Zzang! Candy Bar Blows Candy Professor Out of the Water
I am not in the candy review business. At least not on most days. And then I eat something new and… ZZANG!
That’s Zzang!, as in the candy bar, from Zingerman’s Bakehouse of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It comes in a few varieties, but it was the “Original” that got my attention. I had just intended to taste the thing, really just a nibble. And then another, and another, and I ate the whole thing. (So that’s why you see the Zingerman photo here. All I had left after that particular debauch was the box, below.)
ZZANG! It’s “Butter-roasted peanuts, caramel and peanut butter honey nougat dipped in dark chocolate.” Sound a little familiar? This is what a Snickers Bar would taste like if it went to Exeter and then to Princeton. Only the finest. I mean, the finest. These are the ingredients:
Dark chocolate, butter roasted peanuts, sea salt, caramel (organic muscovado brown sugar, corn syrup, cream, water, butter), nougat (honey, sugar, water, peanut butter, egg whites, sea salt).
That’s it. Take a bite with me: Smooth, creamy nougat with a soft chew, peanut flavor so rich and buttery, big crunches of peanuts melting into salty caramel and the smoky bite of the dark chocolate. Intense, chewy, everything a candy bar should be. And fresh. Zingerman’s puts a 60-day freshness recommendation on the box. Mine was nearly “expired” and it still was the freshest tasting candy bar I’ve ever tried. What would it be like really fresh? I’m on a quest for the next fresh shipment.
Now these are the ingredients of a Snickers Bar:
Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Lactose, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor)Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Milkfat, Skim Milk, Vegetable Oil (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil)Salt, Lactose, Egg Whites, Chocolate, Artificial Flavor.
Don’t get me wrong. Snickers is basically my favorite U.S. candy bar. Snickers is widely recognized as the ultimate in salty, fatty, sweet satisfaction. Food scientists love to wax rhapsodic about the way the nuts crunch down and moosh into the caramel, with the chocolate melting everywhere: a perfect release of texture, flavor, and sensation. All that, and still you can buy one for the change you find under your sofa cushions.
No one has ever improved on a Snickers bar. Until now. Just look at those ingredients again. Skim milk, lactose, and artificial flavor are not even in the same ball game. Of course, when you go to the opera, it costs a lot more than when you go bowling. Zzang! set me back $5 for a bar just a wee bit bigger than your standard Snickers (see the stats below).
Zingerman’s tags the Zzang! line of candy bars as “taking candy bars back 100 years.” But really we should be saying 80 or 90 years at most. Candy bars like this were not too common until the 1920s. The Snickers bar went on the market in 1930. Fun fact: according to Jan Pottker in Crisis in Candyland, the first Snickers bars were nude of chocolate coating (weather issues).
The real question is, would a candy bar made in the 1920s taste anything like a Zzang!? Alas, I fear the answer is no.
A candy bar maker in the 1920s would have been using smaller, cheaper peanuts roasted in oil, not butter. Instead of fresh cream and eggs, the nougat and caramel would most likely be made out of pre-cooked bases, which would be more stable and easier to make into the final candy product. Maybe something like this nougat product from the White-Stokes company:
The sweeteners in the nougat and caramel might have included larger portions of corn syrup or other sugar substitutes. The other ingredients would probably have been fine, but nothing special. Chocolate would not have been so carefully selected and prepared so as to assure the maximal mouth feel and flavor. Salt might have come from the sea, but it wouldn’t have been the pure, mineral, intense experience we associate with today’s sea salt.
No matter how much they resemble their old time cousins, the Zzang! and similar new artisanal nostalgia candies are completely of the twenty first century. It is our most modern idea of finding the freshest, the most exquisite, the most unusual, the best, and combining it all to make the most delicious of food stuffs, no matter the difficulty or the expense.
It is elitist in a way; Zzang! and similar candies will never be produced at the volume of our dollar bar standbys. But you might decide that one Zzang! bar is totally worth the trade off of giving up five Snickers bars. Or you might not. The important thing to me is that these things exist, not that they have to be the standard for every one all the time.
I was wrong when I said it was the end of candy. It’s just the beginning. Candy has never been like this.
Sources: I bought my bar at the Brooklyn Larder. The Zingermans Candy website lists places that sell the Zzang! around the land and also offers mail order. Candy image from Zingermans. White-Stokes ad from Confectioners Journal 1920. I first got turned on to Zzang! by Rebecca Marx’s review in the Village Voice, “Fat Pants Friday”
Stats: Snickers: 2 ounces, 270 calories, less than a buck. Zzang! 2.5 ounces, 240 calories, 5 bucks.