Monday, February 14, 2011
With the news that Necco changed its classic Necco Sweethearts (more coverage here) in 2010, I found that Brach’s version more ubiquitous in 2011 on store shelves.
The package is bright red and easy to distinguish from the pastel-princess mess of the Necco reboot. I picked up the Brach’s Small Conversation Hearts at the Dollar Tree for a dollar for an eight ounce bag. The ingredients are similar, a sugar and dextrose (glucose) paste held together with a bit of gelatin and oodles of artificial colors.
The mottoes I noticed: Luv Me, You Rock, U Go Girl, Ask Me, Hello, Got Love? So Fine, Good Bye, I [heart] You, Be True, So Fine, E-Mail Me, Dare Ya and the ultra romantic, Hey You.
The pieces are well made, I found very few duds in the package - all thick and consistent. The printing was a little blurry on some but mostly readable, except for the low contrast pink on pink.
The flavors are pleasantly indistinct. I could tell the orange ones were a creamsicle orange flavor. The yellow ones might have been banana, but maybe a really bland lemon. The pink were slightly like the seashore (a mixture of cheap flip-flops and Old Bay crab boil and the burning taste you get when sunscreen gets in your eyes). The purple and green were too bland for me to tell apart in a dark room. The white was the comforting flavor of mint toothpaste you find in the corner of your mouth before lunchtime. The texture is smooth and not quite crunchy, though still very firm.
If you were a fan of the original Sweethearts and can’t find them, these are as close as you’re likely to find. But if you never liked either, there’s no reason to try these, they do nothing for the category except look cute. So basically, a nice decorative candy, but perhaps not for eating unless you’re trying to bring your blood sugar up.
They’re made in Argentina and produced on shared equipment with milk, egg, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts and soy.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Thursday, February 10, 2011
There appeared to be fewer new Valentine’s candy introductions in 2011, but many of the tried and true favorites are back on store shelves. Here’s a look at what I’ve been able to find:
In 2010 Necco introduced their new packaging, flavors and colors for the classic Sweethearts. (See the comparison of the two here.) This year the classic version was to return, though sold only at discount stores. The only confirmed sighting of the candy is at Family Dollar. Frustrated lovers of the classic version are turning to eBay and message boards to purchase the limited supplies.
Dove Promises are available in several different variety packages in both Valentine’s themes and the standard colors.
Heart Shaped Junior Mints (original review)
Nestle & Wonka
SweeTart Hearts (original review)
Reese’s Hearts (foil wrapped molded hearts filled with Reese’s peanut butter - original review)
Dark Chocolate Truffle Hearts (original review)
PEEPS Chocolate Covered Raspberry Flavored Hearts - I have not actually seen these in any store.
Conversation Beans (original review)
Heart Shaped Boxes (original review)
Other Items of Interest
See’s has Cinnamon Hearts and Cinnamon Pops again. (original review)
Elmer’s Chocolate boxes (original review) are back on store shelves
Lindt Lindor Truffles Limited Edition - Milk Chocolate with a Smooth White Filling
Ghiradelli Luxe Milk squares selection in Valentine’s packaging (original review)
Ferrara Milk Chocolate Strawberry Ball (original review) the twist here is that the segments have little love messages on them.
Gimbal’s Honey Lovers and Cherry Lovers jelly bean heart mixes - not strictly Valentine’s day, but certainly appropriate (Cherry & Honey reviews)
So what are you seeing on store shelves, or maybe not seeing this year? What are your tried & true favorites?
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I’m not generally keen on cherry flavors, but I do love real cherries and I’m generally a fan of Gimbal’s products. This bag of little heart shaped jelly bean type objects boast nine different cherry flavors plus vitamin C and real cherry juice. Gimbal’s makes their candies in the USA in a factory that’s Kosher, peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, gluten free, gelatin free and soy free. So for allergic folks these are pretty special. (Sorry vegans, though the colors are artificial they do use beeswax and confectioners glaze.)
