Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Haviland Holiday Dark Chocolate Nonpareils come in a smart looking brown and red gable box, probably nice enough to tuck into a gift basket, stocking or take with a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. It’s just a little more upscale than a bag of chocolate chips, but pretty much the same thing in the end.
Haviland is a brand owned now by Necco. They’re probably best known for their mints, which are a cross between Junior Mints (a soft creamy center) and York Peppermint Patties (a crumbly fondant in a patty form). The nice thing about most of the Haviland line is that they’re available at drug stores and major retailers but usually use good ingredients without too many artificial things in there.
The chocolate is quite nice, but better than something like SnoCaps (which are more candy than chocolate) or Flicks (which have no sprinkles). The flavor has a little bit of a dusty quality to it, it’s not bitter, just kind of deep. It’s mostly a woodsy chocolate profile, with pretty strong notes of vanilla.
The chocolate contains butterfat, so it’s not considered vegan, there’s also no sustainability or sourcing statement on the box or the Necco website for their chocolate. As far as I know they don’t make their chocolate from bean to drop, so the sourcing is probably done by one of the big agrichocolate companies like Callebaut, Cargill or perhaps Blommer or Guittard.
I plan on setting them out in a bowl and I expect that they’ll be eaten up by some guests without complaint. But I’m more likely to just buy a bag of the Guittard or Ghirardelli chocolate baking drops and set those out instead in the future.
The big problem I have with the colorful sprinkles is a rare one, the red food coloring is extremely bitter. In this case, it was really unpleasant when I would put the disks in my mouth with the sprinkle side on my tongue. The bitterness was lost in the chocolate if I chewed quickly. But that’s no way to enjoy what’s supposed to be a treat. All white sprinkles solve that problem.
Friday, November 1, 2013
It’s the day after Halloween and a lot of kids are sitting around ranking the candy they took home from Trick-or-Treating. Many come down to three piles - the good chocolate stuff, the tasty sugar candy and then the bad sugar candy. The grown up candy like Necco Wafers often ended up there. You might eat it, but only after everything else is gone.
Stark Assorted Candy Wafers are another one of those crunchy disk candies (now made by Necco since the merger back in 1988) that just don’t come to mind as a favorite candy. But they’re still a valid candy format. What sets the candy wafers apart from other candies are the texture and flavor variety. The wafers are made from a dough of sugar held together with gelatin and vegetable gums which is colored and flavored then stamped out into coins.
There are 19 candy disks in the package. It’s a bit more packaging than Necco Wafers. There’s a little brown paperboard tray that the candies are stacked in, and the whole thing is wrapped in clear cellophane, instead of the glassine wrapped roll of Necco Wafers.
There are six colors: White, Yellow, Pink, Orange, Green, Purple.
The texture is slightly airier and crunchier than Necco Wafers. They’re also not as dense as Sweehearts. The flavors are subtle but the colorings are a little more vibrant than Necco Wafers.
Green is Lime. It’s light and a little ordinary but pleasant.
Overall, the flavor offering is hit and miss for me. I liked wintergreen, banana and orange, but that left me with only half of the flavors as keepers. They’re exceptionally durable, I’m sure they store well and travel well. But they weren’t minty enough to keep them as an Altoids alternative and not flavorful enough for me to call them a treat. I wouldn’t be surprised if these go uneaten at Halloween. But hang onto them for decorating Gingerbread Houses.
Monday, November 5, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Squirrel Nut Zippers were introduced by the Squirrel Brand Company in 1926 as a vanilla caramel with peanuts, part of a line of caramel candies. The name, which sounds more like a collection of nouns than an enticing candy, came from a local alcohol drink called Nut Zipper (this was prohibition).
The Squirrel Brand Company or Massachusetts was sold off to Southern Style Nuts in 1999 and moved to Texas. A mere 5 years later, Necco bought the rights to Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the lesser known Squirrel Caramel Chews, and moved production back to the Boston area. In case you’re wondering, the Squirrel Nut Zippers swing band named themselves after the candy (with permission from Squirrel Brand Company).
