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.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Barratt makes fanciful and light confections with names like Sherbet Fountains, Frosties, Refreshers, Dip Dabs and Flumps. It’s all happiness and light ... or is it? They they also make Bruisers, Candy Sticks and Black Jacks - names that could be taken as harsh. They’re nothing compared to the Liquorice Catherine Wheels. Sure, Catherine Wheel is an outdated term for a cartwheel but it’s also a torture device named for the method of execution of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
Okay, maybe we’ll consider the name to be taken from the cartwheel.
Like the American confectionery landscape, European candy makers have been consolidating for years, with smaller companies being bought up and integrated into multinational concerns. Barratt was most recently owned by Monkhill Confectionery which was in turn owned by Cadbury. They sold it off to Tangerine Confectionery in 2008, making Tangerine the #4 sweets maker in the United Kingdom.
This particular candy is an interesting hybrid construction. Licorice strips are wound up around a nonpareil licorice button. The buttons came in a variety of colors - I saw pink, light blue and orange ones. This package had a tray of six wheels and clocked in at almost four ounces. (At first I was a little miffed that it was three bucks, but then I realized it wasn’t a single portion, it was at least three.) They’re made with natural flavorings and colorings, though a word of caution that they use carmine coloring ... but there’s also gelatin in there, so they’re not even close to vegetarian.
Each wheel is pretty big. They’re about two thirds of an ounce each and the package says 60 calories. They’re two inches in diameter and the licorice belts are about a quarter of an inch. Unwound, there’s at least 34 inches of chewy black licorice strip. The strips are made of a wheat and molasses base and strongly flavored with licorice. They’re woodsy and dark, with a deep tangy note. The chew is stiff and kind of tough, but lasts a really long time. There’s no weird aftertaste from artificial colors.
The center button is aromatic and reminded me more of anise and other balsamic compounds like lavender and rosemary than licorice itself. The nonpareils aren’t as crunchy as I would have thought, they’re actually smaller than something found on a SnoCap, so maybe that’s part of it. The jelly/gummi center is smooth and has a good chew to it. They’re a good bite and a light contrast to the molasses and charcoal notes of the black straps.
I was surprised and pleased by these. They’re fun to eat, since there are so many ways to approach the pieces. I like that there’s a variation in the textures and flavor profiles. I wish I could buy a smaller package though, maybe two or three at a time. The tray seemed silly, but maybe they need that to keep them from getting really stuck together. They’d probably make great decorations, like in the center of a cake (but far too much for a single cupcake).
So my European friends, is this the only brand of these or are there other variations on this? I’d like to try them all.
Friday, April 2, 2010
They’re also crazy cheap, most of the time a theater box like this that holds 7 ounces is just a buck. When I looked at the flavors on this box I was a little confused about what made these an Easter version besides the box (Mike and Ike come in holiday boxes that are the exact same candy). The flavors are Blueberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. The flavors of the classic Dots box are Strawberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. So in this version the Strawberry has been swapped for Blueberry.
These were very fresh. Tootsie does a good job of sealing up the boxes well and Dots have a clear cellophane overwrap.
Once I opened the box I found out the big difference, it’s the color. Easter Dots are bright and opaque little nubbins.
Well, maybe there was another difference. These seem to be just as smooth but have a “shorter” chew to them, so they didn’t stick to my teeth like Dots usually do. I liked the freshness of the flavors, though it’s a little bland it’s also soothing. The blueberry was pretty convincing though I wish that one replaced the cherry instead of the strawberry.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Divine Milk Chocolate Speckled Eggs are all natural and fair trade milk chocolate eggs with a candy shell.
They’re freakishly expensive at $4.99 for 3.5 ounces, far more than I’d be willing to pay on a regular basis. I really only bought them because I’d been searching so hard for them it seemed weird to find them and then get decide they were too expensive. The chocolate is made from beans from the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa cooperative in Ghana. Seems like Easter is one of those holidays where folks may want to pay more attention to the social responsibility behind the treats.
The stand up box is charming. Inside is a little clear cellophane bag with a little more than a handful of eggs.
They’re very similar to Cadbury Mini Eggs. The shape is more football than pear. They beautiful muted colors and a matte finish.
