Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Last night I watched The Secret Life Of ... on Food Newtork. The topic was Sweet and Sour and part of the episode featured the All Candy Expo in Chicago. Jim O’Connor covered Lemonheads (a special fave of mine), traced the development of America’s Sour Tooth and of course toured the Expo floor.
Then part of the episode took a turn towards a product line called Too Tarts, made by Innovative Candy Concepts. This post is not a product review, because I absolutely refuse to eat the products on purpose. They’re shamefully misrepresented.
The package I picked up at All Candy Expo was purely by accident. I was sitting in a seminar and they were in a bowl and both me and the other folks at my table idly grabbed a bag and dug in. I spit mine out and so did the fellow next to me. It was seriously foul - the chew was rubbery and the taste was instantly fake and had a strong aftertaste. The package says they’re Real Fruit & Honey with NO REFINED SUGAR ... “up to 5 times more natural ingredients than any other fruit candy snack” ...blah, blah, blah. What they don’t holler at you on the front is that there are TWO different artificial sweeteners in there ... Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Acesulfame Potassium is also known as AceK. It’s 180 times sweeter than sugar and is not retained by the body. It’s known for a bitter aftertaste so it’s often used in conjunction with other sweeteners. In this case it’s Sucralose (found in Splenda), which more than 500 times as sweet as sugar and is also not retained by the body. If you’re curious about artificial sweeteners and their possible cancer causing/nerve damage potential, cruise around the ‘net.
Now, you might wonder why I rage against artificial sweeteners. Yes, I have a bad reaction to aspartame, but I actually believe they have their place. However, their place is not in candies marketed for otherwise healthy children. Childhood is time of training our bodies to understand what we put into them and learning our satiety levels with different foods. Part of how our bodies and brains judge how many calories we’re consuming has to do with how sweet they are. They’ve done studies and have shown that there may be some connection between diet sodas and obesity because the body is no longer able to judge properly how many calories it’s taking in. If adults are messed up with this stuff, what will it do to kids who consume it from a young age? What’s worse is these candies are making it look like they’re sweetened with either honey or fruit juice. Sure, the package says “No Refined Sugar!” But it doesn’t once mention the complex chemical compounds called ‘sweeteners’ they’re putting in there except in the fine print of the ingredients.
There’s no reason to give kids fake candy ... there are other options for sweet treats out there. Please read the packages carefully. I’m irritated that this candy exists and further irritated that Food Network gave them such a huge feature without ever mentioning the presence of artificial sweeteners in the candy.
Monday, October 16, 2006
About a month ago I went off to visit another candy factory. This one is out in Covina, CA and is run by David Klein, inventor of the Jelly Belly jelly bean, so I know he’s got an inventive mind. His current candy life involved a product called Sandy Candy.
Sandy Candy is like sand art, but it’s made from candy powder (ala Pixy Stix). You can buy
kits and then pour the different candy powders into tubes and bottles, creating tasty, colorful layers.
While there on site he showed me some new products he’s working on, which involved using large panning machines (they look like cement mixers). But of course the bulk of his operation is devoted to the Sandy Candy which is HUGELY popular with clubs and groups.
The kit comes with the candy powder in little bottles (like travel-sized shampoo). Just flip the top and tip them over to fill up the little tube. You can make your candy tube according to the flavors (which are marked on the bottoms) or by color (the bottles are milky-translucent, so the actual product is brighter in the tube). The powder itself is far smoother and finer than Pixy Stix which have always been a bit grainy.
Tangerine (light orange)- come to mamma! Tart and citrusy with a little more zazz than a normal orange flavor. Goes well with most other flavors, which is a bonus.
Blue Raspberry (medium blue) - really nice. Tangy and floral and not as artificial tasting as it looked. And it’s seriously, deeply blue.
Watermelon (pink) - a sweet flavor, it’s fruity but has a very odd and very distinctive bitter aftertaste.
Banana (light yellow) - a sour banana, not just sweet. Good flavor but a little odd to have the tangy bite to it.
Root Beer (light brown) - I am in LOVE with this flavor. It’s soft on the tongue but has a nice spicy mellow feeling to it. It doesn’t mix well with most of the flavors.
Black Cherry (gray) - nice and tart with less medicine flavor and more of the lighter cherry notes. The color is not really black, but kind of a sparkly charcoal gray.
Pear (medium green) - tangier than I expected with only a slight hint of pear.
Green Apple (light green) - good and tart and with a strong artificial taste that I come to expect from green apple. A winner.
Wild Berry - (purply gray) - smells like cotton candy and tastes like strawberry and raspberry. Fruity and with a little tart zing.
Cotton Candy (light blue) - sweet and slightly tangy but with no other flavor. Not really cotton candy in my book.
Grape (medium purple) - very sweet and with a good fake grape flavor that one expects. Not tangy though.
Lemonade (medium yellow) - super tart but not much flavor. A winner.
Wild Cherry (medium red) - nice and tart with a good blast of cherry flavor. Not at all different from black cherry except for the color.
Fruit Punch (medium blue) - sour and floral with a very ordinary punch flavor going on.
