Friday, January 13, 2006
While up at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, CA last month I discovered that there was another factory in the industrial park: Thompson’s Brands. I’d never heard of their chocolate before but Tomi, who gave me my tour at Jelly Belly said it was worth the stop. I realized when I got into the little shop that I’d probably seen and had their products dozens of times. They seem to specialize in foil wrapped chocolates and have a HUGE selection of them for all occasions at the factory store.
What caught my eye though were these cute little 1 ounce bars of organic chocolate. It’s getting easier to find organic chocolate these days, but it is pretty difficult to find them in smaller portions (most bars come in the 2.5-3.5 ounce size). They also had a large variety at 89 cents each I picked up one of each. I’m all about getting wholesome food that doesn’t pollute the planet. The big challenge has always been getting it at a price that’s reasonable (I’m willing to pay more, but not that much more) for a good quality product. Luckily Thompson has found a solid middle ground with price and taste.
70% Dark Chocolate: their darkest bar, this one has a nice sheen and good snap. The smell is chocolaty and slightly fruity. Upon tasting it there’s a distinct cherry note to it and some other woodsy qualities. A little bitter, but smooth. It also has a smoky charcoal note to it, that I detected in all the bars; it’s not an unpleasant taste, just a little different. Their website says that all their beans are from South America and I understand that a smaller variety of source beans can give chocolates a very distinctive taste (as witnessed by the single origin bars I’ve tried). It’s an exceptionally buttery chocolate and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
50% Dark Chocolate: this bar was very sweet, though had the same buttery quality of the others. The melt was a little less smooth with a more detectable grain. I didn’t care much for the “chocolateness” of it, it felt a little watered down by the sugar.
Milk Chocolate Almond: the Thompson milk chocolate is sweet, not terribly sticky feeling and has that European dairy flavor to it from using powdered milk. The combination of nuts and this style of chocolate gives it a rather twangy series of notes that are compelling and satisfying.
Milk Chocolate Caramel: this was the only bar that I think I could shovel down like “candy”. The caramel center isn’t terribly big, not a large reservoir like I’ve had in bars like the Caramello or Hershey’s with Caramel, but the caramel is nicely caramelized with a slight grain to it. Not runny but not quite chewy, it’s a nice balance for the milky bar because of the good hit of salt.
Milk Chocolate Truffle: when I think truffle, I think buttery smooth, soft centers. That’s not this. This is a firm truffle, more like a Frango. It’s not bad, smooth and lighter than the milk chocolate outside, but I prefer the plain dark, caramel or almond bar to this.
If you’re looking to indulge your children with chocolate but with an eye towards keeping organic, you also might want to explore their line of novelty items that include foil wrapped chocolates. Their pandas are pretty ding-dang cute. Unfortunately I don’t know what stores carry these items. Pop a comment here if you’ve seen Thompson’s in your stores. GroovyCandies.com seems to carry quite a bit of their traditional line. Thompson is also the company that makes the Adora Calcium Tablets.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
Before CandyBlog came into my life, I was completely unaware of the wonders of flaked and aerated chocolate. How can this be? I’m the kid who seemed to have as much fun blowing bubbles into my chocolate milk as I did drinking it.
It seems that the UK does not have the corner on the market when it comes to bubbly chocolates, I’ve now discovered these from Israel and Japan:
Elite Aerated Bittersweet Chocolate: This is the first semi-sweet bar I’ve tried that’s bubbly. I’m not even sure if Nestle or Cadbury make one anymore. This bar is large, about the size of a 100 gram one, but weighs only 85 grams. The pieces are oddly light in the hand and melt quickly on the tongue. The bubbles are very consistent and I think a little smaller overall than the ones in the Aero bars. Very sweet at first and with a nice sweet smell but perhaps a little too much fake vanilla to it. It’s very buttery on the tongue, though with a little grain towards the end but a nice crisp finish. This bar is 48% cocoa solids.
