Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I don’t follow ice cream much, I can’t eat that much dairy and if I’m going to have some I’ll make it cheese. But I have seen a line of low calorie ice cream products called Skinny Cow (this concoction used to be called ice milk, which was an accurate description, but the FDA later caved and allowed it to be called low fat ice cream). Personally I’m put off by the appearance of emaciated & bony cows. It reminds me of images of drought and famine; it’s never something I would think any farmer would cultivate nor something I would associate with a healthy choice. The frozen dairy line is made by Dreyer’s, which is owned by Nestle.
The natural extension of removing calories and virtually all of the actual cream from a product that contains the word cream within its name would be to tackle chocolate. The Skinny Cow confectionery line was introduced a couple of months ago with four products. I’ll tackle their Heavenly Crisp bars today. They look and sound like they might be chocolate, but do not in fact contain any of the stuff. They come in two flavors, Milk Chocolate Flavor and Peanut Butter Flavor. I was given a sample of the milk chocolate version a few months back was honestly wasn’t that interested based on the packaging. But then I saw the whole line at the grocery store last weekend, especially the Peanut Butter Flavor and thought I’d give it a try.
The Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp Peanut Butter looks more like a nutrition bar than a candy bar (though there isn’t much nutrition in there either). The package itself is small, thin and light. The bar is only .77 ounces and the package says that it’s only 110 calories. There’s an accurate depiction of a cross section of the bar and lots of female friendly swoops and curves along with pink accents.
The bar is 4.5” long and 1” wide. It’s also quite thin, at less than a half an inch.
The bar smells good, like peanut butter and sugar, a little like the center of a Butterfinger bar. The bite is crisp and crunchy, the wafers are flavorless, but light and dissolve quickly. The cream between the layers is a salty and smooth peanut butter concoction. The chocolate coating, well, that’s a chocolate flavored coating along with a few ribbons of something yellow that I’m guessing is actually made with peanut butter. The coating melts quickly and has very little flavor that’s able to shine above the peanut butter. It’s sweeter than the peanut butter center, and of course the lighter, creamy texture provides a nice blanket to the rest of the elements.
The combination is quite tasty. There’s a lot of texture and the thinness of the bar means that there are lots of bites to it. For 110 calories, it feels like there’s more to it than a single finger of a Twix which is about the same calories. But let’s not kid ourselves, there’s not much to this, it’s mostly air. The calories per ounce are on par with any other chocolate candy out there, including most actual chocolate candies like Snickers bars, Twix or just plain chocolate.
The Skinny Cow Milk Chocolate Flavor Heavenly Crisp package looks similar to the peanut butter, naturally. I only had one bar of this to try, as it was a sample that I received before they were on store shelves.
The package describes it as delicate wafers layered with delicious milk chocolate creme. It makes no mention of the outer coating, and why would it, it’s mockolate. The ingredients for this bar are dismal for a diet food:
The chocolate coating is a little cool on the tongue and very quick to melt. In fact, the melting was such as problem that it was hard to photograph and even hold in order to eat without becoming a sticky mess. The flavor is like a chocolate pudding, more on the milky side, but still with enough of a cocoa punch to be discernible.
It was less satisfying than the Peanut Butter Flavor for some reason. It might have been that it was more sweet or that it has half of the protein.
I really resent portion control sold for premium prices, especially when the ingredients here are so convoluted from actual wholesome and tasty real ones. There’s really no reason not to use real chocolate here if overall health is the goal. Even though there’s added fiber in these bars (that’s the chicory root fiber that’s also called inulin sometimes), there’s only 1 gram per portion. A portion of 70% dark chocolate with the same number of calories has about the same amount of fiber anyway. And real chocolate is usually only four ingredients and usually half the price of this stuff per pound.
So here’s my suggestion. Eat stuff with better ingredients. Try the Q.Bel Wafer Rolls (they’re actually a little lower in calories per ounce plus all natural, about the same price and actually taste better). Trader Joe’s has some great portion control chocolate (the little Belgian Bars or even a 100 calorie Chocolate bar). Or just buy mini KitKats or Pretzel M&Ms.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
KitKat candy bars in the United States are made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. Everywhere else in the world, they’re made by Nestle. The most vibrant culture for KitKats is undoubtedly Japan, but Europe has their share of KitKat variations.
