Monday, November 5, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Mars doesn’t have much this year for Halloween, aside from the usual Harvest colors of M&Ms. I was interested to see that there was a new version of the Snickers Pumpkin from the previous time I tried it. (Review here.)
There are two package types for the Snickers Pumpkin. They come individually wrapped as seen here, or, more interestingly, in a 2 To Go wrapper like the King Size packages. It looks like a regular Snickers bar, but the background is black and has some pumpkins on it. It’s the same price as a King Size bar (which usually has 3.29 ounces in it), but has only 2.2 ounces in it.
The big difference that’s noticeable out of the wrappers is that this is a molded product. The Reese’s Pumpkin is enrobed (coated) where this one is build upside down, with the pumpkin shaped shell created first, then the fillings squirted in and the base of chocolate added last.
A regular Snickers bar is also a layered product, but ultimately is coated via a conveyer moving under a curtain of chocolate, enrobing the bar. The ratio of chocolate to filling on that bar is such that the filling is the star, the chocolate is a device that keeps it all together. In the Snickers Pumpkin, the chocolate shell is most notable.
It smells sweet, milky and nutty. The center is soft, but doesn’t have the same caramel chew or plethora of crunchy nuts that a standard Snickers does. It’s overwhelmingly milk-chocolatey, which is fine if you’re into Snickers bars because of the quality of the chocolate. I am not. I find it a bit grainy, overly sweet and lacking a strong cocoa punch. The light touch of salt is good, it’s the only thing balancing out the sugar blast.
I’ll probably stick to the Minis, which have very little chocolate on them (though not much in the way of nuts).
Mars is in the process of moving towards 100% sustainable and ethically sourced cacao, but they’re going with their higher end products first, like Dove. The Snickers Pumpkin contains peanuts, soy and milk plus is made on shared equipment with tree nuts and wheat.
Friday, September 21, 2012
Brach’s has been around since 1904 and has been through a lot, especially in the past 20 years. The company, founded by Emil Brach, was bought by American Home Products in 1966. In 1987, Jacobs Suchard, a coffee & confectionery giant, bought Brach’s. By 1990, as Suchard was being swallowed up by the tobacco company of Phillip Morris, the Jacobs part of the company, Klaus Jacobs, retained Brach’s. Then in 2003 it was sold to Callebaut and only a few years later, in 2008, Brach’s was bought by Farley’s and Sathers. Just this year, Farley’s and Sathers agreed to merge with Ferrara Pan to become the Ferrera Candy Company.
Through all of that, the candy brand remained intact and the favorite confections in their repertoire continued. However, manufacturing changes happened, and the formulas, manufacturing techniques and quality was uneven. Farley’s & Sathers has been trying hard to resurrect the comforting and inexpensive brand by improving the quality for the past two years.
The clusters are made with simple ingredients, plain old milk chocolate and some peanuts.
The clusters vary in size, from little lines of three or four nuts to a full clump of a dozen peanuts. The overall flavor is fake vanilla. A soft and comforting sort of sweetness, like an angora sweater.
The chocolate isn’t particularly smooth, nor even noteworthy. As far as it being their best chocolate ever, well, it’s not the worst. It tasted fresh though not creamy. The cocoa notes are bland and the dairy is clean but not particularly buttery. What works here is the touch of salt and the peanuts. They’re fresh, small and crunchy. The ratios are heavier on the chocolate than the nuts, but once it’s chewed, it works well.
I don’t think I’d buy these again. In fact, I’ve had them sitting around for review for quite a while but felt no desire to eat them even though I love chocolate and nuts.They’re friendly candy and certainly well priced, but I’ll stick to the sugar confections Brach’s makes.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
It’s amazing the diversity of candy bars that are still available, many of the most popular bars we eat today have been around for over 70 years. One regional classic that started right near where I live now is the Christopher’s Big Cherry (original review).
The lump of a candy bar was introduced by the Christopher Candy Company, which started in 1887 in Southern California. (That company was later bought out by Ben Meyerson, who made the Sunkist Fruit Gems, who then sold out to Jelly Belly in 2006 who kept the Fruit Gems line but sold off the Christopher’s line to Adams & Brooks, keeping it in Southern California.)
More recently the folks at Adams & Brooks introduced the Christopher’s Big Cherry Dark. The wrapper is a rich brick red instead of the bright pink of the classic bar.
The bar looks terrible. It’s a big, golf ball sized mass. It’s lumpy and irregular but at least smells good, like roasted peanuts and hot cocoa.
The ingredients are, well, barely passable as an edible item, very high in partially hydrogenated oil:
The previous review I did of the classic Christopher’s Big Cherry didn’t have a cross section. So I wanted to be sure this review fully documented the innards of this candy. What does set it apart from all others (Cherry Mash and Twin Bing) is the fact that it uses a whole cherry in the center. That auspicious fact aside, it’s marginally satisfying.
