Wednesday, August 29, 2007
The mint market is well, full of mints. So what’s a company gonna do to distinguish themselves from the crowded field? Ver thinks it’s hit on the right balance of novelty, quality and qualifications. Their line of six different flavors are vegan, Kosher and gluten free, nut free and all-natural (and featuring many organic ingredients).
The blue tin was predictably Peppermint, their original flavor. Unlike a mint like Altoids, these aren’t blindingly strong. Just simply, well, mints. The texture is pleasant. Not chalky, but a little crumbly but sufficiently dense. The intensity of the mint grows (though sometimes one mint may be stronger than another) as it dissolves and leaves a breath-freshening coolness when it’s gone.
WinterMint is what I’m guessing is wintergreen since it features wintergreen oil in the ingredients. I think wintergreen flavor is undervalued in our culture and I blame Pepto Bismol for giving us the association of wintergreen with being sick. (Some additional blame goes to Ben Gay for making us think of locker-rooms and old people.) Upon reading a little more on the subject, wintergreen is not to be taken lightly as it can be toxic in very large doses, which you really can’t achieve with a tin.
This was like one of those big Canada pink mints (wintergreen is also called Canada mint), but not as chalky. Smooth and peppery, I enjoyed these quite a bit. There were also little bits of real peppermint leaves in the pastilles.
With my motion sickness difficulties I tend to eat a lot of Ginger candies. I like to strike a balance between their spiciness, the amount of actual ginger in the candy and of course the overall taste. Too much spice and I can’t maintain my intake (though fanning my mouth often takes my mind off of nausea ... so that’s effective).
These crazy mints have a lot of ginger flavor in them and burn on my tongue right away. It dissipates after a moment and I forget about the inital scalding by the time I eat another one.
They have two kinds of ginger in them: ground ginger root and ginger flavor. I think ginger goes particularly well with Maple Syrup.
It’s definitely cinnamon, completely spicy, kind of woodsy and a little sweet. There are peppermint leaves in this one too, but I think it would have been better to throw a few little bits of cinnamon in there while they were at it. But they didn’t ask me.
For a while I was pronouncing this as Very Mints ... not realizing, first that they were spelled Ver with no I in there after the Ver. It wasn’t until I got the VerMONT connection that I understood the name. I still think Very Mints is a good name, too. I might start calling the state it Very Mont.
The two flavors that set this set apart are the flavor combos. This one, Chai features Fair Trade teas from Honest Tea. Of course this means that this ingredients simply say that it contains “Organic Chai Tea” which is a pretty vague thing, kind of like “cake mix”. I can taste a bit of the black tea background, some cinnamon and strong clove, a little nutmeg. I’d have liked, of course, more cardamom and perhaps vanilla notes. And less clove. Just make a clove mint and leave clove out of the other candies.
It’s pretty good and a nice change of pace from the others. The spicy notes are refreshing and I think gives me pleasant breath.
The last flavor is Cafe Express which features Fair Trade coffee from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The ingredients list both coffee and natural coffee flavor and they certainly smell like sweet, sweet coffee. The flavor is a little less intense, mellow and coffee-ish. On the good side of that, there’s no coffee breath afterwards. On the bad side, they feel more like candy than a breath mint. Not that there’s anything wrong with that since they’re pretty much gone now.
Overall I prefer the texture of these to Altoids, they’re a little smoother and the binder gums in there give them a very slight slippery feel on the tongue as they dissolve. The flavors are more pleasing than the similarly-textured Pastiglie Leone and completely different from the also-vegan friendly St. Claire’s Organic Mints.
Curiosities & other facts associated with these mints:
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
I tried the Theo Chocolate BonBons earlier this year and have had the bars sitting around for a while. I’m feeling quite pressured to eat them all (though they need to be savored) before Los Angeles gets so hot it bursts into flames (oops, we’re already on fire).
Theo makes chocolate from bean to bar (actually roasting their own beans on site) using fair trade and organic ingredients. Don’t let all that squishy-hippy stuff fool you, this is quality stuff without compromise.
Even the wrappers are sassy and fun (designed by KittenChops) instead of making you feel like you did a good deed. Come on! Half the fun is feeling that your chocolate bar is an indulgence ... a wrapper that tells you how many lives you may have saved, how many species will continue to exist because of your support ... all the wonderful skin-clarifying, artery-blasting ingredients that are contained within might be nice (and might get you to buy it) but they aren’t going to get your salivary glands going.
The dark bars contain 65% cocoa solids, so these are dark, but not too intense.
The Theo Chocolate bars are actually called 3400 Phinney Bars, named after the address of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle. Not only are they not afraid of you knowing where they are, they actually welcome visitors and offer tours with tastings, of course, as well as a factory store. I’m hoping to get up there next fall to really dive into their complete chocolate experience.
The Milk Chocolate bars boast 40% cacao content, so they’re pretty rich.
