Thursday, April 19, 2007
Starbursts were one of those candies that simply appeared from nowhere and filled an aching void in my being that I never knew existed. They were chews, like Now & Laters, only they were actually chewy.
I didn’t know that they were road tested in Europe as Opal Fruits since 1960. They were introduced in the US in 1976, just as I was getting a regular allowance and permission to walk down to the convenience store with my sister. Though vaguely similar in format to Now & Laters, the soft chew and salivary-gland tingling tartness set them apart.
Starbursts are great for kids, I can say this authoritatively because that’s what I thought when I was one. They’re individually wrapped, have an array of flavors and the long narrow package looks like it has a lot of candy in it. It promotes sharing and portion control. And they’re brightly colored. The bright wax wrappers can also be folded into chains. (I never went this far though.)
The original flavors were orange, lemon, lime and strawberry but at some point lime was out and cherry was in. I wasn’t that fond of lime, but my dislike for cherry is well-known. The packages contain 12 chews.
Orange - super tangy and then mellows into a pleasant zesty chew.
As I was preparing this review and photographing the candies I was surprised that there were three of each flavor. I could have sworn that they were random and sometimes I was getting far too many cherries.
Starburst actually have real fruit juice in them as well as 50% of your RDA of Vitamin C. They also (in the States) have gelatin in them, so they’re not suitable for vegetarians and not certified Kosher. I’ve heard that the European versions of Starburst don’t have gelatin, so I’m curious if the texture is any different.
Other Starburst varieties:
Monday, April 16, 2007
In my bargain hunting last weekend I was able to secure bags of the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs and the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs at rock bottom prices.
I picked up the M&Ms Peanut Butter Speck-tacular Eggs mostly because folks are still commenting on the Wonka Oompas (currently fruity) post lamenting the loss of the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
First, a rewind to the old Peanut Butter Oompas (see wrapper here) from Wonka. Introduced in 1972 after the film Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, they were larger than M&Ms but the same ovoid shape. The top half was peanut butter and the bottom half was mockolate then it was all covered with a crisp candy shell. (There may have been other flavor varieties.) The separation of the peanut butter and chocolate meant that you could cleave them in half in your teeth if you wanted, or suck the shell off and then melt away the chocolate creme to have only the stiff peanut butter left. I liked them and recall buying them rather often (there was no such thing as a Peanut Butter M&M at the time and Reese’s Pieces didn’t come along until 1978).
I was hoping that the larger format of the Speck-tacular Eggs would be similar to the old Oompas.
The normal M&Ms Peanut Butter have a core of peanut butter and a covering of milk chocolate then a shell. A little larger than a regular M&M, they average about the same size as a Peanut M&M. The Speck-Tacular Eggs are larger still and thus have a larger proportion of the peanut butter center since the chocolate coating seems about the same thickness.
It’s been at least thirty years since I’ve had the old Peanut Butter Oompas, so I can’t say that the Speck-Tacular Eggs are as good or even the same, but the proportions feel better to me. I’m going to say that this is the best modern day equivalent to the old Peanut Butter Oompas.
I don’t eat Reese’s Pieces much, though I do recall loving them as a kid. I used to buy bags of M&Ms and mix them with Reese’s Pieces. I could always pick the Reese’s Pieces out on my tongue by feel because their shells were ultrasmooth. (Ah, the ways I used to amuse myself.)
While the Speck-Tacular Eggs were rather uneven in size, the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are exceptionally regular. The colors are pretty much the same as the Hershey’s Pastel Eggs, though a little more egg shaped (with a pointier end).
The shells on the Reese’s Pieces Pastel Eggs are thicker than the regular Reese’s Pieces and provide a satisfying sharp crunch. The larger mass of peanut butter creme allowed me to really taste it. It has a slight floral taste to it and reminds me a bit of eating peanut butter cookie dough. Sweet with a little dash of salt. Pretty smooth and not as roasted tasting as the M&Ms Speck-Tacular Eggs.
I liked both varieties of eggs equally well. As appearances go, I preferred the Reese’s. But the freak-tacular price of only 52 cents for the Speck-Tacular Eggs is hard to argue with. They are both being added to my repertoire of Easter Candies to pick up at ridiculous prices.
Note: both products are certified Kosher.
