Thursday, April 19, 2007
While working on my editorial for the LATimes I did a lot of research. I looked at the issue from a lot of different points of view in order to figure out the best way to frame my 700 words on the subject.
One of the points that a few commenters have made is that restricting confectioners through FDA regulations creates a nanny state. While I think this is true in general, I think that speaks more for keeping the definitions the way that they are. As consumers we’re just asking for consistency. We’re not saying that they can’t use vegetable oils, we’re just asking for the commonly accepted language to be maintained.
The naming convention also protects people who are buying products that are not individually labeled, such as chocolates from a bakery or candy shop. If you’re looking at a row of confectionery creations like chocolate covered strawberries, rocky road, chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped apples or chocolate pretzels you probably have an assumption about what that chocolate stuff is. With such a wide latitude under the new rules, are you going to be faced with playing 20 questions with the staff behind the counter about what exactly is in that chocolate? Do you seriously believe that they’ll be equipped to answer those questions? (Having worked in a bakery before, I’m going to say no.)
One of the other things I also examined was the value of real chocolate in the consumer candy market. I’m not talking about the high end stuff, I’m talking about plain old candy bars made with chocolate. I’ve said it over and over again, confectioners don’t need the FDA’s permission to make mockolate. They just want their blessing the relabel their existing products as real chocolate. I think it’s rather telling that of the top chocolate candy bars, there is one that is made with mockolate (Butterfinger). So success is possible with a non-chocolate product in the chocolate category (see chart below).
According to one of the articles I read, about 25% of chocolate is made from cocoa butter. Cocoa butter costs three times as much as vegetable oil substitutes. So the end product may cost 18% less for manufacturers. I can see why this is a tantalizing proposition for them (again, see chart below). The soda companies changed to high fructose corn sweeteners, check out Kate Hopkins analysis of that (note that the majority of a soda is water, not sweetener). Soda manufacturers who still use sugar are few and far between and charge a premium, Jones is the first one that comes to mind.
Don’t forget to spread the word and enter the Keep it Real Raffle.
My editorial in the LATimes was published.
Keep up with all my coverage of the issue here. Daily reviews continue as usual below.
Starbursts were one of those candies that simply appeared from nowhere and filled an aching void in my being that I never knew existed. They were chews, like Now & Laters, only they were actually chewy.
I didn’t know that they were road tested in Europe as Opal Fruits since 1960. They were introduced in the US in 1976, just as I was getting a regular allowance and permission to walk down to the convenience store with my sister. Though vaguely similar in format to Now & Laters, the soft chew and salivary-gland tingling tartness set them apart.
Starbursts are great for kids, I can say this authoritatively because that’s what I thought when I was one. They’re individually wrapped, have an array of flavors and the long narrow package looks like it has a lot of candy in it. It promotes sharing and portion control. And they’re brightly colored. The bright wax wrappers can also be folded into chains. (I never went this far though.)
The original flavors were orange, lemon, lime and strawberry but at some point lime was out and cherry was in. I wasn’t that fond of lime, but my dislike for cherry is well-known. The packages contain 12 chews.
Orange - super tangy and then mellows into a pleasant zesty chew.
As I was preparing this review and photographing the candies I was surprised that there were three of each flavor. I could have sworn that they were random and sometimes I was getting far too many cherries.
Starburst actually have real fruit juice in them as well as 50% of your RDA of Vitamin C. They also (in the States) have gelatin in them, so they’re not suitable for vegetarians and not certified Kosher. I’ve heard that the European versions of Starburst don’t have gelatin, so I’m curious if the texture is any different.
Other Starburst varieties:
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
This was one of the worst purchases I would make as a kid. I love little nuggets of gum (and often bought those Chicklets Tinys as well) but really the selling point here was the fact that it came in a real cloth bag! Still, it was a sweet treat with a reusable package (I would keep little pieces of beach glass or pennies flattened by trains in mine).
I have no idea if this is the same brand that I would buy at the Stop ‘n Go in Munroe Falls, OH. I seem to recall a little miner in a big hat grinning his fool’s gold heart out on the front, but I might have imagined that.
Gold Mine Gum is just little candy coated nuggets of gum. I recall it being a fruity flavor (ala Juicyfruit) when I was a kid, but this stuff tastes kind of like cherry to me.
