Perfetti van Melle
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
While I was in Europe earlier this year I made a point to sample as much licorice as I possibly could. What I found is that the world of licorice products varies greatly by cultural tradition, price point and intensity. Here are a dozen items I found, in descending order of my affection.
I meant it when I said I’m starting with the high point of my European licorice adventures. I loved this stuff.
When I was walking the exhibits at ISM Cologne (the largest candy trade show in the world), I knew that I wanted to visit the Amarelli Licorice booth. They sell wonderful little tins of intense licorice pastilles. I’ve been buying their minty coated version called Bianconeri for about 10 years, though not very often because each tin is about $6 and holds about an ounce.
I was not disappointed by their booth. They had so many different products I had never tried. The ones that impressed me the most were little glycerine pastilles that were rose or violet along with the intense and smooth black licorice. (I don’t know how they sell those, they just said that they didn’t come in tins.)
I tried their pebble looking candy coated licorice called Sassolini which I was enchanted immediately.
They’re much bigger than their other products, most of these are larger than a Peanut M&M. They’re irregular and do a convincing imitation of an actual little rock. The thickness of the soft cream and blue colors have a pleasing heft to them.
The flavor of the candy shell is vanilla, soft and with a hint of the anise underneath. The center is a chewy black licorice that has an intense flavor of both licorice and anise. They’re really strong and the dense chew of the center means they last a long time, though they do get stuck in my teeth if I chew them up instead of letting them dissolve. The flavor lingers as a dull buzzing feeling on my tongue long after its gone. I like this so much I found that Licorice International carries the nuggets in bulk, so I ordered two 6 ounce packages to refill my tin.
The tin shows a child at the beach (or perhaps just a lakeshore) with a big red pail and sail boats in the background. Of all the designs of their tins, this is my least favorite, perhaps because the design is less focused on the typography.
I first read about Lakrids by Johan Bulow on Chocablog last year. I was hoping to sample their line at ISM Cologne, so I wasn’t disappointed when I found their booth and got to try everything. They sent me home with a few packages of their line of gourmet licorice using real licorice root. The whole line comes in these chic little plastic jars. The products are all named with numbers of letters. The Choc Coated Liquorice is A.
They’re gluten free, which is pretty rare for a licorice product as most of the American and Australian styles are wheat based.
They’re also really expensive at about $8 to $10 per 165 gram (5.8 ounces) jar. (I see a trend already with my licorice leanings, I like the quality stuff.)
They smell a little woodsy and milky. The powdery coating on the outside isn’t cocoa, it’s ground licorice. True licorice is very sweet, and this stuff definitely was real and potent. A little touch to my tongue and it was a sweetness that has no thick or sticky quality like sugar. There’s a deep woodsy note to it as well. The chocolate is sweet and milky, and provides more a texture to the candy than a chocolate flavor. Most of what I got was milk, not chocolate. The licorice center isn’t very sweet but also not quite a salty licorice. There were strong molasses and toffee notes, burnt flavors and dark mossy notes.
It’s more of a savory treat than sweet. It’s incredibly munchable but at the same time, very satisfying to have two or three and be done.
Johan Bulow makes a wide variety of products already, including Habanero Chili Licorice and Chili Cranberry Licorice. I was also taken with the simplicity of the Lakrids 1: Sweet Licorice.
The glossy little nibs hardly look like real edibles, but they are. The flavor is rich and actually creamy. The flavor has a backdrop of roasted notes that come from treacle. It was sweet and bitter. The texture was a little gummy, and did stick to my teeth a bit. Like the chocolate covered version, I didn’t feel the need to keep eating it after a few pieces because they actually satisfied me.
So I got back to Los Angeles with this sample and I was confused and kind of embarrassed by my assumptions. I thought it was Italian. The name is Carletti but I found out it’s a Danish company.
I also picked up some other items they make, such as Dutch Mints (or as they call them Mintlinser Drage) which were also nicely packaged and featured (as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge of Danish) all natural colorings. (See website.)
The little pieces of firm licorice are covered in colorful (naturally colored) candy shells. They’re a little narrower than a regular Chiclet and a bit thicker. The chew was a bit dense but had an excellent flavor profile. It wasn’t salty but also not terribly sweet. The shells seemed to have a light flavor of their own, the orange being notably orange and the purple possibly violet. The center was a bitter and had some good molasses to it.
I was put off by the bitterness, but drawn to the other flavors within, something like charcoal and burnt toast and licorice. But the intensity kept me coming back.
