Wednesday, October 25, 2006
There were people who wanted me to do this. There were readers commenting that I should be covering Halloween goodies. So here goes. I went to the drug stores over the weekend and found all the pumpkins, most of them marshmallowy.
I did a roundup earlier this year of Easter eggs from Russell Stover and I was pleasantly suprised by the taste and quality of them, so it wasn’t hard to purchase these (though they were only on sale for 50 cents each).
This one really appealed to me because it reminded me of one of my favorite candies ever, the See’s Scotchmallow (always best in the dark chocolate single pieces, not the milk chocolate “bar” thing). The pumpkin shape out of the package is actually pretty good. It has some shape and definition, which I enjoyed quite a bit.
It smelled sweet and not a bit like chocolate. The caramel is soft and flowing and the marshmallow firm and bouncy but very moist. The combination of all the textures is nice, but the caramel doesn’t quite have that toasted sugar taste and it’s not quite salty enough to balance out all the other sweetness.
I have to say, after staring at the packaging for Russell Stover for the past couple of days, I’ve decided I don’t really like it. It has a sort of faux Peanuts feel to it that I find a little sad. Maybe it’s that the colors are too much like Easter and I feel like Charlie Brown and this might be the equivalent of getting a rock in my Trick or Treat bag.
This was certainly the best looking pumpkin of the whole bunch. It was thick and had a well-defined and easily recognizable shape. The bite was nice, with the soft and fluffy marshmallow center, but it lacked a vanilla punch. It just lacked flavor. The chocolate couldn’t carry it, because it didn’t have much flavor of its own, though it’s not like it was bad, just sweet and without any sort of dairy component to even give it a little kick.
I love the purple package. I really do, but it kind of confused me. Hershey’s is positioning purple as their color for dark chocolate (they use it on the Dark Kisses and those dark jewel tones on the Special Dark packaging). But no, this is milk chocolate.
I figured if I was disappointed with the lack of flavor in the Russell Stover marshmallows, Hershey’s would pick up the slack. After all, Hershey’s is known for their distinctive milk chocolate. This one was packaged nicely, a much bigger package than the Russell Stover even though it was slightly lighter. The marshmallow is nice and lofty and has a more firm latexy quality to it. Dryer and with a distinctive fake vanilla flavor, the marshmallow certainly had some personality. The chocolate on here was not really up to the challenge though. Too grainy, too sweet and just not creamy enough for me. I kinda scraped it off with my teeth so I could have more uninterrupted marshmallow. (This pumpkin was made in Canada.)
Everyone’s well aware of my love of Reese’s but this has to be the ugly duckling of the pumpkin bunch. It barely even looks like a pumpkin, it was difficult to extract from the wrapper and has a plain old greasy appearance and feel.
Now, all that aside, it’s a Reese’s Egg ... and I love Reese’s Eggs. They’re different from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the ratios are different and though they tried to recapture this difference with the Reese’s Limited Edition Bars earlier this year, I think these unattractive lumps offer something compelling enough to warrant making them seasonally. The center is firm and a little crumbly, a mix of salty, grainy and sweet with a thin and sticky milk chocolate coating that adds a little more sweetness to the mix.
I’ve saved the best for last. Last spring I tried my first Snickers novelty item, it was a Snickers Easter Egg. I actually liked it quite a bit and found it different enough from a regular Snickers bar to put it in the same class as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg (ratios and all that). For some reason the Snickers Pumpkin might have a slight edge on the Egg. It might have been because I couldn’t easily re-wrap the pumpkin in its foil wrapper, I had to eat it right away. Well, it might not technically have been eaten ... it might have been gobbled.
There aren’t as many whole peanuts in the pumpkin, but there’s a definite nuttiness to it. The nougat seems moister and flavorful and the soft caramel is smooth and has a little toasted salty hit to it that helps out the whole thing. The chocolate is merely adequate, but smooth enough to support the whole (and of course give it the lovely pumpkin shell).
