Tuesday, June 12, 2007
There are many surprising things about Circus Peanuts. In fact, everything is so incongruous that there’s nothing that’s not surprising. That’s how jam-packed full of nonsense they are.
They’re shaped like peanuts, big big peanuts in the shell. But they’re orange in color. The orange color bears no relationship to the flavor, banana. And why even call them Circus Peanuts? Because they’re jumbo sized and you might feed them to an elephant ... come on, that’s a serious stretch.
They’re one of the most enduring candies in the United States, made first in the 1800s. Kind of like the Candy Corn of marshmallows, no one really knows when they started for sure. Except in the case of Candy Corn where many companies have tried to take credit, no one really bothers to try to brand Circus Peanuts. You don’t even see a TM after the name! No one knows the history of Circus Peanuts because everyone is so confused by them that they wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to clear much up. We can all continue to live in blissful mild confusion (and perhaps irritation that so many niblets of corn are wasted on so many Circus Peanuts).
Circus Peanuts are made by at least four different companies in the United States: Brach’s, Melster, Farley and Spangler. Melster, based in Wisconsin makes more than Brach’s & Spangler put together, though often you don’t see them packaged under the Melster brand, they’ll be done for grocery stores and drug store chains or maybe just found in bulk. In this article from 2003, it turns out that Spangler alone makes nearly 4 MILLION POUNDS a year. What? Who the heck is eating all these ... or are they just used as decoration or perhaps packing materials.
Circus Peanuts are shaped like peanuts, usually light orange/peach in color and banana-flavored. When fresh, a bag of Circus Peanuts can smell more like fingernail polish remover. When stale they can smell like, well, nothing at all. The artificial banana flavor must be some volatile compound that evaporates when exposed to air or perhaps a fierce stare.
Technically they’re a marshmallow: they’re sugar, corn syrup (and/or high fructose corn sweetener) and gelatin with some color and flavor thrown in. The gelatin helps the whipped sugar keep its foam. But instead of being extruded as most marshmallows are, these are molded, which might explain some of their density. Because of the high amount of corn syrup in them, they’re rather moist when fresh and can become stale and pretty firm. They’re not quite smooth in texture like most marshmallows, instead there’s a bit of graininess to them. The look like they’re made of fine porcelain of terra cotta. They can even make that clinking sound if you wait for them to get very stale.
I have bought Circus Peanuts before, usually when I find them ridiculously on sale, like 25 cents for a 10 ounce bag. Then I open the bag, get woozy from the fumes and remember why I don’t hang out in nail salons. Then I eat one or two and curse myself for buying them. Later I’ll find myself sneaking into the bag and eating them one or two at a time. When eaten with other candy or salty treats like popcorn, they’re not so bad. (Try Twizzlers or Cheetos.) Not a ringing endorsement.
If there’s one thing to be celebrated about Circus Peanuts it’s that they led to the creation of Lucky Charms. A General Mills team was charged with creating a kids cereal in only six months. So they sat down with everything available to them, from Cheerios and Wheaties to a bunch of candy from the store shelves (apparently that’s what a kid’s cereal is made from). They put bits of stale Circus Peanuts (now called “marbits” in the industry for marshmallow bits) in a sugared Cheerios and everyone loved the idea. A cartoon mascot and bit of Americana was born. So if you find yourself stuck with some extra Circus Peanuts, perhaps chop them up and throw them in your breakfast bowl.
Some brief facts:
Other thoughts around the ‘net:
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?
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Eek! The end of the week is coming and I still have oodles of Easter candy left to review. Time to double up!
The eggs themselves are about half the size of an actual chicken egg (sliced longways), so they don’t sit quite right in the egg carton. In fact, if you don’t carry the carton horizontally, they’ll all roll out of their little pockets. But not with the messy effect of real eggs. At 45 calories per egg and only 1.5 grams of fat they’re not a bad little treat for someone looking for a little chocolate and a bit more interaction satisfaction than 45 calories of straight chocolate can give.
The marshmallow inside is bouncy and light, not terribly moist. The chocolate outside wasn’t eggciting, just a rather unremarkable coating of plain dark sweet chocolate. The first one I ate (the one pictured) tasted rather like the carton they were in ... a little chemical-y. So for my next tasting I took them out of the carton and left them on a little plate for a half an hour. You know, “to breathe.” That little airing out helped. Now they taste sweet and flavorless. Not bad ... not eggstraodinary by any means, but I only paid 99 cents for the carton of twelve ... what could I have been eggspecting?