Mentos Lakrits Mint
I’ve purchased Lakrits Mint Mentos a few times before, but I think this is the first time I’ve actually included them in a post.
They look rather watery, not very intense. But don’t let the fact that they’re not full of caramel coloring or molasses fool you. They’re quite licoricey. The flavor does have some of the deep woodsy notes and they’re oddly creamy when chewed. The mint is mostly in the crunchy shell and fades away quickly. The salty tones are very mild, for folks who have never tried salted licorice, this is a good starter.
Mentos Drop Citroen & Drop Aardbei
A more unusual version I found in Amsterdam is the roll that mixes Drop Citroen and Drop Aardbei. Drop is the generic name for licorice in Dutch.
The package may have made it look like one half was Lemon and one half was Strawberry, but they were just a random mix. Mine had about 2/3 aardbei.
The curious structure is revealed ... at the center is a little core of licorice inside the normal fruit chew.
The combination? Well, I wouldn’t say that I loved them, but I did end up eating them all. The center wasn’t so much about licorice, it was more of a salty and molasses flavor, a bit more savory than the bland fruity outside. The lemon was mild and only sweetness. The strawberry was a bit more nuanced, with some more floral and cotton candy notes to it.
This is also made by Perfetti Van Melle, the same folks who make Mentos. What I learned a little bit late in my Dutch adventure was the difference between Zoet and Zout. Drop Zoet are sweet licorice and Drop Zout are salty licorice. One little letter ... so much meaning.
A mix of griotten shaped like large hemispheres and salty rockies. Rockies are a tube of licorice filled with a grainy but slightly less intense licorice cream. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar. They were rooty and earthy. The texture was a bit more doughy than the other brands I’ve been buying and less of a licorice punch with slightly more ammonia salt.
I really bought these because of my curiosity when it came to the little domes. I didn’t know what they were. Turns out, as I mentioned above, they’re like Griotten, a small and dense licorice marshmallow.
It’s a little doughy and spicy. The griotten texture is like a firm, dense marshmallow with a sugary crust. The flavor is deep and not as intense as others I’ve had. There’s a vague ammonia salt note to it, but a strong licorice flavor with a hint of molasses. The molasses gives it the taste of a spice cookie, which is what they look like to me.
Katjes Fruit Tappsy (Germany)
I’ve had the mild licorice Tappsy before. They feature a panda face with different flavors for the ears or other contrasting color parts.
The Fruit Tappsy are gummis with a strong and stiff chew. The licorice portion is mild and the fruity portions are actually quite vibrant. The combination of licorice and fruit, though, is really not to my liking. I think the texture of the Tappsy with the marshmallow base might give a creamier component to these that might bringing it all together for me.
I’m not saying that they’re bad, just not really my favorite of the Tappsy versions out there.
I’ve tried AutoDrop candies before, based solely on the name. The entire brand of AutoDrop candies, made by Van Slooten, are based around the theme of cars and their drivers. Some are winegums but most are licorice. This bag certainly caught my eye, with its matte black background and blue foil line art.
Inside are five different candies, each with a different shape, texture and flavor profile. I don’t actually know what the name means. Donder means thunder, but maybe Donders means crashes.
Megpiraat - one eyed, grinning face - a stiff but smooth chewing molded licorice piece. The flavor has a nice mix of molasses and licorice, which is a light sweetness. A little touch of anise and some deep toffee notes.
Spookrijder - looks like a rustic piece of chalk. I was hoping it would be like Skoolkrijt (a tube of licorice filled with cream and covered in a minty candy shell). The shell is minty, but also a little crumbly. The interior looks like grainy brown sugar and has a pleasant molasses undertone and a faint licorice flavor and a hint of salmiak.
Zondagsruder - a smooth licorice gummi, I quite liked this one. It wasn’t very strong on flavor, more like a light anise with a sweet marshmallow & vanilla note.
Brokkenpiloot - this was the saltiest of the bunch and one that I pulled out of the mix. Unfortunately, it’s also the one I had the most of.
Bumperklever - caramel colored piece that has a light toffee and licorice flavor. This had a bouncy texture that was almost a marshmallow gummi. Sweet but a little salty as well but without the bitter metallic aftertaste.
Overall, kind of a losing situation for me. Out of duty I ate all the Zondagrsruder and a few of the Spookrijder and Bumperklever, but the rest have just been sitting around.
Haribo Lakritz Parade
This mix was like a German version of All Sorts. It included cream licorice (made with fondant) and other panned candies in addition to molded salted licorice pieces. I picked up the peg bag at the grocery store, again, for about a Euro ($1.40).
