Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, CO makes an interesting line of candy cups called Sun Cups. They’re nut free, gluten free, use all organic ingredients plus ethically source chocolate, no soy, no peanuts and is Kosher. They do contain dairy.
The first set of products they introduced were sunflower butter cups (hence the name Sun Cups) in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. This cup is accurately described by the name, they’re chocolate cups with a peppermint cream filling. They package is the same size and weight as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - 1.5 ounces (so 3/4 of an ounce per cup).
Their most recent addition to the line is their Sun Cups Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.
The packaging is dark and honestly looks a little more foreboding than most mint and chocolate candies I sample. The package is also compostable.
The cups are nicely made, perfectly level and with no cracks, scuffs, blemishes or oozing. The proportions inside the chocolate cups are very nicely done. Unlike some other cups I’ve had where there’s a strange chocolate hump on the bottom of the cup or too much top crust, these are consistent throughout.
The chocolate is crisp and nicely tempered. It’s deep and rich and only barely sweet, in fact, it’s downright bitter compared to the sweet center. The fondant filling is kind of strange. It’s not a smooth gooey sauce like the center of a Junior Mint or the crumbly slightly airy center of a York Peppermint Pattie. It’s soft, though stiff enough that it doesn’t flow. It’s grainy, but in a smooth and consistent way that frosting can be. The color is like turbinado sugar, natural but still clean looking. The filling is made from cream, sugar, peppermint oil and white chocolate. So there’s a light, creamy butter flavor to it along with a clean flavor of peppermint.
The mint doesn’t overpower the dark chocolate. Nothing can overpower the darkness of this chocolate, it has a slight dry bite to it that’s hard to overcome even with what feels like a pure sugar center.
I want to love these and I had no trouble eating both for the review, but I don’t feel like I’ll find myself in the right mood for something so intense again. I’m sure that there are some folks out there who have been longing for a really bitter peppermint pattie experience, so hopefully they’ll find these and keep the product line in business.
Friday, October 21, 2011
So I’ve tried the Zachary Thick Mints and the Zachary Mini Mints. Today I have the Zachary Thin Mints. This is probably where I should have started, as this is the standard set of ratios that all other peppermint fondant and chocolate candies should be judged against.
The Zachary line of candies are very well priced. They’re often sold at dollar stores and other discounters. I happened to find my set of both the mini mints and the Zachary Raspberry Thin Mints. They were on sale for 79 cents for a box that holds 3.5 ounces. That’s the same price as a regular York Peppermint Pattie. Kind of a crazy comparison.
The boxes are small and rather nicely designed. Spare but they provide the essential protection of the stuff inside and have a bunch of information on them that they’re obligated to carry like ingredients, and nutrition facts and include the notation that they’re made in the United States (which York Peppermint Patties can no longer say).
Inside the Thin Mints are in a little tray. It has two sections, kind of misleading about the amount of candy, especially when compared to the similarly priced Haviland Thin Mints that have 5 ounces in a box and all natural ingredients.
There were 12 mints in my packages. Yes, the two sections are uneven. One holds 5 patties and the other 7 patties. I have no idea why it’s formatted that way.
The Peppermint Thin Mints are rather ordinary. They’re small, about 1.25 inches in diameter, like little coins. My mint ones were in good condition with very few scuff marks.
The fondant is soft, almost chewy. It’s like a cross between the gooey center of a Junior Mint and the softer center of the Haviland. They’re not strong, just an all around inoffensive mint. The peppermint is clean and doesn’t really overpower the mild semi-sweet chocolate. It’s like eating a handful of baking chips. It’s not extraordinary chocolate, a little on the gritty side but real.
The second version is the Raspberry Thin Mints which I thought were going to be just raspberry flavored fondant. Nope, there’s mint in there, too.
These were horrid. The raspberry was fake and floral and tasted like the purple coloring. Then there was the slight tangy, jam flavor in there ... all capped off with a refreshing burst of mint. The chocolate coating was mercifully stronger here, perhaps picking up on the woodsy notes of the raspberry. It was just a terrible mix. I don’t think mint goes well with berries or even citrus (I know, Mojitos are a mystery to me).