The shell is smooth and softly decorated. The shell is quite thick and crunchy. The chocolate inside has a silky melt, a little sticky with a good caramelized dairy note. I liked them a lot and will probably buy them again next year. Hopefully they can be found in larger packages for better value. (Also, Whole Foods could do a better job of putting them where people can find them. I went to three different stores and it wasn’t until the fourth circuit of the one at 3rd & Fairfax that I found them - even after asking a stockperson.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
I liked the box a lot, it was easy to tell apart from the regular Sour Patch offerings. The only quibble is really the packaging. Like many theater box candies, inside the box the candy is inside a plain cellophane bag. As I mentioned above, the Dots are just tumbling around in the box and there’s a cellophane seal on the outside. For this version I have to open the box top completely to get the bag out, dump the candy into the box and then I’m faced with an opening that is really too large for dispensing.
They’re a little lighter in color compared to the Sour Patch Kids. Honestly, I prefer this. They’re colored enough that I can tell them apart and guess the flavor and that’s really all I need. Other than that, the shape was so vague, unless you told me these were bunnies I wouldn’t have known. Pink is the classic Swedish Fish flavor with a tangy coating. Green is lime, yellow is lemon and orange is orange. A biting sour coating, a chewy sweet jelly candy in the center ... they’re great.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The rabbit is similar to the white chocolate one I tried last year (and didn’t like that much, so I wonder why I was curious about this one). It’s a peanut butter coating (like peanut butter baking chips) with a peanut butter filling.
The three ounce flat rabbit is nicely molded. The butterscotch color is also really appealing. It smells like vanilla pudding and peanut butter. The coating though is a bit waxy and stiff, it melts but not in a dreamy way that good white chocolate does. But it’s not too sweet, which is a relief as well. The filling is a crumbly peanut butter with a salty note and a dry grainy crunch. I kind of got into it. I’d prefer it in a smaller format though, maybe one of the smaller eggs they do.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
They’re only 99 cents for a generous 9 ounce bag. Even at that bargain price, they’re not much of a deal. They’re pretty enough to look at and probably decorate with, but they’re inconsistent in flavor and execution. I also resent not knowing what’s inside. It’s not like the bag is tiny and has no room for information like the flavor array.
White is pineapple. It’s sweet and floral but bland. Green is lime and rather strong but lacking zest. Purple is grape and is utterly stupid ... seriously, it tastes like sweet stupidity. Black is licorice. All of the black ones seemed to be smaller than the other jelly beans. Still, they were tasty and well done. Pink is bitter and just dreadful. Perhaps it’s strawberry. Red is not as bitter but still dreadful. Orange is sweet and empty. Finally there’s yellow, which is actually pretty good, it’s like a sugared lemon peel.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping for rich flavors, but of course I know Brach’s well enough that I really won’t be getting much more than a decent looking product. The bag doesn’t promise much more than a good value, so I should probably adjust my expectations.
Red is a mild cinnamon, not as good as Hot Tamales and kind of tinged with some of the mint notes, but still pleasant like a cup of spiced chai. White is peppermint. I have to say that a peppermint jelly bean is a little odd especially since it’s so grainy but still fresh tasting. Pink is wintergreen which I really love except when there’s too much food dye like this one that has a weird bitter clove & plastic aftertaste - but at moments it’s kind of like root beer. Purple is clove and is actually mild enough for me to enjoy though true clove lovers will probably be disappointed. Orange is sweet and again lacking in any pizazz. Black is again licorice and pretty good (though it makes my tongue dark green).
I think the problem is that I’ve already had some pretty good spice jelly beans from Hot Tamales (Just Born) and there’s really no need to switch brands, the price is comparable, availability is the only issue.
Rating: 5 out of 10
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Friday, January 15, 2010
Rococo is a small chocolatier and chocolate maker based in London. They grow their cacao in Grenada, in a partnership with the Grenada Chocolate Company. They grow organic Trinitario beans which are then turned into bars and fine chocolates at founder Chantal Coady’s space in London.
The design of the packaging and candy itself is charming, quaint and distinctive from other chocolatiers. The flavors she employs are also a distinctive palette of aromatics, spices and florals.
The chocolate is sold primarily in Great Britain, though there are a couple of shops that have mostly the bars in North America. When I was in San Francisco last time I found the line of Bee Bars at Miette Confiserie. The bars are expensive, so I opted for the petite versions - these are only 20 grams each but cost $3.50 (that works out to $39.50 a pound). The bars are about three inches long, so really just one portion.
The packages are beguiling with reproductions of antique French chocolate mold images lined up and printed in pastel colors like purple and olive green in the case of my bars and navy blue, pink and orange for other bars. I picked up Organic Plain Lavender (dark), Organic Milk 37% Cocoa and Organic White Cardamom.
