Monday, July 7, 2008
Earlier this year I attended ExpoWest, a trade show which highlights natural products. It’s actually a great place to find candy, though most of the time the products were advocating what they put in them. There were candies with added vitamins, minerals others fortified with omega3 fatty acids, exotic gums & algae and still others made from completely raw ingredients or buying carbon offsets. Instead, Zootons are highlighting what they don’t put in them.
Zootons is a line of soft, chewy jelly candies that are organic and vegan. That’s it.
I know that many parents (and adult candy fans) can be frustrated with sweets that say they’re healthy but then fail to match the appeal of the unnatural counterparts that are so ubiquitous (and let’s face it, less expensive).
At first glance Zootons seem to narrow the gap. The packaging is kid friendly - black boxes that each have a different big-mouthed monster icon on them. They also have a little window that lets you see the candy. Inside the box are two sealed packages (50 grams each) which counts as a full serving.
While I hesitate to call them healthy, they’re certainly easy to add to a kids diet as a treat.
Cute little star shapes with a coating of coarse granulated sugar. They come in four flavors: strawberry (pink), pineapple (yellow), blackcurrant (dark red) and lemon (also yellow).
The distinction between the flavors wasn’t that significant. I was able to tell the pineapple and the blackcurrant from the others, but it all kind of blended together. They’re not terribly tangy, just sweet and fruity.
The texture is fun, the sugary coating gives them a little crunch and the smooth jelly center is moist.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping the Sours would give me the pop that I was looking for in the Jellies.
The Sours come in strawberry, orange, raspberry and lemon. Again, not easy to tell apart visually.
These were much moister than the Jelly stars. The sour started with the sugary coating. Not super-tangy, just a little sizzle of flavor on the tongue.
The lemon was quite nice, not as zesty as I might have liked, but very authentic tasting, like a lemonade jelly. Strawberry was amazingly vivid, both fragrant and tangy, it was like an intense slice of strawberry jam. Raspberry felt very flavored and less like distilled fruits. But it was tingly-tart and satisfying.
These are quite a winner. They’re not too sour for littler kids, I think the only ones who would be disappointed are older kids who are obsessed with the tongue-blistering-super-dare sours.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was where things went a little strange. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to using the word gummi. Gummis should have a jelling agent in them like gelatin or agar-agar. In this case, they do not have either of those. I was hoping there was some innovation or technique not evident in the ingredients that would give them that inimitable bouncy gummi texture that any child who has had the real thing will expect. Sadly, no. These are just fruit jellies.
The surface is a bit dry, but not covered in the granulated sugar like the other Jellies and Sours. They say they come in four flavors: pineapple, blackcurrant, orange and raspberry. Honestly, I had a hard time telling them apart visually. They were sweet and fruity, but not terribly tangy. Soft and quite moist once I bit into them, they did have a bit of a bounce. Of the set, I think they were my least favorite. Just not enough zip for me.
Rating: 4 out of 10
This was the most exciting concept of the whole line. I’ve had organic jelly candies before (and have written about Surf Sweets). But so few companies - traditional or organic - make anything cola flavored. I just had to try these.
The little stars don’t look like much in the package, but take them out and they’re quite lovely. The dark amber is spot on correct for Cola.
The flavor is absolutely cola - it has that tangy, almost lemon flavor at first, then that ... whatever cola flavor is ... a bit of cinnamon a bit of rum and a bit of caramel. They’re not intense, none of the Zootons are, but they’re pleasant.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m not sure where these are being sold so far, but keep your eyes peeled if you have a picky kid or are trying to get only candies with natural colorings in them. They don’t wow me like some pate de fruits, but they’re not intended to ... it’s just a fun candy treat.
Candy Addict also did a taste test of these last month.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Princess is currently known for their marshmallows and Tangerine is known as the company who manufactures the Anthon Berg line of filled chocolates, so it seems natural that they’d combine these skills for an Easter egg. At about the same size as a Cadbury Creme Egg, they’re still a little lighter. (The package didn’t say, but I’m guessing this is less than an ounce.)
The pastel foil wrapper holds a very pretty chocolate egg with a swirl on both sides. Mine were pristine and without the usual dings and scrapes that most of the eggs get at the store because they were sent right from the PR folks handing the Princess account. (Yay!)
It smells lightly of milky chocolate and a little like raspberry. In fact, I wasn’t sure if it was a flavored marshmallow until I bit into it.