Rating: 4 out of 10
After I picked up the carton of Marshmallow Eggs, I found more of the Melster marshmallow line at the 99 Cent Only Store. They had the plain eggs in individually wrapped packets like this as well as these Caramel Marshmallow Eggs. There are only 6 eggs in this package and it doesn’t even weigh as much. But I still considered the price more than reasonable.
Where the plain eggs were only 45 calories each, the addition of caramel here makes them 60 calories though still only a gram of fat. I’m guessing the difference is that the caramel eggs are just a little denser (though the same size).
While I wanted to like these, they had a latexy quality ... and I don’t mean the texture. They tasted like someone had just painted my mouth. That fresh paint smell was coupled with the taste of cereal, maybe corn flakes.
So, maybe these needed the same “airing out” ... and that’s what I did. A half an hour out of the package. Ugh, it still tasted like a can of latex wall paint (maybe ceiling paint, my palette isn’t that sophisticated when it comes to interior coatings).
Now, I recognize that I’ve not reviewed candies for fans of paint fumes, so consider this your first whole hearted recommendation.
For those of you who are not fans of sitting around smelling the paint dry, well, I’d advise sticking to the plain eggs or splurge for Russell Stover or even better See’s.
Rating: 2 out of 10
More about the history of the Melster Company which is now owned by Impact Confections (makers of Warheads).
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Oh, goodness, what do we have here? See’s makes a lot of seasonal treats and I think I’ve discovered my new favorite: The Scotchmallow Egg. I’ve reviewed the Scotchmallow Bar before, which is milk chocolate, but this one is more like the piece you get in the store (or a box of See’s). It’s dark chocolate (Guittard, thankyouverymuch) with marshmallow and caramel in the center.
The box has six eggs in them, which are about twice the size of a regular piece of Scotchmallow - about 2.25” long and 1.5” across at the widest. The box lists two eggs as a serving size, which works out to 200 calories ... so that’d make each egg one of those fashionable “100 calorie snacks.”
Diehard Scotchmallow fans know what’s wrong with this picture. The candy center is upside down. In the Scotchmallow Bar and the pieces the caramel is on the bottom and the marshmallow is on the top. The proportions area also a little different, with the marshmallow being 2/3 and the caramel 1/3. It looks to be halfsies here (or maybe more caramel).
Here’s my best guess on how this happened. (And this is just a guess, the extent of my research amounts to seeing California’s Gold tour the factory.) The Scotchmallow is a stacked candy - they make sheets of caramel and sheets of marshmallow and then cut out the little rounds and stack them up and enrobe them (for both the bar and the piece). That wouldn’t work for the egg because of the domed top. So they pour the caramel into molds (just a guess here, folks). Then the marshmallow is poured on top, they’re flipped over and out of the mold and enrobed. Some settling occurs.
That’s the thing, the marshmallow on these is not quite as fluffy. But who cares? It tastes great. The spectacular thing about the See’s marshmallow is that it has honey in it ... you know, something that gives it flavor. It’s also a moist marshmallow, not a dry one (Peeps would be somewhere in between, when they’re fresh). The dark chocolate is rich and not too sweet. The honey touch in the marshmallow is the first flavor and then the caramel kicks in with its dark burnt sugar flavors and buttery notes.
I have to mention that some of my eggs had caramel that was a little more grainy than I’m accustomed to. I’m not sure what caused that, but even though the texture was a little different, the taste was exactly the same. I think I still prefer the traditional chocolate box piece, partly because it’s not as messy, but also because I like to nibble the chocolate off the sides and top and then eat the marshmallow ... then the caramel. But I have to love the fact that I can just pop in a store and grab one of these boxes (and my free sample) without much fuss.
The box costs $4.80 and contains a half a dozen eggs ... that works out to about $14.25 a pound ... a regular pre-packed pound of See’s is $14.50. See, it’s a deal! And no pieces you don’t like! For those of you into just marshmallow they also do a Marshmallow Egg (but in milk chocolate).
Monday, February 12, 2007
I don’t actually have much to say about these Marshmallow Hearts except that I was surprised and pleased, especially after the tragically untasty experience of the SpongeBob SquarePants Yogurt Covered Raisins last week (also made by Frankford).