The little colored pieces were lovely, what’s more, the package said that they only use all natural colorings. There were licorice rods covered in a candy shell, covered in fondant (like All Sorts without the coconut) and larger diamonds of salty licorice covered in a shell (I reviewed those already). There were also little M&Ms which were a crumbly molassesy sugar mixed with licorice and salt.
They looked great, but I can’t say that my problem was with the flavor as most were just bland. The pastilles were bland, just kind of earthy and chewy. The little lentil thing was just grainy and a little bitter, the colorful licorice tubes were just sweet.
The molded licorice shapes were enchanting to look at. I can’t say that their attention to quality control was great. These were the best in the bunch. The salino is like a Zout, it was doughy and yes, a little bland except for the strong ammonia quality. The others were, again, watery and tasteless except for a dirt and vague anise note. The chew was smooth.
This is another licorice I bought in Amsterdam. It was pretty cheap, I’d say less than $2 American. I wanted just a simple licorice pastel. I’ve had Venco products before, I buy their Skoolkrijt all the time. So I thought their version of Good & Plenty would be great as well. I also lucked out that I chose a zoet licorice (unlike that Haribo Sali-Kritz)
I was worried about the word hard in the description, but at least that part turned out not to be true.
First, I’m not keen on dark colored candies, they tend to need more coloring, which displaces actual flavors and textures that should be there. So the blue and the black ones were not ones I ate with much interest.
The little rods of licorice are covered in a thin but crunchy shell. The licorice at the center is actually overpowered by the flavor of the shell. The shells, in some cases were flavored. I don’t know if they were supposed to be flavored, but the blue/purple ones were definitely floral, like violet. Not heavily licorice flavored, these just left me bored. Even the color assortment didn’t thrill me. Half of the fun of candy coated candy is the look of it.
While I was traveling in Germany I mostly when off of how things looked, but every once in a while, I pulled out my Android phone (which didn’t work as a phone) and used the German-English dictionary to look things up. So I knew that this was a black licorice bar. The character on the front says that it’s soft licorice. So at least the words were helpful.
The package is creepy. I like the boldness of it, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of the graphic work that Haribo does. But this anthropomorphic character of a string of licorice palling around with a boy is just weird. Go ahead, look at it closer. But hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, right. I didn’t even flinch at the insulting Asian caricature in the previous mix.
It’s a hefty bar, at 125 grams (4.41 ounces) for about a buck.
The bar pulls apart into licorice rods quite easily. Each is about the size and shape of an unsharpened pencil. It is soft and pliable, glossy and really looks so promising.
But it tastes so bad. The chew is dense and has a strong wheat flavor to it, yes, it actually tastes a bit like flour or al dente pasta. But there’s more, it’s a bit tangy, in the way that weak coffee can be tangy. And it has a weak licorice flavor to go with that. It’s only vaguely sweet and not quite salty. It’s not overtly earthy but tastes a little musty.
This has pushed me over the edge to proclaim that I don’t wish to ever eat another Haribo licorice product again.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Long ago there was a cough drop line called Pine Bros Throat Drops. They were a glycerin drop, kind of like a hard gummi. They came in a variety of flavors like cherry, honey and licorice. I bought them often and ate them like candy, even though they said medicated on the package.
I bought this box pictured here on eBay knowing full well that I couldn’t actually eat them as they’re at least 15 years old. I just wanted to take their picture and remember them.
But I haven’t stopped looking for a replacement for them. The melt was smooth and even for a cruncher like me, they lasted a long time. And they really did soothe the throat.
Then a few years ago Gigi wrote about something that sounded similar, Golia Respira
I finally found this roll of Respira Golia at Mel & Rose Wine & Liquors. They were expensive ($2.50), but at least the little roll was cheaper than the box or bag version. (And certainly within their best by date, unlike old Pine Bros on eBay.) They’re made by Perfetti Van Melle, known best for their rolls of Mentos.
The wrapper says they’re caramelle gommose which I take to mean gummy candies and alla liquirizia which I know means with licorice. They’re made with both gum arabic and glycerine.
They don’t smell like my much beloved cough drops, but they do smell compelling. It’s a mix of smoke, black pepper and incense. The pieces are large, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter and about 1/3 of an inch high. They sound like bakelite, crisp and hard, but they’re not. They’re a bit pliable in the mouth. The first flavor at the front is licorice, the light and true flavor of licorice which is sweet and a little syrupy. There are notes of anise and clove and of course a pervasive menthol, as that’s what the Respira part of the name is about (breathing).
