Monday, June 23, 2014
Target has a variety of house brands on their shelves right now, though not that many in the candy aisle any longer. I did spot this new variety of little fruity chocolate morsels and picked up Simply Balanced Mixed Berry Fruit Juice Pieces Covered in Dark Chocolate. I don’t actually know what these are supposed to be called, since that sounds more like a description than a name. The brand called Simply Balanced is also new to me, the package says that its goodness guarantee takes the guesswork out of eating well.
As far as I can tell, a Canadian confectioner called Brookside invented the concept of a little antioxidant-themed jelly morsel covered in dark chocolate back in late 2010. They grew quickly enough that Hershey’s decided to purchase the company and of course knock-off versions have emerged over the intervening years. This version from Target has some interesting elements to it.
They’re made with Rainforest Alliance certified cacao from Ecuador. Though it’s nice dark chocolate, it’s only 60%. The package also calls them fruit juice pieces, similar to the language used by Brookside for their jelly thingies. In reality they’re jellies. They’re made from glucose, water, fruit juice from concentrate, citric acid, pectin and corn starch. So, it’s less fruit juice and mostly sugar. Honestly, I would mind something called dark chocolate covered fruit jellies (those already exist, and they’re usually raspberry or orange flavored and usually sticks). But this new genre of candy is trying to paint itself with the fine qualities of antioxidant rich berries, when the reality is they’re made from not just blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry juice, but also apple and lemon.
As much as I may make fun of their marketing materials, it is a list of ingredients that I could put together in my kitchen (though the end product wouldn’t look as nice). The pieces are large, like Peanut M&Ms instead of the smaller pieces from Brookside. The coats are not quite as smooth, a little dinged up, I think, from getting jostled around. But still shiny.
They smell a little fruity, with some woodsy notes of chocolate. The bite is pretty soft, the jelly center is springy and dissolves quickly. Some had a small hint of grainy sugar to them, but most were smooth. The chocolate is creamy and has a good, quick melt and soft bite. The fruity centers were tangy with a strong blueberry and cranberry flavor to them. There’s a light bitter note towards the end that reminded me of cranberries.
The pieces are easy to eat and a nice change from nut and chocolate combinations. They’re not innovative, but nicely done. The ingredients are pretty clean and the use of Rainforest Alliance cacao and labeling it as being made with non-GMO ingredients is a nice touch.
The candies contain soy and are made in a facility that also processes milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. (Too bad, it would be nice if these were at least free of some of the major allergens.) They’re kind of expensive at $3.59 for only 7 ounces, but comparable to the Trader Joe’s, Brookside and Brach’s versions price wise, but I actually prefer them.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Just Born has introduced a new year-round version of marshmallow Peeps. The new Peeps Minis are different in a few ways. First, they’re not packaged a tray, they’re tossed together into a stand up, reasealable bag. Second, they’re mini versions of individual Peeps, each Peeps is not a single bite.
They’re available in several different flavors, but the only one I can find here in Los Angeles right now is the Vanilla Creme Peeps Minis. The package holds on 3.4 ounces and cost $2.79 at Target. They’re part of this whole hand-to-mouth snacking trend, as they analysts call it, that I refer to as morselization.
The surprising thing about Peeps Minis is that they do fulfill a big hole in the candy aisle. There are no sugar crusted marshmallows. If you meander over to the ingredient aisle in grocery stores you’ll find starch coated Jet-Puffed and Campfire marshmallows, but they’re only rarely found in the candy aisle (usually in special displays for S’mores along with graham crackers and chocolate bars).
They do smell a lot like cake. A sort of butter flavored cake, maybe pound cake and strongly of vanilla extract.
Each Peep is pretty small. They’re about half the weight of a regular Peep (which is usually about 8.5 grams) at about 4 grams each. There are only 14 calories per Peep, mostly because they don’t weight much and are made from sugar and a little protein.
