Friday, February 14, 2014
What’s in your candy bowl this year?
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Though they’re called Sweet Treats Cupid Hearts, they’re also marketed and sold for folks looking for themed candy for baby showers. They come in mixes like pink and white and blue and white. I found mine at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles, but I also saw them at Michael’s and some other party planning shops. I don’t know much about this Sweet Treats brand, the candy itself is made in China but the bag says that it’s packaged and distributed by Metro Candy Sales of Vacaville, CA.
The Cupid Hearts have one of my favorite ingredients list of all time:
So, the first ingredient is the bulk of the candy, and when I say bulk, I’m guessing that it’s more than 90%. Maltodextrin is a polyscaccharide made up of many molecules of glucose (it varies depending on the formulation - it could be as few as 3 or as many as 20). So it’s basically sugar but it’s not quite as sweet as the sucrose we’re accustomed to but has all the calories. There’s very little else to this candy. They’re made by pressing the powder under high pressure, like making pharmaceutical pills and then they’re dumped into a big rotating drum (a panning machine) to get a shiny, colorful coating.
My understanding is that these are vegan (though magnesium stearate can come from animal sources, it’s far cheaper to buy the vegetable sourced version).
The pieces are thick and well formed to look like hearts. The colorful glaze, however, is inadequately applied. The crotch of the hearts on the blue ones were predominantly unfilled gaps. I don’t see this as a feature, just lack of quality control. (They were all like that in the store, the pink and white ones also looked the same.)
The bag smells slightly floral, like a generic fabric softener sheet. The candies have a light crunch, the centers are firm but not too sandy but easy to bite. They are all sweet except for that floral flavor, there’s no tartness, no tang, nothing fruity or spicy that indicates they’re food and not toilet bowl cleaner.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re decorative. You can let people eat them, but I don’t recommend it. It’s not that they’re bad, but at 120 calories per ounce, there are far better things to do with your discretionary calories. At $4.00 for 10 ounces ($6.40 for a pound), I also thought they were darned expensive considering the fact that the same store was selling the far prettier Oak Leaf Hearts for only $2.40 a pound. Even the Wonka Heartbreakers are a better deal.
Update: It’s been suggested that they may be more like sachet beads than candy; they should be placed in little gossamer bags, tied with a bow and then left in the car to keep it smelling fresh.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Necco has taken some heat in the past few years regarding their changes to the flavor and recipe for their iconic Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.
The idea of creating individually flavored packages if the Sweethearts seems like a great way to sort this out. Necco released to single-flavor packages this year: Necco Sweethearts Hot Hearts and Necco Sweethearts Cool Hearts. They’re cinnamon and peppermint (respectively). They come in attractive mini gable boxes and for less than a dollar, I thought it was much more attractive, mature and sophisticated than the little boxes of the multi-flavor version.
The boxes are adorable, though frustrating to re-close. There’s a tab on the back, but it’s glued down and has nothing to tuck back into after you open it. You can slide the whole flap into the folded top, but it’s a bit of a trick and not something that can be accomplished with one hand.
Though they are nothing more than paperboard boxes sealed with glue, the candies were fresh and crispy. (Not that I know exactly what a fresh Sweetheart actually is supposed to be like.)
The cinnamon flavored Hot Hearts are truly hot. I found them quite spicy and a little more nuanced than a straight burn.
The pink hearts have flirty mottoes like: Kiss Me, Wow Me, Ooh La LA and Wink Wink.
The flavor is cinnamony, it has an immediate warmth to it, but there’s a note of clove and some of the other more woodsy flavors of ground cinnamon. The texture is smoother than an Altoid, but they that that same crispy texture that you can let dissolve or crunch.
I enjoyed them quite a bit, though eating a lot of them does lead to a lingering heat in the mouth.
The peppermint Cool Hearst are white with light blue-green lettering, though some of mine were blank. It’s obvious why these are sold in single flavors, as they’re very strong and would contaminate the flavor of anything placed in contact.
The mottoes for the Cool Hearts are also themed for the mint flavor: Chill Out, Frosty, Shivers, Icy Blast, So Fresh. There are other more puzzling ones, like an asterisk (which may be an homage to the romantic novels of Kurt Vonnegut or the Walmart logo) and the possibly insulting versions that say Got Onions? and Have a Mint.
The smooth texture and Altoid intensity was pleasant. They’re were definitely minty enough to be called mints instead of candy, but the price is certainly very good for this sort of product versus something like Altoids or Breathsavers (though they’re made with sugar, no artificial sweeteners like some breath mints).
