Wednesday, November 9, 2005
These little 45 gram bars are a wonderful example of how a niche product can break out big in the wide candy world. Made in the UK from fair trade cocoa beans, these bars come not only in the familiar milk and dark varieties, but also an orange flavored bar and they’ve also introduced a smaller bar for kids called Dubble.
The dark chocolate bar is smoky and rich and has a good, complex flavor to it. Very woodsy with a slight dry finish. The chocolate is smooth but a little waxy at first as it warms up on the tongue, but there’s no hint of grain at all. At 70% cocoa solids, this is a very chocolatey bar but doesn’t have that crumbly feel that some have. The snap was good and personally, I prefer a chunky bar to a flat one.
The milk chocolate bar is very European, with a strong dried milk component to it. It’s very sweet but has a good chocolate taste and is smooth and rich on the tongue. AT 27% cocoa solids, this is a very milky bar (using both dried milk and dried cream).
Again, you’re probably asking, why pay a bit more for the same quality? Well, in this case more money is going directly to the farmers who produce the cocoa beans. Farmers (by this I mean the folks who actually tend the plants, harvest the beans and prepare them for shipping) not only get a decent wage, they are guaranteed income through long-term contracts and the company supports education for children in the area. Economic stability provides political stability which in turn helps to turn the African economy to a more sustainable one not based on government aid where communities build themselves through their agriculture and small industry.
One note about how Divine and Equal Exchange differ - Divine is NOT organic. If you’re looking for a bottom-to-top socially responsible chocolate, go with Equal Exchange because its cocoa farming is organic and is working with cooperatives in multiple locations as well as using organic, unprocessed sugar. If you’re looking for a move in the right direction (or don’t have access to EE), then go Divine and support the widest possible marketing efforts (hey, buy some from both and help farmers in Peru, Dominican Republic and Ghana!).
Rating - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Name: Ritter Sport Bars
I did a review of the teensy variety pack of Ritter Sport a few weeks ago, and it just so happens that Robin’s been helping me get more international sweets by having her writers traveling abroad pick up some candy for me to review. I have another half a dozen bars from this care package, so you can look forward to some other sweets picked up in Eastern Europe.
When I was taking the photos the first time around (above is my second stab at documenting these), the Rum Trauben Nuts (Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts) smelled so incredibly good I all but two squares before realizing I had to take another picture.
Unlike other “rum flavored” chocolates, this is really rummy. If my German skills are good enough, I can tell you that this candy bar contains 2% Jamaika-Rum. The milk chocolate isn’t too sweet and the raisins are plump and tart. Combined with the ample crunch of the hazelnuts, I’m in love with this bar. I’m afraid that it’s not imported to the states, as I’ve never seen it before or maybe it is but I doubt it actually has that much rum in it when exported.
The Cappuccino is rather similar to the Jogurt bar. The filling is creamy and has a slight tinge of mocha to it, but also has a slight sour bite to it. Maybe think of it as a cappuccino cheesecake flavor. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t make me yearn for it like the Rum Trauben Nuss.
I like the Ritter Bars, they remind me a lot of Hershey’s. Every one of them has been dependably sweet and smooth, but not as complex as I’d want from a more high-end bar. But then again, this is candy and that’s what I want. Here’s their motto from their website, “Ritter Sport. Square. Handy. Good.”
Rating - Rum Trauben Nuss - 9 out of 10
Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Name: Whistle Pops
If you ever saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, you’ll know exactly what this is. It’s a candy, it’s a musical instrument! Though the whistle pops tooted by Dick Van Dyke were more like little recorders (ala a piccolo), these are slide whistles.
Chupa Chups, I must say, are awesome lollipops. First, they’re very flavorful. They’re well packaged (nothing worse than a damp piece of hard candy) and have the added bonus of a plastic stick. Why is this good? Well, I’m a drooler and don’t like the pasty mess that a paper stick becomes when I’m eating something like a Charms or Tootsie Pop.
There were four flavors in this package: Green Apple (unwrapped in the photo), Blue Raspberry, Watermelon and Strawberry. Basically, some of my least favorite hard candy flavors (my favorite Chupa Chups are the coffee ones). The texture of the candy is a little different, a little less clear and sparkly. This might be a manufacturing thing so that they can operate as whistles or might be the fact that I bought them at the 99 Cent Store.
Instead of just being a one note whistle, these have a hollow straw for the stick and there is a little sliding plunger that allows you to change the pitch of your whistling. They really work and they sound pretty good. However, as soon as you bite off the top or dissolve enough of the top, the whistling effect is gone. The flavor is nice, tart and highly scented. All change the color of your tongue. (Made in Spain.)
Rating - 7 out of 10
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Name: Terry’s Chocolate Orange
When I was a kid, Santa used to bring Chocolate Oranges to us in our stockings. This bar is like that, but not sectioned and spherical, but a heck of a lot easy to stow in your handbag or backpack.
