Friday, September 29, 2006
As I’m often found eating expired (or at least past prime) candy, it was a wonderful comment on the Skittles Fresh Mint post that breaks the code on the package of Mars products. Reader Dave posted the code in the comments and I’m putting it here for everyone to use.
Here’s how do figure out when that candy was made:
The date of packaging is within the first three digits of the code - the first digit is the last number of the year and the next two are the week of the year.
So, the Milky Way bar I have in front of me says:
That means it was made in the 20th week of 2006 - or sometime between May 14th to the 21st. Pretty fresh.
The Milky Way Dark I have says:
That means it was made in the 14th week of 2006 - or sometime between April 2nd to the 9th. Not bad.
This seems to work with Canadian Mars products too, as this is what the Mars Dark says:
That means it was made the 35th week of 2005 ... hmm, sometime between August 26th and September 2nd. That’s a little old. But I it must have been stored properly as it was still fresh and tasty.
The week of the year thing is a little tricky unless you have a payroll calendar nearby, so a quick and easy way to approximate the month is to divide the week by four (it gets less reliable the higher the number because there’s usually a fraction of a week left in the month).
The UK Mars bar I have simply has an expiration date on it (12-11-06). I’m not sure if that’s the European date style (November 12th, 2006) or the American (December 11, 2006) but at least neither of them have passed yet.
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this array of bars, but here it is. Readers write in and ask what sorts of American candy they should take with them as hostess gifts or ship to friends overseas as quintessential American bars. The Milky Way is right up there, as one of the earliest bars that Mars developed (1923).
It’s a bar that I should love, after all, it’s supposed to be a malted milkshake in a bar.
There are several iterations of this bar both here and abroad. I got a hold of the American versions of both the milk chocolate and dark versions and the UK Mars (milk chocolate) and Canadian Mars Dark (dark chocolate).
The bar is called Milky Way in the United States but everywhere else on the planet it’s known as the Mars. (There was once an American Mars bar, but that’s since been renamed Snickers Almond ... there is a bar called Milky Way in the rest of the world too, but that’s like the American 3 Musketeers bar.)
I haven’t had a Milky Way bar in about 10 years. I’ve always thought they were too sweet, but after breaking one open the smell of malt was really compelling, making me doubt the wisdon of my embargo. The nougat here is the highlight, a medium color of fluffy, slightly grainy nougat covered with a stripe of caramel and covered in milk chocolate.
The flavors go nicely together and the caramel has a slight salty note to it that balances out the very sweet and only passably smooth chocolate. The malt is earthy and brings flavor to the bar.
The UK bar known as Mars has a similar cocoa colored and grainy, fluffed nougat covered with a stripe of glossy caramel and then milk chocolate. The caramel here was noticeably smoother, but the maltiness was much more subdued and replaced with a milky flavor.
The American bar is on the left and the British on the right. There was a difference in size, the British slightly larger at 62.5 grams over America’s 58.1 grams. The UK bar as slightly longer and a little taller.
Recently the standard bars started to appear in darker coats. Back in 1936, based on the success of the Milky Way bar, Mars introduced the Forever Yours bar. It remained in the Mars product line until 1979 when it was discontinued. Customers complained and the Milky Way Dark bar was introduced in 1989 and then the name changed to Milky Way Midnight in 2000.
Milky Way Midnight - beautiful dark bar with little folds of chocolate on the top. The dark chocolate has a little reddish tone to it. Inside is a fluffy white (with a yellow tone) nougat and a stripe of caramel. Smells slightly smoky and very sweet. The caramel dominates in this bar and its sweet stickiness isn’t completely offset by the smooth but otherwise flavorless dark chocolate.
Mars Dark - a stunning dark bar with glossy dark brown chocolate. Inside is a fluffy white nougat (with a slight yellow tone) and a stripe of caramel. The nougat on this one seemed slightly grainier but still sweet and only slightly less overwhelmed by the caramel. The chocolate, though pretty still doesn’t add much of a flavor counterbalance for the whole bar just a smooth texture.
The wrapper on the Mars Dark bar is a bit of a blunder, if you ask me, as it seems to indicate milk chocolate by its lighter, creamy color over the black package of the Mars bar.
