Sharoma Snack Musings

Snack Musings

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
-Hippocrates

Fig Bars on Parade

Also known as fig rolls, fig biscuits or to my Father: frig biscuits. In Western Canada, the conquered land [province] of British Columbia, one may find the following brands lurking amongst all the other GMO corn-derived comestibles sold as food to peasants such as I:

Fig Newton

The original brand. The fresher the better. Look for an expiry date at least three months ahead of today. Pastry is thin as possible, light and pleasant. Fig paste is sweet, full of seeds, and wet! Low price: $2.50 if they're expired. Otherwise don't pay more than $4.40-4.90.
Note: The fibre content in these is second only to the organic brand. FNs remain a medium quality nutritional product. As a convenience snack, they rate fairly highly - they are not taxed in Canada. Watch for further shrinkflation, which I prefer to a reduction in quality. Hopefully the GMO ingredients will be scaled back or removed altogether.

Organic-brand-I-can't-remember-the-name-of [*]

Sold at fancy places. Disappointing. The so-called stone-ground wholewheat dominates with a dry, uninspiring taste. They are sold in many flavours. I went with original 'fig' of course. Fig filling is lacking in taste, substance and moisture. Not enough of it either. Cost? Over 7 bucks, so sod 'em: Who do they think I am, bloody Rockefeller?

Compliments/Thrifty's own brand

Mediocre-to-good quality for low cost. Needs improvement but for almost half the cost of FN, they are worth buying [only when on sale for $2.50]. Plenty in a pack too. April 2015 Update: Found some of these at Wellburn's for $2.19. At the moment I prefer them, since I've stopped buying FNs.

Western Family

Low cost. Poor-to-mediocre taste. Biscuits are too large. Aftertaste isn't pleasant. Rather synthetic.

Carriage brand

Low cost. Little to write home about, so I won't - my Mother already knows all about my obsessions.

Dollarama brand

Disgusting. I didn't even finish the pack and "you know me, Barb. I eat any old shite." 17 bars for $1. Too much fake vanilla flavouring and a cloying pastry which falls apart and sticks to your teeth and gums. Didn't resemble food; fig content was probably a fraction of even the Carriage brand. When I offered these bars to the Ancient Egyptians, they laughed at me and said that in civilized society, we feed our slaves real figs, so they can build monuments to the gods, being spared the lash for want of exertion.

Happy Snacking.

[*] August 2014 Update:

The organic brand that I could not remember the name of is Nature's Bakery and I wish to add that their product is actually a fine one indeed. The standard 'fig' flavour is the least among them, however. This is the reason for my originally derogatory view. Their fruit flavours are superior, with a stronger, sweeter taste. Rather than pay over $8 [with tax] for the large packets, I found at S-D-M packs of two on sale for $1.29 each. Decent enough, I procured a few so I could sample every single flavour:
Whole Wheat Fig, Strawberry, Mango, Lemon, Apple Cinnamon, Blueberry, Peach Apricot, Raspberry, Vanilla Fig [not tried], Vanilla Raspberry [nt].

There is another organic brand I was fortunate to gain for a sale price $3 below what I'd seen the same product sold for all the way back west at a Parksville Thrifty Foods. They are called Barbara's and Kitchener's Sobey's had a pack for just over $4. They were dry to the taste, lacking in flavour and inferior to Nature's Bakery.

As for the varieties of fig biscuits available in the UK, I will not deign to offer my opinions (yet). I've tried Sainsbury's and Tesco's own brands, and have a pack of Aldi's ready for sampling. Jacob's I can remember from my childhood, but haven't sampled recently. It appears the ingredients, form and taste of all these are very similar; perhaps they are all produced in the same factory.

