Tuesday, August 25, 2009
When on vacation I often pick up candy that fits in the intersection between my candy tastes (pretty broad) and The Man’s (not quite as broad but also includes many red flavors). Often we share things like Swedish Fish, Goetze’s Caramel Creams, dark chocolate with nuts or gianduia.
On our travels we selected some Marich 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews at the Sweet Offerings shop. Yes, they were expensive at $6.95 for a 4.5 ounce package but they weren’t for Candy Blog, they were just for eating. But I enjoyed them so much and was positive that I’d be referring to them again that I needed to review them.
Well, I couldn’t find them. Instead I ended up with the pictured Marich Organic Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews which were similarly priced at Whole Foods.
The box seems like a little bit of overpackaging, but they do the job of protecting the candy inside (which is just in a cellophane bag). The box is 9 inches tall and 3 and a half inches at the base ... far larger than a four and a half ounce packet of candy really needs to be. It could easily be two inches shorter and not press on the candy at all. (But maybe they use the same format for a large variety of weights and this is simply efficient.)
Even though they’re called a Sea Salt Cashews, the sodium levels are quite responsible. The package says that there are 60 mg in a 40 gram serving (about 1/3 of the package).
First, these cashews are huge ... and then the thick dark chocolate coating is, well, thick. So they’re amazingly large. (I would compare them to my thumb, but I don’t really want to repeat the photos of my digits & candy.)
The chocolate is dark and slightly bitter, the grassy and clean flavors of the cashews come through with the deep woodsy and coffee notes of the chocolate. Just three or four of them were quite satisfying. They hardly seemed like a sweet treat though. I honestly did a double take with the first few 72% ones I ate - they hardly seemed like candy because they’re not sweet. It wasn’t the little bit of salt in there that made them seem like they weren’t sugary ... it was the fact that they weren’t sugary. The salt just brought out the flavors.
Some of the cashews seemed over-toasted, to the point that they were actually a creamy brown color, so they were far crunchier and of course had a darker, breadier flavor. I liked the lighter cashews, personally.
I kept the package from the 72% and a couple of the cashews and found that the non-organic ones were made with a darker chocolate, if that’s possible for it to be more savory. (Okay, full confession, that photo includes the packet of cashews from the organic in there, instead of photographing it empty, but believe me, you really can’t tell them apart by looking at them.)
These are incredibly tasty, easy to eat and even though the packages are small and expensive, it’s easy to be satisfied with only a handful. The ingredients and panning is superb - both packages were fresh & shiny.
Inside the flap on the organic version it says Brown is the new Green. Inside the 72% it says Rich, Dark and Gorgeous Has Never Looked Better.
Unfortunately the last ingredient on the list is resinous glaze, so even though the chocolate contains no dairy products, these aren’t vegan. (But they are Kosher.) Another curious note, the 72% dark version contains 20% of your daily RDA of iron! Finally, though I paid the same amount for both versions, Whole Foods is actually cheaper overall - they have the non-organic items for $4.85, which felt kind of like a deal at this point.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Since the introduction of chocolate covered espresso beans sometime in the seventies not much has changed. Oh sure, sometimes they’re milk chocolate covered ... sometimes dark chocolate and even white chocolate.
At the Fancy Food Show in January I did get to try what I thought was one of the best revisions of the classic caffeinated confection: JAVAZ.
First, they’re all natural and use organic, fair traded coffee beans. Second, they use good quality chocolate. Third, they have a candy shell. But most of all, they actually roast the coffee for eating. That is, instead of roasting it for optimal brewing, it’s roasted with the idea that someone is going to crunch & consume it.
They come in two varieties: Milk and Dark.
JAVAZ Milk are much larger than most chocolate covered coffee beans, so it’s a goodly dose of chocolate. I threw some coffee beans into the photo to show the scale.
They’re even larger than Peanut M&Ms.
They look like little bird eggs: a faint tan color with brown speckles.
The shell is thick and crunchy and the milk chocolate is sweet and has a strong dairy/milky flavor to it. The coffee bean at the center is crispy and light, I wasn’t getting the fibery, woody bits that some coffee candies seem to leave behind. The coffee beans don’t have that acrid, oily taste to them.
The whole thing tastes like coffee ice cream with crunchy bits.
Though there’s obviously caffeine in here it’s not as much as you might think: a 55 gram bag has about the same amount as a cup of coffee.
JAVAZ Dark are decorated in the reverse of the milk ones. The shell is brown with beige speckles.
