True confession: I prefer English candy bars too

A wonderful article in today’s New York Times entitled The World’s Best Candy Bars? English, Of Course where they talk about why those British chocolate bars are so far superior to the crummy American candy we get in this country. Couldn’t agree more.

nestle smartiesIn fact, I’m quite a fan of chocolate bars and sweets myself and my 10yo daughter has definitely inherited my sweet tooth from what we can see. The other children seem a bit less crazed about sweets, but she definitely leans that way…

Years ago, when I worked at HP Labs, I would quite typically take an afternoon break and savor a Butterfinger in the quad while giving my brain a chance to cool off from so much thinking. 🙂 Definitely one of my favorite American candy bars, but really, none of them compare to their English counterparts.

I know, I know, so many of the sweets in the UK are produced by vilified corporate monolith Nestlé that I should feel at least a bit guilty each time I take a bite – heck, Linda still avoids Nestlé products because of their single-minded marketing of baby formula in third world nations and the resultant health problems it creates, all the while producing great profits for the corporation – but, well, I don’t. Shhh….

cadbury flake close upThere are lots of great sweets from the UK but my two favorites are Smarties (see image, above) and Cadbury Flakes. The former is like M&M’s done right – imagine, different colors have different flavors! – and the latter is a bar of light, waves of milk chocolate that falls apart (flakes) as you eat it. Particularly yummy with some Wall’s Golden Vanilla ice cream, a concoction that anyone from the UK will recognize as a “99”.

In fact, I remember going to England years ago with my parents to visit family and knew that I’d hit a turning point when being able to order beer at a pub was the highlight (I was 16!) rather than buying an ice cream cone at the park with a Flake shoved into the scoop. I distinctly remember being so appreciative of my height when we traveled, which allowed me to appear older, but that’s another story unrelated to candy bars. 🙂

As the NYT article explains, the quality of chocolate in the United States is generally miserable, muchly because of the need to produce so darn much of it. Pick up any chocolate bar, from the iconographic Hershey’s chocolate to even Ghirardelli and it’s just not that flavorful and often too sweet, cloyingly sweet. In Europe, however, less sweet is the order of the day, from bread to candy, and for my palate, at least, it’s far superior.

Let me add two caveats, though. First, Ghirardelli makes fabulous hot fudge and it’s one of my favorite places in the world to get a hot fudge sundae. Linda and I have been known to adjust our travel plans so we can share one of these, and no visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium is complete without a pitstop for a refueling at the Ghirardelli shop in Monterey too. 🙂

Secondly, as we’re investors in a local gourmet high-end chocolate company, Seth-Ellis Chocolatier, I will say that local boutique chocolatiers are doing some wonderful things in the United States when they have complete control over their ingredients and can focus on taste and texture rather than shelf life and minimizing per-unit costs.

Violet Crumble: From Australia!Nonetheless, if you think that the American Milky Way, Snickers, Butterfinger or Kit-Kat are the pinnacle of chocolate confection, you have a world of adventure ahead of you once you start sampling sweets from England. The Mars bar from the UK is unlike any American bar and far superior, Maltesers are malt balls with edible chocolate on ’em (unlike Whoppers), and even Rowntrees Fruit Gums are far more tasty than the US equivalent.

Expand your horizons just a bit further and you’ll find one of my latest favorites: an Australian Violet Crumble bar. Milk chocolate covered honeycomb, yum!

Linda is partial to the German Ritter bars, but I have never found them to be that wonderful. Then again, she’s spent quite a bit of time in Germany while I’ve been there a total of four days with my pal Rob, slogging through Berlin on foot because it was a Sunday and we’d neglected to exchange any of our money into Deutschmarks. But that’s another story too. 🙂

By the way, one place you can get a lot of overseas chocolates for your taste tests is at the always-fun Cost Plus Marketplace, which also has lots of weird Japanese sweets and snacks available too. The packaging on Japanese treats is terrific, but really, how can someone eat a handful of dried cuttlefish when they could have a box of Smarties?