The candies are a simple format, a little bite sized chew wrapped in wax paper. They’re sold in bulk bins or pre-packaged bags. I found mine at Rocket Fizz, a small chain of candy & soda pop shops that started in Southern California.
Like Mary Janes (also made by Necco now), a good Squirrel Nut Zipper will be slight soft. Don’t be dismayed if you pick some up and they’re hard. The trick is to put it in your pocket or hold them in your palm for a few minutes or someplace slightly warm just before eating. That way the oils rise slightly to the surface to help the wrapper release from the candy and it’s soft enough to chew easily.
A SNZ is an easy to like candy, it’s quite simple. It’s a vanilla caramel with bits of peanuts in it. The flavor of the caramel is mild and sweet, not as earthy as a Mary Jane, which has molasses in it, and not as toffee like as a Sugar Daddy.
I’m sure I’ve had them before when I was a kid, but they didn’t make much of an impression on me. As an adult, well, there are other candies I’d prefer to have, such as a Mary Jane or some Sugar Babies.
I have no clue about possible allergens, but the ingredients show dairy, soy and peanuts.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Back in 2009 Necco revamped their 145 year old Necco wafers by going all-natural with the ingredients. This meant not only dropping artificial colors and flavors, but they also discontinued lime since they could not make it naturally.
Well, a scant two years later, the original (or at least pre-2009) version is coming back to store shelves. This little ad to the right is from June 2011, so your store might have them in stock now. (Of course some stores I visit never stopped stocking them, as they have a very long shelf life.)
So it turns out that some candy companies do listen to their customers, so never forget to let them know when you don’t like something ... or when you do.
(Personally, I preferred the All Natural version.)
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Necco Wafers are iconic little disks of crunchy dried sugar and flavoring. They’re the shape and size of a coin but the texture of unfired ceramics. The All Natural Necco Wafers SmartFruits come in little mini rolls. There are 23 rolls in the 11 ounce package and feature four flavors: Raspberry+ Acai, Lemon + Goji, Pomegranate + Goji and Blueberry + Acai.
I bought these a few weeks ago at the 99 Cent Only store. They’re a bit of a puzzle, since it appears they don’t even exist. There’s no mention of them on the Necco company website, I can find only two references on the internet to them: a review in Spanish from 2009 and a notice of the registration of the trademark for “SmartFruits.” I know that the product is not that old because of the trademark and the design of the package cannot be before 2009.
The pieces are muted and in most lighting situations I have trouble telling them apart without sorting them. Straight out of the package the little stack of 9 disks smells like ketchup and raspberry jam.
I wasn’t able to actually tell the flavors apart ... they all had a muted berry smoothie flavor to them. One was definitely lemony and tart but the rest were nondescript. They were not disgusting, but they were pointless.
The package says that there were real fruit antioxidants in here, but the nutritional panel doesn’t even register any vitamin C, which is easily the most palatable vitamin to put in a candy. The ingredients list lots of good things like freeze dried fruit (blueberry, raspberry, acai, goji berry) but it’s well after the sugar on the list, so they can’t make up much of the bulk. One roll is 50 calories. I can think of far better ways to spend your discretionary calories.
Like all Necco Wafers and Conversation Hearts, they contain gelatin and are unsuitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Last week I reviewed the new Haviland Signature Dark Chocolate Thin Mints. As I mentioned then, Haviland makes several other varieties, the Orange and Raspberry. While shopping I also found these Maxfield’s All American Raspberry and Orange Cream Sticks. Since they’re similar prices and similar candies, I thought I’d compare them.
The Haviland are patties and come in a long rectangular box of 21 that weighs 5 ounces. I paid $1.59 for one box and got the second half off. I’m going to hazard that the normal price for Haviland’s is going to be about $1.35. The Maxfield’s are sticks that come in a flat box with 13 sticks and weigh in at 3.15 ounces. I got both boxes for $1 on sale with a coupon. But let’s just say that these are normally about $1.00. So the price per ounce at my “regular” price estimates are 37 cents per ounce for Haviland and 32 cents per ounce for Maxfield’s.