Friday, April 13, 2007
After my pleasant first experience with CocoaVia last year I was happy to find that CocoaVia was at the ExpoWest trade show back in January. It meant that I could try more of their products without shoveling out oodles of dough. They were sampling their milk chocolate covered raisins, which I thought tasted like milk chocolate raisins. They also had a large assortment of their bars out there. It was hard to talk to the folks at the booth for all the attendees grabbing the free samples by the handful, but I stood my ground in the crush and had a nice conversation with the CocoaVia people.
I like the idea of portion control. I had a little problem with those big tubs at Trader Joe’s sometimes, because I will just keep eating from it. I learned a long time ago to take a handful and put it in a little dish, close up the tub and put it away and then enjoy my treat.
I think CocoaVia’s idea for a portion controlled sweet is two-fold - small individually wrapped packages sold only five at a time. And charge $20 a pound.
Chocolate Snack Bar - the package on this one is a bit deceptive. It just shows some chunks of chocolate but it’s really a bar of crispy/chewy grains with a chocolate base. It feels much more filling than the 80 calories might ordinarily seem.
The crisped rice and grain crunch is mellow and malty while the chocolate gives it a creamy and tasty component. Yeah, it could be bigger, but it’s a supplement bar, not dessert. (The ingredients on this bar list Almonds and Peanuts.)
80 calories and 25% of our daily RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E and 10% of your B6, B12, Folic Acid and Vitamin C.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Crispy Chocolate Bar - seemed to be more accurate on the picture front, little chunks of chocolate with itty-bitty crispies mixed in. The bar is dark and has a very green and smoky taste to it. And a bitter aftertaste. This was a seriously strong bar with a dry finish. Not really an indulgence, I felt like I was working to find the pleasant flavors instead of just enjoying it.
I waited a couple of days and tried again and I’m gonna have to pass on this one, it’s just too bitter. It’s like eating a spoonful of cocoa.
90 calories and 10% of your RDA of Folic Acid, Vitamin C & B12, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6 and 30% of your Calcium.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Milk Chocolate Bar - was very nice. Super creamy and smooth with great chocolate notes and some caramelized milk flavors. This bar was softer than the other ones (you can see it even melted a little bit under my hot studio light when I was taking the picture).
It reminds me a lot of the Dove milk chocolate, which shouldn’t be surprising since they’re both made by Mars. However, there is an odd bitter (and only slight) aftertaste for me. It’s a little metallic and it could just be the fortifications, but it makes it less like candy for me.
110 calories and 20% of your RDA of Calcium, 15% of your Vitamin E & B6, 10% of your Vitamin C, Folic Acid & B12.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These are all okay, but I still have to say that their best innovation so far is the Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. I even found them locally at Shim’s Produce (it’s kind of like the 99 Cent store of grocers). They had stacks of boxes for only 99 Cents. I thought there must be something wrong with them and only bought one, but it was just fine (expiration date of July).
That brings me back to the huge drawback of the CocoaVia line. The price. At about $5 a box of five, it’s pretty harsh for the pocket book and not terribly satisfying to the sweet tooth. If anything I’d feel obligated to finish something I don’t like because I paid so much for it.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
Folks are obsessed with Peeps around this time of the year. As I’ve stated before, I love the idea of Peeps, I just don’t really enjoy eating them. So I thought I’d try to improve my experience by creating some Peeps Mash-Ups. These aren’t full-blown recipes but more of a “dry fondue” with some items I had lying around:
Peeps Rocks - here I’ve mashed my Peep into some Strawberry Pop Rocks.
First, when mashing a Peep, it helps to pull it apart. This way you have two sticky halves for picking up other candy goodness as well as alleviating the issue of “double dipping” if you’re mashing with a buddy.
When I mashed the Pop Rocks into this fresh Peep, the rocks started snapping immediately. (You can’t see the noise in the photo, but it’s cracklin’ away, trust me.)
The cotton-candy-like flavor of the strawberry goes really well with the flavorless Peep. Light and refreshing. The pops give it a little sizzle.
Peeps Nerds - when you look at it, a Peep is really just a giant spongy Nerd with a pointy nose. Oh, and eyes. Nerds may have eyes in their little cartoon versions on the packaging, but not on the real candies like Peeps do.
