Thursday, November 11, 2010
Starburst launched a new line of gummis back in 2008 called GummiBursts. They’re a very firm gummi disk filled with a flavored syrup. A year later they introduced a sour version, which sports a tangy grainy coating. Neither is a huge step forward in goo filled gummis, a product which has been around for at least twenty years. The best selling point I can note is that they’re available in small bags of 1.5 ounces and have a very low caloric density - at only 140 calories a bag which is 93 calories per ounce (2 grams of protein, too).
Starburst GummiBurst Flavor Duos are the newest version. They feature a different flavor for the filling from the gummi. The four flavor combinations are: strawberry-watermelon, cherry-fruit punch, green apple-strawberry and lemon-cherry.
The package contained ten little candies. As far as I can tell, I only got three of the four flavor combinations. (And I didn’t feel like chasing down another bag.)
I liked the smell, it was like fresh cotton candy and strawberries. Sweet and a little fruity and nothing plastic or artificial about it.
Lemon-Cherry - the outside was yellow along the edges but the red goo center made it look orange for the most part. The lemon gummi is soft with a distinct bite to it that’s chewy but not completely bouncy like some gummies can be. The lemon flavor is ordinary but intense enough to overshadow the center. It’s tangy and has a well rounded citrus flavor. The goo in the center is sticky and didn’t taste like much except perhaps sour with a light note of wild cherry on some of them. Of the flavors I tried, I liked this one best.
Strawberry-Watermelon - this one has a lot more definition. The outer strawberry gummi is quite tart and otherwise has only a light strawberry flavor. The gooey center is a throat-searing sweet and artificial watermelon flavor. It actually goes pretty well together and I’m not usually a fan of watermelon candies.
Cherry-Fruit Punch - the cherry gummi shell is sweet and tart without much cherry flavor. The fruit punch center has only a slight difference in flavor, more to the tropical side of things. The whole piece is a bit sweeter than the others.
I’m learning that I’m not that fond of goo filled gummis and these are no exception. They’re interesting combinations (though I’ve only tried 3 out of 4 of them) but not really up my alley as far as flavors go. They’re better than the originals, at least in my opinion, but that may just be the flavor assortment was more to my liking.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
While I didn’t get to attend the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago back in May, Mars was kind enough to send me some samples of their candies that haven’t hit store shelves yet. The one that got the most buzz (after Pretzel M&Ms, naturally) was the new Snickers Peanut Butter Squared.
First, it’s a new product in the Snickers line, not a limited edition. It’ll come out in December, but they’re obviously gearing up for a big push if they were distributing fully packaged samples more than six months in advance.
There are a lot of things that are different about this bar. The packaging is a little flatter, shorter and wider than the standard Snickers “log” package. The yellow background reminded me of the recently discontinued Snickers Cruncher.
Inside the package are two squares. See, it’s not even a bar, it’s two pieces. They’re 1.25 inches square and about .75 inches high. There’s a nice ripple on the top. They’re nicely made, beautiful to look at when placed on a plate and enjoyed like a fine chocolate.
What’s different isn’t just that this is a smaller candy. It’s 1.78 ounces total (.89 ounces per piece) and the package says that you can “twist wrap” to keep the second piece fresh. It might be about portion control. There are only 250 calories in this package compared to the 2.07 ounce classic Snickers that clocks in at 271 calories. So you’re paying more, perhaps gaining the ability to stop halfway.
But it’s not just the shape that’s different. Inside is a radical change for Snickers lovers. It’s a base of peanut butter nougat layered with a dry but dense peanut butter layer then a thin layer of caramel all covered in milk chocolate. So the caramel is minimized and the peanut butter portion is upped ... but it feels like there are fewer actual peanuts.
It smells just like a Snickers. Biting into it, it’s not as thick and the layers aren’t as distinct. The caramel is just a thin layer that’s a little tougher than the others. The peanut butter and nougat weren’t very distinct. It was a little salty and very peanutty. The chocolate was creamy. But there was something just kind of bland for me. I missed the decadent chew of the caramel, especially because it combined with the other flavors to create something new and wonderful in the mouth. However, there’s a much more intense peanut butter experience; the texture is far smoother than, say, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but not quite creamy.
I had two of these to try, so I got a pretty good sense of them. If you were a fan of the Snickers Nut ‘n’ Butter Crunch or Snickers Fudge, which I consider drier bars because they don’t have caramel, then this might be a good substitution. I actually prefer the Snickers Xtreme, which goes the other direction. It’s a bar with just caramel and peanuts. It was a limited edition item that will return in September 2010.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The newest variety of M&Ms is just hitting the stores. Pretzel M&Ms were introduced at last year’s NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) show. I love the fact that they brought back the skittish and paranoid Orange M&M character for these, he used to be the mascot for the discontinued Crispy M&Ms (which also came in a blue package).
