Wednesday, November 2, 2022

#57 - Walker's Nonsuch English Creamy Toffees

Writing a proper candy review requires a considerable amount of of research, and when it comes to resources for said research, the Internet is (unlike any professional sports team based in Cleveland) hard to beat. The Internet (as you are surely aware) is a series of tubes created by Al Gore on January 1, 1983, and it is just bursting at the streams (a little pun for you) with information, some of which is actually correct!

For instance, you might already know that the common key component in caramel, butterscotch, and toffee is burnt sugar, but if you were to do an Internet search to learn what differentiates one from the other, the first page of results alone would be enough to enlighten you with facts such as:

  • Caramel is cooked at a lower heat than toffee
  • Caramel is cooked at a higher heat than toffee
  • Caramel is made with white sugar, while butterscotch and toffee are made with brown sugar
  • American toffee is made with white sugar, while English toffee is made with brown sugar
  • The only difference between butterscotch and toffee is that butterscotch is cooked to a soft-crack sugar stage, whereas toffee is cooked to a hard-crack stage
  • Toffee is cooked to a soft-crack stage, but can also be cooked to a hard-crack stage

So I guess that settles that!

During your investigation, you might also learn that the word "toffee" is an alteration of the word "taffy," yet another burnt-sugar delicacy (just to add more confusion to the mix). And while we're on the subject of word origins, your research could very well lead you to the old British term "toffee-nosed," which means "pretentious or snobbish" and is in reference to the brownish nasal discharge of high-society snuff-takers (and what could more appealing to read about in a candy blog than brownish nasal discharges?).

Except that it's not (unless maybe it is, but probably isn't; origin stories are never as consistent as one would like). Because most sources prefer the explanation that "toffee-nosed" has nothing to do with the sugary treat, but is instead an alternate spelling of "toffy-nosed," derived from "toff," which is a derogatory word for members (or wannabes) of the upper class and is itself derived from the word "tuft" (referring to the golden tassels worn by titled undergraduates at the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge).

To sum it up, the British are really bad at keeping their words straight.

Thankfully, all of the sources I discovered agreed on at least one thing: toffee is hard and brittle.

And that provides the perfect segue to today's subject: Walker's Nonsuch English Creamy Toffees.

Everything you know is wrong.

When Americans hear the name "Walker's" in relation to British goods, their mind undoubtedly thinks of shortbread. See, way back in 1898, a man named Joseph Walker took out a £50 loan to open a shop wherein he could sell baked goods and confections; he was particularly proud of his shortbread recipe, which he considered to be the world's finest. And from those humble beginnings, Walker's Shortbread has today become Scotland's largest food exporter, shipping all over the world.

It's a nice, heartwarming story, isn't it? Unfortunately, it has even less to do with today's candy than brownish nasal discharges.

The real story is completely different (I can't emphasize enough just how different it is; I also can't help feeling I've been through this before)!

Way back in 1894, a man named Edward Joseph Walker (see, he has "Edward" before "Joseph") opened a shop wherein he could sell confections; he was particularly proud of his toffee (see, toffee, not shortbread) recipe. And from those humble beginnings, Walker's Nonsuch is today shipping its toffee all over the world (and just for the record, "nonsuch" means "unmatched; without equal").

So, basically, the 1890s were a good time for men named Walker to open sweets shops (it also helped if there was a "Joseph" somewhere in there).

The package design is very well done, seamlessly blending modern style and nostalgia. It takes me back to my early days as a young sweets fiend, when I would daydream of waking up early to join the local dog in chasing delivery trucks leaving the candy factory, a kite on a short string firmly grasped in my hand and a flock of large birds ominously circling above me.

It's nearly enough to bring a tear to my eye (and a brownish discharge to my nose)!

We're off to a good start!

If you're looking for a healthy snack, you've come to the wrong place. Welcome!

The "best before" date is on the back, with an Americanized nutrition facts panel sticker applied just below (covering... who knows what?). If one were to assume the date was in the American format, I would've had my first piece with a few days to spare. Of course, one would be wrong in assuming that (so why would one do that?), as this is an English candy, so I missed the date by a mile (time is not traditionally measured by miles, but "a mile" makes me feel marginally better than "six months"). This is partially (i.e. mostly) due to me being the "one" who assumed incorrectly (I really need to review more regularly to avoid such rookie mistakes).

But I decided to carry on with the review and stop only if I believed my error would prevent the possibility of a fair assessment.

The nutrition panel contained no surprises (it was slightly faded due to its age; the original data, which is thankfully available elsewhere on the package, held up much better). I mean, we're talking about a sweet consisting mainly of sugar and butter, so what would one expect aside from sugar and fat?

The only point of interest is that comparing the American and English panels is a futile endeavor. No matter how I worked the math, I could not get the nutritional information to match between the two. Whether that is due to approximations throwing things off or due to one or both parties involved using the Internet to guide their measurements, I cannot say (an Internet search provided a third set of numbers which did not match either one). But it does suggest one should take the data provided on nutrition facts panels with a grain of salt (I mean that figuratively here, though toffee recipes do often call for salt).

A list so short, they decided to repeat it. A lot.

The ingredients are listed in no less (and, for that matter, no more) than eight languages (and salt is indeed included). Aside from glyceryl monostearate (commonly called GMS, not to be confused with MSG), it's all pretty straightforward. Again, what do you expect? It's toffee (and a 19th century recipe, to boot).

I'm not going to lie: I am a big fan of toffee, and thus far Walker's Nonsuch English Creamy Toffees had been batting a thousand (truly living up to the "Nonsuch" designation). If these little candies weren't every bit as wonderful in reality as they were in my truck-chasing, kite-wielding childhood dreams, I was going to be very disappointed.

Either way, I had a job to do, so I cautiously opened the bag and poured a few pieces out...

About 40g of toffee if you're English, or about 50g if you're American.

Outside of the package (with no nostalgic scene to distract the eye), the individually-wrapped toffees appeared just a hair less enticing. It's not that there was any fault at all with the design, but I couldn't help being reminded of the sort of treat an elderly woman would let sit in her purse for years (possibly even from Edward Joseph Walker's first batch in 1894) until the opportunity arose to offer one to an unsuspecting child.

