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.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Rowntree’s created what would be one of the most popular candy bars in the world, the KitKat, in 1935. In the same year they also created the Aero bar. There have been dozens of versions since then even as Nestle’s has taken over the brand and spread the bars worldwide.
It’s odd then to ponder that there is a mash-up bar of the two that’s found in South Africa. The Nestle Tex was launched around 1956 and combines the aerated chocolate of the Aero bar and the crispy filled wafers of the KitKat. I don’t know how the bar got the name Tex.
It’s a big chunky looking bar. It’s over 5.5 inches long and a little under one inch square. The wrapping isn’t fancy, just the name of the bar and a satisfyingly accurate cross section of the bar that shows the bubbly chocolate center with a layer of wafers above and below.
The bar smells more like sweetened cereal than a decadent chocolate bar. It’s quite light for its size, only 40 grams (1.41 ounces) when you think that a 3 Musketeers bar is 60 grams and has similar volume.
The bar is a little messy to eat. The wafers are crispy but also darn flaky.
The chocolate flavors are disappointing. There’s little cocoa flavor or chocolate texture in there. It’s not grainy or waxy, but certainly doesn’t have a silky smooth melt. The wafers are fun and distinctive, though not quite KitKat-like since they’re wider and have a more distinctive cream filling. The Aero layer is lost in the mix, it’s light on the chocolate but I didn’t really get the same airy melt and bubbly texture because of the fact that I felt obligated to chew the wafers.
Mostly I’m disappointed in the poor quality of the chocolate (it might be mockolate, it’s hard to tell which ingredients are the chocolate coating and which are the cream filling in the wafer part). I know Nestle is capable of making better chocolate, and since I bought this as an import, it was $2.00. I could buy some really good chocolate for that.
I could see this bar benefiting from other versions, like dark chocolate and flavors like coffee or orange. As it is, I see it as a middle of the road offering. Certainly unique but not better than the sum of its progenitors.
(I found one note in a book about Rowntree that said that the Tex bar was first introduced in Canada in 1955 around the same time as Coffee Crisp but was a flop.)
Monday, October 25, 2010
So around Christmas sometimes I’ll pick up the Butterfinger Jingles, which are bells made of milk chocolate with Butterfinger crunch pieces. It’s been a while though, so when I saw these Nestle Butterfinger Pumpkins I thought it was great that I could pick up a modestly sized version instead of a big bag. They were on sale, two for a dollar but they also come in a tray of 6 which seemed to be priced higher per piece at Target.
The chocolate disk is nicely designed and molded. I liked the dimensionality of it and the fanciful face that incorporated not only the carving but the strong ribs of the pumpkin shape. It smelled pretty appealing too, like chocolate and roasted peanuts with a touch of toffee. So far so good.
After that first bite pictured there, I was tempted to spit this out. It was waxy and sweet with no chocolate flavor at all. But I thought maybe I was spoiled because I was also photographing some Ritter Sport at the same time (which naturally required a few bites as well). So I tucked away the rest and give it a few days.
With the second bite I still thought it was a mixture of greasy and waxy chocolate, but the cocoa flavors came through a little stronger. There’s a mix of toasted peanut flavors and a hint of bitterness along with the barely passable chocolate. The chips of the Butterfinger center save this candy from being completely inedible. They’re a little salty and have a mixture of molasses and peanut butter flavors.
While I’ve been finding that Wonka candies have been improving in quality, this Butterfinger Pumpkin doesn’t taste as good as the Jingles I remember. In fact, it’s pretty terrible and makes me wish I could find the Clark Wicked Mix in my area.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Nestle Aero line is a fun sort - it’s aerated chocolate. That means that air bubbles are trapped in the chocolate, making it light and fluffy, kind of like chocolate pumice. This is rather foreign to us here in the US where aerated chocolate isn’t that common. Europe Cadbury has a whole Wispa and Diary Milk Bubby line of products and they’re also popular in Israel where Elite makes some bars.
The Aero 70% Cocoa bar was a little more expensive than some of the imports I find, I paid $2 for mine, though in Canada, where these are from, they might be more reasonably priced. It’s five inches long and 1/75 inches across making it seem like a large bar. It only weighs 1.41 ounces, which is a great portion for chocolate but at this size it looks large but feels a bit puffy. Well, that’s because it is. The wrapping is simple and elegant. There’s a lot of info on the bar but they balance it well with the bubbly graphic elements and the matte paper keeps it from being too chaotic.
