Tuesday, November 22, 2011
At Christmas one of the great gifts is an excessive version of something mundane but much-loved. For candy this means colossal proportions. Oh sure, you could just get a wholesale sized bag of M&Ms or Skittles. But there’s something special about a version that’s substantially larger than the norm: Giant Hershey’s Kisses, Giant Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Giant Candy Canes and Giant Gummi Bears.
Mars is in the game this year with their Snickers Slice n’ Share bar. This year it’s exclusive to CVS stores. I found mine after going to several stores and it was even on sale for $7.99, regular price is $9.99.
The Snickers Slice ‘n Share is 16 ounces, while a standard Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces (so 8 times bigger). It’s also 9 times the price. The best value is probably to buy the snack size, which are about $1.25 for eight little bars totally 5 ounces - which comes out to $4.00 a pound instead of $7.99 a pound. But that’s simply not magnificent enough for gifting or wowing your guests. (See this 1925 ad for Oh Henry! that features the suggestion to slice and serve.)
The bar is protected in a paperboard tray and came out looking pretty good. It’s 9.5 inches long, about one inch high and 2.5” wide. A standard Snickers is only 1” wide.
There’s simply no way to depict how massive this thing is with photos because it’s dense and heavy. Honestly, I expected one pound of candy to have a bit more volume, but Snickers are certainly compact.
Like the old advertising slogan, this Snickers is packed with peanuts. The caramel envelops them completely and they’re jam packed in there all the way through the bar. The caramel and nougat layers are completely distinct and the chocolate is very thick, especially on the sides and the ripple on the top. It does flake off easily, but usually in big chunks that are easy to pick up and pop in your mouth.
The serving size suggested is a 1 inch slice (which is about 1.75 ounces - less than the 2.07 ounce regular bar). I found that to be a bit too thick and unwieldy, so I usually went for something about a 1/2 inch slice. It slices quite easily without falling apart, as long as you have a good, wide knife. A butter knife or steak knife are too small and narrow. A chef’s knife or even a clever does a much better job. Anything less than a half an inch though and the piece will not hold together well.
Also, I found that cutting straight down, with even pressure (chopping) was better than trying to angle it. The pieces came out cleaner and with less chocolate loss.
I loved the bar. I actually think I enjoyed it more than any other Snickers I’ve had in years. The peanuts were fresh, the caramel was thick, distinct and chewy plus the nougat was soft, slightly salty with a nice peanut butter toffee flavor. The layers are much more defined and folks who like to eat particular parts separately will have a great time.
Giant candy has always struck me as the kind of gift a kid would give to a parent or other relative. Not that I’d complain if my niece or nephew came me a giant version of a beloved candy. It’s a way to make a favorite special. But they’re not for everyday consumption. The specialness of the price assures that. But I expect because it’s under $10, it should find its way into many stockings this year, or because of its size, it will be adjacent to the stocking ... and featured heavily on early nights of Hanukkah.
The bar has all the same ingredients as the smaller versions. It’s hard to compare the nutritional value because of the difference in serving sizes, but the calories per ounce are greater for the Slice n’ Share than the regular size, so I’m going to guess that there’s more chocolate per bite on the small one since that’s where the densest calories are.
At a certain point something so large that it requires implements ceases to be candy. Candy is ready to eat, requires no knives or assembly.
The package warns that there are traces of tree nuts and wheat, plus it contains eggs, soy, peanuts and milk. Mars does not use fair trade or certified ethically traded chocolate for this product (though they’re working on it - their Maltesers malted milk balls will be Fair Trade next year in the UK).
UPDATE 12/5/2012: Snickers Slice n Share are back in stores for the holidays. They’re found in a much wider array of stores, I’ve seen them at Target, CVS, IT’SUGAR and a few others as well as on internet stores. Discount chains usually have them for $10-12, while the other stores like IT’SUGAR have them for about $20.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Wrigley’s which now runs the Starburst franchise of products just came out with a new variety, called Starburst Flavor Morph. They come in both the long single serving pack, a king size and the 13 ounce bag I picked up at Target over the weekend.