The chocolate layer here is dark chocolate, though not “pure” in the sense that there’s some dairy in there (sorry vegans, but the confectioners glaze spoiled these for you anyway).
The chocolate is quite sweet and the punch of the coffee bean is nice and balances that sugary-ness quite well. I might have preferred a little more coffee flavor.
They’re substantially crunchy, I can’t say that these are a quiet way to get a caffeine boost.
I like how thick the shells are and how easy it is to hold them in my hand or just throw a few in my jacket pocket without the protection of the bag. As long as they stay dry, they do just fine. (Okay, maybe that’s not the most sanitary thing, but I’m just being honest about my road-testing of the product.)
The coffee is sourced from Indonesia and uses only Arabica beans and benefits the Indonesia Relief Fund.
They’re made in the USA and are Kosher. The packages are a little expensive ($3.00 for 1.94 ounces), but I expect that’s because they’re just starting out ... volume usually helps to even these things out and they’re only sold in the small package. Right now I can only find them on Foodzie, though they’ve been at some food trade shows so might be in cafes and gourmet delis as well.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Surf Sweets has been making fun candies that are also mostly organic and made from non-GMO ingredients for years. What’s fun about them is that other than the ingredients, they don’t look like a compromise to kids. They’re fun shapes and flavors and even the all natural colorings don’t look faded and suspicious.
The Gummi Swirls area also fortified with vitamin C (no big deal there, lots of candies are) and 100% of the RDA of calcium.
Hmm, calcium? That’s stuff tastes pretty nasty sometimes.
The package doesn’t mention it, but these little gum-drop-sized candies come in three flavors: orange, strawberry and cherry.
The little pieces are truly lovely. The white background color and the little swirls are then graced with crunchy granulated sugar.
The bite is firm, they’re not quite gummis (they’re vegetarian, so actually contain no gelatin, think of them more like jellies or gumdrops since they use fruit pectin) but chewy. The flavor is good, not overly tart or sweet but also not terribly intense. They’re simply nice. There’s a bit of a creamsicle vibe to them, a slight creamy background to the flavor. If I let them dissolve a bit on my tongue I was getting that hint of chalky grain that antacids can have. (But pop & chew and it’s not at all detectable.)
My only real complaint is that I can’t tell the cherry from the strawberry. If they’re different colors, I’m not wise to the subtlety. (Maybe one is cream with pink strips and the other is pink with cream stripes.)
I really like this brand, they’re obviously more expensive than the mass-manufactured options, but the ability to buy without artificial colors and the fact that they don’t look “special” to kids must be a huge relief to parents who keep their kids on a more restricted diet. Surf Sweets has also started making smaller packages (.9 ounces) for lunches, party favors and Halloween treats.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Long before Hershey’s got into the organic chocolate act by buying Dagoba in 2006, Mars bought a small organic & heritage seed company called Seeds of Change in 1999. Since then, Seeds of Change also became an organic food company (sauces, grains & frozen meals) and launched a line of organic chocolate bars.
Seeds of Change is dedicated to preserving food diversity and promoting organic growing techniques and food worldwide, and cacao is definitely one of those plants that needs that sort of nurturing. In addition to using organic ingredients they also donate 1% of their net sales to advance the cause of sustainable organic agriculture worldwide. I tried their bar called Isle of Skye last year, which I thought was an excellent and noteworthy crisped grain in milk chocolate bar.
This year, while browsing ExpoWest, a natural & organic products trade show in Anaheim, I found out that Seeds of Change has shifted their product line. They changed the names of their bars, dropped a few of them and added some more classic versions (a plain dark chocolate bar, for instance) and also redesigned all their packages. (I did love their previous wrapper images.)
I was excited to see the new package, which is a wallet style paperboard package with three individually wrapped bars inside. Perfect for portion control, great for keeping all pieces fresh and excellent for sharing. The three bars in a reclosable package may look familiar ... Dove introduced it last year.
The Seeds of Change version has little plastic wrapped bars instead of foil.
I picked their 61% Dark Chocolate with Mango and Cashew as the intro to this new look & product line.
The little bars are nicely molded, shiny and with a crisp snap. They’re scored into four pieces - the whole bar weighs only an ounce.
I like the thickness of it, as it allows a nice bite and a slow melt of the bar.
The dark chocolate is smooth and silky, it has a quick melt and a lot of cocoa butter feel on the tongue. Unfortunately it’s not a vegan bar, there’s milkfat in there.
The flavors are pretty simple. It’s rich coffee & woodsy flavored chocolate, a little bit of dark charcoal and then some grassy notes of the cashew pieces. The little dried mango bits are a little fibery but pack a powerful punch of tangy chew - kind of orangy-citrus with a hint of peach and green tea.