Then I remembered the "best before" date, and it hit me: I am that elderly woman, my candy stash is that purse, and I am that unsuspecting child (yes, I play multiple parts in this scenario). So, who am I to judge? It's not as if I'm Lord Justice Mummery or something (if you don't get that reference, you might care to read my Nestlé Polo review).

Thus, I unwrapped a piece of toffee and put it in my mouth.

Mr. Walker, you were obviously some sort of wizard!

I absolutely loved everything about it. It was like an easier-on-the teeth caramel (which makes sense) in the best possible way (I've been known to eat more caramels than I should, believe it or not). I suppose the texture and consistency might not have fully demonstrated the intended creaminess due to the age of the product (and some looked a tad... different), but I didn't care. It tasted of sweet, sweet sugar and luscious fat, and my taste buds danced in ecstasy.

Therefore, I gladly rate Walker's Nonsuch English Creamy Toffees a well-deserved 4. Not only would I buy them again some day, I am eagerly awaiting that day!

So, to the fine folks at Walker's Nonsuch Toffee, I applaud you and thank you for continuing your great grandfather's legacy. He would no doubt be as proud of you as of his toffee.

And that is truly saying something!

Consisting mostly of sugar and fat,
The Sweets Fiend

Math that does add up: sugar + butter + heat = YUM!

Sunday, October 2, 2022

#56 - Messori Cono Snack (Choco Parties)

Are you ready to party? In case you didn't know (and if you didn't, you have my deepest sympathy), a party is a social gathering, typically featuring food and/or planned activities. The word "party" is derived from the Latin word "partire," which is defined as "share, divide up, or distribute," which I'd wager implies that the fun of a party is meant to be shared by all ("partir" means "to leave" in French, indicating that they are not ready to party; except when used in the phrase "partir un affaire," meaning "start a business," because French, like all languages, makes no sense).

Parties (as far as we know) date back to before mankind began documenting events (maybe early parties weren't good enough to be worth remembering, or maybe they were so wildly memorable that documentation was deemed unnecessary), because, as a general rule, people like being around other people (or, at the very least, around a small number of select people). As the saying goes, "the more the merrier" (actually, the original expression was "the more the merrier; the fewer, the better fare," which is a less snappy but more optimistic sentiment overall).

The popularity of parties is evident in the sheer number of types of parties: there are birthday parties, dance parties, and Christmas parties; office parties, Halloween parties, and costume parties (which are often themselves Halloween parties); slumber parties, house parties, and pool parties.

The list goes on and on (and on and on and on). There are even choco parties, where chocolate treats masquerade as ice cream cones.

Don't believe me? Well, then, let me introduce you to today's sweet: Messori Cono Snack Choco Parties!

Party of one...

Messori is a family-owned Italian chocolate/confectionery company that was founded in 1929, so they've got nearly a century of candy making under their belt (an expression which acquired its modern meaning around the same time). A brief perusal of their website and online catalog suggests they view themselves as more of a luxury brand (perhaps I will need to put on some fancier pants), with the Cono Snack being one of their more fanciful offerings (or perhaps I won't). I appreciate the fact that their website not only lists Messori's key players, but also provides pictures of said key players. It is always an unexpected and pleasant surprise to behold the faces behind the products. That being said, I find it particularly ironic that (at the time of this writing, anyway) the picture poorest in quality (and it's not even close) belongs to the head of quality control, Luca Montorsi (who nevertheless seems quite the amiable fellow).

Let's hope that's not a bad sign. Anyhow, let's get on to the packaging...

According to Messori's Cono Snack page, "the biggest innovation is that this product looks like an icecream but it is not!" And I have to say that, biggest innovation or not, the packaging does indeed appear to contain a miniature Drumstick ice cream.

So my first impression is basically positive, though I would not exactly say I was dazzled. While the design is certainly competent, fun, and effective, the font choices and artwork styles do not feel altogether harmonious (which I guess is much like a real party, or at least what I imagine a real party would be like if I were to be invited to one). Additionally, the wrapper is starting to unravel (might possibly be my fault), and a small bit of chocolate seems to have spilled out (or drooled?) onto the top of the package.

In other words, my "Cono Snack Choco Party" more resembles a "Cono Snack Choco After the Party" (perhaps I won't need to put on any pants at all).

Every party must eventually come to an end. Unless it's a West Coast party. Obviously.

The "best before" date is conveniently located on the top of the cone, and it looks like I missed it by more than a couple of months, doesn't it? But, as usual, putting up this review was a long time coming, and I did actually make the "best before" date with a couple of days to spare.

Still, my consumption of the treat occurred near the end of the "party," so to speak, and I will keep that in mind during my assessment.

Really, you'd think I'd be able to eat my sweets in a timely manner, wouldn't you? But, alas, I forget about them more often than I'd care to admit, as they're hidden in storage.

You know what they say: "Out of sight, out of mind."

Speaking of things being out of sight, the ingredients list gets a bit lost as the packaging wraps around the cone:

No party is complete without at least one illegal substance.

Now, as Messori desires to be viewed as a quality confections company, they like to throw around buzzwords and proudly proclaim that they do not use GMOs or artificial colors or preservatives (or whatever is currently undesirable), which is why a chocolate ice cream cone imitation contains red cabbage, black currant, and the like. So things are looking good for those who are intimidated (or frightened) by scientific-sounding ingredients (I don't mean to single out Messori here; "appealing to nature" is a popular and potent trend in marketing these days, despite having no basis in reality).

But Messori's irony does not end with the picture of Luca Montorsi (who, again, seems like a fine individual), because hiding in the list is titanium dioxide (how's that for a scientific-sounding ingredient?), which has recently (as in since my Cono Snack was produced) been banned in Europe (but not the UK).

Basically, I'm putting my life on the line for you, dear reader(s). And things may become even more dangerous for me once we get to the nutrition facts panel.

So let's get straight to that, shall we?

Confession: I took this photo AFTER I unwrapped the cone, for your convenience.