They’re drop dead gorgeous. A riot of reds, pinks and purples they seem to go beyond the frilly satin hearts of the season. They’re a little rustic because each heart is unique and not quite perfect.
Wild Cherry - plain red - you know, cherry. Tart, sweet, floral and deep woodsy notes. But not quite that good. The medicine flavors are kept pretty faint here.
Cherry Vanilla - white with red speckles - like a cherry marshmallow, mostly a soft flavor with a strong fake vanilla flavor to it. Pretty much pleasant.
Black Cherry - deep red - tastes mostly like red. The cherry flavor is pretty intense as far as these hearts go, more on the woodsy side compared to the Bing Cherry.
Chocolate Cherry - brown - oh, this is quite a tragic flavor, not quite cherry and mostly empty cocoa flavors. It’s like a very bad Cherry Tootsie Pop.
Cherry Cheesecake - pink with red speckles - a tangier version of the Cherry Vanilla, this one had a yogurty twang to it and but still a marshmallowy flavor.
Cherry Daiquiri - deep pink with red speckles - this one was rather fun, kind of a lime and vanilla with a hint of cherry cough syrup. A little bit like aftershave though.
Bing Cherry - lighter red - Tangy and sweet, a well rounded cherry flavor. A little chemical aftertaste from the food colorings, but about as good as the Jelly Belly I usually avoid.
Cherry Cola - dark red - at first I liked the cherry cola, because it tasted like cola, even had a weird effervescent quality to it (maybe that was just the tangy part playing with my mind) but then the cherry kicked in and ruined it for me. But that’s just me.
Kiwi Cherry - pink with green speckles - this was just terrible. Maybe it’s because I had a recent run in with fresh Durian, but I just couldn’t get that out of my head when it came to this one. The kiwi flavors were more like melon and onions than kiwi, though the cherry seemed about average.
The didn’t do a thing for me. The colors were pretty, the shapes and distinctiveness of the flavors was actually pretty good. But I wouldn’t consider these a breakthrough candy so I found it odd that the National Confectionery Sales Association awarded Cherry Lovers best new Premium/Gourmet product:
Robby at Candy Addict had a better opinion of these. I’ll just consider them very pretty Valentine’s decorations in a bowl.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
If the statistics braniacs are correct, you’re less likely to receive chocolate this year than a year when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday. This is because the major heart-shaped confectionery purchasers are men and when the holiday falls on a weekend the celebrations are more likely to be date-related than object-related.
I picked up this box of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Hearts with Rich Truffle Filling on a weekend (long before Valentine’s Day though). The box holds 7.05 ounces and 16 Belgian truffles. Well, the package calls them truffles, I’m not convinced as you’ll see in a moment.
The flat and simple box has a stylized cartoonish design on the front though the overall format is similar to the Belgian Fancies I bought before Christmas.
I like the overall design, it’s simple and spare and not so precious or frilly that it couldn’t work for either gender or as a gift between friends or family. The box does and excellent job of protecting the candies, which were all shiny and flawless.
The hearts are nicely sized for a single bite. They’re about one and a half inches at the widest, about three quarters of an inch high.
The ingredients list for these non-flavored bonbons is extremely long. In my perfect world the definitions of things like ganache and truffle are pretty strict. A truffle is chocolate mixed with extra dairy fats like butter or cream. That’s it. There can be flavorings, inclusions and maybe even nut butters but then it becomes a bonbon with a truffle ganache base filling. The Belgian maker of these has things in here like corn syrup (third ingredient) vegetable oils (fourth ingredient) and some other things like glycerin, crystalline fructose, mono & diglycerides and citric acid.
