Friday, July 12, 2013
I went through my list of candies that I haven’t reviewed and wanted to do a little roundup with at least some basic impressions. Today I have a little theme of Figs, since I had four products with fig as an element still sitting in the review queue.
I have a black fig tree in my back yard, this photo shows what was the best harvest of my 15 years in this home way back in 2006. This year I got one delicious fig off the tree, then returned two days later in hopes that the others were ripe only to find that the critters got them all. So I must turn to candy for my fig fix. (Well, that’s not entirely true, I buy fresh figs from time to time and dried ones as well.)
The packaging is mostly utilitarian but did an excellent job of protecting the chocolates inside. They’re not as decadent as some others I’ve had that might be soaked in liquor or filled with ganache. Instead this is the simple pleasure of dark chocolate and a sugary and crunchy whole, dried fig.
They were tasty, I enjoy the leathery and smoky notes of dried figs and chocolate. The chocolate was a little on the sweet side, I like a rather bitter chocolate with my very-sweet dried fruits. The figs were also a bit tough, but I suppose all that chewing just made them last longer.
For some reason I never documented the wrapper on this one, which is too bad. It’s the Dick Taylor Fig bar. It’s made in Arcata, CA, a place I used to live. It’s another bean-to-bar artisan chocolate company.
In this case the bar was beautifully molded and had all the things I liked about the fig/dark chocolate combo. There were lots of fruit and tannic notes, a bit of wood, tobacco and smoke. It was expensive though (I picked up the bar in NYC at The Meadow), I think about $9.00.
I finally found Liddabit in NYC when I was there last year, then a few months later there were places in Los Angeles selling them and a friend gave me this box of Liddabit Sweets Fig Ricotta Caramels.
The pieces are wrapped in wax paper. I wanted to love them, but there was something that wasn’t quite caramelly enough and not quite cheesy enough and lacking in the oomph and power of figs It could be the balsamic vinegar was too much tangy for a sweet. I love Liddabit’s bars, but I find that I’m very picky about caramels, especially when they have so many elements going on.
Little did I realize the extraordinary packaging within. First, the three ounce package has three one ounce bars. Each is individually wrapped in foil, then has a sleeve with a black and white fashion photos (each is different). They’re all tucked into the envelope style paperboard box. (All using recycled packaging.)
Dove and Seeds of Change (both run by Mars) tried this style of packaging a few years ago, but reverted back to the single bar. Personally, I prefer the inner wrapped portions, because I don’t eat a 3 ounce bar in one sitting and don’t have enough friends who can share one ounce portions at the same time. It’s easy to pull one out and toss it in a lunch bar or purse as well.
The chocolate itself is good, it’s quite dark and Seattle Chocolates definitely did well in their sourcing for this assortment of bars. In the line of bars there are a few quirky hipster sort of versions like Agave Quinoa Sesame but others are classic like Veracruz Orange.
I didn’t think there were enough bits of fig and pistachio in there, or maybe they weren’t distributed well. There’s a bit of salt, I think from the pistachios, that again wasn’t distributed well. On the whole it was good, but I only ate one of the three bars. It’s all Kosher and all natural.
On the whole, I want to give this line another try but they’re not a bean to bar company. So I find myself drawn to other bars that are truly unique and am probably missing out on products like the JCoCo line which is more of what I’d call a curated product - where the chocolatier sources finished chocolate and formulates inclusions and flavor combinations themselves.
Though I don’t think I found a new favorite in this series of explorations, all were good. (I think if I were to go buy a fig and chocolate item right now, it would be the Compartes chocolate covered figs.)
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Based in Southern California, Sugarfina brings a chic aesthetic to all their candy with their minimalist packaging in robin’s egg blue and square formats. The candy is sold in “bulk” that is, it’s repackaged by them and sold in an array of different weights. They have created a superb curated list of candies. Some you’ll recognize, but their biggest selling point is an array of exquisite European candies that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.
Candy is sold in little boxes of different weights or in mixed boxes (they call Bentos) that make excellent gifts. Their team truly understand that candy should appeal first to the eye and then to the rest of the senses.
I still get plenty of offers for free candy samples, but lately it has to be something pretty special to get me to bite. But when you see this list of candies, you’ll see what got me interested. Today I’m presenting the assortment of gummis (and one jelly candy). All of the gummis are from Germany and most feature natural colors.