It’s a strange world…

But, hey, enough about me! Do you have a sweet tooth? What’s your personal candy addiction or most favorite stress-relieving chocolate or sweet of choice?

11 comments on “True confession: I prefer English candy bars too

  1. We MUST be related because you’ve listed my two favorites! Flakes and Violet Crumble! I think the formula/recipe has changed for the Flakes because they just don’t taste the same as they used to. Can’t get any of them up here though … maybe a care package would be a nice surprise for your sister!!! 🙂

  2. drool… I googled parenting blogs and got sucked in with the first post here…
    Did you know they make a milk chocolate covered white chocolate flake? yumm!

  3. Flakes is my favorites, there is another English Club Biscuits which is my favorite too – 2 slides of biscuits with a layer of orange cream, coated with either milk chocolate or dark chocolate.

  4. Hey Dave, I know chocolate bars and raising healthy kids seems to be a conflicting set of priorities, but I agree with you that high quality candy – or anything – is much more likely to promote health than just scarfing down crap in a futile effort to feed our souls.
    This was brought home to me by my friend Matthew, who returned from a business trip to Paris with a tiny, elegantly wrapped $50 box of Maisson du Chocolate candies. Each miniscule candy cost about $3. Not the sort of thing you absentmindedly blow through while reading the paper or watching Daily Show clips on the computer.
    Matthew, my wife and I sat around and cut each piece into quarters. We had glasses of water handy, and spent about 2 hours going through a couple of ounces of chocolate. Whoever liked a particular piece most got the fourth quarter.
    Total caloric intake: negligible
    Total pleasure intake: immeasurable
    Total health enhancement: social, emotional, spiritual, and quite possibly physical as well
    For this food purist who believes in unprocessed plant foods as the path to health, a chocolate meditation on the finest ingredients was as profound and positive experience as I’ve ever had.
    Oh, and British Kit Kat and Lion Bars are awesome. As is Mint Aero. (As I recall… 🙂

  5. I agree about the flakes, and have been to the Cadbury factory in New Zealand. I am a big fan of the crunchy bar made by Cadbury (this may be a New Zealand thing). It has a crunchy caramelized-sugar-like filling covered with chocolate. Mmm.
    By the way, the cuttlefish are great if everyone is eating them (especially with beer), because you all smell the same, but not too cool if you are the only one in the group. They are also great for kids (we don’t give ours much sweet stuff) on planes, as they are chewy, last for ages, and help prevent sore ears on take-off and landing. (I pity any non-Japanese passengers near us though!)

  6. I was born and raised in England. I LOVE English chocolate, no comparison to American in my opinion. My Fav is Maltesers, like a whopper only a thousand times better. Close second……curly whirly. I have been to Cadbury World and that was Fab!!!

  7. If you love English candy and can’t afford to visit England, come visit Canada. I know there are certain stores that carry bars from England but in every store you can buy smarties, mars bars, aero and most other types. I haven’t seen Flakes in regular stores but I have in more specialty type ones. I hope you come to Canada soon.

  8. jelly beans and the gummy bears from England are to die for. does anyone know of a website for them interested in importing for the future

  9. Whereas the comments about the superiority of English and Continental confectionary are accurate and “American taste” bashing, English soft drinks, pop etc., are also superior–Tizer, R.White’s Lemonade, etc. seems to quench your thirst without leaving a medicinal taste in your mouth. Also R.White’s lemonade makes a much better shandy gaff than Sprite, 7-Up etc.

  10. Flakes and Violet Crumble are my favourites too! Something has changed for the Flakes because they don’t taste the same as they used to and the foil is different but Violet Crumble appears fine. I get my doses out of I think that products constantly improve even if they don’t need to be- a phenomenon generated by market forces some products dissapear and are never to be seen again, others change name in time. Kelly

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