They get quite soft but never soft enough to pull apart, just dissolve slowly and steadily.
I loved the strong eucalyptus flavor and background of licorice. They are slick and soothing and also, because they’re soft there are no little sores created by sharp edged voids like hard cough drops can do. But they’re really medicinal tasting, so they’re not a casual endeavor and everyone around you will know that you’ve been eating them. I know there are other versions of these, I’m hoping I can find something that’s a little more soothing, like the classic Honey Lemon Pine Bros Drops.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Mentos are the KitKat of chews. There are dozens of flavors worldwide, and of course most of the interesting flavors are found in Asia. This newest version is the oddest one I’ve had to date: Mentos Jam Filled - Strawberry Lemon.
They’re made in China and sold in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands. I got this package from Santos of Scent of Green Bananas after two failed efforts to buy them on eBay from a Thai seller.
They’re double packaged (like the Sour Mentos often are.) There’s a main package of stiff, thick foil backed paper which is then encased in a plastic sleeve.
Inside the inner package are 8 soft candies. The most noticeable difference is that they don’t have a crunchy shell. They’re a little glossy and might have a bit of wax but are basically shell-less. They’re soft enough that they don’t really have a native shape, they’re a little flat on the sides where they meet and sometimes stick together a bit.
They seem a bit bigger than a traditional Mentos. They’re also more fragrant, authentically strawberry scented.
The outer layer of chew is soft and has a good pliable taffy texture and tangy/sweet strawberry flavor. The inner jam is not very complex, more like a lemon flavored syrup, more like a reduction of lemon drink than lemon marmalade. It’s not as tart as I would have liked and lacked a lot of lemon essence. The texture is sticky but not at all grainy. It didn’t do much for me. The difference in the flavors wasn’t strong enough to be called complementary and wasn’t close enough to match.
I’m not sure why they did this. It’s a lot of packaging and not a lot of excitement inside.
I might have felt differently if it were a uniquely named and branded item, but coming to me with a Mentos logo on it, I expected more authentic flavors and for it to, well, be a fresh take on the goo filled candy field.
Friday, October 8, 2010
One of my favorite global candies are Mentos because they reflect local flavors so well. Sometimes it seems unfair that other locales get such great flavors and in the US we’re stuck with a more limited assortment.
This little plastic jar of Mentos Mix Grape was given to me by Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They’re sold in the Philippines and other parts of the Pacific. They’re actually made in Vietnam but Perfetti van Melle and have Halal certification, but all of the other packaging is in English.
Instead of a mix of fruity flavors, this combo pack has a mix of different kinds of grapes - purple, white and red.
Muscat - a green grape. This version has a light peppery flavor at first followed by something that’s more like apple cider and then a grape skin note. It also reminded me of hibiscus iced tea. Tangy and fresh.
Standard Grape (magenta) is the most disappointing of the bunch. It does taste like real grapes, but like a far away version of the, like I’m tasting concord grapes from across the street or watching it on TV.
Red Wine Grape (light pink) has an amazing flavor profile. It’s like white grape juice but with more of the grape skins flavors, right down to an almost-dry finish.
I’ve found with the Asian Mentos that the quality isn’t always consistent. Some are soft and chewy, others are crunchy in the middle. These were close to their expiry, but I experience this on a consistent basis with all varieties not made in Holland.
I love how Mentos gets subtlety. While grape isn’t my favorite flavor, I like how distinctive these are yet how well the package holds together and a single candy. I can pop them mindlessly or I can pull out the flavor I feel like at the moment. I wish that the American ones were like this, but then maybe I wouldn’t appreciate them as much.
These are Halal but not marked Kosher. They no longer contain gelatin (they use gellan gum) which is vegetarian ... but they also use carmine color, so they’re not actually vegetarian.
Monday, August 30, 2010
For something that’s described as “Chew Mints”, Mentos fail on diversity of mint flavors. In the United States there is exactly one mint flavor available: Mint. In other countries there are Spearmint, Xtra (double strong Peppermint or Spearmint), Lime Mint, Ice Mint, Cool Chews Orange Mint, Pomelo Mint, Strong Mint, Barley Mint and Lakritz Mint.
The only other flavor in the current American repertoire that I think features Freshmaking abilities is the Cinnamon Mentos. They’re not easy to find, I rarely see them in stores but grabbed this roll when I saw them at Walgreen’s last week.
The package is hard to spot though, because it’s red and looks a lot like Strawberry at first glance.
The pieces don’t smell cinnamon-like. It’s not like having a package of cinnamon gum and having the scent of it waft through your purse or desk drawer. These are quiet and self-contained.
