Friday, September 9, 2005
I know it seems strange to do a head-to-head tasting of the same candy bar, but there are rather interesting differences between the KitKat sold in the United States and the one sold in the rest of the world.
A little history: KitKat was first introduced in 1935 by London candymaker Rowntree under the name Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. A couple of years later they settled on the name KitKat Chocolate Crisp. The bar has always been the familiar four finger design and was an immediate big-seller for the company. It was briefly produced as a dark chocolate bar during the war because of dairy shortages, but returned to its familiar sweet milk chocolate recipe in 1947. In 1969 the American owned Hershey Corp bought the rights to manufacture and sell KitKat bars in the United States. I don’t think you will find American KitKats sold anywhere else in the world, probably part of the agreement. Rowntree was later purchased by Nestle in 1988 but the KitKat remains the same. The KitKat bar is pretty much the best-selling bar in the world.
Just as most folks have a preference for one chocolate brand over another, the differences between the Canadian KitKat (CKK) and the American KitKat (AKK) are pretty noticeable. First, the CKK is larger. Weighing in at a hefty 50 grams (1.75 oz), it beats the AKK which is a dinky 42 grams (1.5 oz). The CKK packs those extra grams into a longer bar. The AKK has a more pyramid shaped finger, with more of an angle to the sides, which means, oddly enough, less crisp because there’s less room for them though it is slightly higher. You can see that in this photo:
The color of the bars is virtually the same, with the CKK slightly darker. As I opened the package, the AKK smelled sweet and chocolatey with a little tint of vanilla. The CKK had an overwhelmingly graham cracker smell, kind of like the Wonka Bar (also made by Nestle). After the graham smell dissipates, there’s far more chocolate smell to the CKK.
It’s been a few months since I’ve had a KitKat, so I tried to experience it fresh. The first one I tried was the AKK. It was immediately sweet but had a good crisp. My usual way of eating a KitKat is to eat off both ends of a finger, then pry off the top layer of crisp & chocolate with my teeth in a single plank, then continue eating the finger from the top down. For this experiment, I’m eating them straight on in order to fully experience the crisp to chocolate ratio (okay, after two fingers of each, I ended up eating the rest of them after the tasting in my normal manner). The AKK was crispy and solid, with perhaps a little more chocolate than I’d like, but it’s the most popular bar in the world, so who am I to tinker with perfection?
The CKK has a lighter crisp. A little foamier, a little airier. It dissipates quickly so that the melting chocolate takes over. The chocolate on the CKK is not quite like a European Nestle nor like the AKK. It’s milky, like a Cadbury, with a very distinct powdered milk taste to it. It’s a taste that took me some years to get used to, but now I rather enjoy it as a contrast to the slightly yogurt notes of a Hershey’s Kiss.
Though the Trolli vs Haribo head-to-head had a winner, I can’t quite say that one of these bars is better than the other. I like the heft and vanilla notes to the CKK, but I also enjoy the dense crunch of the AKK.
All I know is that after eating two KitKat bars for breakfast, I need a cup of coffee.
Ratings - Canadian KitKat - 8 out of 10
Monday, September 5, 2005
Name: European Supreme Dark Chocolate
Yeah, I know, you think I’m all about the expensive stuff. I’m really not. Some of my favorite candies are easily accessible and pretty cheap. I swallowed my “brand pride” and picked up this bar at the 99 Cent Only Store, just out of curiosity. I figured for 7 ounces of chocolate to be only 99 cents, it had to be bad, full of fillers.
It’s definitely sweet for dark chocolate (sugar is the first ingredient) without many dark chocolate notes (no bitterness, no smokey quality, no roasted notes). It smells good, like vanilla and chocolate, but the taste is a little bland. Though rather smooth, there are ocassional odd things, like lumps, as if it wasn’t conched long enough or was mixed wtih other less-conched chocolate. The bar was fresh and the chocolate had a lovely sheen.
I have to admit that I wanted to say that this was a fantastic bar and we should drop our pretenses that good chocolate has to be expensive. But good chocolate has to be consistent and have more chocolate in it. It might be good for something though, I can see it being good for cooking, maybe melting it and using it for those pretty zig-zags on some cookies or as shavings for the top of a cake.
Rating - 4 out of 10
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Name: Peppermint Cup-O-Gold
This candy cup has left me mystified. Is it really from Adams-Brooks? They don’t mention it on their website ... no one mentions it on their website on any of the internets. Have I stumbled across an inter-dimensional 99 cent store that sells candy unknown to us here?
Why is it called Cup-o-Gold anyway? The center is clearly white. The package is silver ... these things trouble me. But not enough to keep me from eating it.
