Monday, April 30, 2007
There was an extremely interesting comment left over the weekend on this post.
It had a quote from Hershey’s asserting their position in 2000 that chocolate should not be adulterated with vegetable fats or milk protein fillers.
Back in 1999 the USDA worked on something called the Codex for Proposed Standards for Cocoa and Chocolate Products that met for several years as an international body. The US had quite a few delegates for this and those who weren’t in attendance still offered their comments.
But whatever it was is kind of a side story, because the point is that Hershey has not always been on the bandwagon to sell mockolate to unsuspecting Americans.
On August 28, 2000 Stanley M. Tarka, Jr, PhD (Senior Director Food Science & Technology) filed an official statement as a member of the Hershey Foods team.
Other comments on file:
Lyn O’Brien Nabors (Executive Vice President) of the Calorie Control Council was pushing the support of alternative sweeteners, specifically looking to add Sucralose and Alitame to the list of approved sweeteners. (Don’t know what Alitame is? I had to look it up, it’s not approved for use in the US by the FDA.) (link)
Edward S. Seguine (Vice President) of Guittard Chocolate Company said pretty much what Hershey’s guy said. They were against any adulteration of the standard, and if things were allowed to change, then they’d better be clearly labeled on the front of the package (which is pretty much the way they are now). (link)
Paul Michaels (President) of M&M Mars had a lot to say ... four pages. In short, his recommendation was a hybrid of the current petiton at the FDA. He supported the swapping of cocoa butter with up to 5% vegetable fat, use of a wide range of milk products, other edible foodstuffs, a wide range of sweeteners and the use of polydextrose. Basically, if they got their way back then there’d be far less chocolate in M&Ms than there is now. (I had to look up polydextrose too, it’s a filler. It contains sorbitol which has a known laxative effect. It’s often used to make placebos.) (link)
Richard R. Rio (Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs) of McNeil Specialty Products Company wants Sucralose to be permitted in chocolate. Small wonder, McNeil makes Sucralose. (link)
Robert M. Reeves (President) of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, Inc. supports the use of up to 5% vegetable fats. No surprise there either. (link)
Kenneth Mercurio (Director, Regulatory & Nutrition) of Nestle said “Allowing 5% vegetable oils is a step in this direction to modernize the chocolate standards in the US.” They also do not support the use of an language on the label that would notify consumers of this. It strikes me that Nestle, as an international company would want a standard throughout all of its territories. But I don’t want modern chocolate. (link)
So I’m left with the feeling that Hershey & Guittard are the only CMA members who wanted to keep our chocolate real. And the only thing that seems to have changed in the intervening years is that Hershey has taken a complete 180 degree turn on the issue.
Hershey has been under huge pressures. In 2002 the Hershey Trust attempted to sell the company (but was stopped by public opinion). Currently they are downsizing, consolidating and outsourcing. They company is not losing money or anything, it’s just not growing, not keeping its other investors happy (seriously, the Trust doesn’t need any more money).
Without the backing of Hershey, the CMA lost its largest voice for traditional chocolate. This is not the Hershey’s I grew up with.
It might console you to know that she’ll probably be virtually sharing her booty in the near future on her blog. In case you forget to bookmark her, I’m adding her to my blogroll over there on the lower right.
Julie worked really hard too, with five raffle tickets (there were about 130 entries total) ... though the “ticket” I drew for her was for her comment to the FDA.
In the next week or so I’ll announce some more giveaways. Thanks again to everyone for their help in getting the word out.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. I first saw these at the 99 Cent Only Store (but only in Strawberry). They’re billed as “candy and chocolate flavored pops” which I thought sounded kind of fun. Like a chocolate toffee lollipop.
The commercials aren’t really helpful, they call it half-crazy. And they have freaky & disturbing animation. Who are they aiming these at?
So maybe the wrapper will be helpful. There’s a little drawing of the candy on the package. But I don’t know what I’m looking at. Smacking the candy on the corner of the table reveals that one side is hard and the other isn’t. How about a look what they use to make them.
Ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Cocoa, Dry Whey, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Cocoa Processed with Alkalai, Skim Milk Powder, Buffered Lactic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Salt and Artificial Colors
Well, after opening up the little packet it’s much more obvious what this is. One third of the pop is a swirl of hard candy with a boat of mockolate stuck to it.