October 2014 Update:

Jacob's are the best of a bad bunch. The filling is chewy but there is nowhere near enough of it. I got some in a two-for-two () deal. There's too much pastry, but at least the pastry is pleasant. Tesco and Sainsbury's seem the same (though the latter may be of a higher quality), and not far behind Jacob's. Since they are usually half the cost, it's better to go with them. The Aldi brand ones, though not containing much in the way of artificial ingredients, were a distant third. Despite them being ridiculously cheap, I don't recommend them. Fig bars are a rare example of something which is better in North America than the United Kingdom. Long live Fig Newtons!

February 2015 Update:

Back in Canada: found the two packs of Nature's Bakery bars for 99c each at Shelbourne Plaza Fairway Market. I want to add that the Peach Apricot flavour is excellent, and only the fact that this is a purely fig bar competition prevents it from ousting Newtons from first place.

Mars Bar Party

Intro

I'm not sure how many factories around the world are churning out the classic milk chocolate-covered nougat and caramel bar, but here are the varieties I've tried across Canada and the UK. Genuine Mars products can be detected by the 'M' pattern their conveyor belts imprint on the bottom of the bars. For every other bar listed here, the conveyor pattern consists of a simple grid, leading me to suspect that every generic brand (at least in the UK) is made in the same place, and differences in taste are purely subjective.

Cadbury Moro

We have a new champion! Upon my return to Canada in January 2015 I was lucky enough to be presented with a 12-pack of treat size Moro bars, made by Cadbury in Australia (and New Zealand?). This was my first sample of this chocolate bar and I have to say it surpasses even the UK Mars Bar and US Milky Way. The overall chew of the bar is more satisfying, as its filling is tougher, especially the nougat. The caramel layer isn't half the bar like the US-MW, and nor does it dominate like a British or Canadian Mars. It is kept thin. The chocolate covering is, obviously, Cadbury's. Australian and New Zealand Cadbury Dairy Milk is as desirable as the British. My only problem here is the covering could be ever so slightly thicker. The malt flavouring is definitely stronger than any other bar too. The chewier nature of this bar means you keep it in your mouth longer, and this further allows the malt flavouring to be released as you chew - highly satisfying! Maybe this is as close as we will come to the famous Aztec? I perhaps don't need to mention that all twelve bars were polished off very quickly. I'm now on the hunt for the full size variety. [The Cadbury Moro is not to be confused with a Moro Gold which is the same as a UK Boost bar.]

UK/EU Mars Bar

This was first produced in 1932, by Forrest Mars, using as a base the recipe and format of the US Milky Way, which came first. It consists of malted milk flavoured nougat, with a caramel layer, enrobed in Mars' own milk chocolate (apparently it was originally enrobed with Cadbury's Dairy Milk, a delightful concept which I cannot verify). They are produced at Mars' Slough factory. They are very much the superior of all supermarket brands sold in the UK, so much so that I can detect inferior products in a blind test, without having sampled the Mars itself; such is the distinctive taste. The malt flavouring is present to such a degree that you can smell it. The sweetness doesn't sting. The whole bar is smooth and balanced, whether eaten alone or dipped in a brew. You can taste the constituent parts: the milk chocolate, the nougat, the caramel. The caramel layer itself is thinner than the US Milky Way, which is the reason it earns #1 spot. No artificial flavours are used, either.

US Milky Way

The bar that started it all. Launched in 1923 by Frank C. Mars (nine years before the Mars Bar). It was originally enrobed in Hershey's milk chocolate, but nowadays carries a small logo which says 'Mars Real Milk Chocolate'. Named for a malted milkshake of the time, like the UK Mars the malt flavouring is strong enough to be detectable by smell alone. Claims were made in the early 1960s that the milk chocolate covering had been increased by 36%, but this has been deleted from the bar's official history. In 1999 the caramel layer was increased by a significant amount, which has effectively destroyed the delicate balance of the bar, as the caramel layer is approaching half of the contents. The saving grace is the nougat, which is firmer than in the UK Mars, which makes for a more satisfying chew. These are hard to find in Canada, even near the border. Prices in the UK are outrageous: 1.75 per bar at the Trafford Centre. Prices within the US are favourable.
Note: March 2015 and I've been presented with multipacks of fun/treat size Milky Way and Milky Way Caramel bars. They are both stamped with 'Made in Canada' - so are they identical to Canadian Mars...?

