Serious Eats: Chicago
Report From the Sweets and Snacks Expo, Part III: Celebrating International Candy
I don't know if there's any truth to the rumor that I just made up or not, but supposedly there's a first draft floating around of Emma Lazarus's poem, The New Colossus, which is famously mounted inside the Statue of Liberty. That version of the poem's most famous line reads:
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, and bring me all of your delicious candy."
Well, thanks to American colonists' poor decision in the 18th century to leave the British Empire, the 19th century editing of The New Colossus, Americans' twentieth century acquired taste for corn syrup-based sweets, a consistent streak of protectionist tax policies, and the basic challenges of getting a new product known in another country, there are boatloads of candies manufactured all over the world that are unavailable in the United States, or just not widely circulated.
Fortunately, the Sweets and Snacks Expo offers those candy manufacturers the opportunity to get their products out to American buyers. Here are my favorites from the show, ignoring delicious products from well-known companies like Toblerone and Lindt.
From the Mexican company Dulces de la Rosa comes the Winky, which is just like a Milky Way but awesome. The nougat is chewier a Milky Way's and has a stronger malt flavor. But where the Winky really destroys the Milky Way is its use of cajeta (dulce de leche) instead of the caramel-like product that goes in a Milky Way. The latter relies on corn syrup whereas the Winky's caramel is made with condensed milk and cream.
I was a much bigger fan of the concept of the Vero Q-Charaditas (little spoon) than I was of the taste. The product of Dulces Vero, a nearly 60-year-old Mexican company blends sweet and spicy in a popular candy tradition from our neighbors to the South that I have a hard time getting into when chocolate is not involved.
Each package comes with two compartments: one with a lollipop in the shape of a spoon, one with a liquid. The version pictured above is watermelon; and both the hard candy and the gel (more the latter) are infused with guajillo pepper.
Haitai Confectionary & Foods, a Korean manufacturer, provided me with the best grape hard candy I've ever had. The plum was also very good, but it was the muscat that blew me away with a taste that resembled a concord grape with a bit of extra sweetness.
Haitai shows it can do more than fruit with this surprisingly delicious walnut candy. With a thin crisp outer shell and a relatively soft and chewy interior, I liked the texture almost as much as the flavor. This may be an instance of me being extra excited due to the novelty of the flavor—it didn't actually involve actual nuts! Regardless, this was one of the more memorable candies from the show.
Chocolate Coated Biscuit and Caramel
The Zalloum Group is a massive Jordanian corporation that has interests in real estate, agribusiness, and, among other things, a large range of biscuit-cookies. Look, a biscuit covered in caramel and coated in chocolate, was a welcome surprise. It's not a high-end treat my any means—more along the lines of a Middle Eastern Little Debbie product—but with the dry biscuit serving to balance out the sweet caramel, I was a fan.
From the German company Viba comes the Nougatini, featuring a rich hazelnut spread in between two light wafers. The spread, which is like a lighter version of Nutella, was delicious and the wafers added a little extra texture to complete the bar.
The South African company Tropicube focuses primarily on supplying fruit products to bigger companies to use in things like cereal, energy bars, and muffins. But a New Jersey man has become an importer of Tropibars and now TropiUSA distributes the 1.4 ounce bars made with nothing more than fruit, sugar, seaweed extract and food acids. The all-natural treats are a little sticky but refreshingly delicious.
You know how Pringles are addictive for reasons having nothing really to do with their taste and everything to do with their shape and the way they fit perfectly into your mouth? Well, a Belgian company called Royal Chocolates has been making Pringles-shaped chocolates since 1993 and just entered the U.S. market this year. The thin chocolates are studded with crispy rice bits and come in milk, dark, hazelnut, caramel, mint and almond. They're not a gourmet product, but they are affordable and addictive.
Astrokids Popping Candy
Astrokids Popping Candy from the Danish company Scan Choco A/S is not remotely close to a gourmet candy, but it's novel, fun and tasty enough to merit special mention. There are two parts to this candy: a sweet fruit-flavored lollipop (strawberry in this case) and some Pop ock-like candy that are apparently flavored with nothing more than malic acid. The resulting popping sour/sweet combination was my favorite of the surprisingly large number of popping candies available at the Expo.