Monday, January 7, 2013
There have been over a dozen Skittles varieties over the years, and still the original flavor set remains the same in the United States, with good reason. It’s a great variety. But that hasn’t stopped Mars, and now Wrigley’s the present owner, from introducing new items to the market every 18 months or so. Most quietly disappear, but some make the cut and hang around.
I learned of the existence of Skittles Darkside on The Impulsive Buy and over the weekend searched stores for them. The heart on the front led me to believe that this item would be shelved with the Valentine’s Day candy. I did eventually find it at Target, but not in the seasonal aisle (as that was still occupied by a stubborn amount of Christmas decorations) but on an endcap in the frozen food section also populated with clearance holiday blends of coffee.
The flavor set of the new mix is intriguing. The tagline of “The Other Side of the Rainbow” is a little ominous but fits with the quirky branding of Skittles. The flavors are blood orange, forbidden fruit, midnight lime, pomegranate and dark berry. The pomegranate and blood orange were the flavors that really captured my imagination.
Pomegranate (Dark Red) has a deep flavor with a good cherry and berry flavor. It’s tangy, but doesn’t have that tannic bite that real pomegranates do. If I wasn’t told this was pomegranate, I’d just say blackberry. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good blackberry.
Dark Berry (Purple) is a lovely color, just a little more red than the grape in the Fruits Skittles. The flavor is good, it’s well rounded with a floral and berry jam mix of notes and maybe a little blackcurrant.
Forbidden Fruit (Blue) tasted a bit like melon and currant to me. A fruit punch, but less generic.
Blood Orange (Coral) is not a deep red like the juice is. Instead the pieces are more of a dark salmon color. The flavor is nicely juicy, more of the juice flavor of a tangerine than the traditional orange. But it’s missing a note, an orange peel flavor to give it a true roundness. It’s also not that intense.
Midnight Lime is a puzzle. I don’t know what makes it midnight-ish. I have some Fruits Skittles around, so I tried the lime ones as well. They’re lime Skittles. There’s very little difference. The color is a bit more on the medium green side instead of bright light green. There may be less zest, but I wouldn’t say that’s a selling point.
It’s not the best mix I’ve had, partly because it’s lacking the versatility of pairings. The combinations don’t zing like the classic Fruits do and the Pomegranate and Dark Berry are too similar while the Blood Orange and Midnight Lime are too bland for something billed as Darkside. I’ll probably finish the bag, but it appears that the regular Fruits that I picked up for comparison will disappear first.
I liked the idea there are more Skittles flavor varieties to explore. I’d like to offer up a few more suggestions:
Skittles Soda Pop - root beer, cola, lemon-lime, ginger ale, and whatever that flavor Dr. Pepper is. Other possibilities would be Mt. Dew, Squirt (grapefruit), cherry cola, cream soda. Of all of my flavor mixes I’ve been mentioning, I think this one has the strongest shot. It would depend largely on whether they spend the money on licensing the soda names (like Jelly Belly does) or if they go generic. With generic names they can play more with flavors and of course keep more of the profit for themselves.
Caffeinated Skittles - these would be sold in small packages only to prevent caffeine overdose. Flavors might be coffee themed, or maybe more like energy drinks. One package would equal to about 100 mg of caffeine, this would mean that the taste would be affected too much. There would be an instant outcry from parents about the inappropriateness of the product for children ... gamers and college students would hoard them.
Skittles Citrus Mix - I’ve mentioned this before, it’s not like they’ve never existed before, there was a version in Australia for a few years that had Lemon, Mandarin, Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Orange. I would tweak that a bit and have Yuzu, Pink Grapefruit, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Kalamansi. Yeah, that’s going to happen.
Skittles Spicy - this is a wide open area. It could be something like the popular combination of Mango and Chili, or more like the classic spice jelly beans: spearmint, peppermint, cinnamon, licorice and clove. I predict these would be a huge failure.
Skittles Intense - just more flavored than the regular Skittles. Not more sour, just 20% more flavoring.