I was a bit surprised when I got home and opened my boxes that there is no inner wrapper. No foil, no cellophane, no overwrap for the box or even glue or tape for the tabs.
Still, my bar was in exquisite condition - glossy and beautifully molded. The bee bar, my guess, is named for the mold that has a little bee with outstretched wings on each segment. There are no honey ingredients.
The Milk 37% Cocoa Bee Bar is quite simple. It’s a little softer than a dark chocolate, though certainly doesn’t bend like a Cadbury bar.
It has the light scent of milk and sugar and a little musky hint or malt. It’s quite dark for a milk which appeals to me, though it still has that light cooling effect on the tongue that’s common in milk chocolate. The melt is silky and smooth though on the sticky side because of the sugar and 17% milk content. The chocolate notes are overshadowed by the milk for the most part, but it’s still a great texture and the fresh dairy flavors are a highlight.
The Lavender Bee Bar is made from 65% cacao and uses no vanilla, instead it’s organic lavender essential oil that gives this bar its pop. The fact that they use oil instead of flowers is different here. I’ve had other bars that use whole flowers to flavor the chocolate and while that does a nice job of imparting complex flavors, lavender buds really aren’t that tasty or smooth.
The dark chocolate is smooth, a bit dry and bitter. The lavender is woodsy with a hint of pine and a whiff of aromatics like menthol. I like the flavor of lavender, it reminds me a lot of rosemary - both go well with all kinds of chocolate.
The bar that was most compelling to me was the White Cardamom Bee Bar. This one was wrapped - both in foil and then a paper-overwrap. The mold of the bar is also slightly different - it’s four sections instead of six.
The bar is beautiful, a light and creamy yellow with specks of spice. The ingredients list 28% cacao (that’d be cocoa butter) and 22% milk.
I love cardamom and love tasting it in candy. This bar utilizes it perfectly, it’s like a rich rice pudding. It’s a little sweet, but the deep nutty flavors of the cardamom, which is kind of like nutmeg, coriander and saffron all in one. I could eat this bar regularly. I wouldn’t mind a little vanilla in it, to give it some bourbon notes, but this is fabulous as it is.
Other flavor combinations I’m eager to try are Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh; Arabic Spices; Basil & Persian Lime; Orange & Geranium and Peppered Mint. For web orders in the US, it appears that Miss Del’s General Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At these prices they’re certainly not an everyday indulgence, more of a way to explore the world of flavors.
Monday, September 21, 2009
There’s been a bit of chatter about Cadbury over the past few months. First, Cadbury is going Fair Trade with their most popular product, the Dairy Milk bar. Since the bar is the United Kingdom’s #1 selling bar with $852 million in sales buying only fair trade cocoa will make a huge difference for cocoa growing regions. (It’s also #1 in Australia and India.)
The second bit of news is that Kraft, the global food powerhouse that owns not only a large corner of the cheese food world but also Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate and Cote d’Or, made a bid for Cadbury.
Cadbury has chocolate factories all over the world and each one has slightly different local takes on the product. Here in the United States the Cadbury Dairy Milk products aren’t even made by Cadbury, they’re made by Hershey’s under a licensing agreement. (But it’s not like Hershey’s even makes it from scratch, the major raw material of the chocolate crumb - a mixture of dried milk and chocolate - is shipped to Hershey, Pennsylvania to be combined on site with sugar and other ingredients to form the end product.)
I found a nice single serve block of Cadbury Dairy Milk from the UK. It was in marvelous condition and looked like it had been stored well at the India Sweets & Spices where I shop - it’s kept at the end of the produce section in the refrigerated area - so it’s climate controlled.
I also picked up a few of the super cute Dairy Milk Buttons, which are little chocolate disks.
For the American version I found a nice back of Dairy Milk Miniatures from Hershey’s Signatures line.
It’s apparent when putting them side by side like this that the American made (on the left) is darker than the UK made one (on the right). What I liked about these two products is that they single pieces of each were similar shapes & thickness.
Both have a nice sheen and are well molded.
I liked the deeply segmented bar that broke easily into pieces. Each is beveled, so it’s easy to snap off and easy to bite.
The bar smells sweet and rather cheesy, like cottage cheese or maybe yogurt. The cocoa notes are sweet, more like chocolate cake than cocoa. In fact, but those together and the closest I can get is this smells like a rich chocolate cheesecake.
The melt is thick and sticky; it’s sweet at first but then gives way to some deep toffee and caramel sugar notes. Then it gets sweet again ... a bit too sweet for me. After two pieces my throat was burning and I had to drink some water and eat some plain crackers.
