Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Trader Joe’s makes little fanfare with their new products, they just quietly appear on the shelf and perhaps get a mention in the Fearless Flyer. There are rarely announcements of upcoming products, they just show up. However, the same day that the email announced the new Trader Joe’s Ts & Js Sour Gummies, I wanted some for myself. (Sadly, the first location I tried didn’t have them yet, just a blank space.)
The new sour candy pieces are shaped like the letter T or J and come in four flavors: Key Lime, Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Grapefruit.
As I mentioned last month in a long profile about the difference between gummis and jellies, this is another case of jelly candies called gummies. It’s kind of sad that Trader Joe’s did that, because their ingredients are quite clean and vegetarians would probably be more likely to pick them up if they weren’t called gummies.
So, if there’s an analogue to this candy in the big brand world, these are all natural, citrus-flavored Sour Patch Letters. Sorry, I think Trader Joe’s buried the lede ... because this is an incredible concept. It’s everything I already like in Sour Patch Kids, with flavors I prefer and ingredients that shouldn’t interfere with the intensity of the flavors.
The colors are muted, with the lime and grapefruit a little hard to tell apart ... except for the fact that I liked both and didn’t care after a while. All are similar to the structure of Sour Patch candies, a sweet jelly center with a mild flavor and an intense sour sanded exterior. Each piece is a mere bite, not too big and pretty clean to eat with minimal mess.
The red ones are Tangerine: the sour coating is tangy and textured, but melts away easily or provides a bit of crunch if you can’t wait. The center is less flavorful, more zesty. The orange notes definitely veer off into authentic tangerine with quite a bit of orange peel flavor.
The light orange are Lemon: the combination of the sour sanding and lemon peel notes of the center give a good approximation of Meyer lemon, which is more mild than the common Eureka lemons.
Clear is Grapefruit: such a great tangy coating with a very strong bitter zest component. Definitely a winner.
Light green is Key Lime: These have a bright lime flavor that’s pretty generic but really refreshing in a too green apple world. It’s pretty good Key lime notes, which have a little creamy component to them instead of the straight acid of Persian limes.
They’re vegan, there are no artificial colors or flavors ... Kosher and priced pretty well. Really, my only complaint is the fact that they call them gummis.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Like most Brach’s products, the package is vague about the product once you get past the name. There’s a list of ingredients, but other than that, I was kind of left to guess what was in my mix.
So, what do we have? Pretty much what the name says. There’s an assortment of two different shapes of chocolate covered nuts ... peanuts and almonds. Then there are some gumdrop looking things that are caramels and some oblong bits that are chocolate covered brittle.
The whole mix smells sweet, a little like peanuts and cocoa. The sweetness has a fake vanilla note to it that isn’t very encouraging, though the appearance of the mix is pretty attractive. The panning is good, everything is shiny and smooth.
Milk Chocolate Peanuts are satisfying. There’s not a lot of chocolate, but far better than Nestle’s Goobers. There’s a little hint of salt to make these much more of a snack than a sweet.
Dark Chocolate Peanuts also have a hint of salt and a noticeable bitterness to the chocolate which again keeps the whole mix from getting to sticky sweet.
Milk Chocolate Caramels were lackluster. The texture was excellent, the caramel was chewy but not too stiff and it had a smooth consistency. However, it lacked actual caramel flavor and didn’t offset the milk chocolate coating much.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Brittle are easy to spot. They’re large and have a thick coating of chocolate. The brittle center may be big, but it crunches easily. The nutty flavor is not front and center, this piece is more about the textures of the crushed nuts, the dark chocolate and the sugary brittle. The nut bits are quite small, so it’s almost like the sesame brittle found in Kosher delis.
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds are one of the larger pieces, though some are small enough to be mistaken for peanuts. The almonds have a light blanching, they’re not overly roasted. They’re crunchy and hold up well to the rather sweet dark chocolate.
This mix takes a lot of guess work out of what can be candy roulette. I liked all the pieces and didn’t really long for anything else that wasn’t in here. I thought the peanuts were great, and it all looked good in a little bowl. I certainly preferred it to the actual Bridge Mix that Brach’s sells.
The product contains milk, peanuts, almonds and soy and is made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, eggs and wheat.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Just Born, which makes the class Peeps marshmallows and Hot Tamales also make Mike and Ike. Since these are classic candies, recently they’ve been marketing them in nostalgic packaging, sold especially at places like Cracker Barrel and in decade themed gift baskets. Every once in a while they revive a classic flavor mix, as well.
This year Just Born announced the return of their Mike and Ike Cotton Candy, which was discontinued in 2002, and Mike and Ike Root Beer Float.
I’ve been looking for these since they were announced and finally found them at a Dollar Tree in Pennsylvania (but not at two I checked in California). I’m always curious how Mike and Ike does these limited mixes, especially since I know that cotton candy isn’t much of a flavor.
There are two colors in the mix, pink and blue, but it’s unclear if they’re intended to be different flavors of cotton candy.