It is always refreshing to see a serving size listed as one package. And, honestly, things don't look so bad. It's higher in fat (and calories) than your average candy bar, but it's also lower in sodium. Also, I have just the one, so I've no chance of gorging myself on fake ice cream cones even if I want to (and based on the fat content, I'm thinking I might want to).

But make no mistake, even without artificial colors or flavorings, Cono Snack Choco Parties are by no means a healthy food (though how a "healthy" food is defined changes from time to time; in fact, the FDA just changed their definition last week, so, with a little luck, Cono Snack Choco Parties just might make the list eventually).

With all the packaging work taken care of, it was time to get the party started and open up my Cono Snack!

The fewer, the better fare?

As the outside clues had suggested, my "ice cream cone" had had a rough go at this partying business. It's as if it suffered an earthquake in the M6-M7 range (fun earthquake fact: the media generally still reports earthquake magnitude values in reference to the Richter scale, even though it was replaced by the moment magnitude scale about 50 years ago, because science and keeping up to date are hard).

Cracks are visible from the tip of the cone to the village of "candies" resting on top. It is a tragic scene to witness for any candy lover, and outright heartbreaking for a sweets fiend. What makes it even worse is that I could not help but feel that it was at least partly my fault for not eating it sooner (though, again, I did technically beat the recommended date).

Furthermore, the cone's consistency was softer than I knew it should have been, which is probably what led to the disaster at (or in?) hand.

Tragedy, indeed.

I felt it was my duty to put it out of its misery in a respectable (or at least quick) fashion.

See those white candies? They're coated in scrumptious titanium dioxide!

I had my doubts, for sure, but I took a preliminary nibble from the top.

I was not disappointed (one might even say I was slightly dazzled)!

The chocolate top, fractured candies and all, was outright delicious, far exceeding my greatest hopes. My thoughts during the eating process consisted mostly of variations on "Wow, this is a lot better than I was expecting!"

As I approached the cone portion, my taste buds were brought back to reality.

Not that it was bad, by any means; despite the softened consistency, the cone was quite tasty. But, much like the fonts on the wrapper, the dark chocolate inner lining and caramel filling did not play together as well as I'd have liked. Granted, I prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate, but I think the real problem was that, due to the premature aging of the product, the caramel (which might have been less smooth than intended) had become one with the dark chocolate, each component losing its individual voice.

Due to the condition of my Cono Snack, it might not be entirely fair for me to give a rating, but given my extensive background in candy reviews, and given that my ratings are completely meaningless anyway, I am rating Cono Snack Choco Parties a solid 3. To be honest, my initial leaning was towards a 2 (I could not rule out the possibility that my enjoyment of the top was due to low expectations), but I do in fact think I would buy one for myself on occasion; it truly gave an authentic chocolatey ice cream cone experience, minus the ice cream . In fact, if I do come across one in the future, I will most certainly buy at least one for comparison (maybe two or three, just to check up on Luca Montorsi's work).

If you come across one in the future, I'd recommend you try it out, too. It's good, clean fun (well, the caramel could get pretty messy, I guess).

And how many parties can you say that about, really?

Sharing, dividing up, and distributing a love of candy,
The Sweets Fiend

P.S. I can't believe I made it all the way to the end without making a "party pooper" joke. I'm so proud of myself!

Nope, no ice cream here. If that's not the biggest innovation, I don't know what is.

Monday, May 11, 2020

#55 - Fazer Dumle original

Dreams are funny (as in strange) things. When I say "dreams," I mean the sort one has while asleep, as opposed to the goals and aspirations one has while fully awake (though those can at times be just as confusing and unrealistic, not to mention also funny (not necessarily as in strange)).

For instance, when I dream, I am a Dr. Who of sorts (I was originally going to link to information about Dr. Who here but decided that if you are not at all familiar with the character after 50+ years and 800+ episodes, you're on your own), traveling through space and time as if the laws of the universe did not apply to me (my subconscious self is such a rebel).

One instant I will be in an off-brand version of my childhood home with a combination of my brothers and/or sisters and any other random people who feel inclined to disturb my slumber, and the next I'll be driving on a road which is, for no apparent reason, several hundred feet in the air (and, as usual, my brakes don't work). And at the time it does not in the least strike me as bizarre that there was no explanation for how I got from point A to point B (which probably explains my writing).

It would be like my father-in-law and I watching a Charles Bronson film (don't judge me) which was missing thirty minutes of footage (cut so that two Charles Bronson movies would fit onto one budget DVD) and not being even slightly perplexed as to why there was suddenly a car chase scene involving antagonists we had never seen before (for the record, we were more than slightly perplexed and figured both of us had fallen asleep and then woken up synchronously).

But poorly edited (or, for that matter, poorly written) movies aside, I had always assumed that the sudden transportation phenomenon was exclusive to the realm of dreams.

Then I went to Ikea.

It being my first time and all (which you would know, if you paid attention), I was unprepared for the fact that walking through an Ikea store is an experience very much like my dreams: you find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless series of different (yet strangely connected) rooms and locations which seem real enough, but also seem to be just convincing facsimiles of reality (because that's what they are), and as you walk from one to the next, there is a sense of being transported into a different house altogether. Only it's not a house, of course. And there are people everywhere you've never met who don't live there (unless they've given up on ever finding the exit), yet they seem familiar, because perhaps you've encountered them in another room. Or in your dreams. And everything is for sale (okay, that bit's less like my dreams; also the brakes did not go out on the car).

It's all very surreal.

So you follow the arrows, because you've lost all sense of direction but trust there must be an end somewhere, and when you've all but given up hope and your belly is empty, you finally arrive at the cafeteria, which offers a selection of food items (which are admittedly quite good) to purchase, including Swedish meatballs (because, honestly, what dream ends without Swedish meatballs making an appearance?).

Anyhow, as much as I enjoyed the entire journey, my favorite part was probably the very end (and not just because it confirmed that there was indeed a "very end"), where I discovered a number of shelves containing international snacks and candies.

Naturally, I decided to reward myself for making it through the store without a single mental breakdown (thought I suppose what constitutes a mental breakdown is debatable) by shelling out some cash for today's test subject: Fazer's Dumle (original)!

