Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Spearmint Leaves are such a simple candy. A firm jelly molded in the shape of a mint leaf and flavored with spearmint oil (or a reasonable facsimile).
I don’t how long they’ve been around (earliest mention on Google’s news archive is 1928). There’s no fantastical tale of their historical debut at any World’s Fair or even a county fair. They’re probably just a novelty shape of a traditional spice gumdrop. I don’t know who invented them or even who makes the best ones. Even passably good ones are good enough for me.
They’re sold without any fancy brand names, simply Spearmint Leaves. You can get them in bulk, in tubs at the office supply stores or in peg bags at the drug stores.
The ingredients are identical to gum drops. They’re sugar, corn syrup and a bit of corn starch for jelling. Then a little artificial flavor & color to complete the illusion of a platform shoe equivalent of a real leaf of mint.
I picked up my package of Walgreen branded Spearmint Leaves from their 99 cent peg bag selection. I usually look for bags that appear dry and the candies move around easily but that the candies also have a little give when squeezed. Too much moisture is an enemy of jelly candies. It makes the granulated sugar coating sticky and allows their qi to leak out.
I picked a good bag. The color is rather light and oddly on the blue side. The shape of the leaf is a bit narrower at the top than the bottom and has a nice point to it on the end with a little stem. So the molding is nice. The granular sugar coating is good - there’s enough to keep them from sticking but not so much as to overpower the flavor.
The texture inside is smooth. It’s not sticky (at least not as sticky as Dots) and not too sweet. The spearmint notes are dead on - aromatic and kind of sparkly. There are small spots where the spearmint flavor really tingles to the forefront.
It’s a fresh feeling, but not like eating a mint. I can eat a whole bag if I don’t control myself. They’re even still good when stale and a bit tacky.
I know they’re not the sexiest, hippest candy but to be around this long without any sort of marketing support is a testament to their excellence.
Other big candy companies that make Spearmint Leaves are Brach’s & Farley’s and probably others, if you have a favorite, please let me know. It’d be nice to find a company that makes all natural ones (which really shouldn’t be that hard to do) - the closest I’ve come are the fruit flavored gourmet Gum Drops from Whole Foods.
This package isn’t marked Kosher and it says that it’s a product of Canada & USA (I can’t quite figure that one out). They are marked Gluten-Free. (And are probably also considered vegan.) They’re also silly-cheap, so it’s a low risk sort of thing.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
As I was on my little candy walkabout late last week I noticed a lot of popular candies have a tropical flavor mix. So I decided to start picking them all up and do a little roundup.
For the most part I consider the tropical flavors to be pineapple, mango, papaya, durian (not that I advocate its use), carambola (starfruit), passionfruit, banana, lychee, guava and coconut. Citrus goes in there but things like strawberries and melons are definitely not a tropical fruit (my rule is if it can be grown in Ohio, it’s not tropical).
First, I have to say that I’ve never had Nerds Rope before. It arrived on the scene sometime after my candy experimental days (you know, when you’re a kid) but before it was launched as a new product during my Candy Blog phase.
But the concept is simple, a sticky gummi rope is rolled in Nerds. In this case it’s a Tropical Nerds Rope.
The candy is kind of odd in that it’s rather over-packaged and overpriced (look how long the rope is compared to the wrapper). It’s less than an ounce but costs the same as a regular candy bar. But then again, it’s a 100 calorie snack! (90 to be precise.)
There are no flavors actually mentioned on the packages, just eensy images of Nerds in swim trunks and flower leis. In this case the gummi cord at the center is a sparkly green. The tangy Nerds are mostly pineapple tasting.
The chewy center and excellent Nerd stickage makes this much less messy than I had anticipated. The combination of textures and flavors is really nice. I enjoy the pineapple quite a bit (maybe some papaya in there) and don’t really feel the need to try any other flavor after this. (I could see a build your own rope kit too, a little length of gummi and kids could roll their own.)
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Made in USA by Wonka/Nestle)
Now and Later were off limits to me for a long time, mostly because I thought they were too risky for my teeth. But now that I have a good dentist, I’m not as apt to give into such unfounded fears.
Tropical Now and Later has a flavor assortment that’s right up my alley: Mango Melon, Pineapple and Banana. (I’ve never met a yellow flavor I didn’t like.)