Like the original Cup-O-Gold, this milk chocolate cup sports toasted coconut and almond bits in the chocolate. The ratio of chocolate to the filling is a little off. Upon my first small bite (not pictured), I didn’t hit filling, just chocolate. The second bite, which was sizeable (like the photo) didn’t hit filling. Finally on the fourth bite which by now meant half the cup was gone, I hit a small hidden cavity of filling. Instead of a light, frothy filling like the Cup-O-Gold, this one was a little tacky, a little stiff. The mint was barely perceptible.
I bought this thinking it’d be like a milk chocolate Junior Mint - a gooey minty cream center. Alas, the coconut competes too much with the scant mint. If there were less chocolate and more filling, perhaps it wouldn’t seem so overpowering. However, the package does say thick rich milk chocolate, so who am I to go expecting things not advertised?
Rating - 4 out of 10.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Name: Hot Stinky Feet
This is one of those candies that tries to be edgy but really isn’t. They’re little cinnamon jelly candies and they happen to be shaped like feet and they happen to have the unfortunate name “Hot Stinky Feet.”
Here’s what the package says (because I couldn’t find any mention of it on Necco’s site):
The feet themselves are actually pretty cute. The detail even includes a big toenail. They’re definitely cinnamony - upon opening the package there was no doubt what flavor these are. They’re kind of like Hot Tamales, only without the candy shell.
Personally, if I were marketing these I couldn’t call them Hot Stinky Feet. I’d probably call them “Hot Foot” and have a little image of a foot with some lit matches or something. But maybe some over-protective group thought that’d give kids some bad ideas. Anyway, I couldn’t find any mention of these on the Necco site, but did find the good podiatrist’s website called Toefood - which is kinda cute too. The Stinky Feet also come in Sour Apple.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I did eat the whole package, but I doubt I’ll buy them again)
Thursday, August 25, 2005
This is not a new product to me, however, I’ve gotten a couple of notes (one email and one comment) to review this, so here goes. My husband bought a set of three of the unique origins bars one year before vacation and we took them with us to rocky beaches, windswept dunes and rolling oak-dotted hills of the central Californian coast, so any pleasant past associations with the bars must be taken into account.
The bars in question were from the cocoa crop of 2004. The freshness date said they were best before 04/2007.
First was the Guaranda, which is 71% cocoa solids of forastero arriba cocoa from Ecuador. The tasting notes on the back: “Perfumed aroma with fruity, acid notes and floral tones of acacia honey, with milky and exotic wood nuances. Typical personality of the cocoa bean: smooth dark chocolate taste with floral tones of honeyed character.” The ingredients are simple: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the scent is woodsy, smoky and a bit like coffee. The surface is smooth and shiny (better than the photo) with a red hint to it. Upon biting into it, it snaps easily and melts quickly on the tongue. The cocoa mass is very smooth, not at all gritty. It’s very dry yet the cocoa butter gives it a slippery, cool feeling on the tongue. I don’t detect much of the honey notes, but the butteryness gives it a sort of empty feeling, like there’s a top and bottom but no middle flavors.
Next was Ocumare, which is 71% cocoa solids of criollo cocoa from Venuzuela. The tasting notes on the back: “Smooth perfumed aroma with tones of exotic wood, nuts and dried fruit as well as spicy nuances. Refined and lasting taste, balanced and round at the same time. Also, aspects of cedar, tobacco and dried plums are particularly noteworthy.” The ingredients are the same as the first: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the smell is woodsy with more of a fruit note to it, perhaps apple. The color is a dark and consistent brown with a good snap to the bite. It immediately starts to melt on the tongue. It has a rounder flavor just as the package suggests with more middle notes of sweet apple or apricot (I’m not catching the plum here). It’s a much fuller flavor from top to bottom with absolutely no grain to it. Towards the end there’s less of a dry finish but a nice lingering woodsy note.
For high end 70%+ bars, I think these are the best I’ve tried to date. Though the single origin means that you may never get these bars again, they’re wonderfully balanced with an excellent smoothness. I do think overall that I prefer a blended chocolate to get the full-bodied taste with a multitude of notes (like a chorus instead of a soloist) but if you hadn’t told me that they were single origins, I could still state unequivocally that these are good bars. Where I find so many upscale bars lacking in the cocoa butter/smoothness factor, these bars excel at the melting and without any graininess at all.
I wouldn’t say that they’re worth more than $3.50 per bar though, like you might be charged some places. So if you can get them at a Trader Joe’s or other similar economical location (maybe Cost Plus carries them), they are the best $2 you can spend on a high-cocoa content bar.
Interesting facts from the package: Chocovic is based in Barcelona, Spain and has been in business since 1872.
Rating - 9 out of 10.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Name: Wild Huckleberry Gummi Bears
I know, you’re asking yourself, “what is a huckleberry? and is a wild one better?”