Skittles Natural - all natural colorings and flavors. Or maybe just blank Skittles, with no colorings at all. Then you don’t know which flavor is which.
Skittles are gluten free and gelatin free.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Last year M&Ms introduced the first of their White Chocolate holiday M&Ms for Halloween called Candy Corn. Then earlier this year for Easter came the plain White Chocolate M&Ms in pastel colors. Proving that the Candy Corn was no fluke, the returned again this year. For Christmas this year we have the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint which are available exclusively at Target this season. (WalMart has another exclusive flavor, Milk Chocolate Orange M&Ms.)
I don’t know if they come in individual portion bags, the only size I saw at Target, in a large display on an endcap in the seasonal section was this 9 ounce bag. The design prominently features the Red M&M and a mostly red and white design (except for the brown of the M&Ms logo and the nutritional widget).
The pieces are larger than regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, like all the other special flavor varieties. I’m not sure why they’re beefier, but they’re consistently that way. They’re made with real white chocolate, it’s the first ingredient on the package (made from sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt and natural flavor). In this price range, it’s not easy to find real white chocolate, so that’s a big plus.
I’ve noticed from the comments here that some people are not fond of Mars style of white chocolate. It’s quite fatty, with a lot of cocoa butter in it (and probably a fair bit of milkfat) and has a pretty clean flavor but can be a little greasy. They’re high in calories - a single ounce contains about 157 calories, more than standard chocolate which is usually about 135.
They’re sweet but not sticky or cloying. The mint is strong enough to leave a fresh taste in the mouth, but not so much that it blasts my sinuses. The overall effect is like Guittard Smooth n Melty Mints, those pastel drops with nonpareils on the bottom of them. Except these are made from real white chocolate, even Hershey’s abandoned real white chocolate in their Candy Cane Kisses years ago. I liked that most of mine were white, with only about a third of them red. The red had a little bitterness to the shell from the Red 40 food coloring, so I was able to mostly avoid them. I think it’s a solid product and I’d like to see it return next year. (But I’m still hoping for Egg Nog M&Ms.)
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
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.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I picked up the Dove Sea Salt Caramel Dark Chocolate Silky Smooth Promises about a month ago at Target. At the moment they’re a Target exclusive flavor, though I understand that when the flavors are popular they go into wider distribution.
The blue and white and brown package is summery and bright and caught my attention right away. But I was curious how different the flavor would be from the regular dark chocolate with caramel that Dove already makes.
The chocolates are expensive, at $4 for just a little over a half a pound. Mars is * still not using certified sustainable or ethically sourced chocolate for the vast majority of their products, this price premium at least prompts me to expect high quality ingredients, not things like hydrogenated palm kernel oil and potassium sorbate.
The Dove dark chocolate is quite smooth and has an interesting flavor profile. It’s quite woodsy and a little on the dry side. But the melt is quick and slick on the tongue, so the dry finish keeps it from feeling to sweet or sticky. The flavor overall reminds me of chocolate sauce, not quite buttery but still silky.
The caramel filling is like most of the other Dove caramels I’ve had. It’s thick and almost like a sauce or syrup without a chewy component. I’d call it a pudding or custard. (Or perhaps German Chocolate Cake frosting without the coconut.) It has the advertised touch of salt to it and a smooth slightly toffee note to it. It’s not as rich or butterscotchy as some others I’ve had from artisan styled companies like Fran’s, but still a nice desserty flavored chocolate.
They felt less sweet than the regular Dove Caramel Promises, though it’s not like they had a lot of salt, there’s only 30 mg per 5 pieces. Because I picked up Hershey’s Simple Pleasures on the same trip, I have to say that I preferred these by quite a large margin. They’re less caloric than a solid chocolate bar, but still more than the Simple Pleasures or a Peppermint Pattie. Dove is still not my go-to premium chocolate. I’ll eat them if they’re sitting around, but when I want a chocolate treat I find myself shopping for things like Green & Black’s (which I wish came in little bite sized pieces) or something like Trader Joe’s which have more intense or vibrant flavors and better ingredients.