Often mango flavored candies taste a lot like peach to me. And peach flavored candies often taste more like over-syruped peach pie than actual peaches. This was pretty much like that. The dominant flavor was of the musky mango with a little cantaloupe thrown in.
It got tangier the more I chewed, which I enjoyed, because that took over the flavor profile for the most part.
These are everything you’d expect from a banana taffy. Bold and artificial tasting with a strange blast of dry cleaning smell in the back of my throat and the old standby - fingernail polish remover.
Still, I love banana taffy.
This is only slightly lighter than the Banana, but luckily they print the name of the flavor on there.
Tangy and fruity but with a strange, warm Play Doh note in the middle.
I found them pretty much irresistible even if they were rather fake.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Made in Mexico by Farley’s & Sathers)
On the back of the box of Mike and Ike Tropical Typhoon is a flavor guide. It includes little images of fruits: banana, kiwi, lime, mango, strawberry and pineapple (also on the front).
The flavors, on the other hand, don’t quite match up.
Blue = Caribbean Punch: the initial flavor is a bit green & pine-ish. Then it becomes more punch-like. It’s all sweet and no tangy.
Peach = Mango: a little tart at first, then rather floral. Not exactly mango but definitely not peach and the longer I chewed the closer it got to the rosemary notes that mangoes have.
Red = Strawberry-Banana: the initial note here is sweet banana, then a little strawberry bobs by for a little floral note.
Green = Kiwi-Banana: it starts like the strawberry banana but then just stops ... it’s not that it’s an all banana flavored Mike and Ike, but just half-flavored. Some of them had a slight tangy melon flavor on the shell, but not all of them and it certainly didn’t taste like kiwi to me.
Pink = Paradise Punch : just a slight tingle of tangy in there, but it’s mostly a sweet punch flavor ... like the Caribbean Punch but without the strange balsam notes.
Overall, too much like the original Mike and Ike - too bland and not enough real punchy flavor in there. I really wanted some pineapple flavor in there, too. I’ll stick to Tangy Twister (which has Pineapple) or the Alex’s Lemonade Stand mixes.
Rating: 6 out of 10. (Made in USA by Just Born)
I have to say that I’ve always regarded the Tootsie company as rather traditional and slow to adopt to changing American tastes. But then it’s like they have this strange rebellious group known as the Dots Makers. They’re fully encouraged to do bizarre flavor assortments from the crazy Ghost Dots at Halloween (to be paired with Bat Dots this year which are Blood Orange flavored - which I would have called Blood Dots) then the Yogurt Dots but the real innovation came in the limited edition line called Elements that came in single flavor packages of Cinnamon, Green Tea, Wintergreen and Pomegranate.
So Tropical Dots are kind of tame in comparison, but they must be popular because they’ve been around since 2003.
Bright Pink = Tropical Nectar: it tastes like Hawaiian Punch with a strong bitter aftertaste. Sweet, tangy and definitely with that “tropical candy flavor” that I think is papaya.
Orange = Wild Mango: tart and rather citrusy with a pretty good imitation of mango flavor in there. Still tastes like the mango version of Tang.
Turquoise = Paradise Punch: an insane color for a candy, it’s rather similar to the Tropical Nectar but with more of a citrus twang to it and less aftertaste.
Yellow = Grapefruit Cooler: why didn’t someone tell me there was a grapefruit Dot? These are fabulous and I want to buy them by the box. The first notes are tangy then there’s a deep zesty flavor that has a black cherry note to it that dissipates and then it’s just a nice grapefruit & citrus flavor.
Green = Carambola Melon: - when my mother came to visit last time we went to a new Korean market in Little Tokyo (that replaced my favorite market, Mitsuwa). They had these little melons called Korean Melons ... they were small, about the size of a papaya or mango. Bright yellow with some mild bumps and distinct ridges. I bought two. I cut them up and was rather unimpressed with the flavor - like weak Musk Melon. The problem was later in the evening I kept smelling something like garbage. I turned out it was the melon. (I really like the idea of a one-serving melon though.)