If you’d like more opinions on the other pumpkin shaped goodies, coincidence has it again that Rebecca has posted on the Hershey’s orange pumpkins and Joanna has both orange flavored ones that I couldn’t bring myself to purchase.
All of the pumpkins I listed were 50 cents each on sale. If you’re looking for stuff to throw into the Trick or Treat bags, stick with the tried and true candies, they’re less expensive (when on sale most fun sized bars can be 10 cents each). If you’re looking for a little treat for yourself, it’s not a bad gamble. Overall I’m giving them all a 4 out of 10. They’re benign ... they’re not the epitome of their genre, but they’re not embarrassments either.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Like Candy Corn, Peeps and Peanut Butter Kisses are one of those seasonal candies that people either love or hate. I’m gonna go ahead and say right now, I’m on the side of love here.
I don’t know if I’ve ever had “name brand” peanut butter kisses before, these are the first I’ve ever seen that have anything on the black & orange wax wrappers. Made by Necco, Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses are a molasses taffy with a little blurp of peanut butter in the center.
The molasses taffy is soft and flavorful, with a rustic taste of mellow molasses with a little smoke and woodsy maple in there. In the center (or somewhere near there) is a pocket of peanut butter, a little crumbly and of course nutty and roasty tasting. The salty hit of the fatty peanut butter is a great combo with the sweet taffy. I much prefer them to the traditional Mary Janes, which I find not only a little too hard but also not enough of a “concentrated peanut butter” dollop.
Since these are not a spectacularly popular candy, with their rather mousy wrappings and bland colors they’re easily found dirt-cheap in the remainder bins after Halloween, which is when I prefer to buy them. If they’re a little old and stale, a little warm-up in the palm of your hand will revive them.
Some other notes: Mary Janes were originally made by the Miller Company starting in 1914, which was later bought by another taffy company called Stark Candy Company that continued the Mary Jane tradition. In 1990 Stark sold out to Necco, who continues to make the traditional Mary Janes pretty much unchanged from its original format.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Sometimes a candy is so gorgeous it stops me dead in my tracks. Not that it looks tasty, it’s just so darned photogenic. Intense colors, fun textures, inventive shape ... it’s all so compelling.
I’ve seen these bears in bulk bins all over the country and didn’t know who made them until I went to the All Candy Expo. Turns out Albanese Confectionery makes a lot of gummis, including the exotic flavors you’ll find at Dylan’s Candy Bar (banana was really interesting!) and the super cute Gummi Army Men. I even unwittingly had one of the huckleberry ones last year. An ‘A’ on a gummi bear’s tummy means Albanese (the best way to spot them in bulk bins), another difference is they’re also a little larger than a Trolli or Haribo bear.
The most freakishly beautiful candies of their line are their Krunchy items. Krunchies are soft gummis coated in little crunchy nonpareils. The mix of the soft bouncy texture of the gummi combined with a little sour bite of the “sticky” element and then the crunchy candies is just plain fun. (But you know, it’s functional too, the candy coating also keeps them from sticking together.)
They make other varieties of the Krunchy items such as gummi rings, worms and hearts and most come in different colors for different holidays.
These gummis come in six flavors: Cherry (red), Lemon (yellow), Watermelon (pink), Apple (green), Orange (orange) and Raspberry (blue). As usual, the citrus ones were my top faves, but the apple and raspberry were ranking pretty high, mostly because gummis in that flavor aren’t that common. But the weirdest part was the watermelon one, it just had a weird bitter aftertaste to me ... and the stranger thing is that I had the same experience with the Sandy Candy watermelon flavor too, so maybe there’s just something that reacts oddly with me.
If you see them in bulk bins, fear not! They’re as tasty as they are pretty.
(Albanese has a limited web store but the prices are FANTASTIC, usually you pay a premium when you order right from the company, like M&Ms or Hershey, but they have gummi bears for $2.29 a pound plus shipping. However, they ask some strange and personal details like age and gender. Let me know here if you ever order from them. They also have a factory store in Indiana, which I plan to visit someday.)
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!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.