Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Trader Joe’s has tried a few new things in the past two years or so with their single portions of candy that they sell near the checkout with the house label. First it was a gourmet version of candy bars with their Lumpy Bumpy Bar and PB&J (with potato chips). Earlier this year I tried Trader Joe’s take on consumer candies with their Classic Chocolate Bars.
The three new items are somewhere in between. Yesterday I covered the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Caramels. Today I have the Dark Chocolate Mints. (Later this week will be the Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee.)
If this looks a little familiar to you as a Trader Joe’s shopper, you may have tried the previous incarnation of the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints which were sold in a little tin.
I can’t say that my feelings on these have changed at all. They’re a firm, crumbly fondant center flavored with peppermint, then coated in a thin shell of dark (50%) chocolate with a crunchy candy shell to seal it all up.
The mint is mild and goes well with the sweet fondant and crackly shell. The chocolate isn’t a powerful element, but still it’s a good semisweet variety that sadly has butter in it otherwise this would be vegan. I could eat oodles of these.
This tin used to cost $2.99 and held 2.45 ounces. The new bag isn’t quite as cute or appropriate as a stocking stuffer, but it’s a far better deal at only $1.49 for 2 ounces. (And if you still have that tin, you can refill.)
The Dark Chocolate Caramels I reviewed yesterday were interesting because they filled a hole in the world. We really needed something that’s better quality than Milk Duds or Junior Caramels. But Dutch Mints aren’t that hard to find and I can’t say these are much better (or a better value) than Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Still, sometimes I really want this kind of mint and for a Holland Mint (or whatever the generic name of this style of mint is) and being able to pick them up in a single portion size is something new.
The package says no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s also gluten free. May contain traces of peanuts or tree nuts (and of course has dairy and soy ingredients).
Monday, November 1, 2010
Life Savers were introduced in 1912 by Clarence Crane. They came in one flavor, Pep-O-Mint. Crane made chocolate most of the year but wanted a candy product that could withstand the summer heat and have a long shelf life. So he innovated the Life Saver. At first he was just trying to create a mint disk, similar to a Necco Wafer. But the pill maker he took his contract to had trouble making a plain, thick disk that didn’t fall apart. So they put a little hole in the center to stabilize the production. The look of the little white hoop of candy reminded Crane of the life saver found on boats, so that’s what he named the mint.
Within a could of years Crane sold the company and rights to Life Savers to Edward John Noble who saw the great potential of the candy. They were sold in little cardboard tubes, he streamlined things and packaged them like they’re sold today, in a roll wrapped in waxed paper and foil with a little paper label.
Noble was an excellent salesman and introduced techniques to his clients, such as telling them to make sure that customers always had at least one nickel in their change and to display the rolls on the counter by the cash register. Life Savers were positioned as an impulse buy. Early packages were all one flavor and consisted of the standard mints (wintergreen & spearmint), cinnamon, violet and even licorice. It wasn’t until 1935 that Life Savers in the Five Flavor roll came out.
In the late 1968s Noble sold the company to E.R. Squibb Corporation (yes, the drug people that later became Bristol-Meyers Squibb who make Plavix and Coumadin) and then they sold to Nabisco Brands Inc in 1981. Nabisco in turn was taken over by Kraft in 2000 and Kraft sold their candy interests including Life Savers off to Wrigley’s in 2004. Wrigley’s was acquired by Mars in 2008.
Life Savers Pep-O-Mint themselves are simple. A little loop of compressed sugar with some strong peppermint flavoring. It’s all held together with a dash of stearic acid. There are 14 in the standard rolls these days.
Instead of the smoothness of a boiled candy mint, these have a little bit of a chalky texture to them. They’re not as grainy as Altoids (and not as strong) but they’re not as airy and melt-in-your-mouth as Buttermints or After Dinner Mints.
It’s quite a simple little candy. I like to crunch them, but they also dissolve slowly if you’re patient. I’m not patient and can crunch through a whole roll on a drive home from work.
Just as Life Savers have gone through plenty of owners, the wrappers have been designed, redesigned and undesigned time and again. The packages I’ve featured in this review are from the new “throwback” release of the Pep-O-Mint and Wint-O-Green rolls that are available in convenience stores. (Here’s one article about the most recent redesign shortly before Mars acquired Wrigley’s.) Here are some more photos of the different designs & flavors of Life Savers over the years.
