Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Panda Traditional Soft Original Licorice (with High Fructose Corn Syrup)

Panda Traditional Soft Original LicoricePanda Licorice has along history of being sold as a healthy candy. It’s made with very few ingredients and sold at natural and health food stores around the world.

I saw some new packages of Panda Licorice on store shelves about six months ago. I thought it was cute and inventive. But I’ve already reviewed the Panda licorice line, for the most part, so there was no need for me to pick it up again.

What I didn’t realize is that this is actually a different line of licorice, with a different formula. The Panda Traditional Soft Original Licorice is part of the Panda “confections” line. It was formulated specifically to widen the Panda brand’s appeal and to be sold in more mass-market stores, instead of the narrow appeal of stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s which usually have rules about what sort of ingredients a product can have.

It doesn’t say much on the front of the package, beyond the brand name and the product but it’s quite clear: No artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

So a quick flip to the back of the package where they talk more about the traditional soft licorice and the heritage of the company that dates back to 1927 in Finland and how meticulous they are and how they use traditional ingredients. Those ingredients?

Molasses, high fructose corn syrup, wheat flour, licorice extract, anise.

Yes, Panda’s licorice that’s otherwise free of artificial flavors, preservatives and colors, suitable for vegans, fat free and Kosher ... it’s made with high fructose corn syrup.

The price for this product? It was $2.99 at Cost Plus World Market for a 7 ounce bag.

DSC_9795rb

The pieces of the Traditional Soft Original Licorice has 87.75 calories per ounce and 1 gram of protein. The pieces are large, sticky and very sweet. The one inch nubs are doughy and a little more “wheat” flavored than the classic variety.

It’s downright wet. In fact that may account for the lower calories on this variety, the fact that they have more water in them.

The licorice flavor is bland, though distinctly natural. It tastes more like anise though the sweetness has that soft licorice note to it. What’s missing for me is the molasses, that earthy flavor that has lots of toffee, burnt sugar, charcoal, oak and beets in it.

It sticks to my teeth. It sticks to my ribs. It sticks to my fingers, it sticks to the package.

Panada All Natural Soft LicoriceIn the interest of fairness, I had to revisit the stuff that’s made Finland famous. The All Natural Soft Licorice is made from an even shorter list of ingredients: Molasses, wheat flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseseed oil). It has 92.14 calories per ounce but 2 grams of protein per serving. The price? It was $2.99 for a 6 ounce bag.

So for the same price you get about 14% less. But what was in that 14%? I have to wonder if it’s just high fructose corn syrup, watering the whole thing down.

DSC_9790rb

The classic pieces in the bag are 3/4” tall and just a little smaller in diameter. They’re also far less sticky. They feel lighter and stiffer than their doughy counterparts. Plus it has all those complex flavors of molasses and licorice and less of the wheat flour.

It’s just baffling to me, since Panda has spent at least 40 years marketing itself in the United States as the premiere natural licorice brand, and competing against all brands, they’re still the fourth largest seller in the US. Much of their marketing, either by their hand or through the efforts of the stores that sell them have specified that Panda contains no “bad stuff” including high fructose corn syrup. So this change not only makes the candy taste bad, I think it’s done to purposely confuse consumers. The package uses the words traditional and original and says lots about how they don’t use those other bad ingredients. (But they do use a dubious ingredient that no one else uses, not even the cheapest of the cheap licorices.)

Lisa Gawthorne, Panda Liquorice spokesperson comments:

“We’re in a strong position and well established within health food shops, but there’s huge scope for growth with this brand. So 2011 sees us focusing on building distribution within convenience and forecourt. We think this bold new launch, along with our strong existing range, is perfectly placed to take on this challenge.” (source)

I tried engaging Panda in a dialogue about this change. I tweeted to them in March (they’ve answered in the past) but didn’t hear anything back. Then I tweeted to them again in June and they responded (though one of their responses they’ve since deleted). Here’s the exchange as it stands now.

