Saturday, November 25, 2006
People complain that Christmas comes earlier and earlier each year in the retail world. The decorations are out before Halloween in some stores. It’s kind of funny, I was watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special and he was complaining about the same thing ... which leads me to believe that it’s been going on for a very long time. The funny part of that is that in some factories, it’s always Christmas.
Candy Canes are big business, especially for Spangler, which has two factories. Their primary facility is in Bryan, Ohio but they have another factory in Juarez, Mexico as well. The Bryan factory has been operating in three shifts since May just to keep up with demand, churning out 18 tractor trailer loads each day. (Their website says they make 25 million candy canes each year.)
Spangler makes more than just the plain old six inch shrink wrapped cane. They have a huge selection of different shapes and sizes, in more than the traditional red & white peppermint flavor. They make the candy canes for Jelly Belly, Disney and DumDum in all sorts of kooky flavors. I’m a bit of a traditionalist and got a hold of a pretty good cross section of their offerings.
Spangler always packages their canes well, so I rarely get a broken set. The flavor is a mild and pleasant peppermint. Not blastingly strong like an Altoid, more like a starlight mint, but less “foamy” feeling on the tongue.
Right now I’m pretty keen on the Candy Cane Wreaths. They’re a hoop of candy cane (but not joined at the top) around 4” across that have a gift tag already on them, in case you want to use them for decorating packages or gift bags. They’re easy to put on a Christmas tree, and I’m thinking about using them as napkin rings for the dinner table this year.
What’s especially cool about them is that all pieces are curved. I love the curve of a candy cane, how I can break off that piece and place it behind my front teeth and suck on it. Well, this is all curve!
I think if I my favorite size though is the tiny one. I know they aren’t wrapped quite as pretty (they’re in a cello pouch that doesn’t allow for hooking the cane on anything) but they’re easy to eat. I just snap it in half at the middle of the straight part of the cane and put the whole thing in my mouth. No muss, no fuss.
The last kind they make is the super-large pole.
I remember getting one of these when I was a little kid. I went with some neighbors to a parade where Santa rode in a red fire truck and gave these out. As a kid it was a huge amount of candy. A stupid, messy amount of candy. After a while it got very sticky and may have had cat hair on it or lint. So I would keep rinsing it off in the sink, and it would get clean, of course, but smaller and smaller. I seriously doubt I finished it.
As part of my new recipes starting in the New Year, I’ll have some fun tips for what to do with leftover candy canes.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Hershey’s has been furiously releasing limited edition Kisses. The interesting thing to note is that sometimes these Kisses become permanent additions to the line, such as the Peanut Butter Kisses earlier this year. Other Kisses have been returning as seasonal or limited edition items, such as the reappearance of the Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses.
The Mint Kisses seem like a natural brand extension. They were first introduced in 2002 and are released before the holidays each year. Simply put, it’s mint infused milk chocolate. The wrappers are a racing style green and silver check pattern, which I’ve always found rather cute.
As a candy they’re very strongly minted. They’re very sweet but with that familiar Hershey’s tang to the chocolate. Slightly grainy but overall smooth, they’re a fun change from the normal Kisses. My only caution is that when I put them in a bowl or bag with other Kisses the mint will infect the others.
An interesting thing to note about all the new Kisses. They’re molded. The traditional Kiss that’s been made for the past 100 years are extruded by machine to create a consistent kiss shape. They used to have a rather dependable little bend at the top, like chocolate chips to, but less so these days. It’s easy to tell them apart by looking at the bottom of it, where the traditional Kiss has a little cinch at the bottom instead being completely flat. Any other Kiss you might come across, however, is molded. Basically, they’re made upside down, with the chocolate deposited into a Kiss shaped tray.
The Limited Edition Candy Cane Kisses are new this year, though really just a new format for another Limited Edition product from last year. Last Christmas saw the introduction of a set of Miniatures called Mint Mix Miniatures which included minted dark chocolate, minted milk chocolate and minted white chocolate bars ... with the white one sporting little red and green nonpareils in it.
With the name being Candy Cane I was hoping that the candy bits in there were be actual hard candy like candy canes. But they’re just crunchy nonpareils like the miniatures last year.
I can’t help loving these. I don’t know why I do, but they’re positively addictive. I had a lot of Kisses for some photos I was shooting and I found myself digging through the assortment and eating all of these first. They’re a little grainy but have a good minty feel in the sinuses and the crunchy bits are kind of fun to roll around on your tongue as it melts.
Another production note. After seeing the Orange Creme ones last year that were white with orange stripes on the outside, I figured out how they make these. They create stripes of molten colored white chocolate on the inside of the mold, then deposit the rest of the white chocolate. The strips of colored chocolate spread out and make the stripes.
