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First you get the sugar, then you get the power: The A.V. Club visits the 2012 Sweets & Snacks Expo

Every year, a group of us trek to the Sweets & Snacks Expo at Chicago’s McCormick Place because, duh, it’s a gigantic building filled with free candy, much of it new or unusual. Each year, we try to share that experience with you, poor reader, even though the senses most important to this experience cannot be conveyed through your computer screen. The smell of mascot fur, the sight of a giant copy of Chicago’s “Cloud Gate” sculpture rendered in jelly beans, the taste of candy-corn-flavored M&Ms. One thing we cannot bring you, though we would very much have liked to, is a report about Nestlé’s new Girl Scout Cookies-branded candy bars. They were the talk of the Expo, but no samples were to be had. We’ll bring you a full report when they hit stores. For now, some information on the most notable sweets and snacks from our favorite days of the year. 

Justin’s Candy Bars
Boy, the young lady running the Justin’s booth really wanted us to order our sister site, The Onion, to do some kind of funny story about her company’s signature product, Justin’s Nut Butter. Well, young lady, there’s nothing funny about chocolate-hazelnut butter, and Justin is probably sick of you making fun of him in front of the other cheerleaders after school. Stop giggling at him behind his back, and hand us another one of his candy bars. Justin’s already had an extensive line of flavored peanut butters and almond butters, but now the company is breaking into candy, with milk and dark chocolate peanut-butter cups and three varieties of candy bars. When the rep stopped pushing us to be funny about her boss, she told us that demand for these things has been so high that they didn’t even have any product to bring to the expo—they had to buy some of their pre-sold product back from retailers. That’s actually pretty believable. The candy bars are essentially a richer, more upscale version of Snickers bars, and the peanut-butter cups are firmer and less airy than Reese’s. If we were retailing these, we wouldn’t have given them back to the company, we would have kept them for ourselves. 

Herr’s Fire Roasted Sweet Corn Potato Chips, Classic American Hot Dog Potato Chips, & Jalapeno Poppers-Flavored Cheese Curls
The guy at the Herr’s display was very excited to tell us that the Nottingham, Pennsylvania-based company has the No. 1 chip brand in the Philadelphia area, beating out the big guys in terms of volume. Herr’s has done a lot of wild flavors in the past: The display even pictured a recently defunct flavor called Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza. Though we didn’t get our mitts on those, we did manage to score a few other flavors. The smell of the Sweet Corn chips is pretty overpowering—and strangely accurate. Get this, though: They’re potato chips meant to taste like corn! (Meta!) Anyway, the flavor is incredibly strong, and not something most people would want to casually munch on, though like buttered-popcorn Jelly Bellys, they’re worth a bite just for the sensation. But how does a chip company recreate the flavor of a Classic American Hot Dog? Easily, and surprisingly tastily: These just taste like ketchup and mustard, which is a winning combo. Consider this a surprise thumbs-up. The oozing photo on the front of the Jalapeno Poppers Cheese Curls was awful, but the curls themselves were also surprisingly palatable—and very spicy. Win-win-win, Herr’s.

Sanders Potato Chip Chocolate Bar
Sanders Chocolate has been a Michigan institution since the late 1800s—mmm, Bumpy Cake—though it declined and eventually went bankrupt in the latter part of the 20th century. Since being purchased in 2002 by Morley Candy Co., though, Sanders has experienced a resurgence, accompanied by a spate of new products, many of which were on display at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. The Sea Salt Caramels we sampled were amazing, but the biggest winner is the Potato Chip Chocolate Bar, a creamy-delicious milk chocolate bar studded with crunchy, salty bits of potato chip (which we assume/hope are Sanders’ Michigan-based brethren Better Made Potato Chips). Sweet, salty, chocolaty, crunchy, all in one—what more do you want? 

