Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Hard candy has a bad reputation as being cheap and a candy of last resort. Oh sure, a little starlight mint after a garlicky meal is usually gratefully accepted when offered. But really good hard candy is out there.
As a kid I often got them around holidays, just a small handful included in my stocking candy. As I grew up I learned to find them on my own ... and was pretty shocked at the sticker price, especially compared to the more affordable Zotz.
I don’t know when or where I got this tin. I think it was sometime in the late eighties, I’m pretty sure I bought it in Philadelphia or New York and I was probably mortified to pay something like three dollars for a little tin of lemon drops.
They’re made in Belgium and the packaging features the image of Napoleon Bonaparte. I have no idea when the candies originated or their history. The tin simply says: Le Bon Bonbon Napoleon Sour Lemon. The more recent bag that I acquired through a photo shoot for Candy Warehouse says Made by Napoleon-Breskens-Holland.
So even though I can’t tell you much about their background, I can review what I’ve got:
Though I most often see the Lemon, they also come in Cherry, Tangerine, Lime and Pineapple.
The candies are devilishly simple. Hard candy outside, and then a strip of super sour powder in the center. The powder center is often mistaken for a liquid, it’s rather cool on the tongue and so fine that it melts away instantly. It’s only before putting then in the mouth that I could really tell. (Yes, as a kid I sometimes broke them apart to create a big pile of super sour powder.)
These are insanely expensive. The ones in the top photo I bought at Miette in San Francisco last year for 25 cents each. They’re spherical and a little less yellow, but still the same flavor profile as the disk shaped lemon. The bags that Candy Warehouse sells are $7.10 a pound, and come in 7 pound bags. (Yes, at one time I had 14 pounds of Napoleon Bonbons - one of just lemon and one of the mix. I’ve eaten about three pounds so far.)
I’ve really vacillated between giving these a nine or a ten. The price is a formidable obstacle to perfection, but then again, I know I bought that tin when I was in college and had staggeringly little money so they must be worth it. So there you are, another 10 out of 10.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Skittles Sour have shifted their flavor array. Originally Sour Skittles were just a sour dusted version of the Fruit Skittles in Strawberry, Orange, Lemon, Grape and Lime.
Somewhere along the way they dumped the Lime in favor of Blue Raspberry (which is a bit odd, considering that limes are the only other naturally super sour fruit besides lemon). I reviewed this version back in 2007.
So the new version is: Lemon, Strawberry, Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Green Apple.
I think the addition of Green Apple is a natural evolution. It’s not one of my ideal flavors but really lends itself to a super-tangy version like this. The flavor was completely artificial, like some sort of off-gassing of some fresh plastic product, but that’s not necessarily a turnoff when it comes to ultra-artificial candies like Skittles.
The Watermelon is one of those bees in my bonnet. Unripe watermelon isn’t even sour, it’s just a different texture and lacking in sweetness ... it’s not like an unripe apple or strawberry. In this instance is a fake watermelon with a super burning blast of sour powder. It reminded me, though, of salty watermelon because of the sharp shock to the tongue.
Sour Skittles have their fanatical following, so I think it’s important for Skittles to cater to them. In my ideal candy world, the Sour Skittles would be more like the Crazy Cores, with a non-powdery shell that has the super tart blast and then the nicely flavored chew center. They’re really messy and even sealed packages are dusty and leave a sour residue on my fingers before I’ve even opened it. For me, I really only love the lemon one, so it’s not worth it for me to buy them.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The other new tweak on the market is Wonka Runts which seems to change their flavors about every 18 months lately. (Here’s my last review from March 2008.)
When originally introduced in 1982 Runts were Banana, Orange, Lime, Cherry and Strawberry. Each candy was shaped in some way like the fruit they were flavored for. Bananas are banana shaped, Oranges were little spheres, Strawberries were hearts, Limes were footballs and so on.
