Friday, April 29, 2011
Marmite is a popular spread in the United Kingdom and other countries of the crown such as South Africa and New Zealand (though each has a different variation). It’s made from yeast extract and is rich in B vitamins. It was popular during the wars especially because it provided important vitamins and minerals for children that were otherwise scarce in their protein poor diets. In addition to the yeast extract there are some other flavorful vegetable additives such as onion, garlic and celery.
The idea of adding savory items and flavors to chocolate is not new. However, Marmite is probably one of the most savory of all ingredients as it’s pretty much pure umami with a little dash of salt. Umami is one of the five tastes that we can perceive with the tongue. The savory notes of food are made up of glutamates and nucleotides. Things can be savory even without salt, think of unsalted beef broth.
The peculiar part of this chocolate makes up very little of its bulk. The ingredients list that 98% of the bar is milk chocolate. The remaining 2% is Marmite.
My desire to eat this bar is very low. I’ve never had Marmite, but I have tried Vegemite, a similar product from Australia. It’s quite salty and has a strong savory flavor with a hint of vegetable broth. It was very smooth, almost like a jelly. After photographing this bar I left these little pieces pictured here on the shooting table but sealed up the rest of the package for later sampling. I intended to return and put the chocolate away after dinner, but didn’t get around to it for several days. When I returned to the room (which I keep shut up, because I have a dog), I feared that I had an insulation fire. It smelled strange, there was a hot, burnt plastic smell in the room. So I felt the walls and inspected the outlets and turned all the lights on and off. I went outside and looked at the house and sniffed around in the closets above the chocolate studio. Later I came back into the room and realized that it was the little pile of chocolate pieces.
I admit my mind is not open.
Opening the package again, it’s not really a burnt smell that I was greeted with. It was the smell of vitamins. You know, that vaguely yeasty smell that comes with those horsepills that are fortified with B vitamins and maybe even a few minerals. It’s not bad and maybe there’s a little hint of milk in the background. I’m trying to adjust my head to think that it’s molasses and other earthy flavors that I enjoy.
The snap is good and the initial bite gave me a mild salty note along with the milky chocolate. It’s a little malty and yes, there’s a savory and peppery sort of taste to it, kind of like cheese. But there’s also a little hint of the sulfurish onion and garlic. There’s also a little mineral note towards the end that reminds me of dried milk, sweat and that weird flavor in the back of my throat when I have a sinus infection. There’s also a lot of salt, about 300 mg per bar, which is about 100 mg per serving.
I’d say that it’s okay. I think the idea of a yeast extract infusion to add flavor and vitamins to chocolate isn’t a bad one, but the fact that there are those more vegetable flavors in there does not create a pleasant combination.
I admit I only had about four bites of this stuff. While it is peculiar, it’s not enough to keep me interested enough to continue eating it.
Friday, February 11, 2011
A few years back I was introduced to Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees courtesy of my Candy Blog efforts. It’s a British toffee product that’s more akin to American caramel than the hard toffee we’re accustomed to in the States. They come in a wide variety of flavors and even a few formats (bars that require a smack & unwrap approach to individually wrapped nuggets).
I was really excited to visit the Walkers’ Nonsuch booth at the ISM Cologne candy fair and was gifted this lovely bag of one of my favorites: Walkers’ Nonsuch Treacle Toffee. I’ve tried it before in the bar format and was more than pleased. I haven’t, however, been exposed much to their nuggets. Much of the time, I prefer candies that are well packaged, and twisted wrappers on something that’s vulnerable to moisture like caramels meant that I stuck to the sealed bars. But a trade show is a place where I’m confident that the candy is fresh and well treated.
Treacle is a syrup made from sugar cane and is basically just a bit lighter than Black Strap Molasses.
The pieces are soft and satiny, a thick medallion about 1 inch to 1.25 inches in diameter. The chew is soft and smooth, like a fresh caramel. The buttery notes are evident right away but most notable are the deep toasted sugar notes of molasses. There’s very little bitterness or metallic aftertaste like I notice with some molasses candies. Molasses does have a high mineral content and this can be evident to even untrained palates. It’s a little salty with coffee notes and even a touch of deep cocoa. Other earthy flavors flit in and out, like beets and licorice and ginger. Overall it’s nutty, like pecans or Brazil nuts but has an exceptionally smooth chew.