Project 7 gums and mints
The earnest young man who told us about Project 7’s products, each of which benefit different charities, was mighty enthused about his company, so we didn’t dare ask, “Wouldn’t charities be better off if we just gave them money instead of buying candy and water and having you kick them the profits?” But that seemed mean-spirited. Besides, Project 7 does seem like a pretty innovative company. As the site says, “We’re not asking you to buy more stuff, just to change the way you buy.” The products are each labeled with the type of charity they support—for instance, buying water, gum, fair-trade coffees, or mints labeled “Quench The Thirsty” sends money to non-profits that provide clean water, like A Child’s Right. Other causes involve providing food, housing, schooling, or even counseling to those in need, or in the case of Save The Earth products, planting fruit trees. It’s a well-intentioned and surprisingly nuanced system, literally encouraging consumers to vote with their wallets on which causes they want to support with their little luxury choices. Ah, but are the products themselves any good? We tried the mints, which come in three varieties: peppermint, wintergreen, and fresh mint. These tiny mints are super-intense, following the Altoids model, and they come in nifty little cork-stoppered test tubes, which may not be practical for a pocket or purse once they’re opened, but still stand out. The fresh-mint variety is probably the best—it has a brisk, spring-like flavor. You can almost taste the wind through the fruit trees you just helped pay for.

Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Simple Pleasures with Chocolate Crème
Hershey’s Simple Pleasures line drops June 1 and marks the candy giant’s continued intrusion into the lower-fat chocolate market. Simple Pleasures have 30 percent less fat than other milk chocolate—which may be attributed to their creamy centers, but whatever. They’ll come in both milk and dark chocolate varieties, with both chocolate and vanilla crème centers. We only tried the milk chocolate/chocolate version, but it’s not really anything to write home about. The little coin-sized bite has a weird artificial aftertaste that’s probably the fault of that crème. Sure, the thing tastes of chocolate, but it lacks that satisfying chocolate bite and crunch that a discriminating connoisseur might want. That being said, you could do worse as far as lower-calorie sweets are concerned.

Fruiti Farts and Sour Spanks
“Hey Mom, will you buy me some Farts?!” So goes the cry of the saddest generation, whose candy is reduced to pandering to their ass sounds to get attention. But it’ll probably work, considering how much fun we had talking to the Leaf representative, who happily provided us with samples of both Fruiti Farts and their companion, Sour Spanks. Both were described as softer versions of other things, so you can go ahead and insert your own joke there. Farts were really just chewy Nerds, and the watermelon variety we tried tasted nothing like the waste air that is expelled from your lower intestine. (The Farts tagline is kinda awesome, though: “So Fun They’ll Make You Laugh!”) Spanks are your basic chewy sour candy. Their tagline: “Bite the sour!” Fine, we will. 

Everybody’s Nuts! Sweet Chili & Garlic And Onion Pistachio
BIGS Flavored Sunflower Seeds
Speaking of suggestive names, who wouldn’t want to shout out at a party, “I want to eat Everybody’s Nuts!”? These in-the-shell pistachios come dusted with strong flavors; the two we tried were the quite-spicy Sweet Chili and the more demure Garlic And Onion, both of which were solid, though slightly overpowering. (It’s tough to taste the pistachio itself over the intense garlic of the latter. Still, delicious.) Other players in the nut-and-seed game this year included BIGS, which introduced three co-branded flavors of sunflower seeds: J.D.’s Bacon Salt Sizzlin’ Bacon, Vlasic Dill Pickle, and Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wing. These all packed a nice, salty punch, and we have to praise J.D.’s Bacon Salt company, who’ve been a favorite of Taste Tests over the years.

Old Dominion Hot & Sweet Chipotle Peanut Squares
Old Dominion Peanut Company has an obvious product fixation—it’s right there in the company name—but it’s almost funny, perusing its site and its booth and seeing the sheer number of uses it’s found for peanuts, in brittle, chocolate-dipped, butter-toffee-dipped, and other forms. There’s nothing funny about its new spicy peanut squares, though—they’re essentially mouth-melting brittle. It’s a weird combination—peanut-brittle-like crunchy nuggets, dusted with barbecue spice or chipotle pepper—but they pack an admirable kick, and it’s one of the more interesting and enjoyable combinations of sweet and spicy to come down the line recently. Like so many ultra-new products, these aren’t on the company’s website yet—a rep told us they’re still working on distribution—but look for them in stores soon, and have some milk, or whatever one drinks with spicy peanut brittle, close to hand.