The little inclusions are rather small. The cashew pieces weren’t big enough to be crunchy, which is too bad, because I think the buttery crunch of cashews would really bolster this bar.
As it is, the shining star here is the chocolate followed by the mango notes. Aa good, fun taste combination.
The complete list of products in their line is now: Milk Chocolate (43%), Milk Chocolate with Puffed Grains (formerly Isle of Skye), 61% Dark Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Cherries & Vanilla, Dark Chocolate with Coconut. It’s an interesting array because besides the plain chocolate, the flavors are different from the usual offerings when standing in the chocolate bar aisle. I’ve seen Seeds of Change at drug stores (Long’s Drugs in California). Oddly enough, Seeds of Change also just sent me some of the other new bars, so I’ll have reviews of those soon, too.
In recognition of Earth Day, Seeds of Change is running a contest (deadline July 21, 2009) - submit you video, photo or essay to tell the world what you’re doing to make a difference.
I buy their sauces and think they’re very tasty and usually well priced for organic products.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Earlier this year I attended ExpoWest, a trade show which highlights natural products. It’s actually a great place to find candy, though most of the time the products were advocating what they put in them. There were candies with added vitamins, minerals others fortified with omega3 fatty acids, exotic gums & algae and still others made from completely raw ingredients or buying carbon offsets. Instead, Zootons are highlighting what they don’t put in them.
Zootons is a line of soft, chewy jelly candies that are organic and vegan. That’s it.
I know that many parents (and adult candy fans) can be frustrated with sweets that say they’re healthy but then fail to match the appeal of the unnatural counterparts that are so ubiquitous (and let’s face it, less expensive).
At first glance Zootons seem to narrow the gap. The packaging is kid friendly - black boxes that each have a different big-mouthed monster icon on them. They also have a little window that lets you see the candy. Inside the box are two sealed packages (50 grams each) which counts as a full serving.
While I hesitate to call them healthy, they’re certainly easy to add to a kids diet as a treat.
Cute little star shapes with a coating of coarse granulated sugar. They come in four flavors: strawberry (pink), pineapple (yellow), blackcurrant (dark red) and lemon (also yellow).
The distinction between the flavors wasn’t that significant. I was able to tell the pineapple and the blackcurrant from the others, but it all kind of blended together. They’re not terribly tangy, just sweet and fruity.
The texture is fun, the sugary coating gives them a little crunch and the smooth jelly center is moist.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping the Sours would give me the pop that I was looking for in the Jellies.
The Sours come in strawberry, orange, raspberry and lemon. Again, not easy to tell apart visually.
These were much moister than the Jelly stars. The sour started with the sugary coating. Not super-tangy, just a little sizzle of flavor on the tongue.
The lemon was quite nice, not as zesty as I might have liked, but very authentic tasting, like a lemonade jelly. Strawberry was amazingly vivid, both fragrant and tangy, it was like an intense slice of strawberry jam. Raspberry felt very flavored and less like distilled fruits. But it was tingly-tart and satisfying.
These are quite a winner. They’re not too sour for littler kids, I think the only ones who would be disappointed are older kids who are obsessed with the tongue-blistering-super-dare sours.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was where things went a little strange. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to using the word gummi. Gummis should have a jelling agent in them like gelatin or agar-agar. In this case, they do not have either of those. I was hoping there was some innovation or technique not evident in the ingredients that would give them that inimitable bouncy gummi texture that any child who has had the real thing will expect. Sadly, no. These are just fruit jellies.
The surface is a bit dry, but not covered in the granulated sugar like the other Jellies and Sours. They say they come in four flavors: pineapple, blackcurrant, orange and raspberry. Honestly, I had a hard time telling them apart visually. They were sweet and fruity, but not terribly tangy. Soft and quite moist once I bit into them, they did have a bit of a bounce. Of the set, I think they were my least favorite. Just not enough zip for me.
Rating: 4 out of 10
This was the most exciting concept of the whole line. I’ve had organic jelly candies before (and have written about Surf Sweets). But so few companies - traditional or organic - make anything cola flavored. I just had to try these.
The little stars don’t look like much in the package, but take them out and they’re quite lovely. The dark amber is spot on correct for Cola.