I totally earned this.

My relationship (just friends) with Fazer goes way back to my sixth review, which featured the Kina Wafer (and in case you were wondering, I still cannot remember what the Finnish flag looks like). That was a solid product, so I had high hopes for Dumle.

The packaging is simple, but well done; after all, I ended up choosing it over a wide variety of competitors. I think part of what drew me to it was the combination of the color scheme and promise of toffee, which brought the delectable Daim to mind (though, to be fair, the use of the colors and overall style is not at all like Daim's when compared side by side). I do not understand the importance of the shooting stars, but maybe that has something to do with the Finnish flag (which, again, I cannot for the life of me remember; sorry, Finland!). Regardless, it all looks like good fun, and the graphic of the candy makes my mouth water with anticipation.

Now, according to Wikipedia, Dumle was originally a Swedish creation with hard toffee until Fazer took over, made the toffee softer, and rebranded it "Dumle original," which one has to admit is a rather ironic name, especially if Wikipedia is correct (and why wouldn't it be?) in suggesting the name "Dumle" was inspired by (i.e., stolen from) one of Sweden's earliest children's programs: Humle och Dumle, which, as far as I can tell, is about a Swedish serial killer/amateur mad scientist who somehow decapitates his victims without killing them and locks their heads in a cupboard, where they lament their mutual misfortune and discuss and sing about the possible future horrors they will be subjected to; keep in mind this was one of their first children's programs, meaning this was not the result of running out of ideas in a crowded market but rather one of the initial concepts dreamed up by the twisted minds in the Swedish broadcasting world (unrelated note to self: remove "visit Sweden" from bucket list).

But, really, Fazer has nothing to do with the nightmares I will certainly be having for the foreseeable future (and may in fact even be trying to distance themselves from the candy's disturbing link) so I will not hold it against them (their commercials, however, are another story).

Bottom line: I like the packaging.

The "best by" date and production dates are clearly printed on the back of the bag:

Do you possess the skills to decipher which is the production date and which is the "best by" date?

This review was a long time coming, so I had actually done my sampling in plenty of time (I did save one piece to consume after the suggested date just to prove how much of a rebel I am, but I noticed no difference in either the flavor or texture). I did find the specific dates puzzling until I remembered that 2020 is a leap year, so April 14th represents the 365th day.

In other words, Dumle "original" (I felt the quotes were necessary) has a shelf life of one full year, which I would sadly wager is significantly longer than the shelf life of the true original Dumle (or Humle, for that matter).

But you have probably had it up to here ("here" referring to the bloody stumps upon which Humle and Dumle's heads once sat) with talk of severed heads (unless you happen to be Swedish), so let's quickly move on to the nutritional information, which will hopefully be less frightening.

Or at least we can hope...

No severed heads here! Whew!

Thankfully, the "Nutrition Facts" panel is fairly dull. Sure, there is plenty of sugar (and saturated fat), but what do you expect from chocolate-covered toffee (plus, it bodes well for the taste)? Besides, the Calorie count is actually a bit less than most candy bars I've come across when compared per gram, and portion control should be easier when one needs to unwrap each (approximately) 7.5g morsel of Dumle.

Then again, I have been known to lose track of how many small pieces of candy I've been eating, waking from my sugar-induced hypnagogia in a pile of wrappers and shame (I have a theory that candy wrappers multiply when nobody's looking; TCR-FRESHY 5000 and TTR-CRAB 900 have been diligently working together on testing it but have not yet produced any supporting evidence).

I get the feeling four pieces is going to be either three too many or nowhere near enough.

A perusal of the ingredients list should shed more light on the situation:

This is almost disappointingly tame.

Again, there is nothing of note (though the word "milk" appears more frequently than I'd have imagined), with most of the ingredients being readily recognized (or at least pronounceable) by even the most chemistry-challenged consumer. The only exception may be soy lecithin, which, depending on who you ask, can either be taken as a supplement as it's beneficial to your brain and liver or should be avoided at all costs as it's detrimental to your brain and can cause cancer. Aren't ingredients fun?

My take on the debate: "lecithin" contains the word "thin," and that's good enough for me.

Also, glucose syrup is the primary ingredient, so these things are sure to be delicious!

But are they? It was time to tear into my bag of Dumle:

Not a Humle in sight.

Upon opening the package, I was greeted with a pleasant but hard to identify aroma (probably something like chocolate-covered toffees) and about thirty-six individually-wrapped candies (I didn't bother to count, I am just trusting in Fazer's "servings per bag" estimation). The stars that had seemed slightly confusing on the big package added a hint of sparkle and excitement on the smaller wrappers, and I felt a sense of pure satisfaction with my acquisition even before eating a single piece.

And then I did eat a single piece.

My first impression was that it was indeed tasty, but I had had better. Something was just holding it back ever-so-slightly. And then I was done with it, and I realized I had been wrong: it was fantastic! As if I were in some wonderful candy-themed dream, the Dumle had somehow jumped from quite good to marvelous without any clue as to how it got from point A to point B (sort of like how a candy maker made the jump from singing severed heads to chocolate-covered toffees). I needed to try another.

And so I did. More than once.

Each time, I marveled at the way the flavor developed until the piece was gone and I was left craving more. Lest you think it's simply some quirk of my taste buds, my wife concurred with my assessment: the aftertaste is somehow even better than the already delicious... "during taste" (what else do I call the pre-aftertaste?).

I couldn't tell you how many servings I had that first day (nor would I want to even if I could), but I can guarantee it was more than one, and I therefore cannot rate Fazer Dumle original anything other than an outstanding 4! Dumle's flavor gymnastics are delightfully unique, and I would gladly advise anyone who enjoys chewy chocolate-covered treats to head to the nearest Ikea and buy a bag for yourself (and for me, too, if you're feeling generous).

While you're there, feel free to also pick up some furniture to build, such as a bedroom set or dining room table.

Or maybe a cupboard. You know, for your collection of severed heads.