Sahale Crunchers Almond Snacks
Similarly not on Sahale’s website as we head to press: the new “Sahale Crunchers” line of almond snacks. Two of the three Crunchers varieties mix almonds with fruit (cherries and apples in the maple-glazed variety; cranberries in the sesame-seed-and-honey variety), while the third, parmesan and herbs, is just a rich spice blend. The Sahale rep was eager to tell us about all the uses for Crunchers—as an additive to cereal, yogurt, cooked fish, baked brie, and more—but she was possibly getting a little tired, as she repeated herself a couple of times, as if running out of options because we lingered at the booth too long. (No, she did not at any point suggest that Crunchers could be used as a humorous substitute for our own lips, but there was a hint of that reaching-for-more-ideas desperation.) Not that she needed more options; Sahale makes probably the best glazed nuts and nut mixes in the organic-foods market (oh man, those Tuscan Almonds), and these combinations are unsurprisingly worthy of being added to the menu. Also, hey, Sahale, did you mention that they’d work fine on salads?

GloryBee HoneyStix and AgaveStix
Sealed straws full of flavored honey are nothing new—marketers have been selling them for decades as single-serving sweeteners for tea, or a quick organic snack. But GloryBee’s display at the expo was impressively ambitious when it came to sheer range of flavors, from the usual fruit and natural flavors (orange, vanilla, lemon) to a whole range of exotica: amaretto, licorice, chocolate, ginger, root beer, mango, and more. GloryBee’s website also has recipes for even more exotic combinations, like Apple Pie, Mojito, and Mountain Meadow. While a straw full of honey seems like an odd addition to the convention’s lineup of snacks, it was pretty tempting to grab one of everything from this booth and go home and play mad beekeeper scientist.

Sea Turtles
One of our best finds at last year’s expo was South Bend Chocolate Company’s “summer pretzels,” a mixed bag of orange- and lemon-flavored white-chocolate-covered pretzels. For now, visitors to the company’s website will have to settle for ordering those (hint: it isn’t really settling; they’re delicious), because the site isn’t yet selling the company’s newest product. Sea Turtles are turtles—that classic chocolate-covered pecans-and-caramel patty—infused with lime and sprinkled with sea salt. They’re sold at the company’s South Bend, Indiana store, at least. They taste terrific—salty enough to have a little bite, and limey enough to be different from the usual run of turtles, but not overwhelming in either case. Hopefully the company’s web technology will soon catch up with its candy-making technology.

Cupcake Bites and Red Velvet Cupcake Bites
Speaking of technology, Taste Of Nature may be abusing it in a rush to turn every possible form of food into waxy “bites,” meant to be sold at concession counters in place of the messier foods they approximate. The company’s Cookie Dough Bites have been around for many years, but the company keeps expanding the line, most recently with Cinnamon Bun, Cupcake, and Red Velvet Cupcake Bites. On the plus side, these poppable, Raisinet-like niblet-things are pretty convenient for movie theaters or travel. On the minus side, they all taste relentlessly artificial, and have a texture reminiscent of sugar-infused Play-Doh. The Red Velvet ones taste a little like sheet cake, but the cupcake variety just tastes like sour chemicals and sugar. If there’s an annual award for Least Organic Food, these might qualify.

Nutella & Go!
There are few ways to improve on Nutella hazelnut spread, and packing it into a container with some bland, dry breadsticks isn’t one of them, But it’s hard to deny the delicious convenience of portable, dippable hazelnut perfection. The breadsticks in the left compartment of the plastic container are nondescript and barely register, flavor-wise—they’re neither sweet nor salty—leaving the star of the show to its rightful spotlight. Basically, the sticks are a Nutella conveyance, designed to prevent snackers from just burying their faces in the Nutella directly. As proponents of basic human dignity, we appreciate that.

