The great sweet north Here's a look at a variety of confections not available south of our border
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2021 (584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Great White North has some great sweet treats.
When you reach into your kid’s candy stash after they’ve gone to sleep, or head to the store this week to acquire boxes of fun-sized bars at a steep, steep discount, many of your selections are Canuck creations.
A high percentage of the eight, or 18, or 108 chocolate bars you’ll consume in the days ahead cannot be acquired in other countries, so in honour of Halloween, we’ll take a look at some popular trick-or-treat handouts you may have not even known were Canadian.
We’ll start with one you can make a case for starting your day with, because it’s got coffee in it, after all.
That was even the big idea behind an early-1990s commercial for the bar in question, which features two older ladies playing cards.
“So, how do you like your coffee?” asks one.
“Crisp!” replies the other.
After some confusion, the woman holds up the yellow-packaged bar to the chagrin of asker. “Oh, I’m supposed to laugh now?”
Coffee Crisp, consisting of alternating thin layers of vanilla-flavoured wafers and soft coffee-flavoured candy and coated in milk chocolate, has been enjoyed by Canadians since 1939, according to Nestle.
One of the bars Canadians flex over Americans quite frequently, Coffee Crisp is the evolved form of a British chocolate bar called Rowntree’s Wafer Crisp. It was introduced to Canadians as “Biscrisp,” and in 1938, a coffee variation was added to the Biscrisp lineup and eventually became known as “Coffee Crisp.”
The writer conducted an information poll on the Winnipeg subreddit, asking locals to vote on which of many Canadian chocolate bars were their favourite. Coffee Crisp was the runaway favourite, receiving 843 votes, more than double any other bar.
“The story of Coffee Crisp in Canada mirrors so many of us,” Nestle Canada marketing leader Christine McClean said in a 2017 release. “It originated abroad and made its way to Canada — evolving with the country and reflecting our unique tastes and preferences.”
Coffee Crisp is made entirely in one Toronto factory — someone send some guards to protect this Canadian treasure — and it turns out more than 150 million annually.
Reviews of 48-packs of Coffee Crisp on Amazon are rife with ex-pat Canadians and folks from the U.S. who love them to such a degree they shell out extra for the privilege of having them shipped to their door.
“If I were a religious person I would consider building a cult around this candy,” one U.S. reviewer wrote.
“Coffee Crisp is not available in the ‘third world’ called the Deep South,” another joked. “I love to share them (sparingly) with my southern friends.”
“Whenever I visit friends in the U.S., I bring them a care package of Canadian chocolate bars,” one commenter on the writer’s poll said. “Literally 100 per cent of the time, they lose their mind for Coffee Crisp. They like the others well enough, but Coffee Crisp is just on another level to them. So I vote for Coffee Crisp, because you can use it like currency in the U.S.”
Another Nestle offering not available in the U.S. is Smarties.
Whether you suck them very slowly, crunch them very fast, eat the red ones last (or have put all these rules aside and just shovel them indiscriminately into your mouth) you can know you’re having an experience sadly not readily available to our neighbours to the south.
The colourful, candy-coated chocolate discs originated in the U.K. in the 1880s, and by the 1930s, were known as “Smarties Chocolate Beans.” The phrase “chocolate beans” was later dropped due to trading standards requirement (the word “beans” was considered misleading) and they were eventually re-branded simply as Smarties.
The Smarties available in the U.S. are what Canadians call “Rockets,” a chalky tablet candy. They’re no match for the chocolate version, also available in Ireland, Germany, Slovakia, and South Africa.
While many have perhaps been eating the red ones last for a long time, for a brief time, no one could eat blue ones at all. For a good part of the 2000s, blue Smarties disappeared completely and were replaced with white.
The reason? In 2006, Nestle U.K. decided to remove all artificial colourings from their offerings. It found a way to replicate all the other colours — orange, yellow, green, mauve, pink, and brown in addition to the famous red — but finding a viable natural blue dye proved challenging.
It took Nestle nearly three years to find a replacement dye, which comes from a seaweed called Spirulina. Blue returned to the U.K. mix in summer 2008, only to go missing in March, 2009 from Canadian boxes (they returned in May, 2010, restoring the equilibrium.)
Smarties were not as beloved by the Winnipeg Redditors, receiving 155 votes and coming in sixth.
There are also a slew of Canadian Cadbury products, four of which occupy the same Halloween variety box: Caramilk, Crispy Crunch, Mr. Big, and Wunderbar.
In Caramilk and Wunderbar’s case, their advertising campaigns are as good, if not better, than the bars themselves.
The unique selling proposition of Caramilk, introduced in 1968, is an enticing and mysterious question: “how do they get the caramel in the Caramilk bar?”
“The Caramilk Secret” has been the focus of countless ad campaigns over the years, with the first-ever TV spot featuring a drill penetrating a bar of Caramilk chocolate, wrote David Carr in the book Candymaking in Canada.
A 1973 ad featuring Leonardo Da Vinci trying to crack the secret — while, in the background, the subject sitting for the Mona Lisa eats a piece before cracking the famous half-smile — won a prestigious Clio Award.
More recently, Cadbury concocted a Willy Wonka-esque contest in which 10 golden keys were hidden inside wrappers, with the winners getting to travel to the Cadbury factory in Toronto to see how the bars are made (and winning $125,000 in cash, as well.)
Naturally, Cadbury has never confirmed the exact process — only those elite key winners know for sure — but they’re most likely made by assembling them upside down.
