All Candy Expo 2008: Like kids in some kind of a store

All Candy Expo 2008: Like kids in some kind of a store

It's difficult to express the sheer weirdness and joy of a gigantic convention center filled with candy. There's nothing like walking down aisle after aisle of bright colors and overstimulation, all presented in the name of foisting sweet treats (and some salty treats) on the world. As outsiders, we clearly enjoyed the 2008 All Candy Expo more than most attendees. Plenty of tight-faced, brusque dudes in suits were just there as a matter of business; their unit-shifting just happens to take place in the world of blessed sugar. And not all of them were friendly to mere media types who weren't likely to change their convention-sales bottom line: One small-company rep rushed up to greet us, asked "Who are you with?" and when he heard "The media," turned around and walked off without another word.

Even so, for us, the All Candy Expo really is like a return to Halloween: the rush to ring every doorbell (or stop by every booth), the strategizing about how best to cover the territory, the sugar high followed by the sugar crash, and the breathtaking first look at all of the crap you've gathered, sitting in one huge pile. Add to that the excitement of getting a bunch of candy you've never seen or heard of before—import-only items not available in the States, pre-launch items about to hit the market, and the occasional small-company line of products looking for national distribution and national attention. The deliciousness runs the gamut from gourmet to downscale; the attendees range from the biggest candy manufacturers to tiny mom-and-pop companies.

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The individual booths ranged from holy to skankalicious: At one end of the spectrum was the Christ-loving confectioner Scripture Candy, which wraps its products in Bible verses. On the other, more hellbound side of the street, there were four scantily clad On Go energy-drink trollops fondling each other's asses for a leering photo op in front of scads of rubbernecking candy-freaks. Then there was the stern-looking gentleman selling squeezable packets of mayonnaise, peanut butter, nacho cheese, and cream cheese, which disconcertingly, didn't require refrigeration. "We sell mainly to prisons," he assured The A.V. Club's slightly creeped-out representatives. "But these packets aren't cheap in the commissary. And I'm not sure why a prisoner would want cream cheese. I don't think they get bagels in there." All this plus Gummy Grills, and Hannah Montana and SpongeBob SquarePants cash-ins up the wazoo!

We saw a candy whose name brings to mind emaciated prostitutes (Crackheads—chocolate-covered espresso beans—motto: "Everyone's addicted to something"), new innovations in the world of Peeps (chocolate-mousse flavored; a representative described them as "better than sex"), and the latest from giants like M&M;/Mars. Below is just a small sampling of some of the incredible products we tried:

Cola Pez

Alas, one of our first experiences within the All Candy Expo was one of denial: The glorious Pez booth, lined with Pez dispensers of all shapes, sizes, and textures—including a plush line of stuffed-animal dispensers—was touting the joys of new Chocolate Pez, but there was not a single sample to be had. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of packages of Chocolate Pez on display, but they were all taped down or under glass. When we asked to try the treat, we were told, "We're saving all those for tomorrow." We had to content ourselves with Cola Pez, which does in fact have a mild, entirely pleasant cola-syrup flavor underneath the dominant taste of just plain sugar.

Bartons Black Raspberry Chocotini

And speaking of candy denial… While most All Candy Expo booths give away bite-sized samples of live and upcoming product, and others hand out mini- or full-sized versions of their packaged treats to take home, virtually all the booths had giant wall displays of new product, with signs saying "Samples only, do not take," or something similar. Not the folks at Bartons. Their giant wall o' chocolate was entirely unrestricted by signs, tape, or glass, leading us to believe we could actually sample the wonders of Mojito Chocotini bars and Pomegranate Exquisite Truffles. But as soon as we touched the product, two suited sales reps rushed over to snap at us to put the stuff down. They were apparently so irked at our grabbiness that they refused to discuss their product line with us, and all further questions were answered snappishly and with condescension. The one product we did walk off with, a Black Raspberry bar from the alcohol-themed but alcohol-free Chocotini line, turned out to be delicious. Too bad the attitudes were so much sourer than the confections. Incidentally, we couldn't help but notice that the entire Bartons line is currently packaged exactly like the equivalent Ghirardelli products—same dark browns topped with rich primary colors, similar fonts, identical packaging on the loose miniatures. Which led us to check in with Ghirardelli later in the day. See below.