The new product is just what it sounds like: a salty pretzel sphere covered in milk chocolate then the colored M&M candy shell.
The little X-ray of the M&M shows the pretzel inside him. Well, it shows a twisted pretzel, what’s inside here is pretzel nugget.
Though the bulk of the package is similar to the Peanut ones, the weight is not. There were 16 candies in my package but it weighs only 1.14 ounces. (Milk Chocolate M&Ms are 1.69 ounces.) The front of the package has the new “what’s inside” nutritional info: 150 calories. That’s a great tally - a respectable and filling snack but not so many calories to displace a nutritionally balanced diet. The back of the package says that there’s 30% less fat than the average of the leading chocolate brands. This appears true, there are 132 calories per ounce, where most of the chocolate candies I review are between 142 and 160 calories per ounce. The pretzels are a lot of air and of course made of flour, a carbohydrate.
The candies vary in size; they’re about 2/3 to 3/4 of an inch in diameter. They come in five colors: Red, Green, Blue, Brown and Orange. (Milk Chocolate and Peanut M&Ms also come in Yellow.) As near-spheres they’re vexing for snacking at my desk. When I tried to line them up and separate by color they just rolled around ... the Milk Chocolate obloid spheres definitely have the advantage there.
They’re crunchy, a little salty and sweet. The crunches are different - there’s the candy shell which is light and sweet, then the malty and salty pretzel center. The milk chocolate gives a little cocoa and milk flavor along with a creamy note.
I didn’t love them completely, I don’t know what was missing for me, maybe it was that there wasn’t enough chocolate for me. I also prefer dark chocolate on my pretzels to milk chocolate. Still, they’re a great addition to the line and more snack than dessert. They’re an excellent movie candy since they’re not too filling, have a savory and sweet mix and of course the are easy to share. They should be placed in every movie concession stand for the summer season.
Pretzel M&Ms are available at WalMart now, they’ll be in wider distribution starting in June 2010.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The cornerstone of an Easter Basket is the chocolate bunny. There are many to choose from and most often it’s about how it looks. I picked up three foil wrapped milk chocolate rabbits of similar size for a little comparison.
All were about the same price, between $3.99 and $4.49 (though prices vary from store to store, I picked all mine up at Target before the good sales started). All are American made, all are milk chocolate and all are Kosher. In the running are: Cadbury Dairy Milk Solid Milk Chocolate Bunny, Hershey’s Bliss Hollow Smooth & Creamy Milk Chocolate Bunny and Dove Fairy Bunny Silky Smooth Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny.
Each is similar in size, thought the Cadbury bunny is solid so weighs a little more. Though they come in boxes, I’m not sure they’d go into the Easter basket that way. So here they are out of their boxes. I found all of them to be overpackaged, especially considering how many chocolate rabbits (Lindt is most notable) that are sold simply wrapped in foil without a box or plastic form shield.
Side by side it’s easy to see how the different milk chocolates are vastly different colors. Cadbury is the lightest and has an orange hue. Hershey’s Bliss is the darkest and from my reading of the ingredients and nutrition label it has the least fat (more milk solids and sugar).
They’re all three dimensional bunnies with nice molds. They were all pretty much flawless out of their wrappers as well.
The Cadbury Dairy Milk Solid Milk Chocolate Bunny is made in the United States by Hershey’s from imported “chocolate crumb” from Cadbury’s facilities in the UK (at least that’s what I learned via the NYTimes in 2007).
The ingredients are different than the UK Cadbury Dairy Milk. There is no additional vegetable fat in there, but it does contain PGPR, an additional emulsifier often used in less expensive chocolate. (If you’re curious about the differences between the UK and US Dairy Milk, check out this head to head comparison.)
Sugar, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR, natural and artificial flavor
They all came with a crazy amount of packaging, the Cadbury bunny’s box was more than two inches taller than the rabbit inside. But it’s a generous size, a full six ounces which at the selling price of $4.49 it was the best value of the bunch.
The rabbit is a rather realistic representation, no anthropomorphism by the designers. It’s a classic sitting rabbit with high ears. The foil is great, the only one of the bunch that has a design on both sides. (The wrapping style is kind of like a chocolate coin, the two sides are a heavy printed foil and have a seam all the way around.) The fact that he could be seated facing either way was a great feature, especially if you’re designing an Easter basket for a particular tableau.