The package says that they have Flavor Changing Beads, which sounds kind of high tech and kind of like a feature of cosmetics/hygiene products.
The newest Starburst offers more than just a variety of flavors in each pack - now, consumers will get to experience a variety of flavors in every square. The candy, which features flavor changing beads, morphs from orange to orange strawberry or cherry to cherry lime.
So, basically, instead of four flavors in the package, there are just two.
Cherry -> Cherry-Lime is wrapped in red with white waves on the little waxed paper wrapper. They’re dark pink and at first do taste just like the traditional Cherry Starburst. The Cherry Lime notes come in rather late, and the advertised flavor beads aren’t evident as pops or crunches. The lime notes were actually a welcome transition in the flavor of the chew, the citrus goes well with the very traditional artificial cherry flavor.
Orange -> Orange-Strawberry looks just like an Orange Starburst, but with a few little flecks. However, it smells like a Strawberry Starburst. So the flavor morph in this instance was not really transitional ... the flavor was absolutely orange and strawberry the whole time. I liked the combination, it’s different from the usual citrus or strawberry combinations.
I haven’t been excited or converted from the classic Fruits package by any of the new Starburst introduction in the past 10 years. This version is no different, it’s a novelty. It’s missing the usual variety and the flavor combinations while appealing aren’t radical enough. While it doesn’t say Limited Edition on the package, I don’t expect them to stick around very long.
Starburst are marked as a gluten-free product. They do contain gelatin, so are not appropriate for vegetarians/vegans and are not Kosher. There are no statements about nuts or other allergens on the package though other sources say they’re nut free. A serving of 8 pieces contains 20% of your daily RDA of Vitamin C. I found them expensive as well, $3.14 for a 13 ounce bag of sugar candy is a bit steep.
Monday, November 7, 2011
When I saw a tweet from The Impulsive Buy that there was a new kind of M&Ms, I was on the case. Marvo tracked them down, they’re called Cinnamon M&Ms and they’re an exclusive to Target stores right now (though some folks have them on eBay as well).
The bags are slight, with only 9.9 ounces compared to the standard 12 ounce bag of Milk Chocolate M&MS for the same price.
The package features the Green M&M in a white knit cap & scarf holding some cinnamon sticks. The illustration shows that the candies come in three deep red colors.
The pieces vary in size and slightly in color. The deep red and maroon are almost indistinguishable in lower light situations.
The pieces are larger than the regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms. The color is not quite as dense or shiny as the regular M&Ms. They’re a little dusty colored, like the color coating isn’t as thick or they aren’t as polished. It appears that the shade of brown and red are identical to the standard Milk Chocolate red and brown, but the maroon is new.
The flavor, as Marvo pointed out in his review, tastes like it’s concentrated in the shell of the candy, not in the milk chocolate. Some shells taste more cinnamony than others, but the red tastes the most like cinnamon. It’s not a “red hot” sort of flavor, it’s more of the ground spice flavor. It’s woodsy and rich with a slight heat to it, but nothing that’s too warm.
The largest pieces feel like they’re layered; as if they start out as a regular sized M&M, then get another layer of chocolate to supersize them. (They used to make Mega M&Ms, maybe this is just the same equipment being put to use.)
The flavor is different but not radical. It’s subtle and pleasant, but masks the also mild chocolate flavors from Mars very sweet milk chocolate. The candy shell is fun to crack and the textures work exceptionally well in this instance because of the ratios with the larger chocolate pieces.
I can’t say that I’ve been longing for these all of my life; and I can’t say, especially at this price, that I’d buy them again. Like the Coconut M&Ms, they’re only vaguely different but the cinnamon, like coconut, is a polarizing flavor. Either you like it or you don’t. So there will be folks out there that won’t.
