Hi! It’s me, Penny, once again stepping in and reviewing the beans Cranfill refuses to consume. Yep, I’m on the spice bean beat. Two years ago, I reviewed the problematically-named BRACH*S Spiced Jelly Bird Eggs. Last year I chomped my way through a bag or two of Just Born Beans. So I was pleased when I was asked to tackle yet another type of spiced bean. Until I found out that we’ve moved on to an entirely different type of spice: Habanero.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a chilihead my entire adult life. I have a refrigerator shelf dedicated to hot sauces, each used for specific foods and specific heat levels.
At least two thirds of the spices and blends in my triple-decker spice rack bring the heat (and most of them begin with the letter “c” for some reason: cayenne, chipotle, cinnamon, cumin, curry…).
Back in the 1990’s I was given a bag of Ass Kickin’ Taco Chips as a gift, and I remember loving them. So getting these beans was a delight. I wondered how the habanero would blend with the flavors of the beans. As did my son Fred, whose opinions have enhanced the last two reviews, and will do so again this year.
Especially when he saw the label.
“Ooh!” he said. “This is gonna be fun!”
I wasn’t so sure. Habanero has never been my favorite pepper. Its heat has always been a dusty, back-of-the mouth heat, that doesn’t seem to bring much flavor, and has a tendency to show up later than right off the top, as other, “sweeter” hot chilis do, such as jalapeno, chipotle, and even cayenne.
But I was open to the experience, wondering how they would mix with the flavors of these beans, which were…umm…
I dunno. There was no indication of what the flavors were on the bottle. I had to go online to find a listing of the flavors: cherry, orange, lemon, lime, pineapple, and licorice.
But before we get to the flavors, let’s begin the CBE (Cranfill Bean Examination) routine, as we always do. FULL DISCLOSURE: Fred does not give a flying fig about anything but flavor, so I’ve stopped asking him. So the bean rankings on most of these are mine alone. Not that you care.
Size and shape
Of all the beans I’ve reviewed so far, these are easily the most consistently-sized beans I’ve seen. They’re downright perfectly bean-sized. And shaped, with the classic asymmetrical legume curve, which gives it that true bean look, and also makes it less likely they’ll roll off the table and onto the floor. And I know we don’t factor in color, Mister Cranfill, but if we did, we would also give them high marks for that, because these are some truly vibrant candies. Absolutely lovely.
5 out of 5 beans
Also, take a look at the colors, and remember the flavors: cherry, orange, lemon, lime, pineapple, and licorice. Is anyone else scratching their head about this? More on that later.
A really nice amount of crunch to this. The shell was hard and glossy, and revealed nothing of the flavor when putting it in my mouth. There was definitely some resistance throughout the chew, which is really what one wants in a bean.
5 out of 5 beans
Smooth and luxurious. A slight tendency to stick to your teeth, which, given the fiery nature of this product, is somewhat detrimental.
4 out of 5 beans
Taste and flavor
Ohhkayy. This is the heart and soul of the review. When I first got the bottle of beans (a most unusual way to present them. I don’t ever remember jelly beans that came in a screw top plastic jar), I opened them up and grabbed a bean at random. I was curious how the heat would mix with the bean flavors. It was a black bean. The universal bean. There is no black jelly bean – nay, no black candy anywhere in any of the known universes that is not licorice. Even in Bizarro Universe, where up is down, avocados stay at that perfect point of ripeness for days rather than minutes, and lima beans are tasty1, the black candy is licorice. Other bean colors have more than one flavor attributed to them: Red can be cherry, or strawberry, or cinnamon. Green can be lime, or apple, or mint. Orange can be orange, or ginger, or clove, and so on. We have attributed specific colors for specific flavors. And when the flavors listed are cherry, orange, lemon, lime, pineapple, and licorice, you attribute colors to those flavors. So let’s look again at those beans, and let’s ask the question:
Which bean is the pineapple bean? The website just listed the flavors, without a color key. If I was to assign a color to pineapple it would be yellow. But lemon is the most-associated flavor with yellow candy, so that means the white bean is pineapple?
This is getting to be a rather “meta” discussion of color and flavor, but this is where my mind went before I ever put any of these beans other than the black one in my mouth. It’s a rather interesting examination of color and flavor. I wonder what would happen if someone made jelly beans in deliberately “wrong” colors? Heinz made a green ketchup as a tie-in with Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and no one bought them. I know this because I bought two bottles for like a quarter each, because the grocery store wanted to get them off their shelves. Green ketchup tastes exactly like red ketchup. My kids wouldn’t eat it.
I digress. On to the taste.
Black bean (licorice)
Disclaimer: This bean is my review alone. Fred doesn’t like licorice, so his review would make no sense. I’ve never understood why people who don’t like something get paid to review them. “I don’t like Jethro Tull,” a reviewer for Rolling Stone, once began his analysis of a Jethro Tull album. And his review reflected that. He didn’t like the album, so didn’t he look silly when Crest of a Knave won the first Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 1989!
