Just in Time for Halloween: More Good News About Chocolate



Forget the fruit rollups and goldfish crackers. Chocolate is the healthy Halloween treat.
The list of health benefits from chocolate keeps getting longer.

Ounce for ounce, dark chocolate and cocoa contain more antioxidants than such good-for-you foods as green tea and blueberries. Antioxidants work by neutralizing unstable molecules that can trigger changes in the structure of normally healthy cells. Antioxidants in chocolate can lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. They can decrease complications in pregnant women, reduce the risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease, and mitigate the brain’s response to pain.

The good news just keeps getting better.
Food scientists have recently developed a cocoa-processing method that retains more flavenols. Flavenols are a class of antioxidant that increases blood flow to the brain. The improved flow seems to have the most impact on the mathematical parts of the brain: drinking two cups of cocoa a day has been found to significantly improve fluency with basic computational problems as well as complex math problems, and test subjects report less mental exhaustion. Flavenols also slow the decline of memory and protect the brain from other age-related deteriorations.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to eat chocolate.
Just because it’s a wonder food, you don’t want to indulge indiscriminately.

The darker the chocolate, the better
Dark chocolate is much richer in antioxidants than milk or white chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa (most quality chocolates are labeled with this information) the greater the health benefits.

Avoid the high calorie extras
Caramel, marshmallow, nonpareils— not a lot of antioxidants; stick with plain, dark chocolate, or maybe chocolate with fruit or nuts.

Skip the milk
Milk consumed with chocolate interferes with the antioxidants. It’s a shame. They do taste good together.

Eat moderately
Always sound advice. Especially with a high-calorie food like chocolate where health benefits can be quickly outweighed by over-indulgence.


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You Had Me At Goodbye: Candy at the Cash Register


Toys R Us time for a temper tantrum

Toys R Us
a temper tantrum waiting to happen

Best Buy I just need a phone charger

Best Buy
this is not the phone charger aisle

Whole Foods somehow we expected better

Whole Foods
somehow we expected better



Staples I'm just here for the ink cartridges

but I’m just here for an ink cartridge

Trader Joes the checkout lines are long but there's always lots to see

Trader Joe’s
the checkout lines are long but there’s always lots to see

Bed Bath and Beyond I guess this is the beyond

Bed Bath and Beyond
I guess this is what they mean by ‘beyond’


























It’s the most valuable real estate in the whole damn store.
It’s just a few square feet by the cash registers, but every single customer is eventually funneled through the checkout lanes, and its merchandise is reachable by even the littlest of shoppers. Candy has always been a top seller for supermarkets, but in recent years it’s moved to the front of the store at specialty retailers like Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Babies R Us, and Sports Authority.

Most shoppers assiduously avoid the candy aisle.
Just 25% will even go there, and when they do, they linger for fewer than 30 seconds. But good intentions and self-restraint are no match for the extended captivity of the checkout lanes where 58% of shoppers buy candy at least once a month. We’re not talking about the chewing gum and mints that 63% pick up on a regular basis, but real candy like Kit Kat bars and Twizzlers and M&Ms.

Cigarettes are out; candy is in.
Retailers are going tobacco-free, following the lead of stores like Target and CVS, and where they’re not, municipal governments are imposing their own sales bans. Stores have leapt to 
fill the void left by cigarettes with expanded offerings of soda, chips, and especially candy. In the process we’ve traded one threat to public health for another.

The New England Journal of Medicine addresses the insidious nature of sugar consumption in the article Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease. The authors takes retailers to task for the way they harness sophisticated marketing techniques to deliberately bypass our cognitive controls and steer us toward unhealthy impulse purchases. The authors contend that it’s not the candy itself, but its placement at cash registers that creates the risk factor, and argue that that moving candy to other store locations should be mandated as a service to public health. They say it’s just like safety requirements for window guards or balcony railings—we know it’s dangerous to go right to the edge, but sometimes we wander a little too close and need to be protected from our own limited capacities. 






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Oh, The Things You Can Do with Marshmallows

Imagine a world without marshmallows. 
It would be a world without Moon Pies, Mallomars, or Rocky Road ice cream. No Peeps, no fluffernutters, no more s’mores. Rice Krispies would be strictly a breakfast food, never a treat. Yams would be a lot less candied, and Lucky Charms would be just a bowl of frosted oat bits. Who’d be lucky then? Certainly not us.

