Monday, July 14, 2014
Ghirardelli has a very large and varied line of chocolate bars and individually wrapped squares. This year they also introduced a new line of Ghirardelli minis in five varieties: Milk & Caramel, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Milk Chocolate Toffee Crisp, Dark Chocolate minis and Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits minis.
The package explains that “minis are the sweet way to share your love of chocolate ... anytime, anywhere.” The bag is rather slight at only 4.1 ounces but is priced comparably (per ounce) to the bars. I chose the Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits because it was a flavor I’d never seen in the bars or the standard squares before. Unfortunately the package doesn’t detail the cacao percentage.
The packaging is a beautiful matte, medium blue that I found very appealing. The wrappers are also easy to open, which I appreciate when spending a little more on my candy.
I have to say that I don’t understand the point of these. They squares are 7 grams each, while the regular Ghirardelli Squares are 10.75 - so they’re about 2/3 the size of the original version. They’re a little thicker, but not unwrapped like so many Bites and Minis are these days. (Not that I think they would fare well jumbled in a bag, they’d probably break and get scuffed up instead looking incredibly charming.
The little squares are about one inch on each side. The smell is odd for a chocolate product, it reminds me of frosting in a can, overly sweet with more of a cocoa and vanilla extract scent than the complex smell of chocolate.
The bite is easy, and the thickness of the chocolate means that the little cookie bits have space to stack up and provide some texture. The cookie pieces are crunchy and less than sweet overall, which is a welcome change from the chocolate itself. The chocolate is smooth, but like the smell, tastes a bit on the fake side. I know it’s not, that it’s probably the cookies giving off that smell, but it just turned me off from the experience. I was hoping for some sort of deluxe version of the Limited Edition Hershey’s that come out from time to time, but here I found it no better.
I’m still keen to try some of the other flavors, this minis line seems to be a bit more on the comfort candy side of flavor combinations than the regular line, which I think is fun. This one just didn’t work for me.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
In the category of licorice-free extruded starch gels, Twizzlers are at the top of the heap. Though they’re known mostly for the standard hollow Strawberry twist, Twizzlers come in a vast array of flavors, color and formats. One of the newer versions Twizzlers has been expanding is the Pull n Peel varieties. Pull n Peel is basically the old fashioned laces, but formatted in a way that makes them easier to portion and package.
I picked up this king size version of Twizzlers Mixed Berry at Walgreen‘s, mostly because it came in the king size instead of the big nearly-a-pound bag. There are six twists in the package, a mix of three flavors: Cherry, Black Raspberry and Strawberry.
The twists look kind of like a swollen version of what you’d find if you stripped the insulation off a phone cable. There are nine different colored “wires” in each bundle. The effect is quite appealing, as they twist gently and stick together lightly in the package. It’s kind of like a wheat-based package of mozzarella cheese sticks.
The texture is much more smooth and pliable than the regular Twizzlers, which I find a bit on the stuff and crumbly side of the plastic realm. My twists stuck together quite a bit, so it was hard to just pull off a single lace to eat separately. Cherry was the most discernible of the flavors. It had a deep medicinal note. It was smooth, not too sweet but also had a hint of salt to it. Strawberry was very mild and more sweet than Cherry. It didn’t have any tangy note, which I didn’t expect, but was also missing that fresh floral hint that usually evokes cotton candy in many other strawberry candies. The Black Raspberry (the blue strand) didn’t do much for me, it wasn’t distinct as a raspberry flavor on its own, but it definitely wasn’t the same as the other two.
Eaten as a whole bite of multiple strands, it works well. None of them stand out, it’s just a generic fruity-berry flavor. There’s a bitter note towards the end though, which I’d guess are the artificial colors or flavors.
I could say that one twist is satisfying enough (about .7 ounces), since I didn’t want to eat another after that. But if you’re the kind of person who misses that period of life known as kindergarten when it was socially acceptable to eat PlayDoh, then the Twizzlers Pull n Peel are probably right up your alley. (I’m not making that up, either. The ingredients of Play Doh are also largely starch based, though it’s not sold as a food item and Hasbro dissuades people from eating it, it’s really the salt that might make that a bad idea and the fact that it contains wheat so it’s not gluten free.)