Then in the 90s instead of just a single substitution, Lime was removed and two new flavors were added, Watermelon and Blue Raspberry. Sometime in late 2007 there was a shift again and Watermelon, Cherry and Blue Raspberry left in favor of the more tropical Mango (a large football) and Pineapple (actually pineapple shaped!). I really liked the pineapple but many folks complained not only about the loss of their favorite flavors over the years, but also that the color variation was very citrusy.
So early this year I spotted the newest change.
Runts are now: Green Apple, Grape, Strawberry, Orange and Banana.
I was pretty excited about the Grape. They’re a big ovoid, I think the same mold as the Mango was. They’re extremely purple, but have that great fake grape flavor of SweeTarts or Spree.
The Green Apple is okay, but the addition of this flavor to the mix along with Grape makes this very similar to SweeTarts (though Banana still keeps these closer to the long-gone Wacky Wafers).
After munching on these for several days (it was a big 7 ounce box) I’m left with only the Green Apple ones, which aren’t bad so much as they were just more prevalent in my mix. (I really could have used more Orange and Grape.)
Of the two candies, simply because I bought this theater box at the Dollar Tree, it’s a really good deal - 7 ounces of candy for a buck, versus the 80 cents or so for the Skittles.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The newest item on the shelves is this Starburst Sour & Sweet mix. (It’s a little unclear if this replaces the Starburst Sour or not, but the actual words on the package are New flavors - Starburst Sour - Sour (6 chews) Sweet (6 chews).
The two sour flavors are Sour Watermelon & Sour Green Apple and two sweet flavors are Sweet Strawberry & Sweet Blue Raspberry.
Sour Watermelon - hot pink - this has an immediate sour bite that’s almost salty. The flavor other than that is the typical fake watermelon. It’s quite intense all the way to the end.
Sour Green Apple - acid green - quite tangy and juicy, there’s the plastic flavor of chemical green apple and just a little dash of apple juice flavor in there.
Sweet Strawberry - maroon - This was weird. I thought it was just a regular strawberry Starburst, but the flavor, maybe from being near the green apple, is much more artificial and less floral.
Sweet Blue Raspberry - cerulean blue - at first this seemed much too tangy to be called a “sweet” flavor, but then I ate a few more sours and it seemed a bit tamer after that. The raspberry flavor is mellow, a little jammy but not much in the floral notes.
The balance of sweet and sour was fun, especially since I don’t think I could eat a whole package at once. The sours seemed much more sour than the previous Starburst Sours I’ve had. I enjoy Starburst’s smooth chew and intense flavors. I think they could probably lighten up on the food coloring, seeing how they’re individually wrapped. But the flavor assortment was kind of boring, I’d love to see them really reach for some exotic, powerful flavors instead of these same retreads.
Starburst’s website is insanely annoying. It takes two minutes to load ... and then another two minutes once I clicked on “products” ... then clicking on nutritional info takes me to a Mars list of products (okay, no biggie, central databases are good) but I have to navigate that list AGAIN. It also doesn’t list this product specifically, it still has the old flavor array for the Starburst Sour on the Starburst site and not at all on the Mars site.
Starburst Sour still contain gelatin but are listed as Gluten Free on the package.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Jelly Belly has had their own take on the ubiquitous Valentine’s Conversation Hearts for several years (introduced, I believe, in 2003). They’re called Conversation Beans.
They include the Sour assortment: Sour Apple, Sour Blueberry, Sour Cherry, Sour Grape, Sour Lemon, Sour Orange, Sour Peach, Sour Raspberry, Sour Strawberry & Sour Watermelon.
The sour family of flavors come in rather vivid, opaque hues, without any speckling. So they’re easy to tell apart as long as you can remember that raspberries are darker than cherries and apple is lighter than watermelon.
What’s special about these is that they’re sporting teensy printing on them.
I’d hazard the visibility of this printing is similar to that noise that only children & teenagers can hear. It’s quite small and rather faint on the lighter color beans (and nonexistent on others).
The words range from mildly flirty to downright benign. Think of it like a very limited version of magnetic poetry. Here are some three bean masterpieces:
Hi, like joy?