I like white Peeps because they have no artificial colors to get in the way of the flavors. They do taste rather cakey, like an Angel Food Cake in both flavor profile and actual texture. I liked them much more than I thought, though I still doubt I’d pick these up as a go-to candy, even in the summer. My biggest issue is the eyes, I can’t stand the little wax eyes on Peeps, I have to pull them off, which means that I can’t just eat them. They are an ideal version of Peeps to take to the movies, as the package is very quiet and of course they’re easy to share ... and would probably pair very well with popcorn.
It seemed like there was less sugar sanding on the, and because the package does a better job of containing the leftover sugar than the trays, they were far less messy. I don’t know how good of a job the zipper-top package does at keeping them fresh, I only had them for a few days, did not seal them and they’re still fresh. (But it’s a bit more humid in Southern California as were in our June Gloom weather pattern of low clouds in the morning.)
They’re gluten free and fat free (as if people have allergies to fat). They’re made in the USA, and may contain milk but have no other notations about allergens such as nuts. Since they’re marshmallows, they’re also made with gelatin and are not for vegetarians. There’s no specification as to the source of the gelatin, so I would guess it’s porcine.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Twix Unwrapped Bites are exactly what they sound like, a bag of tiny little Twix bars (more like nuggets) all jumbled up, out of the wrapper and ready to eat.
Mars already makes bites which include the primary elements for the classic bar version, but have different ratios because of the miniaturization process. It’s an uneven transfer to the new format, in some case I prefer the new ratios, in others I think that one or more elements is lacking. So far I’ve tried: Milky Way, Milky Way Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers.
The little lumps aren’t really that pretty, but they’re chocolatey, so that’s appealing. Like the other bites, they get scuffed up tumbling around in the package, so they don’t have the elegant, shiny ripples of the long fingers. They smell sugary and sweet, just like regular Twix bars.
They’re not as messy as I find regular Twix, as I pop the whole thing in my mouth at once. The crunch of the cookie is good, there’s a bit higher ratio of chocolate in this version, and a good caramel chew to bring the elements together. Sweet, milky, a mild sandy crunch ... a good blend of textures. Like the other bites, it’s easy to mix them in with other items to create a custom mix. I think this might be good with a Chex Mix if you’re a sweet & savory person.
I thought it was interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, Mars also introduced a morsel version of Twix last year. It’s a little different though. Since I knew that the Twix Unwrapped Bites were coming to the United States, I made sure to find the Twix Mix while I was in London back in March so I could compare them.
The format of Twix Mix is actually a mix of little nuggets of biscuit (cookie) and caramel. They’re slightly different shapes, so if you’d prefer to eat one or the other, or make sure you’re mixing them, you can pick them out. The caramel pieces are just little spheres of a firm caramel covered in a very milky, thin chocolate shell. The biscuit pieces are a little flatter.
The effect is actually quite nice. The ratios don’t match the classic Twix bar at all, and the milk chocolate is much milkier and the whole experience is a bit more on the malt side than the usual emphasis on the toffee/caramel notes. As a confectionery snack, they’re good and different enough from a bridge mix or something as traditional as Milk Duds.
The American Twix Unwrapped Bites have no notation on the packaging regarding the cocoa sourcing yet, though Mars promises that is coming in the next few years. They contain dairy, soy and gluten and may contain traces of peanuts.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Alongside the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs on shelves this year are the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs.
They’re not something particularly Easter-themed, as chocolate covered almonds are already rather egg shaped. But they’re still a welcome item, since some chocolate covered nuts sound less sweet than the many other marshmallowy, sugar-crusted and white chocolate items that typify the holiday fare.
They were expensive, as real nut items often are. I picked up this 7.1 ounce bag for $3.29, which is on par with what I’d usually pay for an item from Whole Foods ... yet I bought this at Target.
They look great. Dark and glossy. They varied in size quite a bit, from a peanut all the way up to an almond in the shell. I expected this, because almonds themselves vary.