So, you’re wondering what the difference is? The American one is on the left and the Canadian on the right. The Canadian bar is larger, by .1 grams. The ingredients list is virtually identical as well. The only difference on the labeling is that the Canadian one lists the true trans fat content at .1 grams (American food does not have to be labeled if it’s less than .5 grams).
The important thing to note is that the milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions differ in more than their coats. The nougat is markedly different. The dark bars are missing the malt component, and instead have the vanilla nougat (that’s found in the American Snickers Almond bar). The difference between the American and foreign bars isn’t that marked and I think that fans should be happy with either when they’re traveling. I give all bars a 6 out of 10.
Overall, I wish that the Milky Way Midnight or Mars Dark really was just a dark chocolate version of the Milky Way/Mars bar - I think the combo of dark chocolate and malted goodness would be great. But Mars must not believe that (I’m not sure if the Forever Yours had the malted nougat or not ... honestly I think it’s wrong to muck with too many ingredient variations and try to stick the same name on it). I might pick one of these out of a bowl of miniatures, but I’ll stick to the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar as my favorite nougat candy bar for now.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This isn’t the first time Skittles has introduced a mint assortment. They did it back in 2002 (if I recall correctly) and sold them in little plastic containers instead of the normal bags and charged twice as much for half the amount of product. I tried them, and actually liked them, but just couldn’t pony up a dollar for a little box.
This is where buying stuff at the 99 Cent Only Store gets me into trouble. I don’t know if this is a leftover from 2002 or they’re reintroducing the Fresh Mint Skittles. They seem pretty fresh (if someone knows how to decode the batch numbers, please help me figure out what 349BX3 means). They come in five flavors - white, green, aqua, turquoise and light green.
White - tastes like a mint combo of spearmint and peppermint. Like toothpaste.
Green - tastes like toothpaste
Aqua - tastes like toothpaste
Turquoise - tastes like toothpaste
Light Green - wait, this might be wintergreen.
As a chewy mint, they’re fun and refreshing. If they’re different flavors, they’ve done a great job of making sure that none is too distinct so that you can’t combine them instead of picking through the flavors.
I’d actually buy these again. They’re pretty and very agreeable for most purposes. I’ll probably put them in a dish on my desk - a good little pick me up throughout the day. They’re the first Skittles you can eat with your morning coffee (well, I suppose you could have the Ice Cream ones, if you wanted to start the day wrong). If they’re four years old, I have to say they keep really well. I suspect it’s possible because the nutrition label doesn’t mention trans fat content as they’re now required to. Yeah, I’m gonna guess that they don’t make these anymore.
The package advertises that they’re only 5 calories per piece.
Friday, September 22, 2006
M&Ms has launched another online promotion for their new ‘Dark’ Chocolate M&Ms.
It’s a little game that’s actually pretty fun and very well done. It’s a treasure hunt where you search an original painting for visual puns that are the titles of “Dark Movies”.
The style of the painting reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch
It’s flash based and kind of resource intensive (if you’re on dial-up ... anyone still on dial-up?). You move around the image and click when you think you’ve identified a pun and input the title into the little box. The box glows green when you get it right and the pun fades. You don’t have to complete the game all at once, you can save it for later by inputting an email address.
There are 50 movie titles. Check the comments section here if you want to cheat and see the list of titles (you still have to match them up with the images on your own).
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
I’ve avoided Cocoavia since it was introduced last year. There’s something disconcerting about selling candy as health food in my mind. I don’t disagree that things like chocolate can have beneficial elements in them, but the fat and calories and lack of other positive characteristics makes it seem like we’re kidding ourselves when we believe that chocolate is good for us.
But all things in moderation, eh?
I’ve only seen the bars at the store, so I wasn’t particularly interested in what appeared to be a Dove bar with a lot of health benefits. But then I found a product I hadn’t seen before, Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Inside this large but light box are five one ounce packets of dark chocolate covered almonds. I usually buy Trader Joe’s mix of dark & milk chocolate covered almonds, but these were in individual packets, which is a nice feature and a quick glance at the box showed that they were even fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Each packet has an ounce, which is about 13 chocolate covered almonds. The package is appealing, with luxurious dark colors and some sassy photos of the candy within. The chocolate is glossy and dark though it doesn’t really smell very compelling. It melts readily on the tongue and though the package says semisweet, it’s not sticky, sickly sweet at all and buttery smooth. It has a nice smoky and complex flavor without much acidity. There’s a little floral note to it that gave it a little lightness. The almonds are superb, crunchy and fresh and a decent size.
