Friday, September 13, 2013
The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms are a Target exclusive this year (just as the Candy Corn M&Ms were also exclusive their first year at WalMart). The package is cute and was easy to spot at the store. It features the orange M&M character looking like a pumpkin.
The flavor is not pumpkin pie itself, but the spices used to turn pumpkin custard into a seasonal dessert. Traditional pumpkin spices are a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, and/or mace. The ingredients for these M&Ms are vague, just listing “artificial and natural flavorings” at the end of the list.
The pieces are, for the most part, the mega size. They’re larger than a standard M&M and come in three colors in the package: dark brown, orange and green.
The flavor is overwhelmingly cinnamon. Though they smell like chocolate, they taste like chocolate milk sipped in a room with too many Christmas-scented candles. The candy shell is crispy and the milk chocolate center is, well, a bit fudgy and grainy. I think I prefer the size of the regular M&Ms, since the chocolate is merely passable. In this format the amount of sugar easily overwhelms the chocolate.
I didn’t actually notice that much of a difference from the previous limited edition Cinnamon M&Ms from two years ago. Maybe a little more note of clove. I would have preferred more of the nutmeg and ginger spices than the Tic Tac notes of cinnamon candies.
Pumpkin Spice seems to be a pretty hot flavor these days (though the Hershey’s Kisses version has been around since 2008), a lot of seasonal candies are being released (see list below of previous reviews). If you like Spiced Chai or cinnamon in general, it’s a great time to pick up this twist on old candy favorites. If not, wait a few months and the Candy Cane and Egg Nog versions will emerge.
Finally, with all the crazy flavors of M&Ms that have come out over the years, I’m a loss to why they’d go with something like peanut butter and jelly before coffee.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Lillie Belle Farms of Oregon has introduced the Lillie Belle Stella Blue Milk Chocolate which is a dark milk chocolate base of 50% cocoa solids mixed with Rogue Creamery’s Powdered Blue Heaven Cheese. Lillie Belle has been making a Smokey Blue Cheese truffle for some years, so the idea of a solid bar should not be a shock to anyone.
The bar’s packaging and name is a full homage to the Grateful Dead. The ingredients include organic chocolate, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, powdered buttermilk, powdered nonfat milk, blue cheese (made from raw milk, salt and penicillin bacteria).
The bar is beautifully molded. It has an ideal set of ratios, though the bar is not segmented (which I usually prefer) - it’s thick but not difficult to snap apart, but it also has a small footprint so the bar doesn’t take up much space in my bag.
The bar is less smoky smelling than I expected, it really just smells like a chocolate bar with a strong woodsy and less sweet/milky note. The melt is excellent, the texture is smooth with only the slightest grain to the cocoa solids. After the immediate chocolate notes, there is a hit of sharpness ... I can’t quite say that it’s salty so perhaps it’s umami.
There’s no cheesy component to it, it doesn’t have that sort of moldy smell or sort of metallic note that some blue cheese have. Overall, it’s just a less sweet, slightly savory and dark milk chocolate bar.
I enjoyed it, especially since it was both a milk chocolate bar and pretty dark. I don’t know if I would reach for this regularly but I do have to say that it mixes well with nuts but not with other sorts of candy that has more berry notes to it.
Since the ingredients list is so small and it’s all bean to bar, I feel pretty good about the ethical sourcing. The bar is made in a facility that also processes nuts, soy and of course it contains milk.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
It’s great when friends go traveling and bring back candy. My friend Amy (who often spits things out and then gives me her opinion) went to Tokyo and Kyoto. She was lucky enough to be there for the start of Cherry Blossom Season, which means that the limited edition KitKat Sakura are also on store shelves.
Sakura is a popular flavor in Japan. What that flavor is, is kind of a mystery to me. It’s not cherry or the orange blossom equivalent of orange. It’s just a soft flavor that’s more like almond to me, if other candies I’ve had are indicative.
This particular Sakura Matcha KitKat package is a little different from others I’ve had. It’s kind of like a King Size. The box is a little longer, and on the back is a little “to and from” space where you can add a personalize message.
Inside the package are three individually wrapped pairs of KitKat fingers. They’re not large, a bit smaller than the American version, as a matter of fact. They’re only 68 calories each (sorry, I couldn’t figure out the exact weight since it was all in Japanese).
It’s a white confection outside that’s flavored (and colored) with green tea. It’s not a very good white confection, a little greasy and waxy and very sweet. The green tea notes are not as bitter as some earlier varieties of matcha candies I’ve had from Nestle Japan. In this version, the Sakura adds a bit of a cereal flavor to it, maybe a hint of cinnamon and brown rice and a much lighter vanilla note.
As a whole, it was okay. It’s not a KitKat I would buy for myself regularly, even if I was excited that the trees were in bloom. I’ve had a few other varieties over the years, earlier versions were just cherry blossom with no green tea.
This is also what I’d call a gift variety, as I highly doubt people just go out looking for Japanese horseradish flavored candies. I love wasabi, but it belongs in my mashed potatoes and on my tuna and avocado roll.
The box in this version is very presentational, with stylized block print wasabi roots on the front. The box opens up to reveal 12 small, individually wrapped finger pairs of the candies.
Like most Japanese KitKats, the packaging is exquisite.