I would buy either of these again, the packaging was pleasing but most of all the candy inside was surprisingly good for a Necco Sweetheart product. I feel like Necco has stumbled in their previous seasonal and pop culture tie ins (see Sweethearts Fire & Ice for Twilight) but these can definitely be called a hit.
Friday, February 7, 2014
The weblisting for the product says that they’re pastel, but they’re much brighter than that. It’s hot pink, magenta/purple, turquoise blue and light yellow. The heart shapes are small, rather pillowy in form and about the size of a nickel.
I wasn’t really interested in how they tasted, at this price, it was more about having a pretty candy jar filled with little hearts before Valentine’s Day to share with co-workers. That was about two weeks ago and the jar is empty. (I didn’t eat them. But they were popular.)
These are not tart candies. I don’t think there are any acid flavorings at all in here. They might be flavored, but it’s so mild it’s hard to say for sure.
Purple is a lightly floral grape. Red has some strawberry notes. Blue is a kind of bitter raspberry, really the only flavor in the bunch I didn’t care for. Yellow is lightly lemony, quite fresh.
They’re pretty. They make a nice decoration, but not really very good candy. There’s nothing to offend anyone, no weird flavors because there’s barely any flavor at all. But I’m not saying that they’re not compelling, they’re gorgeous to look at and easy to munch. I’ve had other much more flavorful Oak Leaf candies before, so this must be from a much more subtle line of candy than I like.
Ultimately the review around the office was that they were too pretty to pass up. But no one wants me to buy them again. Kind of a weird relationship to have with candy. Personally, I’d prefer the Wonka Heartbreakers, so that’s what I’ve been eating while others have emptied the jar.
The SweetWorks website lists these as gluten free and nut free, though take care if you get them from a bulk bin (if you have concerns about cross contamination, it’s always best to get it in a factory sealed package).
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Hershey seems to have made everything in their current brand lineup into a Valentine’s version by making it heart shaped. Reese’s, York, Bliss, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Special Dark… if they couldn’t make it heart-shaped, they jammed it into a heart-shaped box.
The Jolly Rancher Sours jellies have been around for at least 8 years (previous review). I don’t know when they started making the heart version, but they’re basically the same product. There are four different, very identifiable Jolly Rancher flavors. I tried them when they first came out, but I figured this was a nice opportunity to revisit them.
The jelly hearts are rather small and sanded with a mix of sugar and sour powder. They’re lightly colored and well made. Some jelly candies can get damp and sticky, but these didn’t get stuck together and are all of a consistent size and shape.
Green Apple is a light green. The flavor is that inimitable Jolly Rancher apple flavor. It’s juicy but slightly artificial. It’s not as tangy or as long lasting as I would have liked and has a lingering aftertaste, like it’s made of artificial sweeteners or something.
Watermelon is another flavor that’s highly identified with Jolly Rancher. The tartness is largely missing from this, but the floral and slightly musk-melon notes are there. It’s quite sweet towards the end, but in a pleasant way.
Cherry is almost spicy, it has more of a baked cherry pie flavor than I think I expected. The result is that I actually liked this quite a bit.
Orange is well done, it starts out tart and even the rough sugar sanding gives it an authentic fresh peeled orange texture. The sweet orange finish has just a light hint of zest.
Overall, for a product labeled sour I found them pretty weak. But without that expectation, they were quite nice ... not overly intense, much more like a movie candy that I could eat without worry about blistering my tongue. I just wish the flavor assortment was more of my style ... maybe for next Valentine’s Day they’ll make Cinnamon Fire Hearts. If you’re looking for some really intense sour sanded hearts, I’d make an effort to find Gimbal’s Sour Lovers (which are also sold under the Target brand this year).
Monday, February 3, 2014
The pieces are small compressed dextrose centers with some layers of hard sugar on top with some extra flavors in there. Classic Gobstoppers had many layers and flavors, but Wonka doesn’t make those any longer because they can take weeks to create from a center the size of a sesame seed. So they use a large SweeTart type candy at the center and the coating changes flavors only a handful of times.
A lot of candies get revamped over time. As I’ve heard unofficial from a Wonka insider, the classic SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies changed size & shape because the original equipment broke and since it was used only for that product line, they decided to reformat the molds to be more consistent with the Valentine’s and Christmas shapes.
The Everlasting Gobstopper HeartBreakers shifted colors in the newly available version for 2014. It’s not a drastic change, but a small tweak.
