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.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Red Velvet cake is made with buttermilk and vinegar plus some cocoa. It’s not a rich chocolate cake, just a lightly chocolate cake with a tangy note to it. The fact that it’s red is really inconsequential to the flavor. The color can be created naturally or using artificial food coloring. The cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing or browned butter icing.
I’m not much of a cake fan in the first place and Red Velvet is so low on my list that I’d probably prefer not to eat anything at all. Just to be really diligent about this, I went to Sprinkles, a cupcake bakery, and picked up a Red Velvet Cupcake to remind myself what the heck this is supposed to taste like. The Sprinkles website says that they’ve added extra cocoa to theirs and chose a cream cheese frosting.
The cake is moist and bouncy with a good crumb. The cream cheese frosting is what really prevails here. It’s wonderfully smooth and fresh, the only hint of sugary grain is in the crust, but the rest has a pleasant tangy note to the milky sweetness. The cake itself has a sort of corn meal flavor to it, it’s slightly floral, not terribly sweet and overall ... just nice. Not chocolatey, a little on the vanilla side. But nothing I’d get really excited about.
Now that I had something to compare it to, I figured I was prepared to complete my review.
The pieces come in three colors: maroon, red and white. They’re the larger, chunky M&Ms, which are inconsistent sizes. Some are the size of regular M&Ms, but most are super-sized.
The centers are milk chocolate with a light tangy note to them. They’re not more chocolatey, and as you can see from the ingredients above, they didn’t alter their milk chocolate recipe to include buttermilk. They seem like they have more of a vanilla note, like poundcake.
If someone just gave these to me without any clue about the special flavoring, I wouldn’t have picked Red Velvet. At this point I’m curious about how different this will taste from the upcoming Birthday Cake M&Ms. (I’ll set some aside for comparison when those come out in May 2014.) I think it’s a nice idea for Valentine’s Day, a little less run-of-the-mill, but if Russell Stover has had a Red Velvet seasonal piece on store shelves for two seasons, perhaps they’re not really on trend, just slightly behind it.
Red Velvet M&Ms contain milk and soy and may contain traces of peanuts, almond and wheat (in addition to listed artificial colors and unknown artificial flavors). Though Mars has a plan for certified sourcing of their cacao, M&Ms have not yet been added to that list.
Since Mars’ M&Ms team seems to be running out of flavors, let me see if I can make some suggestions: Milk Chocolate Cappuccino, Milk Chocolate Cookies n’ Creme, Milk Chocolate German Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate S’mores, Milk Chocolate Banana, Milk Chocolate Chai Latte, Milk Chocolate Creme Brulee, Dark Chocolate Chili Pepper, Dark Chocolate Amaretto, White Chocolate Peanut Butter, White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake, White Chocolate Lemon Meringue, White Chocolate Key Lime. All of my previous reviews for M&Ms that actually exist are here.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Brach’s Ice Cream Conversation Hearts provide a conceptually different choice in the area of conversation candies. They’re flavored like ice cream, which is to say that they’re more mainstream than the original spice inspired flavors that Necco used to produce.
When I go to the store and browse ice cream flavors, the tops on my list of consideration go something like this (not necessarily in order): chocolate, coffee, mint chocolate chip, butter pecan, peanut butter cup and then maybe vanilla. I can’t remember the last time I bought strawberry ice cream (though I buy strawberry sorbet rather often) and orange sherbet is so far off my list of viable flavors, I can’t even recall seeing it in stores.
Strawberry (pink) was bitter and only a vague floral hint of berry. Mostly bitter from the food coloring.
Cherry (same shade of pink) was bitter and sweet with only a faint cherry flavoring note. Not tartness, just sweet. I’m still not convinced that there was any difference, except strawberry seemed even more bitter.
I had to take a break at this point because of the bitterness. A bit of water. Some crackers. I don’t know why I started with pink.
Vanilla (white) was expected to be flavorless, but actually does have a pleasant vanilla note to it. It’s like a marshmallow flavor. Really the only one I picked through assortment to eat. But it was really that I was actively avoiding nearly every other piece.
Chocolate was just horrible. Worse than the pink candies, because it was so lacking in chocolate and ended up tasting like a musty basement. You can tell just by looking at it that it can’t taste like chocolate, it’s not brown.
Orange was mild and did remind me of orange sherbet, except for the fact that it was missing that juice tartness. So it was more like an orange chapstick.
Now that I’ve tried their take on the classic ice cream flavors, I have no interest in their take on something more complex like butter pecan or mint chocolate chip. It’s best they failed at the easy stuff so I don’t get my hopes up.
Brach’s also has Heartlines Classic Conversation Hearts (I reviewed them when they were called small conversation hearts) on the shelves again this year. They’re better than the classic Necco (which are achingly hard to find) but still, not quite right.
Taken as a non-toxic and cheap decoration, there’s little better than conversation hearts. I paid only $2.50 for a full pound. Even if no one eats them from this cute jar on my desk, it was an inexpensive way to look like I’m observing the holiday. If you’re not eating them, it doesn’t matter which version you pick up. Choose based on the color combos, the sayings on them, or where they’re made. (These are made in Argentina.) There’s little point in choosing based on flavor.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.