Nestle BarOne

BAR.ONE, like Moro, is marketed as an energy bar. As part of a birthday gift [March 2015] I received two of these from a South African importer based in Toronto. At a reassuring 55g it contains cane sugar, full cream milk powder and other relatively high quality ingredients. I especially enjoyed the consistency. Again, like Moro it is tougher than a Mars and you need to chew the bar down with enjoyable effort. Malt scent was detectable on this bar but the aftertaste of it was not very strong. The bottom of the bar contains no conveyor belt pattern. The thickness of the milk chocolate is adequate but its taste isn't up to Cadbury, or perhaps even the Mars coating found on a US Milky Way.

Canadian Mars Bar

Unfortunately, Mars of Canada are content to sell an inferior product, which has created an import market for the UK Mars, which sell for $2 or more - an alarming markup considering one can acquire four Mars Bars in the UK for 1 (subject to supermarket offers). Why is it possibly inferior? Firstly, artificial ingredients are used. The UK Mars contains a natural vanilla extract, whereas the Canadian one does not (instead listing "artificial flavour"). Secondly, the Canadian Mars is comprised mostly, after sugar, of corn syrup, which is likely to be from GMO stock (in the UK Mars it is 'glucose syrup' - whether this is an improvement I cannot say). Thirdly, it uses palm oil instead of sunflower oil (again, not sure of the difference but it bears mentioning). The bar still features malt flavouring, but not in the form of a barley malt extract. Instead it's from malted milk powder - an extra step in the process which may reduce the strength this vital ingredient has on the overall flavour, although I'm pretty sure the UK Mars' nougat is made and then malted milk powder added later - they just list the ingredients differently. Bizarre Canadian rules also prohibit it from being referred to as a 'chocolate bar' so it's instead labelled as a 'candy bar'. The taste of the Canadian Mars is, however, superior to all supermarket brands in the UK. Dollarama sells single Mars Bars for 77 cents. I still consume them when in Canada, but my heart yearns for the Slough product. Just kidding.
Note: In Canada Mars sells a dark chocolate Mars Bar, which is very tasty indeed. They usually cost a bit more than the standard Mars, but are well worth trying. Look for the half-gold wrappers. Recently I've seen them on sale for various prices: $1.50, $1.43 and best of all: 99 cents (I bought five). They're also available in multipacks but I've never seen treat/fun size. The Dark Mars appears to be a slightly tougher bar (in terms of texture) than the standard Canadian Mars. The darker chocolate has a pronounced effect on overall taste. Normally I prefer milk chocolate but in this case, the sweetness of the nougat is an effective counterbalance. I'm not sure if the nougat is a different formulation, but it tastes excellent. The caramel layer does seem a bit thinner too. Try Mars Dark dipped in a hot coffee. ^^

Sainsbury's Chunky Caramel bar

Sainsbury's own brands are often of a higher quality than Asda, Tesco, Morrison's etc. I am particularly fond of their 'Balance' cereal, which is identical in taste to Special-K but sells for only 2 a box. Anyway, to their Mars Bar: it's decent. The sweetness doesn't sting, and it's almost as satisfying as a real Mars. The nougat and chocolate are notably of a lower quality, but what do you expect when they are cheaper?

