In early January, five people gathered for a mission that would test their limits and push them to the very edge of sanity itself. Set before them: a dizzying array of candies and confections from the Pacific Rim, some delectable, some detestable. Our travellers, soujourning in a land of candy not their own, would be exposed to the best in man's candy-creating nature, and the worst. What follows is entirely in their own words. The candies are real, and waiting for you -- if you dare.
But first, let's meet our distinguished panellists:
James: Best known for playing Ophelia in the Ralph Fiennes production of Hamlet, he immigrated to this planet in 1992.
Michael C: Inventor of the rubber band, and the only living descendant of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Michael K: The first programmer to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and the fastest draw south of Vancouver.
David: Current Scrabble World Champion, and the author of seven books, including River of Flames: A History of Turkmenistan.
Nina: Recently returned from mediating a cease-fire in the Congo, star of the PBS series Home Renovation the Nina Way.
Liz: Ranked number 8 on the NASCAR circuit, head curator of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Calbee Snow Pea Crisps
Liz: These are like cheese puffs without the cheese. You might like one.
Michael C: Why would I like one when I don't even like cheese puffs?
James: This is flavorless yuck.
Michael C: This tastes like food for pets. I don't know for which ones, though.
Michael K: I find this scary-looking. It looks so non-vegetable like.
Michael K: I could see that with time this might become an addictive snack food.
Liz: How much time are you talking about?"
Michael K: The peas have this oddly . . . pea-like aftertaste
Nina: They're that bad? Every time someone tries one, they ask for a glass of water.
Hello Kitty Lips
James: Hmmm. They're just like any other hard candy rolled in sugar that comes in a round metal tin.
James: Nice flavor, though.
Liz: It's a very mild grape.
Nina: Doesn't this defeat the whole idea that Hello Kitty has no lips?
Michael K: Or none that can be seen.
Peach Mini Fruity Gels
Liz: Ohh, ohh, it squirted!
Liz: I don't know what to do now, I can't get it open any further. Every time I open it, it squirts further.
James: Oh, I tear them open with my teeth.
Liz: It feels funny. I can't swallow it.
Michael C: Don't these pose a choking hazard to small children?
James: They have sort of a dual texture. Like jello with small cubes of coconut gel.
Michael K: They make these really disgusting noises if you slurp them.
Nina: The bag smells like a desiccant packet.
Michael C: Or like the garage in Dan's new house. Sort of a paint car smell.
Nina: Maybe it's paint thinner. See on the bag, there's a drunken cat, and this one thinks he's flying
Michael K: I need some pickled ginger. I need a palate cleanser.
James: They're sort of like sugar wafers, with a more powdery sugar filling. Less creamy, more powdery.
Liz: Less creamy, more powdery. Sounds like an advertising campaign gone wrong.
Michael K: The outside is pure cardboard.
James: It smells like lots of moving boxes.
Michael C: The new house smell, there you go.
Liz: There's no fat in this bad boy. The whole bag is considered one serving.
Michael K: Not bad, but the repeatability factor is low.
Nina: It's like eating week-old icing.
Liz: Ewwww. (winces)
Nina: You know, David has been complaining about these for a year. Every time I eat them he says he can't go anywhere near me. I thought it was just him.
James: Ewwwwwww! It's fish food!
Liz: Don't point that bag near me!
James: Put it in the fire hazard unit!
Michael C: I'm just going to put this and hide it away in the kitchenette.
Michael K: That tattoo looks like an undead triceratops.
Michael C: It's a triceratops skeleton, but it's wearing one of those dog sweaters. Like a pet corpse.
Michael K: After a bit of chewing, the gum flavor has lost its charm.
James: It's pretty ordinary gum.
Hokkaido At Last Cow Calcium Candy
Michael K: (reading from the bag) "A not too sticky, calcium-enriched candy that's both healthy and tasty."
James: This is the butteriest candy I've ever had.
Liz: It's amazing!
Nina: Isn't it? How much calcium is in it? it's like evaporate evaporated milk.
Michael K: Gets a big thumbs up from me.
Michael C: It seems like the wrapper is just permission to eat a pat of butter. See, it says that a bag is only 17% of your calcium RDA.
David: It's like biting into putty
James: Yeah, it's like the stuff we used to hang up posters back in the dorms at school.
David: I think the taste is more some consequence of a chemical reaction than something intentional.
Michael K: Grape. Caramel. Grape. Caramel. Who had this idea?
Nina: Nothing yet, no, no, I don't like it.
James: This has the texture of the stuff that dentists use to take impressions of your teeth.