For too long we’ve been taking marshmallows for granted.
And we’re not just overlooking them in the kitchen. Marshmallows are good for much more. So much more.

The Marshmallow Pedicure
Who needs cotton balls or those sponge foam toe separators when there are marshmallows about? A marshmallow between each toe makes polishing nails a breeze.

Marshmallow Rx 
Long before it was a candy, marshmallow was a medicine. The gel-like juice of the marshmallow shrub coats and soothes inflamed throats, and improves coughs by encouraging the loosening of mucus. In clinical trials, marshmallow was shown to be more effective than two out of three commonly used cough syrups.
Marshmallow similarly coats the lining of the esophagus and stomach. It shields them from the effects of stomach acid, making it a remedy for acid reflux, heartburn, and ulcers. And you can apply marshmallow salve to your skin to repair stretch marks, heal cold sores, and draw bacteria and fluids out of abscesses.

Marshmallow Candleholder
Protect your birthday cake from the unsightly and inedible trickle of candle wax. Stick the candles in marshmallows first and you’ll avoid picking wax out of frosting later.

No More Leaky Cones
Don’t you hate it when the point of an ice cream cone leaks melty ice cream? Place a marshmallow in the bottom of the cone before you add the ice cream, and you’ll be drip-free.


marshmallowbrownsugarSoften Brown Sugar
Brown sugar seems to harden overnight. One day it pours and the next it’s a solid clump. Add a few marshmallows to the opened bag or box and they’ll absorb the excess moisture that causes the granules to clump.

White Floppy Chef Hat

Marshmallow Glue
It’s like culinary duct tape. Melt a few marshmallows and it becomes edible glue for all your baking fixes. It’s what wedding cake bakers use to fix cracks, bond together cake tiers, and keep the little bride and groom cake toppers from tipping over.

Not too shabby for nothing more than sugar and air.

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The Ethical Easter Basket Tastes Sweeter














This is the year of the ethical Easter basket, but it doesn’t have to make you a killjoy.

Food activists of all stripes are bringing their agendas to the spring holiday reminding us of all the pesticides and food dyes and GMOs and child labor that create cheap chocolate bunnies and tongue-staining jelly eggs.

Roll your eyes if you must at the litany of fair trade, cruelty-free, shade-grown, bird-friendly, carbon neutral causes, but the designations and certifications aren’t mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee the soundness of manufacturing and growing practices. The hard truth is that a conventional Easter basket is a treat for you but it can be an environmental and humanitarian nightmare for someone else.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ethical alternatives for all your jelly beans, pastel marshmallows, and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs:



Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass
lose the chemical-laden shredded plastic and go organic from the ground up


YumEarth Jelly Beans
they’re organic with no gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, artificial colors, or dyes



Not Peeps, Veeps
they’re vegan; who knew there’s a pork byproduct lurking in the conventional marshmallow bunnies?


Annie’s Bunny Fruit Snacks
don’t forget about Annie’s many organic bunny products, available year-round



Sjaak’s Chocolate Easter Eggs
fairly traded, organic, vegan, and best of all they come in really big tubs



Lake Champlain chocolate bunnies
always widely available and this year they’ve gone fair trade and organic




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Salt and Sugar: The dizzy dance on your tongue

kitchen crochet via iheartamicute

Prosciutto and melon.
French fries with ketchup. And of course the legendary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
It happens when salt and sugar form an unsteady alliance; distinct and unblended but properly balanced.

Lately we have spotted salt sneaking its way into more and more desserts. Of course salt has always had a place in baking– a small amount acts as a preservative, aids browning, and brings flavors into focus.  Forget to add salt to bread or a pie crust and it can end up tasting like cardboard. But this new breed of desserts features salt in a more prominent role. The salt content is higher, and it might even dust the top of a cake or a chocolate truffle like powdered sugar.

Salted desserts are nothing new in other cultures. There are salted Chinese egg custards, Iranian salted watermelon, and salty Dutch licorice. Not coincidentally, sugar and salt are both simple substances that have treated palates since prehistoric times. Modern techniques have evolved for harvesting and processing, but traditional, even ancient methods, still bring much of our sugar and salt to the table.

