The Bean Welcomes All Who Enter
Welcoming everyone into the Expo is this 10-foot long replica of the The Bean in Millennium Park. This version of the popular piece of public art is covered with 120,000 Jelly Belly jelly beans, primarily the chocolate-dipped variety.
Pauly from Katjes
I don't remember where I picked up this bag at the show given that the Exhibitor List shows that Katjes did not have a booth there. It's possible a distributor was representing the German company best known for their excellent black licorice, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever (the last hour of the show is a bit of a free-for-all as exhibitors are eager to get rid of their supply rather than lug it home). Regardless of how I got them, these adorable pig-face vegetarian gummies are one of my new favorite candies. Flavored with grape, blackcurrant, elderberry, and apple juice, they give off an almost floral taste that is not quite like any candy I've ever had. The texture, which is confusingly light and chewy simultaneously, is almost as memorable. If anyone has seen these anywhere in the U.S., please let me know in the comments.
David's Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans
For at least twenty years, Jelly Bellies have been one of my three favorite mass-market candies (Peanut M&M's and Snickers being the other two). Every time I go to Costco, I have to talk myself out of buying a five-pound tub of Jelly Bellies because I know how quickly I'll eat the entire thing once I have it in the privacy of my own home. I've tried virtually every significant jelly bean out there and none of them came close to the Jelly Belly. That is no longer the case.
David Klein invented Jelly Belly jelly beans but he made a horrible business decision to sell the young company early on. Last year, he reentered the market with David's Signature Beyond Gourmet Jelly Beans. Right now, there are 20 flavors (the plan is to get to 100), ranging from blueberry to ginger to Thai chili. The intensity of flavor in each bean is astounding, and they do a far better job emulating natural flavors than any other jelly bean I've tried. I'm still a big fan of Jelly Belly jelly beans, but having done several taste tests over the weekend, David's are superior in taste and superior in texture thanks to a softer chew. The only drawback of these beans is that, so far, they're only available on the West Coast and in Canada.
Chili con Chocolate from Too Haute Cowgirls
Coloradans Deanna Liebl, a wedding cake designer, and Amy Tarrant, a trained pastry chef, joined forces two years ago to create Too Haute Cowgirls, a company featuring a line of chocolate-covered popcorn. I tried the Chili con Chocolate long after leaving the show and immediately regretted not snagging more than one little sample. Upon first bite, this is a very good mix of chocolate covered popcorn and almonds, but when the tempered wave of heat sneaks in there, the result is a remarkably balanced and addictive snack.
Dark Chocolate Fruit Crunch from Brookside
Brookside is a Canadian candy company that's made decent inroads into the U.S. with delicious chocolate coated superfruits. But it turns out the Canadians have been holding out on us. Brookside has a number of other products that are not yet available in these parts.The best of the bunch is the Dark Chocolate Fruit Crunch, a collection of dried cranberry bits, rice crisps, and graham nuggets, all of which benefit from a medley of seven different fruit juices, and all enveloped in dark chocolate. Fortunately, Canada's days as the exclusive holder of this delicious candy are coming to an end. Hershey's bought Brookside at the end of 2011 and the Dark Chocolate Fruit Crunch will hit American shelves in 2014.
Nut Candy Bars from Justin's
For several years, lovers of peanut butter and chocolate who wanted a more natural option that Reese's have been more than satisfied by Justin's organic version. Now, the company is expanding their scope with three new candy bars, each of which feature chocolate-covered caramel, nougat, and nuts. There's a dark chocolate peanut, a milk chocolate peanut, and a milk chocolate almond. I'm still loyal to Snickers, but these are a delicious earth-friendly alternative. These are already on shelves at Whole Foods and should be much more widespread next month.
Mango Peach Gummies from Beauty Sweeties
These mango peach gummies from Beauty Sweeties, a German company that made its first American sale at the Expo, are the most natural tasting fruit candies I've ever eaten, a characteristic due to the fact that 20% of the candy is fruit juice and 6% is actual fruit pieces. The candy gets a bit of creaminess from the thin yogurt foam layer along the bottom. I loved the flavor of these, but the texture is a bit on the chewy side for my tastes.
Sweet Ophelia Chocolate Bars
Every serious chocolate lover is well-acquainted with Vosges. Well, the company has launched a new line under the name, Wild Ophelia. These chocolates, which are a little cheaper than their famous older sisters, present the theme of "An American Road Trip Through Chocolate." In each bar, you'll find an ingredient with a strong local story mixed in with the kind of quality chocolate you'd expect from Vosges. I tried seven of the ten flavors and, while the beef jerky and BBQ potato chip versions were excellent, the forthcoming (in late June) Sweet & Crispy Caramel Corn, a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar that features little bits of Garrett's caramel corn, is a revelation.
Ginger Lemon Gummies from Haribo
Haribo has long been a go-to company for anyone interested in gummy candies, but I couldn't tell you the last time they introduced a new product at all, let alone one that excited me. But these ginger lemon gummies, already popular in Europe, have me eagerly looking forward to their September release. There's no question that ginger candies are in the midst of huge growth in the United States. I expect these ones, which are more subtle than most ginger candies out there, will be a massive hit.
I found the Nuttfles to be more than a little intriguing. The candies, which will be available in September, come in three flavors: Red Velvet, Hazelnut, and Almond. Each candy features a nut surrounded by a flavored cream, a cocoa wafer, and a chocolate coating. These didn't rock my world in terms of flavor, but the creativity behind them, especially the red velvet, managed to stand out against some stiff competition.
Gummies from The Organic Candy Factory
I'm always skeptical of gummy bears and gummy worms that don't have gelatin. The flavor can be great, but they tend to fail texturally by being far too soft. The gummies from The Organic Candy Factory don't suffer from that fate thanks to a blend of fruit pectins, primarily peach, that provide a good deal of chew. Currently, these candies are only available on the coasts, but that should change in the near future.
Peeps are one of the candy world's greatest guilty pleasures. They shouldn't be good, but every time I have them, I'm a happy camper. And over the past few years, the explosion of new flavors has been great. One of this year's new releases is actually a new version of a flavor that came off the market a couple of years ago: gingerbread. The combination of a surprisingly intense gingerbread flavor and the classic Peeps texture is a definite winner in my book.
Marshmallow Fun Company
Not every company at the show is there to sell edible items. After all, the sweets and snacks industry includes a virtually unlimited number of themed toy and knick knacks. But in four years covering the show, I never encountered one worth mentioning until I stumbled upon Marshmallow Fun Company, which manufactures a variety of plastic weapons that shoot marshmallows as far as a couple hundred feet. The company's been around for five years, but is getting ready to hit the big time. This was its first appearance at the Expo and you'll be able to buy these things at Target very soon.
Oh the Humanity!
The aggressiveness with which some people use the show as nothing more than an opportunity to take home as much free candy as humanly possible is simultaneously amusing and disturbing. It's been almost a week and I cannot erase the image of a particularly large attendee chowing down on a hamburger while reprimanding a candy manufacturer for not providing more free samples. Of course, given the amount of candy currently sitting in my living room, I'm in no position to judge anyone.