The result of those ingredients is not so much of a mock ganache but something that I think of as really good chocolate frosting. The thing is, the reason to put all that extra fat into ganache is to make the melting point lower, so that it actually melts in your mouth quicker than chocolate. (Cocoa butter has a higher melting point than dairy butter.) Putting all those different oils in there just isn’t the same and things like corn syrup add moisture, which makes it chewy and gives it an almost-caramel like pull when it’s bitten.
Now, all that aside, they’re not bad to eat. The chocolate shell is rather sweet but very smooth. The flavors are berry and a little bit on the woodsy spice side. The semi-sweet shell plays well with the very sweet center. There’s a slight fudginess to it, I hesitate calling it a graininess but it simply tastes sugary instead of chocolatey. For a store bought box of chocolates, they’re not bad, but at $5 for a box I expect a little better. In fact, I wouldn’t mind paying an extra dollar for fewer ingredients and a more intense chocolate punch.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Marich Confectionery is a California candy maker that specializes in panned items and novelty molded creams and fondants for all holidays. I’ve recently fallen in love with their extra dark chocolate panned items like 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews and Dark Cacao Nib Toffee (which I’ve bought twice with the intention of reviewing but ended up eating).
Their new Black Heart Licorice items are all natural and instead of being wheat-based with molasses, these are more of a gumdrop style dense jelly candy.
I picked up my samples from the Fancy Food Show last month. They were showing off two versions: Black Licorice and Black Cherry Licorice.
The package design is nicely done. The six inch stand up box with the cut out window shows off the candy and is no bigger than it needs to be. The tab on the back folds into a little slot and keeps the candy closed and pretty fresh inside its inner cellophane bag. There’s a little story on it about a candy maker creating the candy to woo a woman, but I skipped right to the candy. (You can see a snapshot of the ad about it here.)
The Black Heart Black Licorice are darling little matte hearts. They feel a little rubbery, like they’re made out of silicone. The scent is only very lightly of anise.
The texture is a smooth and dense chew, a bit firmer than a Dot, but still easy to bite. The flavor is clean and clear - anise with some deeper woodsy licorice. It’s not very sweet, in fact, these have a bit of salt in them (75 mg per serving). Though they are colored, it’s all natural coloring so there are no strange artificial bitter flavors to get in the way of the real stuff.
They do stick in my teeth a little bit, so that’s a distraction. The flavor isn’t too strong to mean that I was constantly munching them without getting that overly full or burnt out feeling.
The surprising item for me was the Black Heart Black Cherry Licorice. I didn’t even want to take the samples, but figured they were red and would photograph well, I should at least try them. When I read the ingredients, it actually sounded pretty good. Again, all natural so no nasty Red #40 to give me a weird aftertaste ... but there’s also licorice root extract in there too. So it’s truly red licorice.
They don’t smell promising to me, like black cherry flavoring. However, the texture is quite dreamy ... it’s silky slick and easy to chew. The flavor is tangy and has a black cherry note to it. It’s woodsy and has an actual cherry pie flavor and then just a hint of the bouncy sweetness of licorice. The whole thin isn’t too sweet either, again, the benefit of the touch of salt in here. Wow, a cherry candy I actually like, because it actually tastes like cherries. For those who don’t like licorice, it’s not a bold anise flavor, just a different kind of sweetness that highlights the woodsy notes of the cherry flavors.
I don’t know if they’re in stores yet, I didn’t see them at Whole Foods, which is usually where I pick up Marich candies (though I also see them at Gelson’s in Southern California as well). I expect the price to be around $3.50 to $4 per package, so a little steep.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A weekend trip to the 99.99 Cent Only Store meant a lot of decisions. There’s plenty there that I’m curious to try, and often do, but most of the time it’s my fascination with what may be very bad that gets me to buy something, not the hope that it’s good. (Examples: Beechies Force Chew Candies, Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae, Skittles Fresh Mint and a roll of LifeSavers that were probably 10 years old.