Well, first, a huckleberry is related to the blueberry and cranberry, or so says Wikipedia. And if my experience with wild strawberries and wild blueberries means anything, the wild ones are smaller and more expensive and hopefully organic.
However, upon further examination of the package, I found the following ingredients listed: Corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, artificial color, citric acid, artificial flavor, lactic acid, mineral oil and carnuba wax. Hmm, nowhere in there does it mention huckleberries.
No matter. these fellows are cute anyway, with the carnuba wax shines and their A emblazoned on their little chests. Wait, what’s the A for? Got me, they’re distributed by the Benjamin News Group and the brand seems to be “Rocky Mountain”, not really any A initials there. Are they adulterous bears?
They’re very soft bears, with a nice tart flavor and a pretty smell, a cross between blackberries and violets. They’re cute and fresh and so easy to pop in your mouth even if they purely a chemistry experiment. The color is exquisite, especially if you line them up on the desk. The trick, if you must know, if you want to get them to stand up is this: get a clean piece of white paper then lick the bottom of the bear (lightly, we don’t want a lot of slobber) and then press them down gently on the paper in a row. A little backlight and they’re practically luminous.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (they might be gone by the end of the day)
Monday, August 22, 2005
I actually had three bars but ate one before I could take its picture (milk chocolate in a saffron yellow wrapper), so pretend there’s a third one in there.
I was excited that Trader Joe’s was carrying these because I was hoping that it meant that they’d be a little less expensive (which they are). Still, I’m not sure I’m on board with this high end chocolate bar movement. Perhaps I’m just looking for a different thing in my chocolate than some other folks.
I think cocoa is great, it’s obviously one of those things that makes chocolate unique, that blend of earthy roasted flavors with those fruity notes that many people compare to wine or coffee. But what makes chocolate so great, for me, is cocoa butter. It’s one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It makes it smooth and creamy and portable. Sharffen Berger chocolate bars lack that smooth and lustrous feeling on the tongue.
Scharffen Berger, I think, can be described as sour. There’s a pervasive acidic note in all their chocolates that I’ve tried and I don’t find it pleasant. It does provide a good base (except for the fact that acids are not bases as in alkaline) for the other flavors. In the pure dark chocolate I tasted some fruit notes: grape, apricot and some apple. I also tasted some oaky/woodsy notes and something which reminded me of lichens or wood ear mushrooms.
I know Sharffen Berger has its aficionados, but I don’t count myself among them. The product was definitely consistent and for a high-end chocolate, Trader Joe’s has certainly made it more accessible. I can definitely see this as good cooking chocolate - I wouldn’t hesitate to add some of their cocoa to my chili (yes, I put cocoa in my chili), but for eating it just leaves me, well, unaffected.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Name: Violet & Scented Gum
I have a vague recollection of some dolls that were popular back in the late sixties/early seventies called Kiddles. They were little dolls with insanely huge heads and long, stylable hair that smelled of violets. To this day the scent of violet makes me think of those dolls. I never owned any (I think my friend down the street, Lisa did though) but I can recall wanting them badly.
Anyway, my stepmother sent these to me a couple of weeks ago and they went into my pile of chocolates, until I took out a candy bar and it tasted like violets. So I sequestered the invasive violets in three layers of paper bags (and promptly forgot about it because it was jammed in three paper bags and looked like trash). Then I came back to the office after the weekend and it smelled like violets, “Oh, I forgot all about them!” Well, now I’ve photographed them and chewed them up and can speak knowlegably about them. I did a little digging to find out more about Choward’s, you can read the history here.
First, I preface this review (actually, it looks like I’ve prefaced the review several times, would you like to just skip to the bottom for the rating?) with the fact that I love herbal/floral flavors. My favorite ice cream flavor at the moment is Orange Blossom and Pistachio. However, probably from the above association with those damn little dolls, I just can’t get behind the little violet mints.
The mints themselves really aren’t terribly flavorful. They’re sweet and very hard (like a piece of soft shale) are the color of the putty I used to caulk my shower and smell like something I might use in the shower while I’m there. They don’t really dissolve so much as just slowly deteriorate in your mouth. As a touchstone though, I found the peppermint version of Choward’s pretty good, like a dense pillow butter mint. I don’t know why the violet texture was so much more, um, sturdy, but it wasn’t really appealing.
The gum, however, is pretty cool. The color, let’s face it, is something you just wanna string up on a necklace or something. The flavor is not at all like the mint, it’s got a nice cinnamon/clove twang to it and a little touch of the flowery violet. The chew is a little sticky and not at all like a chicklet, lacking that burst of sugar and cooling mint. Even after spitting out the gum after chewing for about ten minutes, it scented my breath wonderfully for a two hour meeting.
Ratings: Violet Mints - 5 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.