Bitty Berries is a mix of three different gummis. There’s a large raspberry looking gummi that has a rather raspberry flavor. Then there are three smaller berries, kind of like petite blueberries that are different colors and flavors. The light amber ones are like a white grape juice flavor, lightly tangy but with a black currant note to them. The pink version is and the purple is like a jammy raspberry. Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Bilberry.
They’re just exquisitely beautiful. Even when I wasn’t interested in eating them, they were just too cute to look at.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Champagne Bears come in two colors: a soft peachy pink and a lightly yellow clear. The clear is like a clean apple juice flavor with a light peppery note. The peachy one is, well, much the same. I couldn’t really tell them apart except that sometimes the pink one seemed to be a little more raspberry flavored. They’re firm and intense. They’re well formed and held their shape well, even though they were jammed into their little cube.
I liked them, but didn’t think that they were anything better than the new juicy Haribo. But I do like the colors and think that for a special occasion, they’d be a nice favor.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Sugar Peach Sweethearts - I was pretty scared of these. They smelled strongly of peach, not in a bad way but in a strong way. They were so strong that I had to take them out of the bento box and sequester them by themselves so as not to contaminate the chocolate pieces they were co-mingling with. So I was afraid that they’d be overwhelmingly chemical tasting.
Quite the opposite is true. They’re little miracle pieces, on the tongue they actual feel for a moment like a real peach. The texture of the sugar sanding is velvety like the fuzz of the peach. The flavor is at once tangy and fruity and honey-sweet and floral and woodsy, like actual peaches. There’s no weird artificial coloring in there to give it a metallic aftertaste. They’re a bit more tart that I’d probably like if I were to eat them by the handful, but as a little refresher on a hot day when I have a dry mouth, these are unbeatable.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Queen of Hearts were billed on the website as three different flavors: pineapple, grapefruit and black currant. They’re also three different sizes of hearts. So it’s a lovely looking combination, although the largest heard gets folded over a bit inside the little cube.
Pink was indistinct, but reminded me enough of pineapple to make me think that’s what it was. Slightly floral with a tart bite and a crisp flavor to it. It was more like canned pineapple though not as syrupy.
Clear tastes like peach. I’m not sure what flavor it was supposed to be, I was hoping it was the promised grapefruit, but it was tangy and a little peppery. (I did notice that the peach mentioned earlier were very strong, I was wondering if the flavor migrated from the more delicate grapefruit.)
The dark one was definitely black currant. It was strong and had notes of wine and deep boiled cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cuba Libre is simply amazing. It’s a cola gummi, so far so good, with a little softer bubble of rum within. It’s stunning. The cola flavor is spicy and tart, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps a little warm kick of ginger but nothing overt and then the acidic bite of lemon. The rum is sweet and a little on the caramel side. I’ve never seen these anywhere else, and I can’t believe they aren’t being imported and sold in the US by the cargo container as it is. If there’s a reason to order from Sugarfina, it’s the Cuba Libre gummi.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Minty Polar Bears are downright weird and I’ll go ahead and warn you that they’re not mint. They’re like a bubble gum flavored mentholated chewy cough drop. The first note on the tongue is a little tartness then a huge whiff of what I can only describe as acetone (which I sometimes get confused with banana flavoring). Then there’s a menthol hit, a little more of a sort of mild lime flavor and the bitterness of that zest. It all ends with a slight queasy feeling.
I’ve had eucalyptus gummis before and liked them quite a bit, so I was hoping for something like that. I find them curious enough that I continue to sample them from time to time. But I never feel like I want to eat another one, just that I should.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Heavenly Sours are little stars, comets and crescent moons in fruity flavors. They’re sour sanded and come in lovely naturally tinted colors. They’re not actually gummis, they’re jellies. They’re made in the US, not in Germany like most of the other gummis from Sugarfina. They’re tart and have nicely distinguished flavors. Orange is a zesty and tart orange. Lemon is wonderfully sour. Blue is raspberry and a little overdone. Red is cherry and is, well, cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
As a thank you gift or something for someone who has everything, this is a great option. It’s not cheap, so it’s not something I’m likely to treat myself to very often. They also have lots of themed boxes and kits, so it’s easy to pick for Coffee Lovers, Licorice Aficionados, or Caramel Fiends. The large bento boxes with 8 x 4 ounce boxes of treats are $50. By the pound, the candy is $17.50.
They do a good job of labeling for allergies as well, even if they won’t tell me who make those Cuba Libre gummis.They’re currently only available via the web, but there’s talk of a store in the future here on the west side of Los Angeles.