I found this KitKat Hazelnut Cream at a grocery store called Golden Farms in Glendale, CA. There’s a large Armenian population there, so the local grocers in the area tend to carry a lot of Eastern European and Middle Eastern confections. This particular bar, though in English on the front, was made in Bulgaria. The bar is the single, chunky version of the bar which clocks in at 1.48 ounces (42 grams).
Hazelnuts are much more popular in Europe and Eurasia than in the US, in part, I think, because they do not have the far cheaper peanuts in such ready supplies as we do in North America. Italy has made the chocolate and hazelnut combination world-famous with the innovation of gianduia.
First, I’m not a fan of the big, single finger chunky KitKat style of bar. There ratios are completely off, the chocolate is too thick and the cookie wafers are less delicate. Now, don’t get me wrong, thick chocolate and wafers are still a great combination. They just lack the essential properties that define the classic KitKat, the lightness and balance.
The construction of this bar is a little odd in and of itself. It’s about 4.5” long and a little over an inch wide at the base. There’s a little stack of thick, light wafers in the center with a milky cream between them. Then it’s all topped with another layer of hazelnut chocolate and then encased in milk chocolate. The thick hazelnut topper is what’s odd here, it’s a lot of chocolate flavor and texture and much less wafer.
The bite is, well, thick. It breaks easily, the milk chocolate is well tempered and this was definitely a fresh bar. The three layers of wafer cookies are crunchy and airy, and the cream between then just slightly grainy and cool on the tongue. The centerpiece of this bar is the thick cap of hazelnut chocolate on top of that though. It’s not a pasty giandiua or Nutella style hazelnut chocolate though, it’s more solid, like Milka. It’s sweet but not sticky, there’s a light toasted nutty note to it, but it doesn’t scream hazelnut to me. The chocolate overall is much creamier with more milk flavors than the American version.
It’s an admirable bar and has a lot more flavor depth with some richer caramel notes and of course the light touch of hazelnut. But my hopes were rather above that, I wanted a powerful punch of hazelnut in there, thick ribbons of cream inside those wafers. But for folks looking for a more decadent KitKat, this is actually much better than the plain KitKat Chunky bar. It’s been around for a few years, so it shouldn’t be that hard to find if you’re in the right area.
See review from Rosa at ZOMG Candy.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I love the combination of chocolate and cookies. The KitKat bar is a great confectionery combination of the two. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve craved sweets less and come to appreciate texture and taste a bit more. So an ordinary milk chocolate KitKat can be a little sweet for many snacking situations (and there are many snacking situations).
I picked up the KitKat Otonano Amasa, which is the “adult taste” version - a little less sweet and with more cookie texture.
KitKats from Japan come in smart little boxes instead of plain old plastic packaging. I suppose it’s wasteful, but they do protect the contents well. On the back there’s a little “To” and “From” section for gifting.
Inside the box are two individually packaged two-finger pieces. Each is listed as 95 calories each.
The bars are just like any other KitKat, cream filled wafers covered in chocolate. But the chocolate here has little bits of dark chocolate cookies incorporated. The taste is similar to the Oreo Bitter Bar I tried recently. But in this case the texture at the front is is the creaminess of the chocolate. The flavor is slightly bitter like charcoal or, well, Oreos. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless.
It was a great combination, I liked it so much that I bought another bag of the snack sized ones. Which is goofy because they’re ridiculously expensive for KitKats. The package here was $2.25 for 1.19 ounces, the bag was $5.89 for 5.29 ounces. I could get some fine chocolates (well, See’s) for about $16 a pound.
Which is what leads me to the trepidation I have about the bar. The ingredients.
Palm oil. That’s what the bar is. Most of the time I find palm oil candies to be greasy and stiff, but this was really well done for a rainforest destroying confection. Oh, and palm oil is bad for you. Far worse than cocoa butter. So if I’m going for a candy that has a whopping 160 calories per ounce (which is about as high as the scale goes), it’d better be exceptional. So while I enjoyed this candy physically like it was a 10 out of 10, the price and ingredients knock it back to 8 out of 10.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
The Wonka public relations folks sent me this box of their Wonka Exceptionals Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Eggs to review. The box is springy, and I’ll say it veers off towards the feminine in a whimsy sort of way. (The Dove chocolate line’s packaging is more towards elegant feminine sophistication.) But I can also see kids taking a liking to it for the brilliant purple and icons on the packages of flowers, vines and butterflies. They also come in another variety, Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall which I also have a sample of.