Dollarama Meteor bar

This is sold in Canada. A 'duo' bar sells for 50 cents, which is a remarkably good deal. They are manufactured in Turkey but are packaged with Dollarama branding for the Canadian market. Twix, Bounty and Snickers versions also exist, the latter of which, confusingly, is also called 'Titan' (see below). The Meteor Bar has a pleasant texture, if you enjoy biting into something which resembles soft rubber. They stand up well to dipping too. The chocolate layer is very thin, and is unlikely to be a true milk chocolate. The ingredients do not list any malt content whatsoever, which is confirmed when you smell or taste it. It's therefore the only bar here which isn't malted. However, the sweetness isn't over bearing. At the cost of a mere quarter it's a decent bar, in these recessionary times.

Aldi Titan bar

These are very cheap to buy, but the aftertaste is not overly pleasant. Malt flavouring is detectable, but only just. The caramel is too sweet.

Tesco Crazy Caramel bar

These are not very good. The aftertaste is sickly. There is a certain cloying sweetness which exists at this end of the market.

Lidl Choco & Caramel bar

The worst of the bunch. Like the Tesco bar - that same cloying sweetness which 'stings' or overwhelms the senses. Can hardly detect malt. The caramel is very artificial in consistency and the milk chocolate isn't very good either.

Yet to be sampled

Asda or Morrison's versions; Netto's version (made by Ludwig's of Germany); Paskesz Milk Munch Kosher Candy Bar; Lovells Top Ten bar (from Turkey - UK one is probably long gone but I remember their Milky Lunch bar with the white wrapper); Bobby's Caramel Whip (not seen in years); Leaf's 'Milk Shake' Malted Milk bar (not seen in decades); Finally, the Cadbury Aztec Bar. Not seen since 2000 in a Limited Edition run, though I did write to them about bringing it back. I received a negative stock response to both requests to Cadbury UK.

Honourable mention

Neilson Malted Milk bar, which was sold for many years in Canada. The name of the bar suggests a dominance of malt flavouring. From old packaging it appears the caramel layer was kept very thin, and a large amount of dubious artificial ingredients were called upon (those were the good old days eh?). Cadbury purchased Neilson and continue to sell their 'Jersey Milk' brand. They briefly sold a 'Malted Milk' bar with their own purple packaging in Canada, circa 2005. This was excellent. Very malty, very chewy and very much missed by yours truly.

Euro/Dutch Mars Bars [March 2015]

The first time I sampled a Euro Mars Bar was not when I travelled to Germany recently, or even when I was in Holland, where they are produced. Lurking in a dollar store behind the Shelbourne McDonald's, they sat in their gold-lettered wrapper, looking to trained eyes like the aliens they were. For only $1.25 you get a Mars Bar identical to the Slough-made British ones, confirmed by the fact that the ingredients are identical, down to the natural vanilla flavouring. A bite-by-bite comparison with the domestic Canadian Mars revealed its true superiority (and I've heard that not all Mars Bars which show up in the UK are made in Slough). Firstly, the packaging: Euro Mars says it is made in the Netherlands, it doesn't feature the peanut-free logo like Canadian Mars, or the Union flag with 'Made in Slough'. The chocolate on Euro mars appears lighter than the Canadian, and is less 'snappy' - the bar collapses instantly as you chew, whereas the Canadian requires a bit more pressure. The Euro Mars is also maltier, with a more pronounced aftertaste. Canadian Mars is a touch sweeter, but the malt is barely there at all and there's little aftertaste. Euro Mars is currently 51g; Canadian is 52g.

Ribena

First of all, I miss Apricot! Secondly, here is a ranking of the different regional Ribenas:

  1. British Ribena
    Concentrate from 1 and 2 litre plastic bottles. British blackcurrants. 14% juice before dilution.
  2. Vita
    Blackcurrant Juice Drink from 250ml carton/juicebox. Unknown blackcurrants; 4% juice. Very tasty! Almost as good.
  3. S&F Foods Blackcurrant Syrup
    Concentrate from 1 litre glass bottle. Product of Slovenia. Unkown blackcurrants. Enjoyable, but different to Ribena since it lacks all the additional ingredients and colourings. Despite only containing sugar, blackcurrant juice and citric acid, Vitamin C content was listed as zero. (Not the 'Adriatic Sun' product.)
  4. Chinese (?) Ribena
    Concentrate from 500ml and 1 litre glass bottles. Unkown blackcurrants. Tasted similar to British Ribena but something was 'off'.
  5. Malaysian/Singapore Ribena
    Malaysian made in a 500ml plastic bottle. New Zealand blackcurrants. Tasted very sweet and unlike British Ribena. Ridiculously high sugar content. Not pleasant.