Actually, everyone looked silly when that happened. Jethro Tull was (or is, I dunno if they’re still performing) a prog/folk rock band, not at all a hard rock/metal band. They had no business even being nominated in 1989, let alone beating out AC/DC and even Metallica, whose And Justice for All got no justice at all, and everyone knew that. The only ones who didn’t were the NARAS voters themselves, who had no clue what this category meant, and apparently thought Iggy Pop was Jane’s Addiction, and Jethro Tull was the only band they had ever heard of. Which proves my other point: Don’t review (or vote on) stuff you don’t know anything about.2
So the licorice bean was the first one I put into my mouth. There was no hint of heat when I put it in. No hint of flavor, either. That’s a solid shell. I bit, and was rewarded with the deep, luscious, smoky sweet perfume of a very good licorice. (See? I know how to review licorice.) Which was very nice, but where was the oh there it is.
As I had mentioned earlier, the heat comes at the end. A dry, dusty, back-of-the-mouth heat that quickly consumes every other flavor, replacing it with hot. Default habanero. I had hoped that the heat would somehow be infused throughout the experience but it wasn’t. It was just there at the end.
Which made me wonder how to approach the rest of the beans. For the past two years, I basically sat down and did the test over the course of a few minutes, having a sip of coffee or something to cleanse my palette before moving on to the next bean. But I didn’t think that was going to work with this much heat.
Also, I began to wonder about the “one of each” test. How would putting SIX beans all at once into my mouth make my body react? As I’ve said, I’m a chilihead, but at 61, I don’t have the chilistomach I used to, and this one bean was already not doing any favors to my tummy.
The flavor of the bean was really good. The heat was separate from the flavor, and really didn’t add anything to the experience. If you’re in the mood for a mouth burning, this would be the bean for you.
You will sense a trend here as we move on.
Licorice: 5 out of 10 beans (+5 for the licorice, -5 for the habanero)
While I was eating the black bean, Fred walked into the kitchen. “You’ve already started eating them?” he asked.
“It’s a professional snack,” I replied. “You may have as many as you want, just make sure to leave me at least two of every one.”
Fred reached in and grabbed a bean, popped it into his mouth. “Ooh! Tasty,” he said. And then he said “where’s the habanero? I thought there was supposed to be heeee—oh there it is.” He chewed a while. “Wow. That’s not very pleasant, is it?” A few days later, I noticed the level in the bean bottle to be noticeably lower.
“Are you eating these?” I asked him.
He grinned a little sheepishly. “Yeah. They’re kinda growing on me. Especially the citrus ones. Lemon mostly. It’s definitely the best of the bunch.”
It was then that I realized I had stopped after the first bean. I told myself it was just me still considering how to approach eating them, but it was just me being a chicken. So I grabbed a lemon and tried it.
Clarification: I grabbed a yellow bean. Because yellow = lemon, right? I bit down. I was right.
Yellow bean (lemon)
Green bean (lime)
Orange bean (orange)
(doing these all together because they’re essentially the same)
Once again I was rewarded with a very high-quality flavor. Tangy, sweet and creamy – reminiscent of a lemon custard, with a very nice fragra—aaand there’s the fire, burning everything up.
But mixed in with the heat, the citrus continued, adding some depth to the heat, which, while still overpowering and not very pleasant, was more pleasant than with the licorice bean.
The lime bean had that distinct lime bitterness that didn’t overpower the sweet, and the orange had almost a creamsicle taste to it. Both battled back well against the habanero onslaught, and the flavor continued throughout the experience. Of the three, the orange bean fared the worst, but it was the least citrus-y of the beans. It was that sharpness that cut through the heat.
Lemon: 7 beans
Lime: 7 beans
Orange: 6 beans
Red bean (cherry)
It’s been literally dozens of words since I’ve gone off on a tangent, so I’m overdue.
Christopher Walken is one of those actors that everyone knows. Even if you don’t know his name, just seeing a photo of him will have people saying, “Oh, that guy!” And if the name or photo doesn’t get you, his voice will. His voice is inimitable, which is why so many people try to imitate it. The comedian Jay Mohr does a pretty good, Walken, but the best I’ve heard is Alan Tudyk [You: Who? Me: Wash from Firefly. You: Oh, that guy!], who is a phenomenal voice actor. And as good as he is (which is: very, very), he still doesn’t do as good of a Christopher Walken as Christopher Walken. Like I said, inimitable.
As far as candy flavors go, cherry is the Christopher Walken of fruits. I haven’t found a jelly bean (or any candy, really) that gets cherry right. The closest is Jelly Belly’s “Very Cherry” and that’s not all that close, tbh. It’s the “Alan Tudyk doing Christopher Walken” of cherry candies.
This cherry jelly bean is good, but not “Alan Tudyk doing Christopher Walken” good. It’s not even “Jay Mohr doing Christopher Walken” good. It’s maybe – just maybe – “Jay Mohr doing Alan Tudyk doing Christopher Walken” good.