* UPDATE 7/18/2012: A rep from Dove Chocolate called me to let me know that Dove is switching to Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. This particular product is not Rainforest Alliance Certified, and still has unverified palm oil in it and preservatives. You can read more on their website, but the fact remains that Mars, the company that owns Dove, is far from converting their entire line of chocolate products to certified sustainable and ethical sources, but at least have a plan and are hitting targets. At this time they are sourcing only 20% of their cocoa from certified cocoa.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I’m a huge fan of Oreos. I love them. For my 16th birthday my little brother gave me a package of Oreos, and though some people would think, “What a cheap gift!” It was in reality just what I wanted. My love of the cookies is all about the cookie part, not the cream filling. It’s salty and barely sweet, slightly sandy in its crunch and has a deep, dark chocolate flavor that borders on charcoal.
Now Kraft has their own Oreo candy bars, of course not in the United States, spawning ground of Oreos. Instead the best Oreo Bars came from Japan. So Americans have to eat Cookies and Cream candy (which is based on the awesome Cookies and Cream Ice Cream). It’s a white chocolate base with crushed chocolate. The thing about Oreos is that there is no substitute. People who like other brands of chocolate cream cookies (such as Hydrox) prefer them. I happen to prefer Oreos and find anything that’s like an Oreo but not an Oreo slightly disappointing. (But still usually delicious.)
The new Dove Silky Smooth Promises Cookies & Creme are the newest in Dove’s recent entry into white chocolate products. For a while everyone was going extra dark and all of sudden white chocolate is legitimate decadence. (Personally, I think we can have it both ways, they’re not mutually exclusive.)
I got a handful of these as a sample from Mars last month. I didn’t think it was the final packaging because of the rather generic looking black and white foil. (This wouldn’t be the first time I got samples from Mars in temporary packaging.) Well, when I opened the bag after picking them up at Target last weekend, it was clear that this was what the wrapper was supposed to look like.
I really wanted to love these, but as I mentioned before at the top, I love the cookie part of cream sandwich cookies. So I want a lot of cookie. The white chocolate Dove uses is very creamy, very smooth but also has a bit of a cocoa flavor of its own. It may not be deodorized cocoa (where the cocoa butter is filtered completely to remove any traces of cocoa solids or anything that makes it smell like chocolate). It’s not as sweet as some other white chocolates, especially those at this price point. But it’s still sweet and lacks that moderation that a larger proportion of cookie bits would bring.
The cookie bits themselves are okay, they’re crunchy, but missing a really dark and lightly salty note to them.
They’re okay eaten one at a time and with something else in between. I don’t find myself wanting more after I finish one.
I was on the lookout for the Dove Cookies & Creme but had no idea that Ghirardelli had their own new version. The Ghirardelli Sublime White Cookies Jubilee was far more expensive per ounce, at $2.79 for the 3.17 ounce bar.
The box is nicely made and protects the bar well, at paperboard sleeve over a foil wrapped bar. The price per ounce is 88 cents per ounce while the Dove is half that at 44 cents per ounce. So it should be twice as good. It should be all natural. It should be fair trade. It should complement my skin tone and make my eyes sparkle. (Candy doesn’t work that way, or so I’ve been told.)
What Ghirardelli does with there bar is actually different and sounds really good. They describe it on the front of the box as rich layers of chocolate with crunchy cookie bits..
The ingredients are weird and the photo on the package (and physical examination of the opened bar) looks like there’s a milk chocolate base then a white chocolate layer filled with cookie bits.
But what it smells like is chocolate cupcakes. Not good chocolate cupcakes but those cupcakes that people buy at the grocery store bakery, that smell of automation and mixes. The ingredients list cocoa butter as the second ingredient, so that’s not a problem, the chocolate content seems all good. The cookie though seems to be made from rice flour, tapioca starch and corn starch. There’s no wheat flour in there, not that I need it to be made with wheat flour, but this isn’t a gluten free product. (Or is it?)
