Monday, January 30, 2006
Here I go again with the KitKats. But this time I thought I’d give you a domestic comparison. It’s not exactly a head-to-head post, just two reviews in one.
There are whole groups of folks devoted to the various iterations of KitKats and I have to admit I’ve fallen under the spell, too. I picked up the KitKat Strawberry a few weeks ago. It’s a very pretty bar, the Japanese version of KitKats are sold in a box that holds two individually wrapped minibars of two fingers each. They’re also quite a bit pricier. I don’t know how much they sell for in Japan, but $1.89 for a rather ordinary candy bar is kind of extreme.
Everything about this bar screams strawberry. The pink wrapper, the smell and the appearance of the bar. It smells like strawberry waffles or ice cream. The crisp is really good and has its own wheaty flavor. The cream between the cookie layers is also strawberry and the strawberry coating is very smooth. There is no cocoa butter in this concoction though.
I’m not usually a big fan of White Chocolate. I like misty mints, but generally white chocolate is just too sweet and bland for me. This bar has an overwhelmingly berry smell along with plenty of sweet notes and a touch of fake vanilla. I like it. I was really surprised, because I’ve been ignoring this bar for months, but I actually liked it. Once I started writing this and tasting it as I went along, I ate the whole thing.
The berry particles were actually there and give the white chocolate a definitely pink cast with little red bits. They weren’t as big as the berry bits in the KitKat though. They provided a little tart respite from the otherwise sweet and slightly tangy chocolate. It also reminded me of strawberry yogurt or maybe strawberry ice cream. But most Hershey’s chocolate reminds me of yogurt. The strawberry bits also include seeds. So you get fiber with your bar! (They don’t mention any fiber on the nutrition info but they do say that it has 10% of my daily calcium!)
On the whole the bars had a very definite berry taste that eased the usual sickly sweetness of white chocolate that I’ve never enjoyed. I also have a Hershey’s Raspberries ‘n’ Creme bar that I’ll review in a few days. Canada also has a Milkshake (Malt) version of KitKat I need to get a hold of.
Other reviews: Candy Is Awesome - Hersey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme had some disgusting children and Candy Addict has positive feelings - Strawberry & White Maple. I haven’t even scratched the surface with my reviews here of KitKats, check out Wikipedia.
Friday, January 27, 2006
I got this fantastic single origin tasting kit from E. Guittard. The photos are deceptive, these are tiny little bars, each is 10 grams (a little over a third of an ounce) and measured a mere 2.5” x 1.25”. There were four different varieties that came in a box of 16 wee bars. What was most stunning about these bars is the packaging. The little labels are lively and elegant with their gold leaf and description of the flavor of the particular varietal. Inside, the foil wrappers were beautiful too, with a delicate pattern featuring an impressive bas relief style scene of heaven knows what with three figures probably worshipping the cocoa bean or something. (The comprehensive press kit and tasting kit brochure made no mention of the scene.)
Each of the bars looks slightly different as well (except for the Sur del Lago and Quevedo) from different molds. All bars were 65% cacao, which is a good midrange for dark chocolate, allowing for lots of room for cocoa butter to give a nice fatty background to support the complex flavors.
Ambanja - notes from package: You’re in for a rich chocolate experience! Made primarily from rare Criollo beans from the fertile Sambriano Valley in Madagascar, Ambanja mingles sour essences with deep rich, chocolate flavor.
Dark with a slight amber/red tint, this bar was buttery and smooth. There were overwhelming raisin and cherry notes in this bar. It definitely has an acidic tone to it, but not in an unpleasant, bitter or acrid way. It’s really very nice.
Sur del Lago - notes from package: Complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit. Cacao beans used to make this chocolate were harvested from trees of Criollo and Trinitario heritage in Venezuela’s Sur del Lago region.
This one started out rather woodsy and sour. It reminded me of the zesty smell of piles of fresh sawdust from a fruit tree. Then the other notes started coming out, including the light berries and maybe some grape. It’s pretty mellow and pleasant, but the high sour note is a little odd.
Chucuri - notes from package: Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. The Trinitario cacao beans used to make this chocolate were grown in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of Santader in Colombia.
Deep flavors dominate this little bar. It starts out woodsy with some balsam notes of juniper or rosemary. Then it’s got some very strong cherry notes that linger for the rest of the melt on the tongue. It’s got a high little topnote of lavender or maybe it’s bergamot. It gives this bar the best balance of the four.
Quevedo notes from package: Quevedo’s extremely dark color forshadows its powerful but flowery chocolate taste. The intensity of this rarefied Forestero varietal produces rich green forest, tea and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and pound cake finish.
Smooth but with a notable bitter dryness at first. Rich and woodsy with an exceptionally buttery texture that makes it feel almost fluffy and buoyant on the tongue. I’m getting the tea notes, but I’m totally missing the pound cake the wrapper promises.