I was really surprised at how good these were. Though I still don’t subscribe to the whole “eat these for a healthy heart” thing, I will definitely finish the box. The packages provide a good degree of portion control and each bag is only 140 calories. It also offers 3 grams of fiber and protein, 20% of your calcium, 4% of your iron and 10% of your Vitamin E, Folic Acid, B6, Vitamin C and B12. The almonds contain essential fatty acids and of course the chocolate has cocoa flavanols that recent studies are showing can have a positive effect on cardiovascular disease risks. Even though there are all these things on the box and the marketing that are saying how healthy these are, I’d prefer to think that they’re at least not a detriment to your health when eaten in responsible quantities.
So, if you’re on a restricted diet and are looking for a little treat that won’t throw you off whack, I’m a huge believer in the nut and chocolate combo as a satisfying sweet. (Not nearly as bad for you as, say, a dish of ice cream.) The benefit over any old chocolate covered nuts is this proprietary Cocoapro (tm) process that’s supposed to pack more flavanols in there that can lower bad cholesterol levels. The price is, well, pricey (about $16 a pound) but try to find them on sale.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
I know a lot of folks have seen the happy news that the angsty painting, The Scream, was recovered in good condition in Norway. But what about the reward that M&Ms pledged as part of their kickoff of the new M&Ms Dark product?
Mars is still coordinating with the police in Oslo and are waiting for verification of the authenticity of the painting and how the sizable reward of 40,000 packages of Dark M&Ms can be delivered.
There was no word if the actual painting had been defaced with a hopscotching M&M in the background ... my guess is not.
I’m glad to see that M&Ms plans to honor their word in the contest, unlike these folks who promised a years supply of Kissables and have never announced a winner. (Or maybe the competition is still open, so feel free to submit an answer.)
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
There’s a favorite candy here in the United States, it’s called M&Ms ... or maybe they’re called M&Ms, I’m never quite sure about how to make implied plurals singular.
M&Ms are not unique, they have a similar candy product in the UK and other former parts of the crown called Smarties. And of course there are plenty of knock-offs, including Hersheyettes, Jots, Rocklets, Sun Drops and Garfield’s Chocobites. There are quite a few legends about how M&Ms and Smarties were invented, but suffice to say that they exist and that’s the important part.
Milk Chocolate M&Ms
You’re not crazy, they were once called Plain M&Ms, but in 2000 they shifted their name to Milk Chocolate M&Ms.
A little bit of trivia and history. The Ms in M&M stand for Forrest Mars and R. Bruce Murrie. Forrest Mars left his fathers candy company and partnered with Murrie to create the M&M. It took some help, which came from Murrie’s father, who ran the Hershey Chocolate company at the time. The technology behind the manufacture of M&Ms and even the chocolate itself came from Hershey’s factories. In the 60s Mars starting making their own chocolate and no longer needed to order it from Hershey.
Red M&Ms were discontinued in 1976 because of a scare with a food dye called Red Dye #2 (which was not used in M&Ms). At that time the colors in the M&M pack were: Green, Orange, Yellow, Light Brown & Dark Brown. The Red M&M returned in 1985, at first as part of the Holiday color mix then in the regular mix.
Overwhelmingly consistent in size, which is a credit to M&Ms production line choosing peanuts that are all the same size. The crunchy candy shell and slightly smoky tasting nuts combine well but overshadow the chocolate a smidge. But the chocolate provides a mellow sweetness and a creaminess during the final stages of chewing. I do get a bad peanut every once in a while, but usually not one every bag.
M&Ms were not a blazing success when they were launched, though they were well received. The trick for Mars was to figure out how to reach both their intended consumers (children) and the decision makers (parents). M&Ms were initially sold to the military during WWII, but Mars thought they were the perfect kids candy. Kids loved them, they just couldn’t convince their parents to buy them. It wasn’t until they hit upon their slogan, “melts in your mouth, not in your hands” that parents caught on that it was a less messy chocolate candy for kids. The rest is history.