All the bars a welcome change from the ordinary candy bar. The two I would find myself munching on regularly would be the Nib Brittle and Chai Milk Chocolate. They are expensive though, so only for special occasions. I could see tucking these into a special picnic at Pt. Dume or going to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert, but I just can’t buy them every day ... but knowing that the cocoa is grown responsibly (socially & environmentally) would help me pony up the dough.
You can find the bars online at Theo, Chocosphere and at stores like Whole Foods. The bars are
now Kosher (as of March 2008).
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Friday, April 6, 2007
Pure Fun sent me some Fair Trade and Organic Cotton Candy last year (who knew such a thing existed?). It’s really not that they created a more socially responsible treat that got me, it was that they made it in Root Beer and Maple flavors! This year I got to visit them at their booth at Expo West. Let me say that they’re the best kind of candy people - friendly, inviting and eager to share. I see the whole ample samples as a sign of confidence in their product.
And I’m not let down. Their candies don’t look like a compromise when it comes to all the best things about hard candies: they look tasty. Glossy, luminous, brightly colored and with a wide assortment to please most folks.
The Citrus Slices are drop dead gorgeous. And the taste does not disappoint. They’re tart, flavorful and just the right size (a little smaller than a regular starlight mint). Lime, Orange & Lemon. (Everyone knows I would also like to see a grapefruit in this mix.)
Barrels of Fun - root beer float with vanilla. I would have preferred a straight root beer barrel, but this was nice. More on the smooth and creamy side of things than the zesty tingle of a root beer.
Chocolate Meltdowns - tangerine, raspberry & pepsin with chocolatey centers. These were the ones I liked the least of all of them. The flavorful outsides were great, but the lack of chocolate punch on the inside made me wish they were just plain old solid candies.
Fruit Rocks - goji berry, pomegranate, honey lemon & sour green apple. Really sassy and flavorful. I can’t say that Goji Berry is really my favorite flavor in the world, but the honey lemon was great and a less artificial tasting green apple rocks.
I tried Yummy Earth last year at the All Candy Expo when they introduced their all natural Organic Lollipops. Not just the plain old flavors like lemon and orange but also pomegranate, raspberry and watermelon.
They have a line of hard candies to go with their lollies in both fruity flavors and peppermint. These are a little different, a little smaller than regular hard candies.
Larger than Altoids but smaller than regular hard candy disks.
I covered Wet Faced Watermelon, Cheeky Lemon & Pomegranate Pucker over here. The new flavors for me were:
Mango Tango - this pretty little swirled candy. I’m not sure what the mango was tango-ing with, but it was definitely tropical. Kind of like a Bonne Bell lipsmacker with a REAL kick of flavor.
Peppermint (not shown) - this was very strong, much like an Altoid only smoother. I took these on Whale Watching trips all winter.
Either one of these brands has the right attitude ... don’t make your candy look all mousy and plain ... jazz it up with vibrant colors to match their vibrant flavors.
Of course they’re a little more expensive, but my guess is that the economies of scale will kick in as more people demand organic and all natural stuff and the prices will drop.
I’ve seen some of the Yummy Earth in Whole Foods but you can also buy direct from them on their website and Pure Fun is available at Whole Foods.
Both products are organic, gmo-free, no artificials flavors, no synthetics, no gluten, no casein, kosher, vegetarian ... and vegan ... whew!
Monday, March 26, 2007
I thought I was done with the series of Easter candy, but then I remembered that I had these organic treats that I picked up at Show West.
Surf Sweets is a line of organic candies made by Santa Cruz Nutritionals. No artificial colors, no artificial sweeteners, non-GMO and gluten free but they look and taste just like mass-consumer brands.
The treats I’m sampling are their Jelly Beans, Fruity Bears and Gummy Bears. Since their colors are natural, they look a little more muted than many other candies, but still very pleasant and sparkly. Surf Sweets are also fortified with vitamin C (though it takes half a package to get a full day’s supply).
The jelly beans started off with a bang when I picked up the light yellow one and found it to be a tasty grapefruit. The beans are about the size of Jelly Belly, but a little less regular in shape. The shell was a little more grainy than many other jelly beans I’ve had lately, but very fruity with a good balance of sweet and tart. The other flavors, as far as I could tell were: Lemon, Orange, Cherry (no bitter aftertaste!) and Strawberry.
These are marked Vegetarian on the package, using fruit pectin as the gelling agent. They do have beeswax on them so some vegans may find them objectionable.
The little sugar sanded bears are very cute. They seem to come in the same flavor set as the jelly beans: Grapefruit, Lemon, Orange, Cherry & Strawberry.
I liked these a lot. I liked them a lot more than the jelly beans because the flavor was in the jelly, not in the sugary coating. The citrus flavors were my favorite.
These are also marked vegetarian but contain beeswax.
