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.
Friday, April 30, 2010
The Wonka Exceptionals Fruit Jellies are a bit more classic. They’re simple cubes of real fruit jelly made from all natural ingredients in Mexico. They come in single flavor boxes, the initial varieties are Grapefruit, Goji Berry and Red Apple.
They are packaged similarly to the Fruit Marvels. The label sleeve is over an eye-popping magenta and maroon box. Inside the box is an unlabeled purple mylar bag. It’s a lot of layers, and while I enjoy the fancifulness, it’s really wasteful.
The package simply describes them as fantastically flavorful soft jellies dusted with sugar. I also got a press release that said:
The ingredients go like this:
The beta carotene is the only ingredient that isn’t marked as all natural, though it’s certainly not an artificial color.
I’ve had a lot of pate de fruits over the years, which are full fruit jellies. They’re usually thickened with the actual fruit instead of corn starch though sometimes there’s additional pectin (depending on the fruit). Though the new Wonka Fruit Jellies don’t quite rise to the level of pate, they do a good job with the texture and are less sweet than gum drops or fruit jellies like Boston Fruit Slices.
The scent is a beguilingly authentic grapefruit peel. Grapefruit is a favorite smell for me, even clinical testing backs up its use for aromatherapy - the smell of grapefruit soothes, engenders trust and youthfulness (for women being sniffed by men, anyway). I like it because it smells like something I want to eat. It’s a mix of balsam, lavender, lemon and windy beach.
The half inch jelly cubes are rough and dusted with sugar. They’re a little messier than a gum drop but not as dusty as Turkish Delight. They’re soft to the touch but firm enough that they can’t be squeezed flat very easily. The moist jelly has a nice give, it’s not a sticky as a gum drop, these are more of a jam you can eat.
The flavor is mostly about the zest and grapefruit peel but there’s a light juice note with a little tangy snap. They’re not too cloying or sticky sweet, but not quite intense enough for me to call them a true pate de fruits.
The berries are related to tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. They have tiny little seeds in them but they’re edible and provide a little bit of texture, though not quite like, say, kiwi or fig seeds do.
The package says nothing about where the flavor for these comes from, just that it’s natural. The whole point, as far as I can tell, of people eating goji is because of its high antioxidant properties, so just flavoring something with goji seems like a miss.
They’re sweet with a little tangy note. Kind of like raisin and orange. Not really that interesting to me.
Note: the Goji variety of the Fruit Jellies uses cochineal color, so they are not vegan.
The flavor notes are reminiscent of apple cider. There are notes of apple peel, a mellow and honey-like sweetness along with a light tart bite.
My hesitations with these are because of the excessive packaging, but for a natural fruit jelly product they’re priced rather well but still quite a bit steeper than other gummis or jellies. (They’re about twice the price per ounce compared to the Wonka Sploshberries.) The size of the pieces is perfect, I just pop them in my mouth, no messing biting & putting half aside. I do love grapefruit, which is a hard flavor to find, and apple lovers may enjoy a real fruit experience too. Goji can go, hopefully replaced by something really inventive ... maybe we’ll finally find out what a snozzberry is.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Yesterday I reviewed the new Necco Clark Bar with real milk chocolate and the Necco Clark Dark Bar with real dark chocolate. At the time I also purchased and compared the two other nationally available chocolatey peanut butter crunch bars: Nestle Butterfinger and Hershey’s 5th Avenue.
The bars are all roughly the same size and barring any sales, the same price. All are nationally available, and though Clark used to be hard to find, all of the bars here were purchased at RiteAid, a national drug store chain. Honestly, there are probably two main reasons to chose one over the other: flavor preference and ingredients.
The ingredients and concepts are very similar. A crunchy layered peanut butter crunch log is enrobed with chocolate or mockolate.
Necco Clark Bar (introduced by D.L. Clark in 1916-1917)
Noticeable molasses flavor, fresh roasted nuts but not overly salty. The texture varies from bar to bar, some are more hard-candy-like and others have a more crumbly layering with stronger peanut butter notes.
Nestle Butterfinger (introduced by Curtiss in 1923)
The center, when compared to the others, is obviously artificially colored. The scent of the bar is overtly “buttery” but without any real source. The coating is chalky looking and matte, without any ripples or variations. The crunch of the center is dense, though there are layers it’s a tightly wrapped bar. This gives it a density and satisfying weight. The mockolate coating is dreadful and the worst part of the bar. Salty and butter-flavored center has a good peanut butter flavor that at least covers the watery cocoa flavors of the outside.
