Friday, June 15, 2007
One of the things I like so much about some of the Japanese candies is that they’re incredibly flavorful. I couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at JBox telling me about a new UHA Shigekix product called Aha! Brain. It comes in a few different flavors, including “Energy Drink Flavor”, which puzzled me and scared me enough to prompt me to stick to the comfortably familiar flavor called Citrus Flavor.
I tried Shigekix a couple of years ago in the Cola flavor and found them kind of fun. This package doesn’t have the familiar schmoo character on the front, instead a PacMan type character with some sort of electrified brain.
The little gumdrop shaped candies are covered in a light and uneven candy shell. The shell is merely sweet and carries no flavor as far as I can tell. The gummi center, however, is jam packed with flavor. The gummi is much softer than the regular Shigekix, rather like a slightly stale Haribo Bear.
The citrus flavor is just bursting with complexity. It has the zesty notes of grapefruit and perhaps yuzu and lemon then the tart bite and a bit of sweet juiciness. I have no idea if my brain is more awake than before, but my salivary glands are working overtime here.
I probably wouldn’t go popping this to solve problems, but I could see it being a good treat for long car trips where I need to stay alert.
Shigegix Aha! Brain also comes in Muscat flavor.
Check out the JBox site where they feature four different ads from Japan for the product. I have no idea what’s going on (I believe the dancing woman in the yellow helmet is caused by eating Aha! Brain). Now I want that helmet (I rode my bike to work today and my plain white helmet just isn’t doing it for me ... well, except for protecting my now super-Aha’ed brain).
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I went to Toys r Us yesterday to pick up a booster seat in preparation for the arrival of my niece, nephew, brother and sister in law this weekend. Of course after completing the mundane safety-oriented task I browsed the candy aisle, which is conveniently the entire section in front of the registers. There were lots of novelty items, but the one that caught my eye was the Gummy Fishies, which looks like a purple sardine can and has a little key on the top and everything.
I was a little annoyed with the price, $1.29 for .67 ounces of what I figured were Swedish Fish. But I was already there and though the folks in the car seat section were super helpful, the two cashiers were strangely hung up (one registering someone for the birthday club and the other didn’t give the right change and had to call a manager to open the cash drawer). The longer I waited the more it meant that I had to make this trip more productive. So the Fishies were purchased.
The little plastic box is shaped like a tin of fish, right down to the little flutes on the side. The key is anchored at the top in a little holder, when inserted into the hole on the bottom side of the box, it meshes with the little grooves like a cog. Turning the key moves the lid of the box smoothly. The first time it needs to break the little perforations on the label, but that happened just like it should.
I think the Fishies are made by Albanese, they have an A on their sides, which is the same way Albanese brands their gummi bears (but the package says Made in China ... but they might be referring to the box). The first ingredient is not sugar, it’s pectin ... it also has gelatin in it, these are some seriously gummy fishes. Soft but super springy. The flavor of the red one was rather like raspberry, not like the strange Swedish-berry that’s so distinct. I have no clue what the green one was. It tasted fresh, but kind of like cucumber.
The price is stupid at Toys r Us, I know that you can get these at a better price elsewhere and for under a dollar I think it’s a fun little toy to give to a kid that also has candy. The good part is that the little box is really well made, so you can buy a big bag of Swedish fish or gummi bears or anything else you like and keep refilling it for your kid. Because it holds less than an ounce, that does mean controlled portions. (Or let them use it as a bank ... it’s got a KEY!) The key system actually works, I really couldn’t budge the lid without it unless I wanted to actually break it. (Of course it’s a universal key, so if you’ve given one to each of your kids they have keys to each other’s boxes.)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Since the subject came up last with with the news that Mars was using animal-sourced rennet in their whey (and then they later rethought that and reversed it), I thought I’d address dietary restrictions and candy. There are a lot of candies that contain animal-sourced ingredients. Besides dairy products, one of the most common is gelatin. Gelatin is found in gummis but it’s also found in Altoids. So what’s a vegetarian to use to freshen their breath (besides just brushing their teeth)?
