Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Candy Corn gets a lot of different flavor treatments for Halloween, but for the most part the Easter versions are all about little spring shapes in the form of mellocreams in light fruity flavors. Brach’s has introduced something new to go with their Pastel Candy Corn, it’s called Brach’s Carrot Cake Candy Corn.
The packaging is simple, just a thick plastic bag. The image on the front depicts a cake with white frosting and a green and orange carrot on it. Down in the other corner is a small basket of the candy corns.
As a side note, Brach’s, the 110 year old candy company, has been going through a lot of changes lately; this seems to have led to an identity crisis. I picked up this bag of candy last month which is also a new product but features a different logo which I thought they stopped using around 2011 (but also appears on their twitter). Brach’s is now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company, which merged with Farley’s & Sathers last year. This is a huge company now that makes mostly sugar candy like Trolli, Lemonheads, Atomic Fireballs, Black Forest Gummies, Now & Later, Rainblo Gum, Jujyfruits, Chuckles, Bob’s and Fruit Stripe Gum. It seems like this constant change and shift of directions is keeping Brach’s from regaining their place in the world of classic American comfort candies.
My first instinct on these, without even eating them, is that the colors are all wrong. A slice of layered cake would be a sort of light brown color with flecks of orange and then the off white cream cheese frosting. There is no green in a carrot cake, unless you make some of the frosting green. If they wanted the candy corn to just look like carrots, then make them all orange with the wide base getting just a touch of green to simulate the carrot top. To simulate a slice of cake, I’d make the top and bottom white and the center orange. Why it’s candy corn is an entirely other matter ... why not make little slide of cake shapes? Brach’s already makes cute little shapes for their Halloween and Easter Mellocreme mixes ... why not a slice of cake or little carrots or a block of Philly Cream Cheese?
While I had some misgivings about the coloration, everything else about these is extremely well done. Unlike my problems with the Brach’s S’mores Candy Corn last fall, which were quite broken and brittle, these looked great right out of the bag. I saw very few malformed or incomplete kernels and they stayed in one piece for the most part.
They didn’t smell like much, and honestly I didn’t think much of them the first few I tried. I noticed, though, that the base had a mild spice cake flavor to it, it’s subtle but there’s a note of cinnamon and nutmeg. The overall piece had a slightly creamier note, with what I can only guess is supposed to be a cream cheese flavor. Again, it’s very subtle.
I had to compare the mild flavor to regular candy corn, naturally, so I picked up the Brach’s Pastel Candy Corn, since they were on sale 2 for $5. These are much more subtly colored, with only the corn base getting a pastel note of green, pink, purple, green, or yellow. I enjoyed these, particularly because there was less artificial coloring in them, so the clean flavor of sugar and a touch of honey came through a bit brighter than in the fall version which has more orange (and Red #40) in it. I did notice that some of the flavors, like the cream cheese twang was missing, so it wasn’t something I dreamed up. I also noticed on the nutrition panel that the Pastel Corn has more salt in it, 100 mg per serving compared to 70 mg for the Carrot Cake.
I liked the Pastel Candy Corn, but I liked the Carrot Cake Candy Corn better, perhaps because there was a vague flavor to it. Is it a successful simulation of cake? Not by a long shot, but taken as a candy on its own without its bakery reference, it’s quite pleasant.
Like other Brach’s candy corn, this is made in Mexico. It does have honey as an ingredients, as well as gelatin, so this is unsuitable for vegetarians. It’s made in a facility that also processes milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
This year’s flavor variation is called Skittles Desserts and features five different colors themed on dessert creations: Orange Creme (peach), Raspberry Sorbet (red), Strawberry Milkshake (creamy pink), Blueberry Tart (blue) and Key Lime Pie (bright green).
The pink package was pretty easy to find on the shelf. The current varieties of Skittles are the Original Fruits (now with green apple), Wild Berry, Sours, Tropical and Darkside. For Easter there’s also a pastel version of the Original Fruits.
Orange Creme is kind of pointless. It’s absolutely like an orange sherbet, which is to say, orange with all the great things taken out. The addition of the creme flavor component gives it a sort of Play-Doh flavor note that’s a little too fake milk. There’s no zest, though a light tartness.
Raspberry Sorbet has a strong floral note and only a light tartness. There’s also a bitter aftertaste for me, perhaps the food coloring. Overall, it’s a nice flavor that combines well with the others.
Strawberry Milkshake is comforting. It’s just strawberry with a sort of yogurt note. It’s not as floral or as tart, just sweet and slightly creamy.
Blueberry Tart is tough to say succeeds. It does have a lot of blueberry flavor in it, both the deep boiled jam note and the sort of tart and tannic tea flavors. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a dessert like a berry tart, it’s closer to a fresh berry flavor though that’s not a bad thing.