Living the dream,
The Sweets Fiend

Nothing but YES!!!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

#54 - Ozmo Ogopogo

I have never been to Turkey. Once upon a time (twenty years or so ago, if you must know), however, my brother paid the country a visit and supplied me with a brief recap of his stay, so, suffice it to say, I have a fairly decent understanding of the country (also, loyal readers will recall that I have tried and sort of liked Turkish Delight; never mind that it was a British candy).

After all, how much can a country change in twenty (or so) years?

To be honest, though, I basically remember two things he told me:
  1. Inflation in Turkey was (and is) out of control (as high as 70% at its worst). This is why, upon his return, my brother generously presented me with 250,000 Turkish lira, which seemed like a small fortune to me (emphasis on the "small", as it equated to just over 3 USD). Today, my 250,000 Turkish lira note is worth... well, nothing, really, because starting in 2005, Turkey redenominated their currency so that what was formerly 1,000,000 Turkish lira became a single Turkish lira (which, at the time of this writing, is worth seventeen cents). I guess my "fortune" could make for an interesting bookmark or something.
  2. Turkish drivers are insane, and if you're a pedestrian you're as good as dead. I also have a distinct memory of researching the statistics and finding that they supported his assessment. Curiously, current research leads to no such conclusion, and I cannot even find evidence to support his claim that pedestrians have no rights in Turkish traffic. So maybe I just imagined this bit, but it seems like an odd false memory for younger me to have wasted time and brainpower on, so I'm going to propose the possibility that it was all a Turkish conspiracy started over two decades ago with the intent of making me look foolish (I'm not sure whether the lack of Turkish interest in my blog strengthens or weakens my case here).
Okay, so I most likely only remember one thing about Turkey (that my money's no good there; perhaps another component of the Turkish conspiracy against me), but that's not going to stop me from reviewing my first treat from the land of Turks: Ozmo Ogopogo!

In case you hadn't noticed, "ogopogo" is a palindrome.

Now, "Ozmo Ogopogo" might sound like a preposterous and nonsensical secret word of the day at Pee-Wee's Playhouse (speaking of things that happened over twenty years ago), but it's actually a preposterous and nonsensical chocolate cream filled cake bear which may or may not be a panda (I honestly cannot tell, and, trust me, I know my pandas).

Anyhow, Ozmo is just one of the many brands from which Şölen ("Turkey’s leading exporter of chocolate") is obtaining power in order to take "firm steps towards the future," and if those words don't cause you to suspect a Turkish conspiracy, I don't know what will (except maybe this: 2020 marks Ozmo's 20th anniversary - there's that "twenty" number again, thrice; numerologists across the world are surely jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon at this point).

Wild stuff.

Conspiracy theories aside, the packaging is executed pretty well, provided one does not pay too much attention to the (panda?) bear, whose totally unbearlike (is that a word?) face (frankly, the dark "panda" eye patches look more like bug eyes here) and strangely prominent belly button make me more uncomfortable than I'd like to admit publicly (lest that be part of the whole "making me look foolish" scheme), or the red (could the designer be colorblind, or is the grass just blood-soaked?) grass. The colors are bright and appealing, and the font choices reinforce the overall atmosphere of "fun" (assuming one finds bug-eyed mutant bears frolicking about bloody landscapes fun). The front also clearly states the contents of the package (three individual packs, for instance). That's always a plus.

In other words, we're off to a reasonably positive (or disturbing, depending on your point of view) start.

The "best before" section was not as promising:

Ozmo likes to think outside the box...

What is distressing is not that the date is two weeks ago (I had started this review three weeks ago, so it was fine; I've just been moving at a snail's pace lately). No, what bothers me is the lackadaisical attitude with which the date has been stamped. The target box seems large enough to accommodate a decent margin of error, but the implementation is not even close.

Perhaps Ozmo employs bug-eyed mutant bears to do their stamping. Or perhaps they are just lax in their standards (which would contradict Şölen's manifesto). I will leave it up to you, dear reader(s), which is a more frightening prospect.

Maybe a look at the nutrition panel will ease my mind:

Add a pinch of sodium, and you've got five-sevenths of a Twinkie!

First of all, kudos to Ozmo for the sensible decision of one cake for the serving size, rather than, say, one-third of a cake as others have been known to do. Second of all, the stats look very much in line with what one should expect from a cream-filled snack cake. In fact, when you take the size difference (30g vs. 43g) into account, Ozmo Ogopogo's nutritional data is extremely similar to Twinkies.

Hopefully this bodes well for the bear cakes; while I don't eat Twinkies all that often (at least not enough to make a defense of it), I do thoroughly enjoy them, so any similarity is welcome in my book.

Thus, with renewed optimism, a look at the ingredients list was in order:

It took only three ingredients to go wrong.

While sharing some important ingredients with a Twinkie, Ogopogo deviates quite a bit throughout the list. A few of the differences are likely simply due to different countries using equivalent (but different) ingredients, probably (if I had to guess) based on the present public opinion of said ingredients. But there are other reasons, as well. For one, Ogopogo has a much longer shelf life than Twinkies (which do not stay fresh for nearly as long as urban legends suggest), which could very well serve some unknown (to me) consumer need (e.g., in a zombie apocalypse situation, you should eat your Twinkies first and save your Ogopogo for later). For another, unlike Twinkies, Ogopogo is halal certified, so Muslims can eat them to their hearts' (or stomachs') content.

The presence of hazelnut flavoring came as a bit of a surprise to me, as it was not indicated elsewhere on the package; in my experience, hazelnut flavoring tends to get a lot of attention on candy packages. Also of note is the third entry, in which the word "vegetable" is misspelled. This reaffirms suspicions of quality control issues (bug-eyed mutant bears are notoriously poor spellers) and once again dampens my enthusiasm for the cakes.

Nevertheless, it's possible Ozmo put the bulk of their resources into the manufacturing of the product itself and therefore lacked the appropriate funding for such trifles as proper spelling and accurate date stamping.

I guess we shall see when we rip into the package!

We meet again, bug-eyed mutant bear!