Hershey’s 5th Avenue (introduced by Luden’s in 1936)
In earlier versions of the bar it was real milk chocolate and there were several almonds on top of the peanut butter center under the chocolate coating. The change over to a high-quality mockolate was about 4 years ago. The center of the 5th Avenue is by far the one I prefer. It’s like a bundle of spiky peanut butter crunch needles. They melt in your mouth with a burst of molasses, peanut butter and salty flavors. The mockolate is actually pretty good, though often very soft and pasty. The chocolate flavor of it is well rounded and the texture, though fudgy, is smooth.
If it were still in its original formulation, the 5th Avenue might still be the #1 bar for me. But given Clark’s new all natural and real ingredients, I have to go with the Clark Bar Dark and then the Clark Bar. Butterfinger comes in a distant #3 (or #4 if we’re using both Clark bars).
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Nestle is going full-tilt to reinvigorate their stagnant Wonka candy brand. Last year it was gummis (Sluggles, Puckerooms & Sploshberries), this year they revised their chocolate bar line under the new Wonka Exceptionals and now they’re introducing some new sugar candy items to the Exceptionals line. The first is called Fruit Marvels which are vaguely described on the packaging as hard candies with soft centers, delicately sugar dusted. They come in three flavors: White Grape, Pomegranate and Clementine Orange.
There are two formats for the packages. The first is the tins, which hold 1.9 ounces (14 pieces) and retail for $1.99. Though that’s a little expensive, there’s a second more cost effective option which is the 5 ounce box which retails for $2.99 (and you can refill the tin).
The box is imaginative and quite different from the holographic mylar/plastic of the chocolates. These stand up boxes come in two parts. There’s a tall tab top box with a dizzying purple/lavender design, over that is a sleeve. The sleeve is taped to the box and features little circular cut outs that reveal the patterned box underneath. Like the Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Pieces, even the UPC code gets Wonka-fied.
Inside the box is another package, a long mylar pouch with the candy in it. They’re not marked for the individual flavor, as I discovered later on when I ditched the boxes and carried all three pouches around in a ziploc bag while I was tasting.
The front of the package states Made with Natural Ingredients* and then directs folks to read the list of ingredients to explain the asterisk. Flipping over the box the ingredients are really easy to understand. For the White Grape they were: Dextrose*, Sugar*, Corn Syrup*, Pear Juice Concentrate*, and less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Tapioca Dextrin, Natural Flavor*, Tumeric Color, Citric Acid*.
I find this a little confusing ... they’re saying it’s made with natural ingredients, but not saying that all of the ingredients are natural. (So just about all food products would qualify under this “Made with Natural Ingredients” thing.) I appreciate that they’re not saying that highly processed ingredients like modified food starch is natural, but I’d prefer if they just said “made with real fruit juice but no artificial flavors or colors” and left it at that. Both Clementine & Pomegranate have Carmine coloring, which is a natural coloring derived from insects but of course not considered vegetarian/vegan, may be an allergen for some sensitive folks and is not kosher/halal.
The Pomegranate Fruit Marvels tin is simple. Inside are tucked over a dozen little candies. The tin is about 3.5 inches in diameter and just shy of an inch thick - a little big to tuck in a pocket. There’s a piece of waxed paper cushion on the bottom and on the top. The tin is easy to open and close, but stays closed so I wouldn’t worry so much about this coming open in the bottom of your bag.
They’re about .75 inches in diameter with a sugar sanded coating and soft coloring. The candies are really a puzzle at first. I didn’t understand what they were by the description, but I guess that’s why they called them Marvels.
The outside is a hard candy shell, it’s made of dextrose like SweeTarts, but it’s not compressed like other powder candies, instead it’s panned (added as a liquid layer that forms a hardened glaze after many coats). Inside is a firm and flavorful jelly. It’s like a super jelly bean in a way but remember that the shell is very thick.
When I first popped it into my mouth I thought it would be like a Gobstopper, many flavored layers and then a jelly ball in the middle, but it is actually faithful to the scale on the package. I tried sucking on them first. The sugar sanding is rough at first but that dissolves away quickly to the shell. The shell is dextrose (glucose) so it has a slightly cooling effect and it has a kind of thinness to the sweet note instead of the round syrup sweetness of sucrose (sugar). Eventually there’s a little hint of the floral berry flavors of pomegranate. There’s a layer just between the jelly center and the shell that has a little burst of sour.
