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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Post Editorializing on FDA Chocolate Changes

imageWhile 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.

Leading Chocolate Candy Bars (less than 3.5 ounces)
Candy Dollar Sales Unit Sales
M&Ms $83,900,000 147,300,000
Hershey's $83,400,000 168,000,000
Reese's $82,500,000 157,900,000
Snickers $69,100,000 124,000,000
KitKat $39,000,000 79,300,000
Twix $25,100,000 43,200,000
3 Musketeers $23,300,000 40,900,000
Nestle Crunch $23,000,000 60,300,000
Nestle Butterfinger* $21,100,000 55,000,000
York Peppermint Pattie $18,100,000 37,700,000

* mockolate
Source as of November 2006

POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:56 am     Comments (2)

LATimes Editorial

imageMy editorial in the LATimes was published.

If you’re looking for the comment form on the FDA Site, go here. (Tutorial here.) Deadline is

April 25th

June 25th.

Hands off my chocolate, FDA!
The FDA may allow Big Chocolate to pass off a waxy substitute as the real thing.
By Cybele May, CYBELE MAY is a writer who reviews candy on her blog, candyblog.net.
April 19, 2007
THE AVERAGE American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year. That’s about a chocolate bar every other day. (I am above average, judging by the fact that I eat enough chocolate to deduct it as a line item on my tax return.)

To sum up so far: Americans eat a lot of chocolate.

That’s cool, because we also make a lot of it. We make everything from the inexpensive milk chocolate bars that you buy at the supermarket checkout counter to the decadent, limited-edition chocolate bars made from “handpicked beans from a single hillside in Venezuela,” for which there’s a waiting list.

It’s all basically made the same way: cacao pods are fermented and then roasted and ground into a fine paste that can be separated into two components: cacao solids (commonly called cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. Each chocolatier uses different proportions but generally blends sugar, cocoa solids and cocoa butter plus the optional ingredients—emulsifiers, flavors (typically vanilla) and milk solids (to make milk chocolate)—and molds that into a chocolate bar.

A little over 100 years ago, Milton Hershey created the nickel bar, the first American chocolate bar for the masses. Today, these small purchases of chocolate products add up to an $18-billion business. Like all foods in the United States, chocolate is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that consumers get a safe and consistent product.

But perhaps no longer. The FDA is entertaining a “citizen’s petition” to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter.

The “citizens” who created this petition represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (OK, I’m not sure what’s in it for them), along with seven other food producing associations.

This is what they think of us chocolate eaters, according to their petition on file at the FDA:

“Consumer expectations still define the basic nature of a food. There are, however, no generally held consumer expectations today concerning the precise technical elements by which commonly recognized, standardized foods are produced. Consumers, therefore, are not likely to have formed expectations as to production methods, aging time or specific ingredients used for technical improvements, including manufacturing efficiencies.”

Let me translate: “Consumers won’t know the difference.”

I can tell you right now—we will notice the difference. How do I know? Because the product they’re trying to rename “chocolate” already exists. It’s called “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” or “cocoalicious.” You can find it on the shelves right now at your local stores in the 75% Easter sale bin, those waxy/greasy mock-chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped eggs that sit even in the most sugar-obsessed child’s Easter basket well into July.

It may be cocoa powder that gives chocolate its taste, but it is the cocoa butter that gives it that inimitable texture. It is one of the rare, naturally occurring vegetable fats that is solid at room temperature and melts as it hits body temperature—that is to say, it melts in your mouth. Cocoa butter also protects the antioxidant properties of the cocoa solids and gives well-made chocolate its excellent shelf life.

Because it’s already perfectly legal to sell choco-products made with cheaper oils and fats, what the groups are asking the FDA for is permission to call these waxy impostors “chocolate.” Because we “haven’t formed any expectations.”

I’d say we’ve already demonstrated our preference for true chocolate. That’s why real chocolate outsells fake chocolate. Nine of the 10 bestselling U.S. chocolate candies are made with the real stuff. M&Ms, Hershey Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—all real chocolate. Butterfinger is the outlier.

Granted, a change to the “food standards of identity” won’t require makers to remove some or all of the cocoa butter, it would just allow them to. But really, why else would they ask?

But as long as they’re asking, the FDA does have a way for other citizens to voice their expectations. It’s buried deep in its website. Until April 25, the agency is accepting comments—by fax, mail or online—on a docket with the benign-sounding name of “2007P-0085: Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to All Food Standards that Would Permit, Within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity.”

I’m telling them to keep it real.

Keep up with all my coverage of the issue here. Daily reviews continue as usual below.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:07 am     Comments (33)

Starburst

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.

image

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.

imageStarbursts 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.
Lemon - always reminds me of those little cups of Italian ice we’d eat in the summer. Sour and juicy and then sweet and chewy.
Strawberry - tart and sweet, it really doesn’t taste much like real strawberries, but it’s one of the few “red” candies that I actually enjoy.
Cherry - a pretty cherry tasting cherry chew, sharp and with that woodsy cherry flavor in there. I always got points with my friends because this would be the first Starburst I would offer out.

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:
Starburst Sours
Starburst Icy Bursts (Limited Edition)
Starburst Fruit & Creme
Starburst Berries & Creme
Starburst Tropical
Starburst Baja California
Starburst Retro (I haven’t found these yet)

Other Starburst products: Starburst Jelly Beans and Starburst Chew Pops

Name: Starburst
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Mars
Place Purchased: Rite Aid (3rd & Fairfax)
Price: $.69
Size: 2.07 ounces
Calories per ounce: 120
Categories: Chew, United States, Mars, Starburst

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:28 am     Comments (72)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gold Mine Gum

Gold Mine GumThis 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.

image

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.

Name: Gold Mine Nugget Bubble Gum
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Espeez
Place Purchased: sample from Espeez
Price: retail $1.25
Size: 2 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Gum, Mexico

POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:23 pm     Comments (20)

Anis de Flavigny

Anis de Flavigny StackLast 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.

imageAnis 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.)

image

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.

Related Candies

  1. Loukoumi Artisan Confections
  2. Sconza Jordanettes
  3. 3400 Phinney: Fig, Fennel & Almond and Hazelnut Crunch
  4. Licorice Assortment
  5. Romanego Dragees, Cordials & Fondants
  6. Chocolate Covered Sugar Babies
Name: Anis de l'Abbaye Flavigny
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Anis de Flavigny
Place Purchased: samples from Fancy Food Show
Price: retail $2.50 each
Size: 1.75 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Licorice, Ginger, Mint, France, Organic

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:13 am     Comments (18)

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Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.

 

 

 

 

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Halloween Candy Season Ends

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ON DECK

These candies will be reviewed shortly:

• Brach’s Caramel Macchiato Candy Corn

• 10 Candies that Shouldn’t Be So Disappointing

• Orgran Molasses Licorice

• Rogue Chocolatier

• Hachez Braune Blatter (Chocolate Leaves)

 

 

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