Monday, November 02, 2009
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never reviewed Necco Wafers. In the early years of Candy Blog I tried to concentrate on candies I’d never had before, but it became apparent that in order to discuss things that were new (or new to me) I had to cover the classics as well. So I’m slowly adding those.
Necco Wafers were introduced in 1863 by the Chase and Company candy makers. They were known for their hard candies (boiled sweets), lozenges and “Oriental style” sweets including Turkish Delight. They also innovated machinery and techniques to create confections like the wafers. Chase later merged with Ball and Forbes and Bird, Wright and Company to become the New England Confectionery Company in 1901. By the time they’d been around for almost fifty years they finally settled into their present day name, assortment and packaging style in 1912. Necco Wafers were available in different sizes and were a popular penny candy of the time.
The wafers are lightly flavored and colored disks of sugar. The product is rather unusual for the modern era of confections and is more similar to breath mints than regular candy. They’re not fussy but perhaps a little homely and dated.
To make them, a dough of sugar and corn syrup is mixed up and stabilizers and binders such as gelatin, tragacanth, xanthan and gum Arabic are added. Then after the base is created it’s customized with the flavors and colors. The whole mass is loaded into a roller like it’s some sort of infinitely long pie crust then the disks are cut and stamped with the Necco name. They’re not baked, just air dried.
What’s created is a beguilingly crunchy lozenge. Crisp, thin and sweet.
The classic roll of Necco Wafers contained eight flavors and has always been a random assorted stack sealed in a glassine wrapper. I know most folks who like them also searched the store shelves for one that had just the right mix of colors they preferred.
This year marks a new generation of Necco Wafers now with all natural flavorings and colors. Because of the new restrictions Necco placed on itself, they dropped one flavor from the original that could not be replicated adequately: Lime.
The current flavors are chocolate, cinnamon, clove, lemon, licorice, orange and wintergreen. Since no artificial colors are used I was hoping that the flavors would be truer. (I’ve always had a problem with the pink ones having a bad bitter aftertaste.)
I haven’t been able to find the large two ounce rolls in the stores near me, but I did finally find this package of the mini rolls at CVS in the Halloween section. (I visited about a dozen stores in two states in a month looking for them.)
The colors are quite a bit more subdued, as if Necco Wafers weren’t already a bit washed out. They’re so muted that I have trouble telling the pale yellow, lavender and white apart. And for folks that like to preview a roll before they open it, it’s quite hard to tell the light colors apart. The new wrapper also sports an updated logo ... though I find the logo to look more like something from 1998 (when the titled oval was all the rage in logos) than a modern candy, but not quite a reflection of its classic past.
Clove - I always avoided the clove for two reasons. I don’t like clove flavor and I didn’t like the food coloring aftertaste. In this case the clove (faint lavender) is much more mild and less caustic than before. Of course there’s no weird aftertaste either. I still didn’t like it much and was a little irritated that it was so hard to pull them out of the mix in anything other than bright sunlight.
Chocolate - the easiest to spot and one that needs no coloring. I found the cocoa flavors to be overly sweet, but at least true. It was like an old piece of dried chocolate frosting. A little pointless if you really want chocolate, but it has a freshness to it that doesn’t leave me thinking of cardboard.
Wintergreen - I was so happy about these. The color is still a teaberry pink, so they’re easy to spot. It’s exactly like a piece of teaberry gum if it was a crunchy piece of sugar (and a stale piece of gum can be like that). The flavor starts out rather soft and quaint, but builds up to a bit of a Ben Gay burn later. There’s a lingering buzz in the mouth. The best part of the finish is that it’s all flavor and no food coloring mess. My tongue looks like when I started (normal pink) and no metallic aftertaste.
Cinnamon - this white piece lots its mojo in the conversion to all natural. It’s sad how lacking in cinnamon punch it is now, it’s not that it’s bad, but I just don’t feel like picking them out and eating them first any longer.
Licorice - the color is so much lighter on these, it took me a while to realize that they weren’t the clove ones. They’re a light putty color that sometimes has a lavender cast to it. The flavor is quite a strong anise note. It’s sweet and has an aromatic and slightly menthol quality to it. It reminds me a little bit of the Fisherman’s Friend lozenges.