My Cadbury bunny was soft, even though my house was a cool 68 degrees. Biting off the ears was pretty easy, but after that I had to take a knife to him and give him a few quick jabs to break him up.
The chocolate has strong caramelized sugar and yogurty dairy notes. The texture is sticky as it melts though not as sweet as I expected at first. The cocoa is mild and woodsy ... it’s the classic dairy milk chocolate I think most people are familiar with. It’s a little grainy and gritty.
I was a little irritated at how hard it was to eat, requiring a knife or the unsanitary gnawing. But he was lovely. Here are some more shots I took if you want to see some other views:
The Hershey’s Bliss Hollow Smooth & Creamy Milk Chocolate Bunny was a little confusing. There were two products on the shelves at Target from Hershey’s (here’s where I picked all of these up). There was this Bliss bunny, which I thought was a good comparison to the Dove one, and then an identically molded one that was just “Hershey’s” but with a blue bow instead of a lavender one (I photographed the back of the package for later comparison).
The Hershey’s Bliss one has no PGPR like the Cadbury or classic Hershey’s recipe, but of course a price tag to match (in this case a dollar more).
The Bliss bunny wins for the least amount of packaging, if you can call this winning. Inside the box was a formed plastic piece that went over the front-facing side of the bunny but like the others, there was a lot of empty space in that box.
Bliss is a relatively new chocolate line from Hershey’s, it was introduced barely two years ago with a parallel line of products and pricing structure to the Dove line. The packaging and foil wrapping doesn’t quite rise to the level of elegance or chic sophistication that Lindt, Godiva and Dove have been perfecting for so long. But it’s what’s inside that matters ... well, in the case of hollow chocolate bunnies, it’s what’s inside the foil that matters, the really inside is nothingness.
Bliss was the lightest bunny in the bunch at only 4 ounces.
The shape is of a bunny on its hind legs, front legs kind of up in a begging position. She’s not carrying a basket or anything. The molding is nice, the details are pretty good, especially on the ears. I don’t care much for the design of it but the shape is good. It feels substantial, which is important to kids. It’s not easy to put a thumb through the side or anything.
The Bliss bunny had an excellent sheen. It broke nicely and wasn’t too soft. The bunny itself had thick sides, but not too thick that breaking it was difficult. (I actually like hollow bunnies more as I get older - I like the illusion or size but the ease of portioning.)
The chocolate was smooth and creamy, with a rich milky flavor with a little Hershey’s twang, but not too much. It’s sweet but not throat-searing and not at all gritty or grainy. I liked it much better than the Hershey’s rabbit I had last year and better than the Bliss foil wrapped pieces.
Here are more photos to give you a sense of the scale, wrapping and molding:
The final rabbit is the Dove Fairy Bunny Silky Smooth Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny. This one diverges from the classic rabbit shape and goes a little into the weird territory. This bunny has fat, fat butterfly wings (I don’t know how some conservative folks feel about mixing fairies with Easter).
The box has the most packaging, a clamshell formed clear plastic piece that protects the bunny and holds it in place. It did its job well, as my bunny looked great in and out of the foil. The back of the box has a poem about the Fairy Bunny, a poem that tells the story of this magical Easter bunny who has a product placement deal with Dove.
This ingredients looked okay, there’s PGPR in there but it comes after the flavorings. (I’ve been told that PGPR is great for manufacturers because it makes molding easier.)
The Dove bunny is by far the best looking one in and out of the foil, but definitely on the feminine side with its lavender wing accents and luscious eyelashes. (Even the whiskers look feline-sexy.)
It’s a squat bunny, so it doesn’t feel quite as decadent as the Bliss one, even though it weighs a half an ounce more at 4.5 ounces.
The walls of the chocolate were inconsistent. Some spots were thick and beefy, others, like the sides and bottom away from the edges were quite thin.
The bunny has a soft milky and woodsy scent, not too sweet. The texture of the chocolate is creamy and smooth. As I had my bunny open for tasting for a couple of weeks, I noticed that the flavor profile changed. I’ve noticed this with molded items that have a lot of surface area, and especially with chocolate that has PGPR. The flavor gets a little rancid ... not full on “my goodness, this is spoiled” but a subtle “this was better last week”. So I found myself gravitating, much to my surprise, to the Bliss bunny.
This bunny still wins for its looks, here are some more glamor shots:
On the whole, all three are good quality. They’re expensive by the ounce when you compare it to other chocolate like little foil wrapped pieces or big bars. But they’re also a special item for an Easter basket, gifting or just using as a decorative item. I suggest going for the chocolate you like ... but sometimes aesthetics trumps taste. Don’t forget to check out your local chocolate shop though - there’s something special about buying local from a company that molds their bunnies on site.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Back in October I heard that Wrigley’s was introducing some new Skittles. These weren’t just new flavors, they were going to be a completely new way to experience the chewy fruit-flavored candy lentils.