Overall, they’re fun. If you like Sour Jelly Belly or more importantly, if you can’t stand Necco Conversation Hearts but want to spend three times as much to make a sweet connection, this is the candy for you.
I liked most of the flavors. I picked out the Sour Peach ones, which tasted like they had Dr. Pepper added to them, and the Sour Cherry and was pleased with the rest of them. (Eventually I forgot I was supposed to be reading the words ... which I do with Conversation Hearts, too.) The highlight flavors for me were orange, lemon and grape (which was completely fun and artificial) while the blueberry and raspberry were much better than expected. As far as sour goes, well, they’re zappy compared to most regular Jelly Belly.
If puckering isn’t quite your speed for Valentine’s Day, a new item that Jelly Belly sent me to sample a few weeks ago is their Jelly Belly Love Potion. It’s a little re-closeable plastic bottle that holds an assortment of five flavors of Jelly Belly. (They use this same package for their Soda Pop Shoppe assortment.)
There’s no special printing on the beans besides the Jelly Belly logo.
The pink, red and white mix is rather attractive and might make a nice little offering in a gift basket. (Though if you really love someone with a sweet tooth, back up this little package with a big bag! Then they can refill it.)
The flavors are Strawberry Cheesecake, Bubble Gum, Coconut, Cotton Candy and Very Cherry. All the flavors went together pretty well (though I could have used a pink grapefruit instead of cherry) and the color combination is pleasing if a little feminine.
I don’t know the retail price on these, but the Soda Pop Shoppe bottles sell for about $1.50 to $2.00 retail.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Each year around this time there are lists of the best and worst Halloween candies. At the top folks always seem to have Candy Corn, but right in there is another misunderstood and underappreciated candy, Smarties.
There’s not much too them, they’re a simple tangy compressed dextrose candy stacked into a tight roll and wrapped in cellophane. For almost 60 years CeDe Candy has been churning out the chalky, barely flavored tablets. It’d be a rare Halloween Trick-or-Treat bag that didn’t have at least one roll. More recently CeDe’s product line has expanded to include Bubble Gum Smarties, Mega Smarties and now Xtreme Sour and Tropical Smarties.
The Tropical Smarties roll is attractive, orange and yellow accents give it a sunny, citrus look. The tablets themselves don’t look or smell any different from the original though. Original come in green, yellow, purple, pink, orange and white, Tropical seem to come in green, yellow, orange, pink and white.
In the case of the Tropical array, when eating mindlessly the rolls had a soft sweetness to them with some notes of pina colada and banana/strawberry. In the particular the yellow ones are banana (in the regular array I think they’re lemon) and the white ones seem to be the pina colada.
All of this causes too much thinking for something like Smarties though. Though the different colors are different flavors they’re one of the few candies I won’t separate before I eat.
Tropical Smarties are pleasant, a little milder (if that’s even possible) than the Original.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The first thing I noticed about the X-Treme Sour Smarties is that they’re more vivid. Not quite SweeTarts colors, but pretty close.
The colors are green, yellow, purple, orange and pink (maybe red). They seem a bit denser and less powdery than the Original.
The flavors are actually perceivable, though not terribly notable. The tanginess is very high pitched. Where SweeTarts are a mid-range tartness (malic acid) these seem more citric acidy.
I like the balance of flavor to tartness with SweeTarts, but I can see this different kind of tartness and the back seat the actual flavors take having its appeal.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
On the whole, I’ve always loved Smarties in the sense that I will eat them, all of them, than later I will feel sick, curse them and vow never to eat them again because of my stupid lack of self control. The ubiquity of Smarties around Halloween is also accompanied by some sort of mind-warping amnesia ray ... and I again repeat my demonstration of how much power these little tablets have over me.
(Note: Smarties are called Rockets in Canada. Smarties made by Nestle are little chocolate lentils and are sold everywhere except for the USA.)
Friday, October 24, 2008
A few months ago I picked up some Kosher Haribo Pink Grapefruit Gummis.