The box holds five milk chocolate eggs with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie and crunchy peanuts. Wonka also says that they’re made with natural ingredients, but doesn’t mention on the front that they’re also made with not-so-natural ingredients which include, in descending level of appearance, soy lecithin (I’m guessing GMO), modified cornstarch and high fructose corn sweetener (I never see that used in chocolate, but I do see it quite often in cookies and cereal products so I’m assuming it’s an ingredient in one of the inclusions).
My eggs were a little worse for their trek in the mail. I find that stuff that’s shipped to me actually ends up in worse condition than items I pick up in the stores, so I expect that this is a worst case scenario.
Since the portion is less than an ounce, the calorie count is much lower than some other “full serving” chocolate eggs. Both versions are 140 calories, and for a candy so high in fat, that’s a satisfying size. The Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate is already available in large bars or individually wrapped pieces. I reviewed them when they first came out last year. The combination of ingredients is interesting and definitely unique on the market at the moment.
The construction is simple, a 2.5” long and 1.5” wide egg is molded with mixed in items: crumbled cookies, toffee pieces and little bits of peanuts.
It smells green and nutty and a little milky. The crunch of the chocolate is good, it’s a little soft and immediately has a note of cinnamon and graham crackers. The toffee bits taste a little salty and the peanuts are few and far between but taste like they’re deeply roasted. The chocolate is mild and pleasant, it reminds me more of Cadbury than Nestle. It’s very sweet and at least the cookie bits provide a little relief from that.
It’s not that I loved this, but it’s so much better than Nestle’s other efforts like the Butterfinger Egg, it’s a wonder how they can continue making such waxy, poorly flavored chocolate when we now have proof that they know the difference.
I’m happy to report that there are fewer not-so-natural ingredients in this variety, just the soy lecithin.
White chocolate maybe the unofficial chocolate style of Easter and I was pleased to see that the white chocolate used here is the real cocoa butter variety.
The white and milk chocolate has a similar smooth texture, not quite Dove smooth, but smoother than other Nestle products. It’s quite sweet but has a milky taste and definite vanilla note to it.
The individually wrapped foil pieces are more consistently balanced between the milk and dark chocolate. I only had one sample of this so I can’t say it’s the same for all of them, but I felt there was too much milk chocolate and not enough white. Sometimes I find that white chocolate can taste a little off quickly, a little stale or rancid. In this case it just didn’t taste fresh to me, but I admit that it was stored with other flavored candies from Wonka, which might have contaminated it.
I like the shape, I like how thick it is and especially when there are chunks or layers in it, how it provides a nice cross section of flavors. The packaging isn’t as fun as the foil wrapped pieces, which I liked a little better, the colors on those are just as appropriate for Easter anyway.
It’s nice to see something a little different for Easter baskets or just snacking. These didn’t wow me with their ingenuity, but the quality difference from the earlier efforts from Wonka that were the Golden Creme Egg means that they’re winners just for showing up.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Wonka continues its new strategy of candy releases which includes a bit more imagination and uniqueness. For Easter they have some new products that are basically reshaped regular items for the holiday but also at least one truly new conrection. Their Wonka Springy Double Yummy Gummies are a completely new introduction from Wonka’s edible garden.
They’re a layered gummi that features a base of fluffy marshmallow and a colorful fruity gummi on top. They’re vaguely similar to the Squishy Sploshberries, in that they’re layered and the bottom is a marshmallowy plank. (The Sploshberries were berry flavored, basically round and had a goo filling.) The big feature here that parents may be interested in is that there’s no artificial colorings used. They go with fruit and vegetable colors plus a little cochineal. The candies are made in the Czech Republic. (The plant also processed peanuts, nuts, milk, soy, wheat and eggs.) The package I got holds six individually wrapped candies.
The pieces are individually wrapped. Each one is about .6 ounces and just shy of three inches tall, so two is a nice serving and only 130 calories.