I can say that these go very nicely with coffee, the cinnamon adds that fall, harvest essence to the whole event. So settle down with the morning paper and toss a few Cinnamon M&Ms onto your saucer for a little extra bump.
For traditionalist, the Milk Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also returning for Christmas.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Mars has introduced a limited edition, limited distribution of a new variety of M&Ms for Halloween. M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn are appearing in WalMart stores exclusively across the United States. Since I’m not able to easily shop at WalMart (really not many in the Los Angeles area), some folks at Mars were kind enough to send me a bag for review.
It’s tempting when I hear about candies like this to write the review before I even get a hold of the candy. That would not only be a horrible disservice to the readers, it’s really unfair to the candy. I’m supposed to have an open mind. Luckily I kept mine open for this one. (In reality, I thought it sounded like a dreadful idea, and I blame the Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses and Jelly Belly Buttered Popcorn candies for my predisposition.)
The M&Ms are larger than the regular M&Ms Milk Chocolate, though they vary a little bit in size and shape. They’re thicker and have a larger diameter. They come in three colors: white, bright yellow and bright orange. (The orange and yellow are actually different from the standard colors. The orange is darker and not as shiny and the yellow has a matte caste to it and a slightly neon note.)
Mars has marketed White Chocolate M&Ms before, in 2006 they introduced M&Ms Pirate Pearls in conjunction with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Unlike the other limited edition version of Dark Chocolate M&Ms (tie in with Star Wars), they were never added to the regular or seasonal offerings.
Mars has stuck to their Real Chocolate pledge here, it’s real white chocolate made with oodles of cocoa butter (cocoa butter is the second ingredient - sometimes white chocolate products have milk fat before the cocoa butter). There are no other filler oils.
The candies smell a bit like strawberries or cotton candy, very sweet but not in an artificial way. I was fully expecting the liberal use of diacetyl. Happily that was not the case.
Candy Corn M&Ms on the left and classic Milk Chocolate M&Ms on the right
The shells are crunchy and seem thicker than the standard Milk Chocolate variety sports. Some of the shells were cracked, I don’t know if that was because this was sent to me and got shaken up in transit or if they’re particularly vulnerable.
The center is soft and yielding. It’s sweet and buttery smooth, like a well made buttercream frosting. The flavors are only slightly milky, the sweetness is rather clean and again reminds me of Cotton Candy. I was hoping for the honey notes that good Candy Corn has, but this was all a pleasant surprise.
They’re quite rich, both in fat and in sugar, so I found that I couldn’t eat more than about a dozen without feeling a little overwhelmed by the sweetness. Ultimately though I didn’t feel like they rose to the level of an actual Candy Corn flavored candy. Still, they’re nice, and for white chocolate fans who have so few choices for real cocoa butter white chocolate, you might be pleased.
Now I’m waiting for Egg Nog M&Ms .... mmm, nutmeg white chocolate would be dreamy.
One other note I have about this packaging. I noticed on the nutrition panel that they’re giving better information. In the serving size it gives the portion in variety of formats. A serving size is 1.5 ounces, 42 grams or about 1/4 cup. So you really get a sense of how much they mean. The new green what’s inside block also breaks it out very clearly. One portion is 220 calories and 11 grams of total fat (17% DV) and 7 grams of saturated fat (35% DV).
UPDATE 9/11/2012: White Chocolate Candy Corn M&Ms are back for 2012. They’re available in all stores, in both the large bags as well as 1.5 ounce individual serving bags (with a variety of different designs on the front).
Friday, July 8, 2011
A couple of years ago Mars introduced some new candy bars to the United States based on their popularity in Australia. They were called Fling and came in bright pink packages along with lots of marketing directed towards women. They came in three flavor varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut.
About a year later the test marketing of Fling waned and a new bar came out nationally, the 3 Musketeers Truffle Crisp. The bar is described on the package as whipped-up chocolate truffle on a crisp layer enrobed in real milk chocolate.
