Sunday, June 17, 2007
I was interested in what the UK version of Skittles were like compared to the American Skittles for two reasons. The first is that they don’t use gelatin in them. This means that vegetarians are free to enjoy, but I wasn’t sure what difference it would make in the texture. The second is that UK Skittles aren’t fortified with vitamin C. Did you know that a pack of American Skittles has half our daily RDA?
My friends Bronwen & Jay just returned from Europe and brought this super-sized tub of Skittles for me.
So, how different are Euro-Skittles? First, remember that Skittles were first introduced in Europe, so if anything, we’ve corrupted them with our gelatin.
I got some American Skittles and did a side by side.
It was pretty obvious that the colors aren’t quite the same. The Euro-Skittles are bit dull in comparison, in color and shine. The American Skittles are on the left and the UK sourced ones on the right.
The flavors are the same until you get to purple, which is Black Currant in the UK, grape in the US.
The textures are different. American Skittles are firm, have a pretty crispy shell and long chew that’s a little grainy and then descends back into a grainy sugary mess before dissolving.
UK Skittles are soft and have what feels like a thinner shell. The flavor seems a bit brighter on the citrus ones, especially the lemon that tastes rather like fresh lemon juice.
I’ve never been overly fond of the American Grape Skittle, I eat it, but it’s way down there at the bottom, right after Lime. So I was intrigued by the Black Currant at first. If anything, the whole tub smells like Black Currant (whereas I find American Skittles smell like Strawberry). What I found out is this ... I don’t like Black Currant Skittles. In fact, I might not like Black Currant as a flavor much at all.
I did a little reading on Black Currant, because it seems like a rather traditional British flavor and found that it’s one of the few fruits grown in the UK with high levels of Vitamin C, during WWII it was the only reliable local source. On this side of the pond, Currant cultivation was banned because the plants were encouraging the spread of a disease of pine trees needed for the lumber industry. So as they fell out of the American diet, they were practically forced down the throats of the UK kiddies. (See Wikipedia.)
American Skittles…..................UK Skittles
My dislike of Black Currant Skittles certainly wouldn’t dissuade me from eating Skittles in England or anything. The differences between the two, besides that flavor, are marginal at best. The good thing is that I have a huge tub of them.
Even though they have no gelatin, they’re not Kosher or Hallal.
Friday, June 15, 2007
This has been going around for a few months, it’s the Charlie the Unicorn and the Candy Mountain animation from FilmCow.
My favorite part is that the Y in Candy is the lead singer in the musical number. There are a gazillion homages on YouTube as well, but you should probably see what my blogger-bud Sean Bonner and his friends did late one night.
I think of myself as a candy cheerleader in many ways, that’s why there are more good reviews here than bad ones. But I have to respect other people’s least favorite candies ... especially when they dramatize it so well. The fellows at Handsome Donkey created a video of the 5 Worst Candies of All Time. (Found via Robyn at Serious Eats.)
This one isn’t video and isn’t really very happy either. But poignant. It’s a photo essay of the old Brach’s candy factory in Chicago. It was closed and production was moved off to Mexico where sugar and production costs are cheaper.
Tom Regan who took the photos was kind enough to give me permission to post this little mosaic of them here, check out the rest of them on Flickr.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.