Nut Job

Bartons was much less stingy and grumpy about another offering—NutJob, a wacky new candy bar featuring "delicious double chocolate, creamy caramel, loaded with peanuts!" They hired a dude to dress as a "nut job," which apparently means something like a Little League outfit. He was carrying around some balls, so we asked if he was going to juggle them… and he obliged. The bar tastes a hell of a lot like an Oh Henry, but we can't imagine there will be crossover between the youngsters drawn to the "craziness" of NutJob and the 80-plus set that enjoys Oh Henry bars.

Camille Bloch Liqueur-Filled Chocolates

Bartons' Chocotini bars lack an actual liquor component, but the Dorval Trading Company booth just next door more than compensated. Several importers and manufacturers at the Expo were touting chocolates with the usual liqueur fillings, like Cointreau, Bailey's Irish Cream, and Grand Marnier, but the Camille Bloch line added some ringers to the mix, including grappa, "Jamaican Rhum," and Kirsch brandy. The chocolate bubbles on the bars could barely contain the surprisingly hefty shots of booze; we'd never gotten an actual swimmy alcohol moment from a candy bar before. And that was just from sampling a single square each. We were willing to bet a whole bar would have us reeling in the aisles, but we decided not to risk it.

Heinz Ketchup Flavored Potato Chips

Herr's "Blossoming Onion" chips

Scrappy chipmaker Herr's told us that ketchup-flavored chips are very popular in Canada. Who knew? Anyway: They taste like ketchup! It probably isn't the toughest flavor to imitate. The Blossoming Onion was a little more intriguing: That state-fair staple is all about texture, heat, and dipping sauce. The chip form is actually much closer to a pork rind—puffy, super-crunchy, and actually quite tasty.

Funley's Delicious Stix In The Mud

We had a pleasant conversation with Shawn and Ashley Mendel, the husband-and-wife team behind Funley's, who look nothing like the couple on the front of their Stix In The Mud ("clusters of crunchy savory cookie bits in a blend of premium dark and milk chocolate"). They explained how much friendlier the snack industry is than the movie industry—they're from L.A. Their product has only been around for a year, but they're really excited to be pimping it at the Expo. We're happy to report that their treats are delicious. They look sort of high-end, like something you might one day see at Whole Foods.

Super Tea Pastel

In an equally personal but stranger and less pleasant interaction, a woman representing a product called Super Tea Pastel (put out by Anhui Fukang Pharmecutical Co., Ltd. of China, which could probably use a corporate makeover before it does business in the U.S., and should probably start by giving itself a friendly name like "Funley's") physically grabbed us as we went by, trying to persuade us to try Super Tea Pastel, a green-tea-based, candy-like product with a surprisingly intense tea taste. Is it a breath mint? A candy mint? According to the expensive-looking full-color glossy sheet she handed us, "It is a kind of new type food which… has unique delicate fragrance flavor, and can be dissolved immediately while kept in mouth, it will dispel bad smell more quickly more radically and more lasting, keep your mouth fresh for a long time! Also it can care teeth and human body, and not pollute environment. Additionally, we put the original green tea juice and fruit juice in it, hence it has unique flavor and better taste, endeared it to most people." And on and on and on at length, summed up by the big red sell-line at the top of the info sheet: "Innovation patent in china first! Lead a new innovation in the filed [sic] of chewing gum!" Oh wait, so it is gum. That's… good to know, we guess. (This sell page is just as entertaining. Nice to know it can help with weight lose.)