Key Lime Pie is absolutely disappointing. I’ve had a lot of key limes, both fresh, frozen and mock versions. Key limes are definitely different from the standard Persian limes in both the flavor profile and texture. This lime is more Persian than Key. It’s tart, but not overly so, but misses that milky, sort of chalky note that key limes have.
This flavor assortment was lackluster. There were no stand out flavors, nothing new. It’s just a series of small tweaks to flavors that we’ve all seen before from Skittles. I didn’t think they combined particularly well, which is usually one of the features I like best about Skittles. Since the loss of the Lime Skittle in the Original Fruits variety, I’m left without a favorite Skittles package. I haven’t bought them since I stopped finding the bags with the original variety in them. In last year’s review of the Skittles Darkside, I listed a few ideas for new mixes (including Skittles Pies, kinda what they did here).
Monday, October 22, 2012
I’m quite fond of Chuao Chocolatier’s bars, which are made in Southern California. The packaging is spare but eye-catching and distinct. I’ve come to know the brand well enough to be able to spot a new bar on the shelf easily because of the color-coding. One that I’d been looking forward to finding is the Chuao Honeycomb 60% Cacao. The bar is a Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelize Honey.
I was excited about this bar because Chuao used to make a fantastic item for local Whole Foods markets. It was a thick bar with large chunks of sponge candy (here they’re calling it honeycomb). I haven’t seen it in the market for several years, so I was hoping this bar would be a more widely available version.
The back of the package has a more enticing bit of marketing copy: The Honeycomb bar is a sweet bouquet of silky dark chocolate and crunchy, caramelized honey. Its pleasing layers of tropical flavors and contrasting textures seduce chocolate lovers like bees to a flower.
Chuao uses non-GMO ingredients, including the soy lecithin and the corn syrup for the honeycomb. chuao also sourced their chocolate through a project called Aguasanta Growth Initiative in Venezuela.
The bar has a wonderful decorative design for its mold. They’re changing their packaging yet again, so keep an eye out for the newer designs. Here’s a peek at the ChocoPod version. (Here’s what they looked like back in 2006 when I first tried them.) While it’s fun to look at, it is a little more problematic for portioning. The bar doesn’t break evenly around the “pod” pieces and of course it’s harder to tell how much of the bar you have eaten. (Besides all of it. That’s easy no matter the shape.)
There were a few little voids at the bottom where the mold didn’t fill properly and the same on the bottom of the bar where there were bubbles.
The bar is deep and toasty. The chocolate has a coffee note to it but is complemented by the burnt sugar flavors of the sponge candy. It’s a clean toffee note, with no hint of butter, just the scorched honeycomb. There are some hints of minerals and an earthiness to it. The honeycomb provides a little texture, though it has a bit of a crunch, it also dissolves quickly, like shards of cotton candy.
I was hoping for a bit more differentiation between the chocolate and the honeycomb, at least as far as the textures.
It’s funny that I had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find a bar that’s made right here in California (and that I’ve been looking for in local stores). But it makes sense that Pennsylvania would be the target market, they’re the folks that make such fantastic pretzels and have innovated so much in the sweet and salty combination. I think I found the Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate 41% Cacao bar at Wegman’s, and it was even on sale.
The package says that it’s an Ultra Premium Milk Chocolate Bar with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
The bar is made from all natural ingredients, the potato chips are made with sunflower/corn and/or canola oil and this wrapper does not say anything about GMO ingredients.
This is an odd bar. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Part of it may be the inclusions. As you can see from the photo, the bits of the potato chips are quite small, I’d call them potato slivers or shards. So the texture doesn’t allow for a full bite of potato chip, but more of the flavor without the crunch. The chocolate smells milky and has a wonderful, silky melt. The chips are at once light and dense. They have a strong crunch, even for their small size. They’re salty and earthy, with a rooty, potato skin flavor to the that’s common to the kettle cooked variety of chips.
In both bars I wanted more of the inclusions ... but it’s hard to fault these bars when the chocolate is so good as well. Chuao never disappoints me with their chocolate. I think my favorite bars are still the Chinita Nibs and their Coffee and Anise bars, which are both rather hard for me to find as well.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
While cruising around for Christmas candy at the grocery store after a dentist appointment I spotted these Norfolk Manor Crunchy Nuggets. They’re British, I know this because there’s a Union Jack flag on the front of the box. (Which leads me to believe that this is not a product or brand that’s actually sold in England.)