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats Buttery Toffee and Chocolatey Chip Big Bars 
According to a video on the relatively fascinating Kellogg’s marketing website, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats Bars are the fastest-growing snack bar in convenience stores. That makes sense, because the brand recognition is there, and the treats somehow feel slightly more homemade than traditional candy or granola bars. Enter two new treats, Buttery Toffee and the somewhat disconcertingly named Chocolatey Chip, which may or may not actually contain real chocolate. At the very least, the latter is incredibly sweet, almost too much. Whereas the original Rice Krispies Treat bar could, in theory, at least feasibly pass for some sort of alternate-universe breakfast, this is dessert, straight up. The Buttery Toffee, while definitely leaning toward sugar-rush territory, is a little subtler, with a depth of flavor that’s a really welcome touch. Add to that sentiment the notion that, because the bar is so fresh, it’s delightfully squishy and not at all like the brick-like Treats bars we’ve had before, and we’d buy this any day.

Toblerone Crunchy Salted Almond
Toblerone is one of those unfuckwithable candy bars, but if you’re going to mess with perfection, adding a little bit of salt to the mix is a pretty inoffensive approach. This new bar is almost indistinguishable from a regular Toblerone; there’s a hint of saltiness if you’re looking for it, but that distinctive honey-almond nougat steals its thunder. A slightly heavier hand with the salt might have made this a standout, but as-is, it’s just another pretender to the Swiss-chocolate throne. That said, we have to give Toblerone props for coming back to the expo every year with fresh strawberries and a fondue pot full of melted Toblerone. Who knew the distinctive triangle bars were so good in liquid form?

Snickers 3X Chocolate
You know that satisfying blend of chocolate, peanuts, and nougat that’s provided you with so much Snickers satisfaction over the years? Fuck that, and make room for more chocolate, fattie: Snickers 3X Chocolate adds chocolate flavoring to the nougat and the caramel, in case your craving for chocolate wasn’t satisfied by all that chocolate on top. Then it’s packaged in a blue wrapper—easy to spot. That’s good, because for our money, this 3X is the new way to go in Snickers consumption. It’s thicker, chewier, and tastier than the original model. It’s also in a two-to-go pack, so you can pretend like you’re going to save one for later.

The Smart Healthy Snack Co.’s Garlic & Rosemary Smart Fries
At only 110 calories per 1-ounce package, Smart Healthy Snack Company’s Smart Fries are a surprisingly delicious option for anyone craving yellow potato-y goodness without all that nasty starch. These air-popped potato sticks taste a little like Pirate Booty, but aren’t as nutritionally ambiguous. Eat enough of these, and you might actually believe you’re eating fries, especially if you get the flavored ones, which are surprisingly “gourmet”-tasting. The Garlic & Rosemary variety is new, was up for product of the year at the expo, and is, in fact, pretty darn good. Plus, with about 65 pieces in a package, no discriminating snacker would ever feel deprived upon finishing.

Din Don Flan
Din Don is the name of the company. Flan is apparently what’s in this tiny plastic container, whose ingredient list takes up nearly the 1 square inch on top. (Third ingredient is seaweed extract.) Real flan is sort of a gelatinous custard pie with the crust on the bottom. This is a weird little pyramid cube thing that we were scared to eat. There’s almost no taste to this, but the texture is what we imagine human fat is like to consume.

Russell Stover S’Mores Big Bite
A previously discontinued item that’s been brought back in 2012, Russell Stover S’Mores Big Bite delivers roughly 80 percent of the s’mores taste experience with about 5 percent of the effort. While there’s no cumbersome campfire required here, the pre-assembled candy bar is missing the quintessential burnt-sugar yumminess of a traditional s’more, and efforts to duplicate the treat’s ooey-gooeyness in the microwave resulted in an unwieldy pile of white slime. However, even un-charred and at room temperature, the Russell Stover s’more is a pretty solid simulation, and it holds together pretty well—better than most handmade attempts—thanks to the okay-quality chocolate enrobing the nicely textured marshmallow at its center.