I like the classic look of these packages, but really it’s the size and shape that probably compels me. It’s the one consistent item no matter what year it is.
Wint-O-Green Life Savers were introduced in 1919. They’re probably best know because of the cool feature that you can create a luminescent spark when crunching a Wint-O-Green Life Saver. (I can’t capture it with a camera, but here’s a guy who has.)
They’re smooth but quite aromatic. After eating about half a roll I tend to get a strange numbness, like Cepacol or other topical anesthetics can cause. It’s not all about medicine and therapy though, it reminds me of classic Bazooka Bubble Gum and Root Beer soda.
I don’t really like the smell of wintergreen that much, because of some of the more unpleasant associations with pain relieving rubs, but I do like the strange tingly flavor and how different it is from the standard peppermint or spearmint.
Both flavors are classics and still made in the classic way, though now in Canada where sugar is cheaper. I’m glad Wrigley’s hasn’t mucked around with anything aside from the packaging.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I picked up this package of Bassett’s Mint Favourites because it looked like a fun bunch of candies that were different from what we have here in the United States. It features: Mint Toffees, Murray Mints, Murray Butter Mints and Everton Mints.
I don’t know much about Murray Mints, so I tried to do a little research. They’ve been around since at least the fifties and were also sold in rolls. They were also one word, Murraymints. I think they were an independent company that made them, I can’t find any reference in their advertisements to Bassett’s or any other company that Bassett’s swallowed up like Trebor or other Cadbury properties.
Murray Mints were known as the too good to hurry mints. Here’s a set of old animated television advertisements.
So what are these classic hard candy mints like?
Bassett’s Murray Mints
The lightest tasting mint of the group, it was also a bit larger. The mint was mild and sweet, the texture of the candy is smooth. There’s a lot of milk in it, so the candy was a cross between a standard boiled hard candy and an American style crunchy toffee. I detected a note of clove in it, which wasn’t that appealing to me, but I appreciated the complex flavor combination of milk, mint and spices.
Bassett’s Murray Butter Mint
An actual buttery hard candy mint, rather like putting milk in a peppermint tea. It’s a little salty and a little like butterscotch. The center of the hard candy has a softer, chewy center. The peppermint is strong but not overpowering. Fresh but a little bit more earthy with the addition of salt and the creamy butter and even a hint of honey. I liked this one better than the classic Murray Mint.
Bassett’s Mint Toffee
At the store I had a choice of this Mint Favorites mix and just a bag of the Mint Toffee. I figured I’d like the toffee, but I wanted to variety to at least see the whole line of mint favorites. British Toffee is what we refer to as caramel in the United States. It’s usually firm but chewy, but sometimes is the style that’s soft and crumbly. Mostly toffee is in reference to any sugar that’s been boiled to the point of turning the flavor.
The piece is beefy, about an inch and a quarter long. It’s soft on the outside but a bit stiffer at the center (so it needed to warm up to chew). It’s quite buttery and has a strong dairy flavor more like milk or cream and of course an overriding peppermint flavor on top of that. The caramel flavors are a little lost, they can’t stand up to the mint, but the whole effect is still pleasant. The chew is smooth and lasts quite a while. It leaves a fresh feeling at the end.
I’m definitely keen on trying more of the Bassett’s toffee line after this.
Bassett’s Everton Mints
I thought this was going to be a licorice mint. Instead it’s more like a menthol mint, a cough drop flavor. It’s a combination of the peppermint and eucalyptus. It’s strong enough to give me a combination of burning and cooling in the back of my sinuses passages. The candy itself is smooth, with few voids, much nicer than the standard Halls cough drop. The chewy center is a bit more mellow but has a light anise and soft vanilla note.
Overall, a great mix that gives a clear sense of the similarities and differences between North American and British boiled sweets. Good quality and distinctive and ultimately satisfying. They’re all natural, though rather expensive here in the States at $4 for only 7 ounces.