St. Claire’s Organics is an entire line of compressed sugar sweets in mint, herb, spice and tart flavors. Not only are they suitable for vegans, they’re also wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and fancy-free.
The St. Claire’s Organic’s line of Sweets & Mints aren’t really that attractive out of the tins, but they rather remind me of Brittany Spaniels: All peppy and speckled.
Peppermints (tin & box) - much stronger than you’d think, but a darker, less “clean” tasting peppermint than an Altoid, more woodsy.
Licorice (tin) - darkly flavored, the molasses and licorice notes blend well. A little sweet, but that’s usually the way real licorice is.
Wintermints (tin) - sassy wintergreen flavor, rather like toothpaste. Not super strong, but there’s a lingering tingly feeling on the lips if you eat a lot of them.
Spearmints (tin & box) - nice and round with a good herby taste, fresh.
Cocoa Sweets (box) - I really thought these were going to be lame (like expecting chocolate and getting a Tootsie Roll). The little balls didn’t have the creamy round flavors of chocolate, just a pleasant sweet cocoa taste. By themselves, they were okay, but when eaten with coffee, there were really quite nice.
Ginger Sweets (tin) - spicy and woodsy. I really liked crunching on them. They had a nice light burn from the ginger and were well recieved on the whale watching boats. Really spicy, but incredibly addictive.
Throat Soother - Slippery Elm may be the active ingredient to sooth achy, stinging throats but it’s the menthol that upstages everything with its strong flavor. Woodsy flavors and cooling effect on the tongue is soothing, but also a bit exciting. I think I still prefer Thayer, but not for efficacy-reasons, just taste. Some people don’t like that sticky-glycerine feeling that Thayer’s has (that’s the soothing, people!) so maybe St. Claire’s is a good alternative.
Tummy Soothers - this little guy is what’s been holding up this review. I’ve been heavily boat-testing them. I go whale watching a lot. (In case you didn’t know.) I’ve never taken anything for it except herbals, of course I’ve also had some bad times on boats. This year has been pretty good. A few queasy days on 8-10 foot swells, but no mishaps. The St. Claire’s Tummy Soothers are big pills that looks rather like vitamins. Kind of smells like it too. It’s woodsy with strong molasses, ginger and licorice flavors. It dissolves pleasantly, I usually eat two at a time, tucking one inside each cheek.
St. Claire’s Organics also come in Tarts. How many little candy tarts out there that are organic and free of all those other things? The ones in boxes are little spheres and the ones in the tins are small tablets.
Raspberry Tarts (tin) - immediately tart and rather smooth but the raspberry flavor is far too floral, it tastes an awful lot like violet to me. I have no problem with violet as a flavor, but not in my tarts.
Lemon Tarts (tin) - these are super yellow, after being carried around in my bag for a while they discolored the little waxed paper insert. Tart with a good sour bite and zesty note. By far this was a no-compromise organic tart candy.
Tangy Tangerine Tarts (box) - mild and orangey. I didn’t get a lot of tangerine in there and it seemed much sweeter than the others.
Grape Tarts - pretty much one note, not quite the plain malic acid, it’s a mild and tasty “grape” flavor.
Green Apple Tarts - kind of woodsy and a bit like real apple juice with a sharp tanginess.
Key Lime Tarts - the lime here is just too mild, and too much like real lime and not Key lime.
Juicy Watermelon Tarts - excellent round and floral watermelon flavor with a good proportion of sour.
Sweet Peach Tarts - I’ve never been fond of peach flavored things, this isn’t much of an exception.
Whew! That was a lot of different flavors!
I give the whole line a 7 out of 10 (could be a little zingier), but the winners in my book were the Licorice and Ginger Sweets and I found that I ate all the Lemon Tarts first out of all the tarts, so they get an 8 out of 10. I also really dig the Tummy Soothers and since they have slippery elm in them, I’ll probably use them for aching throats too because I liked the flavor better.