I love these. I got one full bag at the ISM Show, which are extremely fresh with an expiry date of December 15, 2011. I really hope I can find these somewhere in Los Angeles in the future (but I’ll be content with the bar format) because they’re already gone. For people who love rich caramel chews with the deep flavors of molasses, these are a must.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Here in the United States we have an iconic candy bar called Milky Way. There are a few different versions of it, it comes in dark chocolate (Milky Way Midnight) and an all caramel version called Milky Way Caramel.
In the United Kingdom and much of Europe the bar is called Mars and comes in a dark version as well as some other more fanciful varieties such as this Mars Delight bar that I picked up at Mel & Rose Wine & Liquors. I liked the design of the package and I was wondering if it was like the Milky Way Crispy Rolls (which are not based on the American Milky Way, but the UK Milky Way, which is like our 3 Musketeers).
The package says that it’s Surprisingly Crispy, Deliciously Smooth. The ingredients listing also helpfully breaks down each element of the bar into percentages and separate ingredients, which I love. The bar is 10% crispy rippled wafers (they’re very airy), caramel cream (21%), cocoa cream (24%) covered in milk chocolate (44%).
The bars were lovely. It’s hard to believe that this bar, which was only weeks away from its expiry date and half a world way in a flimsy wrapper looked so good. Each is about 2.5 inches long and pretty wide. Each one has about 99 calories in it, so maybe it’s for dieters who want a little treat. (Still, I think 200 calories for a whole package is a bit steep, I don’t think many folks will be able to control themselves and eat only one.)
The milk chocolate is soft but smooth and creamy. It has a pleasant fresh dairy flavor to it and an overall sweetness that’s deep and malty. The advertised caramel and cocoa cream wasn’t as evident to me, there was a bit of something in there between the chocolate and the wafers but nothing notable - not much texture and the caramel notes just came across as more malty sweetness. The wafers were light and crunchy with a toffee note to them, more like corn flakes than wheat flour wafers.
I enjoyed them enough that I ate both, but there was a full week between the two sessions. It didn’t leave me wanting more and the fact that I paid a ridiculous $1.75 for this because it was an import left me wanting it to be far superior to something I can get at any drug store. I think I’ll stick with the Q.bel bars, just because they’re easier to find not just because they’re cheaper but also use better ingredients. However, if Mars wanted to make these for the American market, I think I’d be more inclined to buy them, especially if they came in a dark version.
The bars were introduced in 2007 and had some pretty radical advertisements.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I picked up this package of Bassett’s Mint Favourites because it looked like a fun bunch of candies that were different from what we have here in the United States. It features: Mint Toffees, Murray Mints, Murray Butter Mints and Everton Mints.
I don’t know much about Murray Mints, so I tried to do a little research. They’ve been around since at least the fifties and were also sold in rolls. They were also one word, Murraymints. I think they were an independent company that made them, I can’t find any reference in their advertisements to Bassett’s or any other company that Bassett’s swallowed up like Trebor or other Cadbury properties.
Murray Mints were known as the too good to hurry mints. Here’s a set of old animated television advertisements.
So what are these classic hard candy mints like?
Bassett’s Murray Mints
The lightest tasting mint of the group, it was also a bit larger. The mint was mild and sweet, the texture of the candy is smooth. There’s a lot of milk in it, so the candy was a cross between a standard boiled hard candy and an American style crunchy toffee. I detected a note of clove in it, which wasn’t that appealing to me, but I appreciated the complex flavor combination of milk, mint and spices.
Bassett’s Murray Butter Mint
An actual buttery hard candy mint, rather like putting milk in a peppermint tea. It’s a little salty and a little like butterscotch. The center of the hard candy has a softer, chewy center. The peppermint is strong but not overpowering. Fresh but a little bit more earthy with the addition of salt and the creamy butter and even a hint of honey. I liked this one better than the classic Murray Mint.
