Wednesday, November 9, 2005
These little 45 gram bars are a wonderful example of how a niche product can break out big in the wide candy world. Made in the UK from fair trade cocoa beans, these bars come not only in the familiar milk and dark varieties, but also an orange flavored bar and they’ve also introduced a smaller bar for kids called Dubble.
The dark chocolate bar is smoky and rich and has a good, complex flavor to it. Very woodsy with a slight dry finish. The chocolate is smooth but a little waxy at first as it warms up on the tongue, but there’s no hint of grain at all. At 70% cocoa solids, this is a very chocolatey bar but doesn’t have that crumbly feel that some have. The snap was good and personally, I prefer a chunky bar to a flat one.
The milk chocolate bar is very European, with a strong dried milk component to it. It’s very sweet but has a good chocolate taste and is smooth and rich on the tongue. AT 27% cocoa solids, this is a very milky bar (using both dried milk and dried cream).
Again, you’re probably asking, why pay a bit more for the same quality? Well, in this case more money is going directly to the farmers who produce the cocoa beans. Farmers (by this I mean the folks who actually tend the plants, harvest the beans and prepare them for shipping) not only get a decent wage, they are guaranteed income through long-term contracts and the company supports education for children in the area. Economic stability provides political stability which in turn helps to turn the African economy to a more sustainable one not based on government aid where communities build themselves through their agriculture and small industry.
One note about how Divine and Equal Exchange differ - Divine is NOT organic. If you’re looking for a bottom-to-top socially responsible chocolate, go with Equal Exchange because its cocoa farming is organic and is working with cooperatives in multiple locations as well as using organic, unprocessed sugar. If you’re looking for a move in the right direction (or don’t have access to EE), then go Divine and support the widest possible marketing efforts (hey, buy some from both and help farmers in Peru, Dominican Republic and Ghana!).
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Name: Barley Sugar
Some folks look down their noses at hard candy. Like it’s not candy or it’s a last resort. What’s great about hard candy is that it’s incredibly portable and comes in huge varieties and is generally pretty cheap. And for the most part it’s pure sugar. While I don’t buy a lot of hard candy, I do enjoy it for particular tasks, like high-velocity noveling, whale watching excursions and long car trips.
When I was a kid we used to get barley sugar pops. They were lollipops shaped like old fashioned toys like trains, teddy bears, little dollhouses and animals. The flavors were delicate, not like a Charms sweet & sour pop, but more like a dreamy honey flavor with a touch of lemon or orange. Some have no flavor at all, like the Valentine’s hearts pops. For some reason most barley sugar candy seems to come in lollies. I have no idea why.
Barley Sugar is kind of like molasses, it’s a rather raw syrup made from germinated grains (usually barley) and is often used along with cane sugar and corn syrup to both add flavor and color to boiled candies.
These little sweets look a little like Clementine orange slices, a rich amber orange hard candy. The flavor is sweet with a nice touch of orange essence and no hint of sour. The candies are very solid and smooth with no voids or bubbles in them. The dissolve evenly and have a nice crunch if you’re one of those (I am, I can’t just let a candy dissolve in my mouth, I will chew it up).
They’re a little ordinary, but sometimes I like that ... sometimes I don’t want screaming green apple or supersour lemon drops. Sometimes I want a cup of Earl Grey tea and a few demure sweets. They’re not attention grabbers, but they’re a wonderful background music for my other pursuits.
Rating - 8 out of 10 (a little pricey for sugar)
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Name: Terry’s Chocolate Orange
When I was a kid, Santa used to bring Chocolate Oranges to us in our stockings. This bar is like that, but not sectioned and spherical, but a heck of a lot easy to stow in your handbag or backpack.
Like many holiday products, it’s the packaging and associations of the season that make them special. Most chocolate Easter bunnies I ate as a child were horrible waxy chocolate but as big as my arm; they were part of the holiday and any holiday that had a large container of candy involved was obviously good. Easter, as the last candy holiday of the year meant that all jelly beans and peeps must be eaten, because there will be no more candy until Halloween. I pretty much feel the same way about chocolate oranges, they’re not necessarily good when you look at them with the analytical eye of sophisticated adult tastes, but nostalgia makes up for a lot of that.
