Malt-Ball Mission (Semi-) Impossible
One woman's quest to track down the truth about her favorite, Philly-sold sweets
Have you ever tried to get the calorie count on your favorite items in a candy store? I have. I went into a Nuts to You store in Center City to find out the calorie counts on the chocolate-covered malt balls. I was already eating a handful of Whoppers malted milk balls each day to satisfy my sweet tooth without breaking my diet. I knew how many to eat because the container lists that there are 10 calories in each piece. However, it would be a bigger treat if I could replace Whoppers with some of the thicker-coated malt balls sold in a Nuts to You one-pound plastic bag.
As the idiom goes, I thought figuring this out would be “a piece of cake.” Nuts to You not only sells the usual milk-chocolate-covered malt balls, but also carob-, yogurt- and sugar-free-chocolate-covered malt balls. They also sell salted, unsalted and oil-free nuts, and make homemade peanut butter on the premises. They seem very ingredient-conscious. So I was surprised when I couldn’t find any ingredient or calorie information on their plastic bags or stacking shelves.
I went over to a clerk and she directed me to another clerk who flipped through a binder filled with ingredient info until she found that the sweetener used in the sugar-free chocolate was maltitol. For calorie counts, she told me to call the candy supplier. I thought the store, not me, should be making this call, but since I really liked their malt balls, I called.
The supplier said they sold 37 kinds of malt balls (imagine that!). In order to get the correct calorie count for the malt balls being sold at Nuts to You, I needed to get the product numbers of the malt balls in the store. I called the store and they said there were no product numbers on their bags from the supplier—I gave up!
What added to my frustration was that this situation seemed illegal. I believed it was my consumer right to know how many calories I put in my mouth. Wasn’t it because of such laws that Hershey’s put the calorie count on their Whoppers containers?
I e-mailed the Food and Drug Administration to find out and they e-mailed back that food made and sold within a state is regulated by the state. I should find out if Pennsylvania has some requirements.
So I contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Nicole Bucher, the Acting Press Secretary, told me via e-mail that Pennsylvania does require candy sellers to provide ingredient information to consumers upon request. It doesn’t have to be on the bags or display cases, but must be immediately available for customers to review, like in a binder, as it was at Nuts to You. This includes the shops that don’t want to divulge the secrets of their homemade recipes. Citizens may be allergic to some of the ingredients or have special dietary needs.
Currently, calorie counts are not required of candies made in Pennsylvania, whether sold in a small mom-and-pop store or an outlet of a candy store chain. Although another source informed me that there is talk at the federal level to treat candy stores like restaurant chains in the new health care reform laws. This means that just as restaurant chains with 20 outlets or more must now display calorie information, candy store chains with 20 outlets or more will have to display calorie information.
As you may know already, restaurant chains with 15 or more outlets must provide calorie information in Philly. The city is more stringent than the Feds, but I say, not stringent enough. Whether or not food is sold by a small business, consumers have a right to know how many calories they consume.
Curious to find out if local candy stores would have ingredient information available, I visited or called the 36 candy stores listed in Philadelphia’s yellow pages, plus a few more. Many did not have ingredient information readily available.
On the bright side, a few candy stores not only had ingredient information, but also made extra efforts to supply me with calorie counts. If the counts weren’t already available in the store, they either called or devised other means to get me the information from the supplier. I’ve listed these stores below.
If your favorite store isn’t included on the list, educate them. When I called Lore’s Chocolates, a store that has sold chocolates in this city for almost 50 years, the seller was surprised, or at least acted surprised, when I said it was a violation of state law to not have ingredient information available. If a store is unresponsive, you can submit a complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at eatsafepa.com.
I’ve listed few area stores below that will happily break out their ingredient lists and supply calorie counts upon request. (In case you’re a malt-ball lover yourself, I’ve included the calorie counts I was able to hunt down, too.)
So, what did my malt-ball mission divulge? On average, these decadent treats have twice the calories of Hershey’s. I now know to limit myself to a half a handful instead of a full handful of malted milk balls when I’m enjoying the thicker-coated types from Philly’s candy shops. Unfortunately, the burden currently rests on consumers to track down the calories of locally sold candies. I hope that this changes soon. In the meantime, I’ll persist with my questions.
Eda’s Sugar Free. This store doesn’t sell chocolates, but I learned that their hard candies have eight calories per piece. 4900 North 20 Street, 215-324-3412.
Favors and Flavors. The chocolate-covered malt balls are 200 calories per 40 grams, which translates into 1.41 ounces on a food scale or a little over one-eighth of a cup. 1827 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-7621.
Godiva Chocolatier Inc. The store didn’t have malt balls, but I learned that one chocolate truffle is 52 calories. 1625 Chestnut Street, 215-963-0810.
Kalina Co. Same as Favors and Flavors: I was referred to a website that said milk-chocolate-covered malt balls are 200 calories per 40 grams, which translates into 1.41 ounces on a food scale or a little over one-eighth of a cup. 2110 South Broad Street, 215-551-2427.
Philly Sweettooth. I was told that the “ballpark figure” is 18 calories for one milk-chocolate-covered malt ball, and 17 for one dark-chocolate-espresso-covered malt ball. 630 South 4 Street, 215-923-8800.
Zipf’s. The candy supplier labels the boxes with calorie counts, but the seller doesn’t always hold onto the boxes after bagging the candies. A malted milk ball box wasn’t on hand when I called, but the seller offered to save one for the future. 8433 Germantown Avenue, 215-248-1877.
Lynne Blumberg lives and writes in Philadelphia. She is in no way connected to anyone in the candy industry.