Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, CO makes an interesting line of candy cups called Sun Cups. They’re nut free, gluten free, use all organic ingredients plus ethically source chocolate, no soy, no peanuts and is Kosher. They do contain dairy.
The first set of products they introduced were sunflower butter cups (hence the name Sun Cups) in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. This cup is accurately described by the name, they’re chocolate cups with a peppermint cream filling. They package is the same size and weight as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - 1.5 ounces (so 3/4 of an ounce per cup).
Their most recent addition to the line is their Sun Cups Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.
The packaging is dark and honestly looks a little more foreboding than most mint and chocolate candies I sample. The package is also compostable.
The cups are nicely made, perfectly level and with no cracks, scuffs, blemishes or oozing. The proportions inside the chocolate cups are very nicely done. Unlike some other cups I’ve had where there’s a strange chocolate hump on the bottom of the cup or too much top crust, these are consistent throughout.
The chocolate is crisp and nicely tempered. It’s deep and rich and only barely sweet, in fact, it’s downright bitter compared to the sweet center. The fondant filling is kind of strange. It’s not a smooth gooey sauce like the center of a Junior Mint or the crumbly slightly airy center of a York Peppermint Pattie. It’s soft, though stiff enough that it doesn’t flow. It’s grainy, but in a smooth and consistent way that frosting can be. The color is like turbinado sugar, natural but still clean looking. The filling is made from cream, sugar, peppermint oil and white chocolate. So there’s a light, creamy butter flavor to it along with a clean flavor of peppermint.
The mint doesn’t overpower the dark chocolate. Nothing can overpower the darkness of this chocolate, it has a slight dry bite to it that’s hard to overcome even with what feels like a pure sugar center.
I want to love these and I had no trouble eating both for the review, but I don’t feel like I’ll find myself in the right mood for something so intense again. I’m sure that there are some folks out there who have been longing for a really bitter peppermint pattie experience, so hopefully they’ll find these and keep the product line in business.
Monday, October 17, 2011
The Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are described on the little gusseted stand up bag as exotic yuzu paired with invigorating ginger and lemon rich in vitamin C.
Like many other Bissinger’s candies, these are quite expensive. Some American made gummis sell for as little as $2.00 a pound (the Albanese World’s Best Gummis at dollar stores) where these are about $16.00 a pound, however, Bissinger’s does offer a bit more in the way of unique flavors and premium ingredients. As part of their naturals line, the Lemon Ginger Yuzu Gummy Pandas are made from organic sweetners. They also use all natural ingredients including natural colors and flavors. They’re also advertised as gluten free. The only weird thing in the list was fractionated coconut oil, which is the second to the last item, which means it’s probably the coating that keeps the gummis from sticking together.
They smell quite citrusy, like a combination of key limes and grapefruit. The Yuzu is related to grapefruits and has a definite pomelo note to it, bitter and a little bit on the pine side. The ginger provides a wonderful woodsy and warming note to the cold bitterness of the oily citrus. Lemon kind of mellows it all out.
The gummi texture is soft and bouncy, moist and overall rather sweet and smooth.
I love yuzu, citrus in general and ginger. Plus, these are nicely made gummis. But I’m still not able to love them. Partly because of the price and partly because of the brand. So as a candy taken in a vacuum without any other information, they’re an 8 out of 10, with all the other baggage, they’re barely more than a 6. (Continue reading if you like for more support for that, or just move along to the specs box at the bottom.)
On the whole, my confidence level in Bissinger’s is rather low. I’ve tried contacting them multiple times over the years and got conflicting answers about the gelatin origin and kosher status previously, and in the past month I’ve only gotten a reply to a tweet, neither of my emails with simple questions have been answered.
One of my concerns is with accurate labeling. They sell a variety of foil wrapped hollow “chocolates” around the holidays, including Halloween. They have them on their website and at Whole Food stores, so I’ve seen them in person. I believe that these are not actually made by Bissinger’s, but by Confiserie Riegelein of Germany. (Previous review of their Halloween Chocolate.) Bissinger’s affirms on their website that they use fair trade cocoa. Riegelein will not be fair trade until 2012 and there is no fair trade markings on the package in stores (just mentioned on the website). The biggest issue is that they’re calling this confection chocolate. By US FDA standards, it does not meet the definition because it contains whey, considered a filler ingredient. So it is labeled inaccurately. I’m really surprised that Whole Foods permits this sort of liberal misuse of the word chocolate and the addition of fillers in a product like chocolate. Also, if this is made by Riegelein, it’s made in Germany and there’s no indication of that on the packaging - again other violation of Whole Food’s policies and standard labeling in the United States. Finally, back to the product at hand, the package says Gluten Free and then says it’s packed in a facility that also handles wheat (and eggs, soy, milk, peanuts and tree nuts). So is it gluten free or not?