Cherry is mellow, with a sweet cherry flavor. After the top layer dissolves away, the coating is yellow. It doesn’t take much then it’s crunchable and I can get to the SweeTart-style center. The interior flavor is pretty neutral.
Watermelon is sweet and fresh, a little unexpected for this type of candy. After the initial layer dissolves, the layer under that is also a medium pink. The center is lightly tangy, but not overly sour. The layer under the watermelon-pink is also watermelon-pink.
Pineapple is delicate and light. It’s only slightly floral and fruity, but not tart bite. After the flavor dissolves away, the next layer is yellow. It’s smooth and cool on the tongue.
The classic HeartBreakers (above) were more vividly colored, with yellow and magenta instead of white and pink. While I miss the original colors and really don’t care much for the watermelon, I still love these. The limited palette is still attractive. I’m hoping the Easter version will also be back.
Monday, January 27, 2014
One of the things that makes Valentine’s Candy so fun is that it’s often packaged for gifting on the level of an actual card (or in addition). It means that small things can be remembrances of affection in a way that a one dollar bag of candy probably can’t other times of the year.
So, the Trolli Sour Brite Hearts are a perfect way to say “I know you like highlighter pens, why don’t you try eating these?” Or perhaps, “I thought you’d enjoy some heart shaped candy to make you pucker so I’ll think you want a kiss.”
The gummi hearts are nicely formed and dusted with a sugary, sour sand. Some are bicolored, but most are solid colors.
Creamy orange - tangy, a little orangy ... nice. Not intense but passable.
Creamy green - a rare lime gummi in a green apple world. Much more zesty that I would have expected and the right level of tartness. Of course it reminded me a lot of household cleaners, but who doesn’t like a clean house?
Red - cherry. Whoa, it’s like a gummi version of a Cepacol lozenge. It has a nice bite to it, so it’s not watered down, but something I would prefer to share with a cherry-loving friend than eat myself.
Blue is raspberry with a sort of inky floral flavor to it. It’s probably one of the most tart of the bunch.
Yellow is rather weak, for a while I was even wondering if it was a punch flavor. It’s more like Mountain Dew than lemonade and not terribly sour or intense.
Pink is strawberry and probably one of my favorites. It was a bit like Jell-O, comforting and flavorful.
Though the name says they’re sour, they’re really not. I’d call them pleasant and reliable, but not much more than that. I thought a buck was a nice deal for a little something to take to a movie with a friend. I had some Albanese Sour Worms on hand to compare and definitely think that the Albanese is far more intensely sour (and flavorful).
Trolli Sour Brite Hearts are made on shared equipment so they may not be suitable for those with allergies to milk, tree nuts, peanuts and soy.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I was surprised that Dove hasn’t done these in the past, as it seems like a ideal flavor infusion for their marketing. They’re a Dark Chocolate piece infused with artificial hazelnut flavor. That doesn’t actually sound that good, but I was willing to give it a go.
The pieces are wrapped in dark brown foil and like all of the other Promises, the foil has a little affirming motto printed inside. At least three of mine said, “hug someone today.”
They’re beautiful to look at and smell alluring. It’s easy for artificially flavored candies to overdo the smell, especially with dark chocolate products, but this started with a good balance. It’s a toasty scent of maple syrup, coffee and hazelnut with a sweetness to it. The melt is very good, smooth but with a little bit of a dry finish to it. The hazelnut is just a flavor, a note of roasted nuts and a trace of toffee sweetness. It’s not overpowering or too fake. It would be great to have real crushed hazelnuts in there, like the Almond version, but I can see that the goal here is really about the texture.
They’re quite rich, in fact, they clock in at 156 calories per ounce, so there’s lots of cocoa butter and dairy butter fats in there. I found that two made an excellent treat, but were still a little on the sweet side for me as a dark chocolate product.
Back in July of 2012, I reviewed the Target exclusive Dove Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Promises and was later called by Dove (Mars) representatives to let me know that their Dove line was converting to Rainforest Alliance certified cacao, starting with the Dark Chocolate. To date, I’ve only seen the Dark Chocolate, there have been no subsequent roll outs of the certified sustainable cacao on anything but the plain dark chocolate. The Mars website still says they’re on target for all cacao sourced through traceable channels by 2020 and should hit 35% by the end of 2014.
Dove Dark Chocolate Promises contain soy and dairy and are made in a plant that uses peanuts and tree nuts. (Some Dove chocolates are made in nut free environments, so be sure to check the labels.) There’s no statement about gluten.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.