Here are the ingredients: Sugar, skimmed milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, butterfat, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavorings (orange oil, vanillin). See ... it’s sugar and some powdered milk ... then you get to the chocolate part. Terry’s is very sweet, very milky chocolate, and not milk in the sense of that deliciously smooth and creamy stuff, I’m talking that powdered stuff. You know, the stuff you drank when you couldn’t afford real milk. The stuff that reminds you of not being able to afford milk, let alone candy.
All that said, the taste of this is Christmas. It’s sweet and has the wonderful essence of orange (which is a really good complement to chocolate). The bar is delightfully shaped like a bunch of orange sections in a row and you can snap them off almost like the round orange. So just like I can’t help but gnaw on the waxy ears of chocolate rabbits, I can’t help but eat this whole bar even if it did make my teeth hurt.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I’d never seen these before, but the package seemed happy so I bought it. Unfortunately the import label that was applied to it covered up half of the original label but I took it off and founds that it says “Share me Munchies.” Okay.
Munchies are a little ball of biscuit (cookie) surrounded by flowing caramel and covered in chocolate, shaped like a little cube (okay, not totally cubular, a little shorter than wide).
They’re completely poppable, about the same size as a Rolo and like a tiny little Twix bar. The ratio of chocolate seems greater than a Twix, so if chocolate is your thing and not the cookie so much, this might be a good alternative candy.
They’re cute and very sweet but a little lacking in flavor for me. The biscuit isn’t really crunchy, just crumbly and the caramel is sweet but lacks the carmelized sugar hit that I enjoy.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Monday, October 10, 2005
Name: Turkish Delight
I’ve included a couple of reviews here for Turkish Delight (or Turkish Paste), which is a rather obscure kind of candy in the States. I found this chocolate covered Turkish delight bar at Cost Plus. It’s a little smaller than a deck of cards.
What intrigued me at first was the quote on it that said that it was “Full of Eastern Promise.” At first I thought it said Easter, so I was confused enough to pick it up and look closer.
The bar is basically a delicately rose flavored jelly center covered with sweet milk chocolate. I happen to like flowery flavors, so it’s a big hit with me. It isn’t heavy and cloying like some fruit, minty or nut flavors can be and it has a pleasant aftertaste that lingers, like I’ve eaten a bouquet.
Being chocolate covered it also solves a common problem I have with Turkish delight, in that it’s usually covered in corn starch, which is just freakishly messy. I just wish it weren’t so danged expensive. Turkish Paste is usually about $8.00 a pound, but this stuff would end up being over $15 a pound. But the cool thing is that most other Turkish Paste is sold in 1/2 pound boxes and I don’t usually want that much, so I guess there is a middle ground in there.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Name: Jelly Babies
If you have ever watched Dr. Who with Tom Baker, you’ve seen him carry around that little white paper bag and offer folks Jelly Babies. I never knew what they were, just that they were different from jelly beans and not quite Swedish fish. I finally stumbled across them at a little grocer I stopped in after a meeting in San Francisco over the weekend that carried a lot of UK candies (I picked up a very fresh Curly Wurly while I was there too!).
Unfortunately, not having grown up in the UK, that is the sum total of my exposure to them. I had no idea until I started to make this post that the different colors had some sort of personality. This site has a pretty good history of the candies (apologies as they seem to have put black text on a dark blue background). The important thing to note about this review is the brand - these are Norfolk Manor Jelly Babies. The Bassett’s Jelly Babies (the original) are not imported into the US (so I’ll have to have someone grab some in the UK).
A jelly baby is simply a jelly candy with a grainy, crystallized sugar coating on it. Not quite a smooth as a jelly bean, the coating is like a very fine granulated sugar, only with flavor.
The colors are quite nice, in soothing herbal colors of red, green, another green, orange, yellow, another yellow, and black. The smell fruity and sweet, just like jelly beans. If you remember the Swedish Jelly Rats I reviewed a while back, they’re kind of like that, but larger and with a bit more of a sugary coating. The shapes are wonderful, little pudgy-bellied, round-headed babies. The babies are flavored according to their colors, but I wasn’t really able to figure it out. Orange is orange, yellow is lemon and one of the greens is lime. Beyond that, I can only say that they were fruity. Black might be currant, red might be strawberry.