Strawberry Rabbit is rather ordinary but very satisfying. The strawberry layer is fragrant, tart and has a decent strawberry jam flavor to it. The marshmallow layer gives it a little vanilla ice cream note but mostly a lighter, foamy texture. It makes the chew a little easier, less of a rubbery pull.
Orange Duckling is very orange in color and it was easy to bite his head off. The flavor is rather similar to orange drink, it’s juicy but zestless. The marshmallow didn’t seem as thick on the two that I ate, but still gave a lightness to the large piece.
Lemon Lamb smells sweet and creamy. The foamy marshmallow base isn’t quite as sweet as a regular marshmallow, so it offsets the more intense tart and zesty lemon top layer without watering it down.
It’s a fun, nicely themed product and I appreciate the effort Wonka is making to get ahead of the artificial colors issue here in the United States. Of course it helps that I like all three flavors in the assortment. They’re not really that innovative or mind-bendingly fantastic, but they’re fun, good quality though priced a bit steep for a sugar candy.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Willy Wonka invented the Everlasting Gobstopper, a candy for children with very little pocket money. The basic concept behind a jawbreaker style candy is that they last a long time. The current, smaller versions of the Everlasting Gobstopper are not everlasting. In fact, they’re maddenly short lived, which is fine because they come in boxes that hold dozens of them. For quite a few years the Everlasting Gobstoppers have come in seasonal varieties, such as the Snowballs (white, green and red) for Christmas and Heartbreakers (thinner shells and heart shaped). For Easter there are Wonka Everlasting Gobstopper EggBreakers.
I love the little box. It holds 3.5 ounces and I picked it up for $.99 at Target, though I’ve seen it for as much as $1.59 at other stores. The box is really compact and cleverly designed and decorated. It’s easy to flip the little window open to dispense and the box holds what feels like a lot of candy. I’ve seen Wonka use these before with their Wonka Runts Freckled Eggs.
The ovoids are about 3/4 of an inch high. They eggs come in five glossy colors: yellow, turquoise, green, purple and light red.
The outer color is flavored, but it’s all very light. The lemon is just a kiss of sweet lemon essence. The purple is more like a bouquet of lilacs than fruit-flavorful, the red is a dash of berry and green might be a just a whiff of apple.
The dissolve is smooth, smoother than most other jawbreakers on the market. The layers underneath become lightly tangy though no more flavorful. After two thin layers the shell on the compressed dextrose center is easily crunched. The centers are white and if they’re flavored it’s something generic. I get a bit of pineapple from it, but it could be lemon or even orange for all I can tell.
It doesn’t matter that everything is so muted. The look, sound, texture and the interactivity is what makes this a special candy. They’re lovely to look at, sturdy and are simply interesting to eat. The shape is mouth friendly (not quite a friendly as the Heart Breakers) and the flavor array is spot on. I know they could be more intense, but I liked the subtlety of them.
I plan on picking up more of these, especially if I see them on sale after Easter even though the regular Wonka Gobstoppers are about half the price.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Line is brand new this year, so it’s a bit surprising that Nestle already has a holiday version of one of their sub-brands when it seems like it took them decades to make holiday Gobstoppers.
The line of upscale Wonka Exceptionals includes new chocolate pieces. They’re little rectangles that are individually wrapped and feature a little bit of a different take on the standard morsel. The first introductions were Scrumdiddlyumptious (cookie pieces in milk chocolate), Chocolate Waterfall (milk & white chocolate swirled) and Domed Dark Chocolate (milk & dark stack) In addition, Wonka came up with Marvels and Fruit Jellies with all natural colors and flavors.
The holiday Wonka Exceptionals Peppermint Shortbread Chocolate Pieces come in a tall box like the Jellies and Marvels. (The previous Pieces I reviewed came in a purple hologram emblazoned bag.) Inside the slim box is a purple mylar pouch with the Wonka Ws all over it. The box only holds four ounces of the foil wrapped chocolates and at nearly $4 for the package, that’s a dollar an ounce. That’s about what I pay for See’s by the pound. (There are approximately 12 pieces in the box.)