If you’re looking for single origin chocolate that doesn’t skimp on the cocoa butter and is so dry that it leaves you gasping for water, this might be the stuff. At only 65% cocoa solids, there’s an excellent mix of flavor and texture that’s not too sweet. All of the bars are exceptionally smooth without a hint of grain. Here’s a tip: this would make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift for someone. It’s sensual, educational and you can share it.
You might think you’ve never had Guittard chocolate, when you probably have. Guittard is one of the top chocolate makers in the country, but most of the business is making chocolate for other companies. Guittard makes the excellent chocolate that you find on See’s candies. It’s hard to know who they supply chocolate to, but they’re a huge operation and that chocolate is going somewhere tasty. I don’t see Guittard in the stores very often, except for their baking chips. They’re definitely worth going out of your way for. Most of the varietals from other brands that I’m seeing lately are higher cocoa percentages, so you’re missing out on the cocoa butter, which I think is an equal part of the chocolate experience.
They’re a little pricey directly from E. Guittard’s store, you can also find them at Chocosphere (throw some Dolfin and Dagoba in your cart while you’re there).
Thursday, January 26, 2006
In a strange marketing move, M&Ms started informing its online vendors that they will no longer be able to carry the M&Ms ColorWorks 21 color plain chocolate candies, effective immediately. I’ve been in contact with several “candy insiders” (who did not wish to be named here) but are alarmed at this turn of events.
ColorWorks are still available online at many candy stores, but consumers can expect supplies and variety to dwindle as vendors are not able to reorder through M&Ms’ wholesale division. I have not been able to ascertain if this will apply to brick and mortar stores like Candy Station and Sweets Factory that also sell the ColorWorks candies. I would expect this to be the case as M&Ms open more of their branded stores as their flagship store in Las Vegas has become and hot destination there.
M&Ms has been making great strides in the viral marketing of its custom printable M&Ms online along with the ColorWorks line. Their webstore has an incredible selection, though they are at the moment priced about the same as the online candy stores in the large quantities but when it comes to smaller quantities (one pound or less), buying directly from M&Ms means at least a 20% premium. (Yes, you’d think buying direct would mean you’d pay less, wouldn’t you?) When you knock out the middleman, I can imagine that M&Ms profits on these are pretty high. Even with economies of scale it’s clear that the ColorWorks are a huge moneymaker for Mars. A half pound of ColorWorks (whether part of a color blend or a single color) are $4.69 for eight ounces ($.59 an ounce). M&Ms cost about $3.50 for a 12 ounce bag (not on sale) at your local grocer ($.29 an ounce). Find an in-store sale on M&Ms for $1.99 a bag and you’ve brought it down to $.17 an ounce.
What does this mean to you and me? Well, less choice. If you want the expanded color selection that M&Ms offers, you’ll have to go directly to them from now on (unless they’re planning to create “official resellers”). This means that you’re beholden to their product pricing and their shipping fees.
It also means that shopping for candy just got harder. Say you want to plan a party or event and want to have some ColorWorks M&Ms as well as some Jordan Almonds or Pillow Mints. Well, you’re going to have to put in orders at two different places now. Those are some of the best things about webstores - selection and bulk discounts. It’s a pain in the ass, to say the least, as you’re not going to get the benefit of consolidating your shipping costs and then you’re stuck waiting around for two shipments instead of one. What else does it mean? It means that the price is now firmly controlled by M&Ms directly. Oddly enough, you can’t even buy Peanut M&Ms in bulk on the M&Ms website. You can only get the Plain ones, so forget about picking up some of the Almond, Crispy, Peanut Butter or Mega ones.
Also, M&Ms seems to be threatening resellers that they’re not allowed to buy from middlemen on this and I’m guessing anyone caught reselling ColorWorks would be in big trouble, too. It’s not clear if Mars wants to just reel in the selling of their premium ColorWorks or if this will eventually apply to all bulk buys of Mars products, such as Skittles, Starbursts, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, Milky Way and Twix.
I understand the whole “official resellers” thing when it comes to products that require support and knowlegable staff, like computers or electronics—you know, things that require a certain amount of troubleshooting or perhaps expertise in installation. But this is candy. As long as their storing it correctly, it doesn’t require any support. Also, candy is not like soda. There aren’t candy stores that sell only Mars or Nestle products like when you go to a fast food restaurant and have to go with either the Pepsi sodas or the Coco-Cola sodas. Imagine a world where you can’t purchase a Twix bar at the same time as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I have to wonder if this is the direction we’re going.