The melt is consistent. Quite smooth but not silky or buttery. It didn’t feel fatty, it felt fudgy - like the sugar wasn’t quite integrated with the cocoa.
The dairy notes were decent, a little thick in the back of my throat but not as powdery tasting as some other European style milk chocolates.
Overall I would have preferred a much smoother & more chocolatey punch. However, that’s not what the Dairy Milk bar is about, it’s about the milk component as much as the chocolate, since there are near equal proportions. Milk solids clock in at 23% and cocoa solids are 20%. There are also about 5% vegetable fats in there taking the place of cocoa butter.
This is why the front of a Dairy Milk bar doesn’t even say chocolate - they’d have to put the vegetable statement on the front along with it by their current labeling standards.
I wanted to be as thorough as I could, so I also tasted a package of Dairy Milk Buttons which are kind of like Hershey’s Kisses in that they’re little nibbles of chocolate.
They’re about the diameter as pennies (though some were dime or nickel sized). The bottom has a little embossed Cadbury logo.
Each little piece is rather thin, so melts quickly on the tongue. They release the flavors quicker and taste more milky to me. There’s also a slight cool effect on the tongue.
I liked them, and the little shapes are probably very easy to combine with other items like nuts, popcorn or candies for a more varied mix of textures.
The American has a sweet, slightly tangy milk scent with a hint of toasted cocoa. The bit is soft but has a good snap to it. The melt is a bit on the sticky side but not overly sweet.
It has a bit of a fudgy flavor and texture, though much creamier. I wouldn’t go so far to call it silky, in fact parts of it were downright gritty. It had a good toasted & smoked taste to it, much darker in taste than the traditional Hershey’s or Mars.
The overt flavors are definitely of the dairy products, not of the chocolate.
It is Kosher ... the UK bar has no Kosher mark.
Okay, so they’re similar but not quite the same. I did some investigating on the labels:
First, it’s the ingredients.
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Bournville, UK
Cadbury Dairy Milk from Hershey, USA
Since the portions & packages were so different, I did a little Excel magic on them and standardized it to compare:
From what I can tell, there is a just a smidge less fat in the American but slightly more sugar ... now these are tiny, tiny amounts. Not enough, as far as I know, to account for the color difference. Also, the UK labels are more precise - American standards allow rounding, UK measures in tenths.
I have no preference, except to say that I don’t care much for plain Dairy Milk. I prefer it with nuts in it and they do have an ample variety of bars that have nuts. It’s just too sweet and doesn’t have enough of a cocoa punch. I’ve become spoiled by the high cocoa content of products like Scharffen Berger and Amano when it comes to just eating by the piece.
For those in the United States, the British made bars can be found at import shops and places like Cost Plus World Market. For those in the UK, I’m sure it’s near impossible and pointless to get the American made stuff.
So it all comes down to personal preference. There are lots of folks who prefer the American made because it’s what they’ve grown up on. It’s a little bit firmer because of the all-cocoa-butter content but not quite as milky as the classic British made bars. Have you had both? Which do you prefer?
Friday, September 11, 2009
When I was in college at Humboldt State University one summer I house-sat for a friend and as a thank you they gave me some tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. So my best friend and I packed up her rabbit puppet in her yellow Dodge Dart and we hit the road for the journey to Ashland to see the show.
The theatre was in the classic outdoor Elizabethan-style, except for the electric lights and assigned seating. The show was fantastic. In addition they also had an amazing selection of treats and sweets to consume during the show. At an intermission I picked up a roll of Callard & Bowser Licorice Toffee. The roll was long and had individually wax-wrapped pieces. I was ill informed what they were, I was expecting buttery hard candy with a licorice note to it. Instead it was what we call a caramel here in the States and it had a pleasant spicy & woodsy flavor. I ate the whole roll right there during the show.
Over the years I found them here and there but the last time I had some was when I was in London sometime late in the last century.
Callard & Bowser was a British founded in 1837 and the maker of toffees but most notably to Americans are their Altoids mints. They were swallowed up by Kraft, which later spat them back out in 2004 to Wrigley’s ... which in turn was bought out by Mars last year. Somewhere along the way they discontinued the Licorice Toffee. So I no longer look for it. Instead, I’ve been on the prowl for alternatives and found a few promising options to suggest to readers. Today, I present to you the Walkers’ Nonsuch Liquorice Toffee.
Unlike the other Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees I’ve reviewed so far, these are individually wrapped in twisted paper-backed foil. The wrapper is cute & easy to identify as licorice since it’s a simple black & white design with a checkerboard pattern and red text.