They’re not for vegans - there’s milk and eggs in there. There’s no gluten statement on the package but no actual wheat ingredients - proceed with caution.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Zachary has distinguished itself in the past few years as the premiere maker of offbeat flavors for Candy Corn (Egg Nog, Tangerine, Gingerbread, Creme Brulee and Cinnamon Fangs to name a few). They also have a line of economical mints, mostly available in discount and dollar stores.
I’ve noticed that their mints come in the after dinner patty variety, the Thick Mint and now I’ve found these Zachary Mini Mints in a theater box. It holds 3.85 ounces and inside the box is a little cellophane bag to keep the mints fresh.
They also make a little Chocolate Coated Caramel too, like Milk Duds, I did a taste comparison with those last year.
The package is functional and distinctive enough that it caught my attention. The background is a flat, medium green with a starburst of a darker green shade behind the logos and product image. It describes the candy as bite-sized cool creamy naturally flavored peppermint covered in real chocolate. This particular box has 10% more free, so my guess is that there are other even plainer looking boxes out there with only 3.5 ounces in them.
The topography isn’t offensive or riotous like the Cookie Dough Bites family of products, so at least they had that going for them. But the quality level of the product feels like it deserves something a little better. The world of design has changed, bad design costs the same amount to print as good design, so the difference in overall price for making something that’s pedestrian is pretty much nominal.
All that aside, it’s about what’s on the inside, after all. The ingredients here are pretty good - like the package said, it’s naturally flavored. It’s real semi-sweet chocolate (with some dairy in it) and a fondant center made of sugar, some gum arabic and egg whites along with some other ingredients including oil of peppermint. There’s a confectioners glaze on the outside to complete the trifecta of animal ingredients to make this off limits to all but those lacto-ovo vegetarians and omnivores.
The pieces are big and slightly ovoid. The tallest were about 3/4 of an inch. The chocolate shell is thick, shiny and nicely tempered. The mint fondant center is firm and mostly dry, though not quite as crumbly as the center of a York Peppermint Pattie is. It’s almost doughy, except that it doesn’t have a flour/cake note to it. The chocolate coating is smooth and creamy, except for the slightly waxy coating. The mint is mild but pretty much perfectly balanced. The chocolate doesn’t taste like mint, it tastes like chocolate. The center tastes like mint and not like cardboard. (I also tried their Old Fashioned Creme Drops a few years ago, which I thought were dreadful, so this is worth noting.)
For a cheap mint, I think Zachary really delivers for a mostly chocolate product. The ingredients are good (though made with soy, milk, eggs and coconut and on shared equipment with everything from peanuts to tree nuts without any statement about wheat/gluten). It’s a good option for movie snacking, certainly a good price. I don’t know if I’d grab them over Junior Mints, but I’m not afraid to keep trying Zachary products.
Friday, August 19, 2011
One of my favorite Japanese products are the Meiji Poilful. They’re not as easy to find in the United States as some other Japanese candies and are often quite expensive for a sugar candy. Every once in a while Meiji issues a new flavor variety. I found this Poifull Mint at the Japanese grocery store a few weeks ago. It features two flavors, Lemon and Muscat with an added dash of Mint.
These are not mere jelly beans, though they look like it. Instead they’re gummi beans. Inside the typical grainy sugar shell there’s a small gummi. Like gourmet jelly beans, the center is flavored, not just a plain sugary center.
I have to say that I find the flavors a little odd. The idea of mint and lemon is not that uncommon, though it’s something I associate with cough drops more than candy. (Though I admit that I do eat cough drops like candy sometimes.)
Lemon & Mint (yellow) starts out very tangy and zesty but the mint comes in like a strong menthol. It is absolutely like a cough drop but could probably use a little touch of honey to put it over the top. I liked the intensity of it, I was satisfied with one or two of them as the zest and menthol lingered.