Monday, July 7, 2014
I’ve often wondered why more confections weren’t made from roasting and conching. What would happen if you roasted and conched almonds or hazelnuts in the same way we make chocolate? What about coffee?
Since coffee doesn’t have its own natural oils like cocoa that are solid at room temperature, it only makes sense to add a dash of them to make a chocolate-like confection to create these Morning Rush Coffee Bites. These are from the Walgreen’s store-brand called deLISH, but I did see a review of a product called Coffee Thins on Candy Bar Review that sounds like it might be the maker.
They came in three varieties, I picked out the simplest version, the plain coffee bites (Elegant Hazelnut and Vanilla Delight were the others). There are 14 in the package, but the serving size is a little strange to decode. There’s 4.9 ounces in the package and it holds 3.5 servings. So a serving is 4 pieces. Though the package doesn’t say anything about caffeine, the Coffee Thins website does say that one piece equals a quarter of a cup of coffee. (I’m unclear if they mean an actual fourth of an 8 ounce cup and how much caffeine that cup had, as it does vary quite a bit but I’ll stick with the estimate that even eating the whole bag will probably not result it an overdose of caffeine. The front of the package is no help either, as it shows one piece equaling a cup of coffee ... though the cup is the same size as the chocolate piece.)
They’re packaged just like a Ghirardelli Square. The pieces are about 1.6 inches square. The molding is nice, it’s a generic mold but a good thickness for biting and getting a nice aroma off of it while eating.
The ingredients are a little vague:
The oils are a blend of cocoa butter, palm oil, illipe butter, shea butter, mango butter, sunflower oil and/or safflower oil. It’s also unclear if the coffee is the whole bean or brewed coffee. (I’m guessing whole bean.)
The mouthfeel is pretty good. It’s not quite the silky melt of a good dark chocolate, but it’s passable. The coffee flavors are very strong and well rounded, more on the woodsy and cocoa end of the flavors than the nutty, toffee or berry notes that some beans have. The sugar is quite prominent, which is too bad, because I don’t mind a strong coffee. If it were less sweet, I’d be a lot happier, but when you remove sugar, it has to be replaced by something else. There’s a buttery, cream note to the whole thing too that I thought was a little strong for something that I didn’t think was in the milk drink zone. It’s a balancing act, if you take out sugar, do you put in more milk solids or more coffee? More coffee would make it much stronger, but that might not make it better because the bitterness or perhaps even the caffeine would be too high.
The end result is that I’m satisfied with these as a curiosity. I don’t see myself buying them again ... unless they were actually blended in with dark chocolate. However, if your a sweet coffee fan, these might be the ticket.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Just Born has introduced a new year-round version of marshmallow Peeps. The new Peeps Minis are different in a few ways. First, they’re not packaged a tray, they’re tossed together into a stand up, reasealable bag. Second, they’re mini versions of individual Peeps, each Peeps is not a single bite.
They’re available in several different flavors, but the only one I can find here in Los Angeles right now is the Vanilla Creme Peeps Minis. The package holds on 3.4 ounces and cost $2.79 at Target. They’re part of this whole hand-to-mouth snacking trend, as they analysts call it, that I refer to as morselization.
The surprising thing about Peeps Minis is that they do fulfill a big hole in the candy aisle. There are no sugar crusted marshmallows. If you meander over to the ingredient aisle in grocery stores you’ll find starch coated Jet-Puffed and Campfire marshmallows, but they’re only rarely found in the candy aisle (usually in special displays for S’mores along with graham crackers and chocolate bars).
They do smell a lot like cake. A sort of butter flavored cake, maybe pound cake and strongly of vanilla extract.
Each Peep is pretty small. They’re about half the weight of a regular Peep (which is usually about 8.5 grams) at about 4 grams each. There are only 14 calories per Peep, mostly because they don’t weight much and are made from sugar and a little protein.
I like white Peeps because they have no artificial colors to get in the way of the flavors. They do taste rather cakey, like an Angel Food Cake in both flavor profile and actual texture. I liked them much more than I thought, though I still doubt I’d pick these up as a go-to candy, even in the summer. My biggest issue is the eyes, I can’t stand the little wax eyes on Peeps, I have to pull them off, which means that I can’t just eat them. They are an ideal version of Peeps to take to the movies, as the package is very quiet and of course they’re easy to share ... and would probably pair very well with popcorn.