I wasn’t really fond of this flavor combination, or the colors. The red and green (cherry & watermelon) looked too Christmasy. The taste combo was pretty good though. The crunch of the Nerds gave the spongy marshmallow a good texture and the zap of tartness also balanced out the sweetness of the Peep.
Peeps & Mini M&Ms - this is a natural combo and the colors couldn’t look better together if I tried. The little M&Ms adhere really well to the Peep’s exposed marshmallow. The sweet chocolate has a good crunch though it might be a little too sweet.
You could probably try mini dark chocolate baking chips for a less sweet experience (though you’d lose the crunch). The little tube they come in is especially easy for mashing on the go, just press the stickiness to the opening and tip the M&Ms Minis into it.
Peep Tarts - I have to admit that I was especially proud of the name for this one. Originally I wanted to use Pixy Stix for the powder, but I couldn’t find any (I try not to keep them in the house, for sanity’s sake). So I took the powder from an extra Topps Baby Bottle Pop. The Citrus Craze powder is already less sweet because it’s also intended to be “mashed up” with the lollipop top, so it adds flavor and tartness without more throat-burning sugar.
I’m not really sold on the combo, but after eating everything pictured here within about 15 minutes I had a stomach ache. Gah, I’m getting another one just typing this up!
So, what are your ideas for Peeps Mash-ups - either theoretical ones, or ones that you actually do?
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
After the luscious experience of the Snickers Dark, I was pretty determined to find the fabled Snickers Almond Dark.
I couldn’t find it in the regular bar, but did stumbled across this bag of minis called the Snickers Dark Mix which has miniature versions of Snickers, Snickers Dark and Snickers Almond Dark. Frankly, by putting the milk version in there they should have called it a Dark & Milk Mix.
The proportion in the bag, unfortunately, leaned towards the Snickers end of things, but there were enough of Snickers Almond for me to get a good sense of the candy. One of the things I enjoy about the minis, which are much smaller than the snack size, is that you could take them out of their little wrappers and drop them into a fluted candy cup and pretend they’re from a box of chocolates.
The Snickers Almond Dark mini certainly makes a convincing appearance as a fine chocolate. It has a good chocolatey scent mixed with less peanut than the Snickers. Each little mini that I ate had at least one whole almond in it, which gave it a good convincing almond crunch. The peanuts were not as obvious in this version as they are in the large bar but that may be that the dark chocolate goes so well with this iteration.
Like the Snickers Dark, I would definitely opt for this one over the regular milk chocolate version. While Nestle has been introducing dark versions of their regular bars (Crunch, 100 Grand & Raisinets), their chocolate has a waxy feeling on the tongue and no real chocolate taste. The KitKat Bitter shows that Nestle knows what dark chocolate is supposed to be, they just can’t be bothered with actually delivering it in their bars. Mars, on the other hand, did a good job of putting something that tastes like chocolate on their chocolate bar. Are we going to get a 3 Musketeers with dark chocolate soon? Pretty please!
Monday, February 26, 2007
I’d heard that this Limited Edition Snickers Dark bar was out several months ago, but as usual, it took a while for me to find it. (At the 7-11.) While Hershey’s seems to have a blanket method (“change everything in everything”) for Limited Editions, Mars seems to take a very measured approach to them, sticking to simple little changes. I doubt we’ll see a Wild Cherry Milky Way or Twix Caramel Espresso (though that sound pretty good, come to think of it).
The Limited Edition versions by Mars usually have either changed one ingredient or left one out. The most recent one was the Snickers Xtreme, which had no nougat. This one is just a plain old Snickers with a dark chocolate coating.
I’m a big fan of Snickers, though I rarely buy them. When I do, I find them so substantialicious that I can’t finish it in one sitting. It’s a big bar at 2.07 ounces.
The Dark however, is only 1.83 ounces.
It’s a good bar. I found the dark chocolate tasty, it tastes like actual dark chocolate ... it’s creamy, a little dry a little smoky and is able to hold up to the peanutness of the bar. The darkness of the chocolate is less sweet than the regular bar and actually supports the true peanut flavors much better. However, the dark chocolate does overpower the caramel. The caramel texture still comes through, but the salty sugar notes are completely lost. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
I think this is an excellent change up of the tried and true Snickers and I think I could see myself buying this far more often than the regular Snickers. I really hope they consider making this a permanent part of their repertoire.