So, Wonka is trucking along, reinventing the brand. They’re going for quality and recapturing the imagination that everyone loves so much in the Dahl books ... and then this Christmas candy comes along. The previous candies in this Exceptionals line have been good, a little expensive but they also have a unique selling position - they’re made with all natural flavors and colors. So I bite into one of these new milk chocolate pieces that have peppermint candy pieces and shortbread cookie morsels.
There are red bits in there. They’re bright red. They’re kind of minty but they’re also kind of bitter to me towards the end, there’s something slightly off about them. They have artificial colors in them. Why? They’re inside! Why would you put coloring in something that’s not even meant to be seen?
That aside, the milk chocolate pieces are creamy. They’re very sweet and don’t have a huge cocoa punch, it’s quite mild and overshadowed by the mint and a bit of the milky flavors. The candy pieces are crunchy and then there are little bits of shortbread sometimes - they’re a kind of sandy and crumbly cookie crunch that has a light salty note to it. But they’re really sandy sometimes, like cornmeal sandy.
The whole thing wasn’t working for me. It was too sweet and though most of the texture components were right (except for the lingering sand, like that stuff in your jeans pockets after going through the wash). I was irritated that I paid $4 for a box of candy I didn’t want to eat. They’ve already shown that they can do better, so I want Wonka to do better next time around.
I got a handful of these as a sample from Nestle at first, but I didn’t get the box or label with it, so that’s why I went out and bought them, so I could find out how expensive they were for myself and see that there Red #3, Red #40 and Blue #1 in there. Bah, humbug.
Friday, November 12, 2010
In Japan (and everywhere else besides the United States), KitKats are made by Nestle. Nestle has the ability to make great chocolate and candy, but also possesses the ability and fortitude to make cheap tasting and inconsistent candy.
The first is the SemiSweet KitKat which sounds pretty boring. But just look at the package! It’s a beautifully done design in just black and red (except for the real-color image of the KitKat finger itself.) The bar is just a mellow semi sweet chocolate version of the standard milk chocolate KitKat.
The bars were perfect. I know I criticize the over-packaging of many of these Japanese items, but in this case it really did its job of both enticing me to buy and protecting the contents.
The chocolate smells wonderful, a little sweet but rich and bold. The first thing I noticed was the melt. There was a good snap to the chocolate but it melted quite readily. It’s a little sticky but has a lot of flavor, a combination of strong woodsy flavors, a hint of coffee and prunes. The wafers are crispy and don’t let the combination get too sweet or thick.
The KitKat Bitter Almond is what got me out to the stores in Little Tokyo. I saw Bitter Almond KitKat mentioned on Japanese Snack Reviews and thought it sounded right up my alley.
The ingredients say that it’s made with real dark chocolate (44% cacao), almond paste and almonds. While I’m not usually a big fan of the amaretto note in marzipan, I do love almonds. The limited edition KitKats have largely ignored nuts as a flavor, so this is a refreshing change.
The box had the logo for TBC on it, which I had to look up (thanks again to Japanese Snack Reviews) to find out it’s a cross promotion with Tokyo Beauty Centers. TBC is a chain of spas that offer all sorts of aesthetic treatments, make up and consultations. I haven’t the foggiest what that has to do with KitKats so I’m going to just make something up, like you can get marzipan facial treatments for a limited time when you present your empty KitKat box.
The chocolate is strong, slightly bitter and has a light acidic bite. The almond flavors come and go but are light and more on the side of nutty than amaretto. What struck me as so great, aside from the smooth and lightly dry finish of the chocolate itself was the freshness of the wafers. They were delicate and crispy. There was no cereal taste to them (not that I mind that), which allowed both the chocolate and almond to dominate. Every once in a while I got a little texture of some crushed almonds.
I loved this bar. I don’t know if the factory was just having a really good day and had exceptional ingredients converge in that moment in time on that particular bar but I felt like I was finally getting my money’s worth for these expensive imported KitKat bars. Texture, flavors and mouthfeel were simply exceptional. All other KitKats will disappoint me now. (And it’s always good to stop on a high note.)
But I’m left feeling that I should stop pursuing the fleeting perfection of limited edition bars (which are often less than perfect) and concentrate on quality candies that are available more reliably. Plus, the import premium I pay for these means that they’re over $30 a pound. If I’m willing to pay that much, I can get some really good chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.