The only disturbing thing I have to report about this pair of candies is that both ingredients list PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate - an emulsifier used to replace some of the cocoa butter in lower quality chocolates). Sigh.
If you need more Kisses, check out SugarHog.net, which is running a series of reviews on all the regular and limited edition Kisses. (Including the coconut ones that I haven’t been able to find ... well, I haven’t looked very hard.)
UPDATE 10/28/2007: The Candy Cane Kisses are back for 2007 ... however, they are no longer made with cocoa butter, instead it’s a mix of tropical oils. I do not plan on buying them again.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Altoids have been around for well over two hundred years. They’re simple little nuggets of sugar, mint flavor and a little acacia gum to hold it all together. I’m not sure if they count as candy, as they’re intended for breath freshening, not wholesale gobbling. (But just because that’s what they’re intended for doesn’t make it so.)
Altoids were made by Callard & Bowser for many years. Then there were a series of buyouts, Callard & Bowser was bought by Suchard. That company was owned by Beatrice. The whole shebang of Callard & Bowser-Suchard was then sold to Kraft which sold it in 2004 to the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company. As a Wrigley brand they make more sense than belonging to a company that makes Velveeta, however, I’m still cross with Wrigley for discontinuing Reed’s.
What was once just a humble piece of peppermint chalk is now a veritable empire of its own. There are the mints, a line of gum, sour hard candies and even some freako weird breath strips.
So that brings us to the newest brand extension. The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints. Called “Curiously Chocolate” on the tin, I have to admit I find it curious myself. I got a hold of two of the new flavors - Peppermint and Cinnamon.
Out of the package they’re not remarkable looking at all. They look kind of like buttons or maybe slightly smaller Junior Mints. They smell only vaguely chocolatey but that’s probably because the peppermint or cinnamon scent is so strong.
On the tongue the chocolate melts rather readily and is much thicker than I would have expected. It’s dark and with a slight grain to it (but hey, Altoids are pretty grainy too) but a rich taste permeated with the mint or cinnamon in question.
I really didn’t think these were going to be any good at all, but I enjoyed the little creamy hit of chocolate. I preferred it when I immediately cleaved the mint so that I got mint and chocolate at the same time, but letting the chocolate melt off and then getting to the mint has nice too.
My biggest concern is the durability of these. What I like about Altoids in general is that I can leave a tin in the car or at the bottom of a bag and not worry how long its been there. I know for a fact that I’ve eaten five year old Altoids. But I wouldn’t want to eat old chocolate.
These are preview packages of the new Altoids, they’ll be available in January 2007 on CandyWarehouse.com, though there is word that they’re popping up in places.
Note from the package: Altoids are made with gelatin, therefore not suitable for vegetarians.
Other strange notes: I went to the Altoids “Shoppe” on their website and they’re out of stock on about half of the products. Come on! You’re the factory, make some more! (And here’s a link to a recent story in the Chicago Sun Times I read.)
Thursday, September 28, 2006
This isn’t the first time Skittles has introduced a mint assortment. They did it back in 2002 (if I recall correctly) and sold them in little plastic containers instead of the normal bags and charged twice as much for half the amount of product. I tried them, and actually liked them, but just couldn’t pony up a dollar for a little box.
This is where buying stuff at the 99 Cent Only Store gets me into trouble. I don’t know if this is a leftover from 2002 or they’re reintroducing the Fresh Mint Skittles. They seem pretty fresh (if someone knows how to decode the batch numbers, please help me figure out what 349BX3 means). They come in five flavors - white, green, aqua, turquoise and light green.
White - tastes like a mint combo of spearmint and peppermint. Like toothpaste.
Green - tastes like toothpaste
Aqua - tastes like toothpaste
Turquoise - tastes like toothpaste
Light Green - wait, this might be wintergreen.
As a chewy mint, they’re fun and refreshing. If they’re different flavors, they’ve done a great job of making sure that none is too distinct so that you can’t combine them instead of picking through the flavors.
I’d actually buy these again. They’re pretty and very agreeable for most purposes. I’ll probably put them in a dish on my desk - a good little pick me up throughout the day. They’re the first Skittles you can eat with your morning coffee (well, I suppose you could have the Ice Cream ones, if you wanted to start the day wrong). If they’re four years old, I have to say they keep really well. I suspect it’s possible because the nutrition label doesn’t mention trans fat content as they’re now required to. Yeah, I’m gonna guess that they don’t make these anymore.
The package advertises that they’re only 5 calories per piece.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Months and months ago a reader suggested I get familiar with a strange favorite it Australia - musk sticks. Basically they’re pressed candy stick flavored like musk. You know, the perfume. I figured if I’ve eaten violet candies, rosewater ice cream and 10 year old Lifesavers, there’s no reason I shouldn’t try these.
