Wednesday, July 18, 2012
I saw some new packages of Panda Licorice on store shelves about six months ago. I thought it was cute and inventive. But I’ve already reviewed the Panda licorice line, for the most part, so there was no need for me to pick it up again.
What I didn’t realize is that this is actually a different line of licorice, with a different formula. The Panda Traditional Soft Original Licorice is part of the Panda “confections” line. It was formulated specifically to widen the Panda brand’s appeal and to be sold in more mass-market stores, instead of the narrow appeal of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s which usually have rules about what sort of ingredients a product can have.
It doesn’t say much on the front of the package, beyond the brand name and the product but it’s quite clear: No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
So a quick flip to the back of the package where they talk more about the traditional soft licorice and the heritage of the company that dates back to 1927 in Finland and how meticulous they are and how they use traditional ingredients. Those ingredients?
Yes, Panda’s licorice that’s otherwise free of artificial flavors, preservatives and colors, suitable for vegans, fat free and Kosher ... it’s made with high fructose corn syrup.
The price for this product? It was $2.99 at Cost Plus World Market for a 7 ounce bag.
The pieces of the Traditional Soft Original Licorice has 87.75 calories per ounce and 1 gram of protein. The pieces are large, sticky and very sweet. The one inch nubs are doughy and a little more “wheat” flavored than the classic variety.
It’s downright wet. In fact that may account for the lower calories on this variety, the fact that they have more water in them.
The licorice flavor is bland, though distinctly natural. It tastes more like anise though the sweetness has that soft licorice note to it. What’s missing for me is the molasses, that earthy flavor that has lots of toffee, burnt sugar, charcoal, oak and beets in it.
It sticks to my teeth. It sticks to my ribs. It sticks to my fingers, it sticks to the package.
In the interest of fairness, I had to revisit the stuff that’s made Finland famous. The All Natural Soft Licorice is made from an even shorter list of ingredients: Molasses, wheat flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseseed oil). It has 92.14 calories per ounce but 2 grams of protein per serving. The price? It was $2.99 for a 6 ounce bag.
So for the same price you get about 14% less. But what was in that 14%? I have to wonder if it’s just high fructose corn syrup, watering the whole thing down.
The classic pieces in the bag are 3/4” tall and just a little smaller in diameter. They’re also far less sticky. They feel lighter and stiffer than their doughy counterparts. Plus it has all those complex flavors of molasses and licorice and less of the wheat flour.
It’s just baffling to me, since Panda has spent at least 40 years marketing itself in the United States as the premiere natural licorice brand, and competing against all brands, they’re still the fourth largest seller in the US. Much of their marketing, either by their hand or through the efforts of the stores that sell them have specified that Panda contains no “bad stuff” including high fructose corn syrup. So this change not only makes the candy taste bad, I think it’s done to purposely confuse consumers. The package uses the words traditional and original and says lots about how they don’t use those other bad ingredients. (But they do use a dubious ingredient that no one else uses, not even the cheapest of the cheap licorices.)
Lisa Gawthorne, Panda Liquorice spokesperson comments:
I tried engaging Panda in a dialogue about this change. I tweeted to them in March (they’ve answered in the past) but didn’t hear anything back. Then I tweeted to them again in June and they responded (though one of their responses they’ve since deleted). Here’s the exchange as it stands now.
Here’s the thing, though all this battle over high fructose corn sweetener, even as a candy writer, I haven’t had much to say. There’s not much to say, because HFCS in candy is incredibly rare. I’ve seen it in probably about five candies I’ve reviewed, and often when it does appear in other candies, it’s part of a whole ingredient like crushed cookies or a jelly, not something the candy company actually made themselves. HFCS just doesn’t behave the same way as a pure glucose syrup would or actual full sucrose. Ordinarily I would just be baffled that someone would use HFCS, but in this case I’m angry because Panda has cultivated their brand so carefully, in many cases specifically saying that they don’t use HFCS, as if everyone else does. When in reality it’s just them, in this lower price point line.