Lemon - the lemon flavored Necco Wafers were never spectacular and they haven’t changed one way or the other. Sweet and with only the slightest hint of lemon flavor, there’s no tartness (thank goodness - if you’ve had the SweetHearts Sour Conversation Hearts you’ll know what I mean), no zest.
Orange - this faint orange colored one has a little orange peel note to it. It didn’t seem as sweet as the lemon one, but that’s not saying much about it. It was mostly inoffensive.
I don’t miss Lime, but I did enjoy the flavor. As an assortment, I’ve found myself munching through the bag of minis without any problems. I’ve picked out most of the clove, but find all the other flavors enjoyable. So I consider the new mix a definite winner. The only issue was the strength of the flavors varies - the clove, licorice and wintergreen were very strong and left a distinct burn in the mouth while the rest were pretty mellow. So after a licorice, I could barely tell that I was eating a lemon.
Each roll of 9 pieces has only 50 calories. They take a while to eat and of course there’s the variety, so it’s a nice snack that’s easy to take anywhere. I do have a problem with the little white powder that seems to get everywhere though. (I tend to wear a lot of dark colors.)
I think this is a great development and I’m actually looking forward to see if the classic SweetHearts Conversation Hearts will also go all natural. They do still have gelatin in them, so sadly no good for vegetarians and they’re not Kosher/Halal. I really like my candies to taste like candy, not artificial colors.
Monday, May 18, 2009
With the wild popularity of the Twilight series of books by Stephanie Meyer, it was only a matter of time before the first book was made into a movie. And of course its success means a licensing agreement was reached for some candy.
Considering the fact that the story (I’m doing spoilers here) is about vampires and love, candy hearts are a natural choice.
Necco’s Sweetheart conversation hearts were released as a limited edition: Sweethearts Forbidden Fruits. Instead of just getting a box branded with a few characters on it and maybe some new sayings, these little hearts are also in different flavors themed for forbidden fruits plus have some sort of sparkling Dracula dust (pearlescent pigment) on them.
The candy seems to have been timed with the DVD release, not with the film in the theaters. Still, I never did find them in stores (perhaps I should have been looking in video stores, but I have a Netflix subscription ... which makes me think there should be a Netflix for candy).
The candy hearts don’t look terribly different from the regular Valentine’s version. Except the colors are different. The pearly coating (that looks like it’s glitter on the box) is pretty darn mild, I mistook it for chalky powder.
The flavors are:
The sayings on the hearts vary in their legibility. They seem to be lighter but clearer on the pearly ones but bold & smudgy on the uncoated.
Sayings that I was able to tease out were: Soul Mate, Bite Me, Secret, I (heart) EC, Live 4 Ever, Dazzle, With You, Lamb, Bad Guy, You R My Life, Always, I Trust You, I Love You, Forks.
Oddly enough, as noted above in the photo, some were blank. I didn’t know if this was intentional, like some sort of heart that only vampires could read. Or maybe there’s a version of the Twlight books that are choose your own adventure and I’m in charge of this heart’s message.
As far as a limited edition offering, they’re a rather bland revision of conversation hearts, but they’re rather ordinary to begin with. The execution of the lettering and the “dazzle dust” were weak. But I liked the box design (though I’ve only seen this one in person) and think that it’d be a fun item to have while watching the movie with friends. (As long as you had some snacks on hand that were actually good to eat.)
Like all Necco conversation hearts, these have gelatin in them, so are unsuitable for vegetarians/vegans/those who keep Kosher or otherwise eschew pork. (I have no idea how the Twilight vampires feel about pigs.)
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
I picked up this package of Necco Paas Gummi Baby Bunnies at the Dollar Tree. I was a bit miffed even before I purchased it. As you can see from the photo, the bag is mostly empty. The product takes up, at most, a third of the bag ... though I have to say it did weigh a hefty nine ounces, which is a generous amount of candy for a buck. (The back of the package says “this product is packed by weight”, which I’m guessing means they’ve gotten some comments.)
The package design is rather lame. The illustration of the Easter Bunny with his basket of baby bunnies isn’t really very contemporary, and I don’t even know what’s going on with the yellow fluffy duck with red hiking boots in the background.