I pulled quite a few of the candies apart. I found I preferred biting them to letting them dissolve. It’s not advisable to just crunch them up at first until you gain some experience at it, I think letting them warm and dissolve a little helps.
You can see the thickness of the shell here and how it’s dense but kind of crumbly.
The jelly center is complex. It’s smooth and thick, it’s also nicely flavored without being too sweet or tangy. Though I don’t think any candies really capture pomegranate flavor well, these are still an excellent flavor no matter what it’s called. It’s more raspberry to me - floral and jammy.
The sanding isn’t messy, no sticky fingers, but there is a bit of sugar dust in the bottom of the tins or the bags which can get everywhere.
The Clementine Orange Fruit Marvels sounded really good. I love citrus and the less-common oranges often have wonderful notes that make things so much more interesting than just eating spoonfuls of Tang drink mix. Clementines are a tasty little citrus, they’re easy to peel and are usually seedless - they have the tangy profile and juicy taste of a tangerine.
The outside sanded shell doesn’t give much indication of the flavor inside, just a soft orange color.
The flavor is truly like a tangerine. There are bold juice and citric acid notes but there’s also a really good zest component that sets it apart from straight-laced orange. There’s no bitter or lingering orange peel aftertaste though.
The White Grape Fruit Marvels are nearly colorless on the outside but a little on the yellow side after cracked open. (They were devilish to photograph, but I think you get the idea with the other two.) White grape was always one of my favorite fruit juices as a kid, so I’m very familiar with the flavor. This is extremely faithful. There’s a concord grape note to it, but also a brighter and lighter feeling to it, a little like champagne.
All three flavors are distinct and faithful to their profiles. The candy itself is unique, I’ve never had anything quite like it before so I give Wonka high marks for not just regurgitating the ordinary with a frivolous name and funny packaging. I like the concept of the boxes and that they’re more cost effective than the tins but still $3 for 5 ounces of sugar candy is on the high side, even for something that doesn’t have artificial flavors/colors. Also, the amount of packaging is silly, the outer sleeve could easily disappear without losing the feeling of upscale decadence.
I’m a little unclear about the target market for these, I’m guessing they’re not for little children like many other Wonka products lately like Kazoozles. Perhaps they’re targeting young adults, especially since the tins are great for sharing. They might also appeal to folks who want an intense flavorful indulgence without too many calories. Since they’re all sugar there’s no fat and each piece is about 12 calories. The tin makes each piece feel rather special. (Honestly, it seems like the target market is for grown ups for never quite grew up, which would be me.)
I like where Wonka is going lately.
These are in limited release right now, they’re available exclusively at WalMart stores until June 2010 when they’ll start appearing at Target. The candies are made in Mexico.
Monday, April 5, 2010
One of my favorite chocolate bars as a kid was the Nestle Crunch or Krackel. Both of them went downhill in the nineties (Hershey’s Krackel isn’t even a chocolate bar any longer) but the Nestle Crunch seems to be inching its way back to respectable. About two years ago Nestle released their “Now Even Richer” tweak, which improved the bar but it wasn’t hard when it was so waxy and flavorless before.
Nestle is going for it again with their Nestle Crunch Even More Scrumptious version. Since we’re in a crossover period where both the “Now Even Richer” and “Even More Scrumptious” version are on shelves, I picked up two for comparison.
The bar’s shape and size is exactly the same. Same package design with the familiar red, white and blue colors that have been used for at least 50 years but of course updated from time to time. The mold has the bold CRUNCH lettering that lets you know what it is inside or out of the mylar. I prefer a bar with segments. While pretty molding is nice if you’re eating the whole bar yourself and don’t care about the sanitariness of biting right into it, I usually break my bar into pieces so I can share or portion. Though the ingredients on the old and new version are identical as is the nutrition information, flipping both bars over reveals the most significant difference:
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
Sometime in the mid-2000s (I think), Nestle started using these little BB shaped & sized crisped rice pieces. Not just in the Crunch bar but also in the 100 Grand Bar. I don’t like them. They lack the irregular air pockets that gives a Crunch bar its more rustic texture. But the big rice pieces are back, I took this as a good sign.
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
The color of the two bars is slightly different. It could be age, the new formula is obviously a fresher bar though both are within their freshness dates.