Bassett’s Mint Toffee
At the store I had a choice of this Mint Favorites mix and just a bag of the Mint Toffee. I figured I’d like the toffee, but I wanted to variety to at least see the whole line of mint favorites. British Toffee is what we refer to as caramel in the United States. It’s usually firm but chewy, but sometimes is the style that’s soft and crumbly. Mostly toffee is in reference to any sugar that’s been boiled to the point of turning the flavor.
The piece is beefy, about an inch and a quarter long. It’s soft on the outside but a bit stiffer at the center (so it needed to warm up to chew). It’s quite buttery and has a strong dairy flavor more like milk or cream and of course an overriding peppermint flavor on top of that. The caramel flavors are a little lost, they can’t stand up to the mint, but the whole effect is still pleasant. The chew is smooth and lasts quite a while. It leaves a fresh feeling at the end.
I’m definitely keen on trying more of the Bassett’s toffee line after this.
Bassett’s Everton Mints
I thought this was going to be a licorice mint. Instead it’s more like a menthol mint, a cough drop flavor. It’s a combination of the peppermint and eucalyptus. It’s strong enough to give me a combination of burning and cooling in the back of my sinuses passages. The candy itself is smooth, with few voids, much nicer than the standard Halls cough drop. The chewy center is a bit more mellow but has a light anise and soft vanilla note.
Overall, a great mix that gives a clear sense of the similarities and differences between North American and British boiled sweets. Good quality and distinctive and ultimately satisfying. They’re all natural, though rather expensive here in the States at $4 for only 7 ounces.
Monday, October 11, 2010
The Cadbury Flake has been made for 90 years by Cadbury and has a clever little story to go with it. The story goes that a line worker in the Cadbury factory noticed that the over-run of the one their molds made little folded sheets of chocolate that was a tasty way to eat the chocolate. They’re billed as The crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate..
I’ve had a few of the Flake bars over the years and never quite understood them (and preferred the versions that were dipped in chocolate). They seemed chalky and sweet but not chocolatey. So I thought I’d give it another try. I got a hold of a very fresh bar (expires February 2011).
The ingredients are similar to all of the Cadbury’s UK milk chocolate offerings. This bar was made in Ireland and contains: Milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, vegetable fat, emulsifier, flavoring. Milk solids are listed at 14% and the cocoa solids are 25%. So it’s a lot of chocolate and milk ... but there’s also a little bit of vegetable fat in there, which by United States FDA standards means that this doesn’t qualify as real chocolate.
Again, I’m coming to this bar with an outsider’s perspective. I didn’t grow up with it and I’ve never seen any advertisements for the bar. So taken at face value, the idea of a bar made of chocolate shavings is interesting, I like it when I find a pile of chocolate shavings on my dessert. The reality of the bar isn’t quite as attractive. It reminds me of elephant skin. It’s about six inches long and holds together well.
It smells a bit like cheesecake instead of milk chocolate. The dairy tang is like yogurt or cream cheese. It’s a bit crumbly upon biting, but not as bad as I’d feared. The texture is soft and chalky, but not quite fudgy. It dissolves more than it melts. It’s not sticky sweet, I think the milk notes cut that, but the cocoa isn’t quite as apparent for such a high cacao milk chocolate (as far as American chocolate goes for comparison).
The crumbly texture doesn’t feel decadent or indulgent to me, it just feels old or stale. The sour note to the milk wasn’t pleasant (though I can imagine becoming acclimated to it).
The bars are marketed as a low calorie, highly pleasurable experience. But they’re hardly low in fat, they’re about normal at 150 calories per ounce for chocolate, it’s just the portion that’s small at only 1.13 ounces per bar.
This bar is just a little shorter than the plain version, about 5 inches. It’s also made in Ireland.
The scent is a little nuttier, but still have the dairy note. This one also had a little more cocoa to it.
The bite was softer and the hazelnut was immediately apparent. There were little hazelnut bits and a nice roasted flavor overall. It seemed a bit moister and a bit fudgier ... but it also felt sweeter. So much so that my throat was seared by it after consuming half the bar.
