Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Though they’re called Sweet Treats Cupid Hearts, they’re also marketed and sold for folks looking for themed candy for baby showers. They come in mixes like pink and white and blue and white. I found mine at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles, but I also saw them at Michael’s and some other party planning shops. I don’t know much about this Sweet Treats brand, the candy itself is made in China but the bag says that it’s packaged and distributed by Metro Candy Sales of Vacaville, CA.
The Cupid Hearts have one of my favorite ingredients list of all time:
So, the first ingredient is the bulk of the candy, and when I say bulk, I’m guessing that it’s more than 90%. Maltodextrin is a polyscaccharide made up of many molecules of glucose (it varies depending on the formulation - it could be as few as 3 or as many as 20). So it’s basically sugar but it’s not quite as sweet as the sucrose we’re accustomed to but has all the calories. There’s very little else to this candy. They’re made by pressing the powder under high pressure, like making pharmaceutical pills and then they’re dumped into a big rotating drum (a panning machine) to get a shiny, colorful coating.
My understanding is that these are vegan (though magnesium stearate can come from animal sources, it’s far cheaper to buy the vegetable sourced version).
The pieces are thick and well formed to look like hearts. The colorful glaze, however, is inadequately applied. The crotch of the hearts on the blue ones were predominantly unfilled gaps. I don’t see this as a feature, just lack of quality control. (They were all like that in the store, the pink and white ones also looked the same.)
The bag smells slightly floral, like a generic fabric softener sheet. The candies have a light crunch, the centers are firm but not too sandy but easy to bite. They are all sweet except for that floral flavor, there’s no tartness, no tang, nothing fruity or spicy that indicates they’re food and not toilet bowl cleaner.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re decorative. You can let people eat them, but I don’t recommend it. It’s not that they’re bad, but at 120 calories per ounce, there are far better things to do with your discretionary calories. At $4.00 for 10 ounces ($6.40 for a pound), I also thought they were darned expensive considering the fact that the same store was selling the far prettier Oak Leaf Hearts for only $2.40 a pound. Even the Wonka Heartbreakers are a better deal.
Update: It’s been suggested that they may be more like sachet beads than candy; they should be placed in little gossamer bags, tied with a bow and then left in the car to keep it smelling fresh.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Birthday Cake Milk Chocolate M&Ms are out on shelves even though Mars announced that they would be released in May 2014. The new cake flavor comes right on the heels of the Walmart-exclusive Red Velvet M&Ms that also came out this year.
The description is rather vague: Delicious milk chocolate infused with birthday cake flavor creates an exciting new treat worth celebrating. Part of my confusion comes from an actual non-standardization of birthday cake as a singular flavor. Is it yellow cake with vanilla icing? Is it devil’s food with chocolate frosting? Is it an ice cream cake with candle wax? I’m going to go with chocolate cake and white (vanilla) icing, since that’s what the red M is holding on the package.
It’s unclear if this is a new permanent addition to the M&Ms varieties, which currently include: Milk Chocolate, Peanut, Dark Chocolate, Dark Peanut, Peanut Butter, Almond, Dark Mint, Raspberry, and Pretzel plus other seasonal varieties. They currently come in two package sizes, the stand up bag holding 8 ounces shown here and the single serve version.
The candy coated chocolates are quite big and very bright in primary red, yellow and blue. I noticed that they had the same cracking and dusting problem I experienced with my Red Velvet M&Ms earlier this year. I don’t know if it’s because they’re bigger or that the specialty versions just get treated more roughly than regular versions. I polished them individually for their photo shoot. (Really.)
They do smell sweeter, with a little more of a vanilla note than regular M&Ms. They’re not that different from regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, except that they’re bigger. They’re not that good though, the novelty of the flavor wears off after about five of them. They just seemed sweeter ... the chocolate certainly isn’t great. I’ve noticed that the quality of the chocolate is one item that Mars has not been focusing on over the years, instead it’s been the added flavors, colors or special printing you can get on the shell.
I did try them compared to the Red Velvet M&Ms, since they’re both based on cakes. What I noticed is that the Red Velvet tasted more like buttered popcorn but also had a bit more of a tangy note. The Birthday Cake, on the other hand, has an Angel Food Cake note of baked sugar and vanilla.