The box smells like the box, no fruity or floral aromas, nothing that reminded me of the county fair. Cotton Candy isn’t much of a flavor to begin with. Originally cotton candy was just spun sugar, so the flavor is toasted but otherwise just sweet. But somewhere along the way cotton candy was colored (a great choice, in my opinion) and given different flavors. The flavoring of cotton candy is usually subtle, often strawberry or blueberry.
The blue and pink jelly rods tasted the same to me. They’re sweet, with that burnt sugar note and a the lightest hint of strawberries. There’s no tartness, no zest, not much else ... these could be sold without any color at all as minimalist Mike and Ike.
I found the flavor pleasant and clean. The texture as good, they felt fresh, kind of like that feeling I have about 10 minutes after a nice cup of jasmine tea.
I don’t know if I would buy these specifically for the flavor, but because of the extra mild flavor and the pastel colors, they’d be great for a party favor or decorating baked goods.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
There’s a strange new genre of candy, which I can only call the” nuggets of dark berry flavored jelly candy covered in dark chocolate.” It started with Brookside Chocolate, which made several versions with combinations like Blueberry & Acai or Goji & Raspberry and the trendy Pomegranate. The candy went over so well that Hershey’s bought the company, even though they never bothered to name the candy. Trader Joe’s at least called its version Powerberries, which is probably the best name they’ve had so far. Since then other companies have come along with their versions, like Brach’s and Target’s house brand Simply Balanced.
I found this new Aldi version in the earlier this month. They at least have a real name: Choceur Dark Chocolate Covered Superberries Pomegranate. There was also a blueberry acai version on the shelves, in a blue package. At $2.99 for a 7 ounce package, they were certainly better priced that most other candies of this kind.
The style of the candy is an intensely flavored jelly center is covered with chocolate. The early marketing for these candies capitalized on the idea that berries and chocolate were have lots of antioxidants in them. Though certainly not healthy, the idea was that there was at least some value to eating this indulgence.
These particular candies diverge quite a bit from that original mission. The chocolate isn’t particularly dark (though there’s no mention of the percentages) and the “pomegranate juice drop” centers are actually made from corn syrup, sugar, corn starch and then a concentrated blend of pear and pomegranate juice, malic acid and some natural flavors.
The pieces are big and quite attractive. They’re about 3/4 of an inch across and the rounded dome pieces are about 1/2 inch high.
The curious thing about them is that they’re definitely gumdrop style, except that the center is intensely flavored. They’re floral and tangy and do actually have a little note of honey and pear to them. The texture is very smooth, though a little tough. The dissolve of the centers, though, was wonderfully smooth with the bright flavor consistent throughout as the chocolate disappeared faster than the jelly.
The chocolate was okay, it was a little sweet for this type of candy, but smooth and had a well rounded flavor that was mostly overshadowed by the tartness of the fruit.
The centers are uncolored, and actually quite translucent if you take all the chocolate off. So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there’s not much in the way of antioxidants here. It’s just good tasting candy.
As long as we admit we’ve left the world of health food, there’s no reason the flavors can’t be expanded to include citrus or raspberry.
Superberries are made in the USA. They contain soy and milk and may have traces of peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and eggs.
Friday, April 17, 2015
Though the name of the new flavor is a little trendy, the idea is pretty solid. Maple is a great, distinctive but mild flavor. It’s an ideal addition to Jelly Belly’s line because it can be combined with other flavor beans. Though I didn’t have any on hand to try out, I would think that Banana and Strawberry would go well.
The packaging is fun, an aqua gingham motif on the bag gives it a homespun feel. The image on the front, though is not of Vermont maple trees with running sap and buckets, like I might have imagined, instead it’s more in line with what I see any neighborhood diner, a plate of pancakes with butter and a little pitcher of syrup. (Now, I love my little diner I go to, but I highly doubt they use actual maple syrup because their menu just says syrup.)
The beans are uniform looking, a medium caramel color, kind of like Sugar Babies. The bag does smell a lot like maple syrup, which is a sweet smell with notes of bourbon and vanilla with a little molasses or pipe tobacco.
The interesting things is that these are not just maple flavor but also pancake, so there are other flavor notes to the actual beans. Though the primary flavor is definitely, and perhaps over-the-top maple syrup, I also caught sort of buttery notes. It’s not the overwhelming buttered popcorn flavor, just a sort of salty and creamy flavor to it. (There are 25mg of salt per serving.)
So, there’s lots of maple-y flavor and buttery notes, but no actual pancake, which is fine, because just a jelly bean that tastes like pancake topping is good enough.
The fun part for many candy fans is that Jelly Belly are gluten free and peanut free. So if you can’t have actual pancakes because you’re gluten intolerant, you can have these.
I think the trendiness of these makes them appealing in the short term for buzz, but maple should stand the test of time. Of course the Honey jelly beans introduced a five years ago didn’t do so well and I think those did better in combination with other flavors than Maple.
Monday, April 13, 2015
It’s rare that I get to chronicle the demise of a candy on this blog, it’s even rarer to then be able to report of its return.