The candy is similar to the Cadbury Crunchie or Violet Crumble bars, a chocolate covered nugget of sponge candy. I can find sponge candy at local candy shops that make their own candy, like Littlejohn Toffee, but they usually do big hunks of the stuff covered in either milk or dark chocolate. The appeal with this product is that they’re just little nuggets in various shapes and sizes, easy to grab by the handful and snack on.
The box says that they’re Milk Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Pieces but in reality the coating does not actually meet the American standard for chocolate, as there is whey in there (considered a substandard filler). So, it’s actually mislabeled.
Inside the rather large box is a much smaller packet of candy. I’d say that this is also misleading, there’s no need and no expected settling for this much candy, which took up about half of the volume of the box. Even if the cellophane pouch that held the candy was completely full, it wouldn’t have filled more than 2/3 of the volume.
The nuggets are cute and appealing. They’re shiny and well coated. None of them were left with little bald spots, which with sponge candy can allow moisture to deflate them.
The honeycomb or sponge candy texture was not as foamy or flavorful as I’d hoped. It was more like Violet Crumble’s dense texture than the Cadbury Crunchy’s pumice type of foam. The flavor of burnt and toasted sugar was missing for the most part, which is too bad because the mediocre, fudgy and milky chocolate-style coating isn’t good enough to make up for it.
I’d find these passable in a mix of other better candies, like some plain nuts, pretzels and chocolate covered nuts. The texture is definitely good but lacks the best qualities of sponge candy and actual good milk chocolate.
I’ve had the package for over month and only managed to finish them up while playing video games after Christmas. (Which is to say, mindless eating.) My opinion of Norfolk Manor isn’t very high after tasting their knock-offs of other iconic British standards like Wine Gums and Jelly Babies.
The package says that it’s made in a plant that processes peanuts and tree nuts. Contains soy and dairy. But it’s gluten free.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Easter, along with most candy holidays, is a time to go big. Candies come in jumbo sizes like chocolate rabbits the size of real rabbits, filled chocolate eggs the size of ostrich eggs and of course larger than normal malted milk balls.
It was fun to see a micro about-face from Russell Stover with their new 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies.
It’s just what it says, a bag of mini chocolate rabbits, at least 42.
I spotted the package at the check out stand at Ralph’s. In fact, I never would have spotted it and bought it if I hadn’t ended up making such a mess of my self-check out and had to get into a regular shopping line. (The self-check lines have no impulse buying area.) I was surprised to see it because I looked over the Russell Stover website at the beginning of the season to see what was new, but this doesn’t even exist there.
My bag had 47 Mini Bunnies in it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s by weight or because they just wanted to call them 42 Chocolate Mini Bunnies, as if the number 42 had some literary significance.
The smell sweet and little milky and perhaps a little musty (but chocolate can do that when left out in the air for a while, especially milk chocolate).
They’re quite small and cute. They do get a little scuffed up tumbling around in their bag, so it’s not a glossy molded bunny. Each is about three quarters of an inch.
The bunnies are soft and a little crumbly. At first they didn’t melt well, but it has been a bit chilly lately so it could have just been temperature. There’s a waxy feeling to them when I first chewed them. Letting them melt without chewing gave a pretty smooth melt though. It’s very sugary but has a strong dairy and roasted cocoa flavor to it. Honestly, they were quite tasty. I was surprised because I don’t really buy Russell Stover candies expecting good chocolate. It’s more on the candy end of chocolate but at least it’s real.
My biggest problem was how hard it was to just bite off the ears.
For parents looking for a little treat without artificial colors in it, this is a fun seasonal item. It also might be a good idea for Russell Stover to sell these in the baking aisle in larger bags for decorating cupcakes or as an ice cream topping for Easter Sundaes.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Milka is a chocolate confection brand that originated in Switzerland and is now made by Kraft at several factories in Europe. Since Kraft is a global food giant, it makes sense that they’re going to make as many of their brands global as well.
You might notice that I said chocolate confection brand. The reason Milka doesn’t qualify as actual chocolate is a little complicated. In the United States (and many other countries), chocolate can only contain cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar and milk (the standards of identity). If there are any other vegetable oils or solids in there (aside from inclusions like almonds or crisped rice), then it has to be called chocolate flavored or a confection. Milka contains both hazelnut paste (that’s certainly not a bad thing, but there’s not enough to kick it into giauduia territory) and whey, which is a milk protein. I like Milka. As a confection alternative to pure chocolate, I prefer the addition of nut paste and a milk sugar/protein elixir instead of partially hydrogenated palm oil.
Kraft doesn’t seem at all concerned about the technicalities of Milka, it’s spreading the bars and candies worldwide on the strength of the milk part of the product, not the cocoa. In the past five years I’ve seen them in stores in the United States quite a bit more, not just at import themed stores like Cost Plus World Market, but also at big box retailers like Target. I found this little Easter treat called Milka L’il Scoops at my local grocery store, Ralph’s.