Anyway, this one is supposed to be starfruit and melon. I don’t know starfruit that well. I usually eat it off of garnishes at dessert displays, but I’ve never actually bought my own from the produce department and tasted it. It had a rather musty taste to it that was also on the violet side of things ... it was just weird, but not in a terrible way, just in a “this is new to me” way.
The box was wrapped in cellophane so the Dots were soft and fresh. This didn’t stop them from sticking to my teeth, but still, it’s worth it for their smooth texture.
Rating: 7 out of 10. (Made in USA by Tootsie)
The final item on my list is Tropical Razzles.
Like all Razzles, they look terrible out of the package.
Yellow = Pineapple: Nice tangy burst but with a light flavor & texture of a chewable vitamin C tablet. It holds its flavor pretty well, though becomes less tart and more sweet towards the end when it becomes as appealing and chewed paper.
Pink = Strawberry-Banana: nice mix of strawberry & banana notes, almost reminds me of the old Wacky Wafers at first. Chewing too long just disappoints, I vote for spitting out when it become sweet but the grain wanes.
Red = Tropical Punch: definitely like Hawaiian punch. Strong bitter aftertaste & cherry notes towards the end. The gum was much tougher on this one too.
Orange = Tangerine: more orange than tangerine. The tangy notes aren’t as forward as some of the others. When the flavor is gone there’s a weird metallic aftertaste.
Green = Kiwi-Lime: if there was kiwi in here, I missed it completely. This was lime. Very lime, nicely tangy with a little bitter zest note (or maybe the food coloring).
Overall, I think that Razzles suffer from too much artificial coloring. After chewing the pieces they’re extremely dark & vibrant ... that’s a lot of food coloring. If I wanted to treat it like candy (which I do), it means a lot of sticky leftover bits in a very short period of time.
Rating: 4 out of 10 (Made in Canada by Concord Brands)
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Hershey’s Whatchamacallit was introduced in 1978. I remember the launch, the commercials and buying the candy bar quite a bit in the first few years when it came out.
It was a peanut butter & crisped rice bar covered in milk chocolate. It was simple, crunchy, looked really big and was satisfying.
Hershey’s has never seemed particularly proud or supportive of the Whatchamacallit. Their advertising for it waned after the eighties; maybe they wanted to go out on a bang with this classic commercial:
The Hershey’s website lists only four notable moments in Whatchamacallit history: introduction (1978), reformulation (1987), package redesign & king size release (2002). You can see the earlier, less “blasty” package design on Brad Kent’s wrapper archive and Mike’s Candy Wrappers (2002 & 2003)
The page mentions nothing about the second reformulation where the bar lost its milk chocolate and gained its rich chocolatey coating (circa 2006).
This bar is made with chocolate, cocoa crisps and peanut butter. At first glance it sounds like it might be the original Whatchamacallit, the one without the caramel (well, that also had real chocolate).
Instead it’s a block of cocoa flavored crisped rice covered with a strip of peanut butter and then covered in Hershey’s inimitable imitation chocolate.
As with many limited edition products, this bar is slightly smaller than the original. It’s 1.5 ounces versus the 1.6 ounces of the Whatchamacallit.
Whatchamacallit on the left and Thingamajig on the right
It’s hard to review the Thingamajig in a vacuum, so naturally I’m comparing it to the Whatchamacallit. I’m also prone to wondering if, when Hershey’s was developing the Whatchamacallit, that they didn’t go through this bar as part of the evolution of the new product, obviously rejecting it.
The Thingamajig has a nice cocoa scent along with a whiff or roasted peanuts. It’s not quite a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup smell, but pretty close.
The bit into the bar is a quick snap, biting through the cocoa crispies is easy, they’re crunchy but have plenty of give since they don’t seem to be held together by marshmallow or peanut butter like the Whatchamacallit.
The mockolate coating is rather good ... I have to give Hershey’s credit, their fake chocolate can often be better than some other companies’ real chocolate. The cocoa flavors from the crispy center probably help.
The peanut butter is a bit salty, creamy and smooth (smoother than a peanut butter cup center).
Overall, it’s a nice experience ... probably not something I’d want again. I’m not sure why Hershey’s did it, but they’re not really taking any credit for it (they never emailed me about it, it doesn’t appear on their website) and it will probably disappear without any fanfare as well.