They’re exceptionally sweet and the flavor has no hint of tart to it, just a slight blessing of fruit aroma for the most part. They cute and easy to share and of course they’re a nostalgia favorite for generations of Brits. I am, sadly, not terribly impressed with them. Should I find the Bassett’s, I will probably give them a try, just to be sure that I’m not missing something. Just for the record, I do like jelly candies in general: gummi bears and Swedish fish and even some jelly beans, these were just too sweet without enough flavor.
More about Jelly Babies here.
Rating - 4 out of 10 (alas, I don’t think I’m going to eat the rest of them)
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Yes, in the continuing quest to not only bring you the best and worst candies in the world, I’m going to educate you on the subtleties between our seemingly identical candy choices.
First, a little background (some of this I only know vaguely so feel free to correct me). M&Ms were originally developed as a candy for soldiers to give them quick energy in combat situations and be easy to carry. Some people wonder what M&M stands for, and many think it’s for the Mars brothers, but in reality it’s Forrest Mars, Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie’s father was one of Hershey’s trusted partners at the company and provided the chocolate inside M&Ms until the 70s.
As with most UK treats under the Nestle name, they were originally made by Rowntree which was later swallowed up by the growing Nestle corporation. Developed several years before the M&M, Smarties are still one of the most popular candies in the UK. The UK version are purported to have orange chocolate flavored orange Smarties (and back when there was a brown Smartie it was mocha flavored) but I am using Canadian Smarties for this head to head.
First, Smarties are slightly bigger than M&Ms. An M&M is approximately 1 cm in diameter while the Smartie is 1.5 cms.
However, the Smartie is slightly flatter than the M&M. I didn’t weigh them.
The most noticeable difference between the two is the candy shell. The Smartie shell is much thicker and has a very pronounced crunch to it. It also seems to have a flavor. When I looked at the ingredients for the Smarties, I saw that there is wheat flour (and cornstarch & sugar) in the shell whereas the M&M shell is made only of sugar, cornstarch and color. The Smartie has a slightly graham cracker taste to it. It’s pleasant and perhaps a little cinnamonny (I know there’s no cinnamon in it). The M&M provides more chocolate punch. I guess geometry would tell me that even if the mass of the Smartie is the same as an M&M it still has more shell by virtue of being less spherical.
As appearances go, they’re both exceptionally pretty candies. Given a choice between the two, I prefer less shell and more chocolate. In reality I usually buy Almond M&Ms more often than the plain ones, but if someone puts a bowl in front of me, I can hardly resist. But I can see that there would be times that I’d crave the cookie-like taste of the Smarties.
Friday, September 16, 2005
I know, you’re probably getting sick of me reviewing malt candies! But I’m not, as I’m on the search for the perfect malt candy in all markets. The description of Maltesers on the package is this, “Crisp, light honeycombed centres with chocolately coating.” In the States when a package says “chocolately” it means that the coating is not chocolate (it’s usually made with some other fat than cocoa butter). However, the ingredients list says Milk Chocolate in the first position, so it’s real chocolate (one of my pet peeves with Whoppers is that they use some sort of chocolatey wax).
What I noticed about these right away is that they’re small. About the size of a peanut M&M. The chocolate coating is rather thin, more like a shell than a dip. When you pop it in your mouth it’s rather easy to chip off 1/3 of the chocolate by chiseling it with the eye-teeth. At first I found the candy salty ... really salty for a malt ball. But then I came to really like the taste. The extra salt brings out the malt as a separate flavor from the chocolate. After chipping away most of the chocolate on many of them I let the malt honeycomb dissolve on my tongue. It’s a rather complex flavor, almost like a cereal flavor with good solid malty overtones along with some other notes that you’d find in a good hearty loaf of bread or kashi breakfast cereal.
At first I wasn’t wild about them, this exercise was more of an intellectual one, but as I ate more and more of them, I was trying to perfect removing the chocolate so that I could enjoy just the malted centers and found this to be a great activity while working tackling a rather complex project here at the office.
Next time in the UK or Canada, I’m definitely going to pick up more of these.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.