The little boxes of sweets are great for kids, a very small portion in flavors they’ll respond to. The other great thing about St. Claire’s is that they sell the sweets and tarts in bulk at better than half the price so you can refill your tin (so you could get a really cool little package for your kids to keep refilling). The commitment from St. Claire’s to the environment goes further, with 10% of their profits donated to the Ethno Medicine Preservation Project, which documents medicinal plant traditions with indigenous cultures. The only negatives I have is that I don’t care for the little boxes, I’m not quite sure why, I just don’t respond well to them. They’re hard to reclose securely (I might like a little waxed paper insert or something for extra protection). But the tins are great, simple, easy to open and close (and with a nice saying printed inside the lid). The other negative is even though there’s no gelatin in here, they’re not certified Kosher.
I see these for sale at Whole Foods, Erewhon and other natural food stores, prices probably vary and of course you can order direct from St. Claire’s Organics.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
There are many surprising things about Circus Peanuts. In fact, everything is so incongruous that there’s nothing that’s not surprising. That’s how jam-packed full of nonsense they are.
They’re shaped like peanuts, big big peanuts in the shell. But they’re orange in color. The orange color bears no relationship to the flavor, banana. And why even call them Circus Peanuts? Because they’re jumbo sized and you might feed them to an elephant ... come on, that’s a serious stretch.
They’re one of the most enduring candies in the United States, made first in the 1800s. Kind of like the Candy Corn of marshmallows, no one really knows when they started for sure. Except in the case of Candy Corn where many companies have tried to take credit, no one really bothers to try to brand Circus Peanuts. You don’t even see a TM after the name! No one knows the history of Circus Peanuts because everyone is so confused by them that they wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to clear much up. We can all continue to live in blissful mild confusion (and perhaps irritation that so many niblets of corn are wasted on so many Circus Peanuts).
Circus Peanuts are made by at least four different companies in the United States: Brach’s, Melster, Farley and Spangler. Melster, based in Wisconsin makes more than Brach’s & Spangler put together, though often you don’t see them packaged under the Melster brand, they’ll be done for grocery stores and drug store chains or maybe just found in bulk. In this article from 2003, it turns out that Spangler alone makes nearly 4 MILLION POUNDS a year. What? Who the heck is eating all these ... or are they just used as decoration or perhaps packing materials.
Circus Peanuts are shaped like peanuts, usually light orange/peach in color and banana-flavored. When fresh, a bag of Circus Peanuts can smell more like fingernail polish remover. When stale they can smell like, well, nothing at all. The artificial banana flavor must be some volatile compound that evaporates when exposed to air or perhaps a fierce stare.
Technically they’re a marshmallow: they’re sugar, corn syrup (and/or high fructose corn sweetener) and gelatin with some color and flavor thrown in. The gelatin helps the whipped sugar keep its foam. But instead of being extruded as most marshmallows are, these are molded, which might explain some of their density. Because of the high amount of corn syrup in them, they’re rather moist when fresh and can become stale and pretty firm. They’re not quite smooth in texture like most marshmallows, instead there’s a bit of graininess to them. The look like they’re made of fine porcelain of terra cotta. They can even make that clinking sound if you wait for them to get very stale.
I have bought Circus Peanuts before, usually when I find them ridiculously on sale, like 25 cents for a 10 ounce bag. Then I open the bag, get woozy from the fumes and remember why I don’t hang out in nail salons. Then I eat one or two and curse myself for buying them. Later I’ll find myself sneaking into the bag and eating them one or two at a time. When eaten with other candy or salty treats like popcorn, they’re not so bad. (Try Twizzlers or Cheetos.) Not a ringing endorsement.
If there’s one thing to be celebrated about Circus Peanuts it’s that they led to the creation of Lucky Charms. A General Mills team was charged with creating a kids cereal in only six months. So they sat down with everything available to them, from Cheerios and Wheaties to a bunch of candy from the store shelves (apparently that’s what a kid’s cereal is made from). They put bits of stale Circus Peanuts (now called “marbits” in the industry for marshmallow bits) in a sugared Cheerios and everyone loved the idea. A cartoon mascot and bit of Americana was born. So if you find yourself stuck with some extra Circus Peanuts, perhaps chop them up and throw them in your breakfast bowl.