The package promises gummi bunny shaped candies in six creamy flavors. I’m accustomed to transparent gummis, these are opaque, but also apparently creamy.
All my other confusion and miffed-ness aside, these were a pleasant surprise.
These juvenile lagomorph confections are a little bigger than a gummi bear, clocking in at about one inch high. They’re soft opaque colors, matte and a little milky looking. The bag smells a bit like marshmallows and maybe a hint of circus peanuts.
Though the name says they’re gummis, they’re really not. There’s no gelatin in there (so I guess they’re vegan as long as you’re happy to eat modified corn starch, partially hydrogenated coconut oil and titanium dioxide). They look like mellocremes (fondant like Candy Corn), but they’re much smoother than that. They’re firm but give easily when bitten, not as sticky as a gumdrop, not as hard a Jujyfruits.
Banana - Yellow - I think this is the one that overpowers the bag. It’s a plastic-like fingernail polish flavor that wafts like some sort of VOC emission from an auto body shop. Still, I rather liked them, because I like fake bananas even though they made my lungs hurt.
Orange - Orange - rather like the lime one, the orange flavor is quite subtle. Reminds me of a creamsicle, or maybe the distant memory of the last creamsicle I ate about three years ago.
Cherry - Hot Pink - when I looked at this, I wasn’t scared of the cherry flavor, I was immediately turned off at the thought of all that Red 40 dye. The cherry flavor is stronger than the other flavors in the set. Then there’s a bitter component that I find pretty off-putting even if the cherry was rather nice.
Grape - Lavender - this was a baffling little rabbit. It tasted like the only one with a bit of a tangy bite, kind of like yogurt. But the grape flavor was barely there. It also had a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Marshmallow - White - a rather believable toasted vanilla flavor. Smooth chew ... these are kind of what I’d always hoped Bunny Basket Eggs would be like.
Lime - Green - mellow lime flavor that lingers for a while, a bit of vanilla and it’s definitely smooth. A little bitter aftertaste.
They candies are soft and dry to the touch, so throwing them in the Easter grass out of the packaging like jelly beans is a decent option. They’re also cute enough to display in a jar or dish. (Really, anything is better than leaving in the lackluster package.)
Overall, I had no problem eating whatever I drew out of the bag, instead of picking through. (Though when given the opportunity, I threw the grape and cherry back.) The chew is soft and pleasant, not too sweet. They did tend to stick to my teeth, but not as much as something like Dots. They’re definitely worth the dollar I paid for them, but I really urge Necco to make the bag smaller by half, if only to save themselves some space & plastic costs.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Way back in the ancient days of the 1920s the Stark Candy Company of Milwaukee (well, Pewaukee to be exact) made an innovative little candy called the Snirkle (photo here). There were a couple of varieties but it was basically a swirled caramel & taffy pop. (They were also sold as individual pieces without the stick.)
Later in the 60s, when the whole world was going day-glow with color TV, Stark came out with the Slap Stix. It was based on the original and popular Snirkle, only this pop was a swirl of vanilla, cherry & banana taffy inside a caramel pop. The Slap Stix are made to this day and come a variety of sizes, a little .7 ounce variety and this attractive 2 ounce version.
Stark, who also made a conversation heart product, sold their company to Necco in 1990. Necco recently closed the Pewaukee Stark Candy Factory but transferred production to their Revere, Mass plant.
The pop is about the size of a business card and doesn’t really make a slapping sound when thwapped against a hard surface. But it does okay when smacked against the palm.
The pop smells sweet and caramelly. The caramel outside is rather firm, like a Milk Maid Caramel but has slightly more “pull” to it. Once bitten there’s a strong banana flavor. I didn’t really notice the cherry layer at first, but later on there’s a slight bitter aftertaste and a slight cherry flavor. The banana and caramel go well together, the chew is substantial and not too sweet. I could use a little hint of salt in there and would probably prefer strawberry to cherry. It’s not a slick & smooth caramel like a fresh Sugar Daddy, more like Laffy Taffy on a stick.
It’s a fun and really attractive treat. I found it a bit overpriced at $1.25 at Cost Plus World Market, but I’m sure they’re around for a bit less if you look carefully.