They’re smooth and have a good crunch to the outside. The inside is like a candy version of Big Red gum. They’re woodsy and a little warm from the cinnamon flavoring, but not overly hot. The flavor last through the whole chew and is in general satisfying. There’s a little hint of mint to it, but that may just be me imagining it.
Some of the fruit flavors of Mentos can have a weird aftertaste, but the Cinnamon ones have a fresh note at the end. They cut mid-morning coffee mouth without making me feel like I’ve eaten a wad of toothpaste.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Though today is Halloween, I’ve been inundated with a world of Mentos flavors thanks for Santos of Scent of Green Bananas. They were even part of a segment on Good Food on KCRW. I have a huge backlog of them, so here are a few new to North America flavors to highlight:
The Flavor of the Year: Watermelon Mentos are made in Vietnam. I don’t know what the market for them is, as the package is in English yet they’re not sold in the United States.
The pieces are a dusty green. The ingredients list all natural colors, which probably explains why they’re not really bright.
The flavor is all sweet and quite faithful to a watermelon granita or other sweetened watermelon product. It’s more of an interesting flavor than a compelling one for me. It’s authentic but I don’t really eat watermelon for the flavor, I’m more drawn to it for the refreshing texture and volume of water.
While I wasn’t blown away with them, two co-workers did give them raves, so I think it has to do with whether you’re fond of watermelon in the first place. The Watermelon is also found in the European Rainbow Mentos.
Juicy Orange Mentos Plus
I have no idea what’s different about these compared to the orange that’s found in the regular fruit mix. As far as I can tell, it’s just a plain old orange Mentos package with some extra vitamin C.
I was hoping for more citrusy pop, more zest, more tartness ... but the plus is just the fortification. Kind of like the candy version of Orange Soda.
The box is cool looking, it’s flatter than the American ones, which gives it a more elegant profile. And popping them will help me ward off the flu.
The Lemon Lime Mentos Plus say they’re lemon lime on the package, but the picture just shows limes.
The flavor is quite good, a mix of zest and mellow lime flavor without too much sour. It’s bright and clean without tasting too much like cleaner. This was the first package I polished off, so I must have liked them. There was a bitterness that reminded me of tonic water ... now someone just needs to get me some Gin Mentos and we’ll be all set.
They Mentos Plus are made in China but half the packaging (the back of the box and one side) are all in Korean.
None are my new favorites, but still interesting chews and great to share.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I love getting candy from friends who travel. I love being surprised by candy that I didn’t even know existed. Finally, I love getting Mentos.
My friend Ernessa went to Belgium. While she brought me a wonderful box of Galler bonbons (we ate half the box after dinner on Saturday night, eschewing fresh peach pie for it), I was most excited about these: Mentos Fresh Cola.
It seems natural that a candy that’s become world famous for fountains made from putting the mints in diet soda bottles would eventually have an actual cola flavored version. (But strange that it’s not available in the United States.)
The wrapper has the familiar red color that many colas adopt for their packaging.
The pieces look a bit like fizzy cola. They’re light beige, but a little mottled, like there are bubbles.
The flavor is absolutely cola, a bit tangy like light lemon with a woodsy spice to it. It tastes fizzy, though that’s probably just my imagination. There’s a little spicy flavor in there, like cinnamon or nutmeg. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like (but that’s kind of why I don’t drink soda anyway).
As I don’t drink soda, it’s nice to be able to get my cola flavor somewhere else. In a world of few cola options, these are a fantastic option. I think all that’s missing is the little dose of caffeine.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I have about half left.
But a morning browse on eBay a couple of weeks ago led to an auction of some Mentos from Japan in a yellow package simply flavored Grapefruit. I had to have them. So I placed an order with JBox and they arrived earlier this week.
Sporting and expiry date of 2010, these puppies must be fresh. The package is much like the others from around the world, the large Mentos logo, a picture of the fruit flavor on the right end and, of course, the name of the flavor in both English and Japanese.
They’re a nice yellow color and have the crunchy shell and soft chew inside. They’re tart and fragrant and have a good mix of citrus oil and zest notes. They’re not quite like the Pamplemousse though. The citrus is a bit more generic, a little floral and less bitter. Still extremely satisfying. I have two more rolls and if this were a permanent Japanese flavor, JBox could count on more orders. At a dollar fifty a package (instead of the 75 cents or so for my remaining Pink Grapefruit), I wouldn’t buy a lot of them though. (Mentos, can you make Yuzu flavored next?)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.