I’ll stick to the Almond M&Ms, just in case anyone was wondering which M&Ms to have at my birthday party.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Friday, February 7, 2014
The weblisting for the product says that they’re pastel, but they’re much brighter than that. It’s hot pink, magenta/purple, turquoise blue and light yellow. The heart shapes are small, rather pillowy in form and about the size of a nickel.
I wasn’t really interested in how they tasted, at this price, it was more about having a pretty candy jar filled with little hearts before Valentine’s Day to share with co-workers. That was about two weeks ago and the jar is empty. (I didn’t eat them. But they were popular.)
These are not tart candies. I don’t think there are any acid flavorings at all in here. They might be flavored, but it’s so mild it’s hard to say for sure.
Purple is a lightly floral grape. Red has some strawberry notes. Blue is a kind of bitter raspberry, really the only flavor in the bunch I didn’t care for. Yellow is lightly lemony, quite fresh.
They’re pretty. They make a nice decoration, but not really very good candy. There’s nothing to offend anyone, no weird flavors because there’s barely any flavor at all. But I’m not saying that they’re not compelling, they’re gorgeous to look at and easy to munch. I’ve had other much more flavorful Oak Leaf candies before, so this must be from a much more subtle line of candy than I like.
Ultimately the review around the office was that they were too pretty to pass up. But no one wants me to buy them again. Kind of a weird relationship to have with candy. Personally, I’d prefer the Wonka Heartbreakers, so that’s what I’ve been eating while others have emptied the jar.
The SweetWorks website lists these as gluten free and nut free, though take care if you get them from a bulk bin (if you have concerns about cross contamination, it’s always best to get it in a factory sealed package).
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Hershey seems to have made everything in their current brand lineup into a Valentine’s version by making it heart shaped. Reese’s, York, Bliss, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Special Dark… if they couldn’t make it heart-shaped, they jammed it into a heart-shaped box.
The Jolly Rancher Sours jellies have been around for at least 8 years (previous review). I don’t know when they started making the heart version, but they’re basically the same product. There are four different, very identifiable Jolly Rancher flavors. I tried them when they first came out, but I figured this was a nice opportunity to revisit them.
The jelly hearts are rather small and sanded with a mix of sugar and sour powder. They’re lightly colored and well made. Some jelly candies can get damp and sticky, but these didn’t get stuck together and are all of a consistent size and shape.
Green Apple is a light green. The flavor is that inimitable Jolly Rancher apple flavor. It’s juicy but slightly artificial. It’s not as tangy or as long lasting as I would have liked and has a lingering aftertaste, like it’s made of artificial sweeteners or something.
Watermelon is another flavor that’s highly identified with Jolly Rancher. The tartness is largely missing from this, but the floral and slightly musk-melon notes are there. It’s quite sweet towards the end, but in a pleasant way.
Cherry is almost spicy, it has more of a baked cherry pie flavor than I think I expected. The result is that I actually liked this quite a bit.
Orange is well done, it starts out tart and even the rough sugar sanding gives it an authentic fresh peeled orange texture. The sweet orange finish has just a light hint of zest.
Overall, for a product labeled sour I found them pretty weak. But without that expectation, they were quite nice ... not overly intense, much more like a movie candy that I could eat without worry about blistering my tongue. I just wish the flavor assortment was more of my style ... maybe for next Valentine’s Day they’ll make Cinnamon Fire Hearts. If you’re looking for some really intense sour sanded hearts, I’d make an effort to find Gimbal’s Sour Lovers (which are also sold under the Target brand this year).
Monday, February 3, 2014
The pieces are small compressed dextrose centers with some layers of hard sugar on top with some extra flavors in there. Classic Gobstoppers had many layers and flavors, but Wonka doesn’t make those any longer because they can take weeks to create from a center the size of a sesame seed. So they use a large SweeTart type candy at the center and the coating changes flavors only a handful of times.
A lot of candies get revamped over time. As I’ve heard unofficial from a Wonka insider, the classic SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies changed size & shape because the original equipment broke and since it was used only for that product line, they decided to reformat the molds to be more consistent with the Valentine’s and Christmas shapes.
The Everlasting Gobstopper HeartBreakers shifted colors in the newly available version for 2014. It’s not a drastic change, but a small tweak.
Cherry is mellow, with a sweet cherry flavor. After the top layer dissolves away, the coating is yellow. It doesn’t take much then it’s crunchable and I can get to the SweeTart-style center. The interior flavor is pretty neutral.