Cookies and Cream - this has nothing to do with cookies and cream. Things can’t be cookie flavored. What makes cookies cookies is the texture, not the flavor. The mockolate boat here is mild and cool on the tongue. Sweet and not very chocolatey, it tastes more tropical, a little like coconut and a little like fudge. The sliver of candy is rather nice. Super smooth and a little tangy like yogurt. It’s sweet and bland but perhaps a little creamy.
Chocolate Caramel - well, this is not caramel flavored. The mockolate is the same on all of them. The candy part is tangy and sweet but missing all the caramel notes I would expect. I’m getting tangy, I’m getting maple or pecan, but definitely not caramel.
Chocolate Strawberry - finally the tangy bite works with the flavor. The strong and fake strawberry flavor completely overshadows the mockolate.
The long narrow shape is pleasant for a pop, it certainly fits in the mouth better. The candy part is actually really good. It’s superdense so it’s great for a pleasant and smooth feeling on the tongue and if you’re a cruncher it’s also really easy to chew.
The quality is apparent here with just about every element. They’re nicely packaged, the metallic plastic wrapper protects and is easy to open. The sassy plastic stick means that the stick doesn’t dissolve while you’re still eating the pop. Even the name is pretty good, the swirly colors support the name Vertigo (which is a fancy way of saying dizzy).
But the candy quality goes astray with the mockolate. It’s just ghastly. I ate it, but I’m certainly not happy about it.
I would certainly buy this if it was just a hard toffee pop, like the See’s Pops (except these are actually smoother). But as a mostly mockolate product, I just can’t get behind it.
Note: Topps is an American company, but these candies were made in China.
Friday, April 27, 2007
It took a while for the media to pick up on the story, but momentum is building. Here’s the coverage that I’ve been following (partly because I’ve been interviewed). Here’s the FDA page for the proposal.
Coverage of the issue of changing food labeling and naming standards:
Washington Post - Chocolate Purists Alarmed by Proposal To Fudge Standards: Lines Drawn Over Cocoa Butter by Michael S. Rosenwald (here’s the Appendix C that he mentions in the article)
Bloomberg - Hershey Battles Chocolate Connoisseurs Over Selling ‘Mockolate’ by Adam Satariano
ABC News - Changing the Fat in Chocolate: New Proposal Urges FDA to Allow Vegetable Oil Instead of Cacao Butter; Health Experts Say This Would Not Make Chocolate Healthier by Dan Childs.
Los Angeles Times - The courage of their confections: Two candy makers are asking chocolate lovers to protest plans to allow cheaper ingredients. Vegetable oil, anyone? by Jerry Hirsch (and my follow-up Editorial)
Patriot News - Could changes be coming for chocolate? by Tom Dochat
San Francisco Chronicle - Guittard protests proposal to allow vegetable oil in chocolate by Carol Ness
I also did an interview this morning with ABC Radio News, so that may be airing today.
Finally, in the NYTimes Magazine last week there was an interesting article: You Are What You Grow by Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) about the farm bill and why we’re such a starchy, oily and plump nation.
I tried the Dove chocolate last year and was pleased with it. It’s kind of a slick chocolate, both in packaging and in texture. They market this as silky, and I’m not sure if it’s the level of fat in it or the size of the particles of cocoa solids ... or perhaps both.
While I’m not that keen on the plain bars, I got a note from some marketing folks offering me some of their other products and I figured, “what they hey!”
The Dove line is built around their plain dark and milk chocolate, sold in single-serve bars and the more popular “Promises” which I think of as a hybrid of Hershey’s Kisses and Perugina Baci (pure chocolate plus a little note in the wrapper).
These aren’t called anything ... just Smooth Milk Chocolate with Caramel. The bronzy foil holds a little rounded chocolate square with a filling of a caramel-like goo.
The wrappers also have little notes inside. Mine said things like Smile at yourself in the mirror and Sing along with the elevator music ... honey, I don’t need my candy telling me to sing out loud in public. I’m sure the folks at the Ralph’s on Glendale Blvd. are well aware of me belting out the 80s tunes when I visit and would probably hide these candies from me if they knew what they were telling me to do.
The chocolate here is smooth and creamy, perhaps a little sticky and sweet. The caramel filling doesn’t really have enough of the true caramel qualities I like, such as a burnt sugar taste or soft chew. I wanted more salt. But the whole thing is tasty and certainly worth the price of admission (free with my comp). But the thing that’s most appealing to me was how photogenic they were.