Here’s the thing, though all this battle over high fructose corn sweetener, even as a candy writer, I haven’t had much to say. There’s not much to say, because HFCS in candy is incredibly rare. I’ve seen it in probably about five candies I’ve reviewed, and often when it does appear in other candies, it’s part of a whole ingredient like crushed cookies or a jelly, not something the candy company actually made themselves. HFCS just doesn’t behave the same way as a pure glucose syrup would or actual full sucrose. Ordinarily I would just be baffled that someone would use HFCS, but in this case I’m angry because Panda has cultivated their brand so carefully, in many cases specifically saying that they don’t use HFCS, as if everyone else does. When in reality it’s just them, in this lower price point line.

Related Candies

  1. Aldi Grandessa Australian Licorice
  2. Trader Joe’s Candy Coated Licorice
  3. Panda Candy Coated Licorice
  4. Natural Vines - Black Licorice
  5. Goetze’s Licorice and Double Chocolate Caramel Creams
  6. Panda Soft Herb Licorice and Licorice Cremes
  7. Organic Finnska Soft Licorice
  8. Panda Bars


Name: Traditional Soft Original Licorice
    RATING:
  • SUPERB
  • YUMMY
  • TASTY
  • WORTH IT
  • TEMPTING
  • PLEASANT
  • BENIGN
  • UNAPPEALING
  • APPALLING
  • INEDIBLE
Brand: Panda Licorice
Place Purchased: Cost Plus World Market (Farmers Market)
Price: $2.99
Size: 7 ounces
Calories per ounce: 88
Categories: Candy, Panda, Chews, Licorice Candy, 3-Unappealing, Finland, Cost Plus

POSTED BY Cybele AT 12:14 pm Tracker Pixel for Entry     CandyReviewPandaChewsLicorice Candy3-UnappealingFinlandCost Plus

Comments
  1. I recall you saying you are not a big licorice fan, so as a HUGE licorice fan I’d just like to say thanks for this article. Thanks for paying attention to licorice in the first place - a flavor and type of candy that seems to be rapidly declining in quality and availability in the US (where most people think “licorice” is a red stick of candy). And thanks for sticking up (so to speak) for traditional licorice by taking Panda to task for degrading their product.

    Comment by wmlbrown on 7/18/12 at 5:58 pm #
  2. I agree with wmlbrown, every word.

    Comment by J Dexter on 7/18/12 at 9:53 pm #
  3. I guess I don’t care if HFCS is in my candy, so long as it tastes good. As you say, it essentially hasn’t been an issue with candy.

    So it’s weird that Panda created this new stuff that is apparently unappealing taste-wise, when its All Natural Soft Licorice (I’m tempted to call it “traditional” but can’t because that’s what they call the new stuff) is so tasty.

    Btw, has anyone noticed that the bags of black licorice at Dollar General seem to have vanished? These star-shaped tubes were my favorite value brand of licorice (cheaper than Panda). I hope it’s a temporary thing but (1) I checked three different stores, and (2) it seemed that not only were the pegs bare but that the peg labels for black licorice had been removed.

    Comment by bitguru on 7/18/12 at 10:53 pm #
  4. btw, this blog has a weird problem where if you enter a comment, preview it, make further edits, then click “preview again” that the further edits disappear. Even leaving the page and coming back, or using a different browser, fail to show anything other than the comment as previewed the first time, which in my case was missing the “of” in “bags of black”.

    So after trying for 5-10 minutes to get the “of” in there, I gave up and posted (I presumed) without the “of”. Not until I started writing this was-going-to-be-apology do I notice that the “of” actually made it in the final post even though it was missing from the preview. Odd.

    Keep up the good work.

    Comment by bitguru on 7/18/12 at 10:59 pm #
  5. There are distinctions between the various types of sugars and how the body metabolizes them, but your position on HFCS as “bad” is overstated. Is sugarcane really much better? That is usually filtered through charred animal bones.