Plentils and Black Bean Crisps
One definite trend at the expo this year was an expansion of chip-making source materials: In addition to the usual corn, potato, banana, plantain, and multi-grain chips, and the slightly more exotic puffed-rice chips, we noted a new line of “popped black-bean crisps” (which are textured and shaped much like mini rice cakes, and taste solely like the varieties of flavored salt dusted upon them), various chips made from hummus or chickpeas (and strangely adamant about the distinction), and lentil chips. The Plentils line of lentil chips also taste more like seasoning than anything else—we tried them in sea salt and garlic & parmesan, but they also come in “margherita pizza” and dill & sour cream—but they have an interesting light, airy crunch, not unlike less-porous pork rinds. They’re surprisingly filling for chips, though on a strict calorie-and-fat basis, not much healthier than the average chip. Still, they’re billed as containing “no artificial anything!” and “free of the eight common allergens” (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish), so that has to count for something, health-wise.

Jamba Multigrain Fruit Crisps
An even odder addition to the chip market: Jamba Fruit Crisps, which come under the Jamba Juice umbrella of Inventure Foods, but aren’t yet available at either company’s sites. These look like an average lightweight puffed grain chip, but they’re startlingly, pleasantly fruity, much like a good brand of organic fruit cereal. The Jamba stall had these in two varieties—Blueberry Blast and Cranberry Crave—and both were above-average in the taste department. They’re actually a little reminiscent of Pop Tarts in their strong fruit-and-wheat flavor profile, but without the overwhelming sweetness or Pop Tarts’ sugar coating. And according to the packaging, they contain six whole grains (corn, oats, rice, buckwheat, millet, and sorghum) and no cholesterol, though they do contain a pretty-average-for-chips 7 grams of fat per serving. Still, they’re made with fruit. Hopefully they’ll be more widely available soon. That way we can eat a whole goddamn bag of chips and feel like we’re staying healthy at the same time.

Laurel Hill Tortilla Chips
In spite of all of the chip-related exotica, though, the best chips we tried at the expo were almost-conventional tortilla chips that just happened to be delicious. Laurel Hill’s line of corn chips don’t just achieve different flavors with spice blends, they actually incorporate different ingredients into different products. So the Olive & Caper chips are just what they sound like, while the strikingly tasty Pumpkin Seed Chips involve pumpkin baked into the chip, as well as the seeds. The taste isn’t overwhelmingly or artificially pumpkin-ish—they just taste like a richer variety of corn chip. But that richness is mighty damn good.

First you got your chocolate in our peanut butter, and the world rejoiced. Then you Goober Graped us, and 6-year-olds were stoked. Now you’re telling us there’s a candy that not only combines peanut butter and jelly (grape or strawberry) but also covers the whole shebang in chocolate? It must be too good to be true, right? Yes, more or less. Excellent Baron’s insubstantial little peanut-butter-and-jelly bars (each about the size of a Kit Kat finger, and available in grape or strawberry) have pretty good ratios of peanut butter, chocolate, and jelly, but they’re certainly not an anytime snack. And they’re weird. So is the website promoting them, which focuses more on the fruit’s character—the grape has “cousins in juice, raisins, currants, seedless, and wine businesses”—than on the product, what it looks like, and where to get it.

Dippin’ Candy
Dippin’ Dots have been the ice cream of the future for about 25 years now, so it stands to reason that they would have to evolve at some point. Unfortunately, the new dippin’ frontier, Dippin’ Candy, is a decided step back from its Dots progenitor—hell, it might be a step back from its distant ancestor Astronaut Ice Cream. The multicolored spheres look like slightly engorged Dippin’ Dots, and smell like pure chemical sweetness, but the real offense is the texture, which falls somewhere between candle wax and chalk. (The ingredients list indicates it’s mostly vegetable oil and dry milk.) The four flavors contained in the Banana Split pack we got—chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and banana—are of varying intensity and quality, but the crappy texture overrules all flavor concerns. 