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road

We've been pretty disappointed with the Snickers spin-offs that have come out lately: Snickers Dark doesn't taste much different, Snickers Charged had that horrible energy-bar aftertaste, and Snickers Nut'N Butter Crunch was pretty dull, too. We even skipped officially Taste Testing the Indiana Jones-themed Snickers Adventure, because it just tasted like a Snickers with a bit of coconut oil on it. The limited-edition Rockin' Nut Road sounds plenty different on the surface ("almonds, caramel, and marshmallow-flavored nougat wrapped in dark chocolate"), and even looks different: The signature swirls on top are gone—it's smooth! Lo and behold, it's damn good. It tastes pretty much nothing like a Snickers, which is sort of a theme at this year's convention: Companies don't want to launch a new brand, so they make something that's completely different, but call it something familiar. You'll see that later with the new M&Ms; Premiums…

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Dove Bananas Foster Milk Chocolate and Tiramisu Dark Chocolate

Dove wasn't fucking around at the All Candy Expo: They had a little circular enclosure that looked like a VIP area at a club, with cushy curved couches surrounded by a heavy floor-to-ceiling drape (and those convention-center ceilings are really damn high, too) and a Dove chocolate fountain in the middle. We indulged in some dipped fruit, then made off with samples of new Dove products. Rather than the expected solid piece of banana-flavored chocolate, the Bananas Foster miniature was a chocolate coating with goopy banana caramel inside. It wasn't insanely good, but we wouldn't kick it out of bed, either. The Tiramisu miniature (also chocolate around a flavored caramel filling) was weirder: Since it's trying to reference a dessert that's actually a swirl of flavors, it doesn't quite hit the mark. There's a lot of espresso flavor, and the dark chocolate is a bit overwhelming, but it's interesting. In bar form, we also tried Cranberry Almond dark chocolate and the "silky smooth milk chocolate almond" mini-bar, which were both much more traditional.

Dove also had an entirely separate booth at the opposite end of the Expo, where a trio of friendly ladies were touting various wine pairings, and offering wine samplings. Sparkling red wine and Dove Dark Chocolate Miniatures? Insanely good together. We mentioned Lindt's 85 percent cacao Excellence bar, which was so dry and bitter that it begs for a wine pairing, and the Dove representative airily informed us, "Well, we would never go above 77 percent cacao ourselves. Dove products are known for their silky-smooth texture, and past 77 percent, you just can't lose that unpleasant grainy feeling." In other words, if you're going to eat the competition's crappy candy, you're gonna need a whole lot more wine to wash it down.

Lindt Excellence 85% Cocoa

Lindt Creation 70% Cherry & Chili

In spite of the dire warnings, the Lindt Excellence line is still terrific. The 85% Cocoa bar is startlingly dry. (Note: some high-end chocolate products advertise the "cocoa" percentages on their packaging, some cite "cacao," and some cite both, but everyone we talked to about chocolate all day at Candy Expo pronounced it as the hoitier, toitier "cacao.") It sucks all the moisture out of your mouth, as if to say "Now add wine, quick." According to the Lindt website, the company also makes an incomprehensible 99 percent cacao bar, which may have been present at the Expo, but if so, we missed it—possibly they had to keep it under lock and key to prevent all of the convention center's light from falling into its darkness.

Lindt also had smiling hirees offering bowls of their signature truffles to passersby, but we bypassed those and went straight for the product we hadn't seen in stores yet: the "Creation 70% Cherry & Chili" bar, an awesomely complicated, thick dark chocolate bar containing chocolate mousse and chili-infused cherry filling. While it isn't particularly spicy—the chili taste hits late and mildly, compared to, say, Frey's mouth-biting Hot Chilli Pepper bar—the texture blends of dark chocolate, mousse, and cherry filling are terrific. Also, the bar is rich enough to feed a family of chocoholics for a week.

Splendid Chocolates Dark Chocolate Wasabi Peas & Spicy Crackers

Okay, seriously, Splendid Chocolates has a good, solid company name. It doesn't quite roll mellifluously off the tongue, but it works nicely to defuse any attempt at putting the company down. "I had a really crappy Splendid Chocolate the other day." See? The Canadian company is lining up to introduce a line of gourmet choco-products, two of which particularly stood out: dark-chocolate-covered wasabi peas and spicy rice crackers. Both packed a notable kick, and both were surprising taste combinations that turned out to be really good. Pity they're still a ways from market and didn't have packaged product yet, or we might have tried to sneak off with some.