Skittles Fizzl’d Fruits are billed as Fizzling fun for your mouth. As you can imagine from the name, they’re Skittles with a foaming, fizzy component.
The package is cobalt blue and holds the same amount as the Sour Skittles, 1.8 ounces (the regular flavors are 2.17 ounces). I couldn’t wait to find them in stores locally, so when I saw a box of them posted on eBay, I bought them right away.
From the outside of the package they looked like Sour Skittles, which of course gets my mouth watering immediately. The images show a softly sanded set of Skittles, my guess was this was the fizzing part.
This sort of fizzing reaction is the same as AlkaSeltzer or other effervescent tablets. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is mixed with an acidic agent, in this case citric acid. When it’s dry, nothing happens but when water (or saliva) wets it, they begin a reaction that results in carbon dioxide (the air) and sodium citrate (an alkaline salt with a tangy flavor that works as a mild antacid).
I took one Skittle and carefully put a drop of water on it and sure enough as the water wicked around the whole candy the surface started to bubble slightly. It looked like it was being deep fried, or like putting a strawberry in a glass of champagne. It’s not like the whole thing got covered in scrubbing bubbles nor would a whole bowl of them create a “snap, crackle, pop” but it’s still a remarkable little chemistry demonstration.
The flavors are Berry Punch, Melon Berry, Raspberry, Strawberry and Wild Cherry. If this set of flavors sounds familiar, yes, it’s the same as Wild Berry Skittles.
They smell softly sweet with a light floral note, but nothing that really hints at the experience to come.
They are strange! I can say right now they are not for me, but they are definitely intriguing.
I was expecting the caustic and biting sour coating when I popped two of the Melon Berry flavor in my mouth, and yes, there was a sour tingle, but then there was a fizz. It’s not a carbonation fizz, it’s more like putting an Alka Seltzer tablet on your tongue. The foaming is soft and has small bubbles which dissipate quickly, especially when I chewed up the candy. I didn’t care much for the melon berry flavor as it was, so the additional component was weird and slightly metallic.
The Raspberry went nicely, the sour bite was less noticeable and the foam seemed to support the floral flavors. The coating, I was noticing, has a medicinal mineral salt flavor to it, like eating antacids.
Berry Punch had a kind of bubble gum note to it, so the bubbly coating fit right in. It reminded me of a cheap soda from my childhood, in the best way possible.
Strawberry was much more tangy than the one found in the regular mix and combined well with the fizzling.
Wild Cherry was a strange combination of foreign flavors, it simply put, an effervescent cough drop. It had all the worst aftertastes for me, a mid-tone metallic note and then the lingering cherry and bitter red dye afterglow.
As I mentioned earlier, they’re just not for me. I’m not much for effervescence; the caustic burps after just aren’t worth the tongue tingling. The mineral aftertaste is also a bit disconcerting for me, but I know it’s completely benign. Finally, I’m not that keen on the name. They’re using the Wild Berry mix so seems like they could have gone for Bubbly Berry instead of Fizzl’d Fruits since Fruits is the name of the classic flavor mix. I also ate three bags of these over the past five days and found that the fizzy coating was inconsistent. Sometimes it was fizzy but flavorless, other times it was a perfect blend of tangy and foamy.
I know that kids like to snort the sour powder from Sour Skittles, but this would be a very bad idea ... I give it about 11 days before videos start showing up on youtube of kids doing it. Skittles are now gelatin-free and gluten-free. They’re also no nuts and vegan if you’re the kind who will eat artificial stuff. Not Kosher.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The Mars family of candy bars, as far as I’m concerned, is all about nougat. They put it in all their legacy bars: 3 Musketeers, Mars (now Snickers Almond), Snickers and Milky Way. For a very short period of time they actually made a plain old caramel and chocolate bar, it was called Marathon.
Back in 2007 or 2008 there was a brief limited edition in miniature form of the Milky Way bar with just the caramel. Then it became a regular item in 2008 in Canada as Mars Caramel (and nut free to boot). It’s taken a while for it to return to the United States, but now it’s available in full bar form here, too (though this one is made in the USA and doesn’t have the no nuts seal, it actually doesn’t list peanuts as a possible allergen ... just egg and of course soy and milk which are in the ingredients.)
