Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Long ago there were LifeSavers Sweet Story Books. They were just a folded box that looked like a book that had a bunch of LifeSavers rolls inside. They still make them, every few years the graphics and the rolls included inside change with fashion.
Trader Joe’s has their own house-branded version of this, called Trader Joe’s Sweet Story. There are six no-artificial-anything, vegan, kosher and gluten-free hard candy rolls inside.
The package design is pretty straight forward, it’s a box with a front flap that reveals a “story” on the inside, which is a little poem about the candies. (Probably not so fun for kids.)
The box is well constructed (and is even printed on the inside). The rolls aren’t revealed inside the box flap though, you have to open it at the top to reveal them, all sealed together inside a cellophane bag.
Each roll is about the size of a LifeSavers product, 1.1 ounces. The rolls themselves are a bit more demure, a color-coded monochrome array.
Opening them was a disappointment and exercise in frustration.
Though it was not humid on Sunday when I bought these and photographed them, the paper-lined foil was stuck to the candies.
I resorted to picking the bits of foil off the candies before consuming (though still got a fair bit of paper in my mouth). Some rolls were better than others, but all had some degree of issues.
Cherry - Sucrets. Without the throat numbing properties.
Orange - really zesty, to the point of being slightly bitter at times. Sweet and tangy.
Pineapple - mild, more like those “low acid” pineapples these days that have a nice floral and strawberry cotton candy flavor but not that tart.
Raspberry - pretty much tasted like raspberry flavoring. A lot of sweet floral “flavor” and some tangy berry notes.
Pomegranate - a combination of raspberry and those winterberry scented candles. It’s trying too hard.
The package was $1.99, which breaks down to 33 cents a roll. Not really a bad price. And the flavor assortment was better than the current LifeSavers array. For those who need something that’s gluten free or all-natural, yeah, it’s a nice way to go. But I sure hope yours aren’t stuck to the wrapping like mine were, because that completely ruined it for me. And bumped my fiber intake.
Other remembrances of the LifeSavers Storybook: The Joy Of ..., Jason Liebig has an actual photo of an old one with the rolls still in it, Candy Critic, and of course The Imaginary World has some (I like this one).
Monday, October 20, 2008
De la Rosa Mazapan is a dulce de cacahuate or peanut confection. It seems like one of the most common candies to every culture is some sort of sweetened nut paste. Halvah, marzipan and if you throw in a little chocolate, gianduia, and all of their different variations.
I see these little disks of mazapan at the grocery stores all the time in Los Angeles, but this was the first time I saw them with their complete packaging with full ingredients & nutrition labeling. I picture them as something that a mom would tuck into their child’s lunch bag as a special little treat.
The ingredients are pretty simple and two thirds wholesome: peanuts and sugar and artificial flavors.
So first, I’ll tell you what I expected: I thought it’d be a sweet peanut butter disk. I thought it’d be like halvah, a little more crumbly than almond marzipan.
Here’s what it was actually like:
It was crumbly. When I opened the package it cracked into several large pieces easily. It smells wonderful, like peanut butter cookie dough.
But instead of being spiky and crystalline like halvah, it was smooth and cool on the tongue, dissolving like peanut butter flavored icing sugar.
Oh, it’s sweet. It’s absolutely more sugar than peanuts. The peanut flavor is throughout with some little crunchy chunks here and there.
I love the texture, though definitely not the mess. (Someday I’ll compile a list of “not keyboard friendly” candies and this will certainly be on it.) I wish it was just a little fattier, but far be it from me to mess with a traditional candy. Or maybe a little salt added, but again, that’s a personal preference, I like a bit of salt with my peanuts.
It strikes me that this would be a great hiking candy, a good mix of straight and easily accessible sugars and some satisfying protein. But again, it’s so very sweet and far too dry.
