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They say that there's a fine line between pleasure and pain and having sampled Joe & Seph's Caramel, Black Pepper and Chilli Popcorn I can tell you I've perched precariously on that tightrope. Not for the faint-hearted, this white knuckle ride of the snack world is a real treat for the tastebuds and makes the mouth a thrilling place to be.
I first spotted the brand on the shelves of the food hall of the Fenwicks department store in Newcastle but the products can be bought from other retailers as well as the company's website and in Joe and Seph's stores in Brent Cross Shopping Centre and the Royal Victoria Centre in Tunbridge Wells. Himself is a self-confessed chilli-head so I am always on the lookout for spicy stocking fillers and top up birthday gifts and this product caught my eye. The range is handmade in England and it;s always nice to support innovative companies doing someting a little different.
At £4 for a 90g pouch it's not cheap, especially when you consider that you can buy a big bag of corn and pop it yourself for considerably less but when you taste it you see why its called Gourmet Popcorn and why it's worth the money.
This popcorn can be eaten cold or warm but as I no longer own a microwave we've only had it cold straight from the bag. If you like very crunchy popcorn, Joe and Seph's suggest you give the popcorn a quick blast in the microwave and leave it for a few minutes, presumably for the caramel to re-harden. Personally, even if I had a microwave oven, I'd not bother with this as the buttery caramel coating was crunchy enough for my taste.
According to Joe & Seph's the popcorn tastes better because it is air popped rather than done the oil coated way, they claim it tastes fresher this way. I don't feel I can really give an opinion on that because the flavour of the coating is so intense that you concentrate on that rather than the taste of the popcorn itself. I think it might be easier to judge that particular claim by trying one of their savoury popcorn products. What I can say is that the pieces of popped corn are more or less a uniform size and (unless your packet has been squashed) there are very few half or broken pieces so you can be confident that you won't find a handful of unpopped or only partly popped kernels in the bottom.
The smooth caramel coating is delicious. Ordinarily I wouldn't eat something like this as I much prefer my popcorn lightly salted or with a drizzle of butter but the bite that comes from the chilli and the black pepper prevents the caramel coating from becoming too sickly sweet. I really like the slightly toasted flavour which is adds an interesting depth.
The packaging note tells me the caramel is infused with the chilli and the black pepper; you can't see any flecks of black pepper or red chilli, it really looks like an innocent toffee popcorn. I don't know what kind of chilli peppers they use for this recipe but it would have been an interesting addition to the packaging info to have said this and something I think most chilli lovers would be keen to know. The chilli has a tremendous kick; if you don't like hot spice then this is a product you should avoid. You don;t get the chilli for a moment or two then the heat builds to quite a crescendo. It gets me right at the back of my tongue and has a lingering aftertaste that's there for good ten minutes. I do like this chilli kick but I think the overall flavour would be better if the chilli was, not cooler, but more refined and less harsh.
Even Himself who loves this kind of treat finds that just a couple of pieces at a time are quite sufficient so although this seems quite expensive the heat probably means that you'll not polish it off in one go so as long as you reseal the pouch properly, or better still put the pouch into an airtight container, it will last, according to the packaging, five days although we find it lasts a couple of days longer than that.
The nutritional information is not found on the packaging but is listed on the website. A 28.5gram helping (so approximately one third of a pouch) comprises 144 calories and 6.9 grams of fat. Caramel coated popcorn is always going to add some fat content to what woul normally be a low fat snack but at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that chilli is good for the metabolism and for fat burning.
If the idea of this particlar flavour doesn't get you salivating take a look at the company website where all the flavours, savoury and sweet are listed. These include 'Mince Pie', 'Smooth Caramel, Honey and Hazelnut', 'Mature Irish Cheddar' and 'Auvergne Cremeux Blue Cheese, Walnut and Celery'. You certainly couldn't accuse Joe & Seph's of being unoriginal.
We love Joe & Seph's Caramel, Pepper and Chilli Popcorn; it's an addictive and exciting combination of flavours and makes a great treat, and one that isn't gone in a matter of minutes. I think it goes without saying that this is for grown ups and it should be kept out of reach of children because it looks very innocent but would give most kids the fright of their short lives.
I bought a standard pouch but we're planning to buy the same product in glass jars from the website as Christmas presents in a few weeks time. The Best Before date is hand written on the label (which adds a nice personal touch and inspires onfidence) and a note on the website states that products are delivered with a best before date of 30-45 days from the date of purchase.
Joe & Seph's products are sold in Harrods and in branches of Selfridges in London, Birmingham and Manchester and at selected stores in Milton Keynes, Ambleside and Ipswich, among other locations; see the website for a full list of stockists.