Monday, July 08, 2013
The trend towards mixing savory and sweet has been going on in the confectionery world for quite a while. Combining salty, crunchy pretzels and sweet milk chocolate is not a strange notion. There’s no reason that any number of herbs and spices can’t be combined with chocolate to great effect. It’s great to see different cultural takes on, like curry or smoked chili or lavender.
The Lindt Wasabi bar is certainly not the first chocolate bar to include the Japanese horseradish. But the others I’ve had were from Japan (the KitKat) or from small chocolatiers.
The bar was just introduced, but when I saw it at Target, it already had a Clearance label on it (marked down from $2.49 to $2.11) while the expiration isn’t until the end of November. I believe Lindt already has a successful bar with their Chili and I also liked the Touch of Sea Salt Dark bar.
This bar is not particularly dark, it’s only 47% cocoa solids. And the ingredients aren’t anything special either, the wasabi is artificial.
Though I don’t like a lot of spicy foods, such as those made with chili peppers, I am fond of horseradish and wasabi. (I also enjoy curry and ginger.)
The bar smells sweet and earthy, with notes of horseradish right away. But there’s also a sort of metallic note to that as well, like a bag of pennies. The bar has a wonderfully smooth melt, though it’s quite sweet. It’s smoky and the chocolate is rich but immediately overpowered by the prickly wasabi flavor. It’s not terribly spicy, but has a little mustard seed kick to it and warms my throat.
As far as an enjoyable confection, this is not. It’s a novelty to me, and 3.5 ounces was far too much. I’m fine with the occasional fine chocolate that uses it as an accent for some sort of combination but for the most part I want my chocolate to either challenge me to search my taste archives for flowers, tea, exotic fruits and fine cognacs or to comfort me with the gentle flavor of plain old chocolate.
Monday, July 01, 2013
One of my favorite candy bars as a teen was the Heath Bar. At that time it came as a pair of bars, not yet made by Hershey’s. Each little plank of crisp toffee was coated in milk chocolate. With careful work I could cleave off the chocolate with my teeth leaving a pristine and nearly translucent piece of toffee for slow consumption.
Now that the bars all one piece, I’m not as fascinated by them. Ratios matter as do dimensions.
Flash forward the new century as Hershey’s is making a candy coated piece version of all their favorite candy bars. It’s all part of the Morselization trend. The Hershey’s Heath Pieces feature a milk chocolate morsel studded with toffee and almond bits in a candy shell in muted earthy colors.
The back of the package exhorts buyers to Enjoy Delicious Milk Chocolate Toffee in Pieces ... in the car! ... on the go! ... at home! ...with family & friends!
The package also lists a website, www.piecescandies.com which is nice enough but makes no mention of this product.
They’re lovely and well made little lentils. They’re nearly identical in dimensions to M&Ms, except they’re a little puffier in the center and don’t have the sharp angle around the edges. Quite a few of mine had chipped edges, but that seemed to be the harsh way I treated them on the way home. They come in three colors: cream, medium brown and dark brown.
Inside is an inconsistent mixture of very sweet milk chocolate, toffee and almond. They’re exceptionally sweet and have a less chocolatey experience than the regular Almond Pieces. The crunchy shell and the toffee work well together. They’re both crunchy, but the toffee has a little pop of salt and buttery texture to it. Every once in a while I would catch a chip of almond as well.
The whole effect was sweetness, though not always in a bad way. I think I’d prefer them mixed in with some straight chocolate baubles (though it appears they’re not making the Special Dark Pieces any longer). But what I really found I liked better than these are from Marich and also sold at Trader Joe’s. These would be great for baking and on ice cream.
Like many Hershey’s products, they’re not ethically sourced or certified at this time, though Hershey’s has a published plan. There are a lot of ingredients in there though nothing terribly surprising or disturbing. There was no note on the package about the peanut or gluten status though it does contain soy, milk and almonds. My guess is that it’s made in the same facility as Reese’s Pieces so may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, June 28, 2013
It’s as if I’ve got a theme going with all these new products that are bite versions of the established candies. Today it’s a nibble from American Licorice’s popular Sour Punch line. These are Sour Punch Punchies and are described, simply as: soft,chewy, sour candy.
The two ounce bag has nuggets of candy coated wheat-based sour chews in five flavors: lemon, strawberry, tangerine, blue raspberry and green apple. They’re similar to the Chewy Sour Extinguisher that they released a few years ago, which had sour nuggets along with a magic one that would neutralize your ability to taste sour temporarily.