The chocolate itself is Hershey’s tangy, cheesy, fudgy chocolate ... it’s odd. But it goes well with the almonds, which are well chosen, nicely crunchy and good quality. I ate the whole bag in about two days, so I must have liked them, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any particular element. The chocolate is gritty and has that Hershey’s burp note ... the almonds are good, but the fact that I spent over $3 on less than half a pound of a Hershey’s chocolate product was a little odd.
Hershey’s had a version of these in their Pieces line that had a candy shell which added to the texture experience, but I haven’t see those in stores for a while.
If you’re a lover of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond bar and wanted an Easter version, I think these ratios are good.
The allergen warning only says that these may contain traces of peanuts. They are made with soy, dairy and almonds as well. There’s no note on gluten or wheat at all.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
While most hard candy is considered “old people candy”, Jolly Rancher really sets itself apart as an intense sweet for all ages.
Most of us encounter Jolly Rancher candies as little twist wrapped pieces in a bowl. So when I saw this little rectangular pack at Target, I thought it was an interesting way to format the iconic candy. Jolly Rancher Strawberry and Green Apple Hard Candy has 1.2 ounces and 9 pieces inside. Each is wrapped in a piece of clear cellophane, easy to carry, easy to share and with just two flavors.
The pieces are different from what I’m accustomed to with Jolly Rancher candies. They’re not little rods, they’re squares. The ingredients are also slightly different. The original Jolly Rancher hard candies are not aerated, there are no bubbles in them and they’re ever so slightly soft, like some sort of viscous solid. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then sugar. In these little squares, it’s sugar first, then corn syrup. Looking at the candies, they’re not glassy transparent either, so it appears they’ve been aerated slightly.
I started with Green Apple, because that’s the iconic flavor that Jolly Rancher is known for. It’s a tough flavor, because part of its profile is its artificiality. It was definitely tangy and caustic at first, like some sort of chemical peel for my tongue. That faded quickly into the familiar acidic green apple flavor. What was most surprising was the crunch ... I could crunch it. Because the pieces are small, you can crunch away immediately and there’s not tooth-cement issue. Still, the artificial flavor has a sort of of “sour but maybe bitter and salty at the same time” flavor going that was not as good as I recall the truly authentic version having.
Strawberry is quite tart at the beginning and reminded me immediately of sorbet (which often has an extra little pop of lemon juice in it). The flavor is bold and pretty well rounded and only has a slight note of metallic artificiality to it. It’s fresh tasting, overall. I like the crunchy, it’s not too much candy.
My roll had three Green Apple pieces and the rest were Strawberry, so the flavors are not evenly distributed. (Lifesavers always had an order to them, though you might not get a roll that started with the same flavor, they always went in the same progression once you started.) The way the package is made, you have to tear the outer wrapper to get to the inner pieces ... they seem to be glued in there.
I felt these were missing one of the key attributes of Jolly Rancher hard candies, the smooth, syrupy dissolve. Without that, the flavor was just passable, nothing terribly exciting. I might feel differently if they had the Fire Stix in this format, as there really is no other cinnamon hard candy roll out there (since Reed’s disappeared), even if they don’t have the same texture as regular Jolly Rancher. But they’re not a great value and difficult to unwrap.
These are made in Mexico. There’s no nutritional information on the wrapper and nothing, at this time, on the Hershey’s webpage for Jolly Rancher that lists it for this particular version of the product. There is also no statement about allergens, but does contain soy.
Monday, March 24, 2014
The resealable pouch and product depiction reminded me in no small way of the Brookside “chocolate-covered fruit juice pieces” which are really just jellies. Brookside Chocolate, a Canadian company, innovated this product, which first showed up on American shelves around 2010. Later there were other versions, such as Trader Joe’s Powerberries, which were also made in Canada, but now seem to have switched suppliers and are now made in the US with slightly different ingredients.
Though Brach’s is usually a sort of low end brand, these are priced a bit higher, I picked this up for $3.49 for the 8 ounce package. This is very similar in price to the Brookside (pictured here) which was $3.50 on sale.