The Milky Way Caramel bar fills a hole in the American candy bar grid of confectionery possibilities. It’s a firm caramel covered in milk chocolate. It is unlike the Cadbury Caramello which is a flowing caramel covered in milk chocolate or the Rolo which is small pieces filled with a flowing caramel.
It’s attractive, as are most Mars candy products. The block is smaller than the standard Milky Way bar. It’s only 1.91 ounces instead of 2.05 and not quite as high (as there’s no fluffy nougat in there).
The milk chocolate is thick and doesn’t flake off. The caramel is a milky amber color and has an excellent glossy pull to it. The texture of the caramel is silky smooth and though it’s dense it’s not quite chewy. The scent of the whole bar is a bit like a toasted sugared cereal, not much chocolate punch but plenty of buttery notes.
The caramel has flavor, but that’s just it, it tastes like “flavor” not an authentic “boiled until it caramelizes” sugar flavor.
The whole thing is sweet and of course it’s a lot of caramel to eat, though certainly not as cloying as Caramello. I’ve had a couple of these bars (the broken one pictured above I got at the NACS convention in October and the package was from this weekend) and I simply cannot finish one in a single sitting. I like the proportion of chocolate to caramel and the texture is distinctive. There’s an overriding milk flavor to the whole thing, which I liked. But I prefer my chocolate to be darker and my caramel chewier (it probably doesn’t help that I spent the weekend eating See’s Scotchmallows.). But my preferences aside, it’s well done: real chocolate, no artificial colors and great textures.
Other reviews of Mars Caramel (which is a slightly smaller bar than the American one, so the proportions of chocolate to caramel may be different): The Candy Critic, Jim’s Chocolate Mission, Candyrageous.
Friday, November 13, 2009
If you’d asked me a year ago if there were any more mint flavors that Altoids could come in, I would have said, “Nope, it’s all been done.”
I know, this is a really short review but it has a really big picture. I spotted these new Cool Honey Altoids at Walgreen’s. I liked the prison stripes of yellow and black,oh wait, maybe they’re supposed to be bee colors. It’s distinctive enough I don’t think anyone will mistake this for Ginger or Licorice.
I liked the idea of cool honey, like a cough drop version of Altoids. (Honestly a eucalyptus version might be good.)
They’re lightly tinted, maybe a little yellow, I thought sometimes they looked a tad green. Perhaps absinthe! But the flavor? They’re minty and strong but other than that I wasn’t getting anything honey-ish out of them. They’re milder than a regular Altoid, but lacking the complex flavor combination that I enjoyed in the Creme de Menthe version.
It’s too bad, it was a nice idea. But at least the tin is cute. Gigi also reviewed them.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One thing that was missing in the Dove chocolate line was white chocolate. Well, Dove’s new Dove Peppermint Bark Promises are the first step to remedy that. This new holiday version of Dove’s foil wrapped bites of chocolate has special holiday tips on the wrappers from Martha Stewart.
I was a little hesitant to pick up this bag when I saw it at RiteAid last weekend. Of course I was excited by a real cocoa butter version of peppermint bark with white chocolate. As mentioned in our forum discussion about new holiday candy, I was hoping these would replace the Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses in my heart, which are no longer made with 100% cocoa butter. And of course I love that Promises are easy to eat and share. But they were priced at $4.99 for an 8.5 ounce bag. That’s pretty steep for drug store chocolate.
When I opened the bag I wasn’t blown away by a minty smell; actually I didn’t catch much of anything as far as scent. But that’s not a bad thing, it means that the foil wrappers are doing their job of not only protecting each piece but also keeping their mint out of other candies that you might throw in the same bowl. Each little foil wrapped piece is cute: silver foil with red and green polka dots. They’re definitely easy to spot in comparison to the existing Promises line.
There’s a dark chocolate base with a white chocolate topper. The white chocolate has bits of red and white peppermint candies mixed in.
The melt is great. The dark chocolate (not totally dark, there is some milkfat in there, like most Dove) melts a bit quicker than the white chocolate. It’s a silky and fatty melt, slick and with some decent woodsy cocoa notes, but there’s also a cocoa experience ... a dryness like eating cocoa powder. No worries though the white chocolate layer is sweet, also fatty and of course minty. There’s a slight vanilla note to it and a bit of a dairy milk flavor with a hint of salt. The creaminess offsets the dry bite, as long as you eat the layers together.
The whole effect is a mint meltaway with a really tasty chocolate punch to it. Far and away better than an Andes Mint. The candy bits provide a good crunch (though I don’t necessarily need them, but without them it’s not a very convincing bark product.)
Price aside, these are awesome. They really fit the holiday season with the mint and chocolate combo. It’s also available in an actual bark shape, but I haven’t seen that in stores.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.