Muscat & Mint (green) is much more subdued. The white grape flavor is tart and robust, with notes of grape juice and grape skin in there. The mint tastes more like mint than menthol, though still has that same cooling tingle. I still find it a strange and incongruous combination that I wouldn’t choose as a single flavor package, but I can enjoy as part of a mix.
Overall, I love how intense and authentic Meiji makes all of their fruit flavored candies, these are no exception. They’re a little fringe but make a nice change up for a little mouth freshener that’s different from Altoids. The box is nicely designed, unlike some other Meiji products where the box isn’t full, this one is and has a nice little flip top with a dispenser hole for sharing easily.
On a side note, one of the hazards of buying these import candies are the little translated labels they put on them. The box is quite small, but the label is even smaller with microprint. I had to take this photograph and then zoom in on it in order to read the label.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Their tins are always quite smart looking and I rather liked the simplicity of this one, just a smaller version of the standard set by Altiods. The embossed top flips open to reveal the candies inside.
The tin says that the “mints” are made with real Canadian maple sugar. The full ingredients are: pure cane sugar, maple sugar, natural flavor, calcium stearate and malic acid. There are thirty in a tin, which holds less than an ounce, .85 ounces.
The candies have a polished yet rustic look. They’re shiny and sharply stamped with a little maple leaf in the center. But the texture and color of the candies is a little mottled, it’s not a bright white and has little caramel colored flecks in it.
The scent is definitely smoky and like toasty maple syrup. The flavor of the candies though was a bit different from what I was expecting. It is a combination of all the flavors that are listed in the description, they are mint, they have maple sugar in them and blueberry flavor. It’s a riot of flavors. Not a “burn my tongue down” riot, but the kind that pulls off my backpack and steals my books kind. The blueberry is tart and floral, the maple is rustic and woodsy ... so far so good. But the mint is cool and minty with a little note of eucalyptus. It’s like a blueberry cough drop made in some sort of colonial re-enactment apothecary shop.
I liked the straight ahead Maple Ice Mints, so I’ll have to stick with those, because these are just not for me. But I’m also not very happy with the combination of mint, lime and white rum that are used to make a Mojito. So if you’re down with mojitos, maybe you’ll be down with Wild Blueberry Maple Ice Mints.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The company also introduced a line of sugar free, all natural mints called Minteas recently that come in these attractive leaf shaped (or surfboard, take your pick) tins. They’re also expensive, but a little more affordable considering the number of servings in the $2 package. I picked out the Minteas Retreat: Lemongrass Yuzu.
The bottom of the tin says: Get away with the soothing calm of wild-crafted lemongrass and the comforting citrus of Japanese yuzu. Relaxing chamomile offers the perfect antidote to stress. A sanctuary for the senses.
The tin says that they use organic botanicals and fair trade certified, organic white tea. (The fair trade tea is a minor component in the ingredients, the second to the last element, right before calcium stearate. There is also some plain old organic green tea in there.) They’re sweetened with sorbitol and xylitol, natural sugar alcohols that feel cool on the tongue and have fewer calories per gram than regular sugars.
The scent of the candies is quite nice, if you like Murphy’s Oil Soap or other citrus based cleaning products and candles, you’ll love this. Each little leaf shaped piece is a little longer than a half an inch. The pressed tablet candy dissolves or crunches, depending on your eating style.
The first thing I get is a sharp, bitter zest note. It’s not quite lemon and not quite grapefruit. It’s yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus similar to a grapefruit in its flavor components, only it’s usually the size of a lemon or orange and costs about $30 a pound here in Los Angeles. There are more floral blossom notes to it than just oily zest.
The little mint has a slight lemongrass note as well, which is kind of gingery and soft. There are other herbal and tea flavors in there, some green tea, which might also contribute some of the bitterness and soapy notes and chamomile, which always reminds me of catnip.
