Monday, December 2, 2013
The hot flavor trend this season is gingerbread. Well, not as hot as pumpkin spice, which spans Halloween and Christmas holidays. There’s little difference between the spices in pumpkin pie and gingerbread, though the proportions of the actual spices are often different and gingerbread has a background of molasses or brown sugar.
The M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread are sold only at Walmart this season, though their companion Twix Gingerbread are sold at most stores stocking seasonal bagged candy.
The design on the front of the package looks like most of the other holiday M&Ms. In this instance the Red M&M is just holding a plate with a gingerbread cookie and pointing at it. Kind of lazy.
The Gingerbread M&Ms are a milk chocolate base with some spices added in. They come in three colors, red, green and brown. Not terribly exciting. The milk chocolate is the normal sweet stuff, creamy but on the fudgy and sugary side. The added spices give it a warm flavor but nothing distinct. Maybe there’s ginger, maybe some cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. They add a light chalky note to the texture but I didn’t specifically get any ginger or black pepper in there.
What would have been extraordinary would have been a real piece of gingerbread, in the format of the Pretzel M&Ms. Or Sugar Cookie, or Snickerdoodle. There are so many exciting seasonal variations on the cookie center that could be accomplished. Even just the Pretzel M&M with this flavored chocolate on the outside would have propelled this to another level of specialness.
Intellectually, I know they’re not the same as the Pumpkin Spice M&Ms from earlier this year, but they don’t feel that different - just swap out the orange ones for red and tone down the cinnamon. No, Mars still hasn’t come out with the Egg Nog White Chocolate M&Ms I’ve been longing for. I guess they’re just not into nutmeg.
Today is the day many blogs decided to review the new M&Ms Milk Chocolate Gingerbread. The Impulsive Buy and ZOMG, Candy! would be the two that I’ve seen so far and previously Junk Food Guy and Serious Sweets. I think most of us are agreed, it’s a nice idea but not really a great M&M.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Kraft is always keeping up with special versions of marshmallows during different seasons. This year I spotted the Jet-Puffed Peppermint Mini Mallows at Target in the baking section. (I’m sure these have been around before.)
It seems like a pretty simple confection, which is largely the selling point. They’re pink swirled mini marshmallows, small enough for snacking or including in recipes
They vary a little in size, but most are half inch cylinders.
They’re quite fresh, bouncy and light. There’s a dusting of corn starch on them, so they’re not sweet immediately, but a little chalky. The mint is mild, but fresh. There’s a light hint of the red food coloring aftertaste, if you’re one of those folks who can detect it. But for the most part, I liked them very much. I threw a handful in some hot chocolate and liked how creamy they melted and added that little minty touch without too much sweetness.
They’re an exceptionally good value. It was $1.00 for a large 10 ounce bag. That’s less than $2 a pound. They’re pretty spare on calories, 2/3 of a cup is only 100 calories and seems like a lot of candy. It’s a nice ingredient, something to use on cupcakes or in hot chocolate or just throw in a small bowl to keep around for kids to snack on without filling up. (Please watch small children with marshmallows and any small candies, as they are a choking hazard.)
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
A few weeks ago the internet excitement for new limited edition products spilled over into big media with the news that Frito Lay was introducing chocolate covered potato chips: Lay’s Wavy Potato Chips Dipped in Milk Chocolate. This news was apparently mind-blowing, as if USA Today and ABC News have never seen chocolate covered potato chips before.
The new limited edition packages are sold only at Target until the end of the year. The bag is small, something I’d call a “king sized” bag that you’d see at a convenience store that would hold two servings. This bag, however, holds five ounces and says it’s five servings. Chocolate is heavier than Potato Chips by volume.
The bag is pretty and it was easy to spot on the shelves (partly because Target devoted so much shelf space to them, I think it was three shelves about four feet wide in the holiday section).
The chips look an awful lot like the images on the bag. Most were whole or at least large with a consistent coating of chocolate ... on one side. Virtually all of the chips were coated with thick milk chocolate on one side. I don’t have an issue with this, as it was plenty of chocolate, but when saying that they’re dipped in milk chocolate, I have to wonder how that was accomplished without getting chocolate on one side.