The flavor balance is weird, it’s like fake buttered popcorn. The little cookie bits have a nice crunch, but little dark toasted cocoa goodness of their own. The chocolate layers are smooth, far smoother than the Dove. It was weirdly greasy at the end and melted too quickly to become thin and watery. It’s just weird and I found it really unpleasant. (For the record, I have liked a lot of Ghirardelli’s other white chocolate products.)
I love the idea of the Hershey’s and there’s so many things that are right with this bar, but the primary reason I can’t or don’t eat it is because of the ingredients. Instead of real cocoa butter the Hershey’s version uses, well, it’s hard to tell, because the ingredients list is vague. The second ingredient, after sugar, is vegetable oil. It says then, parenthetically, that it may include cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower. So there’s really no telling which or any of those are in there.
It’s extremely sweet and slightly grainy and I think not quite milky enough for a white chocolate style product. But then I get to the cookies. There are so many of them, they’re so consistently crunchy and salty and sandy and really exquisite. They balance out the sickeningly sweet white confection exceptionally well.
This purchase was the King Size bar, which was well priced, but far too much of this for me to eat and really, really smelly. The Drops version introduced more recently is a better portioning, though doesn’t have quite the same cookie density and satisfaction.
I have to say, after all these years, I still haven’t found a Cookies and Cream candy I actually like enough to keep eating. Dove is pretty close, it needs more cookies, it needs better cookies. Or Hershey’s could go back to a real white chocolate with cocoa butter and a little less sugar. Instead I’ll probably just keep eating Oreos.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
Starburst come in a myriad of flavor packs these days. I picked up a few of the less common flavors at some convenience stores recently. The Starburst Sweet Fiesta has been out for a few years. At first I thought it was a limited edition version, but it appears to be a regular item.
The package contains four different flavors, each is a combo flavor all based on a sort of tropical and sub-tropical flavors. It has Cherry mango, peach guava, strawberry pineapple and melon berry, with three of each flavor in the 2.07 ounce pack.
Strawberry Pineapple is pink and delightful. It’s sweet and tangy with floral notes that are close to honey and then something a little deeper and more heady.
Melon Berry is bright green. It’s quite melon, a cross between watermelon and musk melon, but there’s a strong sort of papaya note to it. It’s too musky for me, to tropical.
Peach Guava is peachy. It smells like coconut and has a peachy, apricot note at first. The guava is not terribly strong, which is fine with me because I’m not that keen on guava, it’s almost like passion fruit.
Cherry Mango is red. It smelled like the regular Cherry Starburst at first, but the flavor is quite a bit better. It’s cherry, with all those woodsy flavors, but there’s a pine and peach note to it that’s quite good. I’m not usually a fan of cherry, but I like how Starburst does them for the most part, and this is a good example.
Overall, this flavor set is different enough from the standard Starbust Fruits but I don’t feel like it completely breaks out of the show of the perfection of the original. If you’re the type of candy fan that hates citrus, this is a good mix, as it has none, which is pretty rare. I love the pineapple, but I’m not big on melon, so I’d probably give this a pass in the future as a whole pack, but if I can just pick out the Strawberry Pineapple and share the rest, it’s all systems go.
Friday, June 1, 2012
All share the use of M&Ms chocolate candies and pretzels, but then have slightly different elements from there. The basic mix, based on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms is Milk Chocolate M&Ms Snack Mix Salty & Sweet.
The bags are eight ounces and I got mine on sale for $3 each at Walgreen’s, but I have to believe that they’re going to be priced less than that on a regular basis for them to catch on.
First I have to say that the packaging is well done. The stand up bag does stand up and the zip lock closes easily and securely enough to both keep contents from spilling and protect from moisture. The bag also will sit “open” well enough to serve from.