But I can’t really get behind it. Maybe I’ll give out the rest for Halloween. Or maybe try stuffing some into some crescent rolls to see what kind of a treat that makes.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
First thing I have to say about Brach’s Milk Maid Chocolate Caramel Candy Corn is that the name is too long. If the name takes up three lines, it’s too long. These are tiny little pieces of candy ... the name should not weigh more than the candy itself.
I knew this candy existed, but I was having trouble finding it. I was delighted not only to find it at Walgreen’s, but also in this 7 ounce bag (instead of the 9.5 ounce Caramel Apple Candy Corn a few weeks ago and the mondo 22 ounce bag I got of the the Caramel Candy Corn last year).
The package says that it’s made with real cocoa and real milk. I’d never really thought about candy corn being a dairy product. (Makes me think about creamed corn.)
My bag was exceptionally sloppy. There weren’t many well-formed pieces, some were missing a color but mostly they were just irregular. Part of the fun is the attractiveness of candy corn. This didn’t quite measure up.
The base flavor is the caramel. It’s a bit salty and has that fake butter flavor to it that I can handle in tiny doses. The middle section has a light cocoa flavor and the white top is, of course, unadulterated sweetness. They taste a bit richer than the typical orange & yellow candy corn, but I found the fake butter a little too artificial to keep me eating these.
It makes me wish they sold these in 1 ounce bags. That would have been enough to satisfy my curiosity.
The ingredients list salt above the actual milk in here. There’s also gelatin, so no good for vegetarians and it’s not Kosher.
This was the first Brach’s package I’ve seen so far that makes note of the new Farley’s & Sathers ownership.
The package joyfully tells me it’s America’s #1! (It’s also made in Mexico.)
Honestly it’s been so long since I had the Brach’s Mellowcremes, I didn’t remember whether they were flavored or not. (The Autumn Mix is not distinctly flavored.)
These little fondant nuggets come in four colors and eight shapes: crescent moon, black cat, pumpkin, jug, jack o’lantern, bat, corn cob and sheaf of wheat.
The flavors are determined by the color of the Mellowcreme.
Yellow = Banana - either you love fake banana or you don’t. As strong as my aversion is to fake butter flavor, my affection for artificial banana matches it. The flavor is mellow, with a touch of honey and salt. It’s soft and slightly grainy but melts easily.
Tan = Maple - this was the surprise of the package. I fully expected these to be the caramel flavor. Instead they have a nice woodsy/toasted taste to them, like a hunk of brown sugar.
Dark Brown = Cocoa - far more cocoa flavored than any Indian Corn I’ve ever had. But not really that good either, terribly empty and cardboard tasting, like a Tootsie Roll that’s been freeze dried, pulverized and smashed into a bat shape.
Orange = Candy Corn - the pumpkins are faithful to the Brach’s Candy Corn flavor. Sweet, bland and with a slight touch of honey. (Though there’s no honey in here.)
The package I picked has more yellow and tan ones, so I think I did well here as those are the ones I’m picking out to eat anyway.
The salt really helps these out. There’s 110 mg of Sodium in every serving, which is quite a lot for a candy (but an excellent stat if this was a canned soup). Consider it a boost to your electrolytes, maybe athletes will start carrying Mellowcremes as a recovery supplement.
I think the bragging rights are earned here. I now think that Mellowcremes are worth the search. (These also contain gelatin.) 7 out of 10
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I tried the Mexican import some years ago, back when it was just a milk chocolate bar and found it interesting, very milky and quite different from American or UK style chocolate.
What I found alarming about the new bars that Nestle’s is now selling in the US market is this nuevo dark chocolate style bar. Gotta wonder what the style of dark chocolate is. I’ve got to tip my hat to Nestle, dark chocolate style sounds much better than mockolate or chocolatey or chocolate flavored.