As far as “mints” go, these do have a long lasting flavor, a sort of jasmine freshness that lingers after the candy is gone. But the flavor while it’s in my mouth is a bit bitter, a little too much for me.
The package says that the product was designed in the USA but made in China. However the website says that the “source” of the ingredients is Egypt for the chamomile (ingredient #5 on the list) and Japan for the yuzu (not specifically listed as an ingredient, but probably is part of the “natural flavors” of ingredient #3. I feel misled about their transparency. If they’re going to say that something contains fair trade and/or organic ingredients, I also want to know where all the other ingredients come from. The website says they’re gluten free but makes no mention of their vegetarian/vegan status or any nuts or other allergens.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Since I’m on the topic of classic candies this week (starting with Orange Slices) another favorite are what are simply called the Raspberry. They’re a simple construction that mimics the actual berry quite nicely: it’s a gummi center covered with crunchy colored nonpareils in the approximate size and shape of a real raspberry.
Quite a few companies make them, Haribo’s are probably the most famous, but there’s also a great version made here in the United States by Jelly Belly (they also come in a white grape version called Champagne Bubbles).
Today’s new item is Bebeto Premium, a line of crunchy coated gummis made in Turkey by a company called Kervan. They’re being introduced to the American market at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago this week. I picked up a few samples in Cologne at the ISM candy fair there in February, and now that I know that they may be available here, I thought I’d review them.
The product line boasts all natural flavorings and colorings. They’re packaged in stand up bags with zip lock tops for freshness and each variety comes with two flavors in the mix. I got to try three of their new varieties: Tropical, Berry & Turkish Coffee
Tropical: The crunchy bits outside are sweet and have a very light fruity flavor. It isn’t until I got to the gummi center that the flavor really developed. The Tropical Ananas (Pineapple) was intense, a good blend of tartness and those pine and rosemary notes that fresh pineapples have. It was more like the fresh flavors than the canned ones. The Tropical Orange was a little more subdued, but with a good dose of zest in there to carry off a fully developed fruit flavor.
ones were rather like I expected. Blackberry starts very sweet with the light, crunchy nonpareils but then gets a good fruit jam kick from the gummi center. The flavor notes were dark enough to be considered blackberry. The Raspberry was more fragrant and floral than the Blackberry and of this pairing, it was definitely my favorite. Happily I also experience no flavor interference from the colorings.
The Turkish Coffee & Mint variety was the one I was looking forward to the most. I know that coffee or anything creamy sounds like an odd match for a gummi base, but I’ve had some wonderful Japanese versions, so I know it can be done well.
As this is an actual Turkish candy from a Turkish candy company, I expected a lot from their Turkish Coffee. The package was a mix of brown and white candies, the brown ones were the coffee (obviously) and white was mint.
The Turkish Coffee pieces smelled wonderful, like strongly sweetened, fresh coffee. The coffee flavor, in this piece, was much more apparent on the outside with the little crunchies. So far, so good. I was enjoying it and looking forward to the more intense coffee center. But that didn’t happen. The center was tangy. Generically tangy, but still with a coffee note to it. It’s like someone tossed a spoonful of lemon juice in my coffee. I thought for a while it was an error, that the little packet I had was a mistake, that they were changing over a production line. But every packet I had (I think I had four or five of these little samples that had three or four pieces each in them that I gathered from several different places - both the press room and the booth for Bebeto) was the same.
Mint was similar. The white crunchies were a strong peppermint with just a hint of spearmint. But the center was tangy. I didn’t mind that as much, I thought of it kind of like a less than zesty mojito.