Friday, February 9, 2007
Dove Jewels are a mid-range Dove confection packaged for Valentines. Inside this little red reflective cube were individually mylar wrapped chocolates. There were six varieties (two of them just solid chocolate). The packaging is attractive and the description of the candies is compelling. I’m not a huge fan of Dove chocolate, but these looked like an interesting option compared to the heart-shaped boxes I already reviewed this week.
Raspberry Truffle (magenta wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate. The truffle center was soft, a bit salty. On top of that (or maybe on the bottom) was a bit of raspberry jam. It didn’t have much zazz, so I didn’t catch more much more that indicated this was raspberry than a few authentic seeds.
Caramel Espresso (gold wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in dark chocolate, this had two components, a flowing caramel on the top of the center and a firm truffle-like espresso chocolate on the bottom.
Chocolate Mousse Truffle (purple wrapper) - an oval shaped piece in milk chocolate. It’s the one pictured above bitten in half. It’s sweet and mellow, not terribly chocolatey. The center has a bit of a salty taste to it that keeps the sticky sweet milk chocolate under control. A little hint of coconut flavor in the center.
Cashew Almond Crunch (green wrapper) - a round jewel piece in milk chocolate. It has a rather firm center with lots of bits of cashews & almonds and some sort of crunchy, perhaps hard nougat, stuff. This was the winner in the package (well, it’d score even higher if it was in dark chocolate), however, by the second one I had a sore throat.
While the packaging was elegant for drug store fare from Mars and of course different from the cheesy and dated heart boxes, I still wasn’t blown away by the Dove chocolate itself. I find it a bit too sweet and waxy without much chocolate bang. I did appreciate that the flavor combinations were a bit more adventurous than the usual mint, coffee, blah.
As an after Valentine’s purchase, getting these for $2 or so is probably a great deal (better than an Elmer’s box) as far as quality goes but at pre-Holiday prices, for less than $10 you can get some really good See’s candies (in whatever assortment you think will please your honey) made with Guittard chocolate and fresh, mostly natural ingredients (I think some of their fruity items use artificial colors).
I know some folks are very fond of Dove but it just doesn’t have that zing for me at this price, this was the biggest ticket item I bought for my grand Valentine’s Week (granted, all those other high-end boxed chocolates were gifts) so it did have some high standards to meet.
Monday, January 29, 2007
I have to admit that I’ve never been terribly fond of Twix bars. I know that they fill an important niche in the confectionery pantheon: a cookie, some caramel and a chocolate enrobing. I did quite like them when they were first introduced in 1979 in the United States but found that other crunchy caramelly chocolate candies (like the 100,000 Dollar Bar) fit my desires a little better.
I even gave the Classic and Peanut Butter Twix another try recently.
I decided that the cookie is too sweet for me. I like the combination of textures and I rather like how “sandy” the cookie is, but it either needs a hit of salt in the cookie (like a shortbread) or in the caramel. The Peanut Butter Twix is a little closer to what I like, but even with the mellow peanut butter, it still ends up being too middle-of-the-road. I rather enjoyed the Dark Chocolate and think that was a great bar but really thought the White Chocolate was a move in the wrong direction.
Enter Mars’ newest Limited Edition offering: Triple Chocolate. Yes, it’s all chocolate all the time with this bar. A chocolate cookie with a stripe of chocolate caramel covered in milk chocolate.
For such a chocolatey bar it didn’t smell much like chocolate. It smelled sweet and kind of like vanilla caramels. The bar as a whole has the familiar mix of textures with the crumbly/crunchy cookie bar, the soft and chewy caramel and then the smooth and sweet milk chocolate.
If it’s got triple the chocolate, it’s just not there for me. I wasn’t getting much in the chocolate realm at all (maybe I’m still on my dark chocolate high from the Fancy Food Show) ... just sweet. So sweet my throat hurt.
I wish they’d wrapped it in dark chocolate.
Note: Mars is now using PGPR in their chocolate as well (Hershey’s was the first company I noticed that changed their chocolate formulation). PGPR is an emulsifier like Soy Lecithin that’s usually derived from Castor Beans. The emulsifier keeps the chocolate smooth and flowing for the manufacture process and also replaces some of the cocoa butter.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.