The Gummy Bears honestly looked no different than any other gummi. The little bear shapes were rather like the Trolli with their well definted paws and eyes. The gummi texture was bouncy with excellent well rounded flavor - good sweetness, good fruit and good tart. The flavors themselves were a little muddier in their distinctiveness. There was a berry, lemon and orange. There may have been two berry flavors, the colors weren’t that different and neither were the flavors.
These were not vegetarian because of the presence of gelatin and not completely organic.
I found them online for $1.75 a bag, which is about $10 a pound ... a bit more than Jelly Bellies and other gourmet sugar candies. If you’re looking for a slightly more wholesome candy for your kids (especially for their Easter basket) that doesn’t look like a compromise to them (unless they’re reading the packages), this is a great option. The flavor and eating experience is exactly the same - so your kids won’t feel like they’re getting a compromise candy. Let’s face it, part of the appeal of candy to kids is the look of it, and these gummi bears, in the palm of your hand, look like gummi bears. They won’t miss the artificial colors.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Theo Chocolate is a new company that makes fair trade, organic chocolate from bean to bar (and bonbon) right in Seattle. Think about it ... they start with the raw materials and create not only the chocolate but go on to craft the fine ganaches and couveture - all without the use of pesticides, hormones or chemical fertilizers and giving the cacao folks a fair price for their beans. There are very few chocolate makers out there that do that, anywhere in the world, let alone here in the states. The only one that even comes close in the bean to bonbon arena Michel Cluizel in France.
I got to try just about everything Theo Chocolates makes at the Fancy Food Show last month including their Confections Collection.
Earl Grey - a beautifully smooth ganache with a rich and dark blend of tea and bergamot flavors in equally rich chocolate.
Ivory Coast - the essential chocolate truffle, dark and smooth with a buttery feel that helps with the woodsy and bitter notes of the chocolate.
Peanut Butter & Jelly - yes, right next to the most upscale of all chocolate expressions is the PB&J except this peanut butter is a praline (kind of crystallized) with a raspberry fruit paste to die for.
Fig Fennel - this has to be the homerun hit of the entire box. Not just because it’s so wonderfully flavorful, but because I’ve never had this combination in quite this way before.
Mint - it’s like it was muddled just for me only moments ago ... the mint tastes that fresh.
Peanut Butter - like the PB&J, this one has a peanut butter praline that’s not sweet at all but has a wonderful woodsy, nutty crunch to it. A little dry.
Scotch - exceptional with its savory smoky notes like tobacco and leather mixed in with the butter and raisin notes of the chocolate.
Burnt Sugar - I’ve had several of these now, the effect is rather like a light creme brulee, with all the flavor of the crusty sugar top and all the creaminess of chocolate and heavy cream in the truffle.
Lemon - the white truffle of the pack, it’s really lemony without being sticky white-chocolate sweet. It has both the tangy notes and the zesty flavors.
Vanilla - very vanilla, with little flecks of it in the ultra-smooth ganache and an overall bourbon note.
(I shared this box with my husband and he ate the Ginger truffle.)
These might be my new favorite chocolates, if only they were easier to get a hold of. I’ve not been to the factory, so I don’t know if you can just go in there and buy singles (or a whole box of one flavor). No compromises ... that’s what it’s all about. It’s still a guilty pleasure, but fewer things to feel guilty about.
I also have a complete assortment of their bars that I’m working my way through, so stay tuned for the reviews of those.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
I’ve been more pleased with Russell Stover over the years. It could be that my tastes have mellowed or it may be that Russell Stover is making better quality product, but they’re still not a go-to brand for me. What really surprised me is their move into organics. So I picked up their Organic Pecan Delights just before Valentine’s Day. They come in a peg bag that’s all green and matte looking with a little burst of rich gold for the “organic” banner. It’s also heralded as “gluten free” which I would love to hear if I were someone who was hunting in the candy aisle for something I could eat.
Pecan Delights are a pecan cluster with caramel covered in milk chocolate. All ingredients are organic, except maybe the sea salt and it’s unclear if the soy lecithin is.
These are upside down. The caramel is on the bottom, the nuts (in pieces, not halves) are on the top and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not that big of a faux pax as candy constructions go.
They’re a little small but a nice barely two bite piece of candy. The nuts are fresh and the caramel is decent. It’s chewy and not too soft or sweet. The chocolate on the outside is a little odd, it’s not quite the European powdered milk taste, but close, with a slight gamey quality to it. (It reminds me of the Thompson’s Organic Milk Chocolate.)
Overall they’re not my favorite pecan caramel cluster I’ve had, but I did finish the bag (it was only 3 ounces total), which is a testament to their freshness. The ingredients label is much more comforting than some other Russell Stover goodies, so there is that consolation. I wish they came in dark chocolate, but for a first step into organics they’re no-compromise. They also have their rather good coconut bar available in their organic line (also only in milk chocolate). If price is the object and not the organic status, stick with See’s.
On a completely side note, Russell Stover is having a big clearance sale on their Valentine’s candies on their website. So if you’re ga-ga over their Coconut or Strawberry Hearts, this might be the time to stock up.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.