The flavor is, well, sweet. For the most part it’s a bland white confection, equally greasy and waxy as most other Nestle white KitKats. In this version there’s a peppery bite to it, like arugula or horseradish. It’s mild but noticeable. It was too strange, but also didn’t add anything to the experience. I think wasabi works best with starchy foods (mashed potatoes or rice), not with fatty foods like chocolate (or mock chocolate).
This is a novelty, not an extraordinary new flavor combination. I’m all for the combination of sweet and savory (umami), but this isn’t it.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Mars often teases new products months in advance, they announced the Milky Way Limited Edition French Vanilla back in August 2012. It’s supposed to hit store shelves in February, but last summer there were quite a few readers who reported it on shelves already (which could have been test marketing in select cities).
The wrapper is lighter in color, even lighter than the Milky Way Caramel bar, so it should be easy to spot on shelves. The bar is a little smaller, too, at 1.72 ounces instead of 1.84.
It does smell a lot like vanilla. Some of the vanilla notes are authentic, fragrant and round with a little alcoholic rum note to it. But part of it has a fake sweet note as well, which could be an artificial flavor in there.
The construction of the bar is the same as all the American Milky Ways, a nougat base with a stripe of caramel on the top and then a swirly coating of milk chocolate. I found the ratio of caramel and nougat a little off, I seem to recall more caramel than these had.
The vanilla flavor is potent but also seems to heighten the sweetness of the nougat, the caramel and the very milky milk chocolate. The whole thing is sticky and though I found it to be passable, it’s not a bar I might eat again. Cover it in dark chocolate and throw some almonds in there, and I think we’d actually have something great. I might be more satisfied with the ratios if these were the minis. Otherwise, with some strong tea, I thought it was a nice treat.
I’m still unclear if these are out in stores at the moment or if they’ll show up. Mars also said that they were introducing Twix Sugar Cookie minis over the 2012 Christmas holiday, but I can’t find anyone who actually found them in stores. This flavor is more distinctive than the French Vanilla 3 Musketeers that came out back in 2007.
Mars is working on ethical cacao sourcing, starting with their Dove line in the United States. The bar contains soy, eggs and dairy and may contain traces of peanuts. There was no gluten statement on the wrapper. The samples I got were made in Canada, I have no idea if the final version will also be made there.
(I apologize for not getting better shots of the bars. I got two as samples in October but both were smashed in transit. I did my best to find a good angle on the best looking bar. I didn’t want to wait for them to show up in stores, as Los Angeles seems to get limited edition Mars items much later than the rest of the country.)
Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Their Limited Edition Egg Nog Nips variety caught me by surprise, mostly because I didn’t know they made seasonal versions.
The box is the same format and size as the standard Coffee Nips. It holds 4 ounces and sells for a little over a buck at grocery and drug store chains. I felt like the box could have held another ounce or two, but you know that whole “settling may occur during transit” may come into play. Each piece is individually wrapped, and the whole box is also sealed in a clear cellophane wrapper to protect the contents.
The pieces are large and nicely domed. They don’t smell like much, so it wasn’t until I popped one in my mouth that I got a sense of what was different.
They’re sweet and smooth with a slow and satisfying dissolve. The creamy flavor has a strong milky flavor mixed with notes of nutmeg and a touch of clove and cinnamon plus vanilla. The custardy candy is pleasant and isn’t too cloying. I might have preferred a little stronger kick of spice to it, as it is it’s not that different from the Butter Rum Nips. (Though a hint of rum might be nice, too.)
A gingerbread version probably isn’t that far behind.
Made on equipment that also processes peanuts. Gluten free. Contains dairy, soy and coconut.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
They say, “Combining the irresistible tastes of chocolate, rich and creamy caramel and apple, this new item brings a unique, new flavor to trick-or-treating, decorating and snacking.”
I had a tough time finding them in Los Angeles, but spotted them at CVS in Pennsylvania last week and managed to stash a bag in my luggage before leaving.
The Minis part of the Mars line is rather interesting. They’re far smaller than a snack sized bar, taken out of the mylar wrappers, you could easily tuck them in little fluted cups and put them in a candy box.
Each piece is .3 ounces (or 8.6 grams) and about 38 calories. They’re .8 inches square (a little shorter than a cube, about .7 inches tall). A suggested serving size is 5 pieces for 190 calories.
The big difference between the mini and the regular bar is the proportion of chocolate. The chocolate here is a thin veneer, just enough shell to hold the fillings.
The candies look no different inside than a normal Milky Way Mini. (Not like those Shrek Snickers which had green nougat.) This is comforting, as the candy smells more like apple pie a la mode than green apple Jolly Ranchers.
The scent has a light touch of milk and sweetness along with a hint of cinnamon and baked apple. The caramel and nougat are distinct layers. The nougat is a little on the mellow spice size, with notes of nutmeg and chai. The caramel seems to be where the apple flavors come from, more like apple cider and apple peels than an artificial apple flavor but it’s exceptionally mild.
Of all the formats for Milky Way, I prefer the mini, as it’s not too sweet and three can satisfy me quickly. I was not looking forward to this version, but was pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that I thought they were transcendent and there are far better flavor combinations that I think would translate well to this, like Chai Spice.
For a Green Halloween for ethically sourced and clean ingredients, this candy doesn’t make the grade. Mars is making great strides towards using certified chocolate, starting in the US with their Dove line, but has not rolled it out in the Milky Way line in the US as yet.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.