Lotte Airs: This isn’t a bar at all. Inside the box, after opening the plastic pouch you’ll find a tray with little pieces. (12 in all.) Kind of like the Dars I tried before. The Airs bar is milk chocolate but what’s really different about it is that there’s also hazelnut paste in there. It gives the bar a wonderful nutty aroma that mixes well with the dairy milk taste that might make it a little too sticky otherwise. The bubbles in them are very small, which gives it less of an airy feeling on the tongue, but it still has a good cool sensation. I love that it’s in pieces, which makes it easy to share. Also, the other aerated bars tend to be a little messy when you break off a piece. Lotte is so clever.
It looks like a bar of the future. Something that robots would eat. Or maybe robots would bring them to us. They’d enter the room through the shooshing automatic door with a tray full of snacks that we munch on while watching TV beamed directly into our optic nerve.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a Zero bar before, but I know I’ve seen them. They haven’t been a Hershey’s product for very long and if you go to the page on Hershey’s site you’ll see a long and detail history of who’s made the bar over the years.
It’s a fascinating bar, billed as “Caramel, Peanut and Almond Nougat covered with White Fudge.” But that really doesn’t describe it properly. The nougat is malted and there are peanuts and almonds and possibly soy nuts in there. But it was the malted part that surprised me. If you want me to buy this bar, you might want to mention that!
So, you’ve got this nougat that has an assortment of crunchy nuts in it with a dash of malt. On top of that is a caramel stripe and the whole bar is enrobed in “white fudge” which I’m guessing is like “white chocolate.”
It’s a very pretty bar.
And I was surprised to like it as much as I did. There must be a reason that it’s survived to this day and I’m guessing it’s partly its originality. I’m guessing the other reason might be its packaging and name. If you were to alphabetize your candy display, the Zero would be there with the Zagnut. The malt really stands out because there isn’t any chocolate to overpower it. I think I can taste the soy nuts in the nougat, which doesn’t upset me or anything, but it is a little odd for a “candy bar” (but expected in a nutrition bar).
If Hershey’s has a mind to improve the bar, I’d say a real “white chocolate” that has cocoa butter on it instead of the slightly chalky “white fudge” would make this one a real winner. (I just can’t get into all those hydrogenated oils.)
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
I hardly thought it was possible, but I found a marzipan I actually like. (See, I didn’t give up.)
The chocolate is good quality, slightly bitter but smooth and the center is a different kind of marzipan. It’s not the ultrafine paste that you find in some of the sculpted varieties. Instead this one has palpable bits of almond in it and a darker color (because of the coffee flavoring). There’s also only the slightest hint of amaretto, which is the actual thing I don’t like about marzipan. I love almonds, I just don’t like the “flavor” of almonds.
The bar doesn’t really have much of a capuccino flavor, but a pleasing scent and creamy quality that I found really compelling.
I doubt these are widely available, but I noticed that Cost Plus had quite a variety of this brand (they were on sale for the After Christmas clearance) so I might give their actual plain marzipan a try in the future or perhaps the Orange I saw on this site.
Interesting fact: Niederegger was founded by Johann Georg Niederegger on March 1, 1806 ... that means they’re going to celebrate their bicentennial of marzipan in a few scant months. Happy Birthday Niederegger!
I’m keen on sour things and I guess it’s pretty surprising that I’ve never had Airheads, let alone anything else in their line.
I saw these at the 7-11 and thought they were so intensely pretty that I had to buy them.
The colors are vibrant: red, yellow, green, orange and aqua. The flavor, as far as I can tell, is strawberry or possibly green apple or maybe a cross between the two. I dissected a couple of the belts to figure out if there was a difference in flavor between the colors and I couldn’t tell. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t, I just couldn’t figure it out.
They’re sour, but not in a toxic way. They’ve got a dusting of sugar crystals to keep them from sticky, but they’re soft and chewy. The best thing about them is that the flavor lasts all the way through the chew. Some chews lose their initial flavor, like they’ve been dusted or something when you chew them. But these are tangy and sweet all the way to the end.
The only complain I have is that as an adult I find them a little hard to eat. The sugar gets on my hands and I don’t want to eat the whole thing at once, so I’m left holding it or pulling it apart. As a kid, I’d probably think they were the coolest thing in the world and wouldn’t mind the sticky fingers in the slightest.
Interesting note: AirHeads are made by the same company that makes Mentos - Perfetti van Melle. The company is Italian, but the Xtremes were made in Spain.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
As I reviewed last week, Nestle is creating some limited edition bars. This tactic seems to encompass adding peanuts to current candy bars.
