Mars Bar Party
I’m not sure how many factories around the world are churning out the classic milk chocolate-covered nougat and caramel bar, but here are the varieties I’ve tried across Canada and the UK. Genuine Mars products can be detected by the ‘M’ pattern their conveyor belts imprint on the bottom of the bars. For every other bar listed here, the conveyor pattern consists of a simple grid, leading me to suspect that every generic brand (at least in the UK) is made in the same place, and differences in taste are purely subjective.
UK Mars Bar
This was first produced in 1932, by Forrest Mars, using as a base the recipe and format of the US Milky Way, which came first. It consists of malted milk flavoured nougat, with a caramel layer, enrobed in Mars’ own milk chocolate. They are produced at Mars’ Slough factory. They are very much the superior of all supermarket brands sold in the UK, so much so that I can detect inferior products in a blind test, without having sampled the Mars itself; such is the distinctive taste. The malt flavouring is present to such a degree that you can smell it. The sweetness doesn’t sting. The whole bar is smooth and balanced, whether eaten alone or dipped in a brew. You can taste the constituent parts: the milk chocolate, the nougat, the caramel. The caramel layer itself is thinner than the US Milky Way, which is the reason it earns #1 spot. No artificial flavours are used, either.
US Milky Way
The bar that started it all. Launched in 1923 by Frank C. Mars (nine years before the Mars Bar). It was originally enrobed in Hershey’s milk chocolate, but nowadays carries a small logo which says ‘Mars Real Milk Chocolate’. Named for a malted milkshake of the time, like the UK Mars the malt flavouring is strong enough to be detectable by smell alone. Claims were made in the early 1960s that the milk chocolate covering had been increased by 36%, but this has been deleted from the bar’s official history. In 1999 the caramel layer was increased by a significant amount, which has effectively destroyed the delicate balance of the bar, as the caramel layer is approaching half of the contents. The saving grace is the nougat, which is firmer than in the UK Mars, which makes for a more satisfying chew. These are hard to find in Canada, even near the border. Prices in the UK are outrageous: £2.75 per bar at the Trafford Centre. Prices within the US are favourable.
Canadian Mars Bar
Unfortunately, Mars of Canada are content to sell an inferior product, which has created an import market for the UK Mars, which sell for $2 or more - an alarming markup considering one can acquire four Mars Bars in the UK for £1 (subject to supermarket offers). Why is it inferior? Firstly, artificial ingredients are used. The UK Mars contains a natural vanilla extract, whereas the Canadian one does not (instead listing “artificial flavour”). Secondly, the Canadian Mars is comprised mostly, after sugar, of corn syrup, which is likely to be from GMO stock. Thirdly, it uses palm oil instead of sunflower oil. The bar still features malt flavouring, but not in the form of a barley malt extract. Instead it’s from malted milk powder - an extra step in the process which reduces the strength this vital ingredient has on the overall flavour. Bizarre Canadian rules also prohibit it from being referred to as a ‘chocolate bar’ so it’s instead labelled as a ‘candy bar’. The taste of the Canadian Mars is, however, superior to all supermarket brands in the UK. Dollarama sells single Mars Bars for 77 cents. I still consume them when in Canada, but my heart yearns for the Slough product. Just kidding.
Note: In Canada Mars sells a dark chocolate Mars Bar, which is very tasty indeed. They usually cost a bit more than the standard Mars, but are well worth trying. Look for the half-gold wrappers.
Sainsbury’s Chunky Caramel bar
Sainsbury’s own brands are often of a higher quality than Asda, Tesco, Morrison’s etc. I am particularly fond of their ‘Balance’ cereal, which is identical in taste to Special-K but sells for only £2 a box. Anyway, to their Mars Bar: it’s decent. The sweetness doesn’t sting, and it’s almost as satisfying as a real Mars. The nougat and chocolate are notably of a lower quality, but what do you expect when they are cheaper?
Dollarama Meteor bar
This is sold in Canada. A ‘duo’ bar sells for 50 cents, which is a remarkably good deal. They are manufactured in Turkey but are packaged with Dollarama branding for the Canadian market. Twix, Bounty and Snickers versions also exist, the latter of which, confusingly, is also called ‘Titan’ (see below). The Meteor Bar has a pleasant texture, if you enjoy biting into something which resembles soft rubber. They stand up well to dipping too. The chocolate layer is very thin, and is unlikely to be a true milk chocolate. The ingredients do not list any malt content whatsoever, which is confirmed when you smell or taste it. It’s therefore the only bar here which isn’t malted. However, the sweetness isn’t over bearing. At the cost of a mere quarter it’s a decent bar, in these recessionary times.
Aldi Titan bar
These are very cheap to buy, but the aftertaste is not overly pleasant. Malt flavouring is detectable, but only just. The caramel is too sweet.
Tesco Crazy Caramel bar
These are not very good. The aftertaste is sickly. There is a certain cloying sweetness which exists at this end of the market.
Lidl Choco & Caramel bar
The worst of the bunch. Like the Tesco bar - that same cloying sweetness which ‘stings’ or overwhelms the senses. Can hardly detect malt. The caramel is very artificial in consistency and the milk chocolate isn’t very good either.
Yet to be sampled: Asda or Morrison’s versions; the Cadbury Moro Bar (sold in New Zealand - asked Cadbury to release it here); the Cadbury Aztec Bar, though I did write to them about bringing it back. I received a negative stock response to both my requests to Cadbury UK.
Honourable mention: Neilson Malted Milk bar, which was sold for many years in Canada. The name of the bar suggests a dominance of malt. From old packaging it appears the caramel layer was kept very thin. Cadbury purchased Neilson and continue to sell their ‘Jersey Milk’ brand. They briefly sold a ‘Malted Milk’ bar with their own purple packaging in Canada, circa 2005. This was excellent. Very malty, very chewy and very much missed by yours truly.