I understand that these bars are remarkably different than others, but it’s just not something that appeals to me. The dryness just takes away all the fatty mouthfeel for me. I’m not keen on the fact that they’re not real chocolate, considering how expensive they are in the States, for that money I’ll get something that really pleases me.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
After my review of Goody Good Stuff Sweet & Sour Mix & Match the company offered to send me updated samples. The Mix & Match I had was from an early batch of samples and didn’t have the final packaging. The hook with Good Good Stuff’s candy is that it’s free of many allergens and made with all natural colors and flavors. But the most interesting part of all this is that their “gummies” are completely vegetarian because they don’t use gelatin.
Instead Goody Good Stuff uses a combination of gelling agents (polysaccharides) such as carrageenan (from seaweed) and gellan (from bacteria). Traditional (true) gummis use gelatin, which is a protein. Though they all look the same in the finished product, the texture and behavior can be quite different.
So, the Goody Good Stuff Koala Gummy Bears are jelly candies. That’s cool. But wait a second, do they look like Koalas to you? Not to me. The ears are too small, the nose is all wrong. Most importantly these “koalas” have belly buttons. Koalas are marsupials (non-placental) and do not have belly buttons while bears are mammals and do have navels. They look like standard generic ursids.
But that doesn’t mean that this can’t be good candy. (Lots of candies are named incongruously, starting with Circus Peanuts.)
The Goody Good Stuff Bears come in five flavors/colors. The main difference between these and a traditional gummi is the texture. The Goody Good Stuff Bears are soft and chewy, but they’re more on the jelly side than the gelatinous side. When you take a regular gummi bear and pull it apart, eventually it will break - pull it long enough and it will simply snap, usually leaving clean edges and right angles. Pull a Goody Good Stuff Bear apart and it will stretch and stretch until it’s tiny little, sticky jelly strands. In the mouth the chew is similar until the dissolve comes, the Goody Good Stuff Bears dissolve into a bit of a sticky puddle. They remind me a little like okra mucilage ... in a good way.
The flavors are perfectly gummi-like:
Orange - good mix of zest and juicy tartness.
Strawberry - sweet and fragrant with a mild jammy flavor and light tangy note.
Lemon - strong lemon peel and oil flavors without as much of a tart bite as others.
Green Apple - very mild with notes of both apple juice and that unnatural “green apple” flavor. Bland but pleasant.
Pineapple - bold and floral with a little an authentic pineapple sizzle behind it all.
Though the flavors are not as intense as some other gummis, such as the ones from Japan, these are nicely flavored. The candies are well made, even though they’re all naturally flavored and colored, they’re vibrant looking and each tastes distinctive. They’re mainstream looking and tasting, I don’t think kids would know the difference.
The candies are made without any animal products (no gelatin, no insect-derived colors), however they do use a touch of beeswax so they can’t be considered vegan. They’re nut free, dairy free, gluten free, soy free and peanut free. They’re not easy to find in the US yet, but I expect that to change because of this important vegetarian distinction.
Monday, July 19, 2010
It’s not hard to find candy that’s colorful and flavorful, but what makes it harder is when you want it to be all natural, free of the major allergens (wheat, soy, dairy, nuts) and vegan. So Goody Good Stuff is here to fill that hole in your life.
I picked up this sample of their Sour Mix & Match at some trade show and have been hanging onto it until it hit the stores.
Now here’s the thing, their marketing says that these are vegan gummis. Instead of gelatin, which is made from pigs, cows or fish, Goody Good Stuff is using a new gelling agent called gellan. (I first noticed the ingredient in Halal Mentos.) Gellan is made from bacteria, not vertebrates. It sounds like a great idea, however in practice gellan is closer to agar (that jelly stuff in petri dishes) that’s made from seaweed than gelatin. Gelatin is a protein; gellan is polysaccharide. They’re simply different, they do different things and behave in different ways.
At first glance jelly candies and gummis look very similar, but they don’t behave the same way. Gummis tear sharply - you can pull a gummi apart and it will make flat edges where it breaks. Pull apart a jelly and it just, well, pulls. It doesn’t bounce, though sometimes it might jiggle nicely. The great thing is that both carry fruit flavors really well, they create a smooth texture and often a glass-like appearance.