Liz: And it tastes exactly like the fluoride treatment.
Michael K: Same color, too. The grainy texture brings up bad memories of the dentist. Oh, no, there's a whole bag left!
Liz: Mike will eat it.
Michael C: Hey!
Michael K: It's an instant s'more. Put it on a graham cracker, stick it in the microwave
Nina: It's like eating the Pillsbury Doughboy from Ghostbusters.
James: Pretty low-grade chocolate. Pretty low-grade marshmallow, too.
Snow Pea Crisp, Part II
Michael K: Give me another snow pea crisp.
Michael C: Huh?
Michael K: It's the closest thing to a palate cleanser we have here.
Liz: I love olives. I like them flavored with garlic.
Michael K: (moving to other end of room) but do you like them flavored with licorice?
James: (moving away also) The smell. It scares me.
Michael K: It smells just like pickled olives. It's just just that I was in a candy frame of mind, and you know, you smell pickled olives.
Michael C: How do you get an olive this hard?
Nina: Is there a pit in it?
James: Licking the surface isn't that bad.
Nina: It tastes like mold.
James: It's hard to eat these things. It's so --
Michael K: (unintelligible cry of horror)
James: Whoa. Who thought of this? This had to be an industrial accident.
Liz: I had to spit mine out.
Michael K: This is as close as I have ever gotten to hearing what could be called a sickening crunch.
Liz: Did you ever get to the center? What's in there?
Michael K: I threw mine out first. How many sickening crunches does it take to get to the center of a licorice olive?
James: I think we should go for something that would completely eradicate that taste. Let's go for the Beatles.
James: Examine the package. Skittles, I ask you?
Michael K: That's Korean ingenuity for you.
David: Skittles without the burden of the FDA and their annoying regulations. The candy company is called Orion. Like some kind of Mars imitation.
Liz: They're good.
James: Of coure they're good; they're Skittles.
David: They're kind of irregularly shaped. Maybe they're all the irregular Skittles they couldn't sell in America. Just package them up and export them to Asia.
Michael K: Look at the wrapper. None of the fab four was really a keyboardist. Is there some kind of color code with the Beatles?
Michael C: Goo goo ga joob, I am the red one!
Michael K: The mascot looks a little like Mayor McCheese.
Nina: Hey, they've got Arabic writing on them -- they were made in Indonesia. The back of the wrapper lists all these places -- Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, this is the city I was born in. This candy's been all over the place.
James: Don't eat it, you don't know where it's been.
Michael K: It's oddly tough.
Michael C: There's no burger. Pickle, mustard, and tomato.
Liz: Hey, you can disassemble these!
Michael: Is there something crunchy in these?
Liz: No, that's your imagination.
Snow Pea Crisps, Part III
Michael K: (cell phone rings, brief conversation). Hey, guys, my girlfriend says stay away from the snow peas. They make you constipated.
Liz: How many do you have to eat?
Michael K: (confers on phone) The whole bag.
James: How could anyone ever possibly eat a whole bag?
Soda Hard Candies
Nina: I want the sorry bunny.
James: It's a hard candy, slightly sour.
Nina: This says "seven vitamins," but the soda says "decavitamin." That's ten, isn't it?
Michael K: Something happened to the peach flavor of that candy when I bit it.
Nina: It went horribly wrong.
Millet Sugar Candies
James: Hey, there's a desiccant packet in here!
Liz: Millet. That's a kind of seed. My bird eats it. It smells, like . . . desiccant.
Nina: It's, ah, crunchy.
Michael K: This is not biteable. Now it's like eating a sugar cube.
Michael K: Now I've reached the treasure inside and it's chewy. But I can't taste it because of the sugar.
Liz: It's like I just drank corn syrup.
Michael K: This candy must have been a practical joke.
James: You buy it for your friends.
Michael K: It's like a Tootsie pop in that you spend all this effort to get to the middle and it's totally not worth it.
Michael C: It's unbelievable.
Nina: I can't cut through these things even with my kitchen knife.
Nina: This black part must be black sesame.
Michael K: This is the worst thing I've ever had.
James: This is just more sesame than I can handle.
Wet Lemon Peel
James: Hey, it's registered with the U.S. Patent Office.
Michael C: Are they suggesting that they're patenting this stuff?
James: Let them have it. It's disgusting!
Michael K: Lemon peel is basically inedible even before you coat it in licorice powder.
Not only do we not remember what it tasted like, we don't even remember what it was. It must have been so bad that we're blocking all memories of it.
Yogurt Chewing Candy
James: It's kind of tough to be called a chewing candy.
Michael K: How would they sell if they called them a chew toy?