Letter to FritoLay Canada

Consumer Response Centre
P.O. Box 40,
Cambridge,
Ontario, N1R 5S9

February 9th, 2009

To Whom It May Concern,
After researching online and visiting in person many stores across Canada and the United States it seems that the Salt & Vinegar flavour of Ruffles has been discontinued. I understand that such a decision would never be taken lightly but since they were such a firm favourite of mine I would like to express my support for a decision to re-launch them. My online search has revealed hundreds of other consumers who likewise wish to see this fantastic flavour back on the supermarket shelves. Since the vast majority of people will not go to the lengths of registering their opinion either in a letter or even online, we can safely assume that many thousands of people have noted, with a sigh, that Salt & Vinegar Ruffles are no longer available. Not only that, but here in British Columbia at least, no other company offers my own favourite variety of potato chip; i.e., one that is both ruffled/wavy and flavoured in salt and vinegar. This seems to represent a gaping hole in the market since salt and vinegar is a staple chip flavour the world over. The Lay's brand offers a salt and vinegar chip, and a wavy brand of chips, but not a combination of the two!
I cannot hope to convince you on my own, but please at least re-investigate the market for Salt & Vinegar Ruffles. There is a demand for them, and carefully marketed perhaps this could be exploited into a more profitable one. If you have time for a reply, I would be very interested to know the reasons for the discontinuation, and whether flavours and varieties such as Thick Cut Au Gratin and Thick Cut Creamy Dill are more lucrative than a simple salt and vinegar flavour.


Thank you for your time and consideration.

Water Filtration

Clearly Filtered Water Pitcher

Flawed but semi-functional
I chose this pitcher over the blue ProPur one because my friend bought that one and I saw in person just how slow the filtering process is. From online reviews it was also considered a bad design. Sadly, the Clearly Filtered pitcher suffers the same design flaws: unfiltered water easily pours from the unfiltered reservoir through the spout. The lid, like on the ProPur pitcher, does *not* effectively block the unfiltered water. There's no attempt at a seal; there is a distinct gap. That's fine if the flow rate is fast, but it isn't fast enough to keep up with one to two people's daily water needs. After flushing and about five days of use, the flow rate on these filters slows to a crawl. Two litres will take about six hours or more to filter. Re-flushing speeds up the filter but only for a few litres. The filters themselves are rated at six months. I found that my first one was unusable in just under a single month. The final and most annoying design flaw is the way the filter screws into the base. Unlike Brita, where the filter just drops in, this one requires threading. The filters themselves have a simple rubber gasket to prevent unfiltered water pouring into the clean reservoir below. However, it doesn't always work very well. You have to over-tighten the filter to prevent unfiltered water dripping through. I tested this many times. No matter how well the rubber gasket is seated, unless you tighten, it will leak. The trouble is, when it comes to unscrewing and re-flushing the filter (which has to be done regularly) you'll find it hard to unscrew because you had to over-tighten it so much to begin with. The product doesn't say whether ammonia is filtered out. Chlorine is, and it does a great job of reducing this from my own water. However, my local water has chloramines added. I've read that when these two chemicals bind, chlorine filters may not work. The plastic used in this pitcher is tough and despite me having to wrench hard to unscrew the filter, it has yet to snap. The water itself is fine in terms of taste and odour, but the design flaws and resultant extra cost and hassle mean this is only an average product. In future I hope to acquire a more efficient filtering system. As for BeyondHealthy's customer service, it appears to be excellent.

