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July 11, 2007
The World’s Best Candy Bars? English, of Course
By KIM SEVERSON
A TELEVISION news producer from Atlanta recently made a deal with her boss, who was traveling in London. The producer promised she would submit her script for an investigative story ahead of deadline in exchange for two British Kit Kats and a Curly Wurly bar.
The woman, who did not want her name revealed for fear of being teased endlessly by her colleagues, so loves her British chocolate that she takes an extra suitcase when she travels to London just to bring back a haul.
“Should I admit I am carrying two U.K. Kit Kats with me in my briefcase right now, just in case I get into a bind on my trip?” she e-mailed this reporter from the road.
At this point, it would be easy to take a long, clichéd side trip into a discussion of the relative inferiority of British food. But for the rarefied palate that can appreciate the soft, immediate pleasure of an inexpensive candy bar, it’s not difficult to give the edge to sweets from the realm of the queen.
That’s why Malcolm Smart takes his son, Rowan, for a stroll to Blue Apron in Park Slope, Brooklyn, twice a week for a proper British candy bar. Rowan is 6 years old, and tends toward the mint Aero bar.
Mr. Smart, who grew up in Birmingham, England, home of the chocolate manufacturer Cadbury-Schweppes, is a Flake man himself. The Cadbury Flake, a crumbly bar of compressed ribbons of chocolate, was invented in 1920. It is thrust into swirls of soft ice cream at parks all over London, creating a dessert called a 99.
Alan Palmer, who is an owner of Blue Apron, said the British candy bars have been strong sellers since he opened the shop five years ago.“Anybody who went to school there or had any kind of business or family connection over there is totally addicted to them,” he said.
Mr. Smart, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, learned early on in his life here that British and American chocolate bars are different, even if they share a name and a look.
“One day I was eating a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and I thought, this has absolutely no flavor,” he said. “I looked at the label and saw it was made by Hershey. I was outraged.”
Cadbury Dairy Milk is the iconic British candy bar, the one most likely to be tucked into the suitcase of a Yankee tourist looking for an inexpensive souvenir. Versions are filled with caramel, whipped fondant, whole nuts or pellets of shortbread cookie.
It’s a different bar from the Cadbury bar available in the United States. According to the label, a British Cadbury Dairy Milk bar contains milk, sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, vegetable fat and emulsifiers. The version made by the Hershey Company, which holds the license from Cadbury-Schweppes to produce the candy in the United States under the British company’s direction, starts its ingredient list with sugar. It lists lactose and the emulsifier soy lecithin, which keeps the cocoa butter from separating from the cocoa. The American product also lists “natural and artificial flavorings.”
Tony Bilsborough, a spokesman for Cadbury-Schweppes in Britain, said his company ships its specially formulated chocolate crumb — a mash of dried milk and chocolate to which cocoa butter will be added later — to Hershey, Pa. What happens next accounts for the differences.
“I imagine it’s down to the final processing and the blending,” he said. After consulting with chocolate manufacturers in each country, Cadbury tries to replicate the taste people grew up with, he said. In the United States, that means a bar that is more akin to a Hershey bar, which to many British palates tastes sour.
Kirk Seville, a spokesman for the Hershey Company, declined to explain the manufacturing process, saying the company preferred not to take part in a discussion about the manufacturing differences between a British and an American Cadbury bar.
For people here with a taste for British candy, no explanation is necessary. Their opinions are already formed.
“Hershey’s tastes like ear wax,” said Kevin Ellis, an Alaskan-born designer with Adobe Systems in San Francisco. Mr. Ellis, who says Canadian and British chocolate bars are comparable, anticipates with delight the boxes of imported chocolate bars his wife's family sends.
The appeal of British chocolate is powerful. When the Ellis family moved not long ago to another Bay Area house, a burly man from Birmingham who was helping to haul the sofa spied a box.
“Do you mind if I have a Curly Wurly?” he asked with the tenderness of a hopeful child.
The Curly Wurly, a thick strip of braided caramel covered in chocolate, is a sibling to the discontinued Marathon bar, which any American who was in high school when Jimmy Carter was president will remember fondly.
The Curly Wurly is not as popular in Britain as the Crunchie. With its crisp honeycomb interior, it’s what a Butterfinger might be if it went to finishing school and married up.
But neither rivals the Mars bar, the prom queen of British candy bars. About three million of them are made daily in Slough, just west of London. It’s like a less sweet version of the American Milky Way, rather than the almond-stuffed American Mars bar. The smart set in London melts it over ice cream for a fast dinner party dessert. Mars bars are also fried in the same sort of batter used to coat cod.
And then there is the television producer’s beloved Kit Kat, invented in York, England, in the early 1930s and available in versions that match the tastes of, variously, Japanese, Germans, Australians, Canadians and Americans.
Nicky Perry has sold chocolate bars from her home country for more than a decade at her store, Tea and Sympathy, in Greenwich Village.
Her theory is that the bars from the United Kingdom are made from a better recipe, containing fewer stabilizers. They melt more quickly than a Hershey bar, which is why she cuts back on the amount she stocks in summer.
“I can’t afford to keep the A.C. on all night or a chocolate bar would cost $10, wouldn’t it?” she said.
At the London Food Company in Montclair, N.J., about 17 percent of the store’s sales are British chocolate bars, said Samantha Codling, the owner.
Ms. Codling, who is from Essex, offers a range of Cadbury Milk bars, including the mint crisp, whole nut and Turkish delight with rose jelly. The British Smartie, which resembles an M & M but has a thicker shell, and the Malteser malt ball, also sell well.
“All the ex-pats definitely know the difference already and the Americans soon figure it out,” she said.
Bryn Dyment, a Web developer in the Bay Area who grew up in Canada, said he was shocked when his parents took him to a candy counter in the United States. He found out that not every child in the world was eating the same chocolate bars he was.
It wasn’t until he moved to the United States as an adult that he realized just how vast that divide is.
“You get in these religious arguments with people,” he said. “I haven’t met a Canadian who likes a Hershey bar, but Americans think you’re crazy when you say that, because they think everyone loves a Hershey bar.”