The marshmallow doesn’t quite fill the hemispheres, there’s a little gap, as it’s apparent that they fill the halves and then join them together. The marshmallow is pleasantly plump and foamy, a little dry and very pink. It’s a little grainy at times, but not in an unpleasant way. The raspberry flavor is just an essence, a whiff, no hint of tangy berry overtones.
It was sweet, but not too sticky or overwhelming like I find the CCE. Though I think I still prefer the Russell Stover Marshmallow & Caramel Egg, this one is pretty tasty too, and of course cute and hefty enough to impress any child if it were in the Easter basket on a Sunday morning.
I couldn’t read the little print on the foil wrapper, but the press kit emailed to me heralded that “Princess Marshmallow Egg contains only natural colours and flavours, no added salt and no hydrogenated fats.” (They actually do have all that stuff on their website, so few American companies actually do that.) There’s actual real vanilla in there too ... I’m kind of jealous that the Brits get to have real chocolate with real vanilla in it for less than a dollar.
UK readers can pick these little gems up for about 40p in corner shops, garage forecourts and Somerfield supermarkets.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Though the standard big item in an Easter basket is a chocolate bunny, there’s nothing in the books that says that is must be a bunny. In fact, many companies make things like eggs (often filled with other chocolate or confectionery items), chicks, ducks, filled baskets, geese and some folks even do crosses.
This week I looked at four different options that could be purchased at just about any drug store or discount retailer: R.M. Palmer, Wonka, Russell Stover & Lindt, though this isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed hollow chocolate items.
Two years ago I visited Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, and if you were ever looking for a Tiffany-style experience for Easter baskets, that’d be the place. You can get a hollow chocolate bunny the size of a toddler. (Well, toddlers aren’t hollow.)
Oddly enough at this writing there’s nothing on the Jacques Torres website that mentions anything about the impending holiday (I always figured Lent was the classic time to display Easter goodies).
So I thought I’d wrap up the week with two other devilish hollow chocolate items, though they’re not exactly for Easter, they give a good sense of some more pricey items that are out there.
Milk Chocolate Gnome by Michel Cluizel with a white chocolate beard - I was sent this as a sample a few days before Christmas along with some other items that I’d already tried (the single origin tasting kit, being one of them).
Cluizel is known as one of the few bean to bar to bonbon companies in the world, so they have exclusive control over everything from the quality of the beans to the molding and packaging of the product. This fellow came in a flat bottomed clear bag and in perfect condition. He’s made with a dark milk chocolate that is tempered to perfection. It has a nice milky scent and perfect snap when I bit the top of his hat off.
The chocolate itself isn’t very thick at the top but moreso as I got down to his little feet. The chocolate is sweet, perhaps a little too much for me, but extremely creamy with a well balanced chocolate flavor.
I also had a white chocolate flat snowman with a candied orange peel scarf and a nose and buttons made from chocolate pearls. The white chocolate was indeed buttery and sweet with wonderful vanilla notes.
I don’t know what you can get from Cluizel in the States via the web, but a visit to their NYC shop or any of their French locations would probably be divine. The closest item I can find online right now is in the Chocosphere “Bargain Basement”.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Chocolate Penguin from Hotel Chocolat - again, just before Christmas I got a package of some items from Hotel Chocolate which included some things that I couldn’t eat because of walnuts (okay, I actually ate one of them and besides being very uncomfortable from a swollen throat I was mostly cross).
The mostly milk hollow figure is a bit thicker than the Cluizel. It’s nicely formed and decorated in the shape of a penguin with both dark and white chocolate accents.
The Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate is 40%, which is really high in cacao for a milk. It’s very creamy with a strong dairy component, good malty tones and a mellow chocolatey base.
Hotel Chocolat is new to the States, but has a strong following in the UK (see the coverage at Chocablog for more reviews). They source their chocolate ethically and use natural ingredients. They don’t actually have any chocolate bunnies here in the States, but a really attractive “engraved egg” that’s either hollow or filled with an assortment of their chocolates. Their UK assortment is much wider (and has a great mix of elegance and casual kookiness.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
My hollow chocolate adventures are not over, I’m still planning on getting some from See’s (which uses Guittard milk and dark chocolate), Vosges, L.A. Burdick, Lake Champlain among others.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I wrote about Sponge Candy a couple of weeks ago and Dom from Chocablog rightfully pointed out in the comments that I’ve never mentioned Cadbury Crunchie. This is true, though I’ve eaten a few of them before. Time to rectify!