It reminds me of the Superfriends characters of Zan and Jayna when I was a kid. They’d activate their Wonder Twin Powers (tm), Zan would take the form of something made with water and Jayna would take the shape of an animal. See, they weren’t actually changing, Zan wouldn’t actually be a huge iceberg, he’d just be the shape of an iceberg with iceberg qualities but remain sentient and with the full power to change back. Same with Jayna, she’d become a sea eagle, but that wouldn’t mean that she’d suddenly lose her senses and eat Gleek.
So while I get that this is a bar that walks like a chocolate bar and talks like a chocolate bar, that doesn’t make it a chocolate bar.
The Nestle Carlos V Dark Knight is nicely packaged. The new version is full sized, 1.41 ounces instead of the old 3/4 of an ounce version. The bar is nicely domed and segmented.
The color is good though the snap is a bit soft.
As a chocolate style bar, it has a good amount of chocolate in it, the ingredients go like this:
So it’s not even vegan friendly (also it is made in a facility that processes peanuts and wheat products).
It smells like cocoa, sweet and kind of empty.
The taste is, well, similarly empty. It’s chocolatey, in the sense that it’s the flavor, but not much else qualifies it as such. It’s not creamy, it doesn’t really melt well though it is rather smooth once chewed up. But later there’s an aftertaste ... of vitamins. You know, those tasty large horsepills with a high B vitamin content. Oh, the aftertaste, kind of bitter and musty.
It has very little style, chocolate or otherwise, and it’s sad. The traditional Carlos V bar has also become milk chocolate style, Candy Snob reviewed the new version recently.
(No, I’m not even going to go into how cheesy I think naming the bar Dark Knight is.)
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The little individually wrapped taffy squares start hard but become chewy. One of the original taglines for the candy was “Eat some now, save some for later.” (I remember the tune for the jingle, but nothing beyond those words.) They currently say, “Hard ‘n Fruity Now, Soft ‘n Chewy Later.”
The 18 piece classic bar features the flavors Strawberry, Grape and Lime. In some ways they resemble Starburst, since they are a fruit chew (they were introduced as Opal Fruits in 1960 in the UK) or Tangy Taffy which was sold in bars that you could whack and break into bite size pieces. (That’s now discontinued.)
Now and Later have gone through a few different standard flavors and even a few owners. Phoenix Candy Company of Brooklyn, NY later sold out to Beatrice Foods (1978), who later sold their confectionery lines to Huhtamaki Oy of Finland (1983) which then turned around and sold it off in 1986 to a Finnish investment firm called Kouri Capital. They held onto it until 1992 when they sold it to Nabisco (who also held LifeSavers back then). Then it was sold to Kraft ... ultimately landing at Farley’s and Sathers in 2002. (Either people really love this candy or just don’t know what to do with it.)
Wikipedia has a fun list of all the flavors known to have existed. Even today, there are a lot of flavors of Now and Later, though I never see them in stores.
The most common format for the candy these days is either the pack shown here or in tubs of either mixed flavors or single flavors.
I ate a lot of these as a kid. They came in 5 cent packs (little stacks of the squares), so were easy to buy even when I had little money. But I gave up on them later as I got my permanent teeth. There was something anxiety-producing as I wasn’t disciplined enough to just let them soften in my mouth, I had to chew them while they were still hard and then anchor my jaw together.
Grape: was always my favorite in the Now and Later pantheon. Artificial through and through, it tastes like SweeTarts and ball point pen ink smells. Not terribly tangy, but still flavored to the very end and never gritty or grainy.
Lime: the neon green wax wrapper is matched by the neon green color of the candy. It’s very tangy and has the flavor of Lime Kool-Aid.
Strawberry: is a rich pink color. The flavor is at once like strawberry jam and those Italian strawberry hard candies that have the gooey filling. Tangy, fragrant, artificial and satisfying.
Now and Later don’t pretend to be healthy, there’s no real fruit juice in there, no detectable levels of vitamin C.
They can also be considered vegan, as they contain no animal products. (But do have soy, for those who might be sensitive and are processed on machinery that also handles eggs.)
