Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are so many mid-range chocolate bars available these days, just going into Target presents a whole aisle of upscale chocolate choices that go far beyond the traditional Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar or Nestle’s Crunch.
One European manufacturer that’s becoming ubiquitous is Cote d’Or. It’s Belgian chocolate, which has a certain cache. Cote d’Or was named for the Gold Coast of Africa, which is now Ghana and a prime cocoa growing area. The company was founded by Charles Neuhaus but is now owned by Kraft Foods (which owns many European chocolate companies, including Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolates of Whack-&-Unwrap-Orange fame, Milka & Marabou).
Though they’re made by Kraft, they’re imported and distributed by Ferrara Pan ... you know, the Atomic Fireball and Lemonheads folks. (But it makes a certain amount of sense, they don’t do chocolate candy but have a huge distribution network.)
I’ve never really given Cote d’Or much thought, I always put it in the same category as Ghirardelli or even Lindt - a very nice brand, but just not quite my bag. Or is it? Candy Blog is supposed to make me open my mouth and expand my mind, so I should be trying new things. So when a bunch of bars Cote d’Or 70% Cacao bars showed up in my All Candy Expo samples box, I had to give it another look.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I started with the Intense 70% Cacao. The boxes are smart looking, just a paperboard box, great for protecting an unfinished bar. They’re 100 gram tablets (3.53 ounces), so it’s about 2.5 servings. There are 10 squares, each with the trumpeting Elephant icon of their logo.
The tempering is good, they have a great snap, if a little soft. The bar doesn’t look shiny like many others, but this is because of a texture in the mold that makes it matte. I think it makes the bar look a little dull. What sells it though is it smells wonderful - fresh and woodsy and of course chocolatey.
What struck me as odd about these bars is that they’re called Belgian Dark Chocolate Confection ... not just chocolate but they qualify it as a confection. Flipping over the box it shows that even though this is high cacao chocolate, it also has milkfat (though listed on the label right above soy lecithin, so not in very high proportion).
It melts quickly, it’s smooth and not too intense, no matter what the name says. It has a very buttery, nutty tasting base. It’s a little fruity, not acidic but has some raisin notes. For a dark, it’s very approachable.
The bar that pretty much made me squeal with anticipation is the new Cocoa Nibs 70% Cacao. I’m a huge fan of nibs and this one promises caramelized cocoa nibs in DARK chocolate confection. Unlike the other 70% bar, this one has no milkfat, so is suitable for vegans.
It’s easy to see the nibs in the cross section. They’re the perfect proportion of chocolate and nibs. The caramelization is what makes this bar so nice. It’s not like they’re toffee coated, they’re just crips and crunchy, kind of like chocolate infused macadamia nuts.
The flavor is a bit more intense, but the variations in texture and the delivery of so much chocolate in each bite makes this bar a winner. I haven’t tasted it side by side with the Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, but since I expect them to be similar price points, I definitely say give this a try.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Monday, June 16, 2008
After the recent Bananas n Cream Mentos, I figured the next on my list of dairy-inspired Mentos should be some of the yoghurt ones.
There are a few yoghurt flavored Mentos out there, including Lemon Yoghurt, but Santos was kind of to bring me a huge tube of 6 rolls of Strawberry Yoghurt Mentos last week.
The package is easily distinguished from the regular Strawberry (photo here) but could be mistaken for Pink Grapefruit Mentos (photo here) except for the blue dairy product wrapped around a strawberry at one end.
The dragees look like any other Mentos - a nice medium pink. They simply smell sweet.
The taste is, well, like Strawberry Yogurt. There’s the berry flavor, which is that mix of sweet and sour, slightly floral and then there’s the yogurt kick, which is a bit of a dark tangy bite. It reminds me a bit of the Berries & Cream Starburst.
They’re not particularly creamy (and have no dairy in the ingredients) but do feature 3% strawberry juice.
The new kinds of Mentos no longer use gelatin in them, so they’re safe for vegetarians ... in this case though this version uses the coloring Carmine, so it all depends on where you draw your lines.
A few years ago I got an assortment of Malaysian hard candies that included a couple called Barley Mint. I wasn’t sure what Barley Mint was, I thought it was barley sugar flavored with mint. It was nice, but not what I’d envisioned and I put it out of my head.
Years later, I spotted a version of Mentos made in Indonesia called Barley Mint and I was again intrigued to taste them. Luckily they were in the latest gaggle of Mentos (yes, that’s the term for a large group of Mentos) from Santos of Scent of Green Bananas.
I’ll have more on the rest of them later (including Strawberry Yoghurt, Spearmint, Tropical Mix & Black Currant).
The green package features images of the little chewy dragees and mint leaves. The mints themselves were less green, kind of a light celadon.
They didn’t smell like much, maybe like a box of TicTacs.
Biting into them is was quite apparent that Barley Mint is not any ordinary mint.