So with all that chemistry aside, I’ve got a handful of candy to taste. There are quite a few different pieces in this mix and match, but I could only review three versions because I needed at least three tries to taste the flavors. They’re like little bulbous, rounded planks - about an inch and a half long.
Without any clue as to what the flavors are supposed to be, and that these are British (which is always a little different in the fruity flavors), I can only describe what I’ve got.
Green & Peach - it tastes like peach. Both ends taste the same as far as I’m concerned, but there’s a weird “ketchup” note to it that I find a little disturbing. The peach is tangy and light with a good sour bite at the start. The jelly center is smooth and doesn’t stick too much.
Red & Yellow - tastes like strawberry lemonade. The lemon is strong, sour and zesty with a slight floral note I attribute to strawberry.
Orange & Blue - is shocking. The blue is amazing for a natural product. It’s zesty and well rounded and tastes mostly like grapefruit but maybe with some pineapple thrown in.
For those who were curious, here’s what’s inside:
These look and taste like there is no compromise. The colors are intense and I’d say kind of unnatural looking. The shape is fun and easy to grasp. They’re not messy at all, the sugar crust stays on so well there were scarcely ten grains in the bottom of the bag of these I had. They’re sour, but not that searing kind that’s likely to create blisters on the tongue after a serving.
I feel like kids or grown ups who have had true gummis before may be disappointed with the texture based on my expectations.
They also make a few other products that I’m quite eager to try: Strawberry and Cream, Cola Breeze, Sour Fruit Salad, Tropical Fruit, Koala Gummy Bears while the ones that I found less interesting were Summer Peaches and Cheery Cherries. These should be available in Stop & Shop on the East Coast and Booths and ASDA in the UK.
Monday, June 21, 2010
The licorice plant was not native to the area, it was likely brought in and planted sometime after the Crusades, sometime around the year 1000 or perhaps as late as 1090 when the Benedictine monks that came to the town to found their monastery. Licorice root was steeped and used like a syrup to sweeten drinks (or flavor spirits) and the roots were chewed as a treat. Sometime around 500 years ago the locals created a licorice confection known as Pontefract Cakes, which are really more of a little medallion of molasses-based licorice. The disks look rather like a coin or a blob of sealing wax. They don’t grow licorice in the area any longer, but there are still two factories that make the age old sweet: Haribo and Monkhill Confections (originally known as Wilkinson’s).
In fact, true Pontefract cakes were made by hand until the 60s. Rolls of licorice dough were pieced into little blobs and then hand stamped. These Haribo Pontefract Cakes preserve that hand-stamped look.
I was expecting these to be stiff and hard, like the continental European licorice. Instead they’re quite soft and pliable. They have a matte finish and feel like coins made out of silicone. I found that even though I didn’t seal up the bag well, they still didn’t get stale or tacky.
The early cakes had different embossed images in them, it’s said that they were of the Pontefract Castle, but this Haribo one is just a vague rectangle in the center (that might be a castle with a flag) and the Haribo Original name.
They smell sweet and a little herbal. Since these weren’t American-style licorice pieces (that usually contain wheat), I was expecting something a little smoother but perhaps a bit stronger. Instead I found quite a different flavor profile. First, it’s barely sweet. The sweetness is woodsy and rather delicate. The chew of the cake is soft and not quite gummy but more hearty than a gumdrop. There’s a little hint of salt to it (actually quite a bit 200 mg of sodium per serving) and the charcoal notes of molasses. The nice part about the flavor is that it’s a true licorice, not amped up anise. It’s mild and soothing.
They were a little weak to satisfy my licorice desires. I like a really hearty licorice with a lot of molasses with caramel, toasted sugar and charcoal notes, it seems to moderate the very sweet nature of true licorice. But these are easy to eat and though they stick to my teeth a little bit, the smoothness keeps me coming back for me.
These contain real licorice, so those with heath concerns with licorice extract should avoid it. It’s also made with gelatin, so it’s not for vegetarians or those who keep Kosher/Halal.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.