The bars are narrow fingers, nicely domed with drizzled chocolate across the top. They’re light, literally - each weights a smidge over a half an ounce. (For comparison, a single Twix finger is about an ounce.) The package says that each one contains less than 85 calories. Well, that’s pretty easy since it doesn’t weigh much. In reality, the calories per ounce are quite high at 155 but the package limits your portion.
The bar snaps nicely with a light cracking sound. The construction is interesting (and this is where the bar is unique). The base is a plank of chocolate meringue. It’s crispy and airy with a light sweetness and hint of salt and cocoa to it. The truffle on top really isn’t - it’s a mix of cocoa and hydrogenated and/or non-hydrogenated palm and palm kernel oils. (In my world a truffle is made of actual chocolate and some sort of dairy fat.) The chocolatey cream is okay, fluffy but a little greasy and flavorless to my tongue. It’s all wrapped in a good amount of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is sweet and creamy with a strong dairy note to it. It pulls it all together well.
The idea and execution of this is actually really good. I wish the truffle part was better and having had the Fling in dark chocolate, I know this is actually better in dark chocolate.
I actually like these bars, even with all my complaining about various elements of the promotion, packaging and ingredients. They’re unique and inventive, once consumers try them, I think the rest of the weirdness of the rest of it will be irrelevant. It would also be cool if Mars extended the use of the meringue crisp - I could see them as interesting centers for M&Ms, different flavored cream toppings for this bar (like coffee) and perhaps something berry with dark chocolate.
Though there are no wheat ingredients on the list, it is made on shared equipment with wheat (and peanuts) so it’s not technically gluten free, so try at your own risk.
Update 10/29/2012: I just heard back from Mars, they are discontinuing the Truffle Crisp bar. They just weren’t popular enough. My suggestion for those who love the bar is to write to Mars and propose that they bring them back seasonally. So you can stock up.
Monday, June 13, 2011
The Dove White and Milk Chocolate Swirl bar is no different, as the copy on the package indicates: bites of chocolate relaxation that create beautifully swirled partings of luscious flavors which taste as amazing as they look.
The bar is a large, narrow tablet (3.5” wide and 5.5” tall). It’s 3.3 ounces, so a little lighter than the standard 3.5 ounces (100 grams). It still has that pesky portion problem that large bars have. The package says that a single serving (230 calories & 42 grams) is 9 pieces. But the whole bar is 20 squares ... so there are two bonus squares. Why not just be honest that a portion is an absolute half of the package (1.65 ounces and 256 calories)?
The swirls are very consistent and make it appear that the blocks are half and half white chocolate and milk chocolate (though the ingredients say that milk chocolate dominates since it’s listed first).
The pieces are nicely formed and rather thick, which presents a wonderful bite. The bar smells sweet and slightly milky, like a vanilla pudding. The texture is like most other Dove chocolate products, a smooth and silky melt. This one has a bit more sticky sugar to it though, it’s also quite strong in the dairy flavors along with some caramel and toffee. The chocolate notes are subdued, it’s like this bar isn’t at all about the chocolate flavors, just the chocolate texture.
If you’re the kind of person who never cared much for white chocolate, this probably won’t change your mind. For me it was far too sweet on its own, but paired with some pretzels or almonds, it took the throat searing pain away.
Dove pretty much sticks to tried and true flavor combinations. While this new swirl line marks a departure for them, veering off into the previously uncharted territory of white chocolate, raspberry is a common flavor in their repertoire. The Dove Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Swirl bar is also a white chocolate bar, with the twist here that it’s colored pink and flavored with artificial raspberry.