Bubble Gum (blue/purple) - sour ... why is it sour? I should be sweet with a hint of cotton candy or strawberry or wintergreen in there.
Tart Apple (white) - pretty much green apple, but not green.
Cherry Cola (medium red) - definitely cola and definitely cherry. Blech. (Just not my thing)
Wild Berry (medium purple) - yes, berry! Sweet and tart and floral and really tasty. A winner.
Key Lime (light green) - lime with a slight soft flavor to it but still some tang.
Lemon Lime (light green) - lemon and lime, reminds me of Koolaid (and not in a bad way). A little tangy but with good flavor.
When you combine all of the above you’ll find your tongue becomes and dark green/black color.
Phew! You might think that’s all, but it’s not. That’s just what was in my two tower assortments. Other sweet flavors include: Sweet Cherry, Orange Creme, Sweet Vanilla Cola, Chery Creme, Sweet Fruit Punch, Sweet Lemonade, Cola Blue, Lime Creme & Strawberry. Personally I think the Banana and Cotton Candy flavors should be sweet, not tart, but who am I to argue?
Then there’s more! Another line includes Candy Pebbles, which are kind of like Wonka Nerds, but a little smaller. They’re about the size of sesame seeds with a good light crunch and zap of flavor. What’s really cool about these isn’t just that they can be used in the Sandy Candy Art, but that you can use them for other things. I think they’d be great as an actual flavored cupcake topper instead of lame plastic tasting jimmies.
Kits can be ordered with the mini bottles for home use or with big ketchup-sized bottles for large events. They look like a great fundraiser for a school fair or just an activity to do with kids where they get to eat what they create. The little 6 inch tubes that came with mine are a good amount of candy, about the size of five single Pixy Stix, so they’re not going to get too amped up.
If you’re someone who always wanted to order Pixy Stix by the pint, your search is over. I ate the whole Lemonade bottle while typing up this review. And part of the Root Beer ... hey, they’re both drinks, aren’t they?
If anyone out there has ever used these, please let me know how it went. It looks super-simple and now that I have this huge kit, I wish I had some kids around to play with it.
There are two ways to order. For retail orders go to SandyCandy.com. For wholesale orders go to NiftyCandy.com. The extra large kit shown here is $50 and has 50 candy straws and includes 20 bottles of different flavors. Smaller kits are also available.
I give the whole kit a 7 out of 10. I really love the concept and think that it’s great fun for kids, especially if you spring for the fun shaped bottles. The variety of flavors is great, especially the fact that there’s Root Beer in there! The only drawback is the difficulty of ordering and the packaging isn’t really that all that exciting. (If I could just order single bottles of my favorite flavors, well, I’d be in trouble.)
Friday, October 13, 2006
Hershey is hopping into the upscale chocolate venue with their new Cacao Reserve line.
Much creamier and less grainy than regular Hershey’s chocolate. They’re not kidding about the premium hazelnuts, they are fresh and crunchy with a wonderful malty/nutty flavor. It’s sweet but dense and satisfying. A 1.3 ounce portion is rather puny considering my desire to eat more.
Extra Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (65% cacao dark chocolate) - the description from the website says, “Deep, rich chocolate profile with cacao nibs ‘the heart of the cacao bean,’ for a lively textural crunch.”
The bar has a deep smoky scent with berries and cherries as added notes. A little bitter on the tongue at first, it has a nice melt (65% is a nice compromise) with some strong charcoal and woodsy elements dominating. The nibs have an excellent crunch without the fibery chew that they sometimes add. This may be the first “consumer” nibby bar, and it’s pretty good at that.
The ingredients are a little odd for a “reserve” dark chocolate bar: Semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, milk fat, cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, vanilla beans), cacao nibs, milk. What’s with putting the dairy in there?
Overall, Hershey has created a high quality product. I prefer these to the Extra Dark line. The portion size is smaller than a normal candy bar, and of course the price is a little high, but the quality of the bar is evident. There other two bars in the introductory line are plain milk chocolate and dark chocolate, which I wasn’t as interested in as these two, so I was glad these were the two that the 7-11 had in stock. I would definitely pick both of these up again as a quick, upscale treat, especially for traveling or to put in a lunch.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I’m still on my quest for a Green Halloween and wanted to revisit Thompson Chocolate because they make organic chocolate which is pretty tasty and not that expensive. Though not Fair Trade certified, organic has a lot of benefits to the community (primarily that the forest where the cocoa is grown isn’t being polluted with pesticides and of course it means that you and your kids aren’t eating those residues either).
On the Thompson site they show that they have organic foil wrapped chocolates for Halloween and I did see them at Whole Foods, but only in single serve mesh bags.
I also got a hold of these Jack-O-Lantern Milk Chocolate with Crisp disks. They’re not organic, but all natural. Which is also a good thing when giving kids rather unwholesome things. What’s especially nice is that they walk the line of being both cute and compelling as well as the all-natural thing.