The gum was actually inside a little clear cellophane bag inside, which is a good thing. After I took the photo (and chewed up everything outside of the bag in the picture), I didn’t put it back in the wrapper. The stuff I chewed right then was nice and soft. The stuff I’m chewing right now as I write this is a little crumbly to start, but as with trading card gum wafers, it softens up eventually. It’s sweet and sugary and then loses its flavor. The bubbles are okay, not super-smooth like the high-tech bubble gums that came long later.
But back to the bad purchase ... there’s not a lot in here. 2 ounces of gum isn’t much and at a retail price of $1.25, there are better deal out there. But there’s something about the idea of chewing representations of an ore that may one day be made into your dental work that’s appealing.
Note: this isn’t the same brand of gum from when I was a kid.
Last year I read the book Sweets: a History of Candy by Tim Richardson. For a book about candy, there wasn’t much of the “modern” candy that we’re familiar with, instead a large portion of the book was spent on tracing the evolution of sugar and early candied fruits. Later it documents the rise of pastilles in the mid 1500s in Europe as sugar became available. The most basic definition is “a kernel of something coated with sugar.” It can be a nut (like Jordan Almonds) or a seed, like Anis de Flavigny.
The pastille was often the work of a pharmacist or herbalist, not a confectioner. They started with seeds or herbs that were prescribed for various reasons (fever, digestion, impotence), then coated with sugar syrup, tossed in a pan and repeated until layer upon layer is built up. The most talented pharmacists made beautiful pastilles that looked like shimmering opalescent spheres and were kept as if they were treasures as well, inside ornate boxes, often locked by the lady of the household.
Anis de l’Abbaye Flavigny may have one of the longest histories of a candy, as the town of Flavigny may have been making the little candies since Roman times. Whatever the timeline and beginnings may be, in modern times the pastilles have been made by confectioners in those largely unchanged traditions. Anis de Flavigny is one of those companies that has been carrying on for hundreds of years. Each pastille takes fifteen days to make ... they are labor intensive (though the materials themselves are rather cheap). They still start with a single fennel seed and (as you can see from the photo) a sugar syrup is poured over it, tumbled until dry then repeated dozens of times. (See the Anis de Flavigny site.)
Anis de Flavigny makes a large array of delicately distinctive flavors, all rather classic and old world.
Anise, Licorice, Rose, Violet, Orange Blossom and Mint. The tins tell a little story as two lonesome young people pine in solitude, then meet, share their candies and finally consummate their affection (on the violet tin - which modestly only shows us the flowers and not our young lovers).
I’m quite taken with them. I’ve been eating them since I was a kid. I know they’re not particularly snazzy. The tins are simple (though redesigned recently, they still look classic) and the candy unchanged by time and trends.
The only trend it appears they’ve responded to is that they now have an Organic line. The only difference I can tell is that the sugar is not pure white, so the little pastilles are a little beige. I kind of like the look. The flavors are the same, though I did have Ginger in the organics that I’ve not had in the regular ones.
The little candies have a slightly soft and rough feeling to the surface. The sugar itself is dense and even the package warns you against crunching them. (I do, but they have to get down to about a third of their size.) I liked to eat mine two at a time, rolling them around on my tongue like Chinese health balls. The friction of the pastilles against each other releases the sugar a bit faster. Call me impatient. But I do have a dexterous tongue and can also tie a cherry stem in a knot with it. Not that I eat cherries that often.
The floral candies (orange blossom, violet and rose) have a lovely soft flavor to them without feeling soapy. They’re great for getting rid of bad breath, especially since they take so long to dissolve. The spicier flavors like anise and licorice are rooty and natural tasting without feeling artficial (pretty much because they’re not). The mint is softer than many of the modern super-mints like Altoids with a smooth melt on the tongue and an even amount of mint. The flavor is strong as you dissolve the first few layers away and then mellows out. Towards the center the gentle hint of anise from the fennel seed emerges.
I was quite excited to have a full set of their most popular flavors, which I picked up at the Fancy Food Show in January. It’s taken me months to get through all of them. Not because I didn’t want to eat them, but they just last so dang long. I love each and every flavor. Yes, they’re really expensive at $2 to $3 a tin. (I don’t know why I can’t find the assorted package online.) I prefer them to just about every other breath mint on the market. It was a little unclear if the organic line will be available in the States because of the differing certification processes.
Italy also has their long-standing tradition of panned sweets with the Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano company. They not only do the small pastille dragee but also a wider variety of panned spices, fruits and nuts. I’ll have a profile of those at some point as well.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.