They are the thick ridged chips, which hold up well to the chocolate coating. The potato notes come through quite clearly. The salty hint and the earthy tubers combine well with the creamy and sweet chocolate. But the ratios are a bit off, there’s still a lot of chocolate and the chocolate is really, really sweet. Like most chocolate covered potato chips, they’re on the greasy side. I enjoyed them, but found two or three were more than enough (4 chips were listed as a serving). There’s a filmy, greasy feeling on my tongue that followed that left me regretting eating them at all.
I might buy these again, but I think I’m more likely to enjoy potato chips as an addition to a bar or bark than as a chocolate coated item on their own.
As a comparison, I happened to have the Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips sitting around as well (similar expiration date). The Lay’s are far more consistent - the chips are more often flat, less often stuck together and since they’re coated on one side, more potato flavor. There’s also far less salt in the Lay’s. The Trader Joe’s variety has 140 mg in a 1.5 ounce serving and the Lay’s has 45 mg in a 1 ounce serving. The price difference is also noticeable. The Trader Joe’s is $3.99 for 6.5 ounces versus the Lay’s $3.49 for 5 ounces. The ingredients are nearly identical as are the calories per ounce.
There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate. These contain milk and soy and are also processed on equipment with peanuts and tree nuts. There’s not statement about gluten on the package at all, but the Wavy Lay’s do not contain any gluten ingredients either.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I’m not usually a fan of R.M. Palmer candies (I can’t call their the vast majority of their products chocolate with any accuracy) but I do appreciate their packaging and design. I browsed their new Christmas offerings a few weeks ago and was actually excited by just the name of their R.M. Palmer Candy Cane Cups. Luckily at only $1.00 at the 99 Cent Only Store, the risk was low and possible rewards were high.
They kind of lost me at the description on the ribbon on the front of the package: Your Two Favorites ... Candy Cane Crunch in a Chocolaty Shell. I happen to know a lot of undiscerning people, but I can’t think of any of them that would call anything “chocolaty” their favorite thing. They might eat it pretty happily ... but most folks prefer the real stuff.
The ingredients include a lot of sugar and partially hydrogenated oils ... I’m not sure what will happen to these if the FDA bans artificial trans fats, though the nutrition panel lists that a serving of 4 cups contains 65% of your RDA of saturated fat, it doesn’t actually show any trans fats (though if it’s less than .5 grams, they can say there’s 0).
The cups are nicely designed. The foil is clean red & white stripes and easy to identify if you were to put them in a candy dish. The cup is a nice size, could be one bit or two small ones. (I always like to look inside.)
They smell quite pepperminty. The chocolate coating is oily but does have a melt-in-your-mouth quality because of all the tropical oils. It has a light cocoa note to it, but it’s barely discernible. The filling is firm but also has a melty but slightly grainy quality. There are little bits of peppermint candy in it that give a slight crunch and texture.
I was prepared to hate these, but it’s a great idea and though not executed with premium ingredients, they’re still passable. Now ... let’s see some real chocolate companies do better.
Last year Mars announced a new season flavor for their Twix candy: Twix Sugar Cookie. Sadly, they never showed up in stores in this dimension. Then this year they made their announcements for the holidays with nothing noted for the Twix line, so I was blindsided to find out that there is in fact a holiday version of Twix this year: Twix Gingerbread. (There’s also seasonal Gingerbread M&Ms out, but they are a Walmart exclusive.)
The description is a short listing of the elements: cookie bars - gingerbread caramel - milk chocolate. So it’s not a gingerbread cookie; it’s the caramel that’s flavored like gingerbread.
What I’ve always loved about gingerbread, whether in cake form or crunchy cookie, is the wonderful base of molasses that gives a touch of sweetness but mostly an earthy base for the spices. Recipes obviously call for ginger but also include clove, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, allspice and/or coriander. The ingredients for Twix Gingerbread doesn’t specify the spice array and does not list molasses at all.