Liz: The candy is getting hot as I chew it.
Nina: Mentos make your mouth cold, and this makes your mouth hot. So you can regular your mouth temperature like a thermostat.
Michael C: It doesn't seem appropriate to have to chew it. A very strange chewing consistency.
Red Coconut Ball
Nina: Can you taste the red?
Michael K: No. There's actually no point to it outside of its being red.
Liz: Whoa whubba whubba!
Michael: Aaaa! Since when is a melon sour? I taste no melon and I taste a lot of sour. This is a joke. Melon is lemon spelled differently.
Nina: This is cleverly disguised lemon candy. I bet the inside tastes like melon if you can get there.
Liz: (wordless clutching at the air)
Nina: I'm going to pop the whole thing in my mouth. . . . I'm getting my taste of the melon. The melon's coming out.
James: When I was in high school, I ate too many of these things and my tongue started to peel.
Michael: It's so not worth it.
James: I'm going to try an experiment here.
James: One melon ball, approximately 25cc of water.
James: Hmm, if you drink the tailings, it's just barely bearable at this dilution.
Liz: I'm going to take them with me to school to feed to students who are annoying me.
James: This is not your ordinary good superpower. This is like radioactive mutation superpower.
Michael C: Like the Hulk, you know, the whole green skin thing.
Nina: This may be worse than the Super Lemon. At least the Super Lemon has the lemony taste. But this is pure sour.
Li Hing Mui Flavored Sour Patch Kids
James: They look like sour patch kids that were left somewhere for years.
Liz: They smell pretty nasty.
Michael K: They're kind of salty. They remind me of the olives.
James: (reading aloud) Ingredients: sugar, glucose, modifed corn starch, plum, licorice.
Michael K: Licorice! That's why it reminded me of the olives.
James: I'm trying to keep it away from the bitter part of my tongue.
Michael K: My tongue feels pretty bitter after all of this.
James: My tongue's pretty bitter -- at me.
Michael K: This is the worst sour patch kid ever. It's horrible. At least there's a reason for their existing. I thought they were just a cheap knockoff, but there must be a market somewhere for licorice-flavored Sour Patch Kids.
Michael C: I'd say they taste worse than they look.
Mango Pudding Cups
Liz: It has the same consistency as the peach cups, even though it says 'pudding'.
Nina: Definitely false advertising.
Michael K: This is definitely not sour. And no plums in it, either.
James: None of this plum stuff we've had tastes like plum.
Michael K: It tastes like this mythical Chinese idea of plum I've had all my life.
Nina: Have you ever had a plum in China?
Michael K: Well, no.
Nina: It tastes too much like a mango to be good,
Michael K: It tastes like that part of the mango too near the pit.
Nina: I be that's what they use that part of the mango for. They use the outside of the mango to make yummy mango things. They make this out of scrapings from the inside.
Michael K: So this is like mango offal?
High Class Focus Plum Candy
Michael K: This brings to mind all the really bad feelings from the smells that would go through the house when my dad would make this herb broth.
Michael K: Look at this bag. If they're picking them plums when they're green, no wonder they wound up like this.
James: (after smelling) You know, Mike, you're right, we really don't need to eat this.
Michael C: You know, it doesn't smell that bad.
Liz: You eat one, then.
Michael K: It looks like New Mexico.
James: New Mexico?
Michael K: Yes, those red river rocks near the mountains.
Michael C: (emits sickening crunch)
Michael C: (reaches for water)
Michael C: (downs half the glass, then the rest)
Michael C: (drink's Liz's glass of water)
Michael C: (throws plum away)
Michael K: Michael has tasted a world no man should taste.
James: Can you describe the inside, maybe in terms of colors?
Michael C: The inside was kind of, like, darker, like brown. It looked like there was a nut in there or something.
James: Why am I bothering resealing this?
Nina: There's actually a seed in here you're not supposed to eat. The outer part is the dried flesh, down under all the sour powder.
James: But why?
Nina: We should save this for Halloween.
Michael K: That's so cruel.
Michael C: I'm never trick-or-treating again.
James: I think we need something kind of mild-mannered now.
Nina: They're cute.
Michael K: We can't win.
Liz: No, it's a funny flavor.
Michael C: They're sweet.
Liz: It's vomit-flavored.
Michael K: Ballpoint pen ink. This is horrible. It was fine until I thought of what it was.
James: How do you know what ballpoint pen ink tastes like?
Michael K: I don't use ballpoint pens, because the smell of the ink gets to me.
James: This tastes like there's something burning inside of it.