But what’s the difference in taste, how did they make it better without actually changing the ingredients or nutritional profile?
Well, it’s creamier. Not by much but the fact that the rice pieces are larger seems to make a difference as well. The bigger crunch makes the chocolate texture difference more noticeable. Is it really that much more scrumptious?, I’d say yes, there is some notable improvement in the creaminess and sweetness level of the chocolate. It still lacks a well-rounded chocolate flavor and texture. It’s far too sugar intense and not chocolatey enough for me, or even milky enough. It’s an entertaining enough piece of candy for the price, but not a satisfying bar of chocolate. It does earn the right to scootch up from at 6 out of 10 to a 7 out of 10. I hope the other holiday versions get this changeover, too.
(I think that’s Jenilee Harrison as the first bar-eater. What I got from this commercial is that it’s a candy bar that white people like.)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wonka introduced a line of jelly beans back in 2006 (original review). They were matte, opaque pastel jelly beans with a strange grainy shell but familiar SweeTart flavors.
This year the product seems to have been reformulated, though there’s no mention of it on the package which is also redesigned. Readers alerted me that they were different this year.
The 2010 version of SweeTart Jelly Beans are more vibrant and come in the current SweeTart flavors of Cherry, Lemon, Grape, Blue Punch, Green Apple and Orange.
I noticed the color difference before I even took the bag home. They’re more opaque and shinier with consistent colors. They’re at once familiar and a little different.
The version I’ve had before had a grainy and cool-to-the-tongue shell. When I saw these and remembered the comments, I was wondering if Wonka was just using the Spree Jelly Beans which have a harder shell.
The shell is more crisp than the previous version and the flavors seem a little more distinct and intense. They also seem to be more faithful to the flavors of the chalky original SweeTarts disks. But what’s missing is probably the tangy hit that the real SweeTarts have.
As you’ll notice, I found quite a few abnormal ones in my bag. These were a few that had distinctive shapes, quite a few were just larger than what I’d call normal or smaller than what I would have thought should be the target. They all tasted fine - the narrow ones obviously had more shell to them proportionally.
They’re still nice - the grape is much better as it is tangier now. I enjoyed the citrus flavors even though they weren’t particularly sour. Green apple is okay, though bland and I usually pick out the cherry and blue punch ones but if I ate them it’s not the end of the world.
In the end, the update is definitely different but I wouldn’t call it an improvement. I think it brings them more in line with what I’d expect from a product extension but still not as good as actual SweeTarts. Now if they could only do the SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies with all the flavors of SweeTarts we’d have something to talk about.
The versions I’ve tried before (2007 & 2008) were made in Canada. This bag was made in Mexico. There are no allergen statements on the bag, so they may be nut free/gluten free and contain no animal-derived products.
Friday, March 5, 2010
They’re the third item in the new launch of the better quality Wonka chocolate products hitting store shelves now. The ingredients are all natural, the packaging revamped and the quality vastly improved.
Now that I’ve tried all three varieties I can say that they’re right, the quality of the chocolate is much better. The chocolate is smoother, has a bolder flavor and of course the fact that the ingredients are better should make it easier for families to choose Wonka. I’ve compared them before to Dove and Hershey’s Bliss - but what these have going for them is that the packaging is all about imagination - the bright striped foils are going to appeal more to kids than the sedate and elegant positioning of Dove or Bliss.
The pieces themselves aren’t quite as stunning to look at as the other two Exceptionals. The little domed blocks don’t stack either. I was hoping for some glossy dark chocolate, and while it’s tempered properly, the piece looks like well worn coat button instead of a sumptuous piece of dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate flavors are quite sharp. It’s acidic without being tangy, not quite chalky but a little dry. It’s smooth but I wouldn’t characterize it as the same silkiness as the milk and white chocolate from the Waterfall version. There are berry and raisin notes to the cocoa but nothing overtly complex. It’s toasty but not so dark that it’s roasty and too bitter like black coffee. The sweetness is pretty overwhelming, sugar is the first ingredient on the list.
As a dark chocolate, it’s very accessible, and probably won’t dissuade children from eating them. They remind me of eating chocolate chip cookies - the melt is similar to that in a fresh cookie.
I think Nestle has done a great job of reinvigorating the brand. It takes more inspiration from the original books and taps into the dreamy quality that Wonka has evoked in every kid who every kid who’s read it.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.