The current salty sweets trend in the U.S. goes back about years ago when French fleur de sel caramels burst onto the candy scene. The candy came to us from the Brittany region of France, an area known for both abundant dairy production and locally harvested salt, where there’s logically a long-standing tradition of combining the two in salted caramels. The added salt helps to bring out the browned butter flavor and balances the overwhelming sweetness that is typical of caramel. Brittany caramels first captured the attention of chefs who found that its complex, nuanced flavors took well to a variety of treatments. Salted caramels have since found their way into the mainstream with salted caramel products like Häagen-Dazs ice cream, Starbucks cocoa, and Wal-Mart store brand chocolate truffles.

Sweet tooth or salt tooth? Why should you have to choose? 



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Chewing Gum: The Nasty Habit That’s Good for You




Etiquette experts will frown but the evidence is indisputable: you should chew gum.

It makes you smarter.
A study out of the Baylor College of Medicine shows a 3% increase in standardized math scores from students who chewed gum during homework and exams.

Eat more healthfully.
According to a report in the medical journal Appetite, gum chewers snack less and have fewer cravings for unhealthy foods.

Improve your digestion.
Chew just before or after you eat. It helps your body create more saliva and build up the acid in your stomach, which gives your digestive system a boost. Since stomach acid levels decline with age, beginning by about age 40, this can be especially beneficial for older adults.

Fight heartburn.
While gum increases stomach acids, it can actually lower acid levels in the mouth and esophagus. Chewing gum after a meal can help reduce acid reflux and heartburn symptoms and may aid in preventing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Stay sharp.
The journal Brain and Cognition suggests that chewing gum can increase blood flow to the brain and improve cognitive performance. Brain scans show gum-related activity in eight areas of the brain, and test subjects demonstrated improved alertness and motor skill reaction times that were up to 10 per cent faster than non-chewers.

Your dentists wants you to.
Sugarless gum can prevent cavities. It can neutralize plaque, whiten teeth, and even strengthen them by remineralizing tooth enamel. The American Dental Association suggests a 20 minute chew after meals to prevent tooth decay.

Unless you suffer from a jaw ailment or certain other health conditions, chewing gum can be good for you in so many ways. For the best results, stick with ADA-approved chewing gum.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything.
The Modern Manners Guy clarifies the new gum-chewing etiquette.

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Chillin’ With My Peeps

Forget about basketball; early spring is Marshmallow Madness time.

February’s chocolate hearts were remaindered weeks ago, and summer sun block lies in wait. For now, the seasonal aisles of drug stores and supermarkets are stocked with the brightly-hued marshmallow chicks and bunnies of Easter.

More than a billion Peeps will be sold this year. While most will end up in the green excelsior grass of Easter baskets, a third of them are destined for bigger things.

Peeps have become icons of American pop culture. People don’t just eat Peeps; they photograph them, write songs about them, pen odes to them, and make crafts with them. There are online collections of Peeps artwork, recipes, and haiku (Wet rainy spring days with moist cold air, my breath cries: Will you never stale?). There are film parodies from the Tolkien-inspired Lord of the Peeps to marshmallow-soft porn dedicated to the hottest chicks on the web.

There’s an entire subculture of Peeps fetishists that is fascinated by their unique ability to withstand factors that would be the ruin of lesser candies. While countless amateurs toss Peeps into microwaves, has elevated the level of scientific inquiry through extensive laboratory studies documented with dry, clinical detachment.

The Peeps phenomenon has been fueled by high profile cultural events. For years National Geographic sponsored an annual Peeps in Places competition inviting readers to submit photographs of Peeps in far-flung locations. Over the years it brought classic entrants like the one-eared bunny at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and soul-singing chicks at Detroit’s Motown Museum. And every spring the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and dozens of other newspapers around the country sponsor Peeps diorama contests. You can read each year’s entries like a cultural barometer, which meant that 2011 saw plenty of marshmallow Justin Biebers and Charlie Sheens (Two and a Half Peeps), and this year was all about the OccuPeeps Movement.

