Back on Friday, I went to Cardullo's, the gourmet food store next to the Greenhouse in the Square. Along with the other tasty treats they stock, Cardullo's has a rather impressive collection of imported candy. I made a beeline for that section, and purchased samples of eight different varieties of the most bizzare-looking candies I could find. In the name of Science, I was determined to try them and report back on the results. Here, then, are the conclusions from my experiment on "The Effects of Various Sugar Delivery Systems on a College Student."
Billed as "The flakiest crumbliest milk chocolate," this chocolate product comes in a long thin wrapper, and, at first glance, looks just like a slightly stretched-out chocolate bar. On closer inspection, however, the finer details of shape resolve, and one realizes that it is actually a large and thin sheet of chocolate that has been folded over onto itself many times. As a technique for folding air into a product, I've got to hand it to them, it's pretty clever.
As promised, Cadbury's flake is extremely flaky. Little crumbly bits wind up all over the table, and the wrapper is filled with tiny choclate grains when my lab partner and I have finished consuming the bar. As another technique for increasing the amount of their product you need to buy in order to ingest enough chocolate to satisfy your chocolust, it is also a very clever trick.
Unfortunately, texture aside, Cadbury's Flake is made with distinctly low-quality chocolate. The taste is stale and thin, with strong waxy notes and a slightly acrid mouth feel. To be fair, it may have been sitting on a shelf for too long, especially given that it's an imported candy, but Cadbury's Flake really rose head-and-shoulders above the rest in displaying this stale taste, and I cannot let this failing in the product under test pass without comment. Flakiness is also not a feature which remains detectable for more than the first few fractions of a second after you pop it in your mouth. On balance, the minuses outweigh the plusses, and Cadbury's Flake must rank as an intriguing idea that went wrong on its way to market.
Cadbury's Mint Crisp
Cadbury's redeems itself with this slightly more traditional item. Featuring "mint chocolate with honeycombed granules," the Mint Crisp looks an awful lot like a garden-variety chocolate bar, divided into segments for easy division. The key question on my mind is whether "honeycombed granules" means that the Mint Crisp contains actual honeycomb (or some close replica) or somthing else entirely.
As it transpires, the "honeycombed granules" are in fact small very hard bits of minty candy. They have roughly the material properties one would expect from candy canes ground into nuggets the size of coarse grains of sand. Cadbury's, it would appear, is obsessed with texture, since most of their products seem to be about starting with a standard flavor base and ringing the changes on the various substrates those flavors can be embedded within.
Where the Mint Crisp distinguishes itself from its evil Flake sibling is in the quality of its chocolate. The Mint Crisp has a reasonably tasty chocolate, with a strong but well-balanced mint flavor. Once again, taste proves its primacy over texture: although the "honeycombed granules" are slightly annoying, the Mint Crisp remains an enjoyable mint chocolate experience. The embedded-granule technique might work better if the flavor contrast between the fossil-like granules and their chocolate matrix were stronger: perhaps Chicken Crisp or Cognac Crisp would might redeem Cadbury's investment in advanced honeycombing technology.
I didn't know what this was when I bought it. I still have no idea. It comes in a yellow-and-orange roll about four inches long and an inch in diameter. One end is solidly sealed; at the other, the paper is folded over a small black nubbin. It reminds me of nothing quite so much as a firecracker. Perhaps if one sets the nubbin alight and stands back, it will explode in a fountain of sherbet.
Upon peeling back the paper at this end, the nubbin is revealed as the end of a strand of some black substance extending down into the cylinder's interior, where it disappears into a white powder that appears to fill most of the roll. Our laboratory team reports that taste testing revealed the black substance to be licorice. And as for the powder? It tastes like an equal mixture of sugar and chalk. Sweet, yes, but strangely bland and with strange overtones of children's vitamin pills and binding agents and who knows what.
Still puzzled, I turned to the label for help. Other than a helpful comment that "Contents may settle in transit. Tap gently to loosen powder," the label provided no help at all in figuring out how to drink from the promised "fountain." Is the sherbet fountain just fun dip as implemented by someone unclear on the concept, making the licorice stick a dipping agent? Or is it a grossly oversized pixie stick, to be upended and consumed straight, with the licorice stick just a bonus prize? Does one dunk the whole thing in water and stir? Your guess is as good as mine.
And as for that mysterious white powder, after reading the ingredients list, I'm more confused than ever. "Sugar, treacle, wheat flour, cornflour, sodium bicarbonate, citric acid, tartaric acid, anti-caking agent, caramel, liquorice extract, flavorings," it says. Sugar I can deal with. But baking soda, two kinds of flour, and treacle? Treacle?
What is this candy? I do not know. I can conclude only that the British are strange, and the candy-buying British stranger still.
My roommate Keith tipped me off to this candy from the Commonwealth, which he was introduced to during his semester in Australia. Keith has some very interesting commentary on foreign candy: apparently, Australian candy is very much like American candy, only the names have been permuted. An Australian Snickers, for example, is identical to an American Milky Way. The Australian Milky Way, on the other hand, is suspiciously similar to an American Three Musketeers. But I digress.
Aero, made by the bastards at Nestle who don't sell their really good stuff here in the States, is chocolate with air bubbles whipped into it. On one level, it is another trick to get consumers to pay for air along with their chocolate. But to see Aero only this way is to overlook the remarkable mouth feel that results. As you bite into an Aero, it resists with a satisfyingly chewy feel. And I can only describe the feeling that results as an Aero starts to melt in your mouth as the feeling that chocolate is materializing out of the air and depositing itself on your tongue.
