorice. But I didn’t quite understand what it was and as Allsorts are often sold in bulk bins, there was no package (or blog) to explain it to me.
Allsorts are various shapes and combinations of licorice mixed together. The most common items within a variety bag would be rockies (cream filled tubes), twists, nibs, sandwiches (layers of licorice with layers of either fondant cream or coconut fondant), buttons (jellies or gummies covered in colorful nonpareils) and possibly licorice flavored mellocreams.
Trader Joe’s Allsorts -a- Licorice is a very conservative and safe assortment of little licorice shapes, perfect for those who are shy of strong licorice and want to dip their toes into the anise waters.
The bright and moderne fifties style design on the packaging does a decent job of demystifying its contents. It says that it includes a fun and colorful variety of licorice shapes and sizes including sandwiches, tubes and swirls. The ingredients boast that there are no artificial flavors or colors, though as is the case with most licorice, it’s not gluten free and also contains milk and gelatin ingredients. Though there is no coconut in the sandwich creams, there is coconut oil.
The assortment consists of: tubes filled with pink, orange or yellow cream; sandwiches with pink, orange or yellow cream; twisted nibs and licorice wheels.
The cream element is very soft and though it’s not sticky it does like to stick to the other pieces and gets dented and malformed easily.
They’re made in France, so they’ve had a long trip (but they’re well within their expiry date - good until July 2013).
The texture is soft and chewy without being doughy like some Australian styles can be. It’s also not crumbly or waxy like Twizzlers can get. The addition of gelatin gives it a good bounce and helps it keep its moisture. The licorice flavors are mild. There are some nice bitter molasses notes, it’s sweet and lightly salty and only lightly anise-y. The cream is sweet and only slightly grainy, it’s soft and dissolves quickly, almost like frosting. The flavors are what you’d expect: yellow is sweet lemon, orange is a little bit like orange and pink has a floral strawberry sweetness.
I enjoyed the different shapes, though the sandwich pieces were the least successful because they were so malformed. It was interesting to have a cream licorice sandwich that didn’t have coconut, as so many do. I missed the chocolate flavored cream though, that would have been fun.
I found the mix very munchable. It didn’t really satisfy any deep cravings for licorice, but it was a great snack. As a die hard licorice fan I don’t think I’ll be picking this up, but if you’re looking for something that kids and adults can enjoy together, this has some features that both will appreciate.
Monday, September 05, 2011
Trader Joe’s has been stepping up their introduction of classic candies lately. They have their gourmet versions of Milk Duds and Dutch Mints. I was quite shocked and delighted to see these Trader Joe’s Candy Coated Licorice a couple of weeks ago.
The box has a great, comforting design on it that conveyed everything I needed to know about the product. It’s licorice, it comes in pastel colors and it’s candy coated. But the really appealing part of this product for many people will be that it’s made without artificial colors or preservatives and contains no animal products. (It is missing the Trader Joe’s vegan symbol though I can’t find anything on the list of ingredients that would be considered non-vegan, except perhaps titanium dioxide, which is neither animal or vegetable, it’s mineral.)
If you were afraid that natural colors would be muted and bland, let me allay that fear. These are bright - a deep purple, bright yellow, brilliant orange and a clean white.
The candies are short little pieces, squat and with all the candy coating, rather rounded. They reminded me a bit of the Wiley Wallaby Outback Beans, made by Kenny’s Licorice. However, these have a few key differences. First, they’re made in Mexico and Kenny’s is made in the USA. Second, the Kenny’s had a rather soft shell to it. The Trader Joe’s Candy Coated Licorice is quite crisp.
The shell is thick and very crunchy. As with many natural or artificial colors, some taste different from others. The purple and orange candies have a light violet floral note to them. Otherwise the candy is all about sweetness, licorice and molasses. The candy shell provides a long, sustained sugar zap while the center is quite soft and has a slightly doughy chew. The molasses is a little bitter, smoky and woodsy. The licorice is light and sweet with a hit of anise as well as a grassy note of fresh fennel.