What is it about Peeps that inspires such passion?
We anthropomorphize these winsome critters in ways that are surreal and slightly unsettling, and all they do is peer at us through blank, sugar-blackened eyes, giving back little more than a sugar rush.
I can’t tell you what it is about Peeps, but I do know that nobody ever built a scale model White House for a Cadbury Creme Egg to live in.

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The Myth of the Sugar High

Let’s put this one to rest once and for all…
Sugar does NOT turn kids into hyperactive maniacs.
There’s NO SUCH THING as a sugar-induced high.

I know what you’re thinking. Of course it’s real. You’ve seen it with your own eyes. Two cans of Coke or a birthday party goodie bag and the kids are bouncing off the walls.

But study after study after study proves otherwise. Researchers have tested the sugar in soda, candy, and fruit; compared honey, molasses, corn syrup, and cane sugar; looked at short-term and long-term effects; examined young kids, old kids, kids with ADHD and the purportedly sugar sensitive; and the results are always the same: there is no scientific cause and effect between sweets and hyperactivity. In fact the only reason there are so many studies is because you refuse to believe the results.

I know. You’re still not convinced because studies, schmudies; you know what you know—a handful of Hershey’s Kisses and you’re prying the little ones off the ceiling.

The scientific community has a couple of theories.
All suggest that there is a legitimate high; it’s just not really from the sugar.

The buzz can come from the sheer thrill of getting a sweet treat—eating a forbidden or restricted food can in itself create a certain excitement. Then there are the environmental factors. Often the treats are given on occasions when the kids are already amped up like a play date, the ball park, a holiday, a school event, or a party. It can also be the caffeine that’s found in the treats—it’s in soda, and not just cola but some orange, cream soda, and lemon-lime varieties; and it’s in the chocolate in cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies, candy bars, pudding, ice cream, and more. And then there are the expectations. Parents are on alert, on the lookout for bad behavior, maybe even fueling it by raising the anxiety level in their kids.

There are plenty of  good reasons to limit the amount of sugar in children’s diets. A sugar high just isn’t one of them.


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Black Licorice: The Confectionary Whipping Boy

image via Pammy Shep


It’s the candy we love to hate.
In a candy land of sugary, fruity, creamy, chocolatey, there’s licorice. It’s herbal, salty, medicinal, and barely sweetened; and doesn’t apologize for it.

We are of course talking about black licorice; the only true licorice. Red Vines, Twizzlers, and the like rely on mostly fruit flavorings; there is not a drop of licorice in them. The red-black connection is limited to a similar extrusion process in their manufacture.

Licorice haters spend their days picking the black ones out of the jelly bean bowl, immune to the charms of the jumbo-size box of Good & Plenty. They gather online, congregating in places where they can bash black licorice in the supportive environment of like-minded licorice loathers; places like The Official Black Licorice Hate Thread and the I Hate Black Licorice Facebook page where it’s referred to as the devil’s candy.

And then there are the celebrants.
There’s the Licorice Lovers blog and newsletter, which takes a look this month at what makes licorice the perfect summertime treat (it’s versatile and doesn’t melt) and features a dress made entirely from nine pounds of licorice whip;s and The Magic of Licorice, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the many health benefits of licorice (it’s been prescribed to treat coughs, ulcers, and constipation; it’s also one of the most sexually arousing scents around.)

Whether you love it or loathe it, a good place to explore your deepest emotions is Licorice International, the web’s most complete licorice resource. It offers the largest selection of European licorice varieties available in the U.S., with more than a dozen countries represented. A downloadable tasting guide will match your taste and texture preferences with suitable licorice varieties.


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Sweet Tooth or Salt Tooth?

There is an unsteady alliance when salt and sugar commingle.

It happens when the tastes are unblended and distinct; balanced in a dizzy dance on your tongue. Some of these couplings are legendary, like melon with prosciutto; some are classic, like french fries with ketchup; and some are questionable, like ‘Hawaiian’ pizza with pineapple and ham. […]

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The Candy We Love to Hate

      image courtesy of Pammy Shep

In a candy land of sugary, fruity, creamy, chocolatey, there’s black licorice: herbal, salty, medicinal, and barely sweetened.

Defiantly unapologetic, licorice has become a confectionary whipping boy. […]

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