Inside the foil wrapper, the bar is nicely molded, the shape is great and does a great job of highlighting the bubbly attributes while still making it easy to portion. The bubbles vary in size, but are consistently distributed throughout the bar - no solids spots.
The bite is easy and doesn’t flake or crumble. The scent is odd, almost alcoholic - like whiskey with hints of tobacco and cedar. The chocolate flavors are similarly woodsy and rich with just a hint of tannic cherries. The melt is creamy and slick. It’s amazing how good this is for a Nestle bar. Like all the best things about Nestle Chocolate Morsels, but even creamier.
The nutrition label was kind of shocking. The reason the melt was so smooth was the level of dreamy cocoa butter in the bar - it has one of the highest calorie counts per ounce of a whole chocolate product: 169. There are 16 grams of fat in here, but also 4 grams of fiber, 21 grams of sugar and finally 3 grams of protein. There’s a shocking 35% of the Canadian RDA of iron & 25% of the magnesium. The front of the package also says that there are 500 mg of polyphenols. The ingredients are also simple and easy to understand: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa, cocoa butter, soy lecithin & natural flavor.
I happened to have some of the Bubble Chocolate 60% Dark bar around to compare it to, and the Nestle Aero is surprisingly richer and smoother. I ate the whole bar and would probably buy it again if I saw it - it’s my favorite of the aerated bars I’ve had.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
In the flurry of new Wonka products, I’ve neglected the most recent introduction in their Wonka’s Edible Garden Gummies line. The Wonka Whipped Wingers Gummies are definitely different from the usual translucent fare.
Like the other Wonka Gummies, these are free of artificial colors and flavors and are made with fruit juice (apple juice). They come in four shapes and four flavors: Watermelon, Orange, Pineapple and Tropical Punch.
The gummis come in four shapes: hornet, beetle, butterfly and midget dragonflies. Okay, I made those names up, I’m not an entomologist - I’m a candy reviewer.
The foamy texture is like a dense marshmallow, not quite fluffy but with a bouncy latex quality. This made them a little lighter than expected, so while the package had only 5.5 ounces in it, they definitely looked like “more” than a comparable non-fluffed product. (The standard packages for the Sluggles and Puckerooms come in 6.5 ounce peg bags.)
The candies were matte, soft and pillowy. They didn’t stick, which was nice for just setting them around on my keyboard.
Orange was perfectly ordinary. Tangy and juicy, but with a very bland flavor that reminded me of flavored drink powder.
Watermelon was pink and quite a surprise. I enjoyed it because there was no artificial metallic chemical note. It wasn’t quite like real watermelon, it was actually somewhere between a generic punch flavor and green apple but with a light floral note.
Tropical Punch was the soft purple one. The flavor was just like punch, a soft and non-distinct sort of thing with a little berry tang to it and a citrus note. It wasn’t my favorite of the set, but I also on got four of them in the bag.
Pineapple was yellow and the one I was looking forward to the most. It’s floral and tropical but the tartness is more along the lines of canned pineapple. Mild and merely pleasant in the whole scheme of things.
I enjoyed the chewy foamy texture (up until the point it gave me the burps). It seemed to give it a creamy texture without any actual dairy products in it. It was an odd sensation though, because they were squishy and pliable, it was like chewing on boneless baby toes (which I know is pretty tempting most of the time anyway).
I loved the shapes and the colors plus the fact that Wonka is making an effort to create candies with kid and tween appeal without artificial ingredients. The flavors weren’t as intense as I would have wanted, but the novelty of the texture kind of made up for that.
Though the other Wonka Gummies are made in the Czech Republic, these appear to be American. It’d be nice if Wonka could also make their products in less allergy-laden facilities. This one was made on shared equipment with wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and eggs. It also contains gelatin (since it’s a gummi) so it’s not vegetarian. One of the natural colors is cochineal, for those who avoid that (but I though it was kind of funny to have an insect shaped candy made with insects!).
Friday, May 28, 2010
They come in a rather petite package, it weighs only 1.28 ounces, which is a pretty remarkable difference compared to the standard Butterfinger bar which clocks in at 2.1 ounces. Of course that does mean that there are fewer calories per serving, here a bag is only 170 calories (133 per ounce) while a bar is 270 calories (129 per ounce).