Rating: 6 out of 10
As a little side note, since I’ve never done an official review of the Whatchamacallit (which by now I’m rather dreading typing), I thought I’d add that here:
The bar smells like cocoa and toffee. The peanut butter crisped rice center is great. It’s buttery, salty, crunchy and has a good roasted nut flavor and a strong butter/dairy note to it. The caramel, though only a very thin layer, gives it a bit of a chew that holds it together in the mouth. The mockolate coating is creamy and melts well but offers no chocolate flavors here ... just a sealant for the crispy bar.
Rating: 6 out of 10
But most of all, I have to wonder why the Whatchamacallit isn’t a Reese’s branded product, getting the full benefit of the peanut butter branding.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
While some folks find the Cadbury Creme Egg to be the ultimate achievement in Easter confectionery, be warned that there are some pretenders to that throne. At the stores this year I found two such “knock offs.”
I found Walgreen’s and CVS had their own eggs this year. The CVS brand is called Absolutely Divine and comes in gold foil with a purple and black logo ... which made me wonder if they were a dark chocolate product. The Walgreen’s version is in primary/secondary colors and comes in both the Creme Egg and Caramel Egg.
What could a store brand have to offer? Well, the first thing I noticed about these CCE simulations is that they’re bigger. In fact the shelf box for the Walgreen’s said that they’re 14% larger. These eggs are like the once powerful Cadbury Creme Eggs in their original 1.38 ounce size (CCE are now 1.2 ounces).
Walgreen’s had these generic looking Creme Eggs on sale this past weekend for 40 cents each, which is not much less than an actual Cadbury Creme Egg. What I found so surprising is that I’ve been to that Walgreen’s at least twice before during this Easter season and these weren’t out on the shelves.
It was tough to read the wrapper. What I did get was that these are made in Canada and the chocolate shell is made of real chocolate.
Biting into the egg was a bit tough. It’s a thick shell and I was greeted with a creme that resembled a cordial more than the fondant than I was used to.
The difference between the egg white and egg yolk wasn’t quite apparent, though the best I could tell was there were two different colors of fondant in there. The center was sticky and inconsistent. Sweet, flavorless with little patches of clotted graininess.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
Biting it was similarly difficult to the Creme version - the shell is thick and almost solid on either end with only a minor void for the caramel at the center.
The caramel isn’t chewy or flowing. Instead it’s more of a pudding-like goo. As far a flavor though, it’s like a good caramel pudding, it’s very smooth and has some toasted sugar flavors. The chocolate shell is a bit hard, a little grainy and very milky tasting.
As far as this brand goes, I rather liked this Caramel Egg ... not enough to buy it again, but as a simulation of the venerable original, it at least meets expectations.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
The CVS Absolutely Divine Creme Egg didn’t look like much in the store. There was no explanation on the display box, and actually finding the “creme egg” part on the wrapper was pretty tough sleuthing that involved carefully flattening the foil after unwrapping.
I fully expected these to be made in Canada like the Walgreen’s counterpart ... that they just came spilling off the line to be randomly divided into different groups for different foil wrappers. This was more shocking when I read that they have identical ingredients and molding. But origins aside, the important part is how much they cost and how they taste.
I paid 50 cents each for these.
The creme center was also similarly inconsistent, though not quite as flowing as the Walgreen’s version.
The chocolate shell was disgusting. It tasted like roasted cardboard. Musty, grainy and overly sweetened, perhaps steamed cardboard.
The sweet filling was completely overpowered by this too-much-bad-shell. And the name, well, they’re absolutely not divine.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
I have one other piece of not-so-shocking info. These are all sticky. Not something to be eaten while using a keyboard.
What I came away with is this: if you love Cadbury Creme Eggs, buy Cadbury Creme Eggs. If you don’t like Cadbury Creme Eggs, these aren’t going to persuade you that they’re a great candy. Spend the extra eight cents or whatever the price difference is and get the real stuff.
Friday, January 16, 2009
In Los Angeles this week it’s been in the eighties. Yes, in January. So the thought of Mike and Ike Italian Ice doesn’t feel a bit out of place in this strange heat spell.