Too Haute Cowgirls gourmet popcorn, Fistful of Fleur de Sel and Have Bacon Will Travel varieties
Too Haute Cowgirls have been shilling for their gourmet popcorn company at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for a few years now, but it was only this year they really drew us in with their new chocolate-bacon caramel corn flavor called “Have Bacon Will Travel.” Unfortunately, the popcorn, which the Cowgirls claim is like “pancakes and maple syrup, with a side of bacon,” is more like passable caramel corn with an alarming amount of faux bacon seasoning on it. It smells like a bag of bacon jerky, but has none of the goodness of actual chunks of bacon and all of the powdery-ness of sub-standard essence. We managed to choke down a piece, and that was about it. Fistful Of Fleur De Sel, though, Too Haute Cowgirls’ most popular variety, is really damn good. In the company’s words, it’s “caramel corn drenched with dark chocolate, topped with crushed handmade toffee, and dusted with the finest hand-harvested fleur de sel,” or salt, if you will. That makes for a tasty combination with lots of flavor complexities. We could eat this by the handful if that probably wasn’t so terrible for us.

Combos Buffalo Blue Cheese Pretzel
The combination of buffalo sauce and blue-cheese dressing is the stuff of bar-snack legend, and pretzels are right alongside them in the pantheon. Even taking into account Combos’ tendency to disgusting-ify its flavors by 10 to 30 percent, this limited-edition permutation seems pretty can’t-miss. And while the initial aroma upon opening the package stings the nostrils with sharp, buffalo-sauced shame, the salty pleasures contained within almost—almost—overpower it. These things are pure snacking id, oblivious to concerns of healthfulness, quality, or self-respect, but damn if they don’t taste great with a can of cheap beer. At first, the only taste that registers is the over-salted Combos pretzel, but after a few moments, the blue-cheese notes start to emerge and the vinegar of the buff-sauce invades the sinuses, leaving behind a mild tongue-tingle. Eating more than a couple is a recipe for regret, but sometimes regret can be pretty damn tasty.

Crunch Mallows & Magician’s Cereal Marshmallows
It’s not too hard to see what Crunch Mallows and Magician’s Cereal Marshmallows—ostensibly two different products, though they’re distributed by the same company—are driving at. Replacing multicolored hearts, stars, horseshoes, clovers, and moons with multicolored triangles, rhombuses, square-ish thingees, half-circles, and deformed moons, they’re essentially the best part of Lucky Charms minus the worst. And setting aside their plastic-y aroma, that’s exactly what they taste like, though their flat, overpowering sweetness makes these a dicey snacking proposition on their own. Better to pair them with something, like cocoa or ice cream, or perhaps a lightly sweetened oat-based cereal of some sort…

Nutffles Red Velvet Truffle
Anyone who’s visited one of the nation’s 5 billion cupcakeries can tell you that red velvet is having a moment. Morris National has boring ol’ Almond and Hazelnut varieties of its Nutffles nut-truffles (get it??), but the trendy upstart Red Velvet is the most intriguing flavor. Thing is, it doesn’t taste much like red velvet; the “cream cheese” white chocolate coating tastes like, well, white chocolate, and while the cocoa inside the crispy chocolate-wafer inner shell has a slightly red cast, it’s basically just chocolate goo surrounding a whole almond. Not that a white-chocolate-covered nut truffle is anything to sneeze at—these are perfectly suitable, though sub-Ferrero Rocher level—but red velvet fans would be better off sticking to cupcakes.

Just Born Milk Chocolate Peepsters
While Peepsters aren’t necessarily new to the market, they’re new and notable to us. Coming in both dark chocolate and milk chocolate varieties, Peepsters are bite-sized morsels of marshmallow-flavored cream wrapped in—duh—chocolate. It’s all the joy of eating Peeps-brand marshmallow products with none of the weird crunchiness possessed by month-old bunnies that have been sitting out since Easter. Since we’re not huge fans of Peeps in general, these were a nice treat. They’re a perfect little bite of chocolate and marshmallow together. Now if only they’d make them with a graham-cracker layer at the bottom—then we’d be talking. 