And then it got hot.
Cherry: 5 beans
I noticed that Fred had pulled out one of our larger ramekins and had put the red, yellow green and orange beans in it, leaving just the black and white beans in the jar. Knowing that he doesn’t like licorice (see: the running gag in last year’s review) I assumed he had also tossed the white beans in there because he’s also not all that fond of peppermint either._
“Fred,” I said, “these aren’t peppermint jelly beans.”
“I know,” he said. “I don’t like coconut, either.”
Ahh. He thinks just because they’re white they have to be a “white” flavor. Time for a teaching moment.
“They’re not coconut either,” I said. “They’re pineapple.”
He looked at me like I was from the planet Koozbain. “No. They’re coconut.”
“How can you tell?” I asked. No, this was not the most brilliant question I’ve ever asked. On the other hand, it’s also not the dumbest. And this is not the most brilliant confession I’ve ever had, either.
The Koozbainian stare continued. “Because I_ tasted _it,” he said. “Did it taste like pineapple to you?”
It didn’t taste like anything because I had yet to taste it. I just assumed that the flavor of the candy was the flavor the candy maker said it was. Well, like my daughter Zoë is fond of saying, more fool I. Not only was I fooled, I was also chagrined, and more than a little bit peeved at both myself and the Ass Kickin’ folks. Here I was, mulling through observations and revelations about the cultural norms of color and flavor, and wondering why the Ass Kickers had decided to make the pineapple jelly bean white, and how much thought they had put into integrating the heat with the sweet and all that, and it turns out they didn’t even care enough to get the flavors right?
White bean (not pineapple)
Blah blah blah coconut blah blah blah flavorful blah blah and then it got hot.
No. Just because they don’t care it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t. It was, once again, a really good flavor, with a very fragrant perfume and none of the chalkiness that one sometimes gets with coconut candy. And then it got hot.
Coconut: 6 beans
Average across all individual beans: 6 out of 10 beans
So that was the one-at-a-times. The final step of the CBE is the one of each test, where we grab a mittful and munch.
Not gonna lie, this one worried me. If one hurt, can you imagine how six are gonna feel?
But it’s part of the CBE, so I must do it. When you speak of me, tell them I died a hero.
The one-of-each test
I did the old told-myself-I-wasn’t-gonna-do-it-and-then-I-did-it trick, which sounds like it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. It does, every time. I’m so sneaky. And, apparently, gullible.
The combination worked well–far better than I thought it would have. The licorice kept a steady, bittersweet base, and the coconut perfume swirled around the other fruits, especially the citruses in a way that was surprisingly, pleasantly complex—aaaand then it got hot. How hot would it get, I wondered, and for how long?
Not much hotter than a single bean, it turns out, and for about the same length of time. Yeah, it burned out the other flavors (including this time, the citrus) but not much hotter or longer. The amount of time it spent in my mouth wasn’t much longer than a single bean, and once the pepper hits its maximum point, the rest of the pepper, apparently, has nothing to do, no other tastebuds to destroy.
6 out of 10 beans
Not gonna lie, I’m a bit cheesed about this. These are far better beans than they deserve to be – than they should be, really, to be treated this way. Had these jelly beans been made without the habanero, they would have been just about the best beans I’ve ever eaten. The flavors aren’t fancy or complex, but they are as good as they could be. The habanero detracted from it.
Do you remember the show Community? There’s an episode where there were these three obnoxious students who challenged Jeff and Shirley to a foosball game. While our heroes were practicing, the three students came by and taunted them more, and ended the taunt by doing a full-sized foosball kick, and then left.
As they strutted away, Jeff incredulously says “Were you guys walking around with a soccer ball just so you could do that? They left the ball and everything. I think they were literally walking around with it like a prop to use. That’s like a $25 bit, and it’s not even that good!”
These jelly beans were like $8 for the bottle, and they weren’t that good.
Fred: What are you gonna say about them?
Me: Well, I’m gonna say that if you’re the kind of person who thinks it’s funny to say, “Hey, have some jelly beans?” to someone and then give them these beans so that they can eat one and then gasp and say “What the hell, man?” then this is the bean for you.
Fred: I did that! I did that to Zoë last week! Make sure Cranfill knows that!
Me: I know. And I will.
Fred: You got the idea from me.
Me: Actually no. But I knew you would do that.
Fred: Just like you know what pineapple tastes like.
Sometimes my kid has a kick, too.
|Size and shape||5/5 beans|
|Taste and flavor||6/10 beans|
|One-of-each test||6/10 beans|
I gotta say, Bizarro Universe seems better than the universe we’re in. Which makes me wonder if this is actually the Bizarro Universe. ↩
This really was a huge black eye for the Grammys, but the only reason you don’t know too much about it is because that was also the year that Milli Vanilli won Grammys for songs they didn’t even sing. They were just two cute boys who looked good dancing. ↩