The items within the Milk Chocolate mix are: Roasted Peanuts and Crunchy Pretzels from the salty side and mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Milk Chocolate M&Ms from the sweet side.
In the case of my bag, things appeared to be packaged in tiers, so all my peanuts were at the bottom and all my pretzels were at the top. So when I first dumped it out for photographing, I missed the peanuts entirely. (See below.)
The pretzels are barely an inch across and just lightly salted, which I thought was perfect. They’re not so big that they took up a whole bite, allowing me to combine elements for a customized flavor/texture profile.
The little chocolate chip cookies are like Chips Ahoy!. A bland vanilla cookie with teensy little chocolate chips. They’re about .8 inches around and reminded me of Cookie Crisp Cereal in shape, but actual chocolate chip cookies in flavor. They’re a little salty, very sweet and nicely crunchy.
The M&Ms are, well, Milk Chocolate M&Ms. They’re a bit dusty with crumbs or salt, but otherwise fresh and crunchy, the sweetest thing in the bag.
The peanuts, well, this is where things took a bad turn. I didn’t like the peanuts at all. I thought they were roasted too dark, they were bitter and sometimes chalky. Since everything else in the bag was perfectly fresh, it made very little sense to me why they were consistently so unappealing. (One or two bad peanuts are understandable, but they were all the same color, uniformly small in size and rather lifeless.) I have to wonder if they were a bit on the over-roasted side as a way to stabilize them, especially the fats in peanuts that can make everything greasy.
As long as I ate the peanuts in the same bite as something else, I didn’t mind the. But on the whole, I prefer a snack mix with a strong protein component (usually from nuts).
This bag features a mix of salted roasted almonds and pretzels along with mini shortbread cookies and Peanut M&Ms.
The little shortbread cookies are similar to the chocolate chip ones in size, but actually more successful in this application. The flavor is quite good, I got a great sense of the toasted shortbread cookie with its vanilla flavor. But what was really interesting was that the salt from the almonds had rubbed off on the, so there was an excellent contrast going on. They’re dense and crunchy and not too sweet.
The pretzels were again nicely layered in, a good crunch with a mild flavor.
The almonds were tiny, but roasted perfectly thought slightly over-salted for my tastes. (The overall sodium level for the snack mix is 125mg for a 1/3 of a cup portion which is about 190 calories.
The Peanut M&Ms were, well, exactly like Peanut M&Ms. They were big and had a lot of crackle going on and added a buttery element to the whole mix.
All of the items went with each other. An almond with a Peanut M&M was great. A cookie with a pretzel was also really satisfying. I was surprised at how much I liked this mix, though it does combine some of my favorite items. It was the cookies I was hesitant about, but they really did add to the satisfaction level.
The mix contains salted, roasted almonds and pretzels along with raisins and Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
This is the “healthiest” of the mixes, if you go by calorie load. There are 132 calories per ounce, slightly less than the milk chocolate mix with a half a gram less saturated fat but still 16 grams of sugars. But it does have a bit of iron at 6% of your daily recommended allowance and two grams of fiber.
Of course all of that relies on eating the exact proportions of each element in the mix. If you pick out the M&Ms and almonds, well, all bets are off.
The mix is attractive and has a good salty note to it from the pretzels and the almonds. The raisins were pretty big, soft and juicy without being sticky. The Dark Chocolate M&Ms pair well with any of the elements. Part of me would like to see a more interesting dried fruit in the mix, like dried cherries or cranberries (which do suffer from being sweetened) but this version does fit the bill by adding in a little tangy chew.
These are not candy. There’s very little candy in there, by most accounts, about 25% of it is actually M&Ms, the rest of snack foods. Mars has made a nice mix and chosen each element pretty well and balanced them expertly.
It’s a good mix for a lot of different purposes. Easy to share you can take it on an airplane, a car trip or a movie theater (of course you’d pay concession prices ... probably about $8 a bag). I prefer to make my own mixes, but if I have to grab something already made a store, this is a fair value.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.