Though Mike and Ike are available in single serve bags, I see them most often in the movie boxes. I think it’s cool, I like the bold designs on them and of course they’re usually a better value than the single serve. But the packaging itself has been bugging me for a while. Inside the rather large box (for something that holds 4.2 ounces) is a plastic bag. I’d be just as happy to pick up a peg bag for the same one dollar as the box. (A package that collapses as you eat it is handy, too.)
To have both the box and the bag is wasteful, though probably ensures freshness and keeps the soft candies from getting crushed.
I’ve had my fair share of Italian Ice over the years, though usually in the little cups from the convenience store freezer. And always lemon. What distinguishes Italian Ice flavors from other fruity flavors? There’s no indication on the box, except that it tells me that it has Your Favorite Italian Ice Flavors. Which isn’t exactly true, since as I mentioned, I really just like lemon and they’ve put four other unnecessary flavors in here.
The colors are similar to a set of highlighter pens. A little less vivid, a little less dark than the regular Mike and Ike.
The flavors here are:
Light Red = Cherry: A light woodsy cherry flavor. Because the color isn’t quite as dark, I’m guessing it didn’t need as much food coloring so I don’t get a typical bitter aftertaste. Which makes this a flavor that I don’t have to avoid. (Though it was still the last flavor left after I picked over them anyway.)
Light Blue = Blue Raspberry: this one has flavors on the darker end of the raspberry flavor profile, kind of like jam. But then there was a pop of menthol or mint in there. I don’t know if this was the Italian Ice part of it that was supposed to emulate that cool feeling of sorbet, but really it just make me think I was eating a cough drop.
Light Green = Watermelon: Grossly artificial tasting and a strange aftertaste, especially when paired with the citrus ones. (Bitter & slightly medicinal.) Bad artificial watermelon may replace my dislike of cherry very soon.
Light Orange = Orange: Nice blend of orange essence and orange juice flavors. Could use a little bit more tartness.
Light Yellow = Lemon: Light, tangy but also a little fizzy. Didn’t quite have a minty taste. Becomes rather sweet and flavorless quickly.
As you can guess, my favorite assortment so far was been the Mike and Ike Alex’s Lemonade Stand. But Tangy Twister comes in second and if you look sharp in late February you’ll probably see the Jelly Bean variety for Easter as well (I bought them last year on an after-holiday sale and, well, ate them).
These are filled with artificial colors & flavors but are technically vegan.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I checked through plenty of stores and found Walgreen’s had the best selection by the time the 75% off discount came around. This is when I jump on items I only eye at full price and then hem and haw over at half off. One was this Ghirardelli Squares Limited Edition Holiday Chocolate Assortment. Full price was $8.99, so $2.24 for over nine ounces of chocolate sounded like a great deal even if it was seasonally themed.
The assortment includes Peppermint Bark, Egg Nog and Chocolate Pecan Pie.
Ghirardelli, I think, is known for their Peppermint Bark. It’s one of the few brands that dependably makes the stuff and actually uses cocoa butter for their white chocolate.
The construction of the square is pretty simple. A milk chocolate base layer is covered with a minted white chocolate studded with little crunchies.
The scent isn’t overpoweringly minty, which probably saves the other chocolates in the bag from tasting like mint, too.
The texture of the chocolates is smooth and silky, very sweet but not achingly so. The little crunchies in the white chocolate aren’t crushed candy canes though, they’re corn flake bits (colored red). The crunch is a bit more cereal than hard candy but still puffy.
It’s kind of odd that this sort of confection isn’t available year round, but since Ghirardelli has been bringing it back faithfully each winter, I shouldn’t complain.
Of the three flavors in the bag, this was the one that sold me on it: Egg Nog.
It’s just extra vanilla-y white chocolate (with real cocoa butter) and a visible dash of nutmeg.
I love the flavors of egg nog, but never really cared for sweet or thick drinks so the idea of a solid, melt-in-your-mouth version of it is ideal for me.
The square is a creamy yellow color and smells like nutmeg.
The white confection is sweet but pretty smooth and has the woodsy blast of nutmeg and tastes, like, well, Egg Nog. It could use a little more vanilla and maybe a slight hit of rum.
A real winner, if only because no one else makes a plain old white chocolate with nutmeg bar. Truffles, yeah, but not just a block of white chocolate. Great idea, well done, bring it back next year and I’ll probably buy it before it goes on clearance.