The package is a simple pouch, a little taller than a bag of M&Ms and in a bright yellow and orange with blue accents.
The Snackerz look every bit as appealing as the actual Butterfinger bar. They’re a bit chalky and smell like sugar and fake butter. They’re about 1.25 inches long and .75 to 1.00 inches wide. They’re decorated with little zags of orange icing confection. They’re an irregular puff shape, there’s a little pocket of Butterfinger creme in there.
The crunch is like a sweet version of Fritos or a breakfast cereal. Inside the sweets, salty and buttery flavored cream has a little hint of roasted nuts. The cereal and peanut butter combination is fun and different enough. The mockolate coating is a joke, it’s fresh so there’s no hint of rancid cocoa or anything that I get from Butterfingers now and then. But there’s no rich cocoa to go with it.
A few years ago I tried something called Butterfinger Stixx, which were a little wafer tube filled with a similar creme, but the difference there was that they were covered in real milk chocolate. That was a great idea. This is mediocre at best ... a smaller portion than most candies offer at this price but sub par ingredients.
After seeing what Nestle did with the Wonka line to create products with better ingredients, this is just plain disappointing. I know they can do better.
Made in Mexico, no Kosher statement on the package.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Nestle continues its expansion of the Raisinets line. First it was Dark Chocolate Raisinets and then they really blew our minds with Cranberry Raisinets (which have no raisins! and they’re dark chocolate!). This year they’ve introduced Cherry Raisinets which are “dark chocolate” covered dried cherries. So they’ve ignored two of the three defining features of Raisinets - no raisins, no milk chocolate (but they’re still individually panned candies).
Still, it’s a great idea. How many real fruit candies are there? I loved the idea that they were also using dark chocolate, which I think is an excellent mix with the tartness and wine-notes of dried cherries.
The ingredients list in classic Raisinets is mercifully short: milk chocolate, raisins, sugar, tapioca dextrin and glaze. The ingredients for the new chocolate covered sunshine Cherry Raisinets are Dark Chocolate [with dairy], sweetened dried cherries (cherries, sugar, sunflower oil, citric acid), sugar, tapioca dextrin, confectioners glaze, cocoa processed with alkali.
The package makes some claims:
Fact: the nutrition chart makes no mention of measurable antioxidants. There is no Vitamin C, no Vitamin A. There is 2% Calcium and 2% Iron.
I love fresh cherries and even the dried ones, I’ve never seen the need to add extra sugar to them.
But maybe I should ignore the package and expectations and get on with the actual tasting. I was expecting cherry bits, that these were going to be similar in size and shape to Raisinets. Instead they’re actual whole, pitted cherries. The nuggets are about an inch across, though some are larger, flatter or rounder.
With the Cranberry Raisinets I was irritated at how sweet the centers were. Even though they added sugar to these (or maybe because they also threw in some citric acid) they were tart, moist and chewy. The dark chocolate is sweet and rather cool on the tongue. It’s only vaguely chocolatey, but not too waxy or distracting. The cherry notes are well rounded - the woodsy and tangy chew is soft and complex. It gets tarter the longer I chew, so the very end is a lot of cherry flavor.
These are by far my favorite Raisnets product so far (but that’s not hard because I’m not that fond of Nestle’s take on chocolate covered dried fruit). I wish it was better chocolate, of course, and wasn’t so sugary ... but the prospect of getting chocolate covered dried cherries in a vending machine or at the movie theater is tantalizing. I wouldn’t eat them as a health food, but they’re a snappy snack and probably better for you than some other things.
The retail price of $3.29 for 4 ounces is a bit steep for low-quality chocolate candy ($13.16 a pound) but these may end up on sale for less.
Note - I got mine as a sample from the National Confectioners Association as part of their preview of new products. Nestle did some wide sampling and giveaways, mostly with the mommy blogs (that I didn’t care to participate in), so mine is hardly the first review of these even though I have yet to see them in the stores.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
While the news that KitKat is now available in both Dark and Milk Chocolate is hot news here in the United States, Nestle continues to churn out fantastically inventive versions for Japan.
Japanese KitKat are getting easier to find in the United States, I picked up mine in Little Tokyo at various grocery stores. The price is a bit steeper than an ordinary KitKat, usually between $2.00 and $3.00 depending on the variety and the store. (Here’s one store in Little Tokyo.)