The flavor is absolutely cola - it has that tangy, almost lemon flavor at first, then that ... whatever cola flavor is ... a bit of cinnamon a bit of rum and a bit of caramel. They’re not intense, none of the Zootons are, but they’re pleasant.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m not sure where these are being sold so far, but keep your eyes peeled if you have a picky kid or are trying to get only candies with natural colorings in them. They don’t wow me like some pate de fruits, but they’re not intended to ... it’s just a fun candy treat.
Candy Addict also did a taste test of these last month.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
On my way to San Francisco back in April I took a little detour off of 101 North in San Luis Obispo to gather some little organic and fair trade goodies from Sweet Earth Chocolates. They’re sold on the web and at Splash Cafe, which shares space with Sweet Earth’s confectionery kitchen. The two display cases at the cafe were well organized and kept the chocolate at a consistent temperature. (A little cold for immediate indulgence but perfect for storage.)
What attracted me to them is that they make candy not just fine chocolates. My curiosity was mostly about these candy cups that they feature on their website.
The little cups are about 1.25” at the base and 1.5” at the top. They weigh about .8 ounces with the wrapper on. (Bigger than the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis.)
Turtle Cluster (the bronze wrapper - pictured unwrapped in the center)
This is the only milk chocolate cup in the bunch (they have other cups, but they have walnuts in them).
The one has a flowing caramel center with crisped rice in the milk chocolate.
The caramel is sweet but a little salty and rather buttery tasting. It’s a good consistency, not too much like syrup, though not chewy.
The whole thing was rather sweet and not creamy enough for me, but I have to say that the texture combo was great and really filled any craving I had for a fair trade & organic candy.
Dark Chocolate. It’s a solid cup with a little decorative flourish of a piece of candied ginger and a dried cranberry on top.
The chocolate is sweet and just a bit grainy from the inclusion of the crystallized ginger. It has a light spicy bite to it. I felt there was more ginger to it than cranberry. In the bites where it was just one of the other, it was fine too.
It was a tasty little piece, and interesting change from barks because it’s so chunky and the inclusions stay moist & chewy.
Both of the cups that I ate were absolutely gorgeous. The chocolate was shiny and the little flakes of coconut on top told me what was inside.
It smelled only slightly of woodsy, tropical coconut (not like suntan lotion).
The fondant center was both sugary and coconutty. It wasn’t as soft and chewy as a Mounds bar. It was a bit firmer, but not at all gritty. A bit cool on the tongue, it was like a cake of confectioners sugar and coconut bits.
There was a lot of chocolate to it, which kept it from being too sweet, but also drowned out the coconutiness a bit. So consider this a more subtle coconut candy than Bounty or Mounds.
Dark chocolate. This cup has a natural fondant (not bright white) with a light touch of peppermint. The overall effect is fresh and balances well with the semi-sweet chocolate.
There’s a lot of chocolate on top, maybe more than I’m used to as proportions go with these sorts of things, so don’t think of it as a peppermint pattie.
I liked this one a lot, I know it’s not a hard thing to do well, but they did it.
This was probably the most irregular looking of all the cups. The lumpy top hinted at large almond pieces below.
Not only is it loaded with them, they’re not just roasted ... they’re caramelized. Each almond bit has a bit or a crunchy sugar shell and then the chocolate around it.
Crunchy, much less sweet than the others and entirely satisfying.
I also tried a vegan turtle while I was there, made with coconut oil instead of butter. It wasn’t quite a “caramel” in my book as the coconut flavor was detectable ... but it was still very tasty and felt like a no-compromise treat for anyone avoiding dairy. Unfortunately they were out of their peanut butter cups (and they do have a vegan dark chocolate version).
I’m hoping that these candy cups will show up at more cafes and as impulse items at natural stores (heck, any kind of store). With a retail price of about a dollar (they’re much less when you buy a whole box though.), it’s more than most of us spend on a candy bar, but as a fair trade and organic product, this doesn’t have the feel of a charity compromise. All of the dark chocolate offerings are also Vegan. You can buy online (they even do wedding favors) and their website has an up-to-date list of where they’re sold in stores.
UPDATE: Sweet Earth Chocolate changed their name to Mama Ganache.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Here are a few items I sampled, I’m probably not going to do a full review of them but I wanted to show them to you:
The newest addition to the ChocoPod line. I got this one in a simple little cellophane bag, so I didn’t think it was fair to give it the full tilt boogie review without final packaging.
It’s similar to the classic Spicy Maya ChocoPods, just a little cacao pod shaped disk of 60% dark chocolate, weighing in, I guess, at a little over a third of an ounce, it’s about two bites.