It seemed like there was less sugar sanding on the, and because the package does a better job of containing the leftover sugar than the trays, they were far less messy. I don’t know how good of a job the zipper-top package does at keeping them fresh, I only had them for a few days, did not seal them and they’re still fresh. (But it’s a bit more humid in Southern California as were in our June Gloom weather pattern of low clouds in the morning.)
They’re gluten free and fat free (as if people have allergies to fat). They’re made in the USA, and may contain milk but have no other notations about allergens such as nuts. Since they’re marshmallows, they’re also made with gelatin and are not for vegetarians. There’s no specification as to the source of the gelatin, so I would guess it’s porcine.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Friday, May 30, 2014
I was happy to visit the Artisan du Chocolat boutique within the Selfridge’s Food Hall. Not only did I get to choose from the full array of chocolate bars that they make, they also had one of their most famous chocolates that I’d been eager to try ... Pearls. They’re about the size of a hazelnut in the shell, spherical and come in light colors like silver, peach and creamy white that are dusted with pearlized color. It’s a stunning presentation. The chocolates themselves (I tried two) are decent. I had a caramel, which was covered in milk chocolate, so it was salty enough but still quite sweet and milky. The other was a hazelnut praline, which was also very sweet but also satisfyingly nutty. They’re quite expensive and nothing that I would buy on a regular basis.
So, back to what I did purchase, the Artisan du Chocolat Black Cardamom 70% Cacao
Though the bar is called Black Cardamom, a mix of green and black cardamom is infused into the 70% dark chocolate made from South American cocoa beans. The bar is made from a simple mold with well defined segments that snap easily into portions.
The smell of the bar is woodsy and deep, a bit like burnt brownies. The cardamom notes aren’t really evident until I put it in my mouth. The cardamom is infused smoothly into the chocolate, there are not fibery hulls or little seeds. The flavor of cardamom is interesting, it’s a bit of a cross between nutmeg, jasmine and lavender.
The melt of the chocolate is good, it’s smooth and has a dark flavor and dry finish and a very slight raisin or raspberry note to it. The cardamom flavors are fresh and linger much longer than the chocolate notes.
Overall, it’s one of the best cardamom chocolate bars I’ve had. The portion is good, I found this size bar to be two servings. The price is a bit steep for the size and of course it’s hard to find in the United States. The company is artisan, but not terribly transparent about the sourcing of the ingredients beyond the basics that I’ve listed here.
Made with soy lecithin. May also contain traces of sesame, nuts and milk but is otherwise consider vegan.
I’ve purchased a few Artisan du Chocolat bars in the past, but haven’t featured any reviews to date. Since these bars are still available, here are a few tasting notes I made a couple of years ago:
The package is similar to the Black Cardamom bar, it’s a simple, glossy paperboard box. The bar inside is just wrapped in a clear cellophane bag. It’s easy to open, and because it’s not exactly form-fitted, it’s easy to get any remnants back in the package to seal up for later.
All of the bars I’ve tried from Artisan du Chocolat also use the same mold. It’s rather generic, with no special lettering or embossed designs ... it’s just a series of well-proportioned pieces.
Orange blossom is forward and loud. The soft flavor does well with the strong chocolate. Tangy notes, a little soapy at times and perfumey. Was much more subtle when I first opened the bar, but got stronger as the month went on. Chocolate is less sweet, smooth though has a dry finish and woodsy quality overall. There’s the slightest bitter note towards the end, but it fades to a rather fresh note that lingers.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Artisan du Chocolat Almond Milk is a bit of a change up. Instead of a fusion bar, as the previous two were, this is from the line called “break the mould” which includes their 100% cacao bar and sugar free bars in both milk and dark chocolate.
The bar is what it sounds like, instead of using dairy milk, Artisan du Chocolate substitutes almond milk ... well, specifically partially defatted almonds (26%), to boost the creamy texture of the bar and even out some of the chocolate’s intensity. The bar contains 40% cacao, but a lot of that is cocoa butter, not cocoa solids (probably because the almonds are defatted and the cocoa butter is necessary to maintain the chocolate texture).
