Friday, November 6, 2009
This summer Morinaga came out with a limited edition line of World Fruit flavors of HiCHEW. I tried to collect all of them. Shown here is the Blood Orange I reviewed over the summer.
HiCHEW, originally from Japan but now sold all over Asia and now in North America, are a soft chew made from sugar, glucose syrup, palm oil and gelatin. They’re rather like Starburst, but with a much smoother chew and a bouncy texture. It’s kind of like soft bubble gum that you can swallow. The flavors are usually very faithful to the real fruits.
I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies. I like peaches but peach candy often ends up tasting either too much like the skin or like a bland version of the flesh but rarely an authentic combination of the two.
White Peach HiCHEW are extraordinary. They’re sweet, a little tangy and have that strange peach skin flavor which is some kind of cross between popsicle stick, rosemary sprig and Christmas tree. Though some folks say that the outside and inside have different flavor intensities, as far as I can tell it’s all the same.
Rating: 8 out of 10
When I ordered this I’d never had a real dragonfruit before. I didn’t know what they were and thought they were far too exotic to find at my local farmers market. Well, that turned out to be untrue. I did find dragonfruit at the Los Angeles Farmers Market and though it was expensive ($3.99 for one, which was about the size of a large pear) I bought it to try. What I found out is that a dragonfruit is just a prickly pear fruit (something I have in the back yard). The one I got was rather bland. It tasted like a cross between Kiwi (lightly tangy with a crunch of seeds), Fig (a fresh and clean flavor) and Musk Melon (sweet with a touch of honey) but not nearly as good as any of those on their own. Not worth the bucks.
The Dragonfruit HiCHEW package looked a bit more exotic than my real dragonfruit. The flesh of mine was white with little black seeds, the one on the wrapper had magenta flesh. Inside the foil the pieces are an intense pink with little black flecks, which I assumed would emulate the seeds. The flavor is fruity, like fruit punch, cantaloupe, peach and strawberry. It’s a little tart, but not nearly as intense as the peach from above or citrus flavor HiCHEW I usually prefer.
Though I enjoyed it, the flavor wasn’t as distinct and innovative as I’d hoped. (I guess part of me is hoping there’s a fruit out there that I’ve never tasted that will blow my mind.) The seed bits provided only a tiny bit of texture, like those in kiwi usually do. Certainly tasty enough to keep eating them, but not something I’m going to put on my list to seek out.
Rating: 6 out of 10
CamuCamu HiCHEW was a complete mystery to me. One of the things that is so compelling about tasting candies from around the world is that it exposes me to fruits, spices and flavors that I would probably never encounter otherwise. Camu camu is a bush native to the Amazon River basin and the berries (the size of grapes) don’t travel well, so the chance that I’ll run across them in the grocery story is pretty slim. They are available as frozen pulp or juice. Most of the information I could find about camu camu makes it look like it’s the next superfruit, another acai. (It can cure herpes! Detoxifies the liver, improves mood balance and promotes healthy brains.)
The pieces were white on the outside with pink from the inside kind of peeking through the not-quite-opaqueness. It’s immediately tangy: really really tart and smooth. It made my mouth water and gave me that tingle in the corners of my jaw. The flavor is a bit like cranberries, sour grapes and apples. I enjoyed it quite a bit, not really because of the flavor but because of the nicely rounded sourness that wasn’t a screaming acidity.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The final on the list is Durian HiCHEW. For those of you who don’t know what durian is, well, as far as I’m concerned you’re not missing anything. (You can read more about durian here.)
My personal experience with durian candies is limited. I’ve had a few hard candies that I mentioned here and some durian taffy another friend gave me that I couldn’t even bring myself because it smelled so bad. Neither of those, combined with what I’ve read about it, has compelled me to seek out the real thing. (They’re available frozen whole at several local markets in Los Angeles and seasonally in Chinatown.)
Oh sure, this HiCHEW looked benign, even smelled a little like vanilla. It was all white, no different colored center. Biting into it, it was a little tangy like a yogurt chew. But then the real durian flavor. It’s a mix of strawberry and mirepoix. The onion notes weren’t completely revolting, it was like eating ice cream that had been stored in a smelly freezer ... just off and not something that you’d think flavor-ologists would slave over and present to their bosses as something that should be placed in production.
If you’re durian-curious, I think candy is a great way to expose yourself to it and maybe even check it off of that omnivore list you have. As far as I’m concerned this was the best durian candy I’ve ever had.
Rating: 4 out of 10
HiCHEW use all natural colors, but I don’t think the flavors are all natural. They contain gelatin so are unsuitable for vegetarians and those who are looking for a Kosher/Halal chew.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Every once in a while a limited edition comes back. This one, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Lovers Cups, came out in 2005 along with its companion, the Reese’s Chocolate Lovers Cups. I spotted them again in stores a few weeks ago and picked them up on sale at Walgreen’s over the weekend.