Jelly Belly Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Parlor Mix

The giant Jelly Belly area didn't offer any new "gross" flavors this year, though one of the company's current big product pushes is the "BeanBoozled" packages, which put the scary flavors (pencil shavings, baby wipes, dirt, etc.) in containers alongside look-alike "good" flavors, so you don't know what you're getting out of any bean until you taste it. (The guy dispensing BeanBoozled samples, dipping jellybeans out of plastic drawers with a tiny, single-bean-grabbing scoop, took obvious sadistic pleasure in only giving us the punishment flavors, and following each new grimace with an "Oops! You got the rotten-egg flavor, huh?") The company's other, more palatable new product is a line of Cold Stone Creamery-inspired flavors. The pricey ice-cream chain has plenty of weird mixes to pick from, but none of them translates very well to bean form. Birthday Cake Remix tastes the most like what it intends to—cake batter—while Chocolate Devotion tastes like nothing, Our Strawberry Blonde is okay, and Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip is pretty standard.

Also at the Jelly Belly booth this year: Dark Chocolate Jelly Bellys and "Sport Beans," which contain "carbs — electrolytes — vitamins B & C" and should be consumed with water. They packaging says they're "clinically proven to improve sports performance." Oh, to work in the Jelly Belly sports clinic.

Pepperoni Pizza and Zesty Salsa Tortilla Combos

A reader e-mailed to tell us about two new flavors of Combos—the thoroughly disgusting sounding Cheeseburger, plus Bacon, Egg, And Cheese—so we were excited to approach the Combos area and inquire. Alas, they only had Pepperoni Pizza and Zesty Salsa. Perhaps our local 7-Eleven will have to help us find the others. Anyway, these sound pretty bad, look even worse, but aren't really notably disgusting. Pepperoni Pizza, which has been around a while, just tastes like tomato-sauce-flavored Combos. The twist on Zesty Salsa is that the outside isn't really a cracker, but rather a "tortilla," because it's made from corn. They actually taste remarkably like salsa, at least until the aftertaste makes you gag.

Starburst GummiBursts, Giant Chewy Nerds, Mix'd Berry Chewy Spree

In another couple instances of brands stepping outside their normal area, Starburst is introducing GummiBursts—liquid-filled gummies that vaguely recall the flavor of Starburst chews. They're your basic gummi, but they shoot out a liquid center of concentrated flavor. Not bad! Nerds have transformed from tiny rocks in a box into "giant, chewy" varieties—with a Nerd shell and a "chewy jelly bean center." Although Josh found them to be salty, harsh, and horrible, Kyle liked them quite a bit. Spree—those chalky sweet things—now come in Mix'd Berry flavors in a chewy form. These are so sweet that we couldn't taste anything else after them, and left our teeth feeling like they were coated in sugar. Insulin and a toothbrush, now!

Ghirardelli Squares: Milk Chocolate with Peanut Butter Filling

Along with Godiva—conspicuously absent at the All Candy Expo— Ghirardelli is the classy chain restaurant—Benihana?—of the chocolate world. It's far better than the stuff you find in checkout lines at grocery stores, but it's pretty easy to find, and not outrageously priced. Last year, Ghirardelli's spacious setup was abuzz with activity, from dispensing mini cupcakes to lining the walls with its then newly rebooted line of filled chocolate bars. This year, the mood was much more restrained, with the dignified air of an upscale chocolatier keeping things professional at a convention—in other words, kinda boring. Company representatives were far stingier with sample squares of the newly unveiled Milk Chocolate With Peanut Butter Filling bar. They had little reason to worry; we weren't scheming to get more of these. Ghirardelli's chocolate is reliably good, and the peanut butter is far creamier than you'll find in a Reese's, but the combination somehow tastes underwhelming. Maybe it's the crunchy bits of peanuts in the filling. Maybe it's the drymouth left by the chocolate-peanut butter combo. Maybe it was chocolate fatigue. But we weren't blown away.

The company's new Evening Dream bar, part of its Intense Dark series, fared a little better. While other chocolatiers focus on the space race of making a nearly 100 percent cacao bar palatable, Ghirardelli scales back to 60 percent here and adds a "hint" of Madagascan vanilla. (At last, our angry demands for vanilla from Madagascar have been answered!) The result is a tasty bar that balances dark chocolate's boldness with milk chocolate's smooth mouthfeel.