I love grapefruit and I love Haribo’s take on them. They’re gummy and chewy and have a nice crisp bite to them. I was curious though what the difference would be like with the Kosher version. It uses a fish gelatin instead of a non-Kosher gelatin that I can only guess is porcine in origin. (Gelatin is the thing that keeps me from being a true vegetarian - I just love gummis more than I love animals right now.)
Anyway, I’ve digressed. The Kosher version seemed gummier, seemed more gelatinous, seemed firmer and chewier. Happily it was also very intensely flavored, stellarly attractive and of course in my belly.
Haribo makes a bunch of other products that they don’t sell in the United States. I found this imported Haribo Saure Dinosaurier. The majority of the packages is in French with some German and a third version of the ingredients is in Spanish. The only thing in English is their tagline “kids and grown ups love it so.”
I’m no French major, but I know that this package contains sour dinosaur gummis.
The front of the package shows a bunch of different colored dinosaurs, but I only found four inside. Each shape came in all colors. The different dinos appeared to be Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Apatosaurus and Triceratops.
The sugar sanding is rather thin and has small grains to it. It’s not sour either, it’s pure sweet sugar.
Green is green apple (in the Haribo gummi bear world green is strawberry, so I had to close my eyes a couple of times to be sure). This was great with some really authentic apple flavors.
Red is definitely cherry. Like a Blow Pop and Kool-Aid.
Clear is peach. I have no idea why. But I liked it! It was kind of like a nectarine, none of that weird fuzzy taste, it was tangy and sweet.
Yellow is an eye popping lemon. Like eating a concentrated batch of lemonade mix. It doesn’t have a lot of zest to it, but it’s unmistakably lemon.
The sanded gummis don’t have a lot of detail and they all smell rather similar, kind of like a big bag of mixed Jolly Ranchers.
I found the overall level of the sourness to be rather adult, not shocking or blistering but certainly tingly and it got my salivary glands going.
The chew is not like the soft and lingering durability of a gummi bear. Instead these are more like Sour Patch Kids, an easy bite and quick chew. They were on the expensive side, but I’m sure I could find them cheaper if I were in Europe. I’ve noticed that even Haribo’s own Gold Bears taste different depending on which factory they were made in. I don’t know if it’s even possible to get a hold of the German Gold Bears in the United States, but these were made in Germany.
Monday, October 13, 2008
With the discontinuation of Reed’s Candies by Wrigley’s, I’ve been searching for similar candies. Hammond’s Candies is based in Colorado and makes hard candies and caramels using traditional methods and equipment. They’re known for their stunning hand twisted lollipops, ribbon and pillow candies. But they also make all sorts of traditional boiled sugar sweets including a line called Pantry Candies.
Each comes in a cute tin with a little clear window on top. Inside they’re tucked into a plastic bag to protect them from moisture.
Cinnamon Drops - these are sizable pieces, bigger than my pinkie toe. They’re sanded with a bit of sugar and have a soft and grainy appearance. The hard candy is smooth and flavorful. Instead of being just straight hot cinnamon, this hard candy has a bit of a touch of the woodsy, powdered spice as well as the burning cinnamon oil.
They have a satisfying crunch or simply dissolve without many voids or holes. It’s not quite the smooth & transcendent experience of Reed’s Cinnamon though.
Sour Balls - these are teensy little drops, smaller than a regular marble but larger than a pea. They come in lemon, lime, orange and cherry flavors. They have the same sanded exterior and a smooth dissolve. The citrus ones are nicely tangy but with a good rounded zest flavor (orange is a bit more muted though). They’re an old-fashioned sour though, don’t expect anything approaching battery acid.
Butterscotch Waffles - these were gorgeous little candies. They’re flattened squares (though some were little rectangles) with a smooth surface and little dimpled waffle pattern on them. They were a creamy, buttery flavor but lacking that little dash of salt though they are the closest I’ve found to the old Reed’s Butterscotch.