Friday, January 21, 2011
Newman’s Own Organics has also joined in the all natural licorice arena. The front of the package is simple and classy. It’s a soft creamy color though made of a lightweight mylar and has an old timey font for the logo. It also mentions that the candy is made with organic sugar.
They come in four flavors: Strawberry, Tangerine, Pomegranate and traditional Black. I looked at three different stores for the black but couldn’t find it, so this is a review of the fruity flavors, which are pretty much their own type of product and probably shouldn’t be lumped in with black licorice.
The back of the package has more info as well. They mention that they’re fun to eat, full of flavor and low fat, which is a great thing to mention. These twists are very low in calories, my calculations put them at 88 calories per ounce (because they’re wheat based) or about 25 calories each.
Each twist is only 4 and a half inches long. They’re shiny and quite firm, but not at all sticky or oily. They’re also stiff but pliable enough to bend completely in half without cracking or crumbling. They have a little hole in the center, but it’s rather narrow and sometimes smashed, so I wouldn’t quite call them straws.
Strawberry (left) smells sweet and floral. The texture is really tough though generally smooth after chewing. The strawberry flavor is tangy but a little watered down. They take a lot of chewing, which I guess makes them last a long time but it also makes me dread eating more than one, especially since some of the bits stick in my teeth.
Tangerine (middle) smells fantastic. It’s a realistic zesty citrus smell that got me drooling quickly. This version was just a little softer, but also a bit easier to bite and chew. However, the citrus blast was just too much. The tartness was mild, not even as noticeable as the strawberry, however the zest was too oily and ultimately bitter. The bitterness lingered, a kind of caustic burn on my tongue and gums.
Pomegranate (right) looked pretty much like the strawberry but smelled like raspberry. This stuff was tough, like chewing Kevlar or something. The flavor was a great blend of berries, deep and fruity with a long floral note afterwards that gave my mouth a fresh feeling. There was only a hint of tartness (which is too bad because I like the dry tangy note of real pomegranates). But the texture was just so much work. Sucking on them just gave me a puddle of paste in my mouth. I couldn’t finish them.
Overall, I’m not hopeful about trying the black licorice variety when I find it. The texture is just so far off from what I expected or even find pleasant. I generally find Newman’s Own candies to be hit and miss, they’re often too sweet, lack a strong sense of flavor and are overpriced even for organic products purchased at Whole Foods. They’re made in Mexico and there’s no statement on there about nut status or other allergens (except the obvious ingredients like wheat).
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.
They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:
I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.
Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.
I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.
They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.
What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.
The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).
The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)
Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:
* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products
I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.
The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.
I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!
I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.
I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.
My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.
On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.
The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.
My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.
I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I’ve honestly been curious why I don’t see all natural or organic Candy Corn this time of year. But here’s something pretty close. I found this little container at Whole Foods. They call them Marich Cream Jellybeans but they’re really mellocremes or fondant.
They’re all natural and come in a delightful variety of colors and shapes. There are bats, crescent moons, witches on brooms, owls and cats. I picked out a mix that was as evenly randomized as I could detect. They came in little box like a take out container, only made of a clear polyester-plastic that’s easy to open and close.
The candy was on the expensive side for something that’s all sugar, $5.99 a pound (far less expensive than the other mixes that I’ve picked up). But they were cute and I haven’t bought much for Halloween this year because there have been so few new products.
The pieces are about an inch to an inch and a quarter at their longest. Some were particularly flat, like the Witch and Cat, which means that they were a little dryer and firmer than the thick ones like the Crescent Moon. They all stand up on their sides except for the moon, which naturally wants to be curve side down. (I held that one up with a little piece of sticky clay for the photo.)
Cocoa Brown - I hesitate to actually call this chocolate flavored because it doesn’t taste at all like chocolate, but cocoa is listed on the ingredients so that appears to be the intention. It’s a little woodsy and less sweet than the others. There are notes of honey, toffee, rum and coconut. This flavor also seemed moister than the others, no matter what shape it was, not sticky just not as dry.
Orange - a creamsicle sort of orange flavor, mostly zest but not intense at all. The color and the flavor wasn’t that different from the yellow.
Yellow - lemon in the softest and sweetest way possible. Just a hint of lemon peel and maybe a little note of honey.