Incidentally, we asked a friendly Ghirardelli's rep if the company had any reaction to the nearby Barton's display, where those pomegranate-bar-hogging mofos seemed to be biting Ghirardelli's packaging style. The response? A couple of blinks, then a firm "Oh, them. We don't really consider them our competition, so it doesn't matter." Way to carry the flag, quick-thinking Ghirardelli rep!

M&M;'s Premiums: Chocolate Almond, Mint Chocolate, Mocha, Raspberry Almond, Triple Chocolate

The new millennium has seen unprecedented activity in the world of M&M;'s. Seriously, for the longest time, you had Plain or Peanut, and maybe some cancer with the coloring, and that was it. Mars didn't seem terribly interested in screwing with a classic. These days, Mars only seems to be interested in screwing with said classic. To wit, the new Premiums line, the biggest departure yet for M&M;'s. The flavors aren't bizarre—Chocolate Almond sounds similar to regular almond M&M;'s—but the chocolate is altogether different. It's richer and more crumbly (almost chalky in texture—though not taste), not the firm stuff in its cheaper siblings. (These retail for $3.99 for a 6-ounce box.) They also have a little more character: oblong, non-uniform shapes, and fancy marbled exteriors.

Once you get over the texture shock, M&M;'s Premiums are generally pretty tasty. We scored a couple boxes of Raspberry Almond (far better than the limited-edition raspberry M&M;'s) and Chocolate Almond, but were able to try all of them at the sampling counter. Triple Chocolate mixes dark, milk, and white chocolate; Mocha approximates a coffee taste, and Mint Chocolate plays just like a higher-end version of its limited-edition sibling. While versions of these flavors have appeared in regular M&M;'s, they're more refined and palatable here. They should be, for $4 per box.

Mars is also taking My M&M;'s—personalized, consumer-generated messages printed on M&M;'s—up a notch by introducing My M&M;'s Faces. Now you can have the creepy satisfaction of eating the images of yourself or a loved one in M&M; form.

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Snyder's Of Hanover Pretzel Dips and Sweet & Salty Bugles Caramel

The salty-sweet combination is generally a no-brainer when it comes to snackables, and chocolate-covered pretzels are the no-brainiest of all. While we imagine it would be tough to concoct a chocolate-covered pretzel we wouldn't wolf down by the handful, Snyder's Of Hanover's version has stacked the deck by using Hershey's special dark chocolate. The dark chocolate renders the treat a little less sweet than usual, which is a good thing—the dark stuff is layered on very thick, and a sweeter milk chocolate would likely overwhelm the thin, salty pretzel underneath. The chocolate's a little waxy, as Hershey's tends to be, but it isn't as noticeable when combined with the crispiness of the pretzel.

Mere pretenders to the sweet-salty throne, Sweet & Salty Caramel Bugles don't come close to hitting the same mark as their pretzely superiors. In spite of a gloppy, inconsistent layer of brittle caramel, these are still overwhelmingly corn-chippy, and leave the same unpleasant aftertaste as regular Bugles. Worse than that, though, the Bugles' characteristic conical shape seems to be warped from the layer of caramel, so we can't fit them on our fingers and pretend we have witch-nails, which is really the whole point of Bugles anyway.

Arizona Jack's Super Giga Original Beef Jerky & Pepperoni Whipper Snacker

The candy gets most of the attention at the ACE, but there's plenty of other stuff, particularly in the jerkied meat department. Lording over all of it are two freakishly large products from Arizona Jack's: the enormous Super Giga Original jerky strip, and the 3-foot-long Whipper Snacker pepperoni sausage. The guys from Arizona Jack's were particularly eager to talk about both, noting that the Super Giga is the only branded jerky—note the AZJ branding—and that the Whipper Snacker is the "longest piece of sausage that's wrapped." "You got all the regular beef jerky, then you've got the branded," said one of AJ's representatives. You can't argue that, but you can easily argue that there's far, far tastier jerky out there. But if the American eating habits are about anything, it's quantity over quality—and who can top a quarter-pound beef-jerky strip or 3-foot sausage? U-S-A! U-S-A!