Friday, August 27, 2010
While in Illinois last month I visited Caputo’s Market, which boasts a huge selection of candies from all over the world. I tried some Polish candies and also picked up a few mixes of Italian candies from Cedrinca. I’m familiar with the brand as I’ve tasted a few of their mints and fruit candies at Italian restraurants when a handful is usually presented with the bill at the end of the meal. (Usually an Eastern US thing, on the West Coast they just have a bowl by the door.)
Caputo’s had a great selection of Cedrinca but I opted for a mix so I could get to know more of their items. This version is called Gran Mix and says Caramelle ripiene assortite which I took to mean assorted filled candies. And that turned out to be exactly what these are!
Cedrinca boasts that these are all natural candies, no artificial colors, flavors, additives or preservatives. Each candy was also individually wrapped and most were labeled to show what was inside.
The majority of the mix was a mix of little rod shaped candies. Most were marked on the wrapper what they were.
The first notable one was Menta Ripeno Al Cacao which were a light mint hard candy filled with a chocolate paste. I’ve had a lot of experience with those disappointing starlight mints with the chocolate (why would you finish an excellent meal with a piece of candy like that?) and this was nothing like that. The chocolate filling was a like a fantastic chocolate buttercream. It tasted fresh and creamy and like real cocoa.
Mandorlatte looked the same but was crunchy delight with almonds and milk. It was fascinating, like vanilla pudding distilled into a hard candy. The crunch was almost like the center of a Butterfinger bar, the flavor was sweet and milky but with a hint of lemon and almond. Some had a slightly soft creamy reservoir, others were just the crispy stuff. Either way, I loved them. Fascinating and like nothing else, so of course I pulled those out of the mix to save for later.
The colorful metallic wrappers with the gold swirls on them were fruity, Bonbon Fourre. The outside was softer than the other candies, it was a hard candy but still a little bit on the mushy side. Crunchy into them to get to the jam center was easy. Savored in layers, it was okay, but I preferred to chew the whole thing up to mix the stiff chew of the candy outside with the tart fruity goo inside. They were supposed to be different flavors, but I never really noticed much of a difference. They were all perfectly pleasant but not intense or distinct.
I don’t know what fruit they were supposed to be. These weren’t labeled, just color coded.
Caramella (peach wrapper) - a light, rather white large filled hard candy. It looked like the one above, but completely uncolored. The hard candy shell was lightly tart and vaguely fruity. The gooey jam filling was nondescript. It wasn’t citrus, perhaps it was peach. Tangy, very sweet but not very flavorful. I got another one that was in a purple wrapper that was also simply marked Caramella. It looked just the same (no artificial colors here, in fact, I don’t think they used any colorings on the candies themselves). The filling was a light yellow color and reminded me of red currant.
Espresso this was the variety of this format that I got the most of. The candy shell was the darkest of the three though it didn’t smell like anything at all.
Inside the candy was a thick coffee tar. It was a lightly grainy paste that tasted just like the sludge at the bottom of a coffee pot left on the warmer over the weekend. Yes, it was bitter and a little sweet, but also a bit burnt like charcoal. It was a curious candy, because it didn’t really please me, yet I kept eating them.
Cappuccino - the candy shell was crisper and had an excellent crunch. The candy shells was lightly coffee flavored, but mostly sweet. The filling was very interesting, it was a frothy sweet, slightly salty cream with little shards of bitter coffee hard candy. The combination of textures is fun and the light coffee flavor did give me the impression of a cappuccino with lots of sugar in it.
I’m a huge fan of assortments like this. It’s a great way to sample the whole line of products and narrow in on what you like before taking the leap of a full bag. The price is a little steep for sugar candy, but the fact that they’re all natural and that many were unique help to offset that. It’s a low-risk/medium-reward purchase. I think if I were to buy them again, I’d focus in on the Mandorlatte and Cappuccino. (Both were available at Caputo’s as single flavor packages.) I picked up a chocolate variety too, called Puccini that I’m still working my way through.
Monday, August 9, 2010
While many mints these days are touting how strong they are or that they’re sugar free, the Choward’s line just plugs away at the same mildly-flavored line. They’re not easy to find, so when I spotted these at the Albanese Candy Factory Outlet, I grabbed both the Choward’s Spearmint and Lemon. They have classic textured foil wrappers and list that there are 15 mints in the package.