The inclusions make it a little bumpy in spots. The chocolate smells more like chili, but a little sweet and smoky. There are a lot of pop rocks in there, they’re completely unflavored, just lightly sweet little sugar bits ... that just so happen to pop. Some of the little bits, however, are salt crunches.
Some bites are pretty poppy, some bites are really hot, others are salty. It’s a noisy bit of chocolate (and even got a few sneezes out of me).
It’s a fun little diversion. I appreciate that it’s a small piece, not a huge bar, but I don’t think I’d want more.
Rating: 7 out of 10
First, you’ll probably note that I don’t mention PEZ much on Candy Blog. I don’t like it. The candy just isn’t very good and the idea of collecting the little dispensers never thrilled me. But I fully applaud those who get into it.
PEZ has brought out a few other flavors of their candy tablets. Last year it was Cola and they have a Sugar Free version as well. This year they’re highlighting the Chocolate version.
As you can tell from the photo, they’re very light in color, which should give you an indication of the depth of the flavor. It tastes like I’ve inhaled some Cocoa Pebbles. Not actually eat then, just, you know, been near the Cocoa Pebbles dust. They’re sweet but have just a slight cocoa note.
Rating: 3 out of 10
It’s an organic twist on classic tastes.
So just looking at it, with only the name to go off of, I thought, “this is a white chocolate bar with dried raspberry bits in it.” Which sounded pretty good in my head, kind of like the Hershey’s Limited Edition one a couple of years back ... but organic!
Hmm, somewhere I led myself astray. It’s not white chocolate, it’s a non-colored confection made of organic sugar, organic whole milk powder and organic fractionated palm kernel oil. And it’s crunchy. Those presumed raspberry bits are actually crushed raspberry flavored hard candy.
It took me a while to get used to the texture, but it wasn’t creamy enough for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These little milk chocolate covered nuggets smell sweet and like a light coffee drink. They’re about the size of a garbanzo bean, though some are twinned (not that it keeps me from eating them). The nugget inside isn’t quite as hard and crunchy as a biscotti, but they’re plenty crunchy. They’re almost like graham cracker nuggets.
The combo is quite nice, easy to eat and keep munching.
Rating: 8 out of 10
It’s not an illusion in the photo, these are very dark, like clumps of tar. The chocolate covered dried cranberries are not as flavorful as I’d hoped. Honestly, I’ve tried a few products over the years and none of them have really satisfied me. The cranberries, while soft and chewy, they’re just not tangy or flavorful. The chocolate is sweet, but not dark and flavorful enough ... though the texture combo of the creamy melt and moist chew is good.
They’re probably jam packed with antioxidants, but I’ll probably stick with chocolate covered raisins, if only because they’re cheaper and provide pretty much the same experience.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Monday, May 12, 2008
I’m kind of ridgid with my definition of gummi. I consider it a jelly-type candy made with gelatin. So just by that definition vegetarians can’t eat gummis because gelatin is an animal product. But gelatin gives gummis an inimitable bounce and chew that no other ingredient has been able to match.
But every once in a while a product comes along that does a pretty good simulation of a gummi, and in this case it’s not only vegan but also mostly organic. Enter Surf Sweets Super Sour Worms. If you’re looking for a candy with no artificial anything that still feels like the candy all the other kids are eating, this just might be it.
The ingredients list is short: Organic evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup, citric acid, pectin, sodium citrate, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), colors (black carrot juice concentrate, turmeric & annato), natural flavors. So for anyone concerned about corn products, those are also not on the list.
The sugar sanded worms are pretty firm, they’re still bendable (even posable) but not at all sticky. The sugar sanding is pure sweet, not blasting acid wash here. (So kids who are used to really sour candies might be disappointed here.)
Inside the stiffy jelly candy is pleasantly chewy, plenty tangy and comes in different flavors.
One is a cherry & lemon (alternating yellow & dark red), on the wild cherry side of flavors, rather woodsy and sour enough to keep my salivary glands a-tingling.
The solid amber orange one is orange, or perhaps tangerine. It’s an authentic-tasting citrus mix.
If you leave the package open they will get a bit firmer, which is the way I preferred them. Right out of the bag they were very soft, kind of limp but extremely juicy.
They’re made in a peanut-free, tree nut-free, soy-free, and gluten-free facility, though they’re not certified Kosher, they’re also vegan.
I’m glad to see that Surf Sweets is continuing their trend of making (mostly) organic, all natural versions of mainstream treats. There are very few compromises here if you’re a parent looking for a treat for the kids that doesn’t have the dreaded glutens, nuts or artificial colors. The packaging is friendly looking and won’t make the kids feel like freaks either.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.