The Twix minis are a little over a half an ounce each. They’re not quite as big as the regular bar you buy in pairs. The calorie count, though, is pretty low at 80 per piece and they’re about 2.3 inches long ... it’s a nice little snack.
They smell quite sweet and cinnamony, with a hint of woodsy but undefined spices.
The overwhelming flavor profile of the caramel is cinnamon and nutmeg with hints of black pepper and ginger. There is no molasses, it’s completely missing that earthy sort of beet flavor. The chew is great, the milk chocolate was creamy and fresh and the cookie has an excellent crunch and texture to offset the caramel. It’s a good iteration of the classic candy. It doesn’t really ring as a gingerbread item. I wish the cookie was different, was an actual gingerbread cookie, but I’ll forgive them for their manufacturing limitations.
My overall feeling about these seasonal flavors like Snickerdoodle, Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread is they’re pretty much the same thing (we may as well throw Spiced Chai in there). It’s just a mix of those cinnamon spice flavors ... all pretty generic when the end up in a mass produced candy. The Pumpkin Spice M&Ms didn’t end up that different from the Cinnamon M&Ms and probably aren’t that different from the Gingerbread M&Ms. I like the infusion of new flavors into classic candies, but when they start thinking outside the box, I’d like them to be a little more faithful to the inspiration and allow for more differentiation.
Monday, November 11, 2013
One of the items I’ve been eying for almost a year are the Good & Delish Milk Chocolate Maple Cream Charms. It’s hard to find good maple creams; my favorites were once the See’s Maple Cream, but now that my walnut allergy has developed, they’re off my list of edibles. It seems like these Maple Cream Charms are too good to be true. They were on sale for $2.99 for an 8 ounce bag. The ingredients looked good: real milk chocolate, real vanilla and whole milk without any weird fillers.
I was a little concerned that they were just going to be a sticky mass inside the bag, however, they’re individually wrapped. They’re even marked, so you could buy several bags of different candies from this line and be able to mix them in a candy dish and still be completely sanitary.
The pieces are nicely domed and a little over an inch at the base and an inch tall. They’re each about a half an ounce and come in at 75 calories each.
They don’t smell like much other than sweet. I didn’t get any maple hints, but perhaps a more woodsy note to the milk chocolate.
The filling is only lightly tinted on the caramel side. The fondant (made with egg whites) is soft and slight grainy. But there’s no hint of maple, only sweetness. It’s more sweet than possible for the size of the candy. The milk chocolate is similarly sweet but at least has the light milk notes, though not much in the way of cocoa flavors.
They’re terribly disappointing, given the packaging and the ingredients. I guess I shouldn’t have expected so much for a candy that’s only $8.00 per pound at regular price.
I was thinking these were also made by Harry London like the Cornflake Clusters, but they have a different Kosher certification, so now I’m stumped. It could be Bloomer’s in Ohio, which also does all natural chocolates at quite an affordable price. It appears that there are a lot of different sources for the Good and Delish line, so it’s hard give the brand my full confidence. Some of the Belgian bars and treats I also recognize from good companies as well, like their Belgian Crisps (they look like Pringles made out of chocolate).
Here’s another review: Hunting for the Very Best: Delish is Delish
Have you tried anything else from the Walgreen’s Good & Delish line you’d like to recommend or steer others away from?
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Candy Crush Saga is one of the popular tablet/phone games on the market right now. The concept is simple, you just move one “candy” match three or more of the same “candies” in a row to eliminate them from the board.
Since the game is candy-themed, it’s only natural that someone would get a license to develop a line of candy to go along with it. King.com granted its license to Healthy Food Brands, who already makes the Angry Birds gummies in stores now. The initial offerings for the Candy Crush line are: Candy Crush Sour Fruit Gummies, Fruit Mix Gummies, Jelly Fish and Color Bombs. Yesterday I reviewed the two gummies, today I have the Candy Crush Color Bombs.