Tart n Tinys was a fringe candy to begin with back in the early 1970s. They were one of the early confections introduced by Breaker Confections, which also made other compressed dextrose candies like Wacky Wafers (more history on Collecting Candy). The innovation for the candy came around 1977 when they added a re-closable top that acted as a dispenser for the maddeningly small pieces. Later they were added into the Wonka brand in the 1980s, which Breaker licensed around the time of the movie premiere. But still, they were never headliner candies, they were never the centerpiece of the Wonka brand, and rarely included in other formats for the candies sold for Trick or Treat or in large lay-down bags.
Tart n Tinys were then discontinued around 2007, and even then, they were different from the original candy. They sported candy shells, like mini Spree candies, though they came in a larger box now and with the addition of a blue raspberry flavor. There was a chewy version, which again, might have been confusing for the existing Wonka brand which also included SweeTarts, Spree and Mini Chewy SweeTarts at that time.
Devoted fans bought up the last few cases of Tart n Tinys, I even held onto a few boxes (I have two or three, still). Then Leaf Brands started to buy up the old trademarks and research the recipes in order to revive the candies. (Leaf brought back Astro Pops in 2012 and is also promising a return of Wacky Wafers this year.)
The new Tart n Tinys are similar to the original packaging for the candy; a simple cellophane bag. They were expensive when I picked them up, at Dylan’s Candy Bar, for $3.49 for a 1.5 ounce package. Though they don’t have the candy coating of the version that was discontinued, there are blue candies in there. They’re made in America and a Kosher.
The wee little cylinders are 1/4 of an inch high. They’re about 3/16 of an inch in diameter. The candies were only slightly powdery within the package, which you can kind of see in the picture of the wrapper up there.
There are six colors and flavors: blue raspberry, grape, orange, lime, lemon and cherry. There’s no listing of the flavors on the package.
Blue Raspberry is sweet and tart with a pretty good floral berry flavor to it.
Grape is smooth and acidic but without much grape punch to it, though it’s hard to rival the SweeTarts grape.
Lemon is mild, a little tangy but not too much lemon in there either.
Orange is probably the best, a good mix of the juice flavor and tartness.
Lime is surprising, I was certain it was going to be green apple, so that was nice. It’s a good lime, not too artificial and not too much like a floor cleaner.
Cherry is pretty bold, sometimes it seemed like it was the most intense of the flavors in the mix. The black cherry flavors were well rounded, good deep notes and a puckery finish.
As a candy sold as tart, they’re not as sour as some of the modern Warheads or Toxic Waste type products.
The texture is generally smoother than SweeTarts, which tend to be a little crumbly and lumpy. However, the flavor is not as intense, so there’s plenty of tart but less actual defining flavor between them. This makes it easy to eat them together as a mix, but harder to chose over SweeTarts for flavor alone. However, I liked all of the flavors and didn’t have to pick any of them out, the fact that there’s orange, lime and raspberry in there makes this a unique mix among the sour dextrose candies.
The upshot of all of this is that, yes, they are very much like the original candy. However, the packaging is lacking the original flair with its recyclable dispenser box ... and the price (I admit that it’s probably not the normal price) is ridiculous. I’ll stick to SweeTarts until these come down to normal pricing. But, they really are fun to stack and arrange.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
One of the problems with Pixy Stix, when it comes to offering them as party favors, gift decoration or as part of a candy buffet, is that you can only buy them in the assorted flavors. No one sells them in single flavor packages. Enter YumJunkie’s Sassy Straws. They come in twice the number of flavors, have really cute colors and designs on the straws what’s more, they can be ordered as separate flavor packages.
The flavor offerings go like this: strawberry (pink), watermelon (med-pink), blue raspberry (light blue), blueberry (blue), grape (purple), lime (green), cherry (red), orange (orange), black cherry (black).
The design of the straws is attractive when seen as a bulk arrangement. It’s simple, just a repeated pattern of colored swirls. The straws don’t have any writing on them, or notations of their flavors.
I picked up a full set of flavors at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year.
There’s no secret recipe for these granulated candies, it’s the same thing that makes up SweeTARTS or Lik-M-Aid. It starts with granulated dextose, which is just glucose (the stuff in corn syrup). Dextrose isn’t quite as sweet as regular table sugar, so this formula take flavors really well without being overly cloying.
The flavors are actually pretty good. I’m not going to go through each one, but I can say for me the highlights were Strawberry, Grape (which is not quite Pixy Stix grape), and Orange. The dissolve is great, with a granulated start, cool feeling as it releases the flavor and a tangy note throughout. I didn’t like the Blueberry and found the Black Cherry and Cherry to taste exactly the same (which is just fine, it’s really about the straw colors, after all). I did wonder why there was no yellow (lemon, banana, pineapple, whatever).
Each straw is about 6 inches long. While the candy is 101 calories per ounce, there are only 8 calories per straw (only 2.25 grams of candy in there). It would take more than a dozen of these straws to make 100 calories.
Now, someone needs to convince Wrigley’s that they should sell Skittles in individual colors.
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.