Sour Punch Straws and the later Sour Punch Bits are sour chews with a wheat flour base, like Red Vines. They usually have a sour sanding on the outside and a more intense flavor than a regular Red Vine. They’re devilishly messy, as the sanding tends to get everywhere. I also found that one straw was often more than I wanted as a portion. I like sours, but not in large quantities as age has finally taught me that too much sour is bad for my tongue if I’d like to use it for the following days.
The Sour Punch Punchies are have a core of Sour Punch Bits and then a candy coating similar to a jelly bean - it’s smooth on the outside but a little grainy and not crunchy. The colors are bold and very vivid.
Tangerine was the flavor I tried first, because it was bound to be good. The sourness was great but also had a nice hit of zest right away. The grain of the coating reminded me of Lemonheads, since there’s a bit of a “peel” effect with a sourness at the margin between the shell and center. The center is a little gummy and pasty and has a slight wheat flour note to it, as most of the Sour Punch products do.
Blue Raspberry is floral and seedy and sour. It’s very artificial at times, but an overall winner.
Lemon was right up there, again, bringing a lot of the qualities that I love about Lemonheads, but with more flavor in the center.
Strawberry was milder and like a smoothie in a way, not quite as sour but with a creamy note that the chew at the center brought in.
Green Apple was pure artificial in all the right ways. It tasted nothing like actual apples (as some candies will straddle the line) but more like Jolly Ranchers amped up. The sourness was not as strong as the lemon, which was by far the most intense.
There’s enough acid in there to burn my tongue before I finished the bag, I was able to eat less then half before I got a stomach ache. They’re really pretty to look at and I loved the flavor variety in the package better than the Airheads Bites (mostly because I like citrus and strawberry better than cherry and watermelon).
Wheat flour is a major ingredient, so they’re not gluten free. But there’s no gelatin but they do use confectioners glaze, so they’re not vegan. There’s also a lot more sodium in there, 170 mg, than I would have expected in a candy like this. They’re made in the USA and Kosher.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
It seems like most of the new products I’ve been reviewing are new morsel versions of existing items. (I’m still trying to get the trademark of Morselization.) Today I have Airheads Bites from Perfetti Van Melle.
The category of candy known as Airheads has always been a bit of a curiosity for me. If you’ve never had them, they’re small, flat bars of tangy chew. They’re not taffy or a chew in the same sense as Starburst or Mentos. One of the main constituents is dextrose, which is the same stuff you find in SweeTarts. They really are just soft, chewy SweeTarts.
They come in watermelon, blue raspberry, cherry, orange, and lemon.
The ingredients are interesting:
I had to wonder, after looking at them, what makes them different from Skittles or Starburst? Well, they just are.
The pieces are rounded and rather flat, so they don’t roll around. The coating is shiny but more like a jelly bean’s grainy sugar coating that’s polished than the crunchy sugar shell of a Skittle. The real difference here is the center. It’s pure Airhead. The chew is stiff and grainy but immediately flavorful.
Orange is sweet at first then very tangy and descends into a pleasant and consistent grain before dissolving quickly.
Watermelon is green and quite vibrant. Again, it starts sweet and then gets tart and slightly more artificial. They all dissolve away very quickly.
Blue Raspberry starts very floral and doesn’t get as sour as they others, but is more like a bubble gum flavor.
Lemon is yellow and is weird at first, with a strong household cleaner note that then becomes a rather standard lemonade mix flavor.
Cherry is quite normal and reminded me a lot of Life Savers. It reminded me that I’m getting to like cherry more than I did 10 years ago.
Overall, they are tasty little bits and far easier to eat than the ordinary Airheads bars. I liked the flavor diversity in the single package. I found mine at 7-11, so they’re out in stores now. They come in another version called Airheads Bites Berry.
I was sorry to see that these were not for vegetarians (gelatin). I was also a little surprised to see that they’re made in China, as the factory for Airheads is in Kentucky. Maybe they’re just trying out the product and will make them locally if they’re a hit. There was also no mention of allergens on the label, so I don’t know about gluten for those concerned.
Monday, June 24, 2013
When some folks love a particular product, they can be pretty specific about it. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate is known worldwide, and because it’s so popular it’s made in several different locations around the globe. I’ve had Cadbury from Australia, South Africa, the UK, the United States and now Ireland.