Licorice Drops - these definitely look the part. The same format as the Cinnamon Drops, they’re big and black and sanded. They’re made with real licorice root, so it’s a more complex flavor than just “flavored”. The big gripe I have with these, and it’s a huge one, is the large amount of artificial colors in the candy. It made my mouth greenish-black with only one. Not appealing or subtle at all. As much as I liked the taste (and finding licorice hard candies isn’t easy), the bitterness of the Red 40 (to my tongue) added with the unappealing mouth just turned me off and I didn’t finish the tin.
Lemon Drops - for those who don’t want to pick the lemon drops out of the Sour Ball assortment, here they are all alone. These large drops are perhaps a little muted in flavor, but the flavor goes all the way through and has a nice barley sugar tone to it.
Root Beer Drops - as with the cinnamon, I was hoping for a Reed’s experience here. Instead it’s rather more like a Root Beer Float than a plain old Root Beer Soda. These two-toned drops have the mellow woodsy flavor of root beer along with a creamy vanilla component. They’re smooth and flavorful but not quite spicy enough for my desires. Well, I take that back. This was the second tin I finished. (Butterscotch was the first.)
Ginger Drops (not pictured) - these little opaque candies were kind of peach/flesh colored. They didn’t smell like much and really didn’t taste like much at first either. Then the longer it dissolved the warmer it got, a light woodsy and rooty flavor, it was definitely ginger.
The offering in this line also includes Horehound, which I refuse to believe is a candy flavor but also suffers from over-coloring like the licorice.
They’re expensive, but nicely crafted and packaged and make a nice hostess gift or something to keep on your desk for those moments where you just have to have something. I like them much better than their lollipops which are exquisite to look at but don’t have the density of flavor and smooth texture of these.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
About a year ago reader Charlene suggested I try Katjes sour gummis. I couldn’t find those, so I ended up trying Katjes Yoghurt Gums and Tropical Gummis. Though they weren’t my favorite candies ever, I still thought that a different set of flavors would suit me. I was also impressed that they used all natural colors and flavors.
Finally at another visit to Cost Plus World Market I stumbled across Saure Ananas, which are sour pineapple gummis.
The package says (in German) that it’s New! and that it has real pineapple juice in it (reading the ingredients it’s actually 10% pineapple juice, not just a splash of some grape or pear concentrate). Oh, and the obligatory, fat free!
When I was a teen one of my favorite snacks was canned pineapple and cream cheese. Throw some rings of pineapple on a plate, throw little cubes of cream cheese about the size of the hole in the ring and eat a little cream cheese with each bite of pineapple. Simple, delicious. Sometimes I’d spruce it up by rolling the cream cheese in crushed nuts but that seemed like a lot of trouble most of the time.
Now I like to get fresh pineapple and eat it until my tongue is fully tenderized. (Though the new low acid ones mean I can eat more pineapple with less tongue damage.)
So I was especially pleased at the appearance of these little gems, which look just like little pineapple pieces cut right from the ring.
Opening the package they smelled more like canned pineapple than the fresh stuff, but as I mentioned above, I quite love that stuff even though I prefer fresh. They have a sugar coating which protects the soft pieces from sticking together. They’re a stunning light yellow, slightly opaque but dead ringers for pineapple chunks.
The sugary coating isn’t flavored so after putting them in the mouth I’d either dissolve the sugar or start chewing to release the flavor.
They’re tart, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call them full on sours. But the pineapple flavor is deep and complex with the high tangy notes and the deep fragrance and mid-level sweetness.
Dang tasty. I’m glad I finally found them. Katjes is a huge confectionery company in Germany and I hope to come across more of their products (I really need to try their licorice line). Cost Plus World Market carries a lot of the line as does the online store, GermanDeli.com. While at Cost Plus, Sera (formerly of Candy Addict and now out on her own with The Candy Enthusiast) picked up Katjes fruit jellies, so look forward to her notes on those soon.
Next on my hitlist is to track down their mixed pack called Saure Heringe that includes lemon, lime and blackcurrant and has a sour coating along with the soft flavorful gummi.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.