Iiiit’s that time of the season again! Time for another review of spice beans by guest reviewer extraordinaire, Ms. Penny Sterling! It’s really hard to find new varieties of spice beans in the local area, so I special ordered a new set for her again this year.
Huge thanks to Penny for doing this again this year. And thanks, as well, to our regular guest review special guest, Penny’s son Fred.
Take it away, Penny!
Hi! I’m Penny. I’m the designated Spice Bean reviewer for this site. Since it’s much more of a “niche” bean than the fruited kind, we’re drifting relatively quickly into “gimmick” beans. Last year, I did a jar of “ass-kickin’” beans that were actually spiced with habanero – beans that my son Fred ended up liking far more than I did, with the exception of the licorice beans (which he doesn’t like, but I do) and the pineapple-but-really-coconut ones (see last year’s review for understanding), which he also doesn’t like, but I do – and those are the only jelly beans that have survived more than a year in this house, because I’m not a fan of habanero pepper.
But that was last year. We’re on to this year’s beans, and this year’s gimmick:
This year we’re taking a taste of the biggest damn beans I’ve ever seen. Why are they so damn big? Well, let’s go to the source:
“Spice jelly bean fans can be a picky bunch and we respect that, which is why we created these jumbo spice jelly beans with the best mix of spice jelly bean flavors: cinnamon (red), peppermint (white), clove (orange), spearmint (green), sassafras (yellow), wintergreen (pink) and anise (black).”
That’s the product description from the George J. Howe website for the 30 and 10 pound cases of their Jumbo Spiced Jelly Beans. They’re jumbo because we can be a picky bunch. Wait, what? That makes no sense.
Oh, wait. Pickiness describes our attention to the flavors, not the size. Apparently, Howe’s makes them jumbo just because they can. They’re Americans1, after all. And big is big in America. That’s why they also have jumbo fruit, cinnamon, and licorice beans as well.
Interestingly, enough, the description of the beans by the bag rather than case is slightly different:
You can’t fool a spice jelly bean fan. They know their candy and are especially passionate about getting the optimal level of spice in every bite. Enter Howe’s thick and delicious Jumbo Spice Jelly Beans featuring no fewer than SEVEN amazing spice flavors in every bag: cinnamon, peppermint, clove, spearmint, sassafras, wintergreen, and anise!
Apparently, Howe’s is so certain we can’t be fooled, they don’t bother to include this information anywhere on the bag. Which is a pity, because we certainly were fooled by them.
Let’s get to the tests, shall we?
Size and shape
Size: Big. So big. Almost uncomfortably big. These are very large. Perhaps gumdrop size. They are the R.O.U.S.-es of the candy world2. They are bigger than what a jelly bean should be in the exact same way Jelly Bellies are smaller than them. But unlike the Bellies, I’m not sure it works. They’re too small to be satisfied with just one, and too big to eat a handful of. It’s a gimmick that didn’t really pay off.
Shape: Mostly bean shaped, although there were a few that were kind of mutated in somewhat interesting ways.
4 out of 5 beans
A satisfying crunch. And a lot of it. These definitely had a hard shell that was distinct from the jelly interior, that broke apart noticeably, and remained for the duration of the chew. The interior is, as Howe’s described it, thick, but it chewed quite well, and did not stick to the teeth.
5 out of 5 beans
Soft and thick interior, that sustained even as it mixed with the breaking up shell, which was noticeable but never grainy.
5 out of 5 beans
Taste and flavor
Note: I did this review twice – once before I knew what the flavors were supposed to be, and again after I found the information on the website. I discovered I liked the beans better when I knew what the flavors were – even when they didn’t really do that good of a job of tasting like the flavor they were supposed to.
Fred only tasted them once, without knowing what the flavors were.
For Taste, I am going to give each bean a blanket 4. Each bean held its flavor consistently over the course of the chew, but the perfume – the overall spice level – was fairly muted. Apparently the “optimal spice level” in Grove City is significantly less than in less-homogenous areas of the country. The reason I give it a 4 is because for some of the beans, I find this to be a good thing. So, the score of each will be the Flavor plus that 4.