As promised, the cakes are individually wrapped. Furthermore, the wrapper includes all of the nutritional/ingredient information, which is an uncommon but very nice feature, as it makes the treats ready for individual sale or sharing. Ozmo won back some points with this move, though I do have to admit that the bear and miscolored grass seem somehow more unsettling without the additional space to serve as a distraction.

Ozmo was really toying with me, what with its "good news, bad news" approach to packaging.

But I had no time for mind games; I had a review to finish, and that meant I needed to take out a cake (or two, rather, to check for manufacturing consistency). And so I did:

Please rescue a poor, mistreated bear cake today!

Greeting me were two of the saddest specimens I have ever come across (and I have come across some pretty sad specimens); my discomfort upon seeing them was not due to a lack of ursine countenances (or even the belly buttons, which weren't so bad in cake form) but their heartbreaking, hopeless expressions. These bears had seen some unforgettable horrors in their short lifetime, and they were not handling it well. One's nose was so dislocated that I could not determine whether it was a birth (i.e., manufacturing) defect or a part of the aforementioned unforgettable horrors.

After taking a moment to quietly weep for their suffering (like a fool; well played, Turkey!), I took a step back (figuratively speaking) and examined the cakes more objectively. While there were definite quality control issues, I had to concede the fact that they truly did resemble the bear on the packaging, in the same way that parents resemble the portraits their four-year-old children draw; the effort was there, but the execution was lacking. Nice try, anyway, Ozmo!

The backs of the bears were less interesting (though no less depressing), being plain aside from the telltale chocolate cream injection sites.

I opened the third package and discovered what could arguably be described as the best-looking of the bunch, though its nose, too, had wandered far from home (and seemed to be bleeding, to boot):

I named this little guy "Handsome George."

On the one hand, it is obvious that the Ogopogo manufacturing equipment cannot consistently reproduce the desired design, and that's a crying (again, well played, Turkey!) shame. On the other hand, it gives each snack bear its own unique set of struggles and tale of woe. What tragic story awaits you inside your package of Ogopogo? No one knows. And perhaps, in its own way, this makes each miniature bear more beautiful.

Or maybe Ozmo was just overly ambitious and dreadfully unaware of their limits.

Regardless, the bears smelled pretty good, and they felt like snack cakes should, so I gave one a try...

Much to my delight, it was rather tasty! The cake, compared to that of a Twinkie, is denser and a tad drier (which my wife suggested pairs very well with coffee) and flavorful, with the light and dark portions of cake having their own tastes. The chocolate/hazelnut cream filling is everything one would hope and expect from such a treat. Ozmo has seriously put out a quality product here!

I truly enjoyed consuming my Ogopogo bears (and putting them out of their misery was the icing on the cake, so to speak) and would highly recommend them to anyone in the mood for a chocolate cream snack cake with hazelnut flavoring.

There is only one problem: I'm not that into hazelnut. As much as I'm a fan of the bears in spirit (though I wouldn't go so far as to say a bug-eyed mutant bear was my spirit animal), I cannot see my taste buds requiring hazelnut flavoring anytime soon, and so I must sadly rate Ozmo Ogopogo a 2. You might feel differently if you were to try one, and if you're into hazelnut and chocolate, I'd suggest you do just that.

Then feel free to let me know just how wrong you think I am. Conspiracy or not, I don't mind; looking like a fool has never tasted so sweet.

Taking firm steps towards the future,
The Sweets Fiend

Are Ogopogo bears filled with sadness? No, chocolate and hazelnut filling (and probably at least a little sadness)!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

#53 - Schuttelaar Banaapies

If the world were to hold a popularity contest for fruit, which fruit do you suppose would take home the grand prize? If you're thinking "tomato," you know your science. You also know your trivia (this specific bit of which I would wager you considered useless up to this point), because tomatoes are indeed the world's most popular fruit.

But the tomato's win would be short-lived, because the banana (the obvious runner-up) would no doubt challenge whether the tomato is actually a fruit and would (if the contest were to be held in the United States, which it probably would, being the home to this blog and all) simply cite Nix v. Hedden and claim its victory (amid great controversy) after the tomato's inevitable disqualification.

That's just the way contests go sometimes.

Anyhow, the point I'm getting at is this: people like bananas. They remove the peel and eat them au naturel. They make them into pies. They make them into pudding. They make them into bread. They put them in cereal and ice cream. They freeze them, put them on a stick, and cover them with chocolate (and who knows what else). The list goes on and on. But when I say "people like bananas," I use the term "people" in the most general sense, because there will of course be the odd individual who is not a fan of the world's most popular (according to the Supreme Court of the United States of America) fruit. In fact, I am one of those individuals (just one more instance of me failing to catch a ride on the popularity train).

Perhaps it has something to do with one of the multiple (I'm a slow learner) instances in my childhood wherein I endeavored to consume a banana that was not yet ripe, unaware that my unpeeling had left a thin, almost transparent portion of the peel still attached (it was nature's version of the wretched "second wrapper," which faithful readers of my blog know has always been a sore spot for me).

Or maybe it's just that I don't find the taste all that great. I mean, there are a lot of delightful fruits out there, and I'm not sure bananas are deserving of their preeminent position (regardless of what Justice Gray and his bunch (pun intended) might have said; but to be fair, I'm not entirely sold on tomatoes, either).

So you can hopefully understand my lack of excitement when I was presented with the subject of today's review: Schuttelaar Banaapies!

Monkeys go bananas for Schuttelaar!

Schuttelaar (as the logo states) began producing confectioneries (in the Netherlands) in 1918, though the brand was taken over by Concorp (whose Schuttelaar page proudly states, if Google Translate is to be believed, "What we feel with the heart, we make with the hands.") in 2001. My research was sadly fruitless (pun intended) regarding the date Banaapies originated. I did discover that real bananas made their real commercial debut in the United States in 1870, selling for a dime apiece (about $1.96 today, though estimates vary).

I also learned that "banaapies" apparently translates to  (not too hard to puzzle this one out) "banana pies," which is a tad bizarre, considering that the candies look remarkably like bananas and not the least bit like banana pies. The description below, though, translates to "soft meringues with banana flavor," which makes more sense.