There is no nutritional panel, so I don’t know what the fat, protein or sugar content is here. It would be interesting to find out, as chocolate itself has a fair amount of protein as do almonds.
Very light looking for a 40% bar. Light cinnamon note to the bar. The melt is not quick, but very smooth. Creamy with a cashew-like nut flavor. Cocoa notes are really watered down. Lightly spicy without any actual spice.
Interesting bar, far too sweet than I’d want but at least it doesn’t have that sticky thick melt that dairy milk has. I enjoyed it as a confection, but it in no way replicated the experience of milk chocolate and didn’t have enough of a chocolate boost to satisfy me either. I’d actually throw it closer into the white chocolate category (can someone attempt an almond-cocoa butter white bar or maybe a cashew-cocoa butter white bar?).
Rating: 7 out of 10 (only because it’s dairy free - it’d be 6 out of 10 if it were going head to head with other 40% cacao bars)
I enjoy Artisan du Chocolat’s flavor mixes, there are a lot of herbs and spices and florals that they utilize that I don’t see in other confections here in the United States. But they’re not for everyday consumption, because of the price and difficulty to find.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Twix Unwrapped Bites are exactly what they sound like, a bag of tiny little Twix bars (more like nuggets) all jumbled up, out of the wrapper and ready to eat.
Mars already makes bites which include the primary elements for the classic bar version, but have different ratios because of the miniaturization process. It’s an uneven transfer to the new format, in some case I prefer the new ratios, in others I think that one or more elements is lacking. So far I’ve tried: Milky Way, Milky Way Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers.
The little lumps aren’t really that pretty, but they’re chocolatey, so that’s appealing. Like the other bites, they get scuffed up tumbling around in the package, so they don’t have the elegant, shiny ripples of the long fingers. They smell sugary and sweet, just like regular Twix bars.
They’re not as messy as I find regular Twix, as I pop the whole thing in my mouth at once. The crunch of the cookie is good, there’s a bit higher ratio of chocolate in this version, and a good caramel chew to bring the elements together. Sweet, milky, a mild sandy crunch ... a good blend of textures. Like the other bites, it’s easy to mix them in with other items to create a custom mix. I think this might be good with a Chex Mix if you’re a sweet & savory person.
I thought it was interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, Mars also introduced a morsel version of Twix last year. It’s a little different though. Since I knew that the Twix Unwrapped Bites were coming to the United States, I made sure to find the Twix Mix while I was in London back in March so I could compare them.
The format of Twix Mix is actually a mix of little nuggets of biscuit (cookie) and caramel. They’re slightly different shapes, so if you’d prefer to eat one or the other, or make sure you’re mixing them, you can pick them out. The caramel pieces are just little spheres of a firm caramel covered in a very milky, thin chocolate shell. The biscuit pieces are a little flatter.
The effect is actually quite nice. The ratios don’t match the classic Twix bar at all, and the milk chocolate is much milkier and the whole experience is a bit more on the malt side than the usual emphasis on the toffee/caramel notes. As a confectionery snack, they’re good and different enough from a bridge mix or something as traditional as Milk Duds.
The American Twix Unwrapped Bites have no notation on the packaging regarding the cocoa sourcing yet, though Mars promises that is coming in the next few years. They contain dairy, soy and gluten and may contain traces of peanuts.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In the battle for marketshare in the confectionery sector, it seems that some candy companies are more interested in getting our business by eliminating competition than gaining brand loyalty with exemplary products.
The latest battle involves old rivals Hershey and Mars, this time over malted milk balls. Mars makes Maltesers and Hershey’s makes Whoppers. But Hershey’s is also trying to assert the exclusive right to also make something called Malteser in the United States.
I don’t have the figures, but I’m going to guess that Hershey’s holds more than 70% of the market in malted milk balls with their Whoppers brand, but not necessarily because they’re the best but because they’re ubiquitous. Though I don’t have current figures, I’d estimate the brand is worth about $40 to $50 million in sales a year.