When I found a little display in the Valentine’s aisle though with some edible body paints and these Decorated Chocolate Shoes I thought that they were actually a good score. The packaging is a little plain, but part of me suspected that these were part of a larger gift package (maybe a basket or box) that were broken up into separate items that could be sold off for a dollar ... and most likely they were from Christmas and still fresh. The expiry date on the shoe was April 2010.
The package is two components: an outer clear plastic box with the label affixed to it with the stretchy silver bow and an inner two part clear plastic “mold” for the shoe. This did a great job of both displaying the candy and protecting it. It was fully taped all around the seam between the two parts, so very well sealed.
There were two things that gave me pause about the purchase. First, it’s made in China. The company that distributes them is called Galerie and is based in Hebron, Kentucky. (They also make gourmet candy corn.) My confidence level in products containing milk from China is admittedly low since the melamine scandal. Second, the ingredients don’t look good. Technically this should not be labeled chocolate, as the milk chocolate contains whey as an ingredient, considered a “filler” by US FDA standards. But I was attracted by the price and size and figured some readers might be as well.
The shoe itself is about four inches long with a 1.75” heel. At 2.7 ounces it’s pretty hefty, so besides that well in the shoe for a foot, it’s solid chocolate. The molding is nice, the chocolate has a good sheen to it and the decorations, though modest at just four pink colored “white chocolate” hearts on each side are precisely painted. (I looked around and didn’t see any other varieties in the store, though I suspect that other versions exist.)
The chocolate smells a bit woodsy, sweet and milky. It’s pretty tough to bite, kind of like eating an Easter rabbit. The texture though is rather smooth. I was pleased with the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet (adding whey actually makes this possible - it helps maintain the texture without adding expensive cocoa butter or cocoa but not sweetness of sugar - in very small amounts it doesn’t influence the flavor).
As a molded novelty item for this price, I’d say it’s excellent. My interest in milk chocolate in the shape of a high-heeled shoe with hearts on it is extremely low, so I can’t say that this is a great gift for me. If you’re looking for a party favor or a little gift where the visual impact is more important than the actual chocolate, this is perfect. Out of the package it can be used for decoration, and as I showed above for scale, filled with M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses or even a few small chocolate covered strawberries it’s great.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I was a little dubious when Ferrara Chocolate entered the segmented spherical fruit made from chocolate market late last year. But I was impressed with the quality, availability and price. Ferrara Pan is best known for its other spheres such as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. They used to be the importers and distributors of Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Cote d’Or chocolate, but when Kraft decided to handle that themselves, Sal Ferrara saw an opportunity to get that niche of sales for his company and moved into chocolate molding.
What’s most exciting about the new brand is the inventiveness of their “Chocolate Oranges”. The initial items were pretty much carbon copies of the existing Terry’s Chocolate Orange (Milk, Dark and Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch). But now that the initial move into stores is over and hopefully folks sampled over the holidays they’re settling in and pushing the envelope a little more.
The Valentine’s Day version of the chocolate orange is part of the strategy to keep the oranges around for all holidays. This one is Strawberry Milk Chocolate and features a Valentine’s message on every segment.
There are 20 segments in the sphere. The red foil wrapper has a sticker that says Burst then Enjoy, but I do poorly at tasks that require just the right amount of force (watch me bowl sometime). So I just cleave it apart by wedging a knife between the segments.
There are ten messages on the slices, some are icons and others are little sayings. Be Mine, True Love, Only You and Hug Me. There’s no Marry Me but there are little pictures of a cupid, a set of kissing lips, a rose and the iconic Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. (Well, it’s not quite the same icon, the O in LOVE is upright, not tilted.)
The scent is lightly floral, a mix of milk and strawberry. It reminded me of strawberry Nesquik. The chocolate is smooth but very sweet, has a good roasted chocolate note to it as well as the flavor of strawberry. There’s no tangy component, no freeze dried strawberry bits.
Each of the molded segments is nicely done. Mine were shiny and pretty much perfect - the only hitch was sometimes I broke off part of the design when separating it from the center.