I didn’t realize that these were made by the same company, which is probably a good thing. And now Frankford has redeemed itself in my book and is no longer a “bad candymaker” and only an “uneven candymaker” ... one more in either direction and my opinion will be cemented.
I’m not a huge consumer of plain marshmallows, but I have to say that these are adorable and just the right size (about 2/3 the size of a regular marshmallow). A few of these floating at the top of a cup of hot cocoa seems like it’d be a nice way for a parent to give some unconditional love or a sweetheart to give you a little unexpected treat.
They’re vanilla flavored, not strawberry (as I feared before I read the package). They are pink on the outside, so there is some food coloring in there, and yes, it does have a slight bitter aftertaste for me. If you’re not one who’s prone to that, then hey, no problem for you. I didn’t notice it at all when combined with hot cocoa, just when eating them by themselves. I preferred them a little stale, so they were chewy on the outside but still soft inside.
Note: Made in Israel ... however the package doesn’t rate them as Kosher.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Friday, January 5, 2007
Here’s a strange product line from Hershey’s in the Philippines. They’re called Mallow Blast and are described thusly on the package:
I’ve tried other Asian marshmallows before with a fruity filling in them, but this was a first to have them dipped in chocolate.
The Grape Mallow Blast packaging was certainly fun looking. The overall package is a pack with five individually wrapped pieces. Mine were slightly smashed but otherwise unharmed by their journey.
The grape ones smell very strongly of grape jelly and no hint at all of chocolate. The little twist of marshmallow is about as big as my big toe, but with a fruity filling (my toes might be filled with fruit, I’ve never checked). The marshmallow is springy and not terribly sweet. The jelly center is firm and tangy and of course grapey.
The Orange Mallow Blast smelled more of chocolate. The orange inside was actually pretty nice. A bit on the artificial side, but with a balance of zest and tang to it. The chocolate was crumbly and not terribly creamy, but all things considered, it was tasty enough for me to finish off the package of five.
Of course it’s not real chocolate on the outside, but I guess the labeling restrictions are different for other countries. The package clearly calls it Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, but the only “chocolate” in there are some milk solids and cocoa powder much later on the list after the number three ingredient, hydrogenated palm kernel oil. That said, they’d probably make a good treat for dieters, as they’re rather satisfying but not that dense in fat calories (6 of them have 3 grams of fat and 150 calories).
I could see these being popular in the States. The way that they’re packaged though makes it easy for them to get crushed, so they’d probably have to place them in a little tray with sides or something to prevent that.
The Mallow Blasts are certified Hallal.
Friday, October 27, 2006
In my pumpkin roundup the other day I didn’t include an Pumpkin Peeps. I actually went to the store and couldn’t find them. But I did get the next best thing, which would be the Peeps Spooky Cats.
When they were in their little tray they didn’t look very scary, except for that fear I have for conformity. In fact, they didn’t even look like black cats to me, but that could have been the lighting at the Walgreen’s. But no, I got them home and they are most definitely purple.
I can’t really say much else about them. I think I covered my feelings for Peeps back at Easter.
The newish product I was looking forward to showing here were the Cocoa Cats, which are a cocoa dusted/infused Cat Peep. Unfortunately there were none to be had (what’s with Peeps this year?). Anyway, I still have the Cocoa Peeps left over from All Candy Expo.
They don’t taste like much either, maybe a slight hint of cocoa to them, like a watered down cup of hot cocoa. What I found most curious about them is that they’re much less likely to go stale.
I’ve had these since June. I opened the package, took some photos and then put them back into the package. I left them in my tasting drawer (yes, the Candy Blogger has a drawer full of things to taste and write about) and checked them about a month later and they were pretty much the same. I didn’t seal up the bag or anything. So I left them out. Really left them out. Still, after an overnight sitting with a paper towel covering them and they were still soft. Eventually I got bored (or moved offices or something) and packed them back up and they went back into the drawer in their loose packaging.
Today I took them out and they’re still not stale enough. I bite into them and they give. Okay, maybe they’re a little tacky ... certainly more texture than usual.
Still, not my thing. As bunnies they’re kind of cute ... especially since I had bunnies this color when I was a kid. As a scary cat for Halloween ... well, purple is kind of sassy, a brown cat for Halloween is just lame.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.