It’s like peppermint, cool and fresh, but then there’s a lingering flush of something ... something floral or fragrant. Roses? Soft Musk? Whatever it is, it’s not a minty flavor. It’s not orange blossom or any sort of blossom. It’s musk. Like the Australian Musk Sticks. Mixed with mint. And maybe a little touch of mellow and creamy banana. I know, it sounds weird, and it probably is.
It’s not that strong, not like the more intense Peppermint Mentos, but it’s certainly strange and for anyone who doesn’t like soapy flavors, it’s sure to be a turnoff. There’s a very clear reason that these aren’t distributed in the US and this roll is quite lucky to have found me. I’m eating them all.
They felt fresh without being too strong. The mint would linger for a bit, but the musky flavor stayed for at least a half hour after consumption.
I don’t know quite what the flavor has to do with barley, but maybe Musk Mint wouldn’t have sold as well even in Indonesia.
These are not Halal (or Kosher) but do not contain gelatin so are suitable for vegetarians.
Friday, June 13, 2008
It also fits because they really aren’t any other sort of candy. They’re not a chew like a taffy. They’re not chocolate. They’re not compressed dextrose. They’re not toffee, not caramel ... not marshmallow nor nougat. In fact, the only thing that adequately describes them is “Red Licorice” and even that’s confusing (especially when you get into flavors that aren’t red). While I’ve debated what to categorize these as before, I can only call them a wheat based chew. (Which sounds less than appealing.) Both Twizzler & Red Vines identify themselves as twists.
Twizzler Strawberry Twists are attractive little ropes. They’re insanely glossy and firm, but these were definitely fresh.
The bite is short, and when I say that it means that when you chew it up, it comes apart quite easily. So instead of becoming one chewy mass in the mouth, these become some sort of amalgam of smaller crumbles. (This is similar to how some caramels are dry, almost like a fudge and others are stringy and chewy like a taffy.)
The taste is sweet and mild, with more of the scent of strawberry jam than the taste of it. There’s no tang to it, it’s all mellow and sweet, kind of like a strawberry flavored pound cake.
I find them appealing, but not enough to eat them if they weren’t in front of me. I’ve had them in the candy cupboard since late March when I picked them up on sale at KMart. I think part of it is that red wheat based chews are simply not my thing. They’re a good thing, just not a good fit for me.
They’re a great candy option especially for mindless eating during the summer at the movies. Because they’re wheat based they’re rather low in calories. They do have a pinch of fat in there (1 gram per serving), which I’m guessing is to keep them supple. There are about 38 calories per twizzle.
There are a lot of folks who compare Twizzler and Red Vines. What I found a little surprising when I first started investigating the difference between the two earlier this year was that Red Vines are a raspberry flavor. Twizzler are strawberry. So they’re not really a one to one comparison. However, Red Vines does make a Pink Strawberry version, so I thought that would be an ideal place to start for a head-to-head.
Twizzler were introduced (I believe in the licorice variety) in 1929 though Y&S (Young & Smylie Licorice) was founded way back in 1845 in Lancaster, PA. The Hershey Company bought Y&S in 1977. Red Vines originated in 1920 (though the Strawberry variety came along much later), they’re made by the American Licorice Company then based in Chicago, IL (now in California & Oregon). So they have a concurrent regional evolution but are now on opposite sides of the continent.
The first difference is the color, obviously. The Twizzler are a deep and opaque red. The Red Vines are a strange pink that’s vaguely translucent.
And once you bite a Red Vine the difference becomes quite clear. Red Vines Pink Strawberry are tart. Not tingly tangy, just lightly sour (citric acid is listed on the ingredients, which does not appear on Twizzler).
The texture of Red Vines is more chewy than a Twizzler, a little more like dense dough and it holds together. It also sticks to the teeth.
So when it gets right down to it, they are different. Actually different enough that there’s no need to compare them (the old apples and oranges). Just try them both, eat whichever you have a preference for, though it’s entirely possible to like both.
Twizzler are Kosher and if you find the Canadian version, they’re nut free. The American package doesn’t have an allergen notice about tree nuts, peanuts or milk but does contain soy and wheat. They may also be suitable for vegans.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Dove has been adding quite a few new items to their line. Not only do they have the Dove Bites and Caramels plus the little chocolate covered almonds, they’ve expanded their line of bars to include Single Origins, Organics and new flavor inclusions for their standard dark and milk chocolate. None of this new stuff, oddly enough, is included on their website.
I have a huge cache of 9 different bars that I’ve been making my way through for the past two weeks. Today I’ll cover their 3.52 ounce packages of Milk Chocolate products: Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, Extra Creamy Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate, Blueberry Almond Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate and Peanut Toffee Crunch Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate.
While many of the flavor inclusions items are new, the biggest change is the packaging redesign. The large bars used to come in a simple foil wrap with paper sleeve design. The new version is a radical and welcome change.