The probable method involves forming the chocolate in a mold so the rounded top faces down, piping the caramel into the cavity once the chocolate solidifies, then attaching the flat bottom and flipping over.
There is also a Caramilk bar in Australia, launched in the same year, but it is made with white chocolate.
Wunderbar, with a blend of peanut butter, rice crisps, and caramel, also had a top-notch ear-worm ad.
Introduced in 1976, Wunderbar — the name of which is German for “wonderful” — is memorable for the TV spot of a group of Vikings cackling in joy upon discovering a chest full of the bars and exclaiming “Wunderbar!” when biting into them. (Why Vikings, who hailed from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, would be speaking German is never really explained…)
Wunderbar came in second in the author’s poll, with 362 votes. Caramilk was a close third, with 339.
Coming in fourth in the poll was Mr. Big — aptly named as it’s the largest Cadbury produces in Canada.
The vanilla-wafer, caramel, and peanut packed bar was actually introduced into the U.S. market in 1995, according to Carr’s Candymaking in Canada. The launch was supported by an ad campaign featuring 7-foot-1, 325-pound basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal. (You can still find unopened “Shaq” Mr. Big bars on eBay, with his face festooning the wrapper. The writer wouldn’t recommend eating them.)
Crispy Crunch, the author’s personal favourite, came in fifth in the poll. Featuring a crispy peanut butter middle that shatters bitten into, it was developed by Harold Oswin — a Nielson Ltd. Employee — in 1930.
Oswin started in Neilson’s hard candy room at age 14 and was a candy maker by the 1920s. When Nielson launched a company contest, he submitted an entry featuring a hard peanut butter flake coated with molasses, sugar, and vanilla and dipped in milk chocolate. His “Crispy Crunch” won and he was awarded a $5 prize. It’s safe to say Cadbury has gotten a decent return for that $5 over the past 90 years.
One superb spot to get candy of all varieties is Teeyah’s on Graham Ave. Owner Tia Medeiros, has a favourite related to fond memories.
“Caramilk is my favourite because of the memories I have from growing up,” she said. “My uncle would put them in the freezer and when they were just right we would sit down together to enjoy them. I would look forward to that special time together.”
Teeyah’s carries a massive selection of chocolate bars, candy, and soft drinks from all over the world. But if Medeiros could only send one Canadian treat to the U.S. or abroad for someone to try, it actually wouldn’t be any of the ones covered so far.
It would be Eat-More, which Medeiros said is “the most unique and severely underrated candy bar.” Eat-More is a dense and chewy bar consisting of dark toffee, peanuts, and chocolate. It was first created by the Lowney Chocolate Company, but was acquired by Hershey from Nabisco in 1987.
The moniker was the brainchild of Nova Scotian Angus McDonald, who in the early 1930s, won a naming contest that had been advertised in the local newspaper, according to a CBC article from 2019.
McDonald’s prize was an art deco-style clock fashioned to look like a measuring tape, perhaps a reference to the length of the flat and stretchy bar.
Medeiros likes Eat-More for its unique texture and composition — it is not coated in chocolate, she noted, but rather the chocolate is incorporated into the toffee in such a way that allows the peanuts to poke through.
In addition to the national brands, there is a smaller player that’s revived a couple of throwback products for enjoyment on Halloween, or any other day.
Cuban Lunch, a chocolate and Spanish Peanut confection, was manufactured right in Winnipeg on Ross Ave. by Paulin Chambers and enjoyed by entire generations. But Paulin Chambers broke hearts when it ceased Cuban Lunch production in 1991.
In 2018, Camrose, Alta., couple Crystal Regehr Westergard and Bert Westergard acquired the trademark and a factory in Delta B.C. began pumping out bar after bar, all packed in the original rippled cups. Cuban Lunch is triumphantly back on shelves in Circle K, Co-op, IGA, and Sobeys stores, including in Manitoba.
The couple’s company, Canadian Candy Nostalgia, also recently brought back the Rum & Butter Bar. It was a ubiquitous and popular treat from Cadbury throughout the 1970s and 80s — especially on the east coast — before being discontinued in the 1990s.
“We launched the Rum & Butter in the heat of the past summer, and that was a whole story to itself, as we could only ship them on refrigerated trucks,” Cheryl Regehr Westergard wrote in an email.
But despite issues with melting, the Montreal-produced bars eventually reached store shelves, first in Labrador on Aug. 10, Westergard wrote. “The Labrador people love their sweets,” she added.
She wasn’t joking: D’s Landing, a store in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland, had 40 people lined up outside prior to opening on the first day the bars were available, and by closing time, had sold about 5,000 of them.
“It’s crazy, I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” shop co-owner Darelle Morris told Atlantic News company SaltWire Network about the rush. “People get excited sometimes, but not like this. They love these bars.”
Rum & Butter bars are spreading across Canada again (check the Rum & Butter Bar Facebook page to see where they’re popping up.) In Winnipeg, Teeyah’s Medeiros said she plans to offer them, but they aren’t available yet.
Response has been great for both, Regehr Westergard said, especially from those trying them for the first time.
“We are constantly amazed by the response of the younger set who try the bars,” she wrote. “‘Life changing’ was one of my favourite comments so far!”
To close, there are a lot of Canadian chocolate bars and sweets to choose from today and into November, whether they’re surreptitiously swiped from your kid’s stash or purchased on the cheap before Halloween displays are removed to make way for Christmas showcases.
With the convenient existence of the fun-sized bar, the easiest choice might be to just choose them all.
Updated on Monday, November 1, 2021 5:41 PM CDT: Adds videos, formatting