I love that there are no artificial colorings in these candies. The flavors chosen for this line are great with the exception of the Turkish Coffee. I though the fruit flavors went well together in their pairings. However, the Turkish Coffee was just too weird, when I want a coffee flavored candy, I don’t want too much extra with it. Tartness definitely not a bonus. They’re a little more adult in their packaging and flavor combos, but this can easily be a family candy. I don’t know the recommended retail prices on these, but if they’re comparable to Haribo, they could fit well in the American market. The crunchy coating means they don’t stick together and would look great in a candy dish. I give the fruits a 7 out of 10 but Turkish Coffee gets a 5 out of 10 and should go back to the drawing board.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It’s hard to find a good gum these days. I was looking for sugarless gum, something to clean my mouth between meals. But I also didn’t want something filled with artificial sweeteners. I detest things like aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame potassium (AceK) and saccharine. The other option for sugarless is Xylitol, which is a sugar alcohol which has a light, and very sweet flavor profile and a cooling effect which is ideal for gum. Xylitol is also show to be helpful in reducing plaque build up in the mouth between brushing that can lead to tooth decay.
PUR Gum is made with xylitol and is gluten free, nut free, dairy free, vegan and free of GMO ingredients. The gum comes in three flavors: Peppermint, Spearmint and Pomegranate Mint. It’s sold by Action Candy Company, based in Canada. I picked up these samples from the Frey company at the candy fair ISM Cologne earlier this year. It’s available in Canada and via online stores from Canada, though I expect it to be more widely available in the US soon.
The Peppermint pieces are nicely sized. They’re 3/4” long and 1/2” wide. They’re smooth and softly shiny. Two pieces are a good portion as suggested by the package. The mint is strong and quite cool as a result of the xylitol sweetener. As I’ll mention here quite a bit, the chew at first is a little tough, but it does mellow out.
The peppermint is clear and strong, there’s a light burn to it that continues for at least fifteen minutes into the chew. The sweetness doesn’t last long, but I’m fine with that.
Spearmint (in green) is racy. The chew is cool and fresh, but really strong. It’s Altoids strong. I find it burns a bit. The chew is soft at first but gets a bit stiffer as the coolness fades.
Even towards the later part of the chew, the minty flavor stays strong and the texture of the gum does loosen up quite a bit. The mint is green and penetrating without that grassy flavor that fresh muddled spearmint laves have.
The blister packs are nicely made. I understand the necessity for certain kinds of candy being sealed up like this, even though it takes up a lot of space. The pieces were easy to get out and the little paperboard sleeve was light and spare (and recyclable).
Pomegranate Mint in the pink accented package is different. The first note is a woodsy tangy thing that’s a bit floral and a bit minty. Then it’s very cool on the tongue, which is the xylitol. It’s all very busy. It’s not that the flavors or textures or temperatures are incompatible, it’s that they’re just not integrated. So it’s noisy, like three radio stations bleeding through on the stereo at once. But after a while with the chew it calms down and things start working a little better. The coolness fades and it’s just a mellow sweetness, the woodsy notes of the pomegranate and a light dryness comes out and then a fresh mint flavor. The texture of the gum base varies. At first it’s soft and mushy, then it seizes up and is quite tough for a while ... then towards the end (as in, maybe ten minutes, which is about the limit for a piece of gum for me) it softens up again. At the very end it still retains its minty notes but all the sweetness is gone.
Xylitol is an excellent substitute for sugar in specific applications like gum or mints and is good for folks who can’t have sugar, like diabetics. It’s not a calorie-free food though, two pieces of gum have 10 calories. There are also some white tea extracts in there, which may be added for flavor or perhaps for antioxidants. They don’t seem to make it worse but probably make it more expensive.
Some people are sensitive to the effects of xylitol. Such effects include abdominal gas and diarrhea. These effects are reported with larger portions than are found in chewing gum though, there is one gram of xylitol in each piece of gum and tests were showing effects when consuming over 65 grams per day. Also note that dogs are especially sensitive to xylitol which can cause seizures and liver damage, so please don’t let your dog have gum or mints made with any sugar alcohol - in fact, just don’t give you dog any candy at all.
I know that chewing gum with xylitol is probably really good for me as a between meal pick me up and substitute for candy snacking, and this version is already tops on my list. I didn’t care for the pomegranate at all, but the other two mint flavors are great. Now if I could just find someplace to actually buy it.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.