Soft Now and Later are actually soft! They’re soft enough to bend while still in the wrapper.
A regular N&L is one inch square and a quarter of an inch high. The Soft N&L is one and a quarter inches square and a third of an inch high.
And they come in oodles of flavors.
Grape: this was the only crossover flavor I had between the regular and soft. It has an identical flavor. The texture makes it a little less punchy at first, but after that it’s tangy and artificial to the very end.
Banana : insanely chemical, so much that it’s like inhaling fingernail polish remover. Sweet and chewy, not quite as good as Laffy Taffy, but darn close. Even though they’re pretty horrible, I love them more than any of the other flavors. (I can’t explain it any further, it’s kind of like circus peanuts.)
Vanilla: is a nice toasty cream color. It tastes extremely artificial, but pleasant, rather like toasted marshmallows. Much softer chew than Tootsie’s version.
Chocolate: it’s a glossy-rich red-brown. It doesn’t smell like much, and really doesn’t taste like it either. Kind of like a very sweet brownie batter. The chew is nice, but overall I’d probably go with Tootsie Rolls.
Watermelon: is a zap of summer in the mouth. At first it’s that fake watermelon scent, then it tastes more like real apple juice. Not at all what I expected, and fans of fake watermelon and Bonne Bell lipsmackers will probably be disappointed.
Apple is a really weird light green color, almost has a cast of blue to it that makes me think it might be minty. Nope, it’s pure green apple flavor.
Cherry looks exactly like the Watermelon out of the wrapper (maybe a smidge darker). It has an intense black cherry flavor, nicely tart and less medicinal than many cherry candies.
The fun thing about the Soft N&L is that they are soft enough for mash-ups. I took my vanilla and chocolate and twisted them together. (It didn’t really make them any better.) Then I twisted them in with some banana. (Still not really better, just fun.) I pushed some bits of the Watermelon and Apple together and it looked horrid and tasted even worse. (But there have to be good combos in there somewhere.)
As a soft taffy with intense flavors, these aren’t quite Starburst. However, they don’t have any gelatin in them (but do have egg whites, so they’re not suitable for vegans but fine for vegetarians).
Monday, June 2, 2008
Dulce de Leche is a popular confection in Central and South America as well as parts of the United States. There are many regional versions (and some families have their own traditional recipes) but it’s all basically the same thing - a milk caramel. Often it’s made into a sauce or “spoon sweet” similar to pudding, but other versions are cooked into a solid much like a caramel or soft fudge/penuche. Other versions use the sauce as a frosting or filling for other baked goods.
Crown Nuggets sent me this version of Mexican dulce de leche (literally candy of milk) made with tequila. The name Borrachito means “little drunk”, and in this case they’re not kidding. These little fingers of dulce de leche (they call them nuggets) are up to 4% alcohol. (So they may not be available in all states.)
As they launch the candy there are two versions available: Tequila & Licor de Cafe. They’re packaged in little plastic tubs with the fingers separated by cardboard dividers, two layers deep, 12 in each layer. At over 9 ounces per package, they’re pretty dense little candies.
The Tequila Nuggets are on the right in this photo. You can see that they’re kind of a layered affair. The center is a smooth & creamy light caramel, almost like a pudding, then it’s rolled in sugar to keep them from sticking to each other. The drunken part is pretty evident when I opened the package. It smells like sweet tequila and a little bit like cotton candy.
I’ve had tequila before, but I don’t drink it straight and it’s not my preferred liquor. The idea of it mixed with some sweet and thick dairy was pretty appealing though.
The little fingers are soft, but the sugar coating keeps them from being sticky. I ate them in two bites, they’re about the size of the top two knuckles of my pinky (I can’t say how big your pinkies are). Inside the grainy exterior is a soft and creamy caramelized milk.