I don’t know why Necco doesn’t make the Snirkle any longer. It’s such a great name.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Wintergreen is a natural flavor derived from a few sources, one of them being the Wintergreen plant. It’s also found in the North American teaberry and birch bark. Wintergreen is sometimes called Winter Mint, but isn’t really a mint (in the sense that it’s derived from a mint plant), but it still falls into the “aromatics” of flavors. (Still, I characterize it as a mint flavor, because it reminds me tooth powder - yes, I’m old enough to remember tooth powder.) It’s a flavor that’s more popular in North American than the rest of the planet. It’s also a flavor found in Root Beer and Birch Beer, two other uniquely North American flavors.
For many of us Wintergreen is associated with things like Pepto Bismol, Icy Hot or Ben Gay. So even if you enjoy the flavor, other people associate it with those things and when they smell it they ask if you have sore muscles or a queasy stomach.
Canada Wintergreen are built on the flavor and don’t seem to have suffered for it. They’re a simple candy, just a firm sugar-based dough with some gums & gelatin in there to hold it all together in a firm chalky tablet.
Canada Mints are made by Necco, who makes another slightly different version of these called Necco Wafers in different flavors (the only real difference in the ingredients is some dextrose and glycerine).
They’re a bit more intense than Necco wafers. The texture of the tablet is a little softer than a conversation heart. They’re crumbly, not too sweet and have a pretty intense wintergreen flavor, so much that it makes my mouth a little numb. (There’s also a slight and quick-to-dissipate bitter aftertaste, but I chalk that up to the presence of Red #40.) I prefer the texture of these to something like the LifeSavers Wint-O-Green (but there’s no spark-making with these).
I pretty much love these and don’t care of someone thinks that I’ve been rubbing muscle-soothing balms into my muscles (but my pink tongue is probably a dead giveaway that it’s candy related). The only problem I can think of with wintergreen is that it doesn’t really go well with coffee.
Canada Mints come in a peppermint version in white as well (and supposedly a spearmint version that I haven’t found in years). They’re supposedly available in rolls, but I only ever see them in bulk bins or in these types of bags. I used to buy them a lot when I was a teen and when I was in college, I think because it was a dirt-cheap candy, usually less than a dollar a pound. Now I just buy Neccos every once in a while (mostly because they’re available in rolls).
The package heralds that they’re fat free. They’re also 100% carbs, for those watching those. (About 12 calories each, for those who just track that.)
As a strange side note, there is a plant that’s known as Canada Mint, Corn Mint or simply wild mint (Mentha arvensis) which is the only mint species native to North America. It’s not wintergreen flavored though. The name Canada Mint in this case was because it was sold in Canada starting in the 1880s and looks pretty much unchanged since then.
Monday, February 11, 2008
If there’s an all-ages emblem of modern Valentines candy, it’s conversation hearts. The first “Motto Lozenges” were invented in 1860 based on Necco’s already popular Necco Wafers. They were shell shaped and then later assortments included both mottos and expressions of love and came in a variety of shapes such as horseshoes, baseballs and of course hearts. Eventually they were made smaller and thicker and had briefer messages evolving into the current Necco Sweethearts.
I’ve spent years avoiding a review of them. So I bought a couple of boxes this year (why not, they were on sale for 20 cents each).
I actually like Necco Wafers. I know that sounds odd, because they’re so dry and chalky. (I did not like the Necco Smoothies, though.)
It used to be that the Conversation Hearts were just like the wafers, only thicker and smaller, same flavor rotation. Even though the Necco Wafers have remained unchanged, at some point they mucked around with the Hearts (I don’t know when) and changed up the flavors.
In an effort to be exhaustive (and sorry if I exhaust you), I’ve fully documented a random box of Sweethearts. They weigh one ounce and mine contained 36 hearts (one rather crushed though). There are six colors and they broke down in the following assortment:
Each year Necco adds new mottos to the little hearts. They always seem to be a little out of step with the modern world, but I think we forgive that lameness and just call them classics. (I didn’t find any that said Fax Me this year!)
There were three others that I couldn’t figure out. This year featured an “eco” theme with the addition of the mottos like “Wild Life” and “Heat Wave”. What’s nice is that there is a wide variety of mottos. In the second box I opened I found others that I didn’t have in this box (IM Me, Real Love, Marry Me and Sun Shine).
