Snack Critic: Have Your Dose of Sweet, Milky Goodness with Caramel Candies from Monami, X.O., and AlpenliebeMay 22, 2017
You don’t need to look far to know that Filipinos love their sweets. Pretty much anywhere that you can find people—transport terminals, photocopying stalls, the streets—you can expect to find vendors pending candy, and among the countless varieties you’ll find is the classic caramel candy: hard candy of dairy-enriched caramelized sugar made to be enjoyed by melting in the mouth. A flavor that has stood the test of time, good caramel is a mellifluous balance of the depth of burnt sugar and the creaminess of butter, milk, and/or cream. And if the West has their NIPS (not to be confused with the candy-coated chocolate buttons by local snack brand Jack n’ Jill) or Werther’s Originals as the exemplars of the genre, X.O., Monami, and Alpenliebe reign supreme in these parts. Everyone’s got their own favorites; which brand delivers the best caramel hit to match with your own taste?
Monami Buttercream Caramel
Monami features the glossiest surface among the three and carries a deep copper-like hue. It melts smooth and makes a distinct, clean crack when you try to chomp on it (not that we actually recommend you do this), which hints at being cooked to what is called the hard-crack stage in candy-making. The flavor is pretty good for a dirt-cheap treat, with a depth that reminds us of butter on the verge of browning into beurre noisette. A hint of salt would’ve lifted this to greater heights, but we’re nonetheless impressed with this one.
X.O. Butter Caramel
Paler (and practically opaque), X.O.—while probably the most popular and the most widely available—isn’t the most visually appealing of the bunch. But while it barely carries any burnt-sugar boldness, their take on the flavor stands out for its strong emphasis on dairy—a merry mingling of powdered milk and butter. We have mixed feelings on its relatively pliable consistency—at least in so far as it almost strays from being of the rock-solid ‘hard candy’ category in the strictest sense of the term. But this also gives the outer edges a chewy quality especially after being left to melt in the summer heat, and who doesn’t love the idea of chewy caramel!?
Alpenliebe Caramel & Cream
This Italian-Dutch brand’s version might look small, but don’t you underestimate it. Each piece delivers a potent milky, sweet hit with a flavor closer to dulce de leche (or yema) than a traditional, butter- and cream- based caramel (and not in a bad way): think of the distinct, Maillard reactions-resulting toastiness you get with evaporated milk but not from whole milk. Like Monami, it also melts smooth and cracks clean—and while there is a hint of fake “vanilla” which is just slightly off-putting, we love that there’s an ample amount of salt to bring out all the flavors.
Though all of the same flavor genre, each of the three candy brands interprets caramel in ways so radically different from each other, but all in ways that shine in their own right. Try Monami if you like it deep and smooth, X.O. if you’re mostly after the milkiness, and Alpenliebe if you’re into the caramelized-milk flavor that defines yema but in creamy, meltable hard-candy form. Whichever brand you keep in your stash, know that you won’t ever be more than an unwrapping away from a long-lasting fix of sweet and creamy.