The mix of strawberry flavor and milk chocolate isn’t exactly my favorite, but for what it is, it’s very well done. The chocolate is smoother than what I’ve been used to with Terry’s though absolutely still as sweet.
The idea of doing multiple designs on the segments is pure genius - it actually made me want to take apart the sphere to look at them all. Sharing it would certainly be in order, especially for Valentine’s Day. The price is certainly right at about $2.50 at most stores.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
As we’re in the middle of Candy Season one of my favorite things to do after a holiday is to see what’s on sale from the previous holiday and glance at the early merchandise on the shelves for the next one. The Epiphany usually marks the emergence of Valentine’s Day candy. I scour the aisles looking for something new. So when I saw the new packaging for Necco Sweethearts I thought they’d expanded their line. They have been offering an all-chocolate version, Spanish language version and lately a Tart version. I thought this new fruity array was an addition.
I bought them but didn’t open them, just tossing them on my pile for review. Then the comments started trickling in from readers, who were finding my old review and weighing in on the changes. It appears that it’s a complete replacement for the classic Necco Sweethearts (see my review of them in 2008).
There are so many things wrong. Let me start on the front of the package.
The Official Candy of Love
Does Love have a governing board that can decide these things, like the Olympic Committee? No, no it does not. Love, Freedom, Justice and Anger ... these concepts and emotions are boundless and cannot have anything official about them. Invoking any sort of official in association with them is false advertising. Love does not do endorsements. (Unless Necco would like to step forward and show me their contracts with Love.)
New Package Design
I actually like it. It’s bold but still soft and, yeah, a bit feminine and childish. At first I though the colors of the hearts were a little too vivid, but after seeing the actual candies inside, I’m setting that aside. The choice of Love Bug as the statement on the featured heart is a bit odd.
It’s marked in a black stamp there in the upper right corner, 99 cents and the package holds 7 ounces. Can’t really beat that, especially when the little boxes are usually selling for 50 cents for one ounce (though sometimes on for as little as 20 cents each). Not terribly attractive but kind of makes me nostalgic for the time before bar codes.
Lack of Branding
The front of the package does not bear the name of the maker. The name Necco isn’t actually on the package anywhere ... just New England Confectionery Company under the nutrition facts panel (followed by the web address of http://www.necco.com). The previous years’ packaging does have Necco and its logo featured prominently both on the front and the back of the packages.
It’s January 13, so a little more than a month before Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s candy has been in stores for at least a week. On the back of the package is says for baking, gifting, craft ideas and more visit mysweethearts.com. You know what’s on that page as I write this? It’s a placeholder about some sort of iPhone app. No promised recipes or craft ideas ... not even any mention that would be what I expect to find it there. (See screengrab.)
The New Flavors - Show You Care ... 6 Delicious Ways to Share!
Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.
I’m not going to break the flavors down one by one. What was nice about Necco Sweethearts was the subtle sweet flavors, nothing exciting, they were simply pleasant.
The new flavors are a blend of sweet and tart. The texture is smoother than the usual compressed dextrose candy like SweeTarts, because this is made with mostly sugar and corn syrup instead of dextrose (which is just a powder form of glucose and has a different mouthfeel).
The citrus flavors are completely artificial with a tangy note that is wholly un-citrus and more like a chemical. The pink ones taste like a combination of lipstick and the old wintergreen ones, which is just a disgusting mix. Grape has as much clove flavor in it as food coloring though the mixture is nearly palatable.
These do not show I care ... these show that I have no regard for my lover or friend’s expectations of what a heart shaped candy should taste like.
It’s as if Necco took all the artificial colors that they aren’t using for their new All Natural Necco Wafers and pouring it all into these improved Necco Sweethearts. Simply put, they’re a mess. (Now, I would’ve been thrilled if the conversation hearts were also going to be all natural, what an awesome innovation that would have been.)