The package design is good, though not exceptional. The color scheme, font choice, and artwork all work harmoniously to provide a consistent and wacky feel, letting the consumer know that this is not a candy to take too seriously; this is a fun, casual sort of treat. The monkeys, who embrace the sweet's lack of formality with gusto, sport caps matching the color of the Schuttelaar logo, possibly indicating that they are members of some sort of Schuttelaar fan club (I'd like to learn more about their daily lives, to be honest). One detail I really appreciate (and which the less casual observer would be sure to overlook) is that they are opening their bananas the proper way (you've been doing it wrong all along, haven't you?), from the "bottom," signifying that they are no dopes, just bright little monkeys who like to let loose once in a while with a banana (or two; I suppose it's possible bananas are the most popular fruit in the monkey world, as well).

Overall, it's a very successful job. I guess you could say it's got appeal (sorry). And the window into the bag showing the actual candies is a nice touch, too; I'd otherwise have expected little banana pies or something (thanks, Google).

So far, no slip-ups on Schuttelaar's side. I just wish I could say the same of myself, because when I looked for the "best before" date, I saw this:

Well, I've certainly not made the mistake of opening them before they were ripe...

Since I knew this candy was purchased semi-locally, I initially figured the date was listed in the American format, which would mean I had about a month to spare. But that was rather silly of me, wasn't it? Clearly the bag had been imported from the Netherlands, meaning that I was nearly six months too late.

Oh, dear.

Still, I chose to continue the review, as the dates are really more of a suggestion than a commandment. I would just need to keep my blunder in mind throughout the process.

I hoped a look at the ingredients list would lift my spirits:

Schuttelaar: 2, Sweets Fiend: 0

Although the print on the label was starting to fade (reinforcing the fact that I had neglected the candy for far too long), I could see that Banaapies contain a short list of pretty recognizable ingredients. In fact, when compared to the chemical makeup of a natural banana, the banana-flavored meringues seem much healthier, if one subscribes to the "fewer ingredients and nothing I can't pronounce" mentality. Plus, I doubt Banaapies are radioactive, which is more than I can say for regular bananas.

So I was rather interested in what the nutritional information would tell me.

Actually, I wasn't. I wasn't even slightly interested, which is why I failed to notice that the ingredients list label was slapped over the nutritional data section (to my shame, that is clearly visible in the picture above), and I continued to not notice until the bag was disposed of. Very clever and very effective deception.

It's been a while since I've done one of these reviews, and it shows. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. For that, I apologize. In lieu of a shot of the nutritional information (which you can always try to find online), I present you with another ingredients list image, this time in Dutch (and with a very satisfied monkey, sans tail for some reason; these monkeys get more and more fascinating with each passing moment):

Classic post-meal drowsiness.

In the unlikely case that you don't read Dutch, this one mentions that the product is made in a facility that also processes gluten. Just one more factoid that the Americanization process left behind. Frankly, I don't think the importers are giving Schuttelaar the respect they deserve (and I suppose I haven't up to this point, either). It's been a rough ride, as scandalous and disgraceful as any "fruits of the world" popularity contest.

In an effort to save face, I pushed on, tearing into the bag with all the dignity and class of a Schuttelaar monkey:

Look, banana pies!

I was met with a strong, fruity fragrance which mimicked the scent of real bananas far more than I had anticipated. This both intrigued and worried me. They couldn't taste like real bananas, could they? After all, artificial banana flavoring (which, in America, strangely enough predates actual bananas) never tastes like real bananas.

Granted, I've never been much of a fan of artificial banana flavoring, either, with the exception of Circus Peanuts (Melster's being my favorite brand, due to the clown on the package, who manages to evoke feelings of pity and fear in equal measure), which I love; I think that's in large part due to the fact that I had been eating Circus Peanuts for years before learning they were banana flavored (again, I'm a slow learner, but, in my defense, why should peanuts be expected to taste like bananas?).

Regardless, I was obligated to consume one, or more likely several, of the fruity meringues for the sake of my devoted reader(s). And so I did.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. And the more I ate, the more I liked them. Flavor-wise, Banaapies are a dead ringer for Circus Peanuts. I could definitely tell they were a bit past their prime in terms of consistency, but I didn't mind that; I often prefer my Circus Peanuts to have been aged a little anyway, and the flavor was fully intact. Seriously, if you've had Circus Peanuts, you know what you're getting with Banaapies.

So I liked them. I struggled with the rating, however; I would definitely buy another bag, but I found the size and shape to give a slightly inferior culinary (I use that term loosely) experience to that of a Circus Peanut. Given the choice between the two, I'd pick the Circus Peanuts (if Banaapies has a problem with that, they can tell it to the Supreme Court, who would probably side with the curved yellow fruit (orange you glad I didn't say banana?)).

In the end, I decided to give Schuttelaar Banaapies a solid 3. They are a frivolous, yummy candy, sure to bring joy to any banana-flavored-meringue aficionado. Sure, I may prefer a different (and more nonsensical) form factor, but Schuttelaar does not disappoint in the least. Try a bag yourself and see if you don't agree!

Bravo! Heartily recommended.

Gotta split,
The Sweets Fiend


Friday, November 16, 2018

#52 - Marinela Pingüinos

In January of 2005, the documentary March of the Penguins was released into theaters to thunderous applause and countless (well, they could be counted, but I didn't feel it would have been the best use of my time) accolades. It was basically the Hamilton of the documentary world (in other words, it was a big hit). Caught up in the hysteria surrounding the flightless birds, my brother contacted my mother, extending an invitation to treat her to the allegedly (I still haven't seen it, actually) spectacular film.

But then something happened...

Or, rather, nothing happened.

For reasons still unknown, the trip to the movie theater never happened. Days passed. Then weeks. Then months (that's how time progresses, after all). My mother kept quiet, but she did not forget, and when my brother's birthday came around (as birthdays do), she exacted her revenge in a form she dubbed: "Penguinpalooza."

The birthday card had penguins on it. The wrapping paper had penguins on it. The majority (if not all) of the gifts were penguin related. Penguin books. Penguin socks. Even a waddling penguin pooper that ejects edible pellets from its bottom (because of course those exist; though, to be fair, penguin droppings are not without merit).