White - was unflavored, I’d call them a light vanilla. They taste a bit like marshmallows, pretty clean overall but of course sweet.
The texture was a little firmer than Candy Corn, but very smooth with a fast dissolve. They have a strong sheen on them, some more than others. There’s a glaze on them (confectioners glaze plus beeswax and carnauba wax) which means that they don’t stick together but also don’t dissolve immediately.
The owl reminds me of those macrame owls from the seventies.
It’s expensive for sugar candy, as I mentioned, but for a small bowl of candy matched to a Halloween or even harvest theme, they’re a great choice.
They remind me of carved alabaster or soapstone figures. I can see that these are more sophisticated than brightly colored, strongly flavored kids fare ... but I can also imagine that there are kids out there would would love to play with these like edible chess pieces.
I’ve complained before that Marich’s excessive food colorings in their Easter Mix get in the way of my enjoyment of their holiday novelty candies, so it’s great to see that these are not only less expensive than those but also truer in their flavor profile. I’m in love with Marich’s all natural and organic lines. I’d still like these to have more intense flavors and maybe more variation (like maple, honey and better cocoa) but I could still pick up the Brach’s Halloween Mix for that.
Monday, April 12, 2010
I picked up the Panda Soft Herb Licorice after seeing Gigi Reviews coverage of the product.
First, I like the box that Panda uses. It’s foil lined and completely sealed, after opening the tab top there’s a little plastic film that keeps the contents fresh. Then I just tuck in the double tab top to keep it soft. The contents were soft for weeks, though there is some toughening after that.
This version of Panda’s licorice bites are all natural black licorice tubes made with molasses and wheat flour with an added punch of 18 herbal extracts. They include peppermint, blackberry, plantain, torch weed, sage, star anise and thyme. Sniffing the box it’s like a tea shop: minty, woodsy and clean.
The pieces are soft but separate easily. I like the aerated tubes, it makes it easier to chew them if they do get a little stale. The color is nice, it’s dark but not artificially colored.
The taste isn’t licorice immediately and it’s not molasses either. It’s more like brown sugar in peppermint and chamomile tea. The licorice and woodsier notes come in later. It’s delicate and not as overwhelmingly dark and charcoal-like as Panda’s usual far. There’s a cool menthol aftertaste that makes this kind of like a mint.
There’s a little sticking to the teeth, but it’s not as bad as some other Aussie-style brands. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot. It’s mellow and might be a good “starter” licorice for folks who don’t care for the bitter, smoky and overwhelming licorice of Panda.
As a little change of pace I picked up Panda Cremes as well. The stand up bag holds the same amount as the box but has a zipper lock to keep it fresh. I have to admit that it’s not as eco friendly but did a better job of keeping these soft and fresh. A bonus is that the bag is collapsible, so it takes up less space the more you eat. The box is always the size of the box.
Cremes are the same shape as the bites but inside those little tubes are creme fillings. They come in three flavors: Banana, Caramel and Strawberry. I can’t say that any of these were ever really on my mind as great complements to the flavor of black licorice, but Panda usually knows what they’re doing.
The bag says that they’re all natural and suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans, as there’s some milk in there). The creme center is made from palm oil and there’s no indication of the source of it. A 39 gram serving (9 pieces) has 160 calories and 4 grams of fat (3.5 of those are saturated). In case you’re curious, 40 grams of the Soft Herb are 130 calories and no fat. It’s not like either is calorie-dense but still, it’s notable.
The package smelled like strawberries and banana, like some sort of smoothie or yogurt.
The Strawberry were easy to pick out as they were pink. The Caramel and Banana were the same color as far as I could tell.
The creme isn’t soft and flowing, it’s kind of crunchy at first - but at mouth temperature it softens up. It’s cool on the tongue and not too sweet. The Strawberry is fresh and floral. Banana is actually pretty fun, it’s strong banana flavoring but the sweet notes go well. The Caramel had a slightly darker note but the toasted sugar was missing or maybe overshadowed by the strength of the licorice itself.
I don’t think I need this much fat for something that didn’t really satisfy me the same way that a creamy chocolate product does. I think I’ll stick to the regular Panda licorice products. These are pretty enough to put in a clear jar and as compelling as Allsorts (especially if you’re not a coconut fan).
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The Glutino Gluten Free Candy Bar comes in Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate varieties. I couldn’t seem to find them in single serve purchase size so I had to buy a full box of them - which was $4.99. So I picked the dark chocolate ones since it appeared by the ingredients list that they’re also vegan.