Choward’s Spearmint are plain white, the ingredients list no colorings. The little squares are are nicely formed. They’re about 2/3 of an inch square and have an excellent embossed Choward’s logo across the center on both sides. They stack easily and have a pleasant texture of unglazed fine bone china.
The spearmint is completely mild. It’s sweet ... much sweeter than I expected. Since they’re made with actual sugar instead of dextrose, it’s noticeable. (Dextrose or glucose is said to have only 74% of the sweetness of sucrose.) Since it’s not very minty, it’s hard to pay attention to anything but the sweetness. But I suppose maybe it’s a good deal - you get more sweetness for the same number of calories.
I found them fun to eat, but really not much for a long-lasting minty freshness. As a breath freshener, well, they didn’t make things worse. Just a little sweet pick-me-up. I can see them going well with mild drinks like tea.
The Choward’s Lemon is a bit more of a curiosity. The ingredients are interesting in that the flavoring is just oil of lemon and citric acid (for tartness). I was expecting a bit of a lemon mint, instead it’s kind of like a SweeTart.
The crunch is smooth and hard and like the Spearmint, it’s quite sweet. But the citric acid gives it a little sour kick. The lemon oil is zesty and certainly more complex than SweeTarts. They less grainy texture took a little getting used to. Ultimately they were just too sweet for a sour chalky candy (I guess that’s why I like the dextrose-based ones) but I liked the texture quite a bit.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Tic Tacs are the world’s #1 selling breath mint. (Though really, only two of the current five regular flavors are mints, the rest are fruity.) They’ve been made in dozens of flavors and color combinations over the years, these new flavors are pretty ordinary but then again probably necessary.
They’re both exceptionally summery colors - bright green and aqua blue.
The samples I got were in the “Big Pack” which isn’t really that big, all things considered in the realm of candy portions. They’re one ounce of Tic Tacs in a clear plastic dispenser.
A few years ago Ferrero introduced Tic Tac Bold! They were stronger versions of Tic Tacs and came in translucent instead of clear plastic containers. They were good - obviously stronger than the regular Tic Tacs and meant to compete with Altoids. But the texture was different and they didn’t catch on.
This new Power Mint Tic Tac comes in the same packaging as the other Tic Tacs, which is great as far as I’m concerned since there’s no need to put them in a different box.
The blue color is inviting, though unnecessary. The regular white Freshmint has a light start with a vague anise note. The Powermint starts out that way as well, though goes to a strong peppermint much quicker. The mint is very strong, one Tic Tac goes a great job of powering through coffee breath. They’re not terribly sweet or chalky, just a quick chew to disperse the minty flavor. Sucking on them, they still dissolve the same however I got a very strong blast of mint there in the initial layers that burns.
Green Apple Tic Tac are surprising first of all because I thought there were green apples all along.
The texture starts with the same slick, smooth and cool shell. Then it gets a little tangy and a little flavorful underneath. I had especial trouble just letting these dissolve, I had to crunch them. The green apple flavor is exactly what you’d expect from a fake fruit. It’s sweet, chemical and lightly tangy. There’s no weird aftertaste but also not much freshening power to it. They don’t go with a lot of foods, like mint or coffee. But after an onion bagel, this might be a nice break.
Neither are my favorite Tic Tacs. I prefer the classic Freshmint and miss Cinnamon.
Monday, April 26, 2010
The box for Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites says New! in the corner, but I know these have been around for at least 18 months. There’s no expiry date on the package, but the fact that I haven’t seen them at the drug store before gives me hope that they’re fresh. They certainly looked and smelled fresh.
The product itself references several other confections. The original Cookie Dough Bites are little soft and chewy bits of “cookie”, like eating uncooked dough without the chance of salmonella since they’re egg free. To make them a little easier to eat they’re covered in chocolate. In this new version they’re Mint Chocolate Chip, which is not a cookie flavor but is actually an ice cream flavor. Of course cookie dough is also an ice cream flavor now. Everything is an ice cream flavor now. If it’s not, watch some Iron Chef, I’m sure it’ll turn up there.