Once I opened the bag I was in trouble. The smell is a blend of Love’s Baby Soft and strawberry candles. And if I were just sniffing the bag, well, yeah, I have to expect that. But this thing made my car smell, they make my office smell. When I’m done with this review they’re going in the trash someplace where I am not.
The one thing they have improved upon was one of my beefs with them previously. They production quality is better. The pieces are well formed and most especially the printing is clear. Sure about a quarter of them aren’t printed square in the center, but they’re still readable.
The sayings are cute. They’re using the heart symbol quite a bit. Hey Baby, Smile, Sweet Love, Dream Big, You Rock, Puppy Love, Meet Me, Love Me, Hug Me, Kiss Me, For Ever, Ask Me, even Marry Me
I’m not saying they shouldn’t make these, someone probably likes them, but they should be an additional product in the line, not a replacement for the iconic original.
UPDATE 1/27/2010: It’s been a few weeks and it seems that the response posted here has been overwhelmingly negative about the flavor change (few have mentioned the new texture).
So I talked to Jackie Hague, the Vice President of Marketing for Necco who navigated this new change (along with the All Natural Necco Wafers, which I fully support). We had a great talk about candy in general (she worked for Mars for 20 years and was responsible for many of the limited edition M&Ms that so many of us have loved over the years).
First, you can still get the classic Necco Sweethearts. The change over was made mid-way through the production schedule. So the first part of the production run was the classic flavors (Banana, Wintergreen, Orange, Cherry, Grape) and then they switched over the ingredients and equipment for the new formula. They are sold at very few stores, basically the discounters: Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar , 99 Cent Only, Freds , Odd Lots, Wakefern and Sav A Lot. (The image shown here is the classic flavors on the left that I found at Dollar Tree and the ones on the right are the new flavors/colors - here’s what the package looks like.)
Second, Ms. Hague said that the changes were made based on consumer feedback. The most common requests from folks who wrote or called were for a softer texture and for more intense & modern flavors. Banana was not well liked, apparently yellow is not ordinarily expected to be banana. The texture was introduced first with the Twilight version of Sweethearts (though future versions won’t have Passion Fruit) as well as the tangier, more vibrant flavors.
So the takeaway from this would be, if you don’t like the new flavors, make sure that Necco knows that. Return the product, write to them or call. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot in return (a canned response) but I do think that they log the feedback - it’s in their best interest. (Ms. Hague also said that they’ve assigned more people to help out with the feedback process, so perhaps the responses will be more appropriate instead of a copy/paste FAQ.) Ms. Hague understood my frustration with not just the lack of information but the contrary information provided by the website and candy packages and it’s apparent they’re working on that.
The Necco website’s Sweethearts product page used to say this, “One thing Sweetheart lovers can count on each year is the candy’s simple, familiar formula. The basic recipe has never been changed. Both Sweethearts and the familiar NECCO Wafers use the same batter—sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring.” However, they’ve finally updated their websites to reflect this new change and have omitted that statement that they honor the time-tested flavors ... because they were tested by time and after about a hundred years, even as the #1 Valentines candy selling 8 billion hearts a year, they lost. Necco thinks that this new version will appeal to more people, which is possible, but it’s clear it’s not the same people who have been buying them.
Update 2/10/2013: Both versions of Necco’s Conversation Hearts are on store shelves this year. By far the most ubiquitous are the newer fruity version, but I did find the almost-classic “Conversation Hearts” at Walgreen’s. The old ones are called Conversation Hearts, not Sweethearts. I’ve only seen them in the little boxes, only as singles (not in the shrinkwrapped five packs and no bags).
The classic version has white (cinnamon), green (lime), yellow (banana), pink (cherry), purple (grape) and orange (orange). So they’ve eliminated clove and wintergreen. It’s too bad. The texture has returned to the crunchier version. The colors are more vibrant and the printing just as inconsistent.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.