Like all of the American Dove and Mars chocolate products, the back of the package has the Mars Real Chocolate seal on it. It’s refreshing to see a big confectionery corp keeping their ingredients transparent like this, especially since cocoa butter can be so expensive. But while they do use real cocoa butter for both the dark and white chocolate, there’s also a bit of PGPR in there (which is an additional emulsifier often used in lower quality chocolate, made from castor beans). There’s also a smidge of artificial colors with Red 40 and Blue 2, which seems unnecessary considering what they’re doing with natural colors these days.
The appearance of the unwrapped bar is impressive and lovely. However, I didn’t feel like it looked like food. It looked like some sort of plastic stuff that might make nice bangle bracelets or earrings or maybe be carved into a chess set.
The dark chocolate is the same silky smooth texture and cocoa rich taste. The raspberry scent is quite strong at first, but the flavor of it doesn’t overpower the chocolate, which is refreshing. I didn’t taste a lot of the milky notes I detected in the white & milk combo bar. It was sweet, but not cloying or sticky. The raspberry flavor was floral with a strong woodsy note of seeds.
It’s not my favorite bar, it didn’t have the flavor balance that I like, but I do have to say that the texture, melt and smoothness was excellent. I just wish their chocolate flavor was actually nuanced enough to swirl around in that.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
3 Musketeers bars were introduced in 1932; at the time the name of the bar made more sense back then, when it was three joined sections, each with a different flavored filling: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. The bar was later simplified in 1945 into three sections that were all chocolate flavored nougat. 3 Musketeers were one of the first candy bars advertised heavily on television. (They had a long-standing sponsorship with the Howdy Doody Show.)
The shape of the bar has also changed a bit along with the packaging, but the frothy soft filling and milk chocolate coating have pretty much remained the same. A couple of months ago Mars announced that one of their oldest bars was going to get an upgrade: Mars has reformulated the classic light and fluffy taste of 3 MUSKETEERS Bar to deliver a richer chocolate experience. Taste is the leading driver of sales for 3 MUSKETEERS Bar, and this new enhancement still satisfies as a lighter candy bar (45 percent less fat) while increasing the chocolate appeal among consumers.
Mars sent me a couple of preview bars, but I’ve already seen them on store shelves (Walgreen’s). I also picked up a classic formula bar for comparison. The new richer chocolate is on the left and the classic (still quite fresh) is on the right. The size and weight of the bars is identical, as is the nutritional panel. I also could not find any differences in the ingredients, which means that they made this a richer chocolate experience without altering the predominance of any item to the point that the label would need to be changed.
The filling is a nougat and is made of sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel and/or palm oil and then less than 2% of cocoa powder processed with alkali, salt, egg whites, artificial and natural flavors. So a smidge more cocoa that doesn’t exceed the amount of hydrogenated palm kernel oil and there’s no need to change the label ... unless it’s to sell consumers on the new richer chocolate experience.
The look of the bars on the outside is the same. The little swirls of the milk chocolate coating on the classic recipe were a little deeper, but that could simply be a difference attributed to a particular machine. When I bit into them though, I could see a difference in color. The new Richer Chocolate Taste does look a little more cocoa colored. The classic looks, well, colorless and a bit desaturated.
The bar feels light but still quite bulky. The scent is sweet but with a creamy cocoa note to it that’s quite inviting. The chocolate shell is okay, it’s not creamy or richly chocolate, more of a functional container for the foamy nougat inside. The center is soft and fluffy and I noticed that it wasn’t at all grainy. The nougat has a light salty note to it, not overly salty, just a different sort of tone from the chocolate coating. The cocoa flavor was so very light, but at least it wasn’t as throat-searingly sweet as I expected.
Upon comparing it to the classic formula, it is most definitely more chocolatey. But if I’d not tasted the original, I can’t say that this would turn me into a 3 Musketeers consumer.
The bar is quite big. Two ounces is a lot of candy, especially when it’s one that’s so monotonous. I got through half the bar but then had to put it down.