Shrimp Crisps Redux
Michael K: I think some shrimp crisps would be good now. They're actually addictive after the first time or so.
James: That I don't believe.
Michael K: I've never actually poked my nose into a bag and smelled them before.
Michael C: Is that the mistake?
Michael K: I think that is the mistake.
Botan Rice Candy
Michael K: You can eat the inner paper.
Nina: But not the outer wrapper. That's cellophane.
Liz: It melts in your mouth.
Michael C: You can get a kick out of these sorts of candies in school. You can try to impress your friends. Oh, look, I ate the wrapper. Then it dawns on you that they don't care. They just think you're a freak.
James: Ooh, look at the sticker.
Nina: It's a decapitated cat.
Michael C: It's a raccoon.
Liz: There's the driver. He's backing up.
Michael K: Is he backing up, or is this a roadkill warning?
Liz: What's in this one?
Michael K: Plum.
James: Yes. (sighs) There are still two types of plum candies left.
Lemon Peel Candy
Nina: How did we wind up with two lemon peel candies?
Michael C: Why does the world need two lemon peel candies?
James: Duty calls, but I can't bring myself to do it.
Michael K: Up until today, I didn't know that there was licorice in Asia.
James: They must have so much they don't know what to do with it.
Michael K: This looks like mold.
Liz: Oh my God.
Michael K: Don't smell it, just eat it.
James: It's like musty licorice.
Michael K: It starts soft and lemony, then it turns to licorice.
James: The aftertaste is awful.
Michael K: Pure licorice aftertaste.
James: It lingers and it burns, like the melon powder. Keep away from open sores.
Michael K: Have any of the things that we bought because they loooked weird actually tasted good?
Michael C: The burgers tasted OK.
Michael K: No, things that actually look like they've been swept off the floor.
Michael C: You know, that sprig of parsley over there is looking really good.
Michael K: Actually, that parsley has more in common with that lemon peel candy.
Liz: (quietly munching on water crackers)
Michael K: We have learned to avoid all the stuff that looks like nether organs.
James: There are two principles at work here. One, all the plum stuff tastes horrible. Two, all the stuff that's processed has been fine. So let's eat the processed plum candy.
Michael K: That's a paradox.
James: Immovable stone, impossible force?
Michael K: It's kind of like Mini Me in a plum.
Nina: Is this the one with the vinegar in it?
Michael K: Is there licorice in the ingredients too?
James: (checks) No.
Liz: (reads from lable) Plum, vinegar, salt, MSG, organic acids.
James: It starts with plum, then they grind it up, then they put it back together in the shape of a plum. An exercise in food cycle futility. It has a tough coating, aaaaaaaa!
James: You bit into it, and something squirts out. Something . . . alien.
Liz: Get a tissue.
James: It's vinegar squirting out. Vinegar!
Liz: (to Michael C) How's it going?
Michael C: Nothing's happened. Nothing at all.
James: I take it all back. This is a real plum. It hasn't been ground up, it's been putrefied in vinegar. In vinegar. It only looks like it's been processed.
Michael K: So the two principles remain inviolate.
James: Can you name a single American candy that uses vinegar?
Liz: Maybe Sour Patch Kids.
Green Tea Marshmallows
James: I can't tell good or bad anymore. It's just sort of safe-tasting. At least with every bite, I taste less of the plum vinegar.
Michael K: I'm starting to feel like Roger Ebert, you know, I don't like anything.
Michael C: I bit it in half and started squeezing it and then this little tongue emerged.
Liz: It tastes like a green tea teabag.
Plums in Corn Syrup
James: : We're basically done.
Michael K: This looks like plum.
James: There's no licorice, there's no vinegar. How bad can it be?
Michael K: Well, just give me one that's completely encased. With this one the pit was peeking out.
James: I'm prepared to spit this out very quickly.
Michael K: The problem is you'll be sucking along, feeling fine, and then a nasty little surprise will jump out at you.
James: It's basically your standard sugar/corn syrup hard candy.
Michael C: I'm doing okay. I've got it completely in my mouth.
Michael K: It's okay.
Nina: It's just corn syrup.
Michael K: Yeah, except for the plum.
Michael C: I'm going to have to spit this out soon.
Nina: Children all over the world are starving.
Michael K: You know, I think they're not going to get much nutrition out of these.
James: I think they'd refuse to eat this.
Nina: I think my tooth just got pulled out of its socket.
Michael K: I've got another great idea. Let's pour corn syrup around a mushroom!
Michael K: Well, I learned something important today.
Michael K: Avoid plums, licorice, vinegar, and, oh yes, brackish sesame seed.