The center is sweet and slightly grainy. The mararschino cherry is sweet and heavily artificially flavored and colored. The mockolate coating is supposed to be “dark” but still has milk products in it and really doesn’t do much for me except that it’s less sweet than the original version. The peanut bits in the mockolate are the shining star here, they’re fresh and crunchy and flavorful. The combination of flavors is odd, the peanuts come across as rather savory, the fudgy mockolate has a vague brownie flavor to it but at least isn’t sweet and the cherry center is a blast in the face of fake cherry and sugar.
It’s certainly not a candy for me. The fakeness on so many levels is disappointing, especially for $1.89 which I could spend on things with real chocolate and real cherries in it. But it’s unique, if that’s still a selling point. If chocolate covered bacon can be all the rage, I suppose this can find a home somewhere.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Squirrel Nut Zippers were introduced by the Squirrel Brand Company in 1926 as a vanilla caramel with peanuts, part of a line of caramel candies. The name, which sounds more like a collection of nouns than an enticing candy, came from a local alcohol drink called Nut Zipper (this was prohibition).
The Squirrel Brand Company or Massachusetts was sold off to Southern Style Nuts in 1999 and moved to Texas. A mere 5 years later, Necco bought the rights to Squirrel Nut Zippers, and the lesser known Squirrel Caramel Chews, and moved production back to the Boston area. In case you’re wondering, the Squirrel Nut Zippers swing band named themselves after the candy (with permission from Squirrel Brand Company).
The candies are a simple format, a little bite sized chew wrapped in wax paper. They’re sold in bulk bins or pre-packaged bags. I found mine at Rocket Fizz, a small chain of candy & soda pop shops that started in Southern California.
Like Mary Janes (also made by Necco now), a good Squirrel Nut Zipper will be slight soft. Don’t be dismayed if you pick some up and they’re hard. The trick is to put it in your pocket or hold them in your palm for a few minutes or someplace slightly warm just before eating. That way the oils rise slightly to the surface to help the wrapper release from the candy and it’s soft enough to chew easily.
A SNZ is an easy to like candy, it’s quite simple. It’s a vanilla caramel with bits of peanuts in it. The flavor of the caramel is mild and sweet, not as earthy as a Mary Jane, which has molasses in it, and not as toffee like as a Sugar Daddy.
I’m sure I’ve had them before when I was a kid, but they didn’t make much of an impression on me. As an adult, well, there are other candies I’d prefer to have, such as a Mary Jane or some Sugar Babies.
I have no clue about possible allergens, but the ingredients show dairy, soy and peanuts.
Monday, August 13, 2012
The idea was to be able to reach more consumers with Markoff’s taste creations without sacrificing the artisan scale of the original Vosges but still reach more consumers. (Source) I have trouble believing that Vosges is truly artisan any longer since they’re a $30 million company. The Wild Ophelia website feature a hokey story about this mascot for the brand that dipped beef jerky in milk chocolate instead of the traditional lemonade stand as a kid. The story reads like a non-traditional innovator’s checklist:
But again, it’s all just made up. The real story of someone wanting to extend their brand isn’t good enough, yet with this pure fiction they want us to also come on board with the real stories of the artisans that provide some of the key ingredients in the bar flavors.
The Wild Ophelia line features bars that cost one third less than the Vosges bars, but of course are about one third smaller in size. That’s fine with me in principal at least, since I often find the 3 ounce bars a bit too much for me and my short attention span. The new line of bars feature flavors like Beef Jerky, Southern Hibiscus Peach, Salted Chowchilla Almond, New Orleans Chili, Sweet Cherry Pecan, Mount Sequoia Granola, Smokehouse BBQ Potato Chips and the final one, Peanut Butter & Banana is what I picked up.
The Milk Chocolate Bar Peanut Butter & Banana is made with a dark milk chocolate of 41% cacao. Then it’s mixed with pieces of dried Williams Banana, which is grown on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. Peanut butter is mixed into the chocolate.
It sounds great, though I wish I knew as much about the chocolate and the origin of the peanuts as I now do about the bananas.
The bar is soft and has a smooth break. It looks like the pieces are quite small and well mixed in. It has a strong scent of roasted peanuts and a little note of maple or sweet hot cocoa.
Though the bar has a peanutty aroma, the chocolate, it tastes of both chocolate and peanut butter, like someone melted and mixed together a peanut butter cup. It’s a little grittier and fudgier than a standard milk chocolate bar. The heartiness is then highlighted with bits of dried bananas. They’re soft and chewy, but still kind of tough. They’re sweet and have a strong banana flavor with a fair bit of tanginess.
I found the leathery and sticky banana bits a little off-putting, they’d get stuck in my teeth. But the overall ratios and the fact that it’s not a sweet bar but still has that satisfaction of a sweet snack is really quite good. There are little bits of salt in it as well, and though it tastes like a lot because they’re little granules, it’s actually only 30mg for a serving.