The package is more peanutty looking than the traditional bright orange wrappers. It was easy to spot on the shelves as a different variety. Unlike some limited edition varieties that other candy companies make, this is a full sized version of the original - the same 1.5 ounces (.75 ounces per cup). Yes, it’s true that Reese’s Cups have gotten smaller over the years. Brad Kent has the 1.6 ounce wrapper from 1997 and the change made sometime circa 2003 based on Mike’s Candy Wrappers.
I don’t think I tried these the first time they came around, as I think that the regular ratios of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are ideal. When I opened the package I was wondering if there was any chocolate at all ... even though it said Milk Chocolate right at the top.
Once I pulled the brown fluted paper off the cup I understood the construction. There is a milk chocolate container which is filled with the Reese’s peanut butter center and that’s capped with a peanut butter candy coating.
The cup has a soft bite, slightly crumbly. It’s definitely all about the peanut butter. The chocolate base provides a little cool & creamy sweetness but very little in the way of cocoa notes. The dry and salty peanut butter center has that inimitable texture and roasted peanut flavor. I found it to be much saltier, so I looked around for sodium content for the original and found that has 130 mg per package and this limited edition version has 170 mg. (Just a note, I think everything is salty these days ... my otherwise healthy diet is rather low in sodium.) However, it does have 6 grams of protein versus 4 grams in the classic. More peanut butter means more protein and actual less fat & fewer calories ... a whole 10 fewer calories.
I enjoyed these, and certainly had no trouble finishing the package. But given the choice I’m either going to go for the regular cups or the minis (I don’t think I’m going to touch the once perfect eggs now that they’ve gone mockolate).
Friday, September 25, 2009
I’ve been on a HiCHEW spree lately. Partly because Morinaga went on a binge and released about a dozen flavors. Besides their traditional array of 6 or 7 standard flavors they have another half a dozen single flavor packs out.
HiCHEW is one of those rare Japanese candies that’s being distributed around the world. Here in Los Angeles, I can get Lemon, Mango, Strawberry or Green Apple HiCHEWs at just about any 7-11 or Cost Plus World Market. But the limited edition flavors, the seasonal and the specialty assortments are a little harder to come by and require either an order directly from Japan (I’ve been using JBox and Asian Food Grocer) or a visit to Little Tokyo to Marukai Market, Mitsuwa Marketplace or Nijiya Market.
Today I have the two from the Summer Festival (Matsuri) line: Candied Apple & Cotton Candy. (I don’t know if there were more than these two ... maybe a Kettle Corn or Deep Fried Butter version escaped my view.)
The packages are compact, they have only 7 pieces in them instead of the longer packs that have 10. Even without knowing Japanese the packages are bold and easy to understand. There’s a little picture of a man selling candied apples with some stylized fireworks above him. Then of course the big candied apple (which seems to be dipped upside down to the way I’ve always had them, the stem is a the top, not where the stick enters the apple).
On the side of the package is the little diagram of what the candy looks like. A pink outside and white core with little flecks of what I’m guessing are the candied coating bits.
It smells softly sweet, a little like milk tea. Biting into it there’s an immediate apple juice flavor then a background of sweet sugar.
The little flecks are sparkly crunches of sugar. I couldn’t quite get an actual flavor from them. It becomes quite juicy. The texture is quite smooth except for the crunches.
I don’t think I’ve had a candied apple in over 15 years, so I can’t say for sure that this is an authentic representation contained within a 1 inch by 1/2 inch block. But it was still fun.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cotton Candy HiCHEW smells simply like sweet. Pretty much the same as the Candied Apple.
It’s sweet, but not sticky sweet or cloying. It’s simply fresh. Not quite vanilla, which can be a little boozy and not quite a toasted sugar flavor either. It’s creamy without being milky. It’s clean without being flavorless. It’s a mystery wrapped in foil and stuffed with little crunchy bits.
The combination of the texture of the HiCHEW which is a taffy/gummi product that’s at once bouncy and smooth and the little cotton candy grainy bits is odd. Really nicely done cotton candy always has these little bits of grain where either the sugar didn’t melt & reform properly or moisture has caused it to recombine into a hard candy bit. Yes, it’s grainy, but the grains give way to soft sugar flavors.
It’s like cotton candy in all the right ways. And it leaves out the sticky paper cone.
It’s just so hard to describe that all I can say is that after I took the photos of the first pack I got from JBox, I made sure to pick up two more packs when I saw them in Little Tokyo.
It’s difficult to say but this is the best colorless and flavorless candy I’ve ever had. How do the Japanese do it? (I’m also still obsessed with the Juntsuyu I wrote about several years ago and add it to my order at JBoxevery time.)