The box isn’t very attractive, though at least it stood out from the other Cookie Dough Bites varieties because this one is green, which means mint. I don’t care for the sheer number of fonts on the front (at least 6) while the back is even worse.
The nuggets are little discs of “cookie dough” covered in milk chocolate. They’re nicely panned but not so highly glazed so they’re waxy (though there is a little shellac coat on there that’s hardly noticeable). They’re about the size of a peanut but of course some are larger or smaller - some are conjoined twins.
They’re called mint chocolate chip and the image on the package shows the cookie middles with little chocolate chips but I never saw any. I bit many in half, but there was no indication of chocolate chips in mine. They’re covered in a milk chocolate and smell rather minty, kind of like ice cream. The centers are a little grainy, they way that cookie dough is, a great texture. The slightly gritty and minty center goes well with the sweet and milky chocolate outside. There’s no real cocoa flavor to it, but the mouthfeel is good. They’re sweet and the center is just a little salty, but they’re just lacking something.
I know that there are lots of folks who just love Cookie Dough Bites, but they’re just not my thing. I prefer a more substantial textural difference and better quality chocolate. I don’t need partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in my candy.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
The Girl Scout Handbook is the first recorded transcription of the recipe. For the uninitiated, S’mores are constructed like this: a fresh toasted marshmallow is mashed on top of a piece of milk chocolate between two graham crackers. Three great tastes are made better by their association.
I don’t consider S’mores themselves to be a candy, because they violate one of the primary rules of candy: it must be ready to eat and require no cooking or assembly.
The Russell Stover Giant S’mores Bar takes the assembly and toasting out of the equation.
I had to buy my bars online at the Russell Stover webstore because I couldn’t find them in any of the shops near me. At $1.49 it’s a bit more expensive than other candy bars, but it’s also unique so I figured it was worth it.
The bar looks exactly as it’s depicted on the wrapper. The 2.5” graham cracker squares sandwich a large square of milk chocolate covered marshmallow.
In all instances at least one of my graham crackers wasn’t quite stuck to my marshmallow, but reassembly was simple.
It was messy, biting into the corners was fine, but the deeper I got into the bar the more crumbling of the graham cracker and flaking of the chocolate I got. The marshmallow center was moist and fluffy, just like all the other chocolate marshmallow products from Russell Stover. The chocolate tasted milky and fresh. The graham cracker tasted like cereal and kept it all from being too sickly sweet.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you can microwave it. I put it in the microwave for 15 seconds, but took it out at 12 when the innards came oozing out. It makes a horrible gooey mess and the marshmallow deflates into a sticky latex bonding agent that gets dry and tacky. I lost a lot of it to the plate.
I’d say in the future I will just lay in a stockpile of whatever seasonal marshmallow product is around, like the Marshmallow Egg and then get my own graham crackers to make my own since these are so hard to find. It’s a great idea and pretty well executed with good quality ingredients.
The other item that prompted me to do my web order was the Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Mint Dream. They’ve been out for about a year, but I hadn’t seen them in stores. (I thought for sure they’d do an Easter version.)
The dark chocolate puck is a fluffy mint cream covered in dark chocolate.
It’s about the same size as the holiday Eggs, at 1.125 ounces it’s a nicely sized portion and rather economical on the calorie front with only 140 calories.
I bought three of them and all of them had cracks with innards leaking out. But still, they’re handsome and well proportioned at about two inches in diameter and about 1.25 inches high.
I feel a little bad reviewing these because of the cracking problem. I can’t say for sure what the filling is supposed to be, as I wasn’t sure if the leaking problem meant that the texture changed. The inside was similar in texture to the Raspberry Whip, but perhaps smoother. It’s almost a marshmallow, just as fluffy but the ingredients list no gelatin.
The mint is light and fresh, the center has a little salty note to it to even out the sugary sweetness. The dark chocolate isn’t terribly rich but it’s still creamy and not so sweet that it makes it all too cloying. It’s different from the fondant style of a Junior Mint, far fluffier and creamier. It’s enrobed instead of panned with a light glaze, so the chocolate melt is better. I would probably buy these again and would be willing to re-evaluate the breakage and seeping issue at that time.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.