One of the reasons I thought that this review, even at this late date, would still be of value is that the Chocolate Pecan Pie is not a limited edition item. It’s available now as an individual bar or in single-flavor bags of the Squares. (Also, I don’t think Pecan Pie has a season.)
This little milk chocolate square smells wonderful, like maple, hot chocolate and caramel.
The milk chocolate is smooth, though plenty sweet. Mixed in is a light crunch of toffee coated pecan bits. They have a little salty hit and of course the caramelized & buttery crunch of pecans.
(The photos make it look like the chocolate is bloomed, I don’t think it was, I think it was the fatty pecans messing with the sheen of the chocolate. Mmm, fatty pecans.)
Overall, the array is fun and something I feel comfortable eating out of season at the moment. Especially because I love individually wrapped squares. A bonus is that a sandwich of the Egg Nog & Chocolate Pecan Pie actually go pretty well together. (But the Peppermint Bark doesn’t work with either.)
The only thing that really bugged me was that the ingredients weren’t listed separately for each of the squares. I was able to get the ingredients for the Peppermint Bark because it’s sold separately, but I really like to know what’s in items that I’m able to choose from a dish.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
So I greeted these Disney Happy Holiday Chocolate Figurines in milk and white chocolate with a bit of an eye roll. However, I did look over the package pretty carefully before opting to pay the $1.99 and saw a few things that convinced me that these might be worth the premium royalties to the Disney company.
First, the ingredients are all natural. Second, they’re made in the United Kingdom, not China or Brazil. Third, they list the actual cocoa solid content on the back (30% for the milk chocolate). Fourth, the white chocolate is real, there’s no palm oil or coconut oil in here. Fifth, the product is nut free (and also says it’s suitable for vegetarians).
They’re specific about the lengths that they go to and further, they give actual contact information for the company. Not some silly info email address, an actual person with a real email address and phone number (I didn’t try it though).
The box and little molded chocolate shapes reminded me of Advent calendars. When I browsed through the annoying but pretty complete Kinnerton website I found that they do make Advent calendars and most of their products are marketing tie ins with branded characters like The Simpsons, Barbie, Spiderman and Disney.
The chocolate pieces came in three different designs:
Winnie the Pooh sits there looking kind of rolly polly. Eeyore with his little bow-tied tail looped over his leg with one paw up, he seemed kind of happy. And Piglet was holding a jar of huny.
The milk chocolate is smooth and tastes a lot like powdered milk. It’s super sweet but also has almost no grain to it, even though it’s pretty sticky it has an excellent mouthfeel and melt.
The white chocolate tastes like Easter, through and through. A bit on the grainier side, there’s a strong milk and fake vanilla flavor. The cocoa butter background does a good job of allowing the flavors (such as they are) to come through.
Overall, a little on the pricey side. However if you have a kid with food allergies, these have no other compromises. They’re cute, the piece size is excellent for little ones and the design of the tray & pieces is well done. However, the little icons aren’t exactly holiday themed, just the box that they come in.
The packaging also had Walgreen’s information on them, so I’m guessing these are packaged for sale in the US just for their chain. The Kinnerton website mentions Aldi as well as Toys R Us as distributors.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
It’s a molasses taffy with a pocket of peanut butter in the center. They’re wrapped in black or orange wax paper.
This bag is from Melster, but my favorite brand is Necco that makes them under the Mary Jane monikker.
At only 99 cents though, it was hard to pass up the opportunity to try another variety.
The ingredients list seems impossibly long:
Is it just me or is that may contain list a little scary? What the heck is sodium hexametaphosphate?
Oh, here, Wikipedia has some info:
So it’s an emulsifier, a deflocculant for ceramics, tooth whitener and water softener! But who knows if my saliva will have fewer dissolved minerals and my teeth white because I don’t know if it’s actually in there.
Have I digressed enough?
Basically these are worth about 99 cents. The peanut butter flavor doesn’t pop and the molasses aspect of the chew is barely noticeable.
I’ll probably finish the bag, but I don’t think I’ll buy them again. If I’m going to have these as a treat only once a year, I want them to be as memorable as possible, even if I have to pay a dollar fifty.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.