They’re a lot more affordable than the new Panda Candy Coated Licorice, which is also slightly different as the shells are flavored.
As much as these have going for them, first they’re dirt cheap at 99 cents for a 6 ounce box, I can’t say that they’re my absolute favorite candy coated licorice of all time. For me there’s too much shell and not enough intense licorice flavor. But the texture mixes are balanced very well. I’ve eaten three boxes so far, so these are definitely my go-to munching licorice. But I’d like an Extra Licorice version, maybe that has a little hint of anise in the shell itself.
Friday, August 26, 2011
I picked up a couple of these little licorice ropes at Cost Plus World Market simply because I loved the package.
These little Gatos Licorice (Gatos Extracto de Regaliz) were pretty cheap for imported candies (these are from Spain), only 50 cents for a little .39 ounce bar. There’s slimmer and lighter than a Panda Licorice (Finnish) bar and perhaps a little drier.
The little bars are about 4.25 inches long and are actually thick tubes. They have a light anise and licorice scent with a few hints of charcoal and molasses. Each package has only 35 calories.
The texture is stiff, it’s a wheat base so I expected it to be like a Twizzler Nib. Instead it was dry though not completely crumbly. The flavor took a bit of chewing or dissolving to release but then I really enjoyed the strong licorice notes, which are soft and sweet, woodsy and herbal and a little acidic twang to it all. The molasses wasn’t strong, the toasted caramel flavors were mellow. It’s not a sweet candy at all, there’s even a bit of a bitter burnt note. There was a bit of a stale cereal vibe to the whole thing that I didn’t care for, but it was mostly at the start of the chew and dissipated as the licorice grew, sometimes wheat based products can be like that.
These are fun to pick up and keep tucked away in a pocket, since they’re so small. Of course the bold and distinctive wrapper with the yellow, red and grey tones were what attracted me (logo & more photos here), so it’s a bit of a conversation piece. I don’t think I’d buy them on a regular basis, but I’m curious to try some more of their products.
Thursday, August 04, 2011
I know there are a lot of blogs out there that review candy these days, but somehow I feel alone in my obsession for licorice. (And I feel sometimes that I’m alienating my non-licorice loving readers by featuring something black every week.)
I picked up this cute little can from Van Slooten called Flowers & Butterflies Mix of Sugared Liquorice. It’s Dutch and as far as I could tell, was a mix of salted and sweet licorice much like the previous little can I picked up and reviewed of Licorice Figures. It seemed a bit pricey, something the size of a can of beans that cost $3.99, but they really packed the candy in there, it’s over a half a pound at 8.82 ounces.
The mix inside was as described, at least six different shapes and as far as I could tell, three different varieties.
Gummi Flower & Tulip is chewy and dense but with a very mild flavor. It was mostly a toasted sugar flavor, sort of like a marshmallow and some light anise. That was it. I liked it and I ate them all. At first I didn’t realize that the tulip was the same as the flatter 10 petal flower. But once the tulips were gone (yes, I ate them first), I figured it out.
Butterflies are a great medium brown color with sparkly grains of sugar. There are two shapes for the butterflies, but I found the texture and flavor to be the same with them. I expected a griotten flavor and texture, which is a light and airy gummi with a salted licorice flavor. These did have that brown sugar and salted licorice flavor but with instead the texture was sort of tacky and chewy. I can’t say that it as quite a gumdrop, but it definitely wasn’t a gummi marshmallow. I enjoyed these, the salt was quite noticeable but not so much of the ammonia aftertaste taste that I don’t care for.
Gumdrop Flower is really chewy and has a strong molasses flavor. Aside from the grainy sugar coating, it’s quite smooth. I enjoyed it at first, but then there’s a tangy element that creeps in along with something metallic, then I got a hit of the ammonia. As long as I alternated them with the other versions, I found them passable. Ultimately I was left with a dozen of them in the bottom of the can.
I would eat these again, especially for the milder gummi varieties. They’re also pretty and I like the compact, easy to open and close package.
Candy Gurus tried their Fruit Gums called Fun & Sun Fruit Gum
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