    Comment by Jason on 7/19/12 at 5:47 am #
  6. Cybele's avatar

    wmlbrown - I’m absolutely a licorice fan. Panda is really not my favorite, but I do eat it often because it’s available easily and made with real stuff (basically molasses as the first ingredient).

    bitguru - I’m not great at troubleshooting on this platform, but I’ll look into the commenting revision issue.

    Jason - I know that folks are upset about HFCS because of health issues (and they should be if they’re drinking more than 8 ounces of soda per day), but my biggest issue is that in certain foods it doesn’t behave like sucrose (less sweet and adds water).

    Beet sugar is not processed through bone char, and is often preferred in chewy/jelly candy by candy makers (that’s what Jelly Belly uses). Bakers don’t like beet sugar. In the case of Panda, their recipes don’t use processed sugar at all, just molasses.

    The issue with this Panda licorice is that HFCS is cheap and watery and it shows in a side by side comparison between their two products. I believe that Panda has purposely confused their customers with this new version.

    Comment by Cybele on 7/19/12 at 7:17 am #
  7. Interesting. The regular Panda licorice here in Finland contains some glucose-fructose syrup but it’s far down the list. It’s mostly molasses and wheat flour.

    We don’t even have any HFCS here in Finland because we don’t have any corn crops.

    Is that licorice made in Finland?

    Comment by Markus on 7/23/12 at 2:24 am #
  8. At my office, there was a bag in the break room (I work at a candy distribution center…hence my interest in the blog). I had read this first but when I looked at the ingredients, they didn’t read like the ones you posted. For instance, it does not say “high fructose corn syrup”...did you get an older bag and maybe they changed them? Or maybe we had an older bag?
    Either way…I couldn’t stop eating them. And I don’t like black licorice very much.

    Comment by Lo on 7/26/12 at 8:32 am #
  9. Cybele's avatar

    Markus - the package says it was made in Finland. So they must have imported the HFCS.

    Lo - there are a couple of different confectionery lines that Panda makes, this new one that has HFCS has this different brown background with the large panda face on it and the non-natural ingredients.

    Comment by Cybele on 7/26/12 at 9:46 am #
  10. My roommate has a corn allergy and she’s been seeking out Panda for her licorice needs - she’s noticed this too. It is extremely frustrating to her. As far as I’m concerned HFCS is a cheap, oversweet filler product. Since cutting it out of my diet and still eating just as crappily as ever, my blood sugar has dropped a whole bunch - so much so that I am no longer classified as “pre-diabetic”. That crap is in everything and I’m sad to see it sneaking into what I previously considered “safe” foreign brands.

    Comment by nerdycellist on 7/27/12 at 2:34 pm #
  11. Yes Panda do make nice licquorice
    There are better such as fresh 100% licquorice but only in small bags and quite expensive
    I found that a piopular cany is Salmiakki which consists of ammonia.Surprisingly very tasty

    Comment by Helsinki Blog on 11/02/12 at 1:30 am #
  12. “It sticks to my teeth. It sticks to my ribs. It sticks to my fingers, it sticks to the package.”

    Well written!!! :D (LOL)

    Comment by Mackrelmint on 12/18/12 at 3:05 pm #
  13. wE have only had Panda liquorice imported into Australia Nov 2012 I assisted in bringing it into OZ as I had tasted the product in Helzinki 2011.

    I think it is the best I have tasted for many years and I retail it.

    I do not have a confectionary shop but have a huge clientel.

    There are many products in OZ that should not be on the market but it happens!
    Will be a Top seller in this country in the near future!

    Comment by JOHN MERLINO on 4/09/13 at 3:49 pm #
  14. In regards to Panda licorice I had spoken to soon, We are no longer able to purchase Panda from our Importer here in Australia.
    I have since contacted the Company in Finland but no good news!

    We are able to purchase from USA but too expensive to bring in.
    Regards,
    John

    Comment by John Merlino on 1/08/14 at 8:04 pm #

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