Chuao Firecracker ChocoPod

We reviewed Chuao chocolate in Taste Test back in January, where the Spicy Maya earned high marks for its mixture of heat and choco-satisfaction. The Chuao rep at ACE remembered the story and quickly offered us the new Firecracker, a bizarre mix of 60 percent dark chocolate, chipotle, salt, and popping candy à la Pop Rocks. Available in ChocoPod and bar form, it brings the heat more than the Spicy Maya, but the mix of spice and dark chocolate, combined with the novelty of popping candy, was surprisingly satisfying. More, please.

Shoogy Boom Popping Candy

Speaking of popping candy, good ol' Pop Rocks was present at the convention, but they didn't seem to have anything new going on, and by the time we got there toward the end of the convention day, they'd taped down all the sample dispensers and wandered off for some weary chitchat. So we were forced to sample their less-known competitor Shoogy Boom, a Turkish product from the Hleks company. (According to the website, Hleks "always see the future clear and optimistic," which is an excellent reason to suck up some popping candy right away.) There are an impressive number of popping Hleks products under the Shoogy Boom label, including popping gum, "poppin' drink," popping lollipops, straight-up Pop Rocks-style popping candy, and the impressively tasty popping chocolate balls, which melt in your mouth and sizzle at the same time.

Dan's Chocolates

While Pop Rocks locked the store and sealed the dispensers when they packed up and left, the kind people at Dan's Chocolates left out an impressive, attractive display that basically said "Try everything we make, you'll love it." So we did. Their mini-bars are notable for being palm-sized but extra-thick, and for coming in oddly named varieties like "Peppy-r-mint" and "The Caffeinator" (which contain chunks of peppermint and coffee beans, respectively) rather than the increasingly common fruit and spice flavors, but better still were the giant bins of amazing truffles, particularly the dark chocolate peppermint and dark chocolate orange zest. There are cranberry raisin and Caffeinator truffles too.

Love Candy

The guy at the Love Candy booth completely failed to explain why his caramel-nut bars are called Love Candy, but that's okay. We pretty much loved them anyway. The caramel is ultra-soft and silky rather than chewy, drippy, or gooshy, and the bar's minimal chocolate or yogurt bottom and sides hold it together and provide some extra sweetness and texture without overwhelming the taste. "Unwrap the passion" is probably too strong a tagline—"Unwrap something tasty involving chocolate and caramel and pecans, almonds, and brown sugar" would be more accurate, albeit wordier—but we can see why the little Love Candy company has gotten emotionally involved with its product.

Tootsie Pop Drops and Pomegranate Tootsie Pop

The world has wondered since the 1930s how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop—there's even been scientific research done. (It's somewhere between 250 and 400.) But the delicious treat has been slightly shy about new flavors over the years: It's chocolate, cherry, raspberry, orange, and grape, and occasionally you'll see the less popular watermelon, strawberry, and lemon-lime. Well, get ready to have your world blown apart, as Tootsie is introducing pomegranate-flavored pops, presumably to break into the lucrative foodie/lollipop crossover market. And guess what? They aren't bad. In more exciting news, they're also offering Tootsie Pop Drops, a.k.a. "Tootsie Pops WITHOUT the Stick!" That's right, same great flavor, much smaller, no annoying cardboard stick making you look like Kojak. On the downside: It's almost impossible not to chomp right down on 'em.

Junior Fruit Cremes

The Tootsie folks had a separate area for the Junior Mints subsection of their candy empire. The Junior Mints Minis were exactly like Junior Mints, but the size of plain M&M;'s; the reduction eliminated more mint than chocolate, leaving the choco-shell dominant. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum were Junior Mints Deluxe, golf-ball-sized confections with a thin candy shell surrounding a shocking amount of goopy, syrupy mint. (Note: It is almost biologically impossible to sample a Giant Junior Mint without thinking of it as a Senior Mint.) But the big reveal went to the not-yet-marketed Junior Fruit Cremes, which have the approximate shape and texture of Junior Mints, but come in mixed boxes of three fruit flavors: raspberry, orange, and black cherry. A.V. Club testers back at the office were pretty dubious about Junior Fruit Cremes, praising their initial tart burst of juicy fruit taste, but not so much the way the flavor quickly passed, leaving us all with waxy mouthfuls of the outer coating. These are a limited-edition candy, which is Food Industry for "We don't know whether anyone will go for this, but if they do, you'll be seeing an official release version later." Don't count on that to happen here; get your Junior Fruit Cremes while you can, once you can.