The tequila flavors are a little overwhelming at first, but the dairy flavors come out slowly. It’s soft and melts well on the tongue. I find the sugar grains make it a bit too sweet and mess with the custardy texture of the dulce de leche. Tequila is a bit medicinal but definitely add a bit of dimension to this.
These had a bit of a coffee note to them and a little bit of a rum taste.
I was hoping both of these would be more caramelized or milky tasting. It was darker, but not quite smoky or burnt enough for me. I like a good flan or creme brulee and I was hoping this would be a confectionery equivalent. The alcohol, while definitely evident, may have overshadowed that.
I think mainstream America is ready for some good dulce de leche. These appear to have overcome some of the issues of how to portion it and make it look appealing. It’s probably a good idea to capitalize on the tequila angle too, so I don’t begrudge the inclusion. But the flavor/texture mix just isn’t for me. I’m not going to give up on finding my ideal dulce de leche.
The nutrition panel is calculate for a single piece (11 grams & 40 calories) so it says there’s no fat in here, but since the second ingredient is whole milk, I’m guessing if you ate a full ounce (three pieces) your body would find some usable dairy fats in there.
I don’t care much for eating them as a confection on their own, but in combination with some bittersweet chocolate or even as part of a dessert cheese plate with dried fruits & nuts, they might be an interesting addition.
For more on dulce de leche: Malena travels Mexico & samples cajeta, Rosa at ZOMG Candy already reviewed Borrachitos and if you’re ever interested in making your own, it’s a simple as submerging a can of sweetened condensed milk in a pot and simmering it on the stove (or following a more traditional open pot method by Alton Brown or David Lebovitz).
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I picked this bar up at Target. They’re not available at all Target stores, in fact, the only one I see them at is the Target in Harbor City here in the Los Angeles area. I think it’s cool that Target has regionally relevant offerings and while this isn’t exactly a local product, I’m sure the folks who requested it and buy it are happy to have a taste of home.
Bubu Lubu is a Mexican candy from Ricolino. It’s described on the package (in English and Spanish) as strawberry flavored jelly and marshmallow with chocolate flavored coating. I know, I know, why am I buying a mockolate product? How could I not! Look at that metallic blue wrapper, the white marshmallow character with the spiky Lisa Simpson hair and strawberry-flavored scarf & gloves! And the name, people, just say that name out loud a few times.
They don’t say so on the package, but many folks enjoy Bubu Lubu frozen. (I don’t happen to care for cold candy, but that’s just me, so I ate mine room temperature.)
Even the shape of the bar is fun, with its little curves.
Inside, it’s pretty obvious how it lives up to the description. A white marshmallow base with a stripe of fruity red jelly and then covered in a crackly mockolate coating.
The strawberry jelly is tart and smooth but overwhelms any delicate vanilla flavors the marshmallow may have. The marshmallow is bouncing and lightly foamy, kind of like a meringue. The jelly creates a bit of a grainy coating, especially when it comes into contact with the mockolate, so it’s yet another texture. The mockolate, well, it’s kind of waxy and only vaguely cocoa flavored. I consider it the edible container for the jelly & marshmallow, not a full participant in this confection.
The bar is rather light, even though it looks pretty big it only weighs in at 1.23 ounces (35 grams).
Since there’s really nothing else like this in the American candy bar world, I think it’s great that this is finding its way onto American shelves. Not really a bar for me, the strawberry isn’t authentically jammy enough. But hey, it was 50 cents, so it’s not like I can expect something extraordinary. If you’re watching your calories, the fact that there’s no chocolate in there and all that marshmallow & jelly means that it rings in at a modest 126 calories.
This actually isn’t the first time I’ve bought Bubu Lubu, but this was the best looking bar I’ve had so far. I’m not sure if I’m not getting them fresh, or this is just the way that they always look. I’m not sure I’d ever find this combination, even factory-fresh with top notch ingredients excellent, but I’m sure that there are many fans of the bar.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.