I have to say, I think the quality control isn’t very good on these. There were quite a few that were intelligible, like having a conversation while the garbage disposal is on. Some are a little bumpy and irregular in shape as well. But hey, they were twenty cents and come in a box ready for your own personal message to give as a Valentine, cheaper than a card.
In the Necco Wafers the purple is Clove (I also find that bitter too, but in a more natural way), Pink is Cinnamon and Yellow is Lemon (and there’s a Brown Chocolate one and a Black Licorice one). The changeup in the hearts is understandable, but the Red #40 is probably what I’m tasting ... my husband can’t taste it, so your mileage may vary.
While I tend to lump Sweethearts in with the other “chalk” candies, they’re not compressed dextrose like many other mints and sour tablet candies are. They’re actually made from a real sugar-based wet dough (that also includes gelatin, my vegetarian friends). This gives it a bit denser feel and also a deeper sweetness than dextrose (a monsaccharide instead of a disaccharide).
Having these reminded me that I prefer Necco Wafers. I like the tablet shape and how they clink together and are easy to crunch or dissolve. There are too many flavors that I don’t eat in this mix as well ... so I’ll stick with Necco Wafers. But I still might pick these up every year ... especially on sale after Valentines. They also come in: Spanish , Sour and Chocolate (one version is just the chalky chocolate and they also have foil wrapped actual chocolate hearts on the website, but I’ve never seen them in person).
I was wishing I had a cute story about an experience with Necco Sweethearts ... but I bet some reader has a great one about these or some other conversation hearts.
It appears that Necco has changed the standard flavors (and some of the packaging) for their time-tested Necco Sweethearts. Prompted by some readers who commented here, I picked up a new bag. They are fruit flavors, no longer the classic fruits & spices. (Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.)
Full review with pictures over here: Necco Conversation Hearts (Sweethearts) 2010
Monday, December 31, 2007
I’ve seen these at the Walgreen’s since this summer but didn’t really feel like paying $3.50 for a bag of something that I can’t quite get my head around. I was hoping to try them at the All Candy Expo, but the Necco booth doesn’t really “do” samples of anything other than their most common products.
Instead I found them last week on sale along with the Christmas items for 50% off. So at $1.75 for 10 ounces, I felt like a fool not buying them.
I believe the product is called Cafe Select Chocolate Coffee Trios but there’s so much going on with the package. Things like “Made with Real Coffee!” and “Espresso - Cappuccino - Latte” and then the disclaimer, “Naturally & Artificially Flavored Crunchy Coffee Centers in Rich Chocolate.”
This is one of those occasions where I think my photos look better than the one on the package.
Basically, they’re malted milk balls, only with a coffee flavored center instead of malt. The center is amber colored with an even aerated crisp. There were perhaps two or three “duds” in the whole package (ones that had deflated or weren’t ideally sized, which is really good quality control in my opinion.
Espresso - a dark chocolate shell and a coffee crunch center. The chocolate shell isn’t very dark or rich, but beyond the “shellac” on the outside, it’s creamy and not grainy or chalky. The crunchy center is a little salty and less like a malted milk “cereal puff” and more like a sponge candy or center of a Cadbury Crunchie. The coffee flavor is mild, but since it’s not very sweet the coffee flavors come through.
Cappuccino - the milk chocolate makes this a little sweeter than the espresso one, but I can’t detect any difference with the crunchy center. I prefer the dark ones.
Latte - these are kind of freaky looking. The color is less “creamy” than I think they intend, it looks more like a rock than some foamed milk. However, they tasted richer than the cappuccino ones. These were my second favorite, but also the rarest in this mix.
Overall, I was really pleased with these. I know there are better upscale versions from Koppers & Marich, but for something I found at the drug store (and at half off), I found them really tasty and a great change of pace. I’ve been hungering for a coffee candy lately, and this just might be it.
Necco makes another variety called Cafe Select Chai Tea Trios, which also sound kind of interesting (but strangely named) but I haven’t run across them yet.
In other news, Necco was purchased by a consortium of investors and it sounds like the company will continue to make candy (I can see where folks might think their assets are more valuable than their products). Here’s a press release with more financials in it and an easier to understand article.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
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