Monday, March 14, 2011
They’re little, beefy one inch rods of licorice with a candy shell. What’s interesting about these that’s different from most licorice pastels is the fact that the shells are flavored. They come with two flavors in each bag - lemon (yellow) and peppermint (white). As with all Panda licorice, the ingredients are all natural and vegan.
In Europe a slightly different version of this candy is available. I bought a bag in Amsterdam called Liquorice Comfits, which had three different colors (more about that in a moment).
This particular bag is small, it holds 100 grams which is 3.5 ounces. The retail price is pretty steep for a sugar candy, I paid over 2 Euros for mine in Europe and it appears that the American version will be prices around $2.50 to $3.00 per bag.
The pieces are consistent and attractive. They’re not slickly smooth, but they are shiny. The yellow is creamy and the white is stark and bright. (The green ones are from the European mix.)
The white ones are Peppermint and I was hoping they’d be similar to Skoolkrit, which I love so much. The licorice center is soft and chewy but not deeply flavored. It’s a bit doughy, like Panda can be, but missing the dark molasses notes. The licorice flavors are exactly that, the mellow and lingering sweetness of the licorice root. Though they have aniseseed oil in them, there’s less of that flavor in the profile. The mint shell gives is a fresh start and finish. It’s crunchy and sweet as well, but doesn’t really stick with me after consuming.
The lemon was a bit more of an unconventional combination. It was definitely sweeter to me with a lemony start that reminded me of icing. The licorice just seemed sweeter in this version.
Both are fun to eat, but I kept waiting for some stronger licorice flavors that I was relieved when the bag was empty and I could move on to something else.
Without the flavored shell, you’d think they’d have more of a licorice punch, but it was the same thing. Too sweet, not enough rich burnt toffee notes.
I don’t expect that I’ll pick these up again. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who will like these and I expect for parents who want a great family licorice, this is a good place to start, especially with younger kids who are turned off by strong flavors.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I like Good and Plenty better, I certainly prefer the price.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I was surprised to learn at the candy fair (ISM Cologne) last week that Panda Liquorice is the #4 brand of licorice in the United States (Twizzlers, Red Vines and Good & Plenty come in ahead). What was surprising and pleasing about this little tidbit is that Panda makes all natural licorice, the real stuff with real licorice extract and no artificial colors or flavors.
Their newest introduction at the show is their Panda Blueberry Liquorice. It features a very short list of ingredients: molasses syrup, wheat flour, blueberry puree, citric acid, natural flavoring and liquorice extract. The package they gave me as a sample is 200 g (7 ounces) and features a gusseted bottom so it stands up and a zipper top to make it easier to reseal it to keep the candy fresh.
The pieces are striking in that they smell like blueberry pie: a bit like jam and a little like a fruit Danish. But they’re also quite light in color, like little caramel nibs instead of what I was expecting which would have been darker purple.
They’re very soft and have a light, easy chew. They’re not dense at all and have a tart and sweet blueberry flavor. Because of the wheat flour in there, there’s more snack satisfaction going on than candy. They’re satisfying but also feel more like little cookies than a licorice chew. The molasses keeps them from being too sweet, though the licorice extract does give it a little bit of a lighter tea-like sweetness than a straight sugar candy might have.
They’re considered vegan and have very little fat in them, so the caloric load is only 88 calories per ounce. Though I like blueberries as a fruit, a chewy candy made with blueberries isn’t quite the same thing. These would be fun as a trail mix addition (mixed with pretzels and nuts and maybe a few chocolate chips) but I don’t see myself eating them straight in one sitting. I’m sure there are other folks, though, who have been looking forward to a realistic blueberry candy like this.
Monday, April 12, 2010
I picked up the Panda Soft Herb Licorice after seeing Gigi Reviews coverage of the product.
First, I like the box that Panda uses. It’s foil lined and completely sealed, after opening the tab top there’s a little plastic film that keeps the contents fresh. Then I just tuck in the double tab top to keep it soft. The contents were soft for weeks, though there is some toughening after that.
This version of Panda’s licorice bites are all natural black licorice tubes made with molasses and wheat flour with an added punch of 18 herbal extracts. They include peppermint, blackberry, plantain, torch weed, sage, star anise and thyme. Sniffing the box it’s like a tea shop: minty, woodsy and clean.