I first bought a Crunchie a few years ago, thinking it was a Cadbury version of the Nestle Violet Crumble. They’re slightly different.
The Crunchie is a plank of dense honeycomb “sponge candy” covered in milk chocolate. While sponge would make you think that it’s somehow soft and yielding like marshmallow, this is hard and will shatter into shards when smacked. The honeycomb has an inconsistent texture, as shown in the photo. There’s a center stripe of sparkly, very crunchy honeycomb. The margins have a smaller bubble size. Still, it’s heavier than the other Sponge Candy from Parkside Candy and the Violet Crumble.
The flavor of the center is sweet with a light hit of salt and a strong note of burnt sugar, especially in the middle stripe.
I think the bar is nice, but in no way comes close to the experience of the Sponge Candy I recently had. The consistency of the center is just to, well, consistent and far too dense to have a quick melt-in-your-mouth quality. The chocolate is okay, it’s sweet but a little on the waxy side and doesn’t really lift up the experience as much as it could. I prefer the stronger taste and more textured honeycomb of this to the Violet Crumble, probably because the chocolate is a bit better, too.
I honestly don’t know why there isn’t some version of this made in the States by one of the major candy companies. I don’t have too much trouble finding Violet Crumble in Los Angeles (they carry it at many 7-11s near me) and I got another of these Crunchie bars at a Brit import shop as well. You’d think that Nestle or Cadbury would just sell them here themselves.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.
Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)
The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.
While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.
The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.
This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”
At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.
The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.
But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.
After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)
I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.
The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.
More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I’ve talked a lot over the years about Candy Season and the accompanying seasonal candies that go with each. Slowly the candy companies are seeing that those seasonal favorites can be re-purposed into other seasons. Just like M&Ms are found in color combos for every time of the year and Russell Stover is making a marshmallow-filled pumpkin, Santa and egg, it seems that Cadbury doesn’t want anyone to miss out on incorporating their egg-shaped candies into the major holidays.
This is where the Cadbury Ornament Creme Egg comes in. It’s just a Cadbury Creme Egg with a red foil wrapper.
It seems silly, but I’m going to re-review these, even though they’re no different than the Easter version. However, the last time I ate one was back in ‘06 when they were 1.38 ounces. This made for a very large reservoir of fondant ... which is not my favorite part of the Cadbury Creme Egg. (My favorite part of the Cadbury Creme Egg, for the record, was the clucking bunny commercial.) The more recent version is 1.2 ounces.
The egg has a wonderful sweet dairy chocolate smell to it that reminded me of powdered milk. Both of mine had a small sticky problem around the seam (and I tried to hard to pick good ones).
The nose cone of both seemed extremely thick, which gave a good dose of chocolate to the otherwise too-sweet fondant density.
The fondant creme center is sweet, it’s nice and smooth indicating its freshness (an old Creme Egg will have a slight grain to the fondant). But really, it’s just a big hunk of sugar, and while I often enjoy big hunks of sugar (rock candy anyone?), I still felt a little too much of a sugar rush aftewards.
I think I prefer the smaller one. I’d love it if they made a mint one (and I did find the orange one a bit better). That said, it’s still not a favorite of mine. But I’m sure fans of the Creme Egg will be happy to see it now as their stockpiles from Easter are probably long gone.
While I can fault them for doing nothing more than slapping a different color wrapper on it and the word “ornament” to make it a Christmas product, I did find that making the Mini Eggs into little spheres for their new Christmas thingies did actually muck with perfection.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
One of the cultural differences it took me a while to get over was the British insistence on calling caramel “toffee”. I can forgive them, mostly because they do such a nice job making soft toffee in the classic butter caramel style. For those Brits reading, in the US we call toffee a hard crack, boiled sugar and butter mixture.
Last weekend I went to a new British food shop called The British Food Shop in Laguna Niguel. They had a very nice selection of consumer candies from the United Kingdom at decent prices, everything also looked exceptionally fresh. I picked out quite a few things, including some Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee.
The big slabs aren’t much to look at, unless you hold it up in bright light and admire the depth and richness of the pure caramelized color ... like it’s a Tahitian pearl or a puppy.
The bars aren’t really user-friendly and a bit hefty at 3.5 ounces. They have little sections in them, but the best way to eat the candy is to chill it and then whack it firmly on the corner of the table or counter. I find this works best if you put it in a ziploc baggie first, lest it burst its way out of the package.