Here’s a little history. Mars Maltesers were first sold in the United Kingdom in 1937. They were created as a diet candy; a chocolate candy with less chocolate and therefore less fat and calories. They’re also sold in Canada, New Zealand and Australia and exported to many other European countries. They can be purchased in shops that specialize in UK imports. Based on the number of brand extensions I’ve seen for Maltesers on my recent trip to London, I’d say that the candy is a much more important brand to Mars than Whoppers are to Hershey’s. Which may make them appear a threat.
In 1939 an American candy company called Overland, introduced a malted milk ball candy sold under the name Giants, as they were larger than earlier versions called Malt-ettes. In 1949, two years after the company was sold to Leaf Inc, they were renamed Whoppers. There were many other companies that came and went that sold malted milk balls, but Whoppers have been made continuously ever since, even if their corporate overlords have changed.
Leaf Inc was once a formidable sugar candy company, the fourth largest in the US. They acquired many favorite American candy brands, including Jolly Rancher, Hollywood Brands (maker of Payday bars), Heath Bar, and Now and Later. Sometime in the 1960s Leaf started making something called Malteser and even registered a trademark for the name in 1962. I doubt they were widely distributed or advertised, as I can’t find any record of them . In 1983 Leaf was bought out by Huhtamäki Oyj, a Finnish company, which maintained the trademark registration. Mars sued Leaf over this trademark in 1993 and later settled out of court (so we don’t know the details) but Leaf retained the trademark.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, Leaf Inc divested and sold off many of its best brands, most to Hershey’s: Whoppers, Payday, Jolly Rancher and Heath Bar.
Fast forward and lately Hershey’s has been releasing a product called Matleser: a malted milk ball that in all ways except packaging is identical to Whoppers. Though it’s a singular in the name, not Maltesers as the Mars product is, it’s also packaged in red.
The way trademarks work, not only do you need to register the trademark in all territories you plan to exercise it, you also need to use it. So if Hershey’s wanted to keep Mars from using Malteser in the US, by claiming it was an abandoned trademark, they had to demonstrate that Hershey’s wasn’t using it. I was able to find Hershey’s Malteser for sale on both the Hershey’s site and Amazon. I bought a box to confirm that they are just Whoppers in a different package. (They are.)
Mars contends that not only is Hershey’s squatting on the trademark in the United States, but that their packaging is intentionally confusing consumers to think that they’re purchasing the Mars version. I admit, they do look similar and even though I’m the candy blogger, I couldn’t remember of the top of my head if the Mars version was plural or singular until I started this research.
American trademark law is governed for the most part under the Lanham Act which covers trademark infringement and false advertising. The act was also revised in 1999 to encompass cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and then sitting on them or directing them to a competitor.
While Hershey’s practices up to the point where they created similar packaging were probably within the letter, though not the spirit of the law, my opinion after looking at the history, reading Mars’ brief on the case leads me to conclude that Hershey’s is just acting scummy. Whoppers are known by 300 million people in this country ... and if it’s not a favorable brand then Hershey’s should improve their quality, price point or packaging to the point where people are loyal to them.
I tried both again, just to check. Neither is great, but the do differ. Both have a mockolate coating, though the Mars version does have some cocoa butter in there. The centers, though both malty, have different textures. The Mars version is more honeycombed and has a easier crunch. The Hershey’s version is more milky tasting with a firm crunch that dissolves nicely. Both are excellent centers ... both have disappointing coatings. I prefer the Mars Maltesers.
I’m a extremely curious if Mars were to introduced Maltesers in the United States if they would change the coating to real chocolate, as they do not make any mockolate products for the American market. However, Mars does not have a good track record for introducing the European candies to the US when there is another similar candy already on the market. They tried this with the Bounty bars, which are similar to Mounds and Almond Joy and they never took hold. Twix was a European launch that was then introduced in the US, but is a unique candy construction, which is how it established itself in its niche.
This is not an isolated issue in the candy business. Many candy companies go head to head in the courts instead of on the store shelves.
- The UK the courts have been deciding whether Cadbury should have exclusive rights to their shade of purple. Currently, the answer is no.
For more reading on the issue, here are some other trade articles on the case:
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.