It was an effective tactic which continued through numerous subsequent birthdays (and holidays), and, for all I know, it may be continuing to this day (just more discreetly).

I mention this to explain why, when my mother sent me an article concerning international treats and I admitted I had never tried the Pingüinos mentioned in said article and then found myself in a gas station in South Carolina (in no way related to the article) with a generous selection of Marinela products (including the aforementioned Pingüinos), I had no choice but to pick up a pack of the cream-filled cupcakes.

I mean, I could probably use a pair of penguin socks (who couldn't?), but I've already seen candy and animal feces cross paths more often than any one man should. And so, with that in mind, today's subject is Marinela Pingüinos:

Penguinpalooza insurance.

I was first introduced to Marinela via their Gansito snack cakes, which failed to wow me. Still, Marinela got a lot right, so there was plenty of room for optimism. Let's get to the review!

To start, the package design (alternate view here) is, much like all their products, expertly done. The colors catch one's eye, the cupcake graphic makes one's mouth water, and the hip penguin with his bright red jacket and ultra-cool (I'll assume that's what they were going for) headphones is well drawn (even if I'd never want to meet him in real life). Plus, the front boasts that the treat is a good source of calcium, and that's always my top priority when selecting snack cakes!

Now, it occurs to me that Marinela seems to have a bird theme for its mascots (no, really!): first the Gansito gosling (who on newer packages sports more of a hipster vibe), and now the Pingüinos penguin ("pingüinos" is Spanish for "penguins," by the way; Marinela needs some help in the naming department). In keeping with tradition, I feel obligated to give the Pingüinos mascot a nickname, and so I'm going with Penguindict Cupcakebatch (for obvious reasons).

I do have to say that I can at least see the penguin inspiration in this case (though it's a bit of a stretch); the white-on-black (well, dark brown) motif is sound enough. But Marinela could have stood out some by altering the squiggle on top (which does not fit the penguin theme very well) into a more unique shape/form. Perhaps Penguindict Cupcakebatch is more of a conformist than he'd like you to believe.

Anyhow, the expiration date (which I forgot to take a separate photo of but is clearly visible on the front of the package) seems alarming, but that's just because other activities (such as eating candy) and mild illness got in the way of writing this review. I actually ate my Pingüinos with days to spare. So it's all good.

I did manage to snap a picture of the nutrition facts panel (go me!):

It all evens out in the end.

Pingüinos compare quite well with Hostess Cupcakes (which the product is clearly emulating). They are slightly smaller, but I'm hoping that just means they're packed with flavor (they've got less calcium, by the way). Being more familiar with candy bar stats than those of snack cakes, I was pleasantly surprised with the Calorie count. Two cupcakes is about one and a half (typical) candy bars, Calorie-wise, despite looking larger. That may be something to keep in mind when my sweet tooth is getting out of control (though the amount of sodium is much, much higher; I can't win).

Are these healthy? By no means. But then, one does not browse gas stations if one is looking for health foods, does one? No, one most certainly does not.

Just to be sure, why don't we check the ingredients list... Oh wait, the ingredients list is practically unreadable without beginning to open the packaging. Well, that's either a blunder on Marinela's part or an underhanded way of compelling consumers to buy Pingüinos (I can imagine places posting "You look at the ingredients, you buy it!" signs to take advantage of the "feature").

Fortunately, I've already bought it, so I can start the unwrapping process and take a gander (sorry, that expression must've been left over from my Gansito review) at the ingredients:

The further you read, the more the plot thickens...

While not nearly as formidable as the Gansito ingredient list, Pingüinos are not a simple product. The number of ingredients necessary to produce cream-filled chocolate cupcakes is, quite frankly, astonishing. The entries also stray from what I encounter in candies and other sweets; things like sodium aluminum sulfate, sorbitan monostearate, titanium dioxide, and (maybe most frightening of all) locust bean gum can sound frightening (especially if you struggle with chemophobia). But truthfully, some of the most terrifying (exhibits A and B, for instance) candies I've had the misfortune of consuming have had the most normal-sounding ingredients, so I'm not too concerned.

But should I be? Only one way to find out...

They look just like penguins!

Tearing open the wrapper resulted in the familiar aroma of Hostess Cupcakes. Seriously, I don't think I could tell them apart in a blind smell test. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but neither is it necessarily a good thing, as Hostess Cupcakes are just okay to me (sorry, Hostess). Don't get me wrong, I'll eat them without hesitation; they're just not high on my list of favorite Hostess products.

I did notice that my Pingüinos appeared a tad dry, but since the "best before" date was still days away, I figured it was within the acceptable range of normalcy.

Though, if it looks like a Hostess Cupcake and smells like a Hostess Cupcake, logic would suggest that it probably tastes like a Hostess Cupcake, right?

As usual, no. Quit jumping to conclusions, will you?

This is not, I repeat NOT, a Hostess Cupcake. I promise!

I don't know if it was the locust bean gum or perhaps just the penguinicity (for lack of a better word) of it all, but I noticed a distinct difference in both the taste and consistency. And I mean that in the best way. The more I thought about what I was experiencing, the more convinced I became that it was something special. The chocolate cake was delectable. The cream filling was delicious. It was, in a word, fantastic, superior to the original Hostess variety in every way.

My initial thought upon finishing off the second cupcake was to rate Pingüinos a high 3, but further contemplation led me to decide I needed to just go ahead and give it a 4. And so that's what I've done. I just couldn't shake the memory of how much I enjoyed eating the cupcakes (seeing the empty package afterwards was a sad sight, indeed), and I instantly regretted not having bought more. I even found myself planning to purchase a pack (or two) if I happen upon them again.

Needless to say, I'm a fan. Top-notch work, Marinela! I had my doubts, but you've made a believer out of me.

And Mom, if you're reading this, I hope I've reviewed the Pingüinos in a time and manner acceptable to you.

Waiting in nervous anticipation,
The Sweets Fiend

I considered drizzling chocolate over them for authenticity, but I was fresh out of melted chocolate (I'm so embarrassed)!