I found them at Mel & Rose’s, which seems to carry a lot of Australian candies. The package doesn’t make them look that appealing, the word musk has those little “smell wafts” coming off of it. The candies themselves are the pressed chalk variety like Pep-O-Mint, not a hard candy like the Butter Rum Lifesavers.
They smell like incense or a soap shop. It’s more like a lightly floral patchouli. So when I took the photo and then put the roll in my desk drawer, it was kind of like a sachet in there.
The little candy is sweet and of course easy to crunch. The flavor has no other notes besides this soapy detergent scent and made me wonder if this is what it’d be like to eat incense cones. There isn’t any listing of ingredients on the package or dietary info, so for all I know, they are meant to be burned.
I have no idea if the Lifesavers version of musk is consistent with the other musk sticks so popular in Australia and New Zealand, but I think my curiosity is satisfied. I suppose if I were trying to cover up strong mouth odors (like smoking or antibiotic side effects) this might be a good candy, but for some reason I think my neck should be perfumed, not my breath.
Note: though these candies are branded Lifesavers, they’re made by licensing agreement by Nestle.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
At first I was irritated when I saw this new flavor set from Starburst. What the heck would Icy Bursts be? I thought that they’d have some sort of cooling sugar alcohol like Xylitol that’s all the rage these days, but instead it’s just the addition of mint to each of the flavors.
Once I figured that out, it reminded me of the not-so-great Bear Bubble Gum that had that awful menthol in it. But then I settle down and stopped trying to draw negative connections.
Part of what changed my mind was that I’ve been going to a new Gelato joint (well, I’ve been there twice) and sampled quite a few of their sorbet flavors. The ones that I’ve liked best were Limoncello & Basil, Strawberry & Licorice and Pineapple & Cardamom ... you can see where I’m going with this, right? Fruit and herbs are a great combo!
What’s even better about the addition of mint is that I don’t have that awkward chemical aftertaste when I’m done. I’m left with a minty feeling, not a strange green apple burp taste in my mouth.
Strawbrrrrry - yes, that word has six Rs in it, and five of them are in a row. I can actually pronounce that, as I can trill my uvula, so if you ever run into me in person, ask me to say it out loud. This one looks and smells like a regular strawberry Starburst and it isn’t until very late in the chew that the mint comes out. It didn’t rock my world, nor feel like a burst of anything, but I liked it.
Kiwi Snowberry - creamier than the others, kind of like kiwi/strawberry, but who knows. The wrapper was green but the candy itself was mauve. Of all of them, the mint was the least welcome.
Blue Raspberry Freeze - a rather pleasant surprise, the raspberry had some nice floral notes to it, a good tart burst and then the minty overtones. It ended up being my favorite of the set, which is odd because I never would have thought that raspberry should go with mint.
Polar Citrus - it’s an orangy/lemony citrus with a little bit of a creaminess to it and a much more subdued minty undertone. It didn’t really have anything “blasty” to it.
The thing that I’ve always liked about Starbursts is their way of tickling my salivary glands and making them tingle. These don’t do that. They’re mild and pleasant and don’t really deserve the word BURST in their name twice. That said, they’re nice enough and if they were in a bowl on my desk mixed with regular Starbursts, I’d eat them after the others were gone. These are a limited edition product.
Did you know that Starbursts have 50% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C? That was their unique selling proposition when they were introduced in the 60’s.
Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Here’s a candy that never entered into my field of candy vision: the Mint Julep. In fact, until about a year ago, I’m not sure I knew these existed. It’s not like I’m mint-blind. I guess what brought these into my realm was a new push by Necco to introduce them to new generations. That and there was a huge barrel of them at the All Candy Expo’s freebie room.
Frankly, I was afraid they were going to be like Mary Janes and pull out my teeth or something. Or maybe they were going to be like mint-flavored Starbursts.
But here’s what they are: they’re spearmint taffy.
They were nice. Not super strong tasting, very soft and chewy and pleasant. They didn’t rock my world, but I think they have a solid place in it now. They’re a really satisfying little candy - larger than a Starburst and in a flavor you’re not going to get anywhere else in this format. I can’t see myself buying a tub of these online or anything, but I would pick up one or two after brunch or something at the local diner to clear my palate.
Mint Juleps are also known as Southies and were made by the Squirrel company that also makes Nut Zippers. They are most often sold in little tubs by the register at convenience stores and diners. (This type of retailing is called “changemakers” as people will often spend the change from their bill on little items. The tubs are placed in places where it makes sense for such an impulse buy.) They were introduced in the 30s and then disappeared back in the nineties as the company was bought out and went through some changes. Necco brought them back about a year ago.
In case you were wondering what’s in the drink also called a Mint Julep, it’s simple syrup with some muddled spearmint sprigs in it, then combined with Bourbon and served over ice with more mint.
Mint Juleps are gluten free according to the Necco website (and the drink probably is too!).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.