Rating: 10 out of 10
Monday, July 13, 2009
The simple bar features Fudge with peanut butter nougat & peanuts wrapped in milk chocolate. Like most other limited edition bars, it’s smaller than the standard, this one is the smallest yet at 1.78 ounces.
While the bar may feel a little light, it’s pretty dense and the textures consistent throughout.
I’ve often felt like the Snickers/Milky Way/3 Musketeers nougat is more like a fluffy fudge than a nougat anyway, so this seemed like a stack of dense fudge on top of a layer of light fluffed fudge.
The peanut butter nougat layer has a light creamy color with a distinct salty hit and peanutty flavor. The peanuts studded in the fudge are distinct, a little on the soft side but crunchy and tasty.
The fudge itself has a slight but consistent grain to it, a nice chocolatey flavor and good salty/sweet balance.
The creamy chocolate coating brings it all together.
I missed the chewy caramel, but give this one its due because it is rather different from other existing bars. The salt keeps it from being cloyingly sweet like a Milky Way. Also, I noticed as I was trying to do my bites & slices that there were quite a few voids in there around the nuts. I can’t tell if this is normal or if mine was just an anomaly.
It’s quite a satisfying bar and I can see it being a big success all on its own.
Clocking in at 250 calories, honestly it doesn’t need to be bigger. (Regular bars are 2.07 ounces and 280 calories.)
This bar is supposed to be on shelves in August, but that’s what they said about the Coconut M&Ms which are actually out, so look sharp they may already be available. I’m planning to try another one when I find them.
Friday, June 19, 2009
If there’s one thing I think that’s might pull our government out of the red, it might Mars excessive registration of trademarks for their limited edition & marketing tie in candies.
For the new Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie this summer, Mars has created a line of collectible M&Ms packages that feature different characters from the Transformers pantheon plus M&Ms in Transformers-styled outfits.
The seven packages:
(Yeah, I’m missing some package images, but that’s all that came with the press kit Mars gave me ... how odd.)
What I think is most interesting about this is that the package is the only thing that’s different (besides, of course the Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms). Open up the packet of the M&Ms (mine was Bumblebee 2 of 7) and there’s no fun new design of the M imprint with a twist on the Transformers like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean Pirate Pearls, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Shrek II (basically Mega M&Ms). The Star Wars ones, though introducing Dark Chocolate M&Ms, did not have fancy imprints.
What is good news is that the packages are no smaller. With many of the limited editions what you get in addition to “specialness” is less. The Milk Chocolate Chocl-O-Bots packages have the same 1.69 ounces as the standard Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
The only truly transformed product for the movie tie-in is the Snickers Nougabot (tm). Due to physical laws of the conservation of matter, the energy required for the transformations, the bar is smaller than an unTransformerized one. *
This isn’t the first time Mars has mucked with the nougat for a movie. Back in 2007 they turned it green for Shrek but left it the same size, because really, how could a Shrek-ified candy be smaller? The traditional bar is 2.07 ounces and the Nougabot is 1.83 ounces.
The difference, otherwise, is really just the addition of Yellow #5. Considering how much some parents hate Yellow #5 (hint: enough to get it banned in Europe), it’s hard to understand why a candy which was formerly artificial coloring free would add it. Further, the Snickers website doesn’t list the Yellow 5 on the page for the Nougabot bar (sorry, can’t link directly to the page because of stupid flash & beware of annoying sounds).
So how does it taste? About the same. The flavor seemed a little “darker” but I don’t know if that was the caramel batch ... sometimes even big factory candies like Snickers can vary from day to day.
The only thing I liked about it is the same thing that I prefer about the Snickers Dark, that there’s one less bite in it. Because honestly I think that 1.83 ounces is the perfect size for a Snickers bar.
* My theory of this kind of violates the whole world of Transformers and many other fantasy, action & sci-fi movies where small things turn into big things without the perceivable addition of extreme amounts of energy. Anyway, in order to turn back and forth without loss of mass, you’d need lots of energy to turn into matter ... conversely to shrink you’d need to have a way to store a huge reservoir of energy (if you wanted to grow again) or release it. I’ve always wondered if Alice became super-dense when she shrank and puffy, aerated & light when she grew.
Monday, June 1, 2009
The cream colored packet holds 1.5 ounces of green, white and brown milk chocolate morsels flavored with coconut.
As with most limited editions, the package is a bit slighter than the regular products. This one clocks in at 1.5 ounces instead of the normal 1.69 in a Milk Chocolate M&Ms pack.
The package is cute and playful, featuring Ms. Green reclining in the sand, leaning against a coconut filled with coconut M&Ms. In the background the Yellow Peanut M&M is falling out of a coconut palm laden with more coconuts.