The bars come in a paperboard box that opens like an envelope. Inside are tucked three individually foil wrapped bars, each a little over 1 ounce (the total weight for the package is 3.53 ounces).
My consistent complaint with the large 3 plus ounce tablet bars is that they’re not made for “eat some now, save some for later”. I usually end up putting my partially eaten bars into a ziploc bag because the foil wrapper is usually not enough, and of course the paper sleeves are often glued to the foil and are trashed when opening.
All of that is solved here. The box closes and opens easily, the bars are simple enough to pull out and unwrap ... and even if you don’t finish one, it’s easy to tuck it back into the package. It also helps with portion control. The 33 gram servings come to about 180 calories (a regular candy bar is usually around 50 grams and clocks in at 220-280 calories) so you feel like you’re getting a lot, especially since it’s presented so nicely.
I’ve had the Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate before, but I thought I’d give it another try.
The format of the bar is really pleasant. The pieces are thick enough to give a good snap, but not so thick as to make you feel like you’re gnawing on the bar to bite off a piece. The squares break easily, each little bar has six.
The bite is far softer than a dark chocolate, but true to its name it is silky smooth. It doesn’t give up a lot of flavor at first, it’s mostly the texture and sweetness that I noticed.
A little later, on the second piece the more subtle notes of mild cocoa and caramel toasted milk came out. It’s still extremely sweet - so much that I really can’t eat it straight. Some coffee or plain almonds do a nice job of cutting it.
Still, it’s not for me. It’s not chocolatey enough, not roasted enough and reminds me of the difference between skim milk and whole milk when it comes to density.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The first thing I noticed about the Dove Extra Creamy Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate was how light in color it is. The second thing I noticed was the smell. It’s very sweet and smells more like a toasty hot coffee cake than a chocolate bar. It’s milky and sugary with only a faint whiff of cocoa.
The bite is also soft, like original Silky Milk Chocolate. But this one has a much stickier melt. It’s smooth, don’t get me wrong, they haven’t led anyone astray, but it’s also thick and slightly fudgy.
Oddly enough, because of the lightness in color I was expecting this to be sweeter than the original, but it wasn’t, it was actually less sweet tasting.
The milk flavors were much stronger here, but mostly it was just an experience in sweet and silky texture.
So I turned over both boxes and tried to figure out what the difference was. Before tasting them I just assumed it was sugar. What I found is that it’s actually milk. The Extra Creamy, doesn’t have more “cream” as the name implies, it’s actually more skim milk.
The ingredients list goes like this:
Silky Smooth .................. Extra Creamy Silky Smooth
Even though they both have the same 11 grams of fat per mini bar and it’s really only the skim milk that’s more plentiful in the Extra Creamy, the Extra Creamy has twice the cholesterol (10 mg versus 5 mg for the regular Milk). Extra Creamy also has 50% more calcium ... 6% of your daily RDA.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Beyond the choices in levels of milk chocolate, Dove has added some more decadent “candy bars” to the line now. The Peanut Toffee Crunch Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate pretty much had me loving it before I even opened the box.
The Peanut Toffee Crunch is simply crushed Munch bars (a great candy bar!) mixed into the milk chocolate. If you’ve never had a Munch bar, it’s just a thick slab of peanut brittle. The peanut toffee crunch is very simple, adds a wonderful texture, a hint of salt and the toasty flavors of both burnt sugar and roasted peanuts.
This is a great tasting bar. It’s creamy, it has the right proportion of crunchy bits and has pretty much real ingredients (some artificial flavors).
Rating: 9 out of 10
The final bar is the Blueberry Almond Silk Smooth Milk Chocolate. The package says: pairs the sweetness of blueberries and perfectly roasted almonds with Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate.
The almonds are crushed into little bits, but quite abundant. The blueberries, on the other hand, are not as plentiful and not spaced as evenly. The big thing I got out of this bar was a sore throat. I don’t know how it ended up tasting so much sweeter than the other bars but it did. There is an addition of sugar on the label after the blueberries (perhaps sweetened dried blueberries?). It’s totally unnecessary and really I wish there were more berries, with some sort of tart chewy component (but I have their Cranberry Almond in Silky Dark Chocolate to compare it to). Even weirder, a close reading of the nutrition facts says that this has less fat and less sugars but the same level of carbs (must be the almonds) than the three other bars.
It’s also the only one in the group that uses a preservative in it, TBHQ (I’m guessing for the blueberries).
Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Given the choice of this and the Peanut Toffee Crunch, I know what I’m grabbing every time.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Patti at CandyYumYum has a review of some of the other bars that I haven’t seen yet (Hazelnut) and mentions some Dessert Bars (she has the Bananas Foster which sounds right up my alley). I need to recover from this seriously sweet chocolate binge and then I’ll do a roundup of the Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate offerings plus the nutritionally enhanced Beautiful & Vitalize bars.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.