Divine Milk Chocolate With Spiced Cookies & Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle
Fair Trade-certified, farmer-owned, “bean-to-bar” chocolatier Divine was displaying some seriously tempting flavors like Dark Chocolate With Hazelnut And Cranberries and Coffee Milk Chocolate, but these two limited-edition flavors were the only ones we could get our hands on. (By which we mean “walk off with while the rep’s back was turned.” Hey, all’s fair in candy and nuts.) And if these are indicative of the rest of the line, you’d do well to buy them all right now. The Spiced Cookies bar has little bits of gingerbread crumbs embedded in its melt-on-the-tongue milk chocolate, and the Dark Chocolate Hazelnut is one of the creamiest dark chocolates we’ve ever tasted. Retailing around $4 a bar, these edge toward the “luxury chocolate” category, but they’re worth the extra dough—especially considering 45 percent of it goes straight to cocoa farmers in Ghana.

Brownie Brittle
Based on the concept that everyone loves the crackly little corner pieces of brownies, but no one wants to do the actual work that results in getting said bites, Brownie Brittle emerged from the kitchen of an actual baker, Sheila G. These little things, which come in three flavors—Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Chip, and Toffee Crunch—are painfully delicious and addictive. At first bite, it’s not entirely clear what the big deal is, but go back for a second and a third, and it becomes incredibly apparent that these things are banging. They blend chocolaty brownie-ness with cookie crunchiness, resulting in a perfect harmony of snap and sweet. They’re available online right now, but they’re a little expensive, considering you could plow through a bag on a sad afternoon. Here’s hoping they make it to smaller markets all over the place soon.

Skittles Riddles
Ever thought to yourself, “Skittles are pretty okay, I guess, but they’d be better if the flavors didn’t match their expected colors”? No? Well, here these are anyway. Thing is, without the cognitive suggestion of “red equals cherry” and “yellow equals lemon,” these Skittles all just blend into “generic fruit flavor,” and while the flavor mystery might be intriguing to kids, we’re adults, dammit, we don’t have time for your mind games. Just give us a fuckin’ red Skittle and let us get back to work.

Dove Roasted Almonds Covered In Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate, Raisins And Peanuts Covered In Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate
Dove’s Roasted Almonds—and this is literally the name—Covered In Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate have been around since last year, but have been such a success that the brand’s just introduced a spin-off, Dove’s Raisins And Peanuts Covered In Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate. While the chocolate on both products is, in fact, silky smooth, it’s also a little overwhelming. The almonds lose a disappointing amount of their crunch, and the peanuts and raisins are almost interchangeable until about the third chew. Neither snack bag is bad, per se, but they’re not really that good either. We’d rather just have a handful of chocolate and a handful of peanuts, raisins, or almonds.

Dove Cookies & Crème
While we’re not huge fans of white chocolate, apparently the rest of the country is, as sales are up 21 percent since last year. According to Mars, Dove’s parent company, “Within the white chocolate category, the cookies and crème segment is up $105.5 million, an increase of 20.4 percent,” all of which is apparently directly attributable to the Hispanic population, who have “a preference for sweeter products.” Hence Dove’s new Cookies & Cream line of products, which launches this September and will include both bars and smaller, bite-sized “Promises.” As far as the sample we had, simply describing it as “sweeter” is an understatement. Dove Cookies & Crème is a mind-blowing, teeth-shaking sugar blast. We ate one bite and wanted to call our respective dentists and rinse our mouths out with water ad nauseum. It’s like pure cane sugar compressed into a little cube, with tiny sugar “cookie” bits hiding inside. It’s too much, man, just too much. 

Eat Whatever mints
Eat Whatevers promise “kissable breath,” no matter what slop you eat. It’s a one-two punch of a capsule containing sunflower, parsley, and peppermint-oil that you swallow (presuming you’re not pregnant or trying to get pregnant, because apparently then the oil is weirdly verboten) and a mint you suck, thus resulting in minty breath inside and out. The product as a whole is laden with pretty “adult” imagery (suck, swallow, and so on) so clearly it’s meant for discriminating gadabouts who can’t even fathom sullying their reputations with slightly icky breath. As far as the product’s efficacy, though, it’s a mint. Sure, it’s a vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free mint made of fancy natural products, but it’s a mint all the same. The idea that it works two ways is nice, but if you’re that paranoid about what your breath smells like at all times, you’re probably not eating anything garlicky anyway.

Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp Candy Bar, peanut butter flavor
The fine people from Skinny Cow told us that their candy products have been far exceeding their expectations, selling almost twice their initial projections. It makes sense, then, that they’d want to expand into new flavors and concepts. Hence the peanut-butter version of the Heavenly Crisp, which, at only 110 calories, intends to offer all the chocolaty deliciousness of a candy bar without all the fatness. The bar is pretty good, though, and disappeared off our desks in about two seconds. It tastes remarkably like a Nutty Buddy, one of Little Debbie’s enduring lunchtime stars. That being said, it’s 10 calories more than a Nutty Buddy, and those things sell for like $1 a box, so they’re the better bet for non-discriminating customers who don’t mind eating kiddie treats out in the open.

Paradox Baked Goods
Any time we visit a trade show, there’s always that small-market entrepreneur standing at a booth, trying to Ancient-Mariner everyone who walks by. Make eye contact, and you’re committed to hearing about something like “paradox cookies,” the healthy, natural-food, oxidote-laden answer to typical unhealthy cookies. Paradox’s website is laden with information about free radicals, oxidant stress, anti-inflammatories, and so forth, but it all sounds suspiciously like science homework and not like eating cookies. Supposedly you eat them after meals “to decrease the likelihood of sugar and triglyceride spikes in the blood… [that] trigger inflammatory cascades that can lead to cardiovascular and diabetic risk factors,” which is all a paradox because eating cookies makes you healthier, but the cookies themselves were a bit on the chewy-and-cloying side. Looking over the ingredients, it’s no wonder—they’re loaded with dates, prunes, unsweetened chocolate, and maple syrup. Good for you, but they have that energy-bar density and dried-fruit sweetness that says “good for you” more than “good to eat.”

Calico Cottage Orange Cream Fudge
One of the best stops in last year’s expo rounds was the Calico Cottage booth; the company doesn’t sell fudge, it sells pre-mixed ingredients, recipes, equipment, and packaging to retailers who want to start their own fudge business. But its booth features plenty of samples of delicious fudge, and plenty of information about it. Last year, we talked to a rep who was hugely enthusiastic about running down all the details of the business for us; this year, we caught a rep who seemed more cautious, particularly about the details of what was new with the company. While he carefully admitted that Calico Cottage has expanded into a line of cream-cheese-based fudges, he says most of their new recipes come from feedback from their clients, and wouldn’t get into specifics. Guess you’ll have to join the fudge-retailer club to get the secret password and find out more. One way or another, the orange cream fudge we tried out from the new line was amazing.

Albanese Milk Chocolate Double Dipped Peanut Butter Peanuts and more
If we’d been feeling lazier or greedier, we really could have just stopped our Sweets & Snacks Expo trip dead in the water just inside the convention hall, when we hit the Albanese Confectionery table. Most booths at the expo are showcasing one new product, or a few new things at most; the companies that show up ready to exhibit their entire line of product are just exhibiting product packaging and displays, so it’s all-looky-no-eaty. Albanese, on the other hand, had an immense table of samples, including new Rain Forest Frogs (basic gummi frogs, though the company claims to have the world’s best gummis, and these are at least pretty); immense, three-bite cherry cordials; creamy lemon meltaways; and chocolate-covered peanut-butter-and-cracker sandwiches. We didn’t even try to taste it all—there were at least 10 more products we didn’t even attempt to get to, and the rep told us everything on the heaped table was a new product—but from what we did taste, the company makes an extraordinarily smooth, rich milk chocolate. Highly recommended: The peanuts dipped in peanut butter, then in chocolate. It sounds like overkill, and maybe it is, but it’s some tremendously appealing overkill.

And speaking of overkill, as usual, we walked out of the Sweets & Snacks Expo vaguely woozy, definitely footsore, and heavily overwhelmed by all the bright lights and noise. If there’s such a thing as a sugar hangover, we have it. But that won’t stop us from going back next year, assuming we’ve run out of stored candy by then.