As far as I can tell, this is a move on M&Ms part to control their product and corner their marketshare. Candy is a pretty cut-throat business. There are slotting fees paid by the candy companies to the major retailers like grocery chains and drug stores and the candy companies are fiercely protective of their trademarks and products. Witness Hershey’s reaction when a book was trying to use their candy logos. This is not limited to the United States either and it’s well known that Roald Dahl based the Charlie and the Chocolate factory book on the industrial espionage allegations between the UK candymakers of the time.
It may be coincidental that M&Ms made this move just after Hershey’s introduced their new candy-coated Kissables. I think they’re feeling threatened and are looking to maximize their profits. Maybe they’re looking to shift the current model of candy retailing to one more akin to soft drink manufacturer’s deals with fast food chains. Sugar prices are expected to go up markedly this year, which means they’ll have to reduce overhead (they’re already a very efficient company), raise prices, reduce product sizes or create new marketing models. At a time when markets are opening up world-wide and people have access to more of a selection of candy from all over the globe, M&Ms could benefit from making their candy more readily available for purchase, not less.
I got the Cookie Joys from Crate and Barrel through their excellent post-Christmas sale. The Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint were acquired at Sav-On at a lackluster post-Holiday sale (basically the nuggets were on the sale table heralding they were 50% off, but they didn’t ring up that way and were put there “by mistake”).
Harry London makes the Cookie Joys, but sells them under a few different names, including Botticelli Bites. They also make it in a few different formats, including the Harry London Mint Cookie Bar. A Cookie Joy is minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The shape is a little dollop of candy, not really the most attractive or appealing candy shapes, but it gets the job done. I find they’re usually two bites. The bonus in the Crate & Barrel tin is that they were individually wrapped. When I get them in a little tub at Trader Joe’s (it looks like a pint of ice cream) they’re loose and can go stale if not eaten quickly.
A Hershey’s Mint ‘n’ Cookies is also minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The chocolate is rather milkier, as you can see in the color difference bewteen these two. The cookie bits are also slightly more regular, like little dots of cookies instead of rather irregular crushed cookie bits.
Now that I have them side by side, I’m able to really compare the two. The Cookie Joy is smooth and not terribly milky, which I like. There are already quite a few flavors going on here, I don’t need some sort of dairy taste intruding. As long as the milk is providing a creamy backdrop I’m happy. The cookie bits give it some crunch and they’re a good dark, toasty flavor (they’re pretty much the cookie part of an Oreo).
The Hershey’s has that familiar Hershey’s milk chocolate tang to it. Think yogurt. It’s not unpleasant, but doesn’t go as well with the mint and cookies. There’s a noticeable grain to the chocolate, but again, it works with the crunchy cookies. The cookie bits seem to be distributed rather unevenly, just on the top of the nugget, but since you’re going to bite it the other way, it probably doesn’t matter much. A Nugget could be eaten whole as well.
In this Head to Head, I’m going to have to go with the Cookie Joys. The chocolate is just better and the even though they look like glossy cow pies, the name Cookie Joys is dead on perfect. They’re joyful little mixes of cookies and minted chocolate. If you like the Girl Scout’s Thin Mints, you may like this chocolatier version, too. There’s no benefit to either in availability either. The Hershey’s are Limited Edition (though they seem to return rather faithfully) and the Harry London’s are only sometimes available at Trader Joe’s and a seasonal item for Crate & Barrel. (Sadly, it seems they are sold out on the C&B website.) The Hershey’s are usually cheaper, but the Crate and Barrel sale puts this one over the edge for me. At 28 cents per ounce for the Cookie Joys versus the 24 cents per ounce on the Nuggets, I’m willing to pay the premium (and I have a tin, too!).
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
These are a classic East Coast candy. Made for years by the Goldenberg candy company, they were purchased by Just Born in 2003, which has been gobbling up other Eastern small-maker candies. Just Born is best known for the Easter favorite, Marshmallow Peeps.
I’ve always referred to these as Goldenbergs ... the one part of the old name that is not retained (I think the company is pushing the name “Chew-Ets”) so now I have to call them just Peanut Chews. But the notable thing about them is that they break one of my rules of good candy. They’re fake. There’s no chocolate there. But what they lack in chocolate they make up for in flavor.
The original Chew-Et is a molasses-based chew embedded with peanuts and then covered in a wax that resembles dark chocolate. (Okay, it’s not wax, it’s just not real chocolate.) The interesting part of the chew is that it’s not a caramel. There’s no milk in the original bar at all, so it can’t be a caramel. It’s just a sugary syrup that’s been boiled down to soft-ball state. Maybe you could call it a “soft brittle”. They’re formed into fingers of candy that are placed in a tray and usually sold in a package of six or so, though I usually bought the King Sized ones. For a while I’ve been able to find them here in California at Rite Aid (probably because Rite Aid is based in Pennsylvania). The molasses and peanuts make a good combination of roasted, musky flavors. The dark chocolate stays out of the way and doesn’t really add anything to the party (except trans fats).