The Nestle Crunch with Peanuts is simply a Nestle Crunch bar with peanuts mixed in. Think of it as Mr. Goodbar meets Krackel (well, if you were in the Hershey’s universe). It’s a really nice bar and I like how the peanuts moderate the sweetness of the Nestle chocolate. I actually prefer it over the regular Crunch bar which I’ve always found a little too sweet and bland.
The crunches come from both the crisped rice and the roasted peanuts - so there’s variation in texture and taste. I certainly prefer it to the Crunch with Caramel they did a while back. It also seems to be more innovative than the White Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions from last year. I’m not likely to buy these, but if there were an assortment of Nestle miniatures with them in it, they’d certainly be one of the first I’d pick out.
The other thing I like about adding nuts to chocolate and other sweets is that it gives a little protein/fat punch to the sugar. I know it sounds odd to be talking about things like glycemic load when talking about candy, but I like to feel good while eating candy and an hour later, instead of having a severe sugar crash and getting the shakes.
NOTE: I’m not going to make a habit of revisiting previous reviews, but I was contacted by Jason Barba, the inventor of CraniYUMS! He pointed out the product that I tasted was probably not at its best:
I have to admit that I got my sample last summer and hung onto it for many months (and perhaps didn’t store it properly, as I opened the package, took the photo and didn’t eat it for several days). The new samples seemed “plumper” which leads me to believe that mine dried out a bit. Combine that with the candy center which was opaque instead of transparent and it seems like I had an over-ripe sample.
So, here’s an updated review.
What is it? It’s a hard candy lolly in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull then covered in a gummi “flesh”. The fleshy part is transparent, so you can see the skull shape at the center. It’s actually a pretty fun idea.
The skin is soft and pliable, like a very soft gummi (not the more firm ones like Haribo). The mellow, uncolored cherry flesh tears easily from the skeleton and reveals a transparent green skull in the shape of a T-Rex. The skin is pretty mild, not tart but not terribly sweet either. The center candy is dense and smooth in a very pretty shade of emerald green. The other flavor is lemon flesh with a cherry hard lolly center. The gummi on this one is actually really good - it’s very zesty with an intense burst of lemon essence. Again, not very tart, but really fragrant.
I’m obviously not the target market for this candy, but I can see it being a fun thing to pick up at a museum gift shop for my nephew should we go look at a dinosaur exhibit. It’s a good combination of taste, interactivity and design. I’m upgrading my review from a 5 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10. Still a little pricey, but a nice treat. If they made a giant ape one, they could sell them as a set for fans of King Kong! Maybe something to think about if you’re planning a DVD viewing party.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 2:16 pm
This was another one of the Eastern European sweets that a friend of a friend brought back that I’m just getting around to posting about. What I thought was rather interesting about it is that it’s made by a company owned by Kraft. I suspect that the original company has been around for more than a hundred years in Latvia or Lithuania and was bought by the international food corporation more recently and that the production has not changed markedly. But I am kind of at a loss to figure this one out, as the labels haven’t a bit of English on them ... not even any other languages I’m familiar with such as German, Italian or Spanish.
As far as I can tell, each 100 gram bar is milk chocolate. The Princas is dairy milk, the lighter of the two. It’s very smooth with a slight coconut taste to it. It’s exceptionally sweet with a good milky flavor. The chocolate is neither American style nor Swiss style. It’s less grainy than the American chocolates like Hershey or Mars but still as sweet. Overall it’s just good. Not great, but for mass-market chocolate it’s well packaged, fresh and tasty. It could use some more chocolate complexity but it’s certainly something that I’d pick up while traveling to keep in my purse for a little pick-me-up.
The Karuna was also very sweet, exceptionally smooth and had the same coconut flavor to it. It was a little stickier and with a slight hint of cinnamon-woodsiness to it.
I’m not quite sure what the difference between the two is except that the Kuruna is darker. Of the two I prefer the Karuna but I’d probably be pretty happy with either one. I’d probably munch on it with some pretzels or some other savory or bland salty treat (or maybe some shortbread).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.