I get the impression that Royal Milk Tea is the Japanese version of what we know here in the US as Thai Iced Tea, a strong black tea mixed with lot of sugar and milk (in the case of Thai Iced Tea the shortcut is sweetened condensed milk).
It smells lovely though, like a cross between Jasmine and Earl Grey Tea. There are sweet vanilla notes and a little roasted barley or lapsang suchong in there. The actual texture of the white confection (a mixture of milk, palm oil and sugar) is a little greasy but otherwise smooth. The flavoring of the coating is mellow and a little spicy, like a hint of chai. Inside there’s more of a darker tea. It’s quite milky, as the whole Royal Milk Tea name might imply. I’m not much for milk in my tea, so that part of the confectionery simulation is lost on me.
I didn’t know that Ginger Ale was that popular in Japan, but I guess it must be if there’s a KitKat for it. Or Nestle has run out of ideas to make into KitKats. (Where are my Pixy Stix KitKats?)
The flavor of the white confection outside is sweet and a little lemony. Inside the cream has a warm and woodsy burn of ginger. There are little specks and pops of sour, like carbonation.
It’s a weird bar. It’s not comforting like I find actual ginger ale. But then again it’s more exciting, probably because I’ve never had a candy bar like this before. I can’t say that I’d buy it again, but I can see where it has its place.
I wasn’t quite sure what the actual flavor was, is there a strawberry soda that it was referencing, like those Ramune ones? Was it supposed to be like strawberries in champagne?
After opening I at least found out that it was a pink, strawberry flavored confectionery coating with the standard wafers and a tangy strawberry creme between.
The berry confection is milky and has less of a strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s kind of like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of Frankenberry. The startling and inventive part of this bar is the cream filling. There are little “pops” of flavor which emulate carbonation well. They’re not pop rocks or fizzing powder. Instead they’re granules of what I’m guessing is citric acid and/or salt. So the tongue gets lots of little explosions of intense sour or salt. It’s a good mix and fun to eat. I would have preferred more strawberry flavor or even dark chocolate (so it’d be like a dark chocolate covered strawberry with a glass of champagne).
Kinako Ohagi KitKat shows a mochi with kinako (and probably bean paste inside). The idea of converting that into a KitKat, honestly, isn’t that appealing to me. I thought the red bean KitKat I tried a few years ago was interesting, but putting all the flavors of mochi into a KitKat just seems like too much. A KitKat is a KitKat and needs to maintain certain aspects. Throwing too many things into the mix just means that something is going to be done poorly and that leads to disappointment.
I was relieved to see that this was at least a milk chocolate bar.
It smells deep and roasted, milky and a little like corn chips. The milk chocolate is soft and fudgy but passably good. The wafers are crisp and crunchy and the kinako is, well, like soy powder. It’s a cross between the flavor of corn meal and peanut butter - it reminds me of protein supplements. The toasty flavors go very well with the wafers and milk chocolate. But the traditional KitKat was good before. This doesn’t make it better.
The last one confused me (and I didn’t take a picture of it, but you can safely substitute the Royal Milk Tea. It’s Milk Coffee KitKat but based on the box I thought it was Sakura Tea or something. What I also didn’t properly note was that this was on of the KitKat mailers, a box that has a little “dear” and “from” form on the back so that you can give it to a student to wish them luck on exams.
It smells sweet and milky and just slightly off. Biting into it the first time, I thought I was being poisoned and had a bad package. The center cream was just intensely bitter. Then when I caught on that it wasn’t cherry and it was coffee the bitterness didn’t seem so caustic. But still intense. Too intense to allow actual coffee flavors.
At least it was called Milk Coffee, with the milk first I was getting much more of the sweet white confection than coffee notes. Chewing helped, instead of my usual eating of the cream as a layer. It just didn’t have the rounded and complex coffee notes, it reminded me instead of what I thought coffee was when I was seven or eight years old - expensive bitterness.
Overall I was less than impressed with the heavy use of white confection instead of actual chocolate. (Nestle has been in trouble lately with animal activists over its use of poorly/unethically/unsustainably farmed palm oil - their response here.) I guess I’ve found after all this exploration (trying about three dozen different kinds over the years) that the plain old ones are great and the ones made with even better chocolate are phenomenal. They don’t need fancy flavors. But I’m not going to begrudge anyone who wants to have a little fun now and then.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.