Each little nugget is a little bigger around than a quarter and a lovely lump of sugar, sweetened condensed milk and treacle. It also features real liquorice extract as well as oil of aniseed.
They’re softer than the bar toffees; it’s an immediate stiff chew that softens with heat & mastication. The flavors are buttery and dark - not so much licorice but a soft anise with deep woodsy tones that reminded me of pumpernickel bread and spice cake. It’s smooth and satisfying.
I found the 150 gram (5.3 ounces) package to be completely inadequate (but it’s partly my fault for sharing these with my other licorice loving friends). The good news is that I got them at India Sweets & Spices and have also seen them listed online at The British Food Shop down in Orange County and if I get really desperate I can order online at Licorice International (though more than twice the price I find them locally).
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It’s odd how I look back into the Candy Blog archives when I pick up a new candy and see how seasonal some of my finds are. Over the weekend I went out to India Sweets & Spices for a tasty & dirt cheap vegetarian Indian lunch. The restaurant (which serves cafeteria-style) is also a grocery store. In their refrigerated section, right next to the yogurt & kefir is where they store their candy. I was pretty pleased to see a large selection of Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee which I really enjoyed two years ago this week.
They carried the nutted varieties, both Roasted Hazelnut and Brazil Nut plus the Fruit & Nut (raisins in caramel?). I opted for the Roasted Hazelnut Toffee.
The package looked pristine. The last packs I got, and everything I’ve seen on other candy review sites show the bars mushed. This one still had its sections intact - I’m guessing since it was stored in the cooled boxes.
The bar is a big slab weighing 3.5 ounces but only about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide - so it’s a dense mass of boiled sugar and milk. It’s scored into 10 pieces and whacking it on the side of the table seems to split it along those marks ... for the most part. (I hit it one time on one of the nuts and got, well, nutmeal for my troubles.)
The hazelnuts are pressed into each piece - one per piece ... there aren’t more hiding within.
While it’s called toffee in England, here in the United States I consider this caramel. It’s firm but softens easily in the mouth or warmth of your hand and makes a satisfying stiff chew. It stays completely smooth until it’s gone - no graininess at all.
The hazelnuts were roasted to perfection - crunchy, buttery and nutty. The combination of the texture and the burnt sugar notes & butter of the caramel was amazing. I wanted to gobble the bar up, but of course it has a limiting factor on it ... the caramel must be chewed and it takes time.
I wish there were twice as many hazelnuts. But still, pieces without nuts were awesome. No hint of rancid butter or nuts (which I do get sometimes with caramel products). Even better - I got this bar for $1.09 (I paid $1.77 for the last ones I bought). It’s a great deal for a quality product.
If I can’t get this again soon, I might just make my own hazelnut caramels.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
While wandering around Mel & Rose’s wide selection of imported mass-produced candies I finally found Galaxy Minstrels in single sized packs.
The package seemed light and didn’t seem to have a lot of candy in it, but I’m always game for something new to me.
Galaxy is a chocolate brand made by Mars and sold in the UK and selected parts of Europe (if the languages on the back of the package were any evidence, I’d say Greece/Cyprus and Spain). Though many folks consider Dove to be the American equivalent of Galaxy, there are a few subtle differences. (My previous Galaxy review.)
Minstrels are big, about .75 inches in diameter. They’re like giant M&Ms but the proportions are more like Nestle Smarties - a bit flatter.
All of the candies are dark brown ... no color varieties here. These are serious candies, somber and easy to pick up.
The flavor is like chocolate milk, slightly weak but sweet & rich chocolate milk. It’s not strongly chocolate ... it doesn’t even have a distinct cocoa flavor, it’s more about milk. The crunch of the shell is good - crispy and without any additional flavors (like I experience with Smarties, which have a bit of a Cheerios flavor).
They’re completely different from M&Ms as far as I’m concerned, they’re more like white chocolate than milk chocolate. Looking at the ingredients list I can see that they’re not even qualified to be called chocolate in the United States, which has more stringent standards than the UK, which allows vegetable fat and whey - though it still has a strong proportion of cocoa butter as it is the second ingredient. (I’m lumping this in both the mockolate and chocolate categories.)
They’re really nice, I had two packages and ate both. There’s a slight malty tone to it, it’s milky without being sticky sweet like Cadbury and of course the bold disks make them fun to play with. If these were widely available, I’d certainly pick them up regularly, especially to pair with pretzels, Sugar Babies and almonds for a summer trail snack.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.