The toffee smells buttery and rich. It’s a very firm caramel chew, so it helps to prewarm it in the palm of your hand or in your mouth for a moment before trying to chew it.
It’s ultra smooth, not too sweet and barely salty. The burnt sugar notes and true butter flavor are a simple pleasure.
The package states that there are no artificial colors or preservatives, but neglects to mention the artificial emulsifier (E471, also known as mono and diglycerides of fatty acids, which may be from an animal source). 8 out of 10
The other variety I couldn’t resist is their Treacle Toffee. For those of you unfamiliar with the term treacle, it’s basically molasses and is often called golden syrup. This toffee features 13% black treacle, which sounds extra good.
Molasses is revered for its nutritional profile, it’s like sugar, only with plenty of necessary minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron). Those minerals add a wonderful woodsy, nutty taste to the sweet syrup. I’ve had a craving for molasses for a few weeks, I’m guessing it’s an essential mineral I’m missing or something. I’ve been pondering a recipe for Molasses and Peanut Butter Bread Pudding. But that’s neither here nor there ... this is a review of toffees!
This toffee smelled like pecans, maple sugar and a cedar closet filled with caramels and honey all at once.
This chew is just as smooth and satisfying, if a little less sweet than the original variety. I really enjoyed both the depth of the flavor and the consistent chew of it. 9 out of 10
Now I’m curious to try Walkers’ other nutted varieties of their toffee and of course the licorice variety. The company has been making toffee (and only toffee) for over a hundred years and is still run by the Walker family. I like the idea that a company that makes a quality product can simply continue doing so generation after generation. Toffee may not be the most popular candy category any longer (chocolate is), but it still has an important place in the confectionery pantheon.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I reviewed Smarties a couple of years ago, but they were the Canadian version and I thought they merited a revisit with the originals ... especially since they’re so wildly popular around the world with sales topping $140,000,000 a year!
Smarties were introduced by Rowntree in the UK back in 1937. Legend has it that Forrest Mars and a Rowntree family member were traveling through Spain in the mid-1930s and saw the soldiers there would eat chocolate that was covered in sugar to keep it from melting. Both men saw the merits of this novel way of serving candies, especially when combined with the French and Italian panning processes that provides an attractive colored shell. Rowntree first named their new chocolate lentils “Chocolate Niblet Beans” but changed next year to Smarties.
They’re not sold in the United States owing mostly to the fact that the name Smarties is already taken here (and perhaps some sort of gentleman’s agreement between Rowntree & Mars ... I can’t find any record of it though).
Smarties offer a wide variety of colors in their flat chocolate candies and recently change from artificial colors to all natural ones in hopes that it will reduce reticence among moms because of concerns about artificial colors being linked to hyperactivity.
The hexagonal tubes that hold the Smarties are certainly cute. They’re easy to dispense from and they don’t roll around. The candies themselves are attractive, if now a little mottled in color.
Smarties shells are a little thicker than M&Ms and have a light flavor to them that I can only call cookie flavored (maybe ‘Nilla Wafers or Graham Crackers). The chocolate inside is rather unremarkable - not terribly rich or creamy.
What’s most surprising and pleasant about the Smarties is the flavor of the orange ones. They’re actually orange. Kind of a middle-of-the-road orange, not terribly deep or zesty, more like the Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The colors are remarkably different than they used to be. I tossed out a little array with some M&Ms ColorWorks as a comparison. The difference is pretty easy to see - the Smarties lack a depth to the color. However, it gives them a little artisan, homespun quality that certainly doesn’t turn me off.
Brits are fierce about their Smarties, and even the little changes in the packaging and colors seem to get people all fired up. Here’s a commercial from last year when the Hex tube replaced the round one with the collectible caps.
Here’s another earlier one that might lead one to believe that there’s something really psychedelic about these candies!
While parents may be happy that the artificial colors are gone, vegetarians aren’t. They now use carminic acid to make the reds, which is made from cochineal insects. (It also means that they’re not Kosher.)
Further, it’s not what Americans would consider “pure chocolate” as it contains whey and vegetable fat fillers. Ingredients are: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, dried skimmed milk, butterfat, whey powder, vegetable fat, lactose and soy lecithin. The coating is: sugar, wheat flour, modified starch, colors (titanium dioxide, mixed carotenes, carminic acid, vegetable carbon, riboflavin, copper, complexes of chlorophyllins), glazing agents, beetroot juice and flavourings.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.