Maxifield’s little book shaped box is just a sleeve. It’s covered in a clear shinkwrapped plastic that seals out moisture. Once that’s off though, the sleeve does a good job of protecting the little tray inside that holds the sticks (because it meets up with the box very well and has wide edges.
The tray holds 13 perfect looking sticks. I wouldn’t say that the flimsy brown tray is great for serving from, except in the most casual company.
I don’t know much about the Maxfield’s All American chocolates. This is the first year I can recall seeing them in stores at Christmas. I saw a lot of boxed chocolates on the shelves most a lower prices than the standard Russell Stover which was in the same aisle. Maxfield’s is based in Utah and is part of Dynamic Confections (which also makes Kencraft candy which creates those fanciful panoramic sugar eggs at Easter).
The Maxfield’s Raspberry Cream Sticks look great. I honestly didn’t expect much for the price and the fact that I hadn’t heard of the company before.
Each is nicely molded, fresh and looked like it just came off of the factory line. Each stick is about 2.75 inches long. They smell lightly of raspberry, like the seedy part of jam or perfume, not so much like the fresh berries.
The chocolate is smoky and pretty mellow, it’s not overly creamy or even sweet. The fondant center is moist and not quite crumbly, it’s softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but on the grainy side like the York. The raspberry flavor is all scent, there’s a light dash of pink food coloring in there.
The flavor was okay, not something I would just sit around eating. They’d be good, I suppose, to add to a plate of cookies or other desserts, but I wouldn’t just eat these without an accompaniment. They’re far too sweet for me without enough of a bonus of texture - the chocolate isn’t good enough and the fondant just lacks an authentic punch.
The Maxfield Orange Cream Sticks were a bit more promising, mostly because I think it’s easier to do a cheap but good orange flavor than it is to pull off rasbperry.
The orange sticks were just as lovely as the raspberry. The orange scent from them was an excellent citrus zest. The fondant was moist and had a gentle chew to it, or I could let it dissolve. The zest wasn’t too strong, not harsh bitter note to it. It overpowered the chocolate completely though, the only thing the chocolate did was give me a break from the throat searing sweetness.
Again, with some very bold coffee or tea, I don’t think I’d mind the sweetness quite as much. Each stick has about 28 calories.
The Haviland patties really do no better in the realm of packaging. The box is nicely designed and the tray certainly does its job of protecting the candy, but I wouldn’t serve from them. It’s also sealed in cellophane.
The patties in my fruity versions were in a little bit better shape than the Peppermint ones I mentioned last week. These had no sign of bloom and even fewer scuffs on the tops from shuffling around in the box. The box boasts that they’re 63% cacao and are all natural.
The Haviland Raspberry Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints box shows that the center is pink, but in actuality they were uncolored. That’s fine with me, I could tell them apart by smell alone. The raspberry scent is similar to the Maxfield’s sticks, like a puree that includes the woodsy notes of the seeds.
The patties are beautifully rippled and are about 1.33 inches around. The break is crisp but the filling is slightly flowing and has a little pull to it. The fondant is smooth with a light confectioners sugar sized grain to it The darker chocolate balances out the sweetness. The raspberry flavor is all scent and no tartness or true berry bits. It was a clean flavor and would go best with tea or perhaps some strong hot chocolate. The ingredients mention a touch of peppermint oil, and at first I thought that was a typo, but it’s true, there is a subtle minty finish.
The Haviland Orange Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints are strong. Even with my seasonal allergies, I could tell that these were orange. Biting into them it’s even more apparent that they’re too orange. Orange oil can be caustic at high concentrations and I think that may be pretty close here. The zest was overpowering, I got a hint of the chocolate texture and at the very least the change in the sweetness, but the orange oil too over everything else.
Each pattie has about 27 calories.
I like the change up of the standard thin mints or mint stick with these. Fondant is certainly a flexible element for a candy and I certainly support different flavors being combined with dark chocolate. In this case the sticks didn’t have the quality of chocolate that they should have and the fruity thin mints didn’t quite have the same balance of elements that the peppermint version had.
All were good values and in a situation where you just want to have something for folks who aren’t that discerning (perhaps drunk on your spiked wassail or have frostbitten tongues from screaming at a northern bowl game).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.