Now for the transparency part. The company says “Wild Ophelia is a uniquely American chocolate brand that features all-natural and often organic ingredients sourced from small farms and artisans to tell an American story. All Wild Ophelia products are made with 100% renewable energy and packaged in 100% recycled board. Proudly, the Wild Ophelia line is developed by a certified women’s business enterprise.” Nowhere could I find a statement about the sourcing of the chocolate (none was listed as organic, the only organic ingredient in this bar was the peanut butter). So I can’t say anything about the ethics of the sourcing of the cacao and at $5 for a 2 ounce bar of chocolate, I’d prefer that the dairy products in it also be organic.
Wild Ophelia is gluten free, but their facility uses dairy, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. I love many of Vosges products, but have had to stop eating them because of walnut contamination issues (which is fully disclosed on the packages). I did not have any problems with this bar and none of the Wild Opheila products have walnuts in them (my only allergy).
For a more complete rundown of the line of bars, check out Jess at Foodette Reviews.
Friday, August 3, 2012
Butterfinger Bites made by Nestle come in a few sizes, but I picked up their theater box. It was a helpful box with a little image of the candy with the words “actual bite size” pointing to one of them that is actually far smaller than anything inside the box.
The box also says that they’re new, though I’m pretty sure Nestle has made these before, or something amazingly similar. Then the box also says that they’re Easy To Eat! which is a huge relief, because Butterfingers are menacingly difficult what with all that wrapper and ... largeness.
The box actually had 3.5 ounces of candy bites in it, which is a pretty decent deal for a buck. Of course it’s also filled with Butterfinger Bites, so maybe I’d be happier with less than 3.5 ounces considering what dismal tasting candy it actually is.
There are so many things wrong with this, like the fact that there’s more hydrogenated palm kernel oil in it than cocoa (and no chocolate), artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives.
The pieces are about an inch long and are, in fact, easy to eat. If you don’t have a sense of smell. I found the odor simply offputting. It’s overly sweet, artificial and reminds me of a combination of birthday cake and fake butter topping. They are not even vaguely peanutty or chocolatey.
The pieces are lighter and crunchier than a regular Butterfinger. The mockolate coating is chalky looking, very light in color and not the slightest bit chocolatey. The crispy layers of the center are wonderfully crispy and do have a lovely proportion of salt. But that’s about it, the level of peanut butter is so far below what I love in candies like Chick-O-Stick or Clark Bars that it’s more like a butter flavored center.
The mockolate coating really ruins it, it tastes about as good as sucking on the cardboard box. These can’t be stale (they were plenty crispy and they expiry is more than 6 months away), they’re just poor excuses for candy. What’s sad is that I would absolutely love to buy little nuggets of real chocolate covered peanut butter crisp, even at twice the price.
I have a little poll running over there on the sidebar about what companies should do when they need to cut costs. Maybe we should let them know that making bad candy really isn’t a way to increase sales.
Monday, July 30, 2012
In the theater box section at the Big Lots I spotted this package of Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Flix Mix. At only a buck, I figured I should try it, though I was a little taken aback at the lightness of it, only 2.2 ounces, when many other theater boxes can be 6 ounces.
Flix makes a big deal on the back of the box that these are Made in USA. But a large part of the back of the box is also devoted to the extremely long ingredients list. This is explained by the fact that one of the macroingredients is a rice pillow which includes a large number of fortifications such as niaciniamide and thiamin mononitrate.
One I opened the box I understood why it was so light, there is a cellophane pouch inside that is the appropriate size for the box, these things are just darn airy, so constitute more volume than say, Mike and Ike.
The candy itself is very simple. It’s chocolate covered Rice Chex cereal (or a generic equivalent). The milk chocolate coating seems to have some peanut butter mixed in, though if you gave these to me without saying anything about the peanut butter, I might have missed that nuance. The whole thing is then dusted, unnecessarily, in powdered sugar.
The rice pillow at the center is crispy and has a large airy center. There’s a hint of malt and a little salt to it, so it give a savory base to the mix that’s sorely needed. The milk chocolate and peanut butter coating is sweet. There’s a mild milky flavor to it, but nothing that can stand up to the flavor of the rice cereal ... yup, the bland Rice Chex are more vibrant than this chocolate. Still, the combination works. It’s a bit on the sweet side but the crispy texture and mild contributions from the peanut butter and chocolate manage to combine well.
I don’t think I’d buy this brand again, but I have to wonder if there are better ones out there. I also have to wonder if someone could do a verified gluten free version of this, because I bet there are a lot of gluten free folks out there longing for a crispy candy mix.
The allergen list is pretty complete and includes soy, dairy, milk, peanuts and may contain wheat, tree nuts and eggs. There’s no indication of the ethical sourcing of Flix Candy’s chocolate. There is also palm oil in there, though very low down on the list.
UPDATED to ADD: Yes, there is a homemade version of this called Puppy Chow. Probably the best option if you want better ingredients.
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