Gum And Mint Roundup

The gum and mint world is slightly limited, and to be honest, just not nearly as exciting as actual candy. That doesn't stop manufacturers from exploring new ways to keep your mouth busy, though. We weren't sure what to make of Ice Breakers Chewy Sours (strawberry blast! flavor): Is it gum? Is it candy? Is it a mint? It looks like a bumpy little dinosaur egg, and tastes a little bit like death. Sweet, sour, super-chewy… Ick. It's easy to tell what Mentos Gum is, because it says it right there in the title, and even features a picture of its "new soft center." It comes in a pretty elaborate plastic case with a flip-top, and the gum is shaped like Mentos. It's extremely shiny, too, and extra-elastic. This flavor tastes like flowers. Trident Xtra Care claims to strengthen your teeth, which we'll probably need after all of this sugar candy. The magic ingredient is called Recaldent, and the packaging handily points out that it's "milk-derived." We tried cool mint and peppermint, neither particularly notable for their flavor, but not bad. It's way more fun to chew Bazooka Bubble Juice Bubble Gum Nuggets, particularly since the flavor is Slammin' Blue Raspberry. The fact that it's called "juice" is quite deceptive—it's presumably because it's in a Capri Sun-shaped package, right? Not exactly! It's insanely juicy. It just keeps juicing as you eat it. Our teeth feel weird. Elsewhere: Altoids are offering dark chocolate-dipped crème de menthe mints (yummm), Tic Tac is throwing their weight behind sugar-free Tic Tac Chill (exotic cherry and paradise mint)—about twice as big as a normal Tic Tac, but delivered in a hard-to-open fancy case. And not too exciting in the flavor department. Finally, in the boutique department, Hint Mints are pretty hip. Their curved tin fits snugly into back pockets, and the fancy mints even come in chocolate.

Green & Black's Organic Milk Chocolate Butterscotch Bar

Sick of chocolate yet? We almost were, and then we ran across the Green & Black's booth near the back. These British-import high-end organic bars are a staple of high-end organic supermarkets; check the extra-snooty section in aisle two. But they do a delicious chocolate. The new, not-yet-available-in-the-States Butterscotch Bar, they informed us, will be repackaged as "Toffee" before it hits stores; sadly, we were underwhelmed by its minimal amount of toffee. Far better were the more familiar dark-chocolate bars on display, including Ginger, Cherry, and the delicious Maya Gold, which combines cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and orange for a flavor bristling with spice.

Valor Chocolate Chocolat Noir Banana Bar

But of all the unusual premium chocolate bars on display at the expo, the one that most stood out was the banana-flavored bar from Spain's Valor Chocolates. It seemed like the big themes in chocolate this year were extra-super-duper-dark bars and pomegranate flavoring in bars and truffles alike, but no one (apart from Dove, and only in banana-caramel form) seemed to be doing a banana-flavored bar. And Valor's was terrific. The 70% cacao dark bar with smooth, rich banana flavoring—not banana bits, just banana essence—was unique at the show, and all the more delicious for it. The Chocolat Noir Pear bar was good too, but the banana wins the day. Sniffing around online, we aren't immediately seeing an American source for these, so we'll just have to make the one we have last for now.

In fact, we shouldn't have much problem making our approximately 28 pounds of freebie candy last through Memorial Day weekend; even hours after we opened the pile up to the madding crowds at our Chicago office, billions of calories still remained unclaimed on our kitchen table. We'd go pick through the remnants for more tasty treats, but we're obscenely full. Time to go look up the URL for The American Diabetes Association.

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