Watermelon is sweet and fresh, a little unexpected for this type of candy. After the initial layer dissolves, the layer under that is also a medium pink. The center is lightly tangy, but not overly sour. The layer under the watermelon-pink is also watermelon-pink.
Pineapple is delicate and light. It’s only slightly floral and fruity, but not tart bite. After the flavor dissolves away, the next layer is yellow. It’s smooth and cool on the tongue.
The classic HeartBreakers (above) were more vividly colored, with yellow and magenta instead of white and pink. While I miss the original colors and really don’t care much for the watermelon, I still love these. The limited palette is still attractive. I’m hoping the Easter version will also be back.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
It’s a great time to be alive as a candy eater. Though some folks lament the loss of the regionally made candy bars, there’s so much more diversity when it comes to sweets as long as you know where to look. There are artisanal versions of popular candies, crazy new flavors, and incredible combinations as well as candies that cater to specific dietary restrictions.
I’m pretty pleased to see that there are more options for organic and all natural candy bars than ever before with products from Justin’s Candy Bars, Ocho, Angell and Eli’s. The other new entry into this marketspace is Amy’s Organic, with their exhaustively long-named bars. Today I have the Amy’s Organic Andy’s Dandy Crispy Candy Bar which features rice crisps, almonds & caramel covered in chocolate. Though some of the bars in the Andy’s Dandy line are organic versions of existing bars, this one really has no match in the hypermegaglobal corporate candy world.
Like the other bars, this is actually a pair of bars. I like this approach, as it gives me the opportunity to save some for later or share. It also means that the chocolate coating is a more consistent ratio for more of the bites, since the bar is shorter. The dark coating is smooth and creamy, it has a nice flavor of it’s own that’s a little green (olive notes) but holds up well to the light, malty cereal flavors. The texture is not as airy as a Whatchamacallit and the almonds are just pieces in there, not an almond meal (like peanut butter) or whole nuts. The brown rice has less of a malt note than regular crisped rice, but it’s also barely sweet. It’s crunchy but gets a bit of a chewy texture of its own later. The caramel layer is barely perceptible, it does more to just hold it all together.
The effect of the bar is great, it’s crunchy but not too filling. It tastes more chocolatey than a Whatchamacallit, though I miss any sort of almond note to it, it’s really just there for an extra durable crunch.
The bars are free of GMO ingredients, gluten and preservatives. Made on shared equipment with other nuts, seeds and wheat. They contain soy, dairy and almonds.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops were introduced in 1870. The simple formula uses glycerine to soothe irritated throats. By 1930 the company was sold to Life Savers, which was a natural fit, as they had wide distribution and the throat drops were a nice complement to the candy roll line. By the late 1990 the brand was sold several times, lost national distribution and fell into obscurity before disappearing entirely.
Of course consumers didn’t forget about them, and soon there was enough of a groundswell on the internet to get the drops back on the market. In 2011 they finally returned with the most fashionable flavors: Wild Cherry and Honey. The return of Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops really couldn’t be considered complete until the Licorice flavor was also revived.
I find them reliably at CVS drug store chains, though others may carry them as well. It’s nice to see them in national distribution and there was even a commercial on at the top of the Golden Globe Awards to build brand awareness.
The Licorice drops are the same shape and size as the Cherry and Honey. They’re about 3/4 of an inch long and at first seem hard. In the mouth they soften quickly. They’re not chewy, but dissolve smoothly to form a coating, soothing syrup in the throat.
The licorice flavor is clean, with a clear anise or fennel note. There’s no molasses in here, so it doesn’t have all that earthy, minerally flavor that a licorice vine might feature. Instead this is just sweet, light and soothing. They’re much softer when they’re fresh, I opened my bag and let them get a little harder, as I will absolutely try to chew them if they’re soft and should know better than that.
The only issue I have with them is that they use artificial colors ... I’m not sure why, I don’t need them to be black. I don’t notice the flavor influenced by it at all, but why am I paying for that? There is no nutrition panel on the package, this is not food, there is instead the Drug Facts panel which has the directions for use (allow to dissolve in the mouth). They’re made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts but contain no soy, dairy or wheat products.
I could eat these all day. I have been eating them all day. I’m glad they’re back.
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