To cap off the Aero Aexperience, an Aero is made with pretty good chocolate. The mint flavor is especially well done: subtle, yet solid. In Aero, texture and flavor work together in harmonious concert, yielding a chocolate bar that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Cadbury's could learn a lot from the Aero about how to use texture properly.
Interestingly enough, the main use of Aero among Australian college students is as a mixer for vodka; molten Aero and alcohol are, if not mutually soluble, close enough for shot purposes. Since the air bubbles vanish during the microwaving process, to consome one's Aero in such a way is to negate the single most distingushing feature of an Aero bar. Such are the ironies of candy.
Do not eat Klene Zout. Learn from my mistake. Do not eat Klene Zout.
Klene Zout is salted licorice. Salted licorice, for those who have not been introduced, tastes as though it were unsweetened. It is foul stuff. Foul foul foul. I had to wash my mouth out after trying one. Chase tried one, too, and experienced similar revulsion.
Klene Zout has one redeeming feature. It's from Holland, and the ingredients list is in Hollandaise, and therefore a lot of fun:
"Zoute drop. Ingredienten: suiker, gemodificeerd zetmeel, geleermiddle (elwit), glucosestroop, zoethoutwortelextract, tarwebloem, kluerstof (carbo medicinalis vegetabilis), aroma (anijsolie), glansmiddelen (plantaardige olie, bijenwas)."
I thought "suiker" meant "sugar." I was wrong. It means "sucker."
Red Band Top Drop
What is it with these Europeans and their salted licorice? The only difference between Red Band Top Drop and Klene Zout appears to be that the former come in individual wrappers. Although the rest of the lab staff pleaded with me not to try one, in light of the devastation the Klene Zout had wrought, I persevered. On behalf of candy-lovers everywhere, I maintained, it was my responsibility, nay, my sacred duty, to prove or refute the hypothesis that Red Band Top Drop is a good candy.
My lab staff were right; I did not yet truly comprehend the horror that is salted licorice. After a few seconds of dutiful chewing and a very thorough mouthwashing, I was able to pull myself together sufficiently to report that the hypothesis had indeed been resoundingy refuted. Red Band Top Drop is not a good candy. It is not even candy. "Poison" would be a better description.
Yes, these Europeans are crazy. I could understand there being enough odd Europeans with no taste buds to support a salted licorice brand. After all, they do sell sauerkraut juice here in the States. But two brands of salted licorice drops? Who on earth COMPARISION SHOPS for salted licorice drops? Consumer society really has gone over the edge.
Despite the promising name, Walnut Whip is actually a rather humdrum candy. It's more or less a conical Mallomar, minus the cookie bottom. A creamy semi-marshmallowy vanilla core is surrounded with a chocolate shell. It tastes good, as a Mallomar should, but with such an allitertive and vaguely suggestive name, I was expecting something more.
The "walnut" is also something of a misnomer: there is nothing walnutty whatsoever about the whipped core. Instead, the whole thing is topped with a walnut. This strikes me as a flimsy hook on which to hang an entire candy. If your Mallomar clone is going to be the one which distinguishes itself by having the walnut and then naming itself after the walnut, it had better be sufficiently elite to justify the arrogrance. The Walnut Whip is fundamentally not an elite candy. The walnut is like a hood ornament on a Yugo: pure pretense.
Perhaps I may have been unfairly disposed toward the Walnut Whip by the overall resemblance of the candy, in color and shape, to a turd. The rest of our lab staff, however, was similarly underwhelmed by the WW's flavor. Not a bad candy, but definitely a step backwards for Nestle after their superb Aero.
A British gummy candy that comes in a roll. A glance at the colors indicates that these are not your ordinary gummy candy: yellows, greens, and blacks. The design, too, is off-kilter: each circular candy bears on its obverse the name of a dessert wine: "Sherry," or "Port VSOP," or "Sack." Their texture is a thick, sticky variety of gummy. The taste is sweet and fruity, with extremely strange hints, undertones, and aftertaste. They don't taste like wine. They don't taste like anything else I've ever had. They don't taste bad. They just taste odd. It would seem that while people from the Continent can very easily come up with candy that nobody else will eat, it takes the Brits to come up with candy that nobody else can identify. If they're feeding their youngsters Wine Gums and Sherbet Fountains, is it any wonder those kids grow up to make movies like Trainspotting?
The other strange thing about Wine Gums is that the package states very clearly in large letters "contains no wine." After tasting them, I can confirm this fact. What's more, having tasted them, I don't know how anyone could eat one and think that it contained wine. One might suspect that this warning is presented as a truth-in-advertising defense, so that nobody would buy a roll of Wine Gums and then be disappointed at their sudden failure to taste like wine. But this just begs the question: who would willingly buy, other than for scientific purposes, candy that doest taste like wine?
In the end, it's a mystery to me. Gummi Bears don't come with the disclaimer "contains no bears." You don't see "contains no babies" on a Baby Ruth. Apparently, some things man was just not meant to know.
Report of Findings
In closing, I'd just like to say one thing. Do not eat Klene Zout. All other candies of the world shall be tasty unto thee, but forsake the salted licorice, for it is foul and an offense unto the fair name of candy everywhere.