The pieces are soft but separate easily. I like the aerated tubes, it makes it easier to chew them if they do get a little stale. The color is nice, it’s dark but not artificially colored.
The taste isn’t licorice immediately and it’s not molasses either. It’s more like brown sugar in peppermint and chamomile tea. The licorice and woodsier notes come in later. It’s delicate and not as overwhelmingly dark and charcoal-like as Panda’s usual far. There’s a cool menthol aftertaste that makes this kind of like a mint.
There’s a little sticking to the teeth, but it’s not as bad as some other Aussie-style brands. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s mellow and might be a good “starter” licorice for folks who don’t care for the bitter, smoky and overwhelming licorice of Panda.
As a little change of pace I picked up Panda Cremes as well. The stand up bag holds the same amount as the box but has a zipper lock to keep it fresh. I have to admit that it’s not as eco friendly but did a better job of keeping these soft and fresh. A bonus is that the bag is collapsible, so it takes up less space the more you eat. The box is always the size of the box.
Cremes are the same shape as the bites but inside those little tubes are creme fillings. They come in three flavors: Banana, Caramel and Strawberry. I can’t say that any of these were ever really on my mind as great complements to the flavor of black licorice, but Panda usually knows what they’re doing.
The bag says that they’re all natural and suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans, as there’s some milk in there). The creme center is made from palm oil and there’s no indication of the source of it. A 39 gram serving (9 pieces) has 160 calories and 4 grams of fat (3.5 of those are saturated). In case you’re curious, 40 grams of the Soft Herb are 130 calories and no fat. It’s not like either is calorie-dense but still, it’s notable.
The package smelled like strawberries and banana, like some sort of smoothie or yogurt.
The Strawberry were easy to pick out as they were pink. The Caramel and Banana were the same color as far as I could tell.
The creme isn’t soft and flowing, it’s kind of crunchy at first - but at mouth temperature it softens up. It’s cool on the tongue and not too sweet. The Strawberry is fresh and floral. Banana is actually pretty fun, it’s strong banana flavoring but the sweet notes go well. The Caramel had a slightly darker note but the toasted sugar was missing or maybe overshadowed by the strength of the licorice itself.
I don’t think I need this much fat for something that didn’t really satisfy me the same way that a creamy chocolate product does. I think I’ll stick to the regular Panda licorice products. These are pretty enough to put in a clear jar and as compelling as Allsorts (especially if you’re not a coconut fan).
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I bought these at a natural food store. I think the reason people interested in they kinds of food they eat like these is that they have no refined sugar in them. The ingredients list is pretty short (with some variation based on the flavor): molasses, wheat
flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseed oil). Pretty simple. The interesting part is that these are Finnish. Just like the Lemon Lakritsi only without the racially insensitive packaging. Who could be offended by Panda bears? Actually, I’ve passed over these bars for years because I had them confused with Australian licorice I bought in bulk. I mean really, who expects a Panda on a product from Finland of all places? (Okay and I guess it wouldn’t belong on an Australian product either, that should have a Koala or Kangaroo on it.)
The bars are rather simple. A bit thick rope of not quite soft candy.
Licorice: Nice and glossy/dark on the outside. It has a good smokey, woodsy smell that gives off a lot of anise scent. The bit itself is pretty soft and the molasses flavors are pretty evident. Molasses has always been a good base for spicy flavors and licorice is a natural to combine with it as it offsets the very sweet aftertaste true licorice has.
Raspberry: Fragrant without being too perfumy this raspberry bar doesn’t really have much berry flavor to me. The chew isn’t as molassesy, not as woodsy tasting. It’s tart and of course has a nice robust chew but the flavor doesn’t really match the texture and I wanted more berry in there.
Strawberry: Sweet smelling with an immediate tart bite to it, it definitely feels more like a berry bar. No woodsy hints from the molasses here either.
The licorice bar has to be my new favorite. Easy to bite, mellow and with a strong pop of flavor. It’s a bit pricey for licorice and I’ll probably stick with licorice pastels now and in the future, but if I’m in the store and need a little sweet fix, this might do the trick.
Rating - 8 out of 10
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