The milk chocolate is sweet and smells a little malty, a little milky. It’s smooth and very sweet but the crisped rice gives it a good crunch. The flavor of the chocolate is mellow and has a slight cool effect on the tongue that had me unwrapping one after another. So, if you have the means and the opportunity to go Green this Halloween, try out their organic foil wrapped treats. You can order via their toll free number on their website.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Purple is the best color ever. It’s the best of both worlds - half blue and half red, like a melting pot of America. When I was a teenager and on the swim team I had two sets of sweats - both were purple. I loved purple and often wore it head to toe (with purple Robin Hood boots). My attraction to grape candies is based largely on this affinity for the color and possibly influenced my love of grapefruit even though it has no grape in it and isn’t purple.
I had a good experience with the Mike and Ike Tangy Twisters and was hoping with something at least equal to that, after all, Jolly Joes have been around a lot longer, so you’d think they’d have something going for them.
They’re very dark, such a dark purple I’d call it eggplant. They smell fake-grapey, with a slight odor of Bic pen ink. When you first place it on the tongue, there’s a slight tangy tingle, but that soon goes away and there’s very little flavor. They’re soft and chewy like a jelly bean, but with very little going on. At the end the flavor is more like cotton candy than grape. Not really very jolly at all.
Special note: this package has both a manufactured date and expiration date ... all in plain English. Hooray for clarity! However, the back of the package was also printed in Hebrew (I think it’s Hebrew, it’s going right to left). I have no idea what market these were intended for, that’s what you get at the 99 Cent Only Store!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Every great candy has variations in size. Of course shrinking or enlarging a candy doesn’t necessarily make it better, in fact, it usually makes it different. Same components, just different ratios.
Trader Joe’s has gone and mucked around with their Peanut Butter Cups. These are made by the same manufacturer but are wee-tiny. Seriously, you can hardly call them cups. They look like knobs. Little peanut butter and milk chocolate knobs.
The little knobs don’t have flat tops, so they don’t sit quite right, they roll over easily. The easiset way to line them up is to have the top of the cup facing down ... which makes them more knob-like.
The ratio on these definitely leans towards chocolate over peanut butter. The chocolate is cool and sweet and slightly grainy, but matched well with the dash salty peanut butter.
It’s quite easy to just grab a handful of these out of the tub. And of course being chocolate they start to melt in your hand and you have to pop them in your mouth ... then you’ve got an empty hand and need to repeat. So the tub can go quickly. I know it’s tempting to want peanut butter cups with out the little fluted paper cup so that you can shovel them into your maw faster, but really no one needs anything to improve the efficiency of gobbling Trader Joe’s candy.
In the end I kept eating them because I wanted more peanut butter. I think I’ll stick to my Reese’s miniatures.
Note: Yes, I’ve been eating a lot of peanut-heavy candies lately, I credit it to the change in the weather. Some people think fall is all about spice, I think it’s all about nuts.
Monday, October 9, 2006
Ever want a Chick-o-Stick without the coconut? Well, Atkinson’s makes those, too, though they come with the rather boring name of Peanut Butter Bars.
They’re not really bars, either. They’re more like rods. About the size and shape of a cigar or pretzel rod, they’re a hard candy shell with a crunchy peanut butter honeycomb center.
The candy actually comes in a variety of sizes, I usually see a small “changemaker” size with little one bite, individually-wrapped morsels. I like the ratio on this rods quite a bit, it’s a lot more peanut butter honeycomb than it is a hard candy. It has a nice flaky quality with a good salty hit and nutty crunch. It’s really crunchy, which is a great plus and they’re not nearly as messy as the Chick-o-Sticks but also a good all-weather candy.
Atkinson’s also makes something called a Pico-o-Sito which is a spicy peanut butter candy. Sounds pretty good to me, why can’t I find them at a store near me? Atkinson’s does have a nice website where you can order all of their candy and at pretty good prices (and free shipping).
Interesting fact from the website: Chick-o-Sticks & Peanut Butter Bars are vegan - there are no animal products in there (however, it depends on how observant you are on the sugar thing, their site doesn’t say if they use cane sugar or beet sugar).
Friday, October 6, 2006
Around this time last year I barely knew what Fair Trade was and there really weren’t that many chocolate products out there that were Fair Trade Certified. Now you can not only get cocoa and plain dark chocolate, but also some pretty cool flavored chocolate bars. Endangered Species seems to be leading the way with the Fair Trade “candy” bars in their new Premium Organic line.
Each bar is a single serving and easy to pick up at the checkout of your favorite “wholesome” market like Whole Foods, Wild Oats or Zoo gift shop.
Along with the Fair Trade and organic certifications, this bar boasts high cocoa content of 52% (high for a milk chocolate). This wrapper has a giraffe on the label and everyone knows that the pattern on giraffes is known as the peanut shell. (Okay, I made that part up.)
The chocolate is buttery smooth and very sweet on the tongue. It has very strong smoky qualities with a slight bitterness at the start but a good nutty flavor. Once I start eating the bar, the unpleasant burnt quality goes away, but each time I stop and start I have to go through the process all over again. I’m afraid I can’t give it the highest marks because of that. Now, I’m one of those “supertaster” people, so I tend to be more sensitive to bitter, so your mileage may vary.
Interesting fact about giraffes from the wrapper: A giraffe’s neck contains seven vertebrae, just like ours.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.