Some brief facts:
One Circus Peanut has 35 calories
Circus Peanuts are 99% carbs
Each Circus Peanut weighs approximately 9 grams
Circus Peanuts come in other colors and flavors
Other thoughts around the ‘net:
Bad Candy - the ultimate hate letter to Circus Peanuts
Spangler Orange Jello Dessert with Circus Peanuts - someone please make this and take a photo!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Music may be called ear candy at times, but it really doesn’t intersect with candy much. I’m not sure why, they’re easy to enjoy together, though candy always won out for my spending money as a kid. (I owned very little music as a teen, the only singles I remember buying were Blondie’s Call Me & John Lennon’s Starting Over, instead I just listened to whatever albums were in the house, hence my love of the Beatles and The Who.)
Besides the Charleston Chew, which is named after a dance and song, I don’t think there are many music-themed candy bars out there. Even though there’s not much proof of concept, Hershey’s has high hopes for their limited edition Elvis Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Cream Cups. The early announcement of them last year sent quite a wave of enthusiasm through the internet, especially blogs where people were searching desperately. They are slated to go on sale in advance of the 30th anniversary of his death on July 7th.
The cups showed up earlier this year on eBay, as merchants where were given preview cups to try before they buy sold them off for a quick buck or two. (Some were going as high as $5.00 a piece.) I’ll admit that I bid on a few. As luck would have it, the same contact at Hershey’s who sent me the Fresh From The Factory Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came through last week with these beauties. A whole tin filled with the Big Cup (King Size!) Elvis-themed cups.
The packaging for this variety features Hawaiian Elvis, sporting sideburns and a purple lei. The back of the package features trivia about Elvis: “Priscilla Ann Beaulieu was 14 years old when she met Elvis Presley.” Ah, give the young girls something to aspire to. (Other packages mention his record sales and movie career.) None mentioned the King’s love of fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the progenitor for this candy.
The cups smell like roasted peanuts with a slight sweet tinge of chocolate. Before biting into them, there’s really no indication that they’re different. The Big Cups are pretty hefty, and after eating the smaller-than-normal Fresh From the Factory Cups, I feel rather huge.
Once I bit into them though, the banana-ness was apparent. It’s a soft and floral banana taste in a “banana cream” that’s rather firm, kind of like a banana white chocolate, but not as smooth. The label lists banana flakes as an ingredient. (As well as artificial flavor and artificial color.)
I tried these several ways. I ate them fresh out of the package, I tried them frozen and I tried them a gooey melted mess after letting them sit under the hot studio light. Frozen the banana lacks zing, but of course the texture is great. At room temperature, the banana has a nice mellow flavor. At body temperature the banana cream gets really thick and creamy and tastes a lot more like banana.
I was kind of hoping that they’d use the model of the Caramel Cup and just make the caramel banana flavored. The cream is interesting and carries the flavor well over the very strong peanut butter. All I can say is that it works for me. I don’t know if I’d buy these instead of the regular Reese’s, but I’m curious what the miniatures are going to be like and I’ll probably give those a try.
For another preview of the Elvis Cups, check out Patti at Candy Yum Yum.
Now comes the time where I share the wealth. Yes, you too can be the first on your block to try the new Elvis King Size Reese’s Peanut Butter and Banana Creme Cups. I’ll do a drawing on Saturday, June 16th at Noon Pacific ... the grand prize will be FIVE fresh packages. Just leave a comment here with your favorite Elvis tune or Elvis Cup sighting ... I’ve heard that they’re already showing up in stores like Dollar General. Use a real email address if you’d like me to contact you if you win, and I’d advise not checking the box for notification of comments, cuz there may be a few. I also reserve the right to throw more candy into the winner package, depending on my whim and inventory at the moment. North American addresses only.
(Ooh, thanks to the comments, I found this on the Hershey’s Gift Site, you can order them right now, a tin of 16 packages of the King Sized cups is $25.)
UPDATE: We have a winner (Lisa!) ... but you’re free to comment. If you’re looking for tips on where to find Elvis Cups, check out this post called Elvis Spotting.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.