Serious Eats: Chicago
Report From the Sweets and Snacks Expo, Part II: Top New Treats From Smaller American Companies
Having covered the best new products from the multinational candy companies, my latest installment of coverage of the Sweets and Snacks Expo focuses on new products from smaller American manufacturers, with foreign candy waiting in the wings.
As was the case with the last post, the emphasis will be on the "sweet" part of the Sweets and Snacks. Part of that is because the show is still overwhelmingly populated with candy companies and part of it is because a lot of the snacks, like flavored sunflower seeds and low-grade beef jerky, weren't particularly good. I hope that in future years more serious snacks, like the Tanka Bar I profiled in my report on the National Restaurant Show, come out to the Sweets and Snacks Expo. But for now, I'll just enjoy the candy.
Ginger candy lovers around the country have known about Chimes Ginger Chews for a few years. The candies are available nationwide, including in some Whole Foods, and for a niche candy, they've gotten some good press. New to the Chimes line are mango and orange flavors. As is the case with the peppermint and peanut butter flavors that preceded them, each chew begins with a burst of the non-ginger flavor (nothing artificial) and is followed up by a sweet, fairly intense ginger chew.
Since 1930, Choward's has offered its unique Violet Mints to the world. Over time, the company has added a few traditional flavors like lemon and wintergreen, all of which are as intense as the original. The company, co-owned by three brothers, has carried along over the past few decades, content to sit on its classic collection. But at the prodding of a young nephew who has joined the family business, Choward's is introducing guava to the mix this year and, to my tastes, it's their best flavor yet.
The trend that made my candy-loving heart flutter at the Sweets & Snacks Show was the clear resurgence of black licorice. I know I'm in the minority, but I absolutely love the stuff. American Licorice Company, well known for their addictive Red Vines, is doubling down on licorice with its new higher end Natural Vines, which come in black and red. It's not gourmet stuff, but it's a big step up from the traditional VInes and a welcome addition to the licorice market.
Continuing in the licorice theme are hard pieces of licorice from Molly Loves Candy, a seven-year-old company based in Arlington, Washington, about 50 miles north of Seattle. Molly Love, who runs the business, learned licorice from her father, who owns Chateau D' Lanz, maker of an exceptional and intense hard black licorice drop. Molly has been making heart-shaped pieces of black licorice that taste identical to her father's in taste and texture, but new this year are lemon, raspberry, and mixed berry flavors.
Also capitalizing on the black licorice boom is Goetze's, the classic candy company most famous for their Bulls Eyes caramels. New this year are two twists on that classic: a licorice flavored caramels with the traditional white cream, and a double chocolate with chocolate flavored caramel and chocolate cream. The licorice ones were outstanding and, I think, mild enough in their licorice flavor that they'll appeal to some people who don't generally like black licorice.
Technically, the show is the Sweets and Snacks Expo, but candy is the unquestioned star. There are far more candy companies introducing a much wider variety of new products. And there's no way sunflower seeds or mass produced beef jerky is going to compete with the sweets. But there was one savory item that stood out for me, in part because it's unique and in part because it's genuinely delicious: Hummus Tortilla Chips from Boulder Canyon Natural Foods.
More than a hundred years ago, McCraw's starting making thin slabs of taffy that had sweet taffy flavors, but without the overly chewy texture that cause a fortune in trips to the dentist. A few years ago, the family-owned business was sold to someone who promptly ran the company into the ground. The original family took the company back and came to last year's show without new product in an effort to build up the business. Instead, they met the owner of Denver's Hammond's Candies. Long story short, Hammond's bought the company and is now manufacturing McCraw's taffy just as it was made over a century ago.
Old timers will rejoice to learn about the return of Bonomo, a tooth destroying taffy that was apparently wildly popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but has not been made commercially since the mid-1980s. (Speaking of commercials, check out these classic Bonomo ads.) Now made by the Warrell Corporation, Bonomo will ship in July. On a side note, also coming back from the dead this year will be Astro Pops, which have not been produced since 2004, following a more than four decade run. The company that just bought the rights is looking for a manufacturer and hopes to introduce them this fall.
Hi-Chew has been justifiably popular in Japan for decades, but has had an American office since 2008, justifying its place in this report rather than the upcoming piece review of foreign candies. That said, while the extra chewy delights make anyone who tries them embarrassed to have ever professed love for Starburst or Mamba, they have largely been a West Coast phenomenon. Fortunately for the rest of us, those days are coming to an end as the company is picking up its efforts to go nationwide. Hi-Chew has introduced an outstanding banana chew this year that is just as bit as good as their mango, strawberry, melon, green apple, and orange versions. When I was in Seattle last fall, I had a grape Hi-Chew that was exceptional, but it turns out the flavor was changing while the candy sat on shelves. It's been pulled for now but will hopefully reappear soon.