The candy bars are currently marketed to women and folks who are looking for lighter candy. It’s true that its caloric density is less than many other nutty and chocolatey-er candies. But it’s also bigger. So a full 3 Musketeers bar may have 45% less fat than “the average of the leading brands”, but that doesn’t take into account the portion size. In the end, calories are calories and this bar has 260 of them - more of them are empty, unsatisfying sugar that lacks a true chocolate punch with all of its fatty, melty notes. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky (well, getting old, I’ve always been cranky) but I’m starting to come around to the whole idea that fewer ingredients make for a better flavor and texture experience. Real chocolate has rich chocolate taste. You want a real chocolate taste experience? Have some real chocolate. It’s probably better for you than the empty calories and hopped up hydrogenated de-rainforesting palm oils.
If you love 3 Musketeers, chances are you’re going to be keen on the slight improvements here. But if you love chocolate, stick to real chocolate. I’d say half the portion of actual real chocolate is more fulfilling than this empty thing. But if you love texture, then maybe the tweaked bar is your new best friend forever.
Update 10/29/2012: According to Mars they’re going back to the original formula. So look for packages that don’t say “richer chocolate taste” for the classic version.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Crispy M&Ms are made by Mars and are considered an extirpated variety of the popular candy. I know, it’s Friday, and here I am comparing species conservation with candy. But I find it interesting ... so here’s a brief digression after a tantalizing photo.
In Northern California there used to be a small sub-species of Elk called Tule Elk. They were exterminated, either hunted for their meat & hides or simply killed by ranchers to keep them from competing for food with the newly introduced domesticated grazers. Eventually they were all gone ... or so folks thought. Except a local rancher back in the late 19th century took a liking to the slightly smaller elk and took a small herd to a ranch in southern, inland California where they survived quite nicely. In 1978 a small breeding group was reintroduced to the area, thus ending their local extinction.
Perhaps North American Crispy M&Ms (shown above in their Canadian version circa 2006) were a flash in the pan, a evolutionary dead end. They were introduced in 1998 and had pretty much disappeared in the wild by 2005. But they’re still around in Australia, the Southeast Asia and Europe. In fact, in my visit earlier this year I saw them in both Amsterdam and Cologne and bought them in both locations. All the packages were identical and list France as their origin.
If you remember the Limited Edition Mint Crispy M&Ms that were released in conjunction with the last Indiana Jones movie, you might recall that they were larger than regular M&Ms, larger than Peanut M&Ms even.
The European version is about the same diameter as a regular Milk Chocolate M&M, but puffier, closer to being spherical.
The package is more square, just like bed pillows in Europe are more square than pillows in the United States, it’s just the way they do things. The packet holds only 1.27 ounces (36 grams) instead of the more calorically imbued 1.69 ounces of the American Milk Chocolate.
The colors are a little more muted than the American version and I expected this was because these were all natural. Well, some of them are, such as carmine (sorry vegetarians) and tumeric, but they also use Blue #1.
They’re sweet and crunchy and oddly nutty. I had to read over the ingredients (translating as I went, as it was in French) twice to reassure myself that there were no hazelnuts. There was something about the crispy center, it’s like a brown rice nuttiness. It’s lovely. Though there’s less chocolate than the old Crispy M&Ms, it’s still quite a cocoa punch. There is no malt flavor, but a light touch of salt.
They’re still more of a sweet snack than a chocolate candy for me. The crunch is great but there’s not quite enough chocolate satisfaction if I was looking for chocolate. It really is too bad that Mars doesn’t still make these in the United States because they do fill a certain void that the Pretzel just can’t quite touch.
But it’s still possible, that a small breeding population of Crispy M&Ms could be reintroduced to the United States, say only at M&Ms Stores or online. Just to see if the conditions are right for them to thrive.
Strangely enough, when I was traveling, I saw the Pretzel M&Ms rather often as well as the Peanut M&Ms, but less of the plain Milk Chocolate variety. In a vending machine in Amsterdam and at the grocery store.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.