6 out of 10
The second item that’s much more up my alley is the Smooth Milk Chocolate Covered Almonds. I think the publicist who sent these to me intended to give me the dark chocolate ones, as there were two bags of milk chocolate in my little box. Oh well. The almonds are rather good, not as large and choice as the Trader Joe’s version that I often pick up, but there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. They’re nicely toasted and crunchy. The chocolate is sweet and offsets the almond’s toasty flavors pretty well.
7 out of 10
At a regular price of $3.50 a bag, I don’t think I’d get these, except maybe if I was stuck in an airport and looking for something to bring on the plane. Both bags are easy to open and reclose, which is always a plus. I would probably pick them up on sale if I could get them for something like $2.50 though.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
The article in the Washington Post appeared on their website a little while ago.
Chocolate Purists Cry Foul as FDA Fudges Standards
Here are a few interesting passages:
When I talked to Michael Rosenwald about what happens to those comments we submitted on the website, he said that the 225 number was just what they’ve processed. On the FDA website, in their dockets section they have a Daily Listing which shows what they’ve processed lately. They post updates every weekday, however they don’t necessarily process the comments immediately. There’s a big gap between the processed comments since April 16th was the only one I found and then they posted a list on April 23rd. I don’t know how many more are in the queue ... hopefully enough.
I’m not an industry insider working at a mega huge company like Hershey’s, so I don’t know about this high quality oil that’s equal to or better than cocoa butter.
This is so true. Just like there’s crappy real chocolate and really good chocolate right now. However, I think that gap will get wider.
Sometimes I pick up crazy things at the Dollar Tree that I wouldn’t ordinarily buy. I’ve gotten a few emails about Jones Soda’s new line of fizzy pop flavored candies. I saw that they’re going for over $2 a tin for 50 candy bits but I couldn’t find out if they use sugar in them or artificial sweeteners so I decided to go on the prowl for the something else. (I was afraid they were going to be like those expensive and lackluster Bawls.)
I went to the Dollar Tree in search of Easter goodies and came away with this little sixpack. The little pop can looking packages hold 30-35 little carbonated candies in four flavors (two cans each): Grape Splash, Lemon-Lime Sprint, Orange Crash and Loca Cola.
The little candies are almost like the original Tart n Tiny candies (except these have a slight dome on either end of the bitty cylindral instead of being flat).
Orange Crash - a mellow orange that’s completely faithful to cheap orange soda. Tangy, a little fizzy and slightly medicinal tasting, I’m guessing because it has a distinct “mineral water” after-taste.
Lemon-Lime Sprint (2 of these) - the lime is quite the leader here, not as tart as the orange, but kind of like tonic water overall.
Grape Splash (2 of these) - oh, this is ABSOLUTELY grape soda condensed into a wee tablet! The fizz, the fake grape ... I can just feel the chilly purple anodized aluminum tumbler I used to drink Shasta Grape Pop out of at my grandmother’s as I write this.
Loca Cola - this is one of those candies that I long for, something to give me the cola experience since I don’t drink sodas. I love the taste of cola, this has the tangy and spicy notes down pretty well. Not quite as good as a Haribo Gummi Cola Bottle, but it’ll do.
As a novelty item, I think they’re fun. I wouldn’t buy these and shovel them down day after day, but they’re a fun little diversion ... a novelty candy. Because the package comes with six little cans, they might make a nice little theme element if you’re planning a party or gift basket or just a little pick-me-up to leave in a co-worker’s cubicle.
Each can contains only 7 grams of candy that adds up to 25 calories. So they certainly have the portion control down.
(For a little perspective, the cans are 2” high and 1” in diameter ... in case you were going to look for them at the store and were expecting something as big as the picture on your screen.)
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate announced that the public comment period has been extended to
May 25, 2007
June 25, 2007.
I’m so happy to hear that the momentum that’s built up over the last few days will lead to more people will be able to properly read up and make their comments. This also provides all of us an opportunity to contemplate what else might be in that FDA Petition that we haven’t thoroughly considered, so you might want to review it again with that in mind.
As for the Keep it Real Raffle? Well, the current one ends today, but I’ll run another one for the next month as well (different but equally scrumptious prize). So if you feel like keeping the conversations going out there and spreading the word even further, there will be another opportunity to win.
Hopefully we’ll all win when we Keep it Real.
UPDATE 4/27/2007: The comment form has been restored on the FDA site featuring a new expiration date of June 25th. I’ve revised this post to reflect the newest information.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.