The contents smell much like most M&Ms, sweet and slightly woodsy but only the slightest whiff of coconut.
The individual lentils are a bit puffier than regular M&Ms, though not as big as the Peanut Butter variety.
Inside they’re just milk chocolate but with an added touch of coconut flavoring (but no actual coconut to be found in the ingredients).
The chocolate is fudgy, the flavor is a little salty and tropical but with a strange yogurty tang (kind of like Hershey’s) ... the crunch of the shell is crisp.
On the whole, it’s a nice change-up, very appealing. It’s not something that I think deserves to be made part of the regular repertoire. But see the review on Hershey’s Almond Joy Pieces.
UPDATE 9/29/2009: Mars has announced that M&MS Coconut will become part of their permanent line of candies. You can expect them in stores starting in December 2009.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
For the past few years M&Ms has linked up with blockbuster movies to make Limited Edition M&Ms. Shrek (Mega M&Ms), Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (Mint Crisp M&Ms), Pirates of the Caribbean (White Chocolate M&Ms) and Star Wars (Dark Chocolate M&Ms). This summer is no different with the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
To tie into the movie about aliens that are two kinds of robots in one (more than meets the eye) Mars is introducing Limited Edition Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms.
Not only are the candies inside of the “you’ve never tasted this before” variety, they’ve also made seven different versions of the wrapper. Pictured above is The Twins - Pack 7 of 7.
What is a strawberried peanut butter M&M?
They’re pretty much the same as the regular Peanut Butter M&Ms: a peanut butter center covered in milk chocolate and a hard candy shell ... except here the milk chocolate is strawberry flavored.
I admit at first I squintched up my nose at the idea. Then I thought about PB&J (which is ideal with concord grape and white bread on one side, but also fabulous with sunflower wheat bread and raspberry jam) and it kind of made sense.
The colors are red, brown and yellow.
There were no clever motifs on the printing, just the regular M imprint. Except the yellow ones had some red splatter on them (I’m guessing that’s red transformer motor oil).
The strawberry flavor is just that, a flavoring applied on top of the inherent flavors in the peanut butter and the chocolate. The chocolate flavor is pretty much overwhelmed by the floral and sweet berry essences. The peanut butter grounds it pretty well, it’s mostly smooth, rather soft and has a good salty pop towards the end.
They’re not my favorite M&Ms ever, but I had no problem eating the whole bag. They feel about as relevant to the movie as last year’s mint crisp was to Indiana Jones.
I’ll leave you with a photo of the Bumblebee Transformer. Because I had it (hey, I work in Hollywood, I see a lotta stuff):
Monday, May 18, 2009
With the wild popularity of the Twilight series of books by Stephanie Meyer, it was only a matter of time before the first book was made into a movie. And of course its success means a licensing agreement was reached for some candy.
Considering the fact that the story (I’m doing spoilers here) is about vampires and love, candy hearts are a natural choice.
Necco’s Sweetheart conversation hearts were released as a limited edition: Sweethearts Forbidden Fruits. Instead of just getting a box branded with a few characters on it and maybe some new sayings, these little hearts are also in different flavors themed for forbidden fruits plus have some sort of sparkling Dracula dust (pearlescent pigment) on them.
The candy seems to have been timed with the DVD release, not with the film in the theaters. Still, I never did find them in stores (perhaps I should have been looking in video stores, but I have a Netflix subscription ... which makes me think there should be a Netflix for candy).
The candy hearts don’t look terribly different from the regular Valentine’s version. Except the colors are different. The pearly coating (that looks like it’s glitter on the box) is pretty darn mild, I mistook it for chalky powder.
The flavors are:
The sayings on the hearts vary in their legibility. They seem to be lighter but clearer on the pearly ones but bold & smudgy on the uncoated.
Sayings that I was able to tease out were: Soul Mate, Bite Me, Secret, I (heart) EC, Live 4 Ever, Dazzle, With You, Lamb, Bad Guy, You R My Life, Always, I Trust You, I Love You, Forks.
Oddly enough, as noted above in the photo, some were blank. I didn’t know if this was intentional, like some sort of heart that only vampires could read. Or maybe there’s a version of the Twlight books that are choose your own adventure and I’m in charge of this heart’s message.
As far as a limited edition offering, they’re a rather bland revision of conversation hearts, but they’re rather ordinary to begin with. The execution of the lettering and the “dazzle dust” were weak. But I liked the box design (though I’ve only seen this one in person) and think that it’d be a fun item to have while watching the movie with friends. (As long as you had some snacks on hand that were actually good to eat.)
Like all Necco conversation hearts, these have gelatin in them, so are unsuitable for vegetarians/vegans/those who keep Kosher or otherwise eschew pork. (I have no idea how the Twilight vampires feel about pigs.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.