Monday, August 31, 2015
Lindt has expanded their friendly HELLO line of chocolates with a handful of panned products. The Lindt Hello Minty Bites come in a stand up bag that holds 5.3 ounces. They’re pretty much the most expensive chocolates you can buy at Target, but also a very reliably good brand of chocolate.
I picked up mine on sale for $4 a bag, though they’re usually about $4.50. The package does a good job of vaguely describing the product: Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cubes (natural flavor). But the description on the front, the propaganda on the back, and the images do noting to show what the product actually is. I assumed they were a fondant center, like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Instead, they are unique, which is a good thing to set them apart from other offerings, but also took a bit to get used to.
The dark chocolate coating is glossy and creamy and pretty thick. The chocolate is not very dark, there’s no percentage on the package and does have added milk fat and milk. The pieces are not completely spherical; they’re more oblate like M&Ms. The centers are like a jelly. They’re made from sugar, apple, pineapple fibers, sodium alginate, green tea extract, dicalcium phosphate, citric acid and natural mint. Can you imagine that? Yeah, it’s a little weird.
The center reminds me a little bit of the Brookside fruit pieces, but they’re a little grainy. The flavor is only lightly minty and rather authentically like mint leaves. But there’s a tangy component ... so the effect is like a mojito, a little citrusy and a little minty.
I don’t know what to think of them. I didn’t love the, but I had no trouble eating the package eventually. The chocolate is ridiculously smooth and creamy, but after eating Brach’s & M&Ms chocolates for so long, sometimes I forget that chocolate in these types of candies can actually be really good. Of the three varieties of Hello Bites, these are the only ones with a dark chocolate coating (the others are Toffee Bites and Pretzel Bites), which is what I usually prefer. If you’re the type of person who likes the Brookside Fruits or Trader Joe’s Powerberries, these might be something you’d like.
Lindt’s new Hello Bites line is made in the USA. Most other Lindt products (at least the ones that I’ve reviewed) are made in Germany. Though the front of the package says natural flavor, there are artificial flavors (vanillin) and other ingredients like sodium alginate and dicalcium phosphate - they’re not necessarily “artificial” but not necessarily ordinary.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Brach’s has introduced over a dozen flavors of Candy Corn in the past five years. There are the more traditional flavors like Harvest Corn and Pastel Corn, but also some more trendy flavors like Carrot Cake, Caramel Macchiato and Red Velvet.
Though I find myself a purist when it comes to certain candies, I think that the fondant candies are ripe for this sort of flavor exploration. I also think a lot more could be done with shape. I’m not sure why we’re hung up on the layered corn. Perhaps it’s just economical to use the same mold for all new variations and use color to distinguish them. So, I welcome these new Candy Corn shaped flavor experiences.
Last spring Ferrara Candy announced the new Brach’s Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn and I was immediately intrigued. It’s a great idea, peanut butter cups are already layered and the flavors might translate well. Might.
The pieces look like a lot of other Brach’s candy corn pieces. They’re large and narrow and have a little notch that goes across the bottom layer and the middle of the center layer. The layers appear to be distinctive flavors, the base is cocoa, the center beige is peanut and the top is “white.”
The candy corn has an odd but convincing peanut aroma. It smells more like boiled peanuts than roasted peanuts, there’s a thinness about the scent that becomes more obvious when I ate them.
The ingredients list no peanuts or peanut butter. The only thing close is some sesame oil. There is cocoa in the ingredients list, in fact it’s the third item after sugar and corn syrup. I guess the peanuts are all in the natural and artificial flavors. I actually assumed they used defatted peanut powder in this, but sadly no.
The peanut layer is bland and has an artificial butter note to it and a sort of diluted peanut flavor, kind of like a cheap frosting. The cocoa base is decent and at least isn’t as sweet as the other layers.
I didn’t despise the Peanut Butter Cup Candy Corn, but I didn’t find it as good as I thought it could be. It’s still munchable, just not terribly distinctive. Throw it in with some popcorn or nuts for a snack, and it becomes more than passable.
Monday, August 24, 2015
The Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Caramels (and their Milk Chocolate siblings) are a rather pedestrian extension of the Hershey’s brand. They’re sold in either a pair of caramels in a single package or a stand up bag of something less than a half a pound. The price point makes you think that this is a premium product, I paid $4.29 for 7.2 ounces.
The packaging looks nice and does a good job of protecting the freshness and attractiveness of the product, but it’s maddeningly hard to open. Each caramel is individually wrapped and of the 13 or so pieces in the bag, I was able to open two without the aid of scissors. I can only assume that this is to either help with portion control or help the consumer work off some extra calories wandering around the house trying to figure out where the good scissors went.