Having just said that the chocolate coating doesn’t much matter, it seems to make more of a difference in the milk version. Molasses is a dark flavor and seems to benefit from the dark, slightly bitter mockolate. While the milk chocolate coating is more successful at replicating the feel of real chocolate, it’s a little sweet, a little sticky feeling in the combo.
I’m glad to see that the Chew-Ets will continue to exist, as they are rather unique. They’re small and easy to share and have a flavor combination not found in any other candy bar on the market in the states. Since it’s not real chocolate, they also seem to weather being in my bag better than chocolate candies, so they’re a better bet as a summer candy. I wish they were made with real chocolate, but I suppose I shouldn’t advocate messing around with such a good bar.
Additional Reading: Check out Steve Almond’s Candy Freak which has a whole chapter devoted to his visit to the Goldenberg factory (while it was still Goldenberg’s) in Philadelphia. You can even read a couple of pages on Amazon if you like. Here’s something interesting I learned from the book, Goldenbergs were first developed as ration bar for the Army in WWI and after the war the GIs kept buying them.
Edit: I found this in Mike’s Candy Wrappers, the original wrapper.
UPDATE 8/1/2012: The original name of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews has been restored on the packages, and an updated but still classic looking package is back on store shelves.
Monday, January 23, 2006
I saw this article today about Jelly Belly chairman, Herman Rowland.
It’s an interesting profile of the man, who is of course a little unorthodox. I’ve found in my reading and research that most candy folks are a little unusual in one respect or another.
The saddest thing mentioned in the article though is that Rowland is now a diabetic, which must be especially difficult for a sugar candymaker (instead of one that makes chocolate which is often better tolerated by diabetics). Other interesting notes in the article is the recent announcement that Jelly Belly is opening a factory in Thailand. What’s surprising about this is that the factory will make candy only for non-American venues. The Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA, will continue to supply America will Jelly Bellys even though it’d be cheaper to take the factory overseas and not be subject to America’s backwards domestic sugar regulations.
The way Nestle is getting around the American sugar problem is they’re manufacturing most of their candy in Brazil and importing it.
The other announcement in the article is that Jelly Belly will be introducing new flavors at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I got to taste the newest one, Pomegranate, when I was at the factory last month, I’m not sure if that’s one that’s getting its new release now. (It’s still not on the website.)
Finally, JellyBelly.com just relaunched late last week with an all new site. The navigation is much improved over the old one which had some things that I wanted buried in submenus. But I’m a little annoyed by the height of the header graphic/menu (which means more scrolling for main content even on my big screen, but then again CandyBlog.net readers probably do a lot of scrolling, too). The other sad thing is that they have these great downloadable desktop images but nothing new for January. But the news section includes info about their new company store and they’ve filled out their section on visiting them at these locations. The cool thing about visiting an official Jelly Belly store? They offer their comprehensive tasting bar. Never get a Jelly Belly you don’t like again.
Friday, January 20, 2006
At my visit to Scharffen Berger last month I gave their full line another try. It confirmed for me that the bars I’ve tasted are fresh and true to the Scharffen Berger style. They’re complex and dark, with a lot of woodsy notes and a pretty overwhelming acidity that I don’t care for. There are exceptions in their line of course. The Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs are one. And one of their newer bars, the Gianduja is another.
I haven’t a clue how to pronounce it. I had the tour guide say it twice for me when she did the tasting and it still didn’t stick in my brain. (Perhaps JHEE-an-du-JHAH.) I want to pronounce it JHWAN-doo-jha ... hmm, how about I call it the Nutella bar? That’s what this is, a creamy combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. Only without the hydrogenated oils. It’s like a gourmet version of Ice Cubes.
This is a ridiculously fantastic bar. Really. It’s insanely smooth and nutty and melts so well on the tongue with a cooling effect that’s just stunning.
The price is also similarly ridiculous, but I’m guessing there’s a whole tree’s worth of hazelnuts packed into each bar, so that’s likely what you’re paying for. There’s 4 grams of protein in the bar alone. The bar is more soft and pliable than the others that I’ve had, again owing to the nut oils in there that have a lower melting temperature than the cocoa butter. It’s not too sweet and happily doesn’t have nary a trace of that acidic/dry bite that the other Sharffen Berger bars have. There’s still plenty of flavor, this is not just a Nutella bar. It’s woodsy and nutty with some smoky notes and a slight dryness.
Of course there are a lot of calories in it and a lot of it comes from fat. It’s candy, I know, but I think maybe they ought to suggest that the portion is not 1.5 ounces, but simply a single ounce instead. I responsibly took about a month to eat it, sampling a few pieces and then wolfing the rest of it today. It’s also pretty expensive and I haven’t seen it at Trader Joe’s. If not for that, I think it would have been a straight 10.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.