The box for the Color Bombs features some sort of a horse creature (or maybe that’s a dinosaur), the package describes them as Chocolaty Drops with Rainbow Sprinkles. Note that it doesn’t say that they’re chocolate, which is disappointing. The box was $4.00 (though the retail price on the press release says they’re supposed to be $1.99) and it only holds 3 ounces. It’s a really big box for such as small amount of candy. It’s 7 inches long and 4.25 inches wide. I compared it to the more standard Mike and Ike box which was 6 inches by 3.25 and holds 5 ounces. The candies in this line are also inside a white plastic pouch inside the box. For freshness. But it highlights the fact that the candy only takes up one third of the volume of the box.
For a company that’s making Better for You Confections, that’s a lot of stuff that’s not chocolate in a chocolate confection.
The drops are about 3/4 of an inch across. They’re covered in nonpareils in orange, white, yellow, blue and purple. It’s a festive look, though you can imagine that some come off in transit so the bottom of the bag is a rather substantial puddle of maddeningly rolly sprinkles.
They’re sweet and have a comforting cocoa flavor to them. It’s like eating a paste made from hot cocoa mix. There’s a cardboard note to it and the crunchies add even more sweetness. The melt isn’t much, it becomes fudgy but never smooth. They’re passable for decorations, but not something I would ever spend my own money on for actual eating.
So, they’re chocolate flavored disks with colorful nonpareils ... that cost over $21.00 for a pound. There are some excellent, beautiful chocolates available at that price that taste terrific, are sourced well and have exceptional ingredients. They might not come in a box that references a game, but they’re probably more satisfying. (If you must, buy this box and then refill it with something good, heck, I bought some Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips for $2.49 for 12 ounces at Target over the weekend, they’d fit well in here. Or if you must go colorful, Nuts.com has some semi-sweet buttons with colorful crunchies for only $6.00 a pound.)
In short, a dismal disappointment. Bad ingredients, deceptive package size and just regrettable candy. Probably not unlike the feeling of accomplishment when you finish a level of one of these video games ...sure, you finished it, but how satisfying was it really?
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Hershey’s hasn’t announced much that’s new for Christmas this year, and it’s a little early for Holiday candy in some stores, but I did spy these new Hershey’s Peppermint Bark Bells at Target over the weekend.
As you’d guess with Hershey’s, the white confection is a quasi-mockolate like their Candy Cane Kisses. It’s made from sugar and a mix of vegetable oils including cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower. The ingredients list on the package is long, so long that it might account for why there’s no other marketing or propaganda on there. There’s the name of the product on the front and bag but nothing else ... no description, really nothing other than the obligatory ingredients and nutritional panel.
They’re pretty big, probably bigger than you’d think. A Hershey’s Kiss is about 4.75 grams while a Peppermint Bark Bell is 9.5 grams ... twice the mass. So a single serving is only 4 pieces for a total of 190 calories. The swirled foil is a mix of red, green and black (or maybe that’s brown) on silver.
The candy is simple structure: the top of the bell is a minty flavored white confection with nonpareil crunchies on top of a thin base of semi-sweet chocolate.
I can’t help myself, I like these. I like Smooth and Melty Mints even though I know they’re not real white chocolate. I don’t care. The white confection has a decent melt and mouth feel, it’s not quite silky-creamy but not completely grainy. There’s a good dairy note to it, it’s clean and fresh tasting with the peppermint addition. The dark chocolate base is dark enough that it balances out the sweetness of the bell. It’s a little on the dry side, but that’s okay.
It’s a very sugary confection, and one goes a long way (remember, it’s twice the size of a Hershey’s Kiss) but it’s just enough for me to get my white minty fix. I’ll probably still stick with the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint, since it’s all cocoa butter, but the foil wrapping on these would still be great in a candy bowl. The Dove Peppermint Bark is very similar, though quite a bit creamier but a bit more tame on flavors, and is still tops especially in ingredients.
Hershey’s is slowly rolling out its Rainforest Alliance certified line, starting with Bliss. I don’t know when they’ll get around to the holiday products but all of their chocolate is supposed to be ethically certified by 2020. Ingredients also include palm oil which should be RSPO certified by 2014. Other ingredients of note, artificial colors (in the nonpareils) and PGPR in the chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.