My frustrations with the wrappers were ameliorated by the fact that every single caramel was gorgeous. They’re lovely rounded squares with a lightly domed top of thick dark chocolate. (Well, I don’t know how dark it actually is, the ingredients only call it semi-sweet and it contains milk fat.)
They smell nice, a mixture of brownies and hot chocolate. The bite is easy and soft, but not a runny caramel like the Cadbury Caramello bar. The caramel has an excellent smooth texture and good stringy pull, but it’s not quite stiff enough to satisfy me. The chocolate is passable, smooth and not chalky, and not too sweet.
The whole experience is lacking something, perhaps I’m spoiled by my comparably priced Trader Joe’s Butterscotch which strike me as a far better deal both because the price is better, the ingredients are a bit clearer and of course they taste fantastic or the far easier to find Storck Chocolate Riesen. I don’t see Hershey’s new product line surviving in the long run, they’re just not distinctive enough.
These caramels are made in Mexico and are made on equipment that also processes macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. Contains soy and milk. There’s no mention of gluten.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
The roll is substantial, both in the packaging and the contents. I was initially shocked at the price of $2.49 for a roll, but it is 2.25 ounces. The wrapper is a paper/foil style that is easy to open and actually re-closes pretty well, too.
The pieces are 1 inch in diameter. I pulled out some Giant Smarties I had sitting around as a comparison in the photo. There’s a vanilla note to the pieces once they’re unwrapped, but only from afar.
The candies come in five colors/flavors. In a little diversion from the standard Smarties, there are blue ones in there. The disks remind me a lot of game pieces or poker chips. One side is lightly colored and flavored, the other side is white. I can’t tell if it’s a distinct flavor of its own.
Purple is Grape and largely floral in flavor. It’s lightly tangy, but no actual grape flavor is in there. The floral notes are on the violet side of things.
Orange was disappointingly bland.
Yellow is Peach and by far the most tart of the array but not terribly peachy.
Blue is Blueberry, another floral flavor, but there is a light tart and jammy note in there. It actually ended up being my favorite flavor of the group.
Pink is Strawberry which is rather mild, which I think most people would be disappointed by.
Though I found them pleasant enough, there was a weird “B vitamin” note that I had trouble getting around. Though they’re certainly better tasting that Flintstone’s Chewables, at least then I’d be getting my RDAs.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Earlier this year Ferrero announced an innovation in the world of Tic Tac. They were creating layered flavors in a new line called Tic Tac Mixers and their first introductions would be Peach Lemonade and Cherry Cola. Because they’re beverages.
I wasn’t able to find the Cherry Cola but did see the Peach Lemonade at several locations and picked mine up at 7-11.
The press release described, “Peach Lemonade flavor Tic Tac Mixers: change from a peach flavor to the sweet flavor of lemonade.” But the reality is that peaches are sweet and lemonade is tangy.
If you’ve ever eaten a Yankee Candle Mango Peach Salsa Candle and thought, “That was unsatisfying.” You may find that this Tic Tac experience is preferable, but only slightly because this is actually meant to be eaten.
The initial flavor is definitely candle-like. It’s peachy in the most fragrant and least-food-like way. Unlike the candles, these don’t smell like anything in the package, the scent is only release in the mouth. The sweet peach layer gives way to a tangy layer that I think is supposed to be lemonade, but still has a strong peach note ... it’s tart and has a lot of zest but that combined with the lightly pine notes of the peach makes it all a bit caustic. The more I ate of these, the more my mouth burned like I might have been eating bits of lye.
The innovation of layering was definitely there, but I’ve always felt like Tic Tacs have a little layering to them. The standard peppermint has a bit of a fennel or anise on the outside and then peppermint inside. So doing a completely different flavor is cool ... but these are not the flavors I’m looking for. Strawberry Lemonade might be more up my alley.
I have to admit that the flavor did linger for a long time. I felt, for at least half an hour that I had “candle fresh breath.” That’s a thing.
Tic Tac Mixers are made in Canada.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Brach’s has reintroduced their whole line of chocolate panned candies over the past two years. They’ve redone their classic Bridge Mix and now have several varieties of chocolate covered nuts. One of the surprising new items is Brach’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites.
The gussetted, resealable bag holds a half of a pound. Like most other Brach’s products, the description on the package is only contained in the product name ... nothing else to go on except the very long ingredients list.
The image on the bag shows some chocolate pieces, and then a cross section of the actual candies ... sitting next to that is a rustic pretzel nugget and a little square of caramel. That is really not what the product is.
