Thursday, August 25, 2005
This is not a new product to me, however, I’ve gotten a couple of notes (one email and one comment) to review this, so here goes. My husband bought a set of three of the unique origins bars one year before vacation and we took them with us to rocky beaches, windswept dunes and rolling oak-dotted hills of the central Californian coast, so any pleasant past associations with the bars must be taken into account.
The bars in question were from the cocoa crop of 2004. The freshness date said they were best before 04/2007.
First was the Guaranda, which is 71% cocoa solids of forastero arriba cocoa from Ecuador. The tasting notes on the back: “Perfumed aroma with fruity, acid notes and floral tones of acacia honey, with milky and exotic wood nuances. Typical personality of the cocoa bean: smooth dark chocolate taste with floral tones of honeyed character.” The ingredients are simple: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the scent is woodsy, smoky and a bit like coffee. The surface is smooth and shiny (better than the photo) with a red hint to it. Upon biting into it, it snaps easily and melts quickly on the tongue. The cocoa mass is very smooth, not at all gritty. It’s very dry yet the cocoa butter gives it a slippery, cool feeling on the tongue. I don’t detect much of the honey notes, but the butteryness gives it a sort of empty feeling, like there’s a top and bottom but no middle flavors.
Next was Ocumare, which is 71% cocoa solids of criollo cocoa from Venuzuela. The tasting notes on the back: “Smooth perfumed aroma with tones of exotic wood, nuts and dried fruit as well as spicy nuances. Refined and lasting taste, balanced and round at the same time. Also, aspects of cedar, tobacco and dried plums are particularly noteworthy.” The ingredients are the same as the first: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the smell is woodsy with more of a fruit note to it, perhaps apple. The color is a dark and consistent brown with a good snap to the bite. It immediately starts to melt on the tongue. It has a rounder flavor just as the package suggests with more middle notes of sweet apple or apricot (I’m not catching the plum here). It’s a much fuller flavor from top to bottom with absolutely no grain to it. Towards the end there’s less of a dry finish but a nice lingering woodsy note.
For high end 70%+ bars, I think these are the best I’ve tried to date. Though the single origin means that you may never get these bars again, they’re wonderfully balanced with an excellent smoothness. I do think overall that I prefer a blended chocolate to get the full-bodied taste with a multitude of notes (like a chorus instead of a soloist) but if you hadn’t told me that they were single origins, I could still state unequivocally that these are good bars. Where I find so many upscale bars lacking in the cocoa butter/smoothness factor, these bars excel at the melting and without any graininess at all.
I wouldn’t say that they’re worth more than $3.50 per bar though, like you might be charged some places. So if you can get them at a Trader Joe’s or other similar economical location (maybe Cost Plus carries them), they are the best $2 you can spend on a high-cocoa content bar.
Interesting facts from the package: Chocovic is based in Barcelona, Spain and has been in business since 1872.
Rating - 9 out of 10.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Name: Blackcurrant and Finest Pink Grapefruit Pastilles
A few weeks ago I got an email from a kind reader named greenhaven suggested that I try Rowntree Blackcurrant Pastilles, since I couldn’t find them, I picked these up. (I know, they’re not at all the same.) I’ll keep looking though, as I remember liking “wine gums” that I bought at a newsstand in London quite a bit. I’m not sure all folks consider pastilles candy, after all, most people think of them as throat lozenges. However, as a person who used to eat cough drops as candy, I fully embrace these as sweets. (One of my favorites was Smith Bros Black Licorice.)
These are soft and chewy, but wonderful to suck on and kind of fold up as it gets smaller in your mouth. The glycerine provides a soothing, moisturizing coating to dry throats. But what’s best about these is the intense flavor. Packed with more flavor than just a gummi bear or hard cough drop, these are zesty. They come in little tins (the size of Altoid tins, only gold.)
The pink grapefruit has a wonderful zest with a good rounded tartness that goes through and through. The blackcurrant is smooth and tart with a good winey note to it. I prefer the grapefruit ones, mostly because I’m just not a blackcurrant fan. These are very soft and I don’t really like them this soft, so sometimes I’ll just leave them open for a day so they can toughen up.