The Brach’s spheres are pretty consistent in size. They’re not completely spherical, but very nicely coated with a shiny glaze. They’re the size of a garbanzo bean or perhaps a fresh blueberry as pictured on the package. Inside is a little, firm piece of berry juice flavored jelly. It’s about the size of a jujube and rather soft and flavorful.
The blueberry and acai flavors are jammy and deep, though it is coated in dark chocolate coating is it’s really not very dark or complex in the ingredients. The consistency of the jelly center is good - it’s not grainy at all and quite flavorful.
As a knockoff item, the Brach’s do very well (seen on the left here, with the Brookside on the right). There’s an extra ounce in the package, even if they were the same price. The Brookside centers are inconsistent. They’re little disks, and most morsels have two at the center, like halves of a peanut. But other pieces have only one piece at the center and others are a stack of three. They have a slight grain to them, but also a bit more of a tangy bite ...for the most part. They’re not completely the same, sometimes it’s as if they’re sanded with a little sour coating, and other times they’re rather bland. The chocolate is smooth and creamy, far better than the Brach’s.
I’d buy either again, though I find I prefer the chocolate a bit better on the Brookside. Brookside is now owned by Hershey’s. Brach’s is now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company. Folks who are looking to avoid dairy will appreciate the Brach’s.
These are positioned to be some sort of antioxidant-boosted, better-for-you, superfood candy thing. They’re not. They’re just chocolate covered jelly beans. The fact that it’s a jelly center means they’re not quite as calorically dense as a straight chocolate nugget and the Brach’s have 100% of your RDA of vitamin C. But they also contain silicone dioxide and modified food starch ... fine items but not necessarily the nutritional boosters I’ve waited for my whole life.
These contain soy. They’re made in a facility that processed nuts, wheat, dairy and peanuts. The only other ingredient of issue would be the confectioners glaze, which is usually made with shellac, so wouldn’t be vegan.
Friday, March 14, 2014
The Lovely Candy Company is a new venture that says, “Enjoying candy is like riding a bike - everyone should be able to do it!” So, to take away any trepidation some folks would have to indulging, they’re making their line of individually wrapped chews and caramels from “cleaner” ingredients.
You’ll find they’re gluten free, no GMO ingredients, and they use rBST free dairy products. (However, even though they make no products with nuts, they are processed on shared equipment and may contain traces of peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pecans. They also don’t use soy, but again, may contain traces of soy as well as nutmeg.)
For my first experience with the Lovely Candy, I picked out their all natural Chewy Original Caramels. Unlike the ingredients list for Hershey’s new Lancaster Caramel Cremes I reviewed previously, this is a very short and easy to understand list of ingredients that you might assemble in your own kitchen:
The caramels are soft and have a wonderfully sweet aroma. What I liked best was there was not fake butter note to it that I’ve experienced with other packaged caramels.
The bite is soft and easy to chew. It’s chewy and smooth, but not silky in the same way the Lancaster Caramel Cremes were. It’s odd to compare these to the previous product, but I am since they’re hitting store shelves (they were only a few feet from each other at Target when I bought them) at the same time with similar price points, I think it’s valid to see how they size up. The flavor is robust, not very salty but not sticky or overly sweet. They don’t have the molasses or brown sugar notes I was hoping for, also, I’ve noticed that brown rice syrup can give confections a malty note, but I didn’t sense that here either.
Overall, a decent caramel. Easy to chew, easy to share and pop in your mouth. I’m disappointed to say that I prefer the Lancaster caramels, even knowing their less than ideal ingredients list. Not that I won’t finish this bag ... I’m fully committed to them.
I like that I found these at Target, a place that I know serves a huge portion of this country with an awful lot of heavily processed products. If someone is looking for a candy with more transparently sourced ingredients, this is a good option. However, it’s still sugar and fat, so it’s still not considered a healthy alternative to nutritious food ... it’s just better candy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.