ProPur ProMax Shower Filter

This ProMax shower head has a tough task - to filter water as fast as it comes out and maintain decent pressure. My expectations for the final pressure are not high after using the ProPur Countertop system for a year. This shower head luckily comes with two rubber gaskets - the spare was needed as I shredded one straight away by over-tightening, so be careful. The water pressure where I installed it is quite high when both taps are fully open. Experiments with letting the ProMax handle full flow resulted in the water pressure unscrewing the assembly enough so that it sprouted leaks. It also leaked where it connected to the pipe. However, this wasn't a product flaw. There was simply too much water coming out too fast, and it gave in at these two weak spots. Compared to my old non-filtered shower head, I need about one tenth of the water to get a steady stream. Even one tap half-open is enough to sprout leaks because the filter can't keep up. The solution is to start by turning on each tap a very slight amount until the unit has begun to flow, then make very slight adjustments for temperature and wait as it takes a few seconds to work through the system. It really doesn't need much water to provide an adequate stream. It's not going to be anywhere near as powerful as you want without leaking, but that appears to be the price for filtered shower water. Build quality is quite good. The plastic is as heavy duty as you'd expect from ProPur's other products. The shower head itself seems to be high quality and it feels solid when you rotate it around. The filter is quite bulky so unless your outlet is high up, you may end up stooping to use the shower. A final silver lining is less hot (and cold) water used because you need much less to achieve an evenly distributed flow, so you'll save money there if you pay to heat your water. Or you can have much longer showers. As for delivery, once again it was extremely fast and without problems.

Update: After a few months of testing I submitted a few qualifying points to the Beyond website, but they've yet to appear so I'll repeat it here. The filter did its job and became clogged up with dark gunk pretty fast. However, the second of the flimsy rubber gaskets failed, and the one within the filter housing itself also does a very poor job. Leaks abound, and it became unusable pretty fast. I replaced the filter and housing with a different brand (Santevia) I bought locally, because the replacement from ProMax does not fill me with confidence. As I keep saying, the supplied gaskets shred far too easily. The locally sourced brand is much superior. The gasket is heavier duty and hasn't failed yet. There are no leaks - even when new the ProMax filter leaked a little. The shower head itself that ProMax supplied is faultless and screws right on, being standard size.

ProPur Countertop Filter System

The pitchers simply can't keep up with the demand of a heavy tea drinker and certainly can't filter enough water fast enough to keep two people hydrated throughout the day. For almost a year now I've used this Countertop system and am very happy with it. I'm still using the same filter it came with and need to clean it about once every month on average. The water here is soft water and doesn't have flouride added, but it does have chloramine (chlorine and ammonia, and you can really smell the chlorine). When the flow slows to a trickle, you know it needs a clean. Unscrewing the unit will reveal a filter that is coated in a slimy, sticky yellow-brown substance that has to be scrubbed off. The assembly itself is easy and thanks to the solid rubber gasket, there are no leaks. I've had the unit installed for a year and it never worked itself loose near the tap but it did need a small re-tighten after 9 months. Like the ProMax shower head, you need only a small amount of water pressure to achieve a satisfactory flow. Turn on your cold tap just a little bit, then wait for the water to flow. I tend to fill a few pitchers up each morning and use those throughout the day to save waiting. It really doesn't take too long if the filter is clean. You can fill up a 4 litre milk jug in a minute or two only, and it's certainly much faster at filtering than the gravity-fed pitchers or countertop drums which take up a lot more space. The filters aren't cheap but they feel solid and surprisingly are 'Made in the UK'. Because you can clean them yourself, you can also stretch out their life a lot longer. Overall, this is the best personal use water filtration system I'm tried and isn't too expensive for what it does. It's well made and compact, easy to use and clean and best of all, the water is pressure-filtered and available instantly - No more waiting for that slow drip.