The little spheres are a great size, about the same size as a garbanzo bean or hazelnut. The milk chocolate coating is shiny and the bag had a nice sweet scent, a little on the milky side. The pieces have a good crunch, the pretzel center isn’t too hard or crumbly. The pretzel flavor was good, not too much of the washed crust that can get kind of bitter, and no big bits of salt. But upon eating the pieces, this is where the caramel part comes in. The caramel is actually little shards mixed into the milk chocolate. So at first it’s just a pretzel with some milk chocolate, but after chewing, the chocolate melts away and the starchy pretzel dissolves ... and what was left was some sort of tacky residue of hard caramel. It was weird and kind of waxy and unpleasant.
So, after a while I took to letting the milk chocolate melt away instead of crunching them up, but that was unsatisfying because then my pretzel would get mushy before the caramel bits were all gone. I’ve had other confections like almonds, that had a little toffee coating before the milk chocolate, I’m not sure why that wasn’t the process here.
I’ll pass on these in the future, which is too bad because it’s a unique selling proposition in the rather crowded field of morselized products.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Summer is citrusy, a time for lemonade and key lime pies. It’s nice to see some creamy citrus candies out there, too. Sconza Candy introduced their Lemoncello Almonds a few years ago, but this is the first year I’ve seen them in stores in their own branded packaging.
Limoncello is a citrus liqueur that’s extremely popular in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest (preferably Sorrento lemons) in a neutral spirit then adding some simple syrup. It’s naturally yellow and very lemony but not at all tart, since there’s no juice in there.
Sconza is known for their beautiful array of Jordan almonds. So, this confection, made in the heart of prime almond growing country, seems like a natural.
The ingredients are almost all natural, just a touch of artificial color in there.
The white chocolate coating is touched with a bit of lemon zest and coloring. It’s delicate, not overpowering or bitter. It’s not too sweet either while the almonds are generously large and crunchy.
There’s sometimes a disconnect for me when reviewing. There are my expectations and there are the realities. The reality is that this candy delivers on its description. The expectation, however, was that they’d be a nutty version of the Citrus Shortbread Bites I had earlier this year ...which had a bit more of a salty/sweet note along with sweet/sour and creamy/crunchy. Those were just my hopes, and I can’t fault Sconza for not meeting that.
Overall, it’s a good candy combination but very mild and safe. They’re a nice alternative to Jordan almonds, especially since there’s no hard shell, but also a delicate pastel color.
The candies contain milk, soy and almonds and are also made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, sesame seeds and wheat.
Monday, June 22, 2015
When I was in New York City earlier this year, I wanted to take advantage of the chocolate. I saw online that the Japanese chocolate company, Royce’, has several locations in Manhattan and offers tastings of the chocolate and Nama, truffle-like product. I don’t know that much about Royce’, but my experience with Japanese chocolate up until then was with mass-produced brands like Meiji, so I wanted to see what a single origin upscale brand might be like.
I stopped by a location on Madison Avenue, and was greeted promptly and offered some tastings. It’s a standard panel of tastings that focused on the Nama but also a few pieces of their plain chocolate disks. The chocolate was exceptionally smooth, flavorful but not intense. Since I was traveling and the fellow insisted that the truffles must be refrigerated, I bought a box of the Royce’ Pure Chocolate Venezuela Bitter & Ghana Sweet. This box contains two rows of rippled chocolate disks, one of 68% and one of 60% of two separate origins.
I wasn’t thrilled when I read the ingredients, finally after I left the store. I didn’t realize that a dark chocolate product would have milk in it, as if it were some Ghirardelli or Dove product. But it was really the artificial flavor that I thought was odd ... I can only assume them mean vanillin, in addition to real vanilla.
The little disks are individually sealed in cellophane. They’re a little over 1.5 inches across. It’s a nice, two bite piece.
The Ghana is quite sweet, very smooth and with a typical chocolate flavor profile. It’s brownies and chocolate milk and cocoa. There’s a little acidic note to it, but for the most part it’s woodsy and smoky and toasted. The melt is good, very smooth with an odd grit every once in a while.
The Venezuela has an immediate green note to the scent, a little like olives or boiled peanuts. The melt, again, exceptionally smooth. This is a bit more buttery though. The flavor is more acidic, less sweet with some stronger tannins. There are some red berry notes, more olives, black tea and tobacco.
I absolutely preferred the Venezuelan over the Ghana.
The box was price at $17 for only 7 ounces. The packaging is pretty spare looking, though the reality is there’s a lot of it. The paperboard box is wrapped in brown paper, but inside the box is a plastic tray for each of the chocolate disk rows. Then there was the individual wrappers. It all traveled well, and stores nicely. It’s been months and they’re still fresh and shiny, though there are only about 5 left.
Royce’ also makes chocolate covered potato chips, chocolate covered nuts, and chocolate bars with inclusions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.