They have 18% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C (in 2 drops) and their ingredients are all natural. If you go on the Dr. Doolittle website (it’s in French) and click on production, you can see how they make the drops by pouring the mix into little molds.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I buy them a couple times a year, they’re rather expensive)
UPDATE: I found a new local supply of Dr. Dolittle’s Pastilles. They come in Lemon, Blackcurrant and Pink Grapefruit. Different tins now, a lot more expensive. See new review here.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Name: Wild Huckleberry Gummi Bears
I know, you’re asking yourself, “what is a huckleberry? and is a wild one better?”
Well, first, a huckleberry is related to the blueberry and cranberry, or so says Wikipedia. And if my experience with wild strawberries and wild blueberries means anything, the wild ones are smaller and more expensive and hopefully organic.
However, upon further examination of the package, I found the following ingredients listed: Corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, artificial color, citric acid, artificial flavor, lactic acid, mineral oil and carnuba wax. Hmm, nowhere in there does it mention huckleberries.
No matter. these fellows are cute anyway, with the carnuba wax shines and their A emblazoned on their little chests. Wait, what’s the A for? Got me, they’re distributed by the Benjamin News Group and the brand seems to be “Rocky Mountain”, not really any A initials there. Are they adulterous bears?
They’re very soft bears, with a nice tart flavor and a pretty smell, a cross between blackberries and violets. They’re cute and fresh and so easy to pop in your mouth even if they purely a chemistry experiment. The color is exquisite, especially if you line them up on the desk. The trick, if you must know, if you want to get them to stand up is this: get a clean piece of white paper then lick the bottom of the bear (lightly, we don’t want a lot of slobber) and then press them down gently on the paper in a row. A little backlight and they’re practically luminous.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (they might be gone by the end of the day)
Monday, August 22, 2005
I actually had three bars but ate one before I could take its picture (milk chocolate in a saffron yellow wrapper), so pretend there’s a third one in there.
I was excited that Trader Joe’s was carrying these because I was hoping that it meant that they’d be a little less expensive (which they are). Still, I’m not sure I’m on board with this high end chocolate bar movement. Perhaps I’m just looking for a different thing in my chocolate than some other folks.
I think cocoa is great, it’s obviously one of those things that makes chocolate unique, that blend of earthy roasted flavors with those fruity notes that many people compare to wine or coffee. But what makes chocolate so great, for me, is cocoa butter. It’s one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It makes it smooth and creamy and portable. Sharffen Berger chocolate bars lack that smooth and lustrous feeling on the tongue.
Scharffen Berger, I think, can be described as sour. There’s a pervasive acidic note in all their chocolates that I’ve tried and I don’t find it pleasant. It does provide a good base (except for the fact that acids are not bases as in alkaline) for the other flavors. In the pure dark chocolate I tasted some fruit notes: grape, apricot and some apple. I also tasted some oaky/woodsy notes and something which reminded me of lichens or wood ear mushrooms.
I know Sharffen Berger has its aficionados, but I don’t count myself among them. The product was definitely consistent and for a high-end chocolate, Trader Joe’s has certainly made it more accessible. I can definitely see this as good cooking chocolate - I wouldn’t hesitate to add some of their cocoa to my chili (yes, I put cocoa in my chili), but for eating it just leaves me, well, unaffected.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Does this candy bar look familiar to anyone? I picked this up because it looked like a KitKat bar on the package and found that it looked just like it inside too. However, instead of four little bars, there were three. Unfortunately this is no match for KitKat - the first ingredient is sugar, and after opening the package and that sweet smell, it was obvious. The second ingredient is not milk chocolate or even cocoa butter but hydrogenated oil. That means this isn’t real chocolate on the outside? Nope, it’s not. It even gives you a hint to that in the description - “wafer fingers in milk compound chocolate.” Think “cheese food.”
However, the wafers were wonderfully crisp and the chocolate compound ratio to the wafers was nice. There was also a nice hint of hazelnut to it. If I found myself in Turkey and really wanted a candy bar, I might actually seek this one out, if only for its familiarity.
So, as far as DiDo goes, I’ll keep buying her albums, but she can keep her candy bar.
Interesting note - Dido is the Queen (and founder) of Carthage.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (but if they were made with real chocolate it’d be an 8)
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Name: Toffee Crisp
I have to say that I think I am always bound to like candy that comes in orange wrappers. Perhaps it’s that I already associate it with Reese’s which is a fine brand. The package describes it as “toffee and crisped cereal filled milk chocolate” which I’d probably reverse and call it chocolate covered toffee and crisped cereal, but really, they’ve got all the bases filled.