Like many holiday products, it’s the packaging and associations of the season that make them special. Most chocolate Easter bunnies I ate as a child were horrible waxy chocolate but as big as my arm; they were part of the holiday and any holiday that had a large container of candy involved was obviously good. Easter, as the last candy holiday of the year meant that all jelly beans and peeps must be eaten, because there will be no more candy until Halloween. I pretty much feel the same way about chocolate oranges, they’re not necessarily good when you look at them with the analytical eye of sophisticated adult tastes, but nostalgia makes up for a lot of that.
Here are the ingredients: Sugar, skimmed milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, butterfat, emulsifier (Soya lecithin), flavorings (orange oil, vanillin). See ... it’s sugar and some powdered milk ... then you get to the chocolate part. Terry’s is very sweet, very milky chocolate, and not milk in the sense of that deliciously smooth and creamy stuff, I’m talking that powdered stuff. You know, the stuff you drank when you couldn’t afford real milk. The stuff that reminds you of not being able to afford milk, let alone candy.
All that said, the taste of this is Christmas. It’s sweet and has the wonderful essence of orange (which is a really good complement to chocolate). The bar is delightfully shaped like a bunch of orange sections in a row and you can snap them off almost like the round orange. So just like I can’t help but gnaw on the waxy ears of chocolate rabbits, I can’t help but eat this whole bar even if it did make my teeth hurt.
Rating - 7 out of 10
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Name: Choxie Chocolates
I was planning on making jokes about what Choxie meant, but then I saw a commercial for it and they said it was “Chocolate with Moxie.” Not to be confused with Mockolate. And it’s not Chalk that’s Toxic or as my neighbor pronounces it ... Choke-see. The other weird thing besides the name is that it’s not on the Target website. You search for Choxie and you get some CDs.
At the urging of several readers I went there this past weekend and bought a variety of the new chocolates. A little tub of Warm Spiced Caramels (9.45 oz for $5), a Hot Chocolate Bar (2.5 oz for $1.80) and a small box of the Artisan Truffle Tiles (3.5 oz for $5). There’s lots more variety there with round truffles and other chocolate covered goodies
Warm Spiced Caramels: I’m in love with these little buggers. They’re smooth caramel with a little spicy flavor. No heat to them, just a little bit like a spiced rum or mulled cider. Very fall-like. The chocolate is smooth and not the slightest bit waxy and not to sticky sweet or milky. I think I’d like them with semi-sweet as well.
Artisan Truffle Tiles: The tiles are all the rage, as far as I can tell. They have that retro styling to them, with the painted tops. The flavors in the 3.5 ounce box are: chili limon, jasmine tea, orange mango, key lime, lemon rose, apple pie, cafe latte and cinnamon praline.
I didn't try the truffles, but I can see the truffles having the advantage of a better ratio of chocolate to filling. Here the filling is about 1/4 of the total of the candy. The chocolate is smooth, but because all the flavors are in the same box, there's a weird sort of jumbled infusion in the chocolate shell ... chocolate is an excellent flavor absorber, and in this case it's absorbed all of them. Perhaps the wrapped truffles don't have this issue. The centers are pretty divine though. The flavors aren't quite as robust as I think I've had at some places like Boule, but for a pre-packaged candy it’s rather nice to have the option of something like Lemon Rose or Chili Limon. Some of the other flavors like apple pie and latte were a little ordinary, but the creaminess of the centers is really the star.
If I were decorating a cake or something, these could be a great, edible addition.
Hot Chocolate Bar: The last, and probably most cost effective pure chocolate candy I found were the bars (the caramels are cheaper by the ounce but not all chocolate). At 2.5 ounces, it’s not a bad deal as candy bars go. If you’ve ever had a Frango, the “truffle” center of this is very similar. Rather firm, but a good instant melt. The flavor is rich with a lot of cinnamon with a little heat from both ginger and chipotle. I wish there were more fire to it and less spice graininess.
Overall, as a hostess gift the packaging is super cute and the quality is good. As fine candy goes, I think I’d still stick with See’s Candies, as they’re quite a bit cheaper though lack those trendy flavors (but their key lime truffle is pretty awesome).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Note: I have a sneaking suspicion that Trader Joe’s ‘Slate of Bliss’ is made by the same people who make Choxie, so I’m digging for more info on that ... maybe I’ll have something later this week.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These have always scared me. I think because they’re called Chick-o-Sticks and look like they could be chicken legs. Not something I’d consider to be a sweet treat. And let’s face it, the orange color is pretty freaky. The Atkinson site doesn’t really say why they’re called that except that that’s what they’ve always been called.
What they really are is a peanut butter toffee crisp covered in coconut. Pretty simple. A lot like the inside of a Butterfinger bar, but a bit more solid (as you can see in the close up if you click on the photo).
The taste is good, sweet with a nice hit of salt and a really good roasted peanut butter flavor. Even though the coconut looks pretty minimal, the taste is pretty significant. Unlike some of the other crisped peanut butter candies, this one contains no trans fats, in fact the only fat in it comes from the peanut butter itself. They’re much easier to carry around than some chocolate candies because it doesn’t melt, so I can see this being a good treat for hiking or shipping long distances (the Atkinson website mentions shipping them to Iraq).
I know, I need to get a hold of a Clark bar and Zagnut to round out my tour of peanut crisp.
Rating - 7 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.