The candy bar is rather simple, a potato-flour wafer stack with chocolate cream centers is covered with dark chocolate. It reminded me of the old Bar None except it doesn’t have crushed peanuts.
The bar is crispy, the foamy wafers are rather flavorless but provide a rice cake type crunch. The cream in between is smooth and melts well; it’s more buttery and sweet than chocolatey. The chocolate coating is rather thick on the top and bottom so there’s a lot more chocolate than I expected. It’s nicely tempered, so it had its own crunch. The flavor was mellow, like semi-sweet chocolate chips - rather woodsy.
I liked them and for a gluten free and vegan bar it doesn’t taste like there are any compromises in there. Sure there are palm oils in the cream filling, so that’s something to be aware of but it is organic (I don’t know about the sustainability of organic palm oil). But as far as taste and texture profile, if you didn’t know it was gluten free, you wouldn’t know the difference.
As one bar is under an ounce, it’s not quite satisfying. The box was rather weird, as you can see from the top photo, it’s much taller than it needs to be so I’d say there’s an overpackaging issue (I wonder if they have standard size boxes and just kind of shrugged it off). So I felt a little duped by that. Also, the nutrition panel says that a bar has 140 calories. That doesn’t make sense to me. It’s less than an ounce, which should put it at about 110 or even 100 calories considering the fact that it has those fat-free wafers in there. Even a solid bar of dark chocolate has about 145 calories per ounce.
There are five bars in the box which cost $4.99, so the bars are expensive for something that’s a “snack size” and not a “dessert size”. I’ll finish the ones I have but unless I needed to have a bar that fit the gluten free parameter, I’ll probably stick with the Q.bel Double Dark.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The happy red wrapper features jaunty typography and little playing card suit symbols in lavender. The name has one of those Z things on the end of it, I’m not sure if it was because there as already a Joker bar and they had to pick another name (actors usually go with a middle initial). Or maybe that was to make it cool and hip. As cool and hip as a vegan who doesn’t eat real chocolate. Much of the wrapper is spent explaining what’s not in the bar. There are no dairy ingredients or cholesterol, no hydrogenated oils or trans fats and it’s free from artificial flavors and colors. Their description on the website is a little more appealing:
The bar, if you couldn’t already tell, is a vegan version of a Snickers. But really it’s just inspired by the Snickers, as there’s very little that’s the same except for the inclusion of peanuts. The bar I got was a little worse for wear. A bit melted on one side, this is generally the hazard with mockolate candy, which often has a lower melting point than chocolate. But the good thing about mockolate is it doesn’t lose its tempering as easily - so the texture that exists is generally the same after resolidifying.
The construction inside is a smooth and dense “nougat” with peanuts on top and then layered with a caramel-like chew. It’s all covered in a thin layer of rice-milk mockolate. The bar is a bit flatter than Snickers (about the same weight though, which is 2.07 ounces), but also a bit longer (about 4.25 inches long).
The bar does smell good, like opening a can of Spanish peanuts. Lightly toasted, the nut aromas are not at all dark and there are hints of toffee sweetness.
The texture had a few similarities to the Twilight - a chewiness but no buttery caramel flavors. The good news is that the grassy and green tasting peanuts covered up a lot of other things that I found lacking in this bar. The chocolate coating felt greasy (possibly because parts of it were melted & reformed) and the nougat center simply had none of the fluffy qualities associated with American nougat nor the silky dissolve of the European versions.
The bar was filling, too filling for me, I was pretty satiated after about a third of it.
I liked it better than Twilight and Buccaneer, but then again I like Snickers better than Milky Way or 3 Musketeers for the simple reason that I like peanuts. I’d rank it as my second favorite of the Go Max Go bars, but really, don’t make me eat any more of them.
On the whole I don’t like things that pretend to be other things: fake meat, fake fur and certainly not fake chocolate. But these bars go further, they try to emulate complex things like caramel and nougat, which can be done, but I have to wonder why. There are plenty of other fabulous vegan things that can be done with sugar and chocolate (and nuts) - trying to pretend to be something else instead of something originally awesome is just an exercise in disappointment.
For a vegan version of this candy, try Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews (also called Chew-Ets) in the dark version. Far cheaper but not free of hydrogenated oils.
(For anyone interested in the candy maker’s reaction to this post, check this out.)
Go Max Go is not organic, not fair trade, not Kosher and is made in a facility with dairy, eggs, wheat, peanuts and other tree nuts. They do market themselves as dairy free and gluten free, but there can be traces because of their manufacturing practices.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.