This combo might sound familiar to those who have had a Nestle 100 Grand, which is milk chocolate and crisped rice covering caramel. In this incarnation the crisped rice is mixed in some sort of toffee flavored cream (and not in with the chocolate covering) and then has a stripe of caramel on the top and is then covered in crumbly milk chocolate (it could be that my bar was beaten up).
It’s sweet and really satisfying because it’s so big. (I don’t think the photo conveys the size, think of a fat Snickers bar.) The toffee part of is a bit lost on me, as far as I can tell there is no actual toffee in here. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough. This bar would fit into my list of bars to eat when I’m hankering for a crunchy bar. Much better than a Crunch or Krackle because of the added creamy crisped rice and you know I never argue with good chewy caramel. It’s kind of like the Whatchamacallit, except it doesn’t have a peanut butter component (but if they made one, I’d be down with that).
Rating - 7 out of 10
Name: Violet & Scented Gum
I have a vague recollection of some dolls that were popular back in the late sixties/early seventies called Kiddles. They were little dolls with insanely huge heads and long, stylable hair that smelled of violets. To this day the scent of violet makes me think of those dolls. I never owned any (I think my friend down the street, Lisa did though) but I can recall wanting them badly.
Anyway, my stepmother sent these to me a couple of weeks ago and they went into my pile of chocolates, until I took out a candy bar and it tasted like violets. So I sequestered the invasive violets in three layers of paper bags (and promptly forgot about it because it was jammed in three paper bags and looked like trash). Then I came back to the office after the weekend and it smelled like violets, “Oh, I forgot all about them!” Well, now I’ve photographed them and chewed them up and can speak knowlegably about them. I did a little digging to find out more about Choward’s, you can read the history here.
First, I preface this review (actually, it looks like I’ve prefaced the review several times, would you like to just skip to the bottom for the rating?) with the fact that I love herbal/floral flavors. My favorite ice cream flavor at the moment is Orange Blossom and Pistachio. However, probably from the above association with those damn little dolls, I just can’t get behind the little violet mints.
The mints themselves really aren’t terribly flavorful. They’re sweet and very hard (like a piece of soft shale) are the color of the putty I used to caulk my shower and smell like something I might use in the shower while I’m there. They don’t really dissolve so much as just slowly deteriorate in your mouth. As a touchstone though, I found the peppermint version of Choward’s pretty good, like a dense pillow butter mint. I don’t know why the violet texture was so much more, um, sturdy, but it wasn’t really appealing.
The gum, however, is pretty cool. The color, let’s face it, is something you just wanna string up on a necklace or something. The flavor is not at all like the mint, it’s got a nice cinnamon/clove twang to it and a little touch of the flowery violet. The chew is a little sticky and not at all like a chicklet, lacking that burst of sugar and cooling mint. Even after spitting out the gum after chewing for about ten minutes, it scented my breath wonderfully for a two hour meeting.
Ratings: Violet Mints - 5 out of 10
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Thanks goodness Ikea’s proclivity for sassy names does not extend to their treats at the food section. I have enough trouble buying candy shaped like rats that looks like the felt pulled out from a highlighter pen that I don’t need it to be further called Bjarf, Puke or Funkis.
Name: Licorice Boats
I gave these to Russ to try the other night and he agreed that, “The licorice in my licorice boat had already set sail.” These are definitely sweet - you just open the bag and the sugary smell permeates the air. But there’s no there there. The jelly center has a bit of a licorice perfume to it, but no bite. I think I’ve come to expect molasses with my licorice as it’s a good anchor for the flavor.
Name: Jelly Rats
They’re rather scary looking, and I’m telling you that’s the actual color - some sort of slightly translucent-neon hazard color. They also have a strong sweet smell infused with violet which didn’t thrill me, but biting into them I found a nice, tart and fruity jelly candy. The flavors aren’t complex or strong, but just nice. If I am planning on having a Swedish jelly candy though, I really want some Swedish fish.
Name: Marabou Milk Chocolate with Nuts
This was the positive find in the whole experience. They’re little chunks of milk chocolate with crushed hazelnuts. Really creamy, very sweet with good nuts. The chocolate is smooth and the toasty taste of the nuts infuses it well.
It’s simple and satisfying. The roll is easy to share and I might make a point to pick these up at the start of my shopping experience at Ikea as a little boost. I ate them all before I finished typing this review.
Ratings: Licorice Boats - 4 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.