So, here’s the list, in the order Howe’s has them on their website.
Are you familiar with cinnamon imperials? Those tiny hard red candies the size of mini M&M’s? Ever grabbed a few of them out of a candy dish where they’d been sitting in the open air long enough that the ambient moisture has softened them a bit and also diluted their flavor? You still taste the cinnamon, but it’s nowhere near as sharp as it would be had they not gotten a little soggy. That’s what these taste like.
(Fred: This is almost a flavor.)
These may be the best peppermint jelly beans I have ever eaten. And if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I’m not at all a fan of peppermint. But the subtlety works well with these beans, and unlike the BRACH*S “eggs”, it remains consistent throughout the chew. Aside from the size, these were a fine bean.
(Fred: I’d brush my teeth with these.)
Did not taste like clove. Even when I was looking for clove flavor, it did not taste like clove. But it was still a pleasant flavor, apart from this weird foretaste that was not pleasant at all. I really can’t describe it well, even though I ate every damn orange bean in the bag (over 4 days) trying to nail it down, with no good result. It was someplace between medicinal and a fart, and it disappeared rapidly, but it was there nonetheless. After that, it was a pleasant chew, but I would not eat another.
(Fred: I’m beginning to lose my ability to discern the differences between them.)
Probably my favorite mint, so my reaction to these is exactly the opposite of my least favorite mint.
(Fred: How is this different from the white bean?)
(Fred: Are these old people flavors? Who knows what sassafras tastes like these days?)
Ever wonder what the “root” in root beer is? It’s the sassafras root! Or was, since it’s now listed by the FDA as a carcinogen, due to the potential toxicity of safrole oil in the root. Now it’s a chemically-recreated flavor, but still very close to the original sassafras flavor. Therefore, a sassafras jelly bean should be vaguely root beer flavored. These were too vague. It was a pleasant flavor, and had a nice perfume, but even when thinking “sassafras” as I ate it, it wasn’t there.
My second-favorite mint flavor. My biggest issue with wintergreen is this: Why is wintergreen pink and spearmint green, when wintergreen has the word “green” in its name? It tasted wintergreeny, just not enough.
(Fred: I can no longer feel my tongue.)
(Fred: What does it say when the one I like least is the one I like best?)3
Perhaps it’s the nature of anise (or licorice) that a little goes a long way, but this was also my favorite bean. Then again, licorice (or anise – they seem to be identical, at least in this bean) has always been one of my most favorite flavors. And the perfume lasted a long, lingering, lovely time after I finished chewing. And it was most definitely an anise bean.
Average across all individual beans: 8 out of 10 beans
The one-of-each test
Oh hell no. Waaaaay too big. So I just grabbed a handful (which was four beans) at random and popped them into my mouth.
I should have gone with three beans. And the one I should have eliminated would have been the clove. I tasted the medi-poot immediately, and then it got lost in the mix, which was all perfume, no flavor. I could tell there was no licorice in this grouping, and I wasn’t gonna try for this many again.
4 out of 10 beans
If you think the optimal level of flavor for chicken is what you would get from Shake N’ Bake, you’ll probably agree that these beans have the optimal level of spice. If not, give them a miss. Also, size IS important in jelly beans, and these are just too darn big.
|Size and shape||4/5 beans|
|Taste and flavor||8/10 beans|
|One-of-each test||4/10 beans|
Made in Grove City, Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh. I know, because my daughter Zoë’s boyfriend went to Grove City College, and sometimes when I’d drive down to get her she’d meet me at his apartment, and it is the most cisgender, heteronormative, white enclave I have ever encountered. It was so white that AJ ended up leaving the school and enrolling in nearby Slippery Rock University, where the official school cheer is: _Our whiskey is rye! Our beer is bock! Stand and cheer for Slippery Ro-whoahhhhh yikes!
_ (Okay, it isn’t, but it should be.)↩