I picked up these Cadbury Dairy Milk bars that have little crisps in them. The Dairy Milk Golden Crisp is milk chocolate with golden honeycomb granules. It’s a bit bigger than an ordinary single serving bar, at 54 grams, that’s 1.9 ounces.
The Cadbury Dairy Milk in Ireland is much like the UK version I’ve had, it’s made with a dash of vegetable oil. I can’t quite decide if this means that it’s mockolate or still chocolate, as it’s a small amount, but still replaces some of the much better cocoa butter that could have been in there. This chocolate also uses two emulsifiers, PGPR and ammonium phosphatides, which is similar to lecithin but made with rapeseed and glycerol instead of soy.
The bar has a wholesome milky scent to it, not too sweet. There are a lot of little honeycomb bits in there. The honeycomb is also known as sponge candy or cinder toffee. It’s aerated boiled sugar, it’s usually a little salty tasting since it uses sodium bicarbonate to make the foamy texture.
I love sponge candy, so this was definitely a plus. It’s less sweet than other crunchies can be, so it moderated the heavily sugared milk chocolate. Still, the chocolate was more on the fudgy and grainy side of things. It’s candy, not fine chocolate, so I considered it satisfying in that respect.
The ingredients were the same except for the notation for the honeycombed granules, which contain vegetable extracts of spinach, stinging nettle, and Tumeric.
The Cadbury milk chocolate is 23% milk solids and 20% cocoa solids. I guess the rest is sugar and vegetable oil.
The minty bar didn’t seem to have quite as many honeycomb bits in it. What it did have was a lot of mint. The peppermint was strong, though it was flavoring the chocolate, not the honeycomb ...so it’s not quite a Peppermint Bark experience. The milk is sticky sweet and the mint seems to highlight that, instead of diluting it. The chips were crunchy and had that lightly salty note to them. It didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the Golden Crisp, but still found it engaging.
Overall, I didn’t sense too much that was better with the Irish version of Cadbury except that I liked this size of bar better than the large 100 gram tablets. I’m not a huge Cadbury fan, if anything, I’d opt for Kraft’s upscale and ethically sourced Green & Black’s dark milk chocolate. (And comparing the import price I paid for these bars, it’s actually a better deal.)
Friday, June 21, 2013
As you would expect from the name, they’re mini versions of the regular Starburst chews. They’re also unwrapped. (Some folks who make chains from the wrappers will not find this to be a selling point.) The flavors are the same as the Original packages: orange, lemon, cherry and strawberry.
A wrapped Starburst is .75 inches square and approximately .33 inches high. Each is approximately 5 grams. The new Minis are slightly more than .5 inches square, though the sides are not straight, they’re pinched and are .25 inches high. So my calculations show that they’re about one third the size.
What’s more interesting is the ingredients list. Starburst contain gelatin. So, they’re off limits to vegetarians and have never been Kosher/Halal to my knowledge.
Starburst Minis do not contain gelatin. They use pectin, which is derived from vegetable/fruit sources. In addition to the artificial colors, the other ingredient of concern to some folks would be the use of confectioners glaze, which has shellac in it. Shellac is derived from insects,so it is not a vegan product. It is gluten free. Also, oddly, this is made in Mexico. (I checked my other recent Starburst purchase of Starburst Very Berry but confirmed that they were made in the USA.)
Aside from the size and the enhanced ability to combine flavors, the other difference is texture. I found that the pieces were slightly aerated. They weren’t as dense as a regular wrapped Starburst, and also not quite as intensely flavored. But they’re softer and easier to chew. The chew had the same long-lasting flavor and lack of grain ... but a lighter dissolve on the tongue (I think because of the aeration).
They don’t do well in humid climates. Humidity in Los Angeles, lately, has been around 40% and they’ve done well, but one damp morning and they were rather stuck together. I left them in the office overnight where it’s air condition and they separated again. So if you’re in a humid area, you might want to stick with the wrapped version or keep these sealed in a zipper bag when you’re not busy consuming them.
The key feature to recommend the Starburst Minis is not their size, it’s the fact that they’re unwrapped. But I’m sure there are a lot of folks who will hone in on the fact that they don’t have gelatin in them. I don’t like the texture as much, but I can see the appeal of these, especially in circumstances where the wrappers are a hindrance, such as snacking on a plane or in a movie theater. But mostly I figure Skittles are mini Starburst - not quite the same flavor array, but a good approximation and they don’t stick together.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.