The candies are described as Milk chocolate confections with creamy mousse filling.
The packaging is precious. It’s a real egg carton, in the sense that it’s made from recycled pulp though it’s bright purple instead of a muted color. The carton has four little sections that hold the foil wrapped egg confections. At the center of the package is a little stack of two purple spoons for eating the filling. Yes, it’s a lot of purple. (Kind of confusing, as many Cadbury items are also identified with purple which is also owned by Kraft.)
The eggs themselves are actually egg sized. I threw a Grade A Large Egg in there for comparison. I’d call these medium eggs, they’re about 2.3 inches high and 1.2 ounces though a little lighter than an actual chicken egg which are about 1.5 ounces.
The foil is thin but not wrapped so tight that it’s hard to get off, like I sometimes find with Cadbury Creme Eggs. The egg inside the wrapper is scored with a thinner shell at the top.
The eggs are to be eaten like a soft boiled egg. The top of the egg shell (chocolate confection) is removed and the little spoon is used to scoop out the filling. This actually works just as advertised. It was easy for me to either bite it off cleanly, or pinch the top gently and pull it off. (I suppose the spoon may be a useful tool as well, since the shell is quite soft and who cares if you get a little chocolate in the filling like you would with a real egg.)
The Milka chocolate confection is sweet and a little nutty, it’s soft and has a good fudgy melt. The cream center is frothy and buttery, almost like a buttercream frosting or whipped topping. It’s made of sugar and fractionated palm kernel oil so it’s a little oily on the tongue.
Overall, I preferred breaking the chocolate up and eating it with the creamy center instead of eating the center straight. Maybe if it was flavored, like a frothy hazelnut paste cream I’d be happier to eat it straight.
I liked this far better than I thought. I was fully expecting them to be another version of Cadbury Creme Eggs. Instead I found that the quality of the shell was better and the creme was actually not so sweet.
These are super calorie & fat bombs. Each one has 190 calories (158 per ounce) which is far more than a CCE. They’re really overpackaged, but at least everything is recyclable. (Well, maybe not the spoons, but I plan on reusing those for quite some time.) They’re expensive, at least twice the price of most other holiday eggs, so make it special. These are also called Milka Loeffel Chocolate Filled Eggs and sell for about $8.00 online, so I was fortunate to get mine for only $4.99. For that price I’d prefer something with a little bit better quality ingredients. However, if this is a favorite of someone you love, then it’s all worth it.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
For over eighty years folks enjoyed a simply little candy called Flicks. They were disks of chocolate (or mockolate) like large chocolate chips sold in foil wrapped tubes. Great for munching at the movies or sharing with the kids.
They were originally made by Ghirardelli starting in 1904 and over those decades they never changed. Seriously, never altered the manufacturing equipment at all. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that eventually the machines broke down and couldn’t be easily repaired. Instead of developing a new process Ghirardelli simply stopped making them. But folks missed them, so after sitting idle, in 2004 the Tjerrild family bought the trademark and rights to the candy and set about repairing the old machines. Though the actual machinery is no longer in Racine, Wisconsin, but now in Fresno, California - they still use the same Ghirardelli mockolate formula.
The package is simple. It’s a cardboard tube covered in foil that wraps around and into the ends to close them up. Then they’re covered in plastic wrap to protect the freshness. (I believe they’re change it this year and putting the candies inside into a plastic baggy and getting rid of the overwrap.) The tube is about 5.25 inches long and about 1 inch in diameter, about the same as half of a paper towel core. The foil comes in four colors, for no particular reason I guess: red, blue, gold and green.
I admit that I’ve been hesitant to review these. I’ve had Flicks before, probably 30 years ago and recall them being cheap tasting (even then I knew the difference between real chocolate and substitutes). But enough people were pining for them that they were brought back after 15 years out of production, so the narrative of something being brought back from the dead is compelling.
The disks are between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch in diameter.
The pieces don’t smell like much at all and look rather waxy. The texture at first isn’t very encouraging, it’s waxy and immediately gives off sweet and powder milk notes. But then it gets a little creamier as it melts, it’s a little malty, a little bit of salt in there. It’s very sweet. They’re not so much a chocolate as a simple kind of mockolate tablet. I can’t say that I love them, but didn’t mind eating them as much as I thought.
Overall, I have very little interest eating these when there are so many better things I can do with 220 calories and $1.39 that don’t contain palm oil. Ghirardelli makes such nice baking chips, it’s a shame these can’t just be those.
Here’s a little factory video, which is so utterly charming that I forgot I didn’t like them that much.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.