Really, this is the perfect M&M, as far as I’m concerned. They almonds might not be top notch as they’re often small, but they’re fresh and crunchy and provide a good backdrop to the very sweet and slightly grainy chocolate.
Peanut Butter M&Ms
These are very nice and satisfying, but I find them a little greasy and smoky tasting.
One of the interesting bits of trivia about M&Ms Peanut Butter is that there was a large lawsuit between Hershey & Mars when they first came out. Hershey accused Mars of trying to make them look like Reese’s Pieces - the packaging was the same color, the format of the bag, the type was in brown, etc. Now you’ll notice that the color is slightly shifted away from the Reese’s Orange (tm) to a reddish color.
The look of these is terribly inconsistent, which strikes me as a little odd since you’d think they’d have more control over how big the crisp centers are than peanuts. The colors also weren’t quite the same, the green was a little light and the red was a little thin looking. I wasn’t able to find the American Crispy M&Ms, so I bought some Canadian ones. So the chocolate on these is slightly more milky tasting, which is an interesting, malty complement to the crispy center. A little sweet, a little bland.
Dovetailing with the earlier issue with Reese’s & Peanut Butter M&Ms, you’ll notice that the Crispy M&Ms are positioned to rival the Nestle Crunch Bar, which is really all they are, a little Crunch bar in a shell. The light blue and use of the Red M&M echoes the Nestle Crunch colors.
Dark Chocolate M&Ms
These have a smoky and darker flavor than the milk M&Ms, but also a little note of coconut. The ingredients also list skim milk, milkfat and lactose, so I’m not sure how they’re considered “dark chocolate.” They’re gorgeously shiny and consistent, so consider me tempted when they’re sitting in front of me. There’s currently an additional reward of 2 million Dark M&Ms being offered for the return of The Scream.
White Chocolate M&Ms “Pirate Pearls” (Limited Edition)
Yup, white chocolate in a candy shell. They’re nice enough, but just too sweet for me. They’re okay when you eat them in combination with other M&Ms (especially the Dark ones), but I’m not sure I’ll buy these again and I won’t protest if they don’t end up as a permanent item.
Other versions of M&Ms over the years: Dulce de Leche (2001), Mega (still around), Minis (still around), Spec-tacular Eggs (seasonal), Mint (seasonal) and of course many color promotions and movie tie ins. Then there are other M’azing things done with them that I’ve never gotten on board with.
There has never been an M&Ms gum ... but I’m not saying it won’t happen.
Have you had enough of M&Ms? If not, check out these scans of knock-offs, Brad Kent’s wrapper collection (you’ll have to search for M&Ms to find them all), how they’re made, some more history, Candy Critic’s M&M Destruction Project, a Century of Candy Bars (there are pictures of M&Ms wrappers through the years) and if you’re still obsessed, join the M&M Collectors Club (they collect the merchandise, not the actual candies).
The product line gets a 9 out of 10. I might not like every variety, but they’re a great product and really do make snacking fun.
I hesitate to call this a new contest, but M&Ms is running a promotion for the new Dark M&Ms. On the second anniversary of the theft of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” from Oslo, M&Ms announced their commitment to finding the painting by adding to the current reward of $2 million. Now the reward has an additional bonus of 2 million M&Ms.
In case you were wondering how many M&Ms that is, well, it’s a lot. 2.2 tons. So if you’ve got that Scream painting sitting around taking up room in your house, just know that by returning it you’re going to have to make a lot more room for 40,000 packages of Dark M&Ms. Of course if you’re the one returning it, you’re gonna go to prison. But fret not! You can make your very own art with M&Ms.
Here’s the press release on the subject that includes information about consumer attitudes towards dark chocolate.
UPDATE: Holy Moly! The Scream and Madonna (also stolen at the same time) were found! They were found by the police who have been systematically looking for the paintings ... no word yet if M&Ms is gonna send those couple of tons of candy to the cops.
UPDATED UPDATE: M&Ms has responded!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.