Monday, August 2, 2010
Switzer’s Chewy Licorice Bits
In 1888 Frederick Switzer founded F.M. Switzer and Co. in St. Louis. He sold licorice and other sugar-based penny candy from a push cart along the riverfront. The company did well and even managed to make it through the sugar shortages of World War II by concentrating solely on their licorice line since it required less sugar than other candies. In 1966 the Switzer family sold the company to Beatrice Foods. The company continued to thrive and by 1968 a second factory was added and the company became the largest licorice manufacturer in North America. As I’ve chronicled elsewhere on Candy Blog, Leaf then bought the Beatrice candy companies then Leaf was sold to Hershey’s. Hershey’s split up some of the Leaf product lines and sold some off and simply discontinued others that competed with their existing lines ... Switzer competed with Twizzlers.
So about eight years ago the Switzer grandsons decided to re-boot the abandoned company. It took a while, but by 2005 the candy was on store shelves in the St. Louis area and Cracker Barrel stores. About 18 months ago I finally spotted it in Ohio, but it wasn’t until my trip last month that I finally picked up a bag of their classic, real Switzer’s Black Chewy Licorice Bits.
I remember eating Switzer’s as a kid, the “bar” format was popular in vending machines in Ohio and back then there were pricing tiers for sugar candy and chocolate candy. Sugar candy was often quite cheap and that was attractive to a gal who would get her candy money from checking phone booth coin slots and pennies on the street. Despite the achievement of acquiring it, I don’t recall how much I liked it.
The bag of nibs was well priced for something that wasn’t on sale. The 10 ounce bag is generous and I like the nibs because they’re simply one bite. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then molasses, wheat flour, corn starch, water, sunflower oil, caramel color, licorice extract, salt and anise oil.
The candies are shiny and that gloss on them is sticky. But still, they’re fresh which is a plus. The bite is firm and slightly crumbly when chewed. They don’t stick to my teeth the way that some of the Aussie style stuff does. The flavor is odd, at first I was getting a strong rose note with the bitter molasses. The anise is stronger than the licorice, but the overall effect is that the candy isn’t too sweet. It’s not as molasses-y as I prefer, but the woodsy notes are decent. The texture didn’t end up satisfying me, maybe there wasn’t enough wheat flour in there.
It’s a unique flavor profile, much richer than Twizzlers or Red Vines but still in the same price range. The flavor was more like the new Broadway Rolls than Kookaburra or Panda licorice. I would probably buy these in the single-serve bars in a vending machine or convenience store if I was in the mood for mass-manufactured licorice. But it in no way dethrones my favorite, Good & Plenty.
More information about Switzer’s history: St. Louis Business Journal (2005), News Tribune (2005), a